We are always amazed at how easily people are lead. Half the time they are following a leader simply because their own lives are tragic wastes. However, if the leader happens to suggest that he possesses some bit of arcane knowledge, he may well be able to attract all manner of successful and powerful individuals. These things seem to spring up overnight - all it really takes is one or two charismatic individuals.
Some putter out soon after their leader is gone, some end their days with the always popular is not-so-brainy option of mass suicide, while others become focused on a goal beyond the realm of one leader and manage to last for generations. Many of these organizations are blatant, or at least they possess a public front that is easily accessible to the masses. Others are completely hidden and are known to most only as the source of obscure rumor. However, they are universally dangerous. No one becomes a member of such an organization to have something to do with their spare weekends. We are talking fanatics here.
With the coming of the millenium these things are proliferating like bread mold. Luckily, while dangerous, they don’t linger very long. While most evil scientists realize that the end of the world is on its way, this doesn’t have anything to do with numerology or revelation. These wackos hold a different view. Either because their leader told them, or because they read it in their tea leaves, they’ve decided that the Last Days are upon us.
Being typically selfish individuals they are determined to be important players in this event, or at least to try to ensure a privileged place for themselves. If they decide to hole up in a compound in the boondocks gathering machine guns and waiting for UN troops, or better yet emasculating themselves and washing down barbiturates with vodka, well, they probably aren’t going to interfere with your own plans for world domination. They become a real problem when they realize the end isn’t coming and decide to take matters into their own hands.
Generally not stellar intellects, they still wouldn’t be much of a danger if they were on their own. However, as stupidity doesn’t necessitate poverty they have been known to hire the odd evil scientist. It usually isn’t all that hard to deal with these people. They are usually in each other’s company (they want to be with their friends when the fireball hits earth), so a small dimension shifter bomb ought to be sufficient to take out an entire organization. Likewise, simply alerting a powerful government is often enough to have one eliminated.
More trouble. Way more trouble. When a charismatic individual (or even a supernatural or alien power) convinces a group that he needs their help in exchange for a greater spiritual cause he can become the leader of a fanatic force. For regular folk, who lead mundane lives centered on television and McDonald’s, the allure of gifts from holy beings can be a powerful force. Such offers can attract even very respected and powerful individuals to such a cult.
Moreover, their fanaticism involves loyalty to a superior being whom they believe is going to help them, probably even after death. Thus, these folks don’t have any hesitation about dying horribly in order to please their master. They may interact directly with this master and thus are more difficult to track than doomsday cult members who always interact with a larger society. In general, the safest way to deal with these people is to destroy their master. This can certainly have negative repercussions as some members will try to kill you for revenge.
Thus, if possible, get someone else to do the destroying so they can take the blame. Additionally, you want to make sure that you nail any lieutenants who may try to take up the mantle of the leader. You are in more trouble if you are dealing with a genuine supernatural or alien power. In the first place these beings are harder to destroy. Secondly, they may have equipped their followers with powerful weapons. Third, this cult may be part of a larger strategy so that a new leader can easily be supplied. If this is the case you are best if you can somehow get another power (governmental, corporate, another cult, etc.) into conflict with the cult troubling you.
Secret societies are by far the most dangerous of these organizations as they lack a convenient head to be attacked. Rather, they are a covert group of individuals linked together by their allegiance to an ideal they see as larger than themselves. Since most of these goals are the kind of thing that takes a really long time to accomplish, some of these societies are incredibly ancient. Having had thousands of years to accumulate money and knowledge, and to secure members in key areas, these organizations are incredibly powerful.
While their final goal might be something esoteric, like the resurrection of Christ, they have no qualms about using their power for more mundane tasks, liking breaking presidents or throwing football games, along the way. In general, there isn’t anything that you are going to be able to do to these groups. Sure, you may be able to find a member and torture a few other names out of him. However, unless you are phenomenally subtle the group will figure out something is up before you can take out too many members.
Getting them all is incredibly unlikely, and even getting a particular individual is often difficult as members tend to be important people. If you do anger these guys you are in serious trouble. However, they haven’t lasted this long by being stupid. You never know, you might have been being stalked by agents who just want to offer you membership. Then again, maybe there’s a long knife with your name on it.