Group Death Myths in Terror Cult Groups

by Peter A. Olsson M.D.

"How do messianic/charismatic personalities form? What enables them to play the role of idealized,
worshipped, parental figures for their followers? Psychologically, these destructive cult
leaders have experienced painful disappointments in their parents through
neglect, abandonment, shame, severe disappointment or humiliation."

--The author

On September 11, 2001 America experienced pain and horror at the hands of Osama bin Laden a terror cult leader and his followers. The malignant charisma of destructive cult leaders is nothing new on the human scene. However, the exponential proportions of terror cults` worldwide impact is growing in a frightening way. I have applied my 25 year study of destructive cults to the dynamics of terror groups. (Olsson, 1994 & 2005). DeMause (2002, pp. 340-344) and Lachkar (2002, p. 362), have made similar and parallel observation from their psychohistorical investigations.

The terrifying psychological link between destructive and apocalyptic cults and Bin Laden`s terror cult lies in their total and massive denial of death (Becker, 1973). These destructive cult leaders project their inner, unresolved narcissistic wounds and attendant rage onto and into their cult followers and subsequently anyone who disagrees with their narrow fundamentalist worldview. The terror cult death myths serve to promote acted-out murderous or suicidal urges upon the "Evil" they perceive in the external world. Bin Laden grandiosely defines ‘The West’ and U.S. as evil infidels.


A healthy religious group has central shared experiences of worship, reverence, and community service. The healthy spiritual leader shares leadership with group members. The healthy religious group gives positive support for life-long, loving connection, communication and support for, and from, the family of origin. A healthy religious group promotes respect and support for the sanctity, fidelity and self-respecting boundaries of couples freely chosen marital and sexual commitments.

The healthy religious congregation embraces projects that contribute to the betterment of the community at large and not just their group. Monies raised over and above parish staff salaries and building expenses are used for projects to help the community or society.

Destructive cults concentrate a large percentage of their efforts on recruiting new members and controlling the financial, social, familial, and sexual or aggressive lives of their members---"For their own good." These cults promote isolation from the ferment of ideas abounding in the broader society and culture. They actively seek to alienate all their members from potential moderating influences found in healthy families, communities, and churches of origin. In fact, the cult group itself is often inserted as a member’s new and by implication, "Superior family." The destructive cult leader becomes a Father/God/Prophet Himself. Fund raising is a high priority. First Amendment protection and tax-exempt status in America and democratic countries can obviously aid and abet exploitive and terror cults.


Apocalyptic cults are a uniquely malignant form of destructive cult. An ominous element woven into the core of their cult ideology, doctrines and pragmatic day-to-day behavior is the Apocalyptic Group Death Scenario. The leader repeatedly and boldly holds forth the noble and gradually treasured fantasy of dying together, murdering together, or being imprisoned for "The Cause." Becker (1973) observed that a central human fear is the fear of death, but a more important fear is having lived a life that has no significance or meaning. Apocalyptic and terror cults offer excitement and meaning to followers.

Lachkar (2006) states, “The terrorists say, ‘At least I know I am alive. I feel excited. I have meaning and purpose in my life…it’s done for Allah’s sake.’ Lachkar makes an intriguing connection between the characteristics of a terrorist or suicide bomber and the societally derived matrix of the borderline personality. She says regarding some pertinent psychodynamic aspects of character and culture (p.314):

“Societies that are obsessed with religion, death, threat of annihilation, or the means to ensure afterlife cannot tolerate the uniqueness or difference of others and share common emotional traits with borderline personalities. More specifically, one must explain the on-going, painful, never-ending destructive behaviors that persist without ever reaching any conflict resolution.”

The group suicide or homicide event is rehearsed in the confident, vividly descriptive and inspiring sermons, lectures or informal talks of the leader. The powerful, exciting, special, "Ace-in-the-hole" of cult group life and group identity is for everyone or special members to die in a mass suicide or participate in murder for the cause. This "In-group" secret allows a protest or battle against the injustice or evil of the external enemy. The enemy is described by and designated by the leader and his lieutenants, but always in the codependent cult group context.

