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From my cursory knowledge, in Warhammer 40K the Genestealer Cults do make it very obvious what they are. Their names are like “Cult of the Innerwyrm” (duh) or “Cult of the Four-armed Emperor” (extra limbs… as the Genestealers… it can’t be). And their cult symbols contain always variations of the same Tyranid-like pictogram.

Even normal Imperial citizens, if they’re vaguely aware of the issue, should suspect an infestation when they see any of this... but no, everyone seems very oblivious.

So I wonder if there is an in-universe explanation how the cults get away with this.

I’m not familiar with the timeline of the arrival of Genestealer Cults, which may explain it. If they all pop up at the same time, there is lack of information that such cults even exist. Is there any mentioning that the cults later tried to change their tactics as their existence became common knowledge?

  • There is a pretty cool story in the latest bunch of Psychic Awakening stories that show that deviant cults are almost indistinguishable from legit Imperial sects. In one story, a Guardsman finds out too late he has sided with a Khorne cult (the same could have happened with genestealers, who are actually subtler!). In another, an Imperial assassin is dispatched to assess and potentially kill a priest suspected of heresy. In the end he can't guess whether the priest is loyal or infected by either chaos or a xenos cult (spoiler: he kills him anyway, just in case!) – Andres F. Feb 10 at 13:02
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There are a few things that prevent ordinary Imperial citizens from discovering more Genestealer cults. Firstly the Imperium in its infinite wisdom takes the view that ignorance is bliss, that ordinary citizens are more likely to be lead to a path of Heresy and sedition if they have real information about such things. So rather than dissemination of true information that could help the citizen spot things like genestealer cults the Imperium suppresses it.

An example of where else they do this is in the Imperial Guardsman's Uplifting Primer and it’s laughable descriptions of alien races such as Orks.

Secondly by the time a genestealer cult gets to the stage of naming itself, genestealers have been present on a planet for some time and have already infected what might be considered a critical mass of people. The cult is already embedded in society and then its members turn to thinking about what to call it.

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The Imperial Cult is not a single religion, rather it is made from countless religions that worship Emperor in different forms - as a solar deity, as an ascended hero, god of thunder, leader of lesser gods or a single, omnipresent being - all those in different shapes and sizes. So representing Emperor as a four-armed deity wouldn't be out of place - even in our world we have quite a few gods with multiple arms (Wishnu, Kali, Durga etc.).

The Genestealer cults spread fast and contrary to Chaos cults, it is very hard to spot that something is wrong with them because they still officially worship Emperor, although in a slightly different form, which usually won't cause a reason for any investigation. They can even appear more pious than the regular priests attracting masses of the faithful!. And if Ecclesiarchy sends someone to investigate (undercover or not), the agent will most likely return infected reporting to his superior that "everything is fine, but could you follow me to that dark alley over there...".

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The first thing you need to understand is the sheer size of the imperium and how many different groups and sects and cults exist, many of them completely harmless.

Then consider an imperium planet, billions of citizens the upper classes generally paying no attention to what goes on in the underhive.

Not all genesteeler cults take root either, in some cases they will be identified early and burnt out. The ones you mentioned as well as others survive because those who could have stopped it ignore it, are oblivious or just plain ignorant.

To help understand how this happens consider how genesteelers spread in an industrial hive. A genesteeler will arrive on a planet in secrecy and will move to inhabit the darkest most hidden place. There they will wait until an opportunity arises to breed. The act of impregnating a human also creates a strong psychic link, that female and her immediate family will feel psychically bound to the creature born, they will feel the need to protect it and so will avoid detection and leave populated areas. Hiding away at the bottom of the hive. Over time the number of humans linked in this way will grow. However they still rely on the shadows hiding in the depths avoiding detection.

Then slowly overseers and industrial managers become corrupted, bribes might initially be paid to turn a blind eye. A cult is formed that workers slowly move to, compelled for reasons they can’t explain. Then slowly more people become taken in as they simply follow there workmates and family members.

By this point those that would raise the alarm are either in the psychic thrall of the cult or are dead.

From infiltrating the lower and mid levels the genesteelers can now entrap one or 2 key government officials. People who can help spread the influence. Again this may simply be through bribery and taking advantage of the