The Great Anti-Cult Scare 1935-1945

Philip Jenkins, Penn State University
(A paper presented at CESNUR 99 conference, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.Preliminary version.© Philip Jenkins, 1999. Do not reproduce without the consent of the author)

During the 1970s and 1980s, fear and hatred of cults became a prominent part of American social ideology, and even today, we are living in the aftermath of that tumultuous movement. Still, though a great deal has been written on the intense anti-cult movements of those years, it is less often noted that very similar events have occurred sporadically through American history, for instance in the 1880s, the 1920s and particularly the 1940s. Each era in its way produced what can generally be termed a "cult scare" highly reminiscent of the Jonestown years, and in each instance, we find fear and hatred being expressed in very similar ways. In the early 1940s, for instance, cults were a major topic of media concern, and the issue entered the political arena, creating a situation which offered many parallels to the modern era. The main problem cults were those suspected for their far Right or anti-war sentiments, including I AM and Mankind United, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Nation of Islam. Other movements providing steady media copy included the snake-handling Holiness sects concentrated in Appalachia, the surviving sects of Mormon polygamists, and some dubious groups offering the wisdom of the ancients through mail-order. The established churches debated how they could respond to the pressing problem, while this decade was marked by intense legal activism to control the religious fringe. The cult controversies of the 1940s did much to define the Constitutional limits of religious freedom and toleration, with implications far beyond the immediate limits of sects like I AM and the Witnesses. The resemblances to modern conditions are very striking, not merely in the specific charges lodged against any one movement, but in the concatenation of like charges which went to make up a generalized "cult problem", which is very contemporary in its contours. [1]

The Roots of Panic By way of background, we should note that the panic of the 1940s had quite deep historical roots, which can be traced back at least to the denunciations of Christian Science and New Thought at the turn of the century. These were the first movements to be described as "cults" in the modern sense, at least by the late 1890s. The application of the cult label reflected the interests of the orthodox Christian critics, evangelical and otherwise, who were launching the attacks. These critics were trying to establish the frontiers of doctrinal orthodoxy at a time of challenge from both liberal and conservative extremes, and the cults provided valuable symbolic figures in this debate. At the same time, it was the esoteric, occult and Asian-influenced sects which attracted the chief media interest, not surprisingly given the rapid expansion of such ideas in the early twentieth century. Occult and Theosophical ideas established a firm cultural foothold in the early decades of the century, especially in California and the West, before being re-exported to the whole nation. The diverse New Age movements would be the subject of counter-cult reactions in both the 1920s and the 1940s: a splendid and too little quoted literary example occurs in Dashiell Hammett's classic novel The Dain Curse, about a gang of confidence tricksters who operate under the shadow of a spurious "Temple of the Holy Grail" in 1920s San Francisco.

The occult religious upsurge had quite as much impact on African-Americans as on Whites, and many of the new so-called cults appealed chiefly to a black clientele. In the early twentieth century, Blacks were quite as willing as whites to venture beyond the traditional frontiers of Christian orthodoxy in order to reclaim a supposed racial heritage: while whites were fascinated with the lost mysteries of Atlantis, blacks were claiming Muslim or Jewish antecedents.These new movements were attacked far more severely than their white counterparts because of the racist stereotypes of the age. Racial fears aggravated public suspicion of all experimental religious movements, which were tainted with Voodoo-derived legends of orgies and ritual violence, which became a media staple of the early and mid-1930s.

The fact that cults were criticized as heretical or anti-Christian did not of itself invite official action, but a spate of cult scandals in the 1920s and 1930s led to movements being attacked for their strictly secular faults. A sense of déja vu applies to the furthest reaches of the anti-cult claims, namely the charges that secretive Satanic cults were carrying out ritualistic homicides. America undoubtedly had genuine witches, in the sense of isolated practitioners providing spells and cures to the local faithful, but in the decade after 1925, there was a revival of the ancient idea that magicians adhered to an alternative pagan religion, linked to devil-worship and human sacrifice. At first, this was a purely literary and academic construct associated with authors like H. P. Lovecraft and his colleagues at the magazine Weird Tales, but by the late 1930s, ritual murder charges were being explored with some seriousness, and appeared as speculations in some notorious serial murder investigations.

Three Movements By about 1940, therefore, small religious movements were likely to attract intense suspicion, especially if their members were separated from the public, in remote compounds, or if there was any suspicion that leaders were using the operations as rackets to fleece unwitting believers. These allegations became intense from the end of the 1920s, as the New Age ideas hitherto concentrated in the Pacific west were projected onto the national stage by mass marketing techniques, as new movements brought the word of mystic revelation to millions. Earlier Californian precedents faded into insignificance besides three national movements which now emerged, respectively, the Psychiana movement of Frank B. Robinson; the Silver Legion of William Dudley Pelley; and the I AM sect founded by Guy and Edna Ballard.

The fact that Psychiana was created as a purely commercial operation did not prevent it enjoying phenomenal success, demonstrating the vast hunger of the seekers fascinated by the occult. Its creator, Frank B. Robinson, was an expatriate British pharmacist, whose checkered career included being thrown out of both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the US Navy for drunkenness. Taking up residence in Moscow, Idaho, he edited a small newspaper, and in 1928, "a time of great psychic ferment in America," he began placing magazine advertisements declaring that "I TALKED WITH GOD. Yes I did - actually and literally!"[2] Curious readers were invited to subscribe to a correspondence course in spiritual truth. The ideas presented were skeptical of Christianity and other established religions: instead, Robinson's religion venerated the Life-Spirit, which was largely identified with the natural forces then being revealed by scientific explorations of the subatomic world. Psychiana, the New Scientific Religion, taught readers to follow the inner God-Law, in order to find "Health, wealth and happiness," a phrase repeated so often in the lessons as to become a mantra. Prayer consisted of visualizing those things which the believer sought, in such a way that they would actually come true. Though Psychiana obviously drew on New Thought, it also foreshadowed the later idea of The Power of Positive Thinking. In later years, Robinson drew more heavily on Theosophy, and described himself as an Adept. [3]

Psychiana was a goldmine. The basic twenty lesson course cost $28 ($8 off for cash), and three advanced courses ran at $10, $40 and $100 respectively, with a money-back-if not-entirely-satisfied guarantee, of the sort not offered by competing religions. The adherent could also buy extra books, emblems and records. Robinson pursued a clever marketing strategy, advertising in magazines which appealed to audiences that might be interested in his readily accessible form of popular mysticism: at the height of his business, he was advertising in two hundred publications. As he boasted, the orthodox might dismiss their rivals as lunatics, crackpots and racketeers, but "we lunatics have more than we can do. I don't print application blanks by the tens of thousands, I print them by the 500,000. I buy envelopes by the five million lot." In the first nine months of 1933, Psychiana took in revenues of over $130,000, with expenses at $80,000, and Robinson lived in luxury. [4] At its height in the Depression, Psychiana reached hundreds of thousands of Americans, perhaps millions. Robinson also boasted highly-placed followers, including Idaho's US Senator William Borah, who was able to save him from deportation (Mussolini was also said to admire the movement). However, Psychiana was in decline by the second world war years, with large debts from unpaid bills for correspondence courses, and the movement staggered on only for a few years after Robinson's death in 1948. Predictably, Psychiana's critics presented the "Moscow Jesus" as peddling "lunatic," "crackpot" ideas to the gullible masses. [5]