The apocalyptic group death scenario is not a sudden, impulsive command from a panicked leader at a time of crisis. Group death or group homicide is woven into the ongoing day-to-day lectures of the leader. Group suicide or homicide are portrayed as a departure to heaven or a better, advanced spiritual place of rich spiritual rewards or better existence. A bin Laden banks on the universal search for meaning and inherent rebellion against authority among late adolescents. Many idealistic or disaffected young Arabs all over the world idolize bin Laden as a sort of Muslim spiritual Robin Hood.


The group death scenario gives the leader and the cult group a special, exciting, and dramatic defining myth. It becomes a source of "under-dog" heroism and paradoxical group-cohesion. The besieged group prepares earnestly and 'courageously' for the end game or triumph over evil. Evil is defined by the leader but has gradually been co-authored with the cult group as their collective myth. Just as one theft doesn't make a thief, but rather accumulating thefts form a thief over time---so the group-death myth becomes a central portion of the Cult-Group-Self.

The codependent leader holds the group-death myth over the heads of the 'followers', so as to magnify the special, though limited domain of his power. He or she is thus needed---even more. Strong, dramatic, group action provides the ultimate fantasized 'celebrity' and triumph over the leader's insecurity and phobia of helpless aloneness. Pain and martyrdom are both means and ends of group victory.

For the codependent followers, the group-death idea brings heightened meaning and excitement to their otherwise impoverished or humdrum lives. I have listened to hundreds of hours of recordings of Jim Jones rantings and free- associative 'white night' sermons to The People's Temple in Jonestown. I was fascinated with his 'followers' comments in the background of the recordings. These group affirmations of group-death reveal the codependent dynamics of a mutually - affirmed doomsday. The idealism, excitement, and drama of the group-death scenario, is one of the elements that both energizes and empowers the bond between leaders and followers in destructive apocalyptic cults (Olsson, 1994)

Later, we will examine the scope of Osama bin Laden`s grandiose, cult death-myth for his terrorist followers. To die as a martyr for bin Laden`s cause is to instantly be in the wonderful bliss of Allah's arms and the center of admiration for one’s family and community.


Terror cult leaders like Bin Laden can be labeled Malignant Pied Pipers. The price all competent and loving parents pay the piper of parenthood is quality time. This time is devoted not for what the child can do to promote the self esteem, reputation or psychological well-being of the parent, but, towards what the parent can try to do to help the development of solid identity, self esteem, realistic self confidence and moral development of the child. Bin Laden`s father, before his death when Osama was aged 10, spent his time making money and not in quality time with his fifty children.


Osama bin Laden’s father, Mohammad, born in about 1930, and immigrated as a laborer from a poor Yemeni family to Saudi Arabia in the late 1950s. His son Osama was born in Saudi Arabia on March 10,1957, in Riyahd. Osama means “Young Lion” in Arabic. Mohammad bin Laden became a skilled engineer, started a construction company, and gained the enduring respect and favor of both King Saud and his successor, King Faisal. Mohammad was a trusted confidante of King Saud. King Faisal gave Mohammad bin Laden the lucrative contract to rebuild the Islamic holy sites at Mecca and Medina in 1973.

Mohammad bin Laden had eleven wives during his lifetime; Osama has more than 50 siblings. Osama`s mother, Hamida, is Syrian, and Osama is the only son of her marriage to Mohammed bin Laden. Hamida refused to accept the traditionally passive female role in the marriage. Sharp conflicts over this issue led Mohammed to banish Hamida to another town (Tabuk). Osama, already of low family rank as the 17th son, thus lost his mother because she lived in a separate household. Osama was raised by his stepmother Al Khalifa, another woman of strong personality for whom he eventually held respect and affection, despite the loss of his real mother on a day-to-day basis. [Robinson, pp. 39-40.]

I take the ‘politically incorrect’ but I think valid stance that such chauvinism, polygamy and male-domination by many Arab and Muslim men creates massive defects in male character structure.

