Ten years ago, a chance meeting with a survivor of Bert Potter’s Auckland Centrepoint led journalist Anke Richter to a deep dive inside the world of cults. How do cults attract ordinary people as members? Why do members believe so fervently? What is the difference between tribe and cults, participant and perpetrator, seduction and sexual abuse?
Cult Trip: Inside the world of coercion and control is the result of her investigation and it’s an intensely riveting read! Anke explores a diverse range of groups from New Zealand’s Centrepoint and Gloriavale to India’s Osho ashram and Thailand’s tantric Agama yoga school.
Not surprisingly, Anke uncovers a disturbing pattern of violence and suffering. Cult Trip is a powerful exploration of what really happens inside the groups we know as cults and how to deal with their aftermath.
Recently, I reviewed Fake Believe – Conspiracy Theories in Aotearoa by Dylan Reeve and Cult Trip is similarly fascinating! Interestingly, Anke blurs the line between participant and reporter with her personal investigation.
“I hope that my own journey from enthusiastic participant to critical observer helps to explain why former members fell under the spell of cults. I also hope that those who are emerging from them feel heard and seen, not shamed,” she says.
“Everyone is susceptible to cult conversion – the millions of people around the world who were pulled down rabbit holes into conspiracy theories during the Covid-19 pandemic are now living proof of this vulnerability.”
Listening, compassion, love and understanding are required to help someone exit a closed group, says Anke.
“If we stopped seeing cults as catchments for weirdos, but instead as microcosms of oppression, each their own little Animal Farm full of ordinary creatures, then we might become more aware of the institutionalised harm done in the name of religion or politics, from paedophile priests to the racist brutality in state care and offshore detention camps.”
Guilt Trip unpacks the complex dynamics by giving those who were either born or raised in cults a voice.
Anke Richter is a journalist based in Lyttelton. Before she immigrated to New Zealand she worked in the media in Germany, where she also wrote three non-fiction books.
Reviewer: Andrea Molloy HarperCollins, RRP $37.99