The Black Panthers of the 1960s were a grass-roots social movement that began in Oakland. They were dedicated to black empowerment, civil rights and gained a cult following. One of their founders was Bobby Seale who became both a folk hero and media star.

Now Seale is “furious,” but not about racism directed at blacks. His anger is instead directed against a black group generally regarded as both racist and anti-Semitic, which uses the Panther name. Seale feels the group has falsely used the Panther name and expropriated its history, reports the New York Times.

The so-called “New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense,” even doctored a famous photo of historic Panther icon Huey Newton, replacing his image with their own deceased leader and hero Khallid Abdul Muhammad, a former leader within the Nation of Islam.

Seale says the “new Panthers” have done nothing for the black community and it seems he plans to take them to court over the use of the historic name and logo, which are trademarked.

The “new Panthers” now led by Malik Shabazz has gained attention through sensational comments. Shortly after September 11th they named the United States and Israel respectively, the top two terrorist nations on earth.

Shabazz sees “Zionist plots” everywhere and favors vitriolic terms like “white devils” and “bloodsucking Jews.” Commenting about Seale’s effort to preserve the history and name of the historic Panther movement he said they are “working with the Zionists.” And he added, “I think their lawyer is one.”

Perhaps everyone who somehow objects to or opposes Mr. Shabazz is either part of a “Zionist” conspiracy or in league with “white devils”?

Maybe the next doctored photograph produced by Shabazz and his followers will be Bobby Seal’s head superimposed on Israeli leader Sharon’s body touring the West Bank.

What makes a “cult film”? John Waters, director of “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray” spoke about the essentials required to make a movie a “cult film classic” at a recent film festival, reports the Delaware News Journal.

Waters outlined the pivotal importance of well-defined, often sensational characters and scenes that engender devotion.

Describing “Pink Flamingos” as “notorious,” he said that film credit would probably be featured first in his obituary. “Pink Flamingos” is widely known for its now famous finale of a 300 pound transvestite named “Divine” eating freshly laid “dog doo.”

Similarly, Faye Dunaway who played the tyrannical Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest,” made cult film history screaming “no wire coat hangers”

Recognized cult films like “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Mommie Dearest” and “The Producers” all have outrageous characters. And Broadway has mined this genre for two hit musicals. First translating Mel Brooks’ movie “The Producers” into box office gold and now Waters’ “Hairspray.”

Fans of Waters films are deeply devoted and see their favorites over and over again. This type of cult following turned “Rocky Horror Picture Show” from a flop to a lucrative franchise and made Susan Sarandon a star.

Audience participation became the hallmark of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Fans attending that movie cloned its characters through the use of costumes and chanted dialog while viewing the film. Likewise, the cult following devoted to “Mommie Dearest” often brought wire coat hangers to play along with Faye Dunaway.

Let’s hope for the sake of hygiene that Waters fans don’t mimic the definitive scene within “Pink Flamingos” anytime soon.

Increasingly it seems that a cult following is developing within Russia regarding its current leader Vladimir Putin, reports The Globe and Mail.

The former KGB agent now President has an approval rating higher (70%) than his American counterpart George W. Bush. Books and songs have been dedicated to him and Russians seem to think he has brought respectability back to the Kremlin after years of bungled bureaucracy and sordid corruption.

But apparently unlike past Russian icons such as Lenin and Stalin, Putin reportedly wants no hero worship and discourages such reverence.

Historically totalitarian Communist regimes have produced quite a few personality cults such as China’s Chairman Mao, Kim Il Sung “The Great Leader” of North Korea and Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam.

Interestingly, when Stalin died, despite his brutality the people of Russia wept. And in North Korea today even though much of the population suffers from starvation they still appear to be loyal followers of “The Dear Leader,” Kim Il Sung’s son.

Putin is wise to discourage such hero worship. Historically, personality cults have not served Russian well, from the times of the Czars to its era of Commissars. Statues of Lenin are now toppled throughout the former Soviet empire and Stalin is viewed as almost Satanic. Putin can leave a more lasting legacy by acting as an agent for positive change rather than an icon.

Jim and Tammy Faye Baker developed a cult following for their special brand of tearful televangelism in the 80s. However, this ended abruptly when Mr. Baker was sent to prison for a fraud conviction.

Tammy Faye did not “stand by her man.” Instead she divorced Baker, but not her trademark mascara.

Now Jim Baker at 62 prefers attempting a comeback rather than early retirement, reports Knight Ridder. He will broadcast a new show from a restaurant. It’s not clear what the former televangelist has cooked up, but he seems to hope that his old audience will forgive him and tune in. Well, at least the ones he didn’t defraud.

Baker would probably have better luck with a cooking show. What about taking some tips from Chef Emeril Lagasse and creating a spin-off for the Food Network—maybe “A ‘Bam’ from the Lord”?

Relationship Institute blamed for failed marriage

The Sterling Institute of Relationship charges $600 for a weekend seminar and says that it’s “an organization dedicated to improving the quality of people’s relationships.”