Some ‘quality time’ for Osama and his father occurred during an annual weeklong “male-bonding” winter hunting vacation in wild desert regions of the Saudi Kingdom. Osama blossomed during these brief trips with his father and his royal friends. Mohammed was very impressed with Osama`s prowess in the desert, and probably recalled his own boyhood adventures in the Yemeni desert. Osama also excelled in Islamic studies, which drew positive attention and praise from his father when Osama was a boy. Sadly, their father-son time was meager. I agree with Robinson’s implication that it left a profound father-hunger in Osama`s heart. [Robinson, 2001, p. 50, 55]


Though a multimillionaire, Mohammad bin Laden was poverty stricken when it came to paying the Piper of parenthood. It was impossible for him to spend quality time with each of 50 children, particularly his bright and perceptive son of the “lesser” Syrian wife. He espoused religious piety but also worshipped money. Osama was 10 when his father died.

Mohammad bin Laden was traveling home when his helicopter crashed in the desert. Observers reported that 10,000 men gathered for his funeral. Osama seemed deeply affected. Robinson says: “ … his grief was deeper than simply the loss of a loved one. Beneath the surface, he had long repressed a deep gouge in his psyche caused by the partial loss of his mother (via divorce) and a relationship with his father shared with so many siblings, a handful of wives, and the pressure of a vast business empire.” [Robinson, p. 54-55]

Robinson continues: “Before his [father’s] tragic death, his [Osama’s] interest in Islam had drawn him closer to his father. It was a paternal relationship he [Osama] craved, yet Mohammad’s sudden death had robbed the youngster of a chance to enjoy anything other than fleeting moments of satisfaction. Family members recall him reeling emotionally.” For months, the boy withdrew into himself. The loss of his father stirred ambivalence.


Another source of narcissistic wounds in Osama`s childhood is found in the way he was treated by his half-siblings in the household. Osama`s banished birth-mother, Hamida, was spitefully referred to as "Al Abeda" (the slave). Osama was cruelly labeled "Iban Al Abeda" (son of the slave). This constant teasing and devaluation of Osama by his half siblings hurt him deeply and festered in his heart. (Robinson, p.39).

After Osama’s father died, Osama was sent to Tabuk to join his mother in their exile from the rest of the family. He tried to get re-aquainted with her. But, Robinson says, “Some of the [bin Laden] family today explain that Osama came to resent both his father for removing him from his mother, and his mother for not attempting to bridge the gap with his father for his sake. The wounds healed but the scars remained.” [Robinson, p. 40]

Lloyd deMause (2002, pp. 344-347 and 2006, pp. 304-305) has provided a density of documentation to support the core connection between childhood abuse, sexual abuse and abusive childrearing practices and the personality formation/behavior of terrorists and suicide bombers.

Osama bin Laden, like most destructive cult leaders, seems to harbor unresolved and exponentially escalating resentment about his childhood experiences of shame, humiliation, unresolved grief and disappointment. In the process of Osama’s seeking a sense of inner restitution and revenge, he leads his followers away from their families and countries of origin, to join in his Jihad of acting out.

Acting out behavior is the attempt by an individual to resolve an internal (unconscious) struggle through external action. (Abt and Weissman, 1965, p.110). The action is not deemed wrong by the actor but very wrong by those acted upon and harmed. One recognized dimension of this term is that the acted-out behavior was appropriate to an older situation that a recent situation is symbolically representing. (Abt and Weissman, p. 3.) It is of course fascinating for a psychoanalyst to imagine how Osama would react to a well-documented and timed interpretation of his acting out. We can assume that his well-fortified narcissistic defenses would provide him with staunch protection.


How do messianic/charismatic personalities form? What enables them to play the role of idealized, worshipped, parental figures for their followers? Psychologically, these destructive cult leaders have experienced painful disappointments in their parents through neglect, abandonment, shame, severe disappointment or humiliation. For example, listen to Jim Jones preaching to his adoring followers one year before The Jonestown Group Suicide event:

"I was ready to kill by the end of third grade. I mean, I was so fucking aggressive and hostile. I was ready to kill. Nobody gave me any love, any understanding. In those Indiana days a parent was supposed to go with a child to school functions.... There was some kind of school performance, and everybody's fucking parent was there but mine. I'm standing there alone. Alone. I was always alone!" (FBI tape Q134).

