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Dancing for the devil: The 7M TikTok cult represents a dangerous group in real time

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They asked, “Who do you have to ask?”

She replied, “I have to ask someone who is closer to God than you.”

A tearful Dean explains on camera that this was the moment he knew she was gone.

Cult experts and sociologists argue that anyone can be vulnerable to cult membership and indoctrination. Nevertheless, certain contextual patterns exist. Typically, people join such groups in moments of transition, when they no longer feel safe. This is why high-control groups recruit on university campuses, and why you hear of people joining cults after divorces or the loss of loved ones or jobs. Economic instability also makes people feel unsafe. Cults prey on those in distress, who are most likely to believe promises of relief and therefore most vulnerable to being scammed.

Sociologists have long argued that cult activity increases during major social transitions. Between 1975 and 2020, $50 trillion moved from the bottom 90% of Americans to the top 1%. As of 2018 Steve KD Eichel, The former president and current board member of the International Cultic Studies Association estimated the number of destructive groups, also called cults, in the United States at about 10,000. America is currently in a golden age of cults, buffeted not only by demographic changes and the technological revolution, but also by increasing financial difficulties. Dancing for the devil, A former member describes his dance community as “perfect prey.”

“We have seen major social changes over the last 40 years,” explains Eichel. “When you add to that growing inequality in economic wealth and power, these feelings of dissatisfaction are amplified. The link between dissatisfied people and the growth of authoritarian movements, including cults, has long been known.”

Rick Alan Ross, Founder and Executive Director of the Cult Education Institute, points out that “it was the economic crisis in Germany and the desperation that accompanied it that provided Adolf Hitler with the conditions he needed to recruit an entire nation into the most destructive personality cult in modern history.”

In fact, there is much overlap between political extremism and quasi-religious, highly controlling groups, all of which are considered “millennial movements” (in the sense of the end of the world). One thing these groups have in common is group slide, or communal psychosis, in which pathological symptoms spread through emotional bonds within a close-knit group. As the series shows, Shinn's followers share a number of extreme beliefs, including that he is a man of God, that leaving your family will get you to heaven, and that giving in to Shinn's sexual whims will get you closer to God.

Forensic psychologist and author of Profile of a Nation: Trump’s Spirit, America’s Soul, Bandy X. Lee has written a lot about folie à groupe. When asked how to combat the spread of extremism in America, she recommends first “addressing the socioeconomic conditions that created psychological vulnerability to these influences in the first place.” In other words, if you remove the prey, you remove the predator.

However, there are more pressing concerns, especially for the Wilkings. Doneen warns in Dancing for the devil that Priscylla's past and present problems “are a warning of what could happen to Miranda – or what could happen if her parents and sister are unable to get her out of there.”