The coronavirus pandemic may be wreaking havoc on public health and the world economy, but cult leaders are viewing it as a major recruiting tool, according experts who study fringe religions.
"Cult leaders always know that when there's a major disruption, if there's an economic problem, if there's a terrorist attack, if there's an earthquake or tsunami, they're going to capitalize on that because they use fear as a primary manipulation tool to make people feel like it's not safe out there," said Steven Hassan, a cult expert.
Hassan is a former member of the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon. He has helped others leave destructive cults and has written several books, including Combating Cult Mind Control.
He says the coronavirus pandemic is providing cult leaders with a big opening.
"People want to feel a sense of control and understanding of how to survive and how to, you know, protect themselves. So anyone who speaks with a confidence and says, 'I'm getting revelations. I'm speaking with the angels. they're telling me what needs to happen. Follow me. I will cover you with my spiritual power,'" said Hassan.
Hassan has written about how fringe religious groups around the world are already doing this.
But what happens when the coronavirus epidemic plays out, and the world and society are still here? Hassan says a book written more than 50 years ago answered that question.
The author studied a UFO cult. The leader predicted that a UFO would land on a certain mountain. Followers sold their homes and belongings in anticipation.
"When the spaceship didn't come, would they lose their faith? What happened was they believed even more. Because the leader spun it that because they had faith, the world was saved," said Hassan.