Jones's father was a sickly, distant, and defective role model. James T. Jones came from an Indiana Quaker family and had been a road construction Forman before going to fight in France during WW I. He came back from the war with lungs scared by mustard gas. He had a grade school education and in a work-ethic community, was a medical cripple at age 45. He worked an occasional odd job, and his many VA hospital stays were a welcome change for this sad, unsmiling man who stayed focused on how to get his next breath. He got government checks like Rev. Jones later collected from his elderly cult members. Young Jim Jones witnessed his pitiful father who daily shuffled to the local pool hall. (Reiterman, 1982).

Lynette Jones was a slender, pretty woman who smoked, drank, cussed, and literally wore the pants in the family. His father didn't work, but his mother did. Unlike other mothers, she was never home to take care of him, never attended church or slept with her husband. Jones mother encouraged him to study hard and claimed to friends that she had seen visions of his future glories and their reflections on herself. Lynette Jones said to her son, "Don't be nothing like your dad...You have to make something of your life and be somebody. Work at it. Nobody's going to help you". (Reiter man, 1982, p. 17).

Early childhood disappointments in parents are magnified by further Dark Epiphany or molding experiences during future cult leaders' late adolescent or young adult years. For example, in his twenties, Rev. Jim Jones became fascinated with Father Divine. Jones identified with this charismatic, black preacher especially as the size and wealth of Divine's ministry grew dramatically in the nineteen fifties. Jones took busloads of his followers to hear Divine in Philadelphia. Jones adopted many of Father Divine's methods, including always having his followers call him Father or Dad. Eventually Jones began to equate himself with God as Divine had done. After Father Divine died in 1965, Jones declared that Father Divine, like Jesus Christ and Lenin had entered his soul. Jones grew deeply upset and disappointed, when none of Father Divine's congregation would join The People's Temple. What a rejection! This was his Dark Epiphany. But, Jones never forgot Father Divine's money and power- making methods. However, he had to be satisfied with his own flock to satisfy his hunger to be "The Father."

These Dark Epiphany experiences compound, deepen, and magnify Malignant Pied pipers' traumatic memories of childhood pain, shame and humiliation. They develop a relentless quest to become strong parental figures for other people. This "Fathering" seems to allow them to finally experience a good parent within himself or herself, for a while.

Rev. Jim Jones bent over backwards to obtain an atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance, as he constituted his own family. Soon after he graduated from high school, Jones married Marceline, a nurse at the hospital where he worked as an orderly. She was four years older than Jones and almost from the beginning of their marriage, considered divorcing him because of his dogmatism, obsessive need for control, and dominating behavior. Marceline probably stayed because of her religious feelings against divorce and the fact that they soon had eight children. They had a son of their own, Stephen and seven adopted children. Two of the adopted children were black and three were Korean. The Joneses called themselves the Rainbow Family and were the first white family in Indianapolis to adopt a black child.

The most amazing father-son story of all was the tragic life of John Victor Stoen. John Stoen was born to Jones and a married Temple member, Grace Stoen. Grace's husband, one of the recruits from the Redwood Valley, California years was Tim Stoen, a Stanford law graduate. Tim was an assistant district attorney of Mendocino County, who joined Jones Peoples Temple because he admired its social commitment and it's atmosphere of racial harmony.

Jones was strict about the sexual behavior of Temple members, but his own infidelities were well known. His followers were apparently expected to make allowances for their leader-God because his psychic gifts were so highly charged with sexual energy, and so constantly in need of release that Jones claimed to masturbate or need sex thirty times per day. (Wright, 1993). I believe they reflected strategic expressions of Jones's unconscious rage, grandiosity and entitlement. He apparently felt, like King Richard III, that he was entitled, because of his deformity, that he could violate the rules that other people were bound to follow. (Shakespeare, King Richard III).

In The People's Temple, the personal lives of members were controlled by "The Planning Commission", which was orchestrated by Jones. It allowed Jones to basically treat all members as his chattel. The evolving Temple Philosophy was that everything was held in common--even children and a member's own body. (Wright, 1993). Jones of course, was the controlling Father-God.

