The French cult couple has been found on the farm in Sutherland and has died in a shootout with police. Here is CyberShrink's commentary on the situation before they were found, and on just why cults are so dangerous.
We may feel puzzled by reports of the peculiar French couple who allegedly shot dead a policeman, wounded another, and chased others through the bush before disappearing. Their behaviour is odd, and not typical of the usual criminal murders and shootings we're more used to. Now they've fled into the hills, searchers must wonder what sort of people they're hunting, and what to expect when they meet them.
It's too easy to assume they must be mentally ill, but this is probably not so, not in the usual sense. People suffering from the usual forms of mental illness do not behave like this. But there are a great many ways of being eccentric and having very odd beliefs, which may be un-social if not actively antisocial.
What could happen when they are found?
As they left hurriedly without special preparation (as far as we know) they may be low on ammunition. When they become aware that police are approaching, they surely realise that having shot two policemen means the authorities will not give up in pursuing them. They may choose to fight to the death, but they may well choose to use their remaining ammunition to kill themselves. This could be especially acceptable if they believe the view of their cult, namely that the world will end, anyway, next year.
Unexplained aspects of the case
More will emerge if and when they are captured and face trial. If they were living reclusively in an isolated place without electricity, how did they fund themselves? Did they eat only what they could grow and produce where they lived, or did they visit the town to shop? Again, with what source of funds? Without electricity, there'd be no means of handling any savings they had other than dealing directly with a bank, or having their life savings on the farm in the form of cash.
One wonders why the farm owners welcomed such an odd couple to live on their property, and without charging them, according to one report. They are said to have decided to evict the pair due to concerns about their "bizarre behaviour", though the nature of this alarming behaviour has not been revealed in any detail, especially as whatever they got up to would not exactly be visible to others. They seem to have been accepted as normal and friendly at first, and then to have become reclusive and odd.
One wonders why there was a sudden concern, among the police and landlords about the possibility of illegal weapons at this particular time, and not earlier. If the concern was simply to check whether they were armed, before forcibly evicting them, this was apparently not a wise or effective tactic.
Reportedly, the couple seized all their weapons and ammunition before fleeing into the hills. Reports speak of "medical supplies, emergency packs and survival guides" as having been found in their home, so they fled without such supplies. Unless they had stockpiled other supplies out in the bush, they must by now be very seriously hungry and short of necessities.
They are said to have talked about the end of the world and expected then to have to fend for themselves - maybe they just didn't expect to need to do so so soon.
The Ramtha cult
Notes on this cult are said to have been found in their home. The Ramtha School of Enlightenment, a largely American cult, was started in rural Washington State in 1988 by a woman, now 64, who calls herself JZ or Judy Zebra Knight, and claims to "channel" a "spiritual entity" called Ramtha, an ancient conquering warrior who is 35 000 years old. Oh, and he's from Atlantis (the lost continent, not the suburb).
She's rumoured to have visited South Africa on her world travels. Estimates of the size of the cult vary, up to around 8,000. Elsewhere on the web she is described as a former housewife and cable saleswoman, charging $1000 per counselling session.
I've looked at their website and other materials, and the teachings seem to be a banal mish-mash of bits from various ancient faiths and garbled versions of fragments of modern science. Some of the beliefs are decidedly odd, including the availability of the power to raise the dead, telepathy, being able to stop a rocket in mid-air, to conjure up gold out of nothing, and to predict the future. They focus on "end times" as predicted in ancient Mayan folklore, that the world will end in 2012. Yet there's also a keen commercial interest, with online selling of CDs, DVDs, books, and also clothes and even playing cards.
According to the website, JZ was " the eighth child in the family and spent her early childhood in the cotton fields while her mother worked picking cotton". They claim that in 1996 a panel of 12 very distinguished scholars including scientists and psychologists studied and tested her system, and in a very peculiarly phrased sentence, "they categorically ruled out any possibility of conscious fakery, schizophrenia, or multiple personality disorder". For some reason this fails to rule out unconscious fakers, or any other disorder. This doesn't sound at all like the conclusions of even a single genuine scholar. And no such tests are known to the world of science.
Followers made a remarkably boring and disjointed film called "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" Among the teachings quoted by various sources are "You are God","Death is Unreal", and "In this life there are no victims, only opportunities". Her husband sued her for having delayed his receiving proper medical treatment for his HIV infection by claiming that she herself could cure him. The court decided against him, and he died before he could appeal.
The comfort of cults
Why does anyone get involved in such groups? Cults offer certainty, comforting to those who feel their lives and the world is uncertain. And a special status to those unsure of having any status. You are special, chosen, among an elite; and especially with these Doomsday believers, you wll be among the few who are saved by your beliefs, rather than perishing among the multitudes. They claim that the leaders, and possibly eventually even you, can control the uncontrollable, and achieve the miraculous.
Though usually very similar to many other cults, they insist they're unique. The beliefs tend to be basically incoherent, a scrapbook of bits and pieces, rather like a blackbird decorating its nest with bright and shiny scraps it has found in many places. They often claim to be scientific, but flatly refuse to use any of the basic principles of science, which would require that it be possible to prove their beliefs to be wrong.
And they generally offer a scapegoat - other people, groups, or conspiracies whose fault it is that your life so far has been unpleasant or unfulfilling. Not Your Fault, folks! The nastiness of the enemy out there, maybe The Government, or more specific groups, encourages us to cling together more fiercely, to protect one another - against all those other folks. The greater the degree to which members see themselves as a specially chosen, particularly enlightened few, the less important is the fate of outsiders.
Cults are especially careful to isolate members from any others, especially family and loved ones (who could have an especially potent ability to persuade you to leave) and from intelligent and informed critics, who could similarly shake your allegiances. They will usually choose to avoid the outside world, but the inherent hostility towards intrusive non-believers can at times become actively violent.
(Professor M.A. Simpson, aka CyberShrink, Health24.com, January 2011)
Read other columns by CyberShrink.