Robinson could have drawn his commercial approach from any one of a number of contemporary models. He had surely noted how the Ku Klux Klan had persuaded millions of Americans to join a pseudo-mystical order, and in these same years, Aimee Semple McPherson was triumphantly developing her Foursquare Gospel mission. Other striking parallels are found in Unity, the first religion to apply modern mass advertising techniques, and Alice Bailey's booming Arcane School, which at its height employed 130 secretaries to serve the scattered faithful. Psychiana was an attempt to cash in on a separate but equally large potential public. In turn, Psychiana inspired other mail-order esoteric schools, including the Mayan Temple, which flourished from the mid-1930s into the early 1960s. Despite its name, this San Antonio-based group offered a hodgepodge of Qabalism, Buddhism, reincarnation and esoteric Christianity, and allowed the home-based student to rise through successive grades of adeptship through correspondence courses and examinations. Initiates received the most arcane secrets of "Mayanry" by means of a simple cipher, which was intended to guard against profane inquiry.

Besides Frank Robinson, another religious leader who communed directly with God about this time was William Dudley Pelley (c.1885/1890-1965). Pelley was a publisher, magazine writer and minor novelist, who by the 1920s had explored most of the available fringe religions, including British Israelitism, Atlantis theories, and pyramidology. He had also lived in Hollywood at the height of its occult boom. In 1928, while in the mountains near Pasadena, he had an alleged near-death experience, during which he was granted visions of the after-life and the Ascended Masters. He told the world of the truths he had learned during his "seven minutes in eternity," which was the title of an article he published in the American Magazine. As advertised in his many books and tracts, Pelley, like Christ, was a leader of the cosmic forces of Light. [6]

Pelley was typical of the New Age sects in attempting to draw on contemporary scientific and psychological advances. Presenting mystical teachings in pseudo-scientific guise was scarcely novel: Mesmerism had claimed to be using a new form of magnetism, while spirit-rapping was presented as a kind of spiritual telegraphy. Twentieth century occult groups likewise drew on the new scientific findings of their era, at least as far as they understood them in popularized form, and this apparent ultra-modernity was part of their appeal. These sects not only accepted the concept of evolution, they imported it into the spiritual realm. They also adopted ideas like multiple dimensions, and Psychiana borrowed from subatomic theory. Pelley similarly dressed Spiritualism in the language of science, or at least science fiction. He communicated to his followers the messages received from his "hyper-dimensional instructor" and the other Great Souls, which he heard via the Psychic Radio. Upton Sinclair undertook telepathic experiments via what he called the "mental radio," and Father Divine employed his "spirit wireless." [7]

Unlike Robinson, Pelley was not content merely to found a mail-order audience cult, and in 1933, he formed a new political-religious movement, the fascist and anti-semitic Silver Legion of America, the Silver Shirts. This was "a great Christian Army fortified by the inviolable principles of the Christ." [8] Pelley was the "beloved Chief," a term which could equally well refer to his role as American Führer, or as the living Secret Chief, a not-yet-Ascended Master: he was aspiring to be Zanoni as much as Hitler. The Silver Shirts were explicitly modeled on the German Nazi Party, and Pelley claimed that he was inspired to form his movement on January 30, 1933, the day Hitler became German Chancellor. He may have drawn some of his ideas from the popular media, as this day also marked the first broadcast of the radio western series, The Lone Ranger, with its heroic Rangers and the recurrent silver themes: Pelley's followers were also Silver Rangers, and that was the title of one of his newspapers. Whatever the origins of the idea, Pelley now focussed on the Jews as the source of most evils and problems in the world, and he offered a solution based on the formation of a Christian Commonwealth, a Christ-Democracy. Through the 1930s, the Legion continued to circulate its anti-semitic views through books like No More Hunger, The World Hoax, and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Pelley became the nation's best-known figure on the paramilitary far Right, and he inspired Sinclair Lewis's imaginary American dictator Buzz Windrip in the 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here.

The Silver Shirts boomed in the mid-1930s, and the movement may have had up to twenty-five thousand members nationwide at its height in 1933-34. Support was heavily concentrated in California, Oregon and Washington, though other centers of strength were scattered across the Midwest, in Chicago, Cleveland and in the Ohio steel districts. Within California, the group found most adherents in the southern parts of the state, in Los Angeles and San Diego. [9] Though the movement looks like a classic fascist sect, it never lost its strong occult motivation, and some adherents claimed to be less interested in the anti-semitic rhetoric than in Pelley's mystic revelations. After the movement was suppressed during the war years, adherents abandoned their overt political ambitions and drifted back to their Theosophical roots.

The third of these movements was the most successful in terms of its national impact. In 1930, former medium, hypnotist and gold prospector Guy Ballard claimed to have had a personal encounter on California's Mount Shasta with none other than the Count of Saint-Germain, the figure who had fascinated Lytton and the original Theosophists. Though now thousands of years old, Saint-Germain lived on as an Ascended Master, who chose Ballard as his earthly vehicle, and the channel of the forces of light: Guy and his wife Edna now became Accredited Messengers of the Masters. Ballard founded the movement of I AM, which claimed to show adherents how to achieve perfect unity with the higher self, the God within. Using the pseudonym of Godfre Ray King, Ballard published his beliefs in a number of books including Unveiled Mysteries (1934), the title of which recalls Blavatsky's Isis Unveiled. [10] In 1932, the movement set up headquarters in Los Angeles, and used profits from the books to advertise heavily on radio.

Critics attacked I AM for its flagrant exploitation of public gullibility, especially in cult-prone California: in 1938, the Christian Century described the new movement under the weary headline "Another One in Los Angeles." [11] One of the group's deadliest enemies was Gerald Bryan, who produce a series of embarrassing revelations about the origins of the sect through the late 1930s. Among other things, he showed that Ballard had derived much of his written material by plagiarizing Theosophical works written over the previous forty years or so, which likewise described meetings with ascended masters in words almost identical to Ballard's, and specifically used the Count of Saint-Germain. [12] Visual portrayals of the Ascended Masters were borrowed, uncredited, from standard Theosophical works.

