Evil Charisma: Osama Bin Laden, Hitler and Manson Had It


Cult expert Hassan knows all too well about evil leaders. At the age of 18, he was a follower of Sun Myung Moon, the charismatic Korean founder of the Unification Church. Moon believed he was the second coming of Christ.

His parents intervened after Hassan was immobilized in a car accident and had him deprogrammed.

"It comes back to the lack of successful organized attachments with the mother," said Hassan, author of the book, "Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves."

"Basically, because of a lack of healthy attachment, they have an inability to have empathy...They can't put themselves in another person's shoes."

Figures like Hitler, Manson and Jones need the blind adoration of their followers -- their narcissistic supply -- a "compensation goes on wanting to feel love," according to Hassan.

Bin Laden was the son of a wealthy construction giant who had close ties to the Saudi royal family. His father died when he was 13. He was university educated and influenced by two father figures who taught Islamic studies.

In 1982, he turned his back on his family and went to Afghanistan to join the mujahedeen fighting against the communists. He eventually obtained a fatwah from a senior Islamic scholar that deemed training and combat readiness as a religious duty and convinced 4,000 men to train at the camps he had created. Al Qaeda is Arabic for "base."

Bin Laden had good manners, humility and a serious and dominating personality. Still, his followers saw "a lot of aura on him and show(ed) great voluntary respect to him," according to a Frontline report. "For some reason, that falls short of a proper charisma."

Hassan said he may have been "manipulated and influenced" by his father figure, Al Qaeda's second in command and likely successor Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In general, cult leaders exert their control by lying, withholding information, creating conformity within the group and separating followers from their families. "They inculcate a new belief system," he said.

"If you have an authority figure, they are perceived to be valid," he said. "We are wired as a human species to obey our parents, policemen, teachers or therapists."

"There are two mind control devices: thought stopping or the deliberate implantation of irrational fears if you question the leader, like you lose your spiritual life or get cancer or your family will be hunted down and killed.

"In terrorist groups that is an actual threat," he said.

But psychologist Stern said that bin Laden must be understood in the Middle East world where he grew up.

"He lived as an honored person within his own context of extreme Islam," he said. "He was always an exile, forever a stranger hoping for theological revolution and revival."

Bin Laden saw himself as a prophet or messenger, and was sheltered by others because he was a "symbol" of the cause. Stern said that he lived close to the World Trade Towers and knew someone who was killed in 9/11 and, "as an American, I see him as the enemy."

"But I don't think he claims a lot of charisma," he said. "He's not a Ghandi."

"He is the captain of the team," said Stern. "We make more of him than they did. He influenced [the movement] but he hadn't led it and didn't claim it. Thousands will succeed him."

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