20 Cults That Are So Sneaky, You Won’t Even Realize You’re in One

Let’s talk about something that’s as bizarre as it is intriguing – cults! Now, we all know what a cult is, right? A group of people led by someone who’s convinced they’re the ultimate guru, following weird beliefs and rituals. But here’s the kicker: there are some cults out there that pretend they aren’t actually a cult.

One Redditor asked, “What is a cult that pretends it’s not a cult?” This thread received insights from many users, and we have compiled the top eye-openers for you.

1. Teen Therapy Programs

Serious teenager girl looking angry. Curly young girl outside.
Image Credit: Anna Chinaroglu/Shutterstock.

Ever heard of Teen Therapy Programs? You know, those places that claim to help troubled teens, but it’s more like a boot camp meets psychological experiment? Yep, total cult vibes.

A discerning Reddit user commented, “The troubled teen industry (youth residential “therapy” programs that are underregulated and rampant with abuse, SA, and children’s deaths)

Edit: the earlier programs were closely based on the teachings of a cult called Synanon. Not every program open right now is a cult itself, but their history is abusive, and most programs do significantly more harm than good.”

Someone else added, “As a survivor of these, some are worse than others (my experience is nothing like the horror stories of Elan or Provo Canyon), but even the “good” ones use textbook methods of psychological coercion to “force” you to change and do what they say.”

2. Southern Pentecostal Baptist Snake Handlers

Pastor with a Bible in his hand during a sermon. The preacher delivers a speech
Image Credit: MVolodymyr/Shutterstock.

One Redditor stated, “Southern Pentecostal Baptist Snake Handlers. Grew up going to one of these churches. Long drive to a small church hidden in the woods. They honestly believed only their members were gonna make it to heaven. We saw some crazy stuff in that building.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “I went to a Pentecostal school in California growing up. They didn’t handle snakes, but they did all the other creepy stuff like “speaking in tongues” and “fainting in church” after being consumed by the holy spirit.

I was a child, so I didn’t see it right away, but there was always something that just seemed off about the church members. I was always creeped out by how fake everything seemed like you could tell that everyone was acting.”

Did you know that this was actually a cult?

3. Herbalife

Photo of young girl disgusted dislike bad smell negative
Image Credit: deagreez1 via DepositPhotos.com.

Now, here’s a shocker – Herbalife, the friendly neighborhood supplement company, is basically a cult in disguise.

A Reddit user wrote, “The Herbalife company. Despite being accused of being a pyramid scheme, they continue to function similarly. There are some people from my childhood who became addicted to it, and they act very much like members of a cult.”

Someone else replied, “Back in college, me and a buddy were invited to a pitch meeting. We decided to check it out despite both knowing it was a scam. We figured if we could waste their time with us, they couldn’t scam someone else.

At one point in the salesman’s pitch, he said we could both be driving a Ferrari in 6 months. I asked if he could take us a drive in his. The backpedaling about why he doesn’t have one yet was hilarious.”

4. Jeep

Spielberg / Austria - 07/17/2018: The 2019 Jeep Wrangler JL Sahara off-road with mountains in the background.
Image Credit: Tom B Paye/Shutterstock.

One Redditor stated, “A lot of my friends and family tell me I’m unknowingly in the cult of jeep owners… I mean, it’s a jeep thing they wouldn’t understand.”

Someone else added, “I have a Jeep, and I hate it. But I’m afraid to say anything because of the fanfic Jeep owners around me.”

Do you know any die-hard Jeep fans who practically worship their off-road vehicles?

5. Ballet

Stock Photo ID: 2197673001Ballerina. Young graceful woman ballet dancer, dressed in professional outfit, shoes and red weightless skirt is demonstrating dancing skill. Beauty of classic ballet dance.
Image Credit: Sofia Zhuravetc/Shutterstock.

Now, ballet, you’d think that’s just a dance, right? Wrong. Ballet can be a full-blown cult too! Think about it – the strict rules, the intense discipline, and the crazy dedication.

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Ballet. You are basically at their whim. You are expected to pay tuition, costumes, dance wear, dance shoes, travel fees, competition fees, production fees, tickets, and do volunteer work and give up your entire schedule.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “If you complain at all about anything valid or not- they shun you by not giving your kid a good role or not moving them up a level. And they withhold attention from your child. You literally must schedule all your life around ballet. And pay thousands and thousands of dollars so your kid can be in the back. If you quit, all the former dance parents and friends will shun you.”

6. The Duggar Family

19 Kids and Counting (2008).
Image Credit: Discovery Communications.

You know, that huge clan from that reality show? They might seem all sunshine and rainbows on TV, but behind closed doors, it’s a whole different story.

A Reddit user wrote, “The Duggar family. The Quiverfull movement they’re a part of is pretty much a cult.”

Another added, “They’re associated with IBLP, and Gothard was their leader, so definitely a cult.”

7. Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah's witnesses stand next to a stand with religious magazines and literature on a street in Kiev, Ukraine, 4 August 2019.
Image Credit: viewimage/Shutterstock.