Bryan shows once again how commonplace such esoteric ideas had become in popular culture by the 1920s, and how easily a whole religious system could be concocted from materials lying readily to hand. He claimed that the Ballards "imbibed a little of Christian Science, read a bit of the Walter Method C. S. [Christian Science], branched over to the Unity School at Kansas City, linked up with the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC), joined the Order of Christian Mystics [the Curtiss group], studied under Pelley the Silver Shirter, sat at the feet of some of the Swamis, read a little of Theosophy, looked into the magic of Yogi philosophy and Oriental mysticism, [and] interested themselves in Baird T. Spalding and his Masters of the Far East." [13] Ballard consulted with Frank Robinson, who "just warned him to keep off my stuff." [14] The reference to Pelley is plausible, since Pelley had also had his vision of the Masters on a California mountain. Like Pelley too, the Ballards drew from the pulps and popular science magazines. I AM claimed access to "great and mighty Ascended Masters speaking audibly over a dazzling LIGHT AND SOUND RAY [sic]" which manifested in the Ballard headquarters in Chicago: this may have been borrowed from a contemporary science fiction magazine like Astounding, if not from a Flash Gordon movie serial. [15]

Whatever its origins, I AM developed its own style of meetings and ceremonials, emphasizing the role of both Jesus and Saint-Germain. To attract the curious, large public meetings were held in elaborately decorated public auditoria, while permanent I AM temples developed to serve the fully committed initiates, the Hundred Percenters. Five of the I AM centers appeared in California, two in Florida, others in Philadelphia, Seattle and Chicago. Members' services were reminiscent of traditional seances. Also recalling spiritualism, the Ballard system involved exorcising the countless psychic entities which threatened the human race, with the believer invoking Saint-Germain or some other higher presence: on one occasion in 1939, some 400,000 troublesome entities were removed from greater Philadelphia. As well as raiding the ranks of Spiritualism, "they have taken followers from Christian Science, Unity, the various metaphysical cults and even from the older religions; many persons of education and refinement are included in their number." [16]

I AM played to enthusiastic audiences across the nation, with a series of ten day classes or crusades focussing on particular cities and regions. The movement dubiously claimed a million followers, but there were at least tens of thousands prepared to support a sizable merchandising operation which included books, records, pins, rings, posters, and portraits of the Masters, including Saint-Germain and Guy Ballard himself. I AM rings sold for $12, photographs of Ballard for $2.50, a Chart of the Magic Presence for $12, and $1.25 bought a special binder in which to store the flood of continuing I AM edicts. New Age Cold Cream was also available. [17] By such means I AM allegedly took in $3 million during its first decade of existence.

The 1940s As with Psychiana and the Pelley crusade, the success of the Ballard movement suggested the existence of a widespread hunger for esoteric spirituality. At the same time, the sects were bound to draw criticism, not least for their flagrant commercialism, and their political implications. In addition to reaching a wider audience, the success of the three national movements alerted potential opponents to the scale and, often, the radicalism of new religious developments. This would all have been bad enough in its own right, but the crucial aggravating factor was the fear of subversion. By 1940, war threats had made American authorities particularly sensitive to possible threats from any movements seen as active or tacit supporters of enemy powers. Prominent among these potential subversives were some major organizations on the religious periphery, which naturally included the Silver Shirts, with all their overt fascist trappings, but also some other conspicuous groups. Charges of disloyalty raised the stakes in the struggle against cult excesses, and serious official sanctions were imposed in the early 1940s. As the courts were initially less supportive of minority religious rights than they would be in later years, they permitted a broad purge of various unorthodox movements: by 1943-44, a newspaper headline about "Cult Arrests" or "Cult Leaders Held" might refer to any one of a dozen groups, and in any part of the country. The chillier climate for religious tolerance was reflected in an outpouring of books and articles which attacked the fringe religions as part of a sinister cult phenomenon. This alarmist message was carried to the general public through films, magazines and other popular culture outlets.

One major target of cult critics was "Ballardism, which" Carey McWilliams described as "a witch's cauldron of the inconceivable, the incredible and the fantastic... a hideous phantasm." [18] The movement was attacked by occultists no less than skeptics, because of I AM's bastardized version of esoteric teachings, and its vast appeal to New Age believers. Theosophical magazines rejected Ballardism as a perversion of occult inquiry, and in 1937, Rosicrucian H. Spencer Lewis denounced these "mystical racketeers:" he ruefully confessed that his own writings on Lemuria had provided Ballard with some of his sources. [19] The most powerful condemnations are found in the pamphlets produced from 1936 onwards by former Ballard student, Gerald Bryan. The I AM leaders instructed movement followers to buy and burn Bryan's work, which they did "with all the fanaticism of a witch-burning rite, reminiscent of a former age of bigotry and superstition," but Bryan's attacks continued to flow. [20] His work culminated in the 1940 book, Psychic Dictatorship in America, which has such striking parallels to modern anti-cult works.

Bryan comprehensively attacked the dubious origins of the movement, its plagiarized scriptures, and the mercenary motives of the founders. He also charged that I AM devastated the lives of its members. Bryan argued that "probably in no other movement has there ever been such widespread interference with the personal lives of its members as in this cult of the Mighty I AM." Members were told to sever all contact with anyone who rejected I AM teaching, even family members, and the strain on family life was enhanced by the Ballards preaching against sexual desire, which was an enemy to be suppressed. I AM prohibited sex except for procreation, and recommended against bringing children into a world so close to its end. "Husband, wife, mother, or some other relative living in a fanatical Mighty I AM family has actually been kept in another part of the house and denied former privileges because he or she would not embrace the Ballard doctrines." [21] Intolerance was demanded of "hundred percent students." Also bizarre was the Ballard view that animal life was the creation of black magicians, and that spirits in animals should be freed, in other words, that members should "release" their animals by having them killed.

Even if we grant the literal truth of all the allegations made against I AM, members were subjected to no form of distress to which they did not consent, so that official intervention was unlikely. Matters were however changed utterly by the movement's powerful political dimensions, which led to it being condemned as a crypto-fascist sect. This idea is invoked by the title of Bryan's Psychic Dictatorship, which also suggests the totalitarian lifestyle inflicted upon followers. The Ballards invited these fascist comparisons by their growing use of super-patriotic rhetoric and symbolism. I AM boasted of being "not a religion but a patriotic movement," aimed at purging the United States of "vicious forces" within its borders, variously identified as black magicians, Communism, the war menace, and so on. The group spawned an inner circle of Minute Men of Saint-Germain, along with Daughters of Liberty and an Inner Secret Service. [22] This language was worryingly reminiscent of the Silver Shirts, and critics of I AM stressed the parallels with William Dudley Pelley, whose ideas Ballard had plundered. The Ballards also sought to co-opt the Silver Shirts. In 1934, they channeled a vision in which St Germain recalled nostalgically how some of Pelley's leading followers had been associated with him in previous lives, many millennia past, and he urged them to ally with the present-day I AM movement.

Carey McWilliams believed that I AM had "Hitlerian overtones," and other groups attracted similar suspicions. As John Gunther claimed, "most of the extreme cultists have, or had, strong fascist leanings, since they believe in salvation through energy and power," and perhaps because the leaders were attracted by the fascist cult of personality. [23] When Arthur L. Bell proclaimed his opposition to the Hidden Rulers of the World in 1934, his ideas had an obvious overlap with the theories of contemporary anti-Semitism, not to mention the conspiracy ideas of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was a favorite text of both Pelley and the Brother XII. British Israel doctrines contributed a religious justification to anti-Semitism, by pillorying the Jews as impostors.