In February 1972, almost two weeks after John Victor Stoen`s birth, Tim Stoen signed an extraordinary document, witnessed and signed by Marceline Jones. This document and its implications became the focal point of a custody battle, which was one of the legal confrontations that Jones pointed to as leading to a crisis for the group in Jonestown before their doomsday.

"I Timothy Oliver Stoen, hereby acknowledge that in April 1971, I entreated my pastor, James w. Jones, to sire a child by my wife, Grace Stoen, who previously, at my insistence, reluctantly but graciously consented thereto. James Jones agreed to do so, reluctantly, after I explained that I very much wished to raise a child, but was unable, after extensive attempts to sire one myself. My reason for requesting Jim Jones to do this is that I wanted my child to be fathered, if not by me, by the most compassionate, honest, and courageous human being the world contains."(Wright, 1993,p. 75).

Six years after John Victor's birth, 1977, Tim Stoen left The People's Temple. Grace Stoen had defected a year earlier. Jim Jones, who thought John Victor looked just like him, envisioned the boy as the future leader of The Temple and took him to Guyana. Though divorced, Grace and Tim Stoen united in a long custody battle and won custody of their son. But Jones would not return the boy. John Victor Stoen was six years old when he died at Jim Jones side in the Guyana jungle. He was the victim of Jim Jones's father-himself.


Destructive cult leaders' life-long search for their parents-themselves, of course requires a steady supply of child admirers. Malignant Pied pipers find them in the codependent enmeshment processes with their cult recruits and followers. Jim Jones once spent twenty-four hours in bed with a young heroin addict to sooth and comfort him as he was going through withdrawal, (Reiterman, 1982). The young man shifted his life-long addiction from heroin to deadly loyalty to father Jones. These flawed leaders give psychological birth to their followers through the cult recruitment and seduction procedures. Singer, (1995, pp.60-79), terms these psychological coercion procedures: Attacking The Self; Resocialization; Reparenting; Behavior Reconstruction ; and, Self Reconstruction. In essence, Malignant Pied pipers gain a sense of power and mastery over their own childhood psychological deformities, humiliations and feelings of insignificance by becoming overwhelmingly significant and powerful in the daily lives of their followers.

Bin Laden`s terrorist camps in Afghanistan did not neglect group psychology and indoctrination. Bin Laden`s videotaped charismatic, rebellious images will endure in the hero-worshipping minds of young Arab and Muslim fanatics.

Beneath the outward swagger of these exploitive leaders however, is a profound, unconscious sense of shame, rage at failed parental images, and fear of aloneness and humiliation. The rage beneath the brittle external counter-phobic defenses is ready to surface when their fragile narcissism is punctured.


No person can be the all knowing, all caring and perpetual father or mother figure for others in perpetuity. Even God 'rested' on the seventh day of creation. So the grandiose self of the destructive cult leader eventually erodes.

The exploitive cult's family honeymoon is eventually over, and the formerly abused, neglected, and abandoned inner child of the leader, now becomes the abuser, neglecter, and abandoner. Listen to Jim Jones suddenly turn on his followers, right in the middle of their cheers for him during one nightly jungle sermon one year before the People's Temple's Jungle Doomsday:

"You're so naive. You don't even know what Jim Jones is all about. You can't even follow him. You haven't even smelled where he is at yet, much less follow him". (Reston, 1981, p. 223).

Apparently unaware of these ominous third person focused comments, the crowd cheers again. Jones's scorn and loathing of them escalates as he says:

"You are stupid piss-ants and reptiles, who are lower than the primates. You can make whoopee if you want, but your whoopee makes me sicky...(Jones apparently had grown impotent from jungle infections and drug taking)...Peace...Peace...You make your whoopee, while I do something that is far more significant, because I know exactly what's going to take place. I've made some big plans honey."(Reston, 1981, p. 223).

