Richard at the Belmont Club with his usual clarity makes a little list that shouldn't be missed in » A Reason To Believe: Nothing is Transparent: 5 Fascist Fundamentals
"So why do smart people believe in dumb things? The author Scott Peck claimed that intelligence was no defense against foolishness, especially where belief was concerned. The intelligent were perhaps even more vulnerable than the simple precisely because they believed themselves to be immune when in fact they were not. All a cult leader had to do was flash his neon sign in the middle of a spiritual night and the vainglorious moths would come in their thousands, beating their wings against the electrified screen. If you built it, they would come. And whether the goals of the belief joint were Helter-Skelter, alien abduction or the Workers Paradise, these temples of the night would do a land-office business and all be built in the same way. All of them would have:
"1. A charismatic leader demanding total authority at their center. From him would radiate authority through an elect group of followers. This is inevitable since power does not spring from the institution, but rather from the personal divinity of the god at its center.
"2. Controlling techniques harnessing shame, guilt and peer pressure to bring dissidents to heel. Within a cult are only hymns of praise and condemnations of the wicked. Deviation from dogma would be treated as a moral failing; sin or blasphemy against a sacred leader and his goals.
"3. Self-isolation from the world. Cults constitute little universes unto themselves; closed hermetic societies, where the “us” faces out against the “them”.
"4. Extremist or fanatical behavior. In a cult excess is normal. Activity is frenzied, every emotion is at the highest pitch. People act as if possessed because time is short. The long awaited moment is at hand.
"5. Secrecy and deception. Routine documents are concealed. Inquiries are treated with suspicion. Associations, personal histories, financial records, decisions — all go behind a firewall. Nothing is transparent."