A Cult Member Turned Expert Explains How Anyone Can Be Brainwashed

Dr. Alexandra Stein was brainwashed by a Marxist-Leninist sect as a young woman. Now she studies them for a living.

by Kate Leaver
Feb 26 2017, 12:06am

When I arrive at Dr. Alexandra Stein's house in North London, she's on the phone. "Your number one job is to stay in contact with them," she says empathically into the receiver, giving advice on how to help someone who is getting sucked into a cult. She takes a lot of these calls from concerned family members because she is, after all she's been through, an authority on cults.

For a decade, Dr Stein was a member of a leftist political cult known as The O. Once she escaped, she wrote a book and a PhD on the topic, and became one of the leading academic experts in the field. She has just published her second book, Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems . On a cold, gray Tuesday, we talk about her experiences, the definition of a cult, and whether the leader of the free world is, in fact, a cult leader.

"People don't think of political groups as cults," Stein tells me, over a mug of hot tea. "But they can be. There are zillions of political cults around the world." She would know. Stein grew up in London to South African parents, and they were heavily political as a family. "Politics was in my bones from a very early age."

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