And in closing later that night:

"...You fuckers, I like to look at you now, because you don't know how clever, (not the right word!), I am. I made plans for your treason long ago, because I knew I couldn't trust nothing, only Communism, and the principle that is in me---that is me." (Reston, 1981, p.244)

Remember Lynetta Jones's admonition to her young son, the future Father of Jonestown:

"Don`t be nothing like your dad. YOU have to make something of your life and be somebody. Work at it. Nobody`s gonna help you."(Reiterman, 1982, p.17).


Acting-out is the expression of unconscious conflicts or feelings in actions rather than words. There are group forms for this defensive process of externalization. The extreme forms of these acted-out scenarios of spurious, unconscious fantasies of restitution/revenge for the leader and group, occur during group suicide events like Jonestown or Waco. Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson wrote: "In Projection, we experience an inner harm as an outer one: we endow significant people with the evil which actually is in us."

Erikson talks about the development of Basic Trust in mental development:

"The amount of trust derived from the earliest childhood experience does not seem to depend on of absolute quantities of food or demonstrations of love, but rather on the quality of the maternal relationship. Mothers create a sense of trust in their children by that kind of administration which in its quality combines sensitive care of the baby's individual needs and a firm sense of personal trustworthiness within the trusted framework of their culture's lifestyle. This forms the basis in the child for a sense of identity which will later combine a sense of being 'all right', of being oneself, and of becoming what other people trust one will become...But even under the most favorable of circumstances, this stage (Basic Trust), seems to induce in psychic life, a sense of inner division and universal nostalgia for a paradise forfeited." (Erikson, 1950).

We know that beyond her self-sanctimoniousness and grandiose ambitions for her son, Lynetta Jones was not there for her son Jim at the level of trust described by Erikson. (Reiterman, pp.16-18.) Mother Jones could have chosen to leave with Jim and not just put his father down. She could have helped young Jim to understand his dad's medical situation. She might have obtained more reliable childcare. Without solid Basic Trust, it is no wonder that Jones had a flawed sexual and personal identity. Rather than a sense of Generativity, (Concern for the identity, security and welfare of the next generation (Erikson, 1950, p. 267)), Jones stagnated as a person, and in bitter, paranoid despair, he took his fantasized replacement, John Victor Stoen, to group death with him. Rather than caring for it, Jim Jones destroyed the next generation of The People's Temple.

Bin Laden`s mother visited him in Afghanistan on several occasions to try to convince him to abandon his terror project, (Mayer, 2001). His "Basic Trust" in her did not prevail and the horror of his infectious rebellion is now past and future history.

Goldberg, (1996, pp. 206-207) points out that a common attribute of many cult leaders is that they present as some absurd, melodramatic character that could not attract a large following without some substantial degree of 'follower behavior' that reflects a subtle desire for "Self-aggrandizing lapses of reality - testing by the followers." Many of these followers seem to be seeking a social movement that is involved with extreme or deviant behavior without having to accept full existential responsibility for action-decisions for his or her self.

Followers are bowled over by "Mind Control" recruitment strategies or swept up in a dramatic, narcissistic, Group-death Myth. As destructive cult group time goes on, the Group-Self develops a dramatic life of it's own. There is a reverberating, symbiotic, codependent circuitry between the pathological, destructive narcissism of the 'leader', and the passive - receptive pathological narcissism of the 'followers.'


The world has finally noticed the magnitude of Osama bin Laden`s Islamofascist fire, but his fanatical recruits continue to thirst for a martyr's paradise. The David Koresh, (of Waco Infamy), had been excommunicated by his "Mother Church" in a way that paralleled the abandonment by his own mother. Koresh's mother abandoned him to be raised by his grandmother and aunt. He disliked his father who left when he was two. He had tried to murder the son of his Branch Dravidian church's mother, and had seduced her sexually at a time that she was the age of his own grandmother! Koresh obtained a new family with his cult recruitment seductions. Koresh`s burning shame was projected on to his cult family for the group acting out project. He used his cult to insure that he would not seem to be alone or abandoned again. . Many of the people burned at Waco were Koresh`s own psychologically abused, illegitimate children and neglected or misused and abused spouses.


