Fact Check

Is This How Janet Reno Defined a 'Cultist'?

"It's probably not surprising that Janet Reno has attracted the ravings of a subterranean lunatic fringe."

Published Oct 20, 1998

Janet Reno provided her definition of a 'cultist' during a '60 Minutes' interview in 1994.

Yet another entry in the "dueling quotes" competition (see similar attributions for Bill Clinton and Kenneth Starr) purported to come from a '60 Minutes' interview held with Janet Reno in 1994, during which
the then-U.S. Attorney General supposedly offered her definition of a 'cultist':

A cultist is one who has a strong belief in the Bible and the Second Coming of Christ; who frequently attends Bible's studies; who has a high level of financial giving to a Christian cause; who home schools for their children; who has accumulated survival foods and has a strong belief in the Second Amendment; and who distrust big government. Any of these may qualify but certainly more than one would cause us to look at this person as a threat, and his family as being in a risk situation that qualified for government interference.

The date of the putative interview varied depending upon the source, but 26 June was the most commonly mentioned one, falling about a year after the siege of the compound belonging to the Branch Davidian religious sect just outside of Waco, Texas. But Reno was not interviewed by '60 Minutes' on that date or at any other time during 1994, nor did she ever make the statement attributed to her about cultists.

Unlike the fabricated Clinton and Starr quotes, this one didn't attempt to make its subject look like a hypocrite, but rather to portray her as dangerous. The U.S. Attorney General's definition of a "cultist" is something that would include just about any moderately religious Christian and/or anyone mistrustful of government? And such a person is at risk of "government interference," just like the siege Reno ordered waged against Branch Davidian compound in Waco? Pretty scary, isn't it? No wonder this quote was spread around with sentiments like the following attached to it:

Do you qualify?? Are you a threat?

This worries me. Does it worry you?

Everyone in this country — "the land of the free"? — with computer access should copy this and send to every other man, woman and child who can read.

This bogus quote starting popped up in newsletters and around the Internet at least as far back as 1997, and Liza Mundy of the Washington Post referenced it in early 1998:

[I]t's probably also not surprising that [Reno] has attracted the ravings of a subterranean lunatic fringe. The fringe includes Internet fulminators upset by her Miami campaign against deadbeat dads or by Waco or simply by federal law enforcement in general. Among other things, the fulminators regularly fabricate bogus press releases (some of which have found their way into newspapers and provoked letters of inquiry from congressional offices) attempting to persuade the nation that Reno favors "parental licensing," or that she believes that "a cultist is one who has a strong belief in the Bible."


Mundy, Liza.   "Why Janet Reno Fascinates, Confounds, and Even Terrifies America?"     The Washington Post.   25 January 1998   (p. W6).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Read More

a Member

Your membership is the foundation of our sustainability and resilience.


Ad-Free Browsing on Snopes.com
Members-Only Newsletter
Cancel Anytime