Honors College

Document Type

Honors Thesis




Nathan Stormer

Committee Members

Robert Glover, Hao Hong, Naomi Jacobs, Jenny Rice

Graduation Year

May 2021

Publication Date

Spring 5-2021


Popular culture often cites charismatic leaders as the catalysts for violent acts in cults and other extremist groups. This explanation is insufficient and oversimplified, and this thesis challenges the idea that a single speech or person can move a large group to act violently and without their own best interests in mind. This thesis examines two well- known cults: The Peoples Temple and Heaven’s Gate, to determine what compelled their followers to commit violent acts 3⁄4 particularly mass suicide. I then take this analysis and look at QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory group, whose participation in the January 6th, 2021 insurrection is explained by my analysis of the cause of cult violence. This thesis explains how Kenneth Burke’s theory of the psychology of form and Jenny Rice’s theory of rhetorical ecologies interact to create a rhetorical environment in which it is almost impossible for members to do anything but act violently—toward themselves or others.