Cults are composed of adherents of an exclusive system of beliefs and practices. According to the UK Cult Information Centre, every cult can be defined as a group having all of the following five characteristics:
For apocalyptic cults, especially biblically based ones, the millennium is viewed as the time that will signal a major transformation for the world. Many apocalyptic cults share the belief that the battle against Satan, as prophesied in the Book of Revelation, will begin in the years surrounding the millennium.
Apocalyptic cults see their mission in two general ways: They either want to accelerate the end of time or take action to ensure that they survive the millennium. For Aum in Japan Shinrikyo wanted to take action to hasten the end of the world, while the militia compounds in the US in general are built to survive the endtime safely.
The cults of greatest concern to public authorities are those that: (1) believe they play a special, elite role in the endtime; (2) believe violent offensive action is needed to fulfill their endtime prophecy; (3) take steps to attain their beliefs. Those factors may culminate in plans to initiate conflict with outsiders or law enforcement agencies.
The violent tendencies of dangerous cults can be classified into two general categories - defensive violence and offensive violence. Defensive violence is utilized by cults to defend a compound or enclave: The 1993 clash in Waco, Texas at the Branch Davidian complex is an illustration of such defensive violence. History has shown that groups that seek to withdraw from the dominant culture seldom act on their beliefs that the endtime has come unless provoked.
Cults are religious groups which demand their members' complete commitment to absolutist beliefs and authoritarian leaders, regimented organizations, and deviant ways of life. They subject their recruits to brainwashing, disrupt their families, and exploit their labour and assets. They have been know to sexually exploit members, murder opponents and defraud people. They are especially dangerous when they endeavour to capture children and impressionable young people, indoctrinating and brainwashing them so that they become unquestioning captives and tools of the inner circle of the cult.
Government has no business declaring what is orthodox or heretical or what is a true or false religion. History teaches that today's cults may become tomorrow's mainstream religions.