Cult experts hope pending Aum Shinrikyo cult trial will raise awareness

When the Supreme Court in mid-December rejected an Aum Shinrikyo convict’s objection to the finalization of his death sentence, it almost closed the curtain on the cult responsible for the deadliest crimes in modern Japanese history, including the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

But, says the Japan Times,

with the last gas attack fugitive, Katsuya Takahashi, in custody, the courts will inevitably revisit the atrocities committed by the cultists, whose spiritual pursuits under guru Shoko Asahara claimed 29 lives and left more than 6,500 people injured.

Aum’s critics say the trio of recently captured fugitives — Takahashi, 54, Makoto Hirata, 46, and Naoko Kikuchi, 40 — will not shed dramatic new light on the cult and its crimes because most of the pieces of the puzzle have already been put together via the trials of the other cultists.

But experts expressed hope that revisiting Aum’s mayhem will raise public awareness of the potential dangers of joining cults.


One of the leading experts in mind control, Dr. Robert J. Lifton addressed the issue of doomsday cults such as Aum Shinrikyo.

“We need to analyze why young people were attracted to that group, and how to prevent others from joining them. Otherwise, even if the Aum trials are over, new groups can emerge and attract young people and the same things can be repeated,” said Yoshifu Arita, a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker who closely followed the Aum trials as a freelance journalist. […]

In the meantime, authorities may have to postpone the hangings of the condemned cultists because they could be needed as witnesses in the trials of the trio. Legal analysts say the pretrial process for determining the points of argument could take months or even years. […]

Aum splintered and changed its name to Aleph in 2000 but continues to operate under Asahara’s teachings. A report by the Public Safety Intelligence Agency shows there are some 1,500 Aleph followers in Japan and it gained 200 new ones last year.

The rise in numbers shows more people, especially in the younger generation, are not aware of what Aum did in the past and find its brand of spiritualism attractive, Arita of DPJ said. He stressed the need to educate people on the dangers of joining cults, since anyone faces the risk of being subtly brainwashed.

In a separate report the Japan Times writes

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The final three Aum Shinrikyo fugitives are now in custody, but groups working to rescue brainwashed followers from its main successor group are continuing their fight against the cult.

In a campaign to save the roughly 1,500 disciples who remain loyal to the cult, which changed its name to Aleph in 2000, the groups are calling on the former fugitives and other ex-members to warn the young about the risks it still poses.

“My goal is to make every single Aum follower leave the cult. . . . I’ve got to do something about this problem” while I’m still strong enough, Hiroyuki Nagaoka, the 74-year-old head of a group of relatives of former or current cult members, told The Japan Times on Friday.

Nagaoka said he believes Katsuya Takahashi, the last Aum fugitive who was arrested Friday, is still partly under the influence of Aum guru Shoko Asahara, currently on death row, and will require counseling to start viewing the world through his own eyes. […]

Experts say that due to Asahara’s demise many people now dismiss the possibility of falling under the influence of a cult, and warn the younger generation is especially at risk as it did not directly experience the shock waves generated by the Tokyo sarin gas attack 17 years ago.

They say anyone can fall prey to cults such as Aleph and that its members are actively looking for new recruits on university campuses. […]

According to a 2011 report by the Public Safety Intelligence Agency, Aleph conducted an aggressive recruitment drive last year, covertly seeking new members at universities by infiltrating cultural societies or using social networking services.

More than 200 new members joined the cult last year — roughly double the number in 2010 — and 62 percent were younger than 35, the report said.

See Also

About Aum Shinrikyo

Aum Shinrikyo may be gone in name but guru still has following
How cult apologists, including J. Gordon Melton and James R. Lewis, defended Aum Shrinrikyo
Aum Shinrikyo may be gone in name but guru still has following
Research resources on AUM shinrikyo

About Cults

Who Joins Cults, And Why?
Today’s Cults: You Might Not Recognize Them
When Spirituality Goes Awry: Students in Cults
Cult FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Cults

About Cult Experts

Need a cult expert? Here’s how to avoid the bad apples

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016