In recent years, the number of destructive cults and hate groups in the United States has grown rapidly, and northern Colorado isn't immune to the effects.
Hal Mansfield, director of the Religious Movement Resource Center, 1105 W. Myrtle St., defines a cult as a group that's a little strange or different from the mainstream. He notes however, that a destructive cult is one that inhibits an individual's freedom of thought using violence or suppression.
"Being different doesn't mean (a group) is dangerous," said Mansfield at a discussion group held Monday afternoon in the Lory Student Center.
More than 2,000 groups operate daily in the United States and primarily seek out 18 to 25 year olds when recruiting.
"The number one target of these groups is out-of-state college freshmen," said Mansfield, because new students are often adjusting and without their support systems.
Destructive cults often make members feel guilty if they doubt the group, promote a strong groupthink, alienate members from friends and family and use deceptive recruitment techniques.
"A lot of these groups operate like commercial enterprises," Mansfield said. "A lot of these people don't even know what their doctrine is, but they're out there trying to preach it."
One of the most well-known hate groups, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), still has at least 16 operating groups in the United States today, and sometimes expand their sphere of influence to Colorado.
"They set themselves up so they are the controversy, so that they are remembered," Mansfield said.
Perhaps the largest and fastest growing group in northern Colorado is the Christian Identity with churches such as Aryan Nation and LaPorte Church of Christ, Mansfield said. Their basic belief system is that Jews are descendants of Satan and the real Israelites are the English speaking and Germanic tribes.
National Alliance, a white-elitist group, sent recruiters to the University of Colorado-Boulder after recent race-related events and Deborah Diamond, director of operations for the Religious Movement Resource Center, was approached on Prospect Road by recruiters dressed in three-piece suits riding bikes – proof, Mansfield said, that these groups are active in this region of the state.
Each group and group leader has different motivations for recruitment, he said. For some it's for a larger power base and for others it's more money.
"When you isolate yourself from the world you can start to believe your own propaganda," he said.
A growing trend is the number of women involved with hate groups and destructive cults, with 50 percent of all new recruits being female. In the past, it was primarily men.
"Equal opportunity has hit the klan," Mansfield said.
Women participate on various levels. Some are only there to bear children, but some serve as leaders or form all-female groups.
"They're just as vicious as their male counterparts," he said.
Calvin Seward, a sophomore math major, said he was unaware that women make up such a large portion of the demographic.
"The recruitment of women surprised me because it's not traditional," said Seward, who attended the discussion because after living in Germany for last year, he learned a lot about hate groups and their workings.
Eddie Smith, senior philosophy major and self-identified Christian, came to see how people were twisting Christian ideas.
"It's important to know who's misusing or abusing Christian (principles)," he said.
Kathryn Dailey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.