Also controversial was Frank Buchman, the former Lutheran minister whose Oxford Group (founded in 1909) tried to convert influential followers through high-pressure gatherings which culminated in intense outpourings of communal confession. These intrusive tactics foreshadowed the psychological methods for which cults and therapy sects would become notorious in the 1970s. As most of the material confessed tended to be sexual in nature, critics were horrified at the image of the young and well-to-do women publicly parading their most intimate secrets and fantasies. The Oxford Group had often been denounced as cultish, and in 1924, it was banned from operating at Princeton University after Buchman declared that 85 percent of the students there were sexual perverts. In the 1930s, Buchman aroused political alarm by his advocacy of "a God-controlled fascist dictatorship." He would long be haunted by his cry that "I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler who built a first line of defense against the Antichrist of Communism! ... Think what it would mean to the world if he surrendered to the control of God. Or Mussolini. Or any dictator. Through such a man God could control a nation overnight and solve every last bewildering problem." [24] In 1938-39, Buchman launched an international revival campaign demanding Moral Rearmament, amidst rallies and pageantry of a kind that had acquired extremist political connotations. Though Buchman was not in the same flagrantly political category as Bell or the Ballards, his high-profile activities did tend to attach a political label to the cults.

Suppressing the Cults In the late 1930s, I AM and other sects fell victim to a broad federal action against the extreme Right. This campaign found public expression in the Congressional Committee on Un-American Activities (the Dies Committee), while the administration inspired media leaks which portrayed domestic fascist groups as a dangerous fifth column. Concern grew after war broke out in Europe. The Summer of 1940 was a uniquely tense time, with the British Empire standing alone against Hitler, and the likelihood that the United States might soon have to confront a German-dominated Europe. The concentration of "fascistic" cults on the west coast was alarming, given the abundance of defense-related industries and military bases, and the possibility of Japanese invasion. In early 1940, Pelley faced a grueling interview before the Dies committee, and shortly after Pearl Harbor, he and several key lieutenants faced federal sedition charges. [25] Silver Legion leaders were banned from residing in the western states for the duration of the war, for fear that they might assist Axis invaders. The Ku Klux Klan, which had staged a minor revival in the late 1930s, was so harried by federal and state authorities in the early 1940s that it formally ceased to exist by 1944.

Other sects were treated equally harshly. Also accused of sedition was Arthur L. Bell, of San Francisco's Mankind United, an outrageous operation which preyed on the elderly and uneducated with a mishmash of bastardized Theosophy and New Age teaching, mixed with a heavy does of science fiction. Bell now claimed that American planes had bombed Pearl Harbor under orders from the "hidden rulers of the world." He was summoned before the Tenney Committee which the California legislature had appointed to investigate subversive activities, and in December 1942, Bell and sixteen followers were arrested by the FBI for disseminating false information about the US war effort. Though his conviction was eventually overturned in 1947, the prolonged appeal process broke the group's momentum. [26] Father William Riker, of California's Holy City commune, faced sedition charges for publishing pamphlets praising Hitler and urging peace with the Axis, though he was not remotely as significant as some other leaders, and he was acquitted. [27] Psychiana also encountered difficulties in the late 1930s, with investigations of its activities by the Treasury Department, Post Office, and the FBI, as well as the American Medical Association, and Frank Robinson briefly faced the threat of deportation. [28] In this case, however, the movement remained unmolested, presumably because the British-born Robinson was a vociferous supporter of the war effort, to which he claimed to be devoting all his spiritual energies.

The Muslims faced a dreadful time of trial during World War II. The Nation of Islam (NOI) and some other sects rejected the war as a contest between Whites, and refused to serve in the military. Some actively supported the Japanese as a fellow colored race, and attacked the Jews for their persecution of Palestinian Arabs. Some American Muslims had also been impressed by the role of Moorish regiments on the pro-Fascist side in the Spanish Civil War. After Pearl Harbor, an alarmed FBI investigated accounts of the spread of pro-Axis sentiment among Black Americans, and undertook a national survey of Black racial consciousness and dissent, RACON, the findings of which attest to the spread of Muslim belief. Though little active disloyalty was found, NOI temples were raided in Chicago and elsewhere, and federal sedition charges were pressed against leaders in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Washington DC. Dozens of Muslims were prosecuted for draft evasion, including Elijah Muhammad himself, who remained in prison from 1942 through 1946. Illustrating the official attitude to the religion, the warden of the Cook County jail refused his request for a Quran, telling him that "that is what we put them in prison for," and urging him to read the Bible instead. [29]

The Ballard Prosecution I AM was a prominent victim of the purge. In July 1940, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted 24 leaders of the group for mail fraud, on the grounds that the Ballards were falsely claiming to heal the sick and communicate with the spirit world, and that they "well knew" these claims were bogus. The group's final provocation was using the mails to sell paintings of Jesus and St Germain, supposedly taken from life. A trial judge nervous about Constitutional issues ruled that the jury could not assess the literal truth of the claims, "but could inquire whether the defendants knew them to be untrue," and the defendants were convicted. The indictment threatened to penalize I AM for distributing false religious teachings, and in turn raising the knotty question of what was "true" religious doctrine. Even if Ballard's claims to revelation were suspect, they were not necessarily more so than those of any other prophet through the ages. No religious claim, scripture or doctrine is demonstrably and verifiably true in the same sense as the statements of an engineering textbook. Guy Ballard's revelations were no more questionable than those of Joseph Smith, whom he resembles in so many ways.

The Ballard case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the exclusion of any testimony concerning the truthfulness of the Ballards' claims, but with two important dissents. Justice Harlan F. Stone could not agree "that freedom of thought and worship includes freedom to procure money by making knowingly false statements about one's religious experiences." On the other side, Justice Robert Jackson went considerably further in a memorable dissent. He "could see in [the Ballards'] teachings nothing but humbug, untainted by any trace of truth. But that does not dispose of the constitutional question whether misrepresentation of religious experience or belief is prosecutable; it rather emphasizes the danger of such prosecutions." Cults could do financial harm to "overcredulous people," who sometimes received "mental and spiritual poison" in consequence, but even so, "the price of freedom of religion or of speech or of the press is that we must put up with, and even pay for, a good deal of rubbish." If religious motives were to be examined, "such inquiries may discomfort orthodox as well as unconventional religious teachers, for even the most regular of them are sometimes accused of taking their orthodoxy with a pinch of salt." [30] Jackson's words are rightly quoted as a milestone in the defense of religious freedom, but the affair was not an unqualified victory for I AM, since other convictions were restored by the lower courts, and the movement was forbidden the use of the US mails until 1954.

The official decision to go after I AM must be seen in the context of general concerns about fascist sects and shirt movements, but another more subtle agenda may have been present. By far the best known of the media religious tycoons was Catholic priest Charles Coughlin, a populist demagogue whose financial enterprises were quite as suspicious as those of the Ballards. Listeners were sending him large sums, ostensibly for the support of his Michigan-based Shrine of the Little Flower, which one exposé suggested renaming the Shrine of the Silver Dollar. [31] From 1938 onwards, Coughlin's broadcasts became anti-semitic and pro-German, and the Roosevelt administration faced the dilemma of how to silence the priest without alienating the Catholic hierarchy, and creating a martyr. The timing of the I AM case raises the possibility that this affair might have been a shot across the bows of other far-Right religious broadcasters with shady accounting procedures. Coughlin himself was finally silenced in 1942, when growing federal pressure finally cut him off from his twin pulpits on the radio and in the press.

