A cult doesn’t require a large following and some are very small.

“Heaven’s Gate” had less than fifty members, when its leader Marshall Applewhite told his followers to commit suicide.

Some cults are a family unit, such as the women and children led by Winifred Wright, recently prosecuted and sentenced to prison after the death of a child.

All a cult actually requires is a leader and at least one follower.

This seems to describe Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, the duo that kidnapped and held Elizabeth Smart for nine months.

Within a 27 page manifesto now made public, Mitchell speaks as “the voice of God” and then explains his singular status as “God’s chosen prophet,” reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The transient’s writings are not original, but rather an idiosyncratic, eclectic mix of the bible, Book of Mormon and plagiarized excerpts from other sources pieced together arbitrarily.

What is telling though is the importance Mitchell places upon himself. He is the central character and defining element of his manifesto.

This is consistent with what noted psychiatrist and cult observer Robert Jay Lifton describes within his paper titled “Cult Formation.

Lifton lists three essential ingredients for the formation of a destructive cult.

The first is “a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power.”

Mitchell’s limited charisma only netted him one follower, until he kidnapped Elizabeth Smart.

Like other cult leaders such as Jim Jones and David Koresh, Mitchell’s manifesto reflects a man who sees himself as “chosen” and everyone else as wrong and/or evil.

He warns, “Repent, God says, and deliverance will come; and ‘for this cause I have raised up my servant Immanuel David Isaiah [Brian Mitchell], even my righteous right hand, to be a light and covenant to my people…'”

Barzee was “brainwashed” into embracing this worldview according to her children. And it appears that Elizabeth Smart was similarly influenced.

Lifton says this is the second component necessary to create a cult, an observable process he calls coercive persuasion or thought reform.”

Apparently, the abduction of Elizabeth was tied to a plan regarding plural wives.

Mitchell’s manifesto states, “Thou shalt take into thy heart and home seven times seven sisters, to love and to care for.” Elizabeth was to be “the jubilee of them all, first and last,” reports the Desert News.

Like other cult leaders Mitchell was obsessed with his proclaimed role and seemed to believe that the end justified the means.

According to Barzee the 14-year-old girl was part of a “prophetic” revelation. A woman that visited her in jail said, “God told them to take Elizabeth. They were doing what God asked them to do,” reports the New York Times.

It seems for some time the strange street preacher that once wandered about Salt Lake City was seen by residents as a harmless eccentric.

Benign “cults” typically don’t draw much concern.

However, Mitchell and Barzee moved from bizarre and benign to criminally destructive.

Evidence of “economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader” is the final factor cited by Lifton to determine a destructive cult.

The troubled couple certainly had the right to believe anything, but that right never included the freedom to do whatever they wished in the name of their beliefs.

Mitchell and Barzee are now where they both belong, behind bars. Perhaps the “chosen prophet” should have foreseen such an end.


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