The anthropology, sociology and psychology of religious cults has revealed many things that are extremely relevant to our current political climate — and to those people who make money and amass power peddling conspiracy ‘theories’ to the susceptible.
My postgraduate research was on apocalyptic cults and, after 2012 came and went without the world ending or any god-like entities appearing, I applied the social scientific insights to politics and the growing mob of power-hungry podcast 'prophets' and greedy 'gurus’.
A key thing identified several decades ago, when a 'flying saucer cult’ was investigated psychosocially, was that observers raising questions and making rational critiques can, paradoxically, strengthen the adherence of followers.
As cult leaders tend to continually push the message that 'outsiders' can’t understand, as don't have the 'superior insights' of insiders, it is easy for scamming leaders to turn any criticism or questions into 'proof' that the outside world is against them and trying to destroy the movement.
Such 'evidence’, for primed adherents, reinforces the belief that the community is right — as why would the 'powers that be' or the 'mainstream media' be so alarmed unless the group was right and everybody else wrong? This can help leaders further isolate adherents from society and wring more money out of them — to help the community tackle encroachment.
Similarly, when prophecies fail, cult leaders can use the pre-installed narrative that the mainstream world is out to bring them down to spin the failure of prophecy into something else. For example, the ‘deep state’ stopped it, or the aliens didn’t come as the group’s ‘faith saved the world from disaster’.
When authorities actually intervene, for example when there’s evidence of exploitation, rape and child abuse, leaders can say "I told you so", before torching the place and / or murdering their followers.
The way in which psychologically susceptible people respond to criticism of their cult leaders is a real problem, as it makes dealing with wrongdoing very difficult. It was problematic in the 1950s and is even more problematic now.