However, despite that statement and the cult following Sterling has developed, it doesn’t seem to work that well for many that become involved.

One Sterling spouse claims the group and its teachings made her husband a “Neanderthal sexist.” She ultimately concluded that its alumni are “brainwashed” and dependent upon Sterling follow-up support teams “like drugs.”

Founder Justin Sterling became a multi-millionaire through his relationship weekend retreats. Each seminar typically draws about 150-200 participants, which means Sterling pulls in about $100,000 for two days work. He reportedly grosses more than $2 million per year.

Sterling recently bought a former Masonic Temple in downtown Newburg, New York and has begun staging weekends there. His for-profit corporation headquarters is in Oakland, California.

The Sterling weekend seems to be little more than warmed-over Erhard Seminar Training (EST), now known as Landmark Education, which presents the Forum.

Sterling appears to have copied the basic format of the Forum and simply superimposed his own composite philosophy, which includes misogyny, sexism and a large dose of profanity.

His men’s weekends typically culminate in a strange nude male-bonding ritual.

Apparently Sterling does practice what he preaches; his own marriage ended in a bitter divorce.

Sonya Fitzpatrick says she can talk to dogs and cats too. And now the heavily promoted “Pet Psychic” has her own show on “Animal Planet.”

Fitzpatrick claims she communicates with household pets through mental pictures and wild animals through body sensations. She also speaks with dear departed doggies. Is that another market share? Sonya seems to have convinced at least one reporter at the LA Times.

A so-called “pet psychic” is improbable, but like other paranormal types Sonya makes people feel good. Lonely for your old pet? Sonya will hook you up. Concerned about a messy litter box? Fitzpatrick will work it out, or at least seem to.

The ratings for such shows are good, so expect to see more.

What about an insect psychic? Can cockroaches be reasoned with and an infestation arbitrated? Perhaps some network will offer a plant psychic for gardening buffs? Those pesky weeds could stand a good talking to.

One Santa Claus has confessed that he practices witchcraft. Bev Richardson plays Santa on Christmas, but really seems to prefer Halloween. He mixes potions, practices incantations and calls himself a “hedge witch.” He’s named his home “Castle Pook,” or is that “Kook”?

According to The Indian Express, Neo Pagans like Richardson are popping up everywhere on the Irish countryside.

The old “hedge witch” even held a conference at his castle recently. Richardson may be developing a cult following amongst the broomstick and wand set. Fifty assorted “wizards, ” “warlocks” and “witches” showed up.

Is there something magical about the British Isles? Or is this what the Irish would call “blarney”? Richardson emphasized that he and his friends are a “peace-loving community, not a bunch of lunatics.” Well, maybe harmless eccentrics and a bit odd.

William Pierce, the leader of the National Alliance died last month. But the old Neo-Nazi would have been proud to know that his cult following continues to keep hate alive.

National Alliance members littered the streets of Charleston, South Carolina with handouts blaming the Jews and Israel for terrorist attacks on September 11th, according to the Daily Mail. It seems that scapegoating passes for patriotism amongst Pierce’s single-minded progeny.

And for young aspiring Nazis the Alliance has a “Youth Corps,” which offers “fun…for…white men and women” and instruction on how to “resist…race mixing.” But they probably don’t sing “Cumbaya” around the campfire.

It seems like the Goth craze never really goes away, but instead persists as a popular style statement for the young. In a recent report for The Independent in London, Ryan Gilbey detoured for a “journey on the dark side.”

Dressed in black, pale, often gaunt and almost always pierced, the cult following of Goth eerily marches on within its own strange subculture.

Goth trendsetters include “Addams Family” star Christina Ricci, the director of “Edward Scissorhands” Tim Burton, and vampire storyteller Anne Rice. But perhaps its most disturbing icon is murderer Charles Manson. However, Manson’s face on patches seems to be as close as Goth enthusiasts come to destructive cult status.

Their desire to shock and/or mock mainstream society is perhaps the one most important feature that explains Goth’s enduring appeal. Typically teenagers want to individuate, but it’s ironic that so many do it in exactly the same way.

Who would have ever thought that a TV show from the 60s could create a subculture? The Starship Enterprise began its voyage on television in 1966 with Captain Kirk and crew, but since then Star Trek has gone on to become an International phenomenon with spin-off series, movies and mass merchandising.

Gene Roddenberry’s creation also led to an ever-expanding cult following of die-hard fans obsessively devoted to Star Trek. The most devout followers of the show are often called “Trekkies” or “Trekkers.”

Some Trekkies speak “Klingon,” many attend conventions and a few Trekkers like to wear Starship uniforms. Wil Wheaton, the actor who played teenage Wesley Crusher in the series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” warns potential visitors to Trekkie events, “If you’ve never been to a Star Trek convention before, you should rent ‘Trekkies‘ before you go…it can be a little disconcerting if you’re not prepared.”

Most Trekkers explain their fascination with Star Trek by citing the positive themes it stresses such as tolerance, loyalty, and the seemingly endless possibilities and potential of science and space. “Beam me up Scottie.”