The Fate of the Witnesses Demands for political conformity affected other groups, notably the Jehovah's Witnesses, who had had such dreadful experiences during the previous world war. Their position had if anything deteriorated in the intervening years, since by the 1930s, Watch Tower believers held a deeply hostile view of government that would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. While the sect did not exactly invite persecution, it made no compromises in order to prevent it, and repression reinforced the apocalyptic rejection of all earthly powers. The Witnesses sounded revolutionary in their appeal to the lower classes and the disinherited, who were offered a vision of a world in which the mighty were overthrown, the unbelievers exterminated, and the righteous poor entered into their habitations. Witnesses saw the Christian churches as utterly corrupt, "religionist" rackets designed to deceive the people. While other groups might have held such dualistic opinions, most kept their opinions to themselves, or lived in remote enclaves, and so impinged little on public opinion. Witnesses, in contrast, were difficult to avoid. The group's "publishers" felt an absolute need to evangelize, to spread their message not just about their own beliefs, but about the evils of rival churches. This was certain to cause offense among other denominations, especially among Catholics, who by this time had become a powerful political bloc. Preaching the abrasive gospel of the Witnesses in a Catholic neighborhood was to invite mobbing or worse. In 1940, the Reader's Digest claimed, starkly, that "Jehovah's Witnesses hate everybody and try to make it mutual... Jehovah's Witnesses make hate a religion." [32]

Witnesses taught that since governments were of the Devil, their legitimacy should be rejected, and this attitude extended to refusing public expressions of patriotism, like saluting the flag. This was a dangerous position in many working-class communities where the flag served as a cherished symbol of Americanism and national unity, overriding ethnic particularisms and Old World sentiments. By 1940, such public assertions of loyalty became still more sensitive at a time of renewed fears about domestic spies and saboteurs. Witnesses, however, refused any act which they considered obeisance to pagan idols, and prepared themselves to face the consequences. As in 1917, the group opposed the war, and its members became conscientious objectors. Some five thousand believers were jailed during the war years.

The sect faced sanctions from the police and courts, as well as vigilantes. In 1937, Newark police jailed a hundred Witnesses as they were "considered dangerous." In response to aggressive preaching, many local communities tried to regulate public speech, setting off a series of cases which produced some key decisions from the US Supreme Court. Some conflicts resulted in straightforward Witness victories: when a Georgia town prohibited the distribution of literature without prior official approval, the Court upheld the challenge of a Witness who felt that this restricted her rights to free speech. In 1940, the Cantwell case invalidated a rule in Connecticut that prevented Witnesses from presenting their incendiary views through phonograph records played in the street, even in a highly Catholic area. Also in 1940, nevertheless, the Supreme Court overrode Witness objections when it upheld a local Pennsylvania ordinance requiring children to salute the flag as a means of inculcating political loyalty: this decision confirmed the expulsion of two Witness children who had refused to bow down before what they saw as Dagon. [33]

The next three years were bitter ones for the Witnesses, who faced what has been termed "the greatest outbreak of religious intolerance in twentieth century America." [34] Much of the worst violence occurred in 1940: a Witness meeting in Little Rock was stormed by a mob, resulting in two Witnesses being shot, and several others being hospitalized. Witnesses were tarred and feathered in Wyoming, and a Nebraska believer was castrated, while other mob violence occurred sporadically through the war years. The sect was banned in Canada, with adults placed in work-camps, and some children were removed from their families. [35] In 1941, a critic of American cults marveled at the success of Witness leader Judge Rutherford who "offers his disciples... nothing but misunderstanding and trouble, the lockup and fractured skulls. They love it. They go happily here and there getting cracked heads and being thrown into jail for the cause, having their children mobbed in school for refusing to salute the flag and their houses painted a sickly yellow for refusing to paint them themselves." [36] The following year, the Supreme Court's Chaplinsky case held that free speech protections did not cover the Witnesses' intemperate denunciations of church and state, so that an evangelist could be punished for calling a police officer "a god-damned racketeer" and "a damned fascist."

The legal tide did not turn for the sect until 1943, when a new Supreme Court case reversed the flag salute decision, and a series of cases struck down local ordinances designed to curb Witness street preaching. In 1948, a divided Court even agreed that police could not prevent the Witnesses from using loudspeakers to spread their controversial views. Cantwell and other pro-Witness decisions were of far-reaching legal significance, as marking the first time that the Supreme Court asserted the need for the states to defend first amendment protections. As Martin Marty remarks, "ironically, it was the anti-national Jehovah's Witnesses who did most to nationalize religious freedom cases." [37]

Polygamists Though not directly concerned with war fears, other anti-cult campaigns in the 1940s show a reduced willingness simply to leave alone groups who sought seclusion from the world. This may have reflected the growth of the federal role in government and law enforcement in the New Deal years, and the attempt by state agencies to compete with the publicity reaped by Hoover's G-Men. Among the main victims were the Mormon fundamentalists, who had resisted the church's abandonment of polygamy, and who maintained separate colonies in remote areas. The major sect was the United Effort Order, which had its communal headquarters in Short Creek, on the Arizona-Utah border, and which claimed some 2,500 members. Though these "cultists" were usually ignored, there were sporadic investigations and prosecutions, beginning in 1935 when welfare claims from the area exposed a system of highly unusual family structures. The legal situation was sensitive because community girls generally married at ages much younger than had become the American norm, so sect activities were portrayed in terms of a sexual threat to children. The authorities deployed ferocious criminal charges which misleadingly made the polygamists sound like a vicious sex-cult engaged in child rape and abduction.

A series of arrests in 1943 and 1944 demonstrated a new severity. In late 1943, one family was arrested after they had transported a fifteen year old girl across the Utah-Nevada state line to become a plural wife. This action was held to violate the Mann Act, a law normally applied in cases of commercial prostitution and white-slaving. More general federal and state action followed in March 1944, with the arrest of fifty people in Utah, Arizona and Idaho, in an incident which dominated national headlines for several days. The charges included Mann Act violations and conspiracy, and even invoked the Lindbergh kidnapping law. According to the charges, sect members misused the mails to distribute obscene materials when they circulated literature advocating their religious position as authentic Mormonism. The courts were skeptical of the more extreme charges, but nine members were eventually sentenced. Their cases wended their way through the appeals process until in 1946 they reached the US Supreme Court, which held that plural marriages could in fact constitute immoral purposes under the terms of the Mann Act. This decision gave federal authorities all the warrant they required to suppress the practice of polygamy, or even its advocacy. The anti-polygamy campaign had the enthusiastic support of LDS authorities, who were anxious to disassociate themselves from the practice. LDS church leaders disparaged what they called the "cultists," whom they claimed (dubiously) were mainly drawn from the ranks of Protestant eccentrics rather than from misguided followers of Joseph Smith. [38]

Though on a smaller scale than the purges of the 1880s, the new pursuit of polygamists reached significant proportions. The movement culminated in 1953 when Arizona authorities undertook a massive sweep aimed at eliminating the main traditionalist center of Short Creek. This action was justified by the claim that the community was in a state of insurrection, and Arizona responded with an operation involving a hundred State Police officers, forty county deputies, and dozens of other state and local officials. A raid on this scale made national headlines, and even made the front page of the New York Times and other major papers on the very day on which the armistice was signed ending the Korean war. The Short Creek assault resulted in the arrest of 36 men and 86 women, while the state took into its custody over 260 children, who would be placed in foster homes: forty more accused believers fled. In an attempt to eradicate the sect, two hundred remaining women and children were later evacuated from the settlement, leaving Short Creek a ghost town. The news media paraded the now classic charges of cult abuses, stressing "child brides," "white slavery," and promising to save "the numerous women who... were forced into the cult's bizarre system against their will." Time headlined the "Great Love-Nest Raid." The governor declared that Governor declared "Arizona has mobilized and used its total police power to protect the lives and future of 263 children. They are the product and the victims of the foulest conspiracy you could possibly imagine." [39] Ultimately, over a hundred defendants stood trial in a mass prosecution that was billed as an epic cult trial.