One Redditor stated, “Jehovah’s Witnesses. As someone who comes from a family of Jehovah and has actively practiced this faith in past times. It is 100% a cult.”

Another responded, “Came here to see this. I was raised JW and finally mustered up the courage to leave when I turned 18. Literally overnight, everyone I knew my whole life cut contact with me. Not even a goodbye. Friends and family.”

They’ve got their own version of the world, and if you don’t comply, well, good luck.

8. Crossfitter

Healthy african woman working out.
Image Credit: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock.

It’s not just a workout routine; it’s a cultish community where people become obsessed with flipping tires and lifting heavy things.

Someone commented, “Crossfitter here. We are absolutely a cult.”

Someone else added, “How do all Crossfitters not get that it’s a cult? We finally started after our best friends have been bugging us to join for the last two years- it’s WILDLY cultish. I’m still trying to figure out how to take the bait and spit out the hook.”

9. K-Pop Fans

Inglewood, California, USA - January 31, 2022 - Hong Joong the rapper of ATEEZ, a Kpop boy group, performing at the LA Forum during the THE FELLOWSHIP : BEGINNING OF THE END Tour.
Image Credit: Sam the Leigh/Shutterstock.

One Redditor stated, “Kpop. And its army Sadly the rabid fans are often the cause of stress to the groups. Went through a K-pop phase in my teens (never a crazy fan just liked the music and the dances), and you would often hear about times fans had stalked the idols and broken into their apartments.

Death threats to the girl/boyfriend of the idol when it turned out they were dating were a regular thing, too. The level of obsession by some of the fans was ridiculous and put me off the whole genre.”

Someone else replied, “I was looking for this answer lol. Fr they are doing the most, and it’s embarrassing for other BTS fans sometimes. I know they’re protecting the members, but come on, those guys are in their mid or late 20s already; they can handle themselves.”

And the fan wars? It’s like a battlefield out there. If you mess with one K-pop group, you’re in for a war zone.

10. Texas A&M University

College Station, Texas - June 12 2019: Texas A&M golden seel.
Image Credit: University of College/Shutterstock.

A Reddit user wrote, “My mom likes to tell the story about when I visited there as a high school senior. It was a one-night sleepover tour.

I hated it. When she came to pick me up the following day, I was waiting at the curb, sitting on my packed suitcase. I hopped immediately into the car, and the first thing I said was, “It’s a cult. Let’s get out of here.””

Another person agreed to it and said, “My family legit shunned me when I said I didn’t want to go there because it was a cult. Thereby proving it’s a cult. LOL”

It’s a cult disguised as a university!

11. QAnon

Photo of curly wavy brunette horrified feared girl in jeans denim holding her head after seeing her exams failed with face expressing disappointment.
Image Credit: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock.

QAnon – the internet conspiracy that’s like a rabbit hole you don’t want to fall into.

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Qanon. Who would have thought that boomers who take 4-Chan trolls too seriously would end up making a cult?”

Another added, “My mom and dad both insist they aren’t QAnon readers; it’s strange how they keep sharing QAnon conspiracies and get mad when you point out that they are QAnon conspiracies. I have limited contact with so many family members and past friends because of Qanon. It just baffles me people can be that stupid.”

12. MLMs

Close up on businessman holding a wooden block with
Image Credit: Uuganbayar/Shutterstock.

You know, those companies that promise you’ll be a millionaire if you sell their products? They lure you in with fancy cars and dream vacations, but before you know it, you’re drowning in unsold merchandise and awkward sales pitches.

One Redditor stated, “An extended relative just was let go from the top of an MLM. She was one of the original signups when it started, and was banking close to if not a million annually, depending on the year. Since she invested every spare dollar back into the company, when they let her go, she was broke with a warehouse of products she was no longer authorized to sell.”

Someone else added, “The people I knew who were in Market America and made money off of their friends and family makes my blood boil. Like how thick is your skin to be asking everyone around you to join under your wing so you can make money off of them? These freaking marketing pyramids are insane. The way to worship the executives is so cringe.”

13. Goop

Gwyneth Paltrow attends the Los Angeles Premiere of
Image Credit: Tinseltown/Shutterstock.

Now, Goop – oh, Goop. Gwyneth Paltrow’s brainchild sells everything from healing crystals to vampire-repellent stickers.

A Reddit user wrote, “I’m absolutely convinced that Goop is some sort of cult. There isn’t much proof, but for some reason, Goop (and their founder) gives me MAJOR cult vibes. I won’t be surprised at all if some years from now there’s a juicy exposé written about them.”

Someone else replied, “To be honest, I feel like most companies are. They may have a marketing strategy for Goop, but internally it’s much the same cultish.”

14. The Amish

Strasburg, PA â?? June 19, 2016: An Old Order Amish family ride in an open wagon in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Image Credit: George Sheldon/Shutterstock.

Ever heard of the Amish? Yeah, they’re those people who live a simple life, shun technology and wear those cool hats, but that’s just on the surface!

