Zachary Yarba sat at his desk, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. A small desk lamp illuminated his workspace.
The darkness outside was just beginning to lift.
As his brown eyes scanned the pages of the book in front of him, his hands scribbled away at a small notebook to his side. Occasionally, he would run his fingers through his black hair as he stopped to think about the task that was facing him.
The book was a perennial classic: How to Become a Cult Leader by Edgar Dampier and Zachary was fully immersed.
As he read, Zachary was distilling a checklist from the pages and pages of helpful advice. He had already identified that he had the tools necessary to become a cult leader: He was exceedingly intelligent, he was good looking, he took pleasure in the manipulation of others and he was fantastically charismatic.
Now he was deciding how exactly to turn possibility into reality.
After days of reading, his guiding checklist was almost complete.
He was relieved. He had only hours to prepare.
After a final burst of scribbling, Zachary closed the book.
His checklist was ready.
He methodically moved the book to the side and placed his notebook directly in front of him.
With small and tapered fingers, he carefully removed a sheet of blank paper from the notebook.
And then he read the first item on his checklist.
1. Choose the type of followers you want.
- Flaky new-age types. This type of follower offered free-love, exotic drugs and sadistic erotica. Zachary was generally uninterested.
- Racists. This type of follower offered loud rhetoric and a propensity for occasional violent outbreaks. But the size of this sort of cult was severely limited. Zachary decided to pass.
- Religious nutjobs. By creating a new religion, Zachary could inspire his followers to offer him the entire package: boundless devotion, a private army, worshipful service – and unlimited possibilities.
2. Long-term aims
The choices were world domination, mass suicide, fame, and of course, money. Mass suicide was of limited use and Zachary had no need for money or fame. That left world domination. It was an ambitious goal, but Zachary had no limits to his ambition. He had always been told he could achieve what he set his mind to – and his mind was set.
He inscribed: “World domination.”
He now knew his goal: World domination through a nut-job faith.
The next step was to define behavior and tactics that would get him there.
1. Choose a type of ‘revelation’.
There were ample choices for each of the cult types. Old Nazis memoirs and David Irving books for the white racists (other races had other choices). Hallucinogens, imaginary ‘energies’ and even rocks for the new age types. And for the religious nutjobs, prophecy from God, hidden texts and communication with aliens.
Each type of revelation required its own delicate balancing act. Prophecy required faux-epileptic seizures, hidden texts required perfect mental consistency (no notes could ever be found) and communication with aliens required long periods of absence and unusual scars.
Zachary considered the possible angles to success. Just to be sure, he chose all three.
4. Target area of operations
Somehow it had fallen to #4 on the list. Zachary thought it quite important, and closely related to the first item. He scolded himself. And then he realized why he had let it slip. He really had no options. He had one population to work – it had been chosen for him.
5. Signature look
A signature look had to reinforce the cult image. Religious nutjobs loved a beard and unkempt hair. He believed he could manage it. He could reinforce the image with color changing contacts and lots of practice losing focus in his eyes.
The book only really recommended one: Bi-polar, occasionally violent, often distant, but always keenly aware of the anxieties of those around him. The awareness would inspire love. The distance would inspire awe. And the violence and unpredictability would inspire fear. It was, without fail, the complete package.
7. Method of social exclusion
The last item on the list was key. His followers had to feel important. Zachary decided to find Apostles. A core group of followers who would seemingly have the secrets of the world before them. From the apostles, the circles of secrets would expand, growing ever larger – until the edges of the faith were reached. It would require time to develop mysteries upon mysteries – but they could be developed in lock-step with the faith. He didn’t need to start with a complete revelation.
His choices made, Zachary believed that he was ready.
To be safe, he reviewed the generally recommended action plan one last time:
- Start off within the cult-leader personality and never leave it.
- Very slowly let people in on the secrets gleaned through prophecy, secret texts and alien communication.
- Amp up the personality ‘disorders’ when dealing with those closest to you.
- Interact with natural followers first. He could find them easily, they were fundamentally gullible.
- Understand that psychological manipulation could develop loyalty and salesmanship later.
Satisfied with his prospects for success, Zachary watched the sun pull up over the horizon.
Dawn had come, and he was out of time.
Carefully, he placed his notes and his book back in his desk drawer.
Then he slid into his bed and feigned sleep.
Moments later there was a soft knock at the door. A woman opened it slightly and whispered in: “Wake up Zach.”
Zachary stirred slightly.
“Wake up,” said the woman, “Or you’ll miss your very first day of school.”