Still, the purge failed to eliminate the practice of polygamy, and the harrowing images of children being dragged from caring if unorthodox families created a backlash. The Arizona Republic published a cartoon depicting a heartless judge bullying a mother by threatening to take away her children: she is told, "Sign away your rights as a citizen and the custody of your faith, or else you'll never see them again." These events ensured that future administrations would pursue a policy of what would later be called "don't ask - don't tell" when dealing with plural marriage. Though exact figures are shaky, the number of Mormon polygamists in the US grew steadily in coming decades, from perhaps four thousand in 1950 to forty or fifty thousand today. [40]

Serpent Handlers The Pentecostal/ Holiness tradition also produced its share of sensational cult scandals, in the form of snake handling. The idea that believers could safely handle serpents and drink poisons has excellent scriptural warrant, in the form of Jesus' words in Mark 16: 18, and from about 1910, evangelist George W. Hensley developed both practices as a regular sign of faith. As the churches which adopted snake-handling were concentrated in remote areas of southern and Appalachian states, adherents only came to the attention of the media infrequently, but by the late 1930s, scandals became more likely as hill-dwellers migrated far afield during the Depression era.[41] In 1936, moreover, Hensley made snake-handling a regular part of his Holiness Faith Healing sect. By 1940, a press headline featuring the word "cult" was more likely than not to feature a rural Holiness or Pentecostal church, usually in the context of snakes. For urban and middle class readers, the movement was almost too good to be true, in confirming the most offensive stereotypes of evangelical religion which had emerged during the Scopes trial: it also reinforcing the Voodoo-derived image of a backwoods serpent-worshipping cult. Over the next quarter-century, the dual caricatures of snake-handlers and holy rollers went far to defining the elite stereotype of fundamentalism.

Images of "Rattlesnake Religion" and "Snake Handling Cults" gained their greatest notoriety in the early 1940s, at just the same time as the more general reaction against subversive or fascist sects. Two key incidents occurred within a few days of each other in the Summer of 1940. In one, a five year old girl was bitten during services in Georgia, while several other "cultists" suffered snakebite in services at Cincinnati. The twin incidents gained national coverage over the succeeding days, with continuing bulletins about the health of the child, and the possible legal proceedings against the churches and families involved, who refused to seek medical aid for the child. [42] After several deaths, states responded forcefully: Kentucky banned snake-handling in 1940, Georgia the following year.

Media reports in 1940 stressed the primitive and benighted state of the rural sects. Primitivist themes reappeared during the renewed wave of official investigations and persecutions between 1944 and 1947, when Virginia churches were raided by police, who killed the snakes kept by the believers. Life magazine offered a harrowing photo spread of snake-handling services, with captions describing the "cultists," "hysterical saints," led by their "self-appointed, unordained parson." When these "illiterate" believers spoke in tongues, the magazine reported this as "a frenetic gibberish to which the cultists resort." Newsweek similarly portrayed a "weird cult" of "fanatical, jerking, cultists." [43]

Defining the Cult Problem Though sensational coverage of fringe religions was far from new in the mass media, the tone of reporting changes noticeably during the late 1930s, with the rise of conspicuous profit-oriented groups like I AM and Psychiana. Such religions were painted in the worst possible colors by association with criminal or subversive sects. The media illustrated their suspicion of the cults through the selection of the groups which merited coverage, and in the 1940s this often meant the most aberrant of the religious fringe, especially the snake-handlers. Other bizarre groups who attracted headlines in this decade included the flat-earther Koreshans, and that perennial favorite, Voodoo. [44] Focussing on these eccentric traditions gave the impression that all cults were involved in dubious and dangerous activities.

While perceptions of a general cult phenomenon dated back to the 1920s, from around 1940, we find a new spate of books and articles surveying what seemed to be a rising problem of cults, some of which, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, were growing explosively. As a Baptist critic claimed in 1940, there were "many hundreds of religious cults that flood this land of the free and home of the brave, that lends itself readily to religious novelties and new messiahs, most of which are founded on half-baked religious ideas." [45] Among the harshest of the new wave of articles was F. S. Mead's 1941 piece in the American Mercury, under the title of "Lunatic Definition of Religion: Rapid Expansion of Crackpot Religions," and which concentrated on the most bizarre and dubious groups. Meanwhile, the mainstream churches expressed concern about their potential rivals, and periodicals like the Christian Century struggled to find what could be learned from the apparent success of the new movements. [46]

Not all studies were so confrontational, and several important books published between 1937 and 1949 treated the small sects sympathetically as a familiar and even necessary part of religious life. These now-classic works included Elmer T. Clark's The Small Sects in America, Marcus Bach's They Have Found a Faith , Arthur Fauset's Black Gods of the Metropolis, and Charles S. Braden's These Also Believe. Bach spoke happily of the "culting hobby" which had led him to observe the lives of so many apparent crackpots, and all four writers made heroic efforts to permit cult leaders and members to represent their own positions as fairly and fully as possible. These books supplied a solid foundation for the scholarly study of the marginal groups, but the very fact that so much cult material was becoming available itself raised public awareness of the issue. When Braden gave an objective conference presentation, an audience member urgently slipped him an envelope promising "God's truth concerning the cults," which included a dozen pamphlets, each of which painted a particular movement as diabolically inspired. [47]

Devil Worshipers For a few years, the scope and seriousness of the "cult problem" appeared too obvious to be questioned, and perceptions were reinforced by popular culture treatments. In the war years especially, the most sensational depictions of cults and the occult were disseminated to a mass audience. By this point, ideas of evil cults, witches, and devil-worship were such familiar components of popular culture that they could be introduced without the labored explanations which had been needed some years before. Even Satanism and human sacrifice could now be depicted in a modern American context, rather than being transposed to seventeenth century New England or fin-de-siecle Paris. By the 1940s, America experienced a short-lived but none the less ferocious Satanism scare, which eerily prefigures the better-known events of the 1980s.