Terrorist Bin Laden of 9-11-01 infamy, shows a frighteningly similar pattern to Malignant Cult Leaders. Disappointment in his wealthy hypocritical Saudi father who had 50+ children, died young, and left them all alone, is a powerful dynamic. Osama`s father though espousing strict Islamism (Wahabbism) had like other Saudi father- figures, had prospered while the poor Saudi masses were suppressed. Osama bin Laden is the ultimate example of repressed adolescent rebellion finally run wild and out of control. Osama bin Laden searched for stronger radical Islamic father figures. Azzam of Afghanistan and Turabi of Sudan filled the bill according to Bodansky, (1999). Bin Laden now leads his adoring cult of Islamofascist adolescent rebels, into the Holy Terror War of WWIII.

In essence, bin Laden acts-out his narcissistic rage and inner disappointments out across the entire world. America becomes another hated father and authority figure. Bin Laden`s relentless Holy War of Apocalypse dwarfs Waco, Jonestown, and Asahara`s Tokyo gas attack (Van Beima, 1995). Each of these apocalyptic cult leaders created and then projected external dangers and evils, (really their own inner demons and self-hate), to justify suicidal or homicidal death rituals for their cults.

Charismatic Apocalyptic Cult leaders, in their denial, rebellion and acting out, try to hide the evidence of their inner narcissistic wounds. They act-out their inner disappointments by leading their adoring followers and then innocent victims to their deaths. They may be legends in their own mind, but they really are the ultimate deniers of death.

It is important for all thinking, independent, freedom-loving, and personally responsible people to be aware of the chicanery of malignant cult leaders. WWIII is ultimately a battle for the civilized Mind and Soul. Bin Laden's self-proclaimed Jihad is as flawed as our Bush administrations' notion of “Preemptive War". Hopefully, there will be a victory of inner responsibility and altruistic leadership, over the tendency to externalize, project and act-out hatred and narcissistic rage. DeMause (2006, pp. 305-307) points to a hopeful and positive solution to the terrorism problem. He describes a proposed UN-sponsored Marshall Plan designed to reduce the abusive childrearing that is creating the terrorists. DeMause describes Robert McFarland’s 23-year-old Community Parenting Program in Boulder Colorado; the Home Visiting Program run by the state of Colorado; and Margaret R. Kind M.D.’s program in New York City. deMause says of these remarkable programs and I concur:

“I have found during my four decades of research---child abuse and neglect are the central causes of wars, terrorism and social violence, and prevention of terrorism can only be accomplished by helping the family to be more loving, more nurturing and more respectful of their children’s independence.” (2006, p. 307).


Peter Olsson MD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School; Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Baylor College of Medicine; Past President of the Houston Psychiatric Society; a graduate of the Houston-Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute; Fellow of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis; and Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

Group Death Myths in Terror Cult Groups appeared in the Winter, 2007 issue of The Journal of Psychohistory

References to this article will be found below the book announcement.


MALIGNANT PIED PIPERS OF OUR TIME: A Psychological Study of Destructive Cult Leaders from the Rev. Jim Jones to Osama bin Laden

PublishAmerica, Baltimore (2005) ISBN 1-4137-7668-X

In this book, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Peter A. Olsson, examines the phenomena of destructive and apocalyptic cults, revealing the psychological roots of both leaders and cult members. Dr. Olsson calls the leaders — Rev. Jim Jones, David Koresh, Shoko Asahara, Osama bin Laden, and others — Malignant Pied Pipers for the way they lure followers to their deaths. He uses the tenets of psychology to analyze the lives of the cult leaders and the source of their powerful attraction to vulnerable converts. Most important in this age of global terrorism, Dr. Olsson offers his vision for the book:

“It is my hope that this in-depth psychological study of destructive cult leaders of the last 30 years — Malignant Pied Pipers — illuminates the roots of their malevolence and their power, a condition that has invariably led to murder, mass suicide, the destruction of families, and to the terrorist acts that dominate our headlines. By understanding them and their appeal, we increase our chance of averting future disasters.”

As a psychoanalyst, Dr. Olsson has helped victims and relatives of cult members. As an experienced researcher, he has listened to and evaluated countless tapes of apocalyptic charismatics and read their literature.