One said, “The Amish. They control nearly every aspect of their followers’ lives and live in an incredibly insular society. Sure, they let their kids experience the outside world and choose for themselves through rumspringa, but they seemingly set them up for failure by throwing them into the deep end with no preparation at a time in their lives (17-21) when people aren’t noted for great decision making.

When the kids almost inevitably end up crashing and burning back into the fold, they are forced to remain for the rest of their lives through the threat of shunning, where even their own parents will treat them as if they are dead and invisible. Sure, they look quaint with their beards, buggies, and barns, but if you actually look at them critically, they’re as bad as any other cult; they’ve just been around longer.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “The amount of child and animal torture you can casually witness every day in my Amish town is astounding.”

15. Mormons

UTAH, USA - May 23, 2012. The Book of Mormon, Latter Day Saints bible in English.
Image Credit: Paul Maguire/Shutterstock.

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Ex-Mormon here (55m). I’ve taken blood oaths and had my Junk anointed in the Temple. Learned secret handshake and passphrases to get through the Veil into the Celestial Kingdon (Super VIP Heaven where you get to do God stuff).

Been asked by old men the specifics of my intimate activity starting at the age of 12, including who, where, and the hows. Been taught to view negative information as coming from Satan himself. Thought the power of the Priesthood combined with consecrated virgin olive oil could raise the dead and heal the sick.”

Someone else added, “Mom: We are not a cult. Me: Mom, you make blood oaths and learn secret handshakes in your temple. That’s kinda the definition of a cult. Mom: We stopped doing that a long time ago! Me: Could not have been that long ago because I sure remember it!”

They’ve got their own Book of Mormon and temple ceremonies that can make you feel like you’ve stepped into a different dimension.

16. MAGA

Make America Great Again, MAGA hat on a white background
Image Credit: Barry Paterson/Shutterstock.

MAGA; the whole Make America Great Again movement.

One Redditor stated, “Definitely MAGA. Some family members of mine, whom I no longer talk to, got so crazy with Trump that they were comparing him to Jesus. Anyone who said differently was threatened. My uncle knew I was an Obama supporter, and he got to a point where he was constantly bullying me, and threatening to shoot me over it.”

Someone else replied, “Why did I have to scroll so far to find MAGA? Sure, Qanon is MAGA+ but only barely. Trump is their messiah of deliverance from wokeness. I am so tired of hearing the word “woke” like it has any meaning anymore.”

17. Elon Musk Fans

PARIS, FRANCE - June 16, 2023: Elon Musk, founder, CEO, and chief engineer of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla, CTO and chairman of Twitter, Co-founder of Neuralink and OpenAI, at VIVA Technology (Vivatech).
Image Credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO/Shutterstock.

A Reddit user wrote, “Elon’s cult followers are rabid. Musk is still the most worshipped tech bro. It is easy to get stuck in your bubble.”

Another added, “My mom’s one of them. She went from a woman who said “no celebrity should voice their political views, only politicians because they use their platforms for evil” to obsessively drooling over the man. Checking his Twitter constantly.

I told her that he’s transphobic and, as her trans child, I thought she would understand. She didn’t care… She’s obsessed with his “work hard” mentality, and his money and politics theories, etc. It’s scary and downright depressing.”

It’s like the Church of Elon, and Musk is their high priest, leading them to the future of… well, whatever he decides is the future.

18. Crypto

Bitcoin with young woman holding out a smartphone
Image Credit: Melpomene via DepositPhotos.com.

Cryptocurrency is cool and all, but these folks take it to a level where they’re practically speaking a whole new language.

Someone commented, “CRYPTOS do have a lot of cultish attitude.”

Someone else added, “I love crypto, but I have to agree. I think what makes it cultish is the holders of a coin have a vested interest in defending their investment. I’ve seen fud attacks wreak havoc on projects’ market cap. Telegram is a crazy place.”

19. SEC College Football

American Football Player running upfield
Image Credit: yobro10 via DepositPhotos.com.

One Redditor stated, “SEC College football. Sauce: Live in the South. I’ve seen people nearly get into fistfights over this. Edit: To all the people who have asked me, “Nearly?” I was trying to give people credit, but y’all had to tell the truth! LMAO”

Another person agreed to it and said, “My brother plays in another conference, and my dad can’t go a single conversation without bringing it up. I haven’t had a non-football conversation with my dad for the past 4 years.”

Try criticizing their team, and you might as well be insulting their grandmother’s apple pie.

20. Fraternities/Sororities

Tuscaloosa, AL - December 2020: The Pi Beta Phi sorority house on the campus of the University of Alabama.
Image Credit: Stephen Reeves/Shutterstock.

A Reddit user wrote, “Don’t see where someone said Fraternities/Sororities. Wildly a cult. I was in one. Now I’m in my mid-thirties, and it’s ridiculous what they make you do and how they make you feel. Especially at such a vulnerable age.”

Someone else replied, “I was in one in college, and have cut ties. It was a thing I did in college. I’m 41 and know someone who still posts on Facebook with fraternity-related hashtags, and… I almost feel a little bad for him.”

Sure, they throw awesome parties and do tons of charity work, but there’s a whole set of rules and rituals that make them feel like secret societies.

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