The popularity of witchcraft themes during the second world war presumably reflects the changing demographics of the audience. When millions of men were absent in the armed forces, the cinema made an unprecedented effort to cater to a predominantly female audience, which responded to tales of powerful female supernatural characters. In 1943, the suspense film The Seventh Victim showed a clandestine Satanic cult operating in contemporary New York City, and carrying out sporadic human sacrifices: the film was directed by Val Lewton, who in the same year made the Voodoo-oriented I Walked With a Zombie. Popular novels of the war years included Abraham Merritt's Burn, Witch Burn (1942), depicting a real witch killing victims through devil dolls, and Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife (1943), which described a battle between good and bad witches for influence within a university community: Leiber's book was pirated for the 1944 film Weird Woman. [48] The 1942 comedy film I Married a Witch involved a Salem witch returning to the present day to take revenge on the descendants of the Puritans who had caused her death.

The human sacrifice motif also flourished, particularly among the friends and literary disciples of H. P. Lovecraft, who had died in 1937. We have already seen the continuing activity by the various Weird Tales writers, who explored possible ritualistic elements in serial murder cases. In 1948, this magazine published August Derleth's "Night Train to Lost Valley," about secret devil-worship in rural New Hampshire. In the story, the entire population of a small town heads into the woods for a Sabbat, the communal worship of Ahriman, which culminates in a human sacrifice when a baby's head is smashed against a stone altar. Subsequently, the community conspires to disguise the death as resulting from natural causes. [49] Though the image of the secret village cult was almost a cliche in the pulp magazines, it could still create a sensation when brought before a mainstream public. In 1949, Shirley Jackson published "The Lottery," which became one of the best-known of American short stories. Much of its impact comes from the shocking incongruity of finding human sacrifice rituals in what initially seems like a pure middle American setting, from the vision of a bloodthirsty paganism on American soil. [50]

Witchcraft, black magic and the whole cult underworld had become sufficiently familiar to be parodied. In 1942, Anthony Boucher's comic novella The Compleat Werewolf used as villains the members of a cult called The Temple of the Dark Truth, worshipers of Beelzebub, who gather on Walpurgis Night. The leaders cynically manipulate their gullible followers, who do not know that the exotic words of power used in the rituals are in fact no more than the Sanskrit numerals. Also drawing on contemporary stereotypes, Boucher depicts the group as a cover for a Nazi spy ring. [51] Another tongue-in-cheek work was Robert Heinlein's Magic Incorporated (1940). Heinlein imagines an America in which magic and witchcraft have become everyday realities, with practitioners duly licensed by the state. However, an organized crime ring uses violence and intimidation to dragoon all magicians into a Mob-controlled cartel: the story's title recalls the Murder Incorporated gang which had become notorious around this time. The story's hero defeats the gangsters with superior occult expertise, as well as the assistance of a demon, who proves to be an undercover FBI agent from the agency's anti-monopoly division. Magic Incorporated demonstrates Heinlein's thorough acquaintance with the language of the occult, with elemental spirits, gnomes and undines, mandrakes, occult scripts, qabalistic symbols, the technical terminology of African witch-finding, with the names of the chief demons of Hell. Characters even use "arthames" (ritual knives) long before that very rare term was popularized (as athame) in the witchcraft revival of the 1950s. [52]

Even when they were intended to be funny, such portrayals of witches and devil-worshipers had troubling implications. Not only did they associate cults with Satanic worship, as the most stringent evangelicals had always charged, but they assumed that small religious groups were mere fronts for criminal activity. Far from being seen as inquisitive free spirits, cultists in the 1940s were portrayed in very unflattering terms, and were variously depicted as fifth columnists, ritual killers, snake handlers, sex maniacs, child molesters, flat earthers, and at the very least, confidence tricksters. As so often, popular culture portrayals were reflecting a much more hostile public mood, which the media and the pulp magazines themselves had done much to foster in the interwar years.

In describing this earlier cult scare, I want to emphasize that movements of this kind are by no means either new or exceptional in our history. When I began to trace the American experience with fringe religions, I originally hoped to identify cycles of concern, so that I could find perhaps two or three earlier periods which could be placed alongside the events of the 1970s, so that an effective comparison could be made. I soon learned, however, that my effort was doomed to failure, as anti-cult fears were quite endemic throughout that history. Rather than seeking decades or eras of panic, we should rather explore those bizarre and quite rare decades in which the nation is not exercised over alleged cult atrocities of whatever kind: the 1950s, perhaps. Far from being atypical, the recent fervor over cults has been a strikingly normal aspect of American religious discourse, even to what may initially appear the most extreme and bizarre charges.


1. Material in this paper is drawn from a larger project, which will form the basis of a book to be published next year by Oxford University Press, and tentatively entitled Stoning the Prophets: Cults and Cult Scares in American History.

2. Frank B. Robinson, "In Defense of Psychiana," American Mercury, 52 (1941:) 505-506; Frank B. Robinson, Life Story of Frank B. Robinson (Moscow, ID: Review Publishing Co., 1934;) Frank B. Robinson, Gems of Spiritual Truth (revised edn., Moscow, ID: Psychiana, 1947;) Frank B. Robinson, The Strange Autobiography of Frank B. Robinson, Founder of Psychiana (revised edn., Moscow, ID: Psychiana, 1949;) Marcus Bach, "The Life and Death of Psychiana," CC, Jan., 1957, 11-14.

3. Charles S. Braden, These Also Believe (first published 1949. New York: Macmillan, 1963;) Marcus Bach, Strange Sects and Curious Cults (New York: Dodd, Mead 1961,) 154-175.

4. Robinson, "In Defense of Psychiana;" Rich Roesler, "Mail Order Religion: Moscow, Idaho, once was home to a booming religion known as Psychiana," Spokane Spokesman Review, Sept. 3, 1996; "Mail Order Faith Enjoys Revival," Idaho Statesman, Sept. 17, 1996.

5. F. S. Mead, "Lunatic Definition of Religion: Rapid Expansion of Crackpot Religions," American Mercury, Feb., 1941, 167-75; J. Kobler, "Shepherd of Moscow, Idaho," Colliers 111, Feb. 20, 1943, 46+.

6. William Dudley Pelley, "Seven Minutes in Eternity", with their aftermath (New York: Robert Collier, 1929;) William Dudley Pelley, The door to revelation: an autobiography (Asheville, NC: Pelley Publishers, 1939;) Leo P. Ribuffo, The Old Christian Right (Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1983;) Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1994.)

7. William Seabrook, Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940;) Arthur H. Fauset, Black Gods of the Metropolis (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1944,) 56.

8. The "great Christian Army" is quoted in Ferguson, Fifty Million Brothers, 113.

9. Eckard V. Toy, "Silver Shirts in the Northwest," Pacific Northwest Quarterly 80(1989:) 139-146.

10. Godfre Ray King, Ascended Master Light (Chicago: Saint Germain Press, 1938;) Godfre Ray King, Unveiled Mysteries (Chicago: Saint Germain Press, 1939.) The following account draws heavily on Bryan, Psychic Dictatorship in America; "Mighty I AM;" H. G. McGaughey, "Another One in Los Angeles," CC August 31, 1938, 1039.