The timeliness of the topic is evident on the front page of the daily newspaper, which explodes with descriptions of the latest terrorist victims, cult suicides, or bombings by religious fanatics. Throughout the world, people are eager for information on ways they can protect themselves, their children, and their friends from falling prey to extremists.


  • Abt, L.E. and Weissman, S.L. (1965) Acting Out: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects. Grune & Stratton, New York and London.
  • Becker, E. (1973). The Denial of Death. New York : The Free Press of Macmillan Company.
  • Bodansky, Y.(1999). Bin Laden : The Man Who Declared War on America. New York : Prima Publishing, Forum of Random House.
  • DeMause, L. (2002) “Childhood Origins of Terrorism” The Journal Of Psychohistory, Vol.29, No. 4, Spring 2002. pp. 340-348.
  • DeMause, L. (2006) "'If I Blow Myself Up and Become a Martyr, I’ll Finally Be Loved'" The Journal Of Psychohistory Vol. 33, No. 4 Spring 2006. pp.300-310.
  • Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and Society New York : W. W. Norton & Company.
  • FBI---Jonestown Tape Q134.
  • Francis, A. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders : Fourth Edition, American Psychiatric Association, Washington, D.C.
  • Gleick, E. (1997). "The Marker We`ve Been Waiting For" : The Incredible Saga of How a Charismatic Former Music Teacher and 38 Androgenous Followers Killed Themselves in Order to Hook Up With a UFO. TIME Special Report, April 7, 1997. p. 31.
  • Goldberg, C. (1996). Speaking With The Devil : A Dialogue with Evil. New York : Viking / Penguin.
  • Kernberg, O. (1975). Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism. New York : Jason Aronson, Inc.
  • Kernberg, O. (1984). Severe Personality Disorders : Psychotherapeutic Strategies. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Kohut, H. (1971) The Analysis of The Self : A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders New York : International Universities Press.
  • Lacayo, R. (1997). TIME Special Report, April 7, 1997. p. 45.
  • Mayer, J (2001). The House of Bin Laden : A Family and a Nation`s Divided Loyalties. The New Yorker , Nov. 12, 2001. pp. 54-65.
  • Lachkar, J (2006) “Terrorism and the Borderline Personality” The Journal of Psychohistory Volume 33, No. 4 Spring 2006. pp. 311-324. Merriam-Webster Dictionary (1993). Collegiate, Tenth Edition.
  • Olsson, P (1988) “The Terrorist and the Terrorized: Some Psychoanalytic Considerations. The Journal of Psychohistory, Vol. 16, No. 1, Summer 1988, pp. 47-60.
  • Olsson,P. (1994). In Search of Their Fathers-Themselves : Jim Jones and David Koresh. Mind and Human Interaction. University of Virginia School of Medicine, Charlottesville, Vol 5 #3 August, 1994. pp. 85-96.
  • Olsson, P.(2005) Malignant Pied Pipers of Our Time: A Psychological Study of Destructive Cult Leaders From the Rev. Jim Jones to Osama bin Laden. Publish America, Baltimore.
  • Reiterman,T. (1982). Raven : The Untold Story of The Rev. Jim Jones and His People New York: E.P. Dutton, Inc.
  • Reston, J. (1981). Our Father Who Art in Hell : The Life and Death of Jim Jones. New York : Times Books of Quadrangle.
  • Robinson, A. (2001). Bin Laden: Behind the Mask of The Terrorist. Arcade Publishing, New York
  • Shakespeare, W. King Richard the Third.
  • Singer, M (1995). Cults in Our Midst : The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Vick, K. (2000). Silent Apocalypse of a Ugandan Cult. Washington Post, March 20, 2000. pp. ao1.
  • Wright, L (1993). Orphans of Jonestown. The New Yorker, Nov. 22, 1993.
  • Van Beima, D (1995)."Prophet of Poison." Time, April 3, 1995. pp, 27-33.

Return to Lloyd deMause and Psychohistory Section
Return to the Primal Psychotherapy Page