“Cult attraction: Aum Shinrikyo’s power of persuasion”
Written by: Masami Ito (published March.14, 2015)
March 20, 2015, marks the 20th anniversary of when the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth), a Japanese doomsday cult, carried out one of the deadliest act of domestic terrorism ever witnessed since the postwar era within Japan. Members belonging to the millenarian cult launched a chemical attack, using the deadly nerve gas sarin, during the morning rush hours within the heart of Tokyo’s subway system. As a result thirteen people were killed and thousands were injured in the incident.
Twenty years later, victims of the attack still continue to suffer from the post-traumatic after-effects of the event, both physically and mentally. To date, investigators have charged 192 aum members in their role in the attack. The leader and founder of the cult group, Shoko Asahara, along with twelve others have received the death penalty, while others continue to wait trial for their involvement.
In summary of the article, The Japan Times interviews people who have taken an initiative in helping members break free from the cult’s influence.
Hiroyuki Nagaoka, whose son was initially part of the Aum Shinrikyo cult group, details his personal battle in freeing his son from the grips of the Aum and his unfortunate encounters with the group in which he was targeted and attacked by the group. Having survived the targeted attack and freeing his son, Nagaoka remains an avid activist against the group and has since led a support group called the Aum Shinrikyo Family Group that serves in stopping the cults activities once and for all.
Also detailed within the article is Nagaoka’s son, whose first name is withheld in the article to protect his family’s privacy. He goes on to recall his fascination with the cult within his early years during university, citing that the cult’s “progressive ideas” and philosophies were at the time appealing to him. This led to his indoctrination to the group where he worked tireless in promoting the religious attitudes of the group’s work by distributing fliers and campaign posters.
He goes on to recount how extremely violent and corrupt the cult’s actions were. Luckily, Nagaoka’s father unwavering effort in saving his son was enough help for him to escape the cult. Along with his father, he tries to aid in the help of others who have been affected by the group’s influences and actions. He ultimately believes that the 13 members involved in the subway station attacks should all receive the death penalty for the lives they have taken, and holds no remorse for his fellow Aum members.
Following the incident, remaining loyalists of the group disbanded and quickly reformed themselves into smaller factions. A new group called Aleph was created in 2000, while others joined former aum spokesman, Fumihiro Joyu group called Hikari no Wa (Circle of Rainbow light). These splinter groups remain under extreme surveillance under the Public Security Intelligence Agency’s until the end of January 2018.
What does it mean to call these groups’ cults? And why do they exist? It serves as a way for people to separate themselves from what most people see as legitimate truth and fact. Such cults, such as the Aum Shinrikyo, use concepts and beliefs established by other mainstream religions but apply them differently so that it fit to their own understanding of the world. Many millenarian cults are dangerous not only because they are aggressive and radical in their actions but also because they play to the weaknesses of the individual. Many individuals, such as Nagaoka’s son, are persuaded and deceptively made to believe that the world is out to get them. They employ various forms of social control that restrict individual freedom as a way to maintain followers. Charismatic leaders who often claim to have “special knowledge” of the future also often lead these cults and abuse their position of power to further fulfill their individualistic goals and desires. They command complete obedience and employ strict punishments that prevent individuals from reforming. Many individuals who follow these groups are willing to give up their lives simply for what they believe in. Like many religious groups, it promotes group solidarity and provides comfort to those who seek a community that share the same “strange” sense of beliefs and values that the individual also holds. These communities serve to strengthen the individual’s bond to their own faith and ultimately justify their beliefs.