11. McGaughey, "Another One in Los Angeles;" "Mighty I AM."

12. This account of sources is based on Bryan, Psychic Dictatorship in America, 106-16.

13. Bryan, Psychic Dictatorship in America, 134.

14. Quoted in Mead, "Lunatic Definition of Religion," 171.

15. Bryan, Psychic Dictatorship in America, 19

16. Fred Lieb, Sight Unseen (New York: Harper, 1939,) 63. For the distribution of I AM centers, see "Mighty I AM."

17. McWilliams, "Cults of California," 105-110.

18. Carey McWilliams, "Cults of California," Atlantic, March 1946, 108)

19. Fred Lieb, Sight unseen (New York: Harper, 1939,) 65-66.

20.Gerald B. Bryan, Psychic Dictatorship in America (Truth Research Pubns, 1940,) 53-54.

21. ibid, 187.

22. ibid, 15.

23. McWilliams, "Cults of California," 109; John Gunther, Inside USA (revised edn., New York: Harper, 1951,) 63

24. Marcus Bach, They Have Found a Faith (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1946,) 126, and 123-161 passim; Charles S. Braden, These Also Believe (first published 1949. New York: Macmillan, 1963,) 410; Herbert M. Wyrick, Seven Religious Isms, 1940, reprinted in Aidan A. Kelly, ed., The Evangelical Christian Anti-Cult Movement (New York: Garland, 1990,) 55; Charles W. Ferguson, The Confusion of Tongues (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1928,) 89-109.

25. Philip Jenkins, Hoods and Shirts (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1997;) Investigation of Un-American Activities in the United States. Hearings Before a Special Committee on Un-American Activities. House of Representatives, 75th Congress, 3rd sess./ 76th Congress 1st sess. on H. Res. 282 (The Dies Committee.) (Washington DC: Govt. Printing Office) Vol. 12, 7201-7333.

26. H. T. Dohrman, California Cult (Boston, Beacon Press, 1958,) 43.

27. Betty Lewis, Holy City (Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B. Books, 1994.)

28. J. Kobler, "Shepherd of Moscow, Idaho: Psychiana," Colliers 111, Feb. 20, 1943, 46+.

29. Claude Andrew Clegg, An Original Man (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1997,) 84-108.

30. United States v Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944;) "Religious Liberty and Fraud," CC May 10, 1944: 583-85" 1944;) Braden, These Also Believe.

31. John L. Spivak, Shrine of the Silver Dollar (New York: Modern Age Books, 1940)

32. Jerry Bergman ed. Jehovah's Witnesses II: Controversial and Polemical Pamphlets (New York: Garland, 1990.) The Reader's Digest quote is from Walter R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (originally published 1965) (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1992,)

33. These cases are: Lovell v Griffin 1938; Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 1940; West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943; D. R. Manwaring, Render Unto Caesar (Univ. of Chicago Press 1962.)

34. John T. Noonan, The Lustre of Our Country (Univ. of California Press, 1998.)

35. Marcus Bach, They Have Found a Faith (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1946,) 24; Martin E. Marty, Modern American Religion III: Under God Indivisible (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996,) 217; Jerry Bergman, "The Adventist and Jehovah's Witness Branch of Protestantism," in Timothy Miller, ed., America's Alternative Religions (SUNY Press, 1995,) 43; William Kaplan, State and Salvation (Univ. of Toronto Press, 1989.)

36. F. S. Mead, "Lunatic Definition of Religion: Rapid Expansion of Crackpot Religions," American Mercury, Feb, 1941, 173)

37. These cases are Murdock v Pennsylvania, 1943; Marsh v Alabama, 1946; Saia, 1948; Martin E. Marty, Modern American Religion II: The Noise of Conflict (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991,) 356.

38. Martha S. Bradley, Kidnapped From That Land (University of Utah Press, 1993), 86, for the Mormon rejection of "cultists." "Polygamist in Utah Gets Five Year Term," NYT, December 5, 1943; "Fifty Taken in Raids to End Polygamy," NYT, March 8, 1944; "Fundamentalist Polygamists," Newsweek, March 20, 1944, 86; "Fundamentalists," Time, March 20, 1944, 55.

39. The governor is quoted from Bradley, Kidnapped From That Land, ix. Gladwin Hill, "Arizona Raids Polygamous Cult: Seeks to Wipe Out its Community," NYT, July 27, 1953; "Wider Polygamy Charged," NYT, July 29, 1953; "Cult Women Evacuated" NYT, August 2, 1953; "Big Raid," Newsweek, August 3, 1953; "Great Love-Nest Raid," Time, August 3, 1953, 16; "Lonely Men of Short Creek," Life, September 14, 1953, 35-39; J. Cary, "Untold Story of Short Creek," American Mercury, May: 119-123.

40. The cartoon is reprinted in Bradley, Kidnapped From That Land. James Brooke, "Utah Struggles With a Revival of Polygamy," NYT, August 23, 1998.

41. David L Kimbrough, Taking Up Serpents (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1995;) Dennis Covington, Salvation on Sand Mountain (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1994;) Thomas G. Burton, Serpent-handling believers (Knoxville, TN: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1993;) Weston LaBarre, They Shall Take Up Serpents (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1962.)

42."Snake Defiers Jailed," NYT, August 1, 1940; "Snake-Bitten Child Remains Untreated," NYT, August 3, 1940; "Snake at Service Bites Three Cultists," NYT, August 6, 1940.

43. "Holiness Faith Healers: Virginia Mountaineers Handle Snakes to Prove Their Piety" Life, July 3, 1944: 59-62; "They Shall Take Up Serpents," Newsweek, August 21, 1944: 88-89; J. Kobler, "America's Strangest Religion" Saturday Evening Post September 28, 1957; Deborah Vansau McCauley, Appalachian Mountain Religion (Urbana, IL: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1995;) "Snake Handling Cultists Resemble Other Groups" Science News Letter, August 17, 1940, 103; J. A. Womeldorf, "Rattlesnake Religion," CC, December 10, 1947: 1517-18; A. W. Taylor, "Snake Handling Cults Flourish," CC, October 29, 1947: 1308.

44. "This Hollow World: Koreshans," Newsweek, December 6, 1948: 26.

45. Wyrick, Seven Religious Isms, 51.

46. Charles S. Braden, "Why Are the Cults Growing?" CC, January 12-Feb 2, 1944; idem, "Learning From the Cults," CC, February 9, 1944: 169-70.

47. Charles S. Braden, These Also Believe (first published 1949. New York: Macmillan, 1963,) ix.

48. Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife was first published in magazine form 1943: Fritz Leiber, Conjure Wife (Boston, Gregg Press, 1977.)

49. August Derleth, "Night Train to Lost Valley," in Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh, eds, Devil Worshipers (New York: DAW, 1990,) 131-147.

50. Compare the sceptical view in Shirley Jackson, The Witchcraft of Salem Village (New York: Random House, 1956.)

51. Boucher's "Compleat Werewolf" is a favorite in horror anthologies: Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh, eds, Devil Worshipers (New York: DAW, 1990,) 54-113.

52. Magic Inc was originally published in Unknown in 1940, as "The Devil Makes the Law." Philip Jenkins Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies 407 Weaver Building Penn State University University Park, PA 16802 (814) 863-8946 (phone) / (814) 863-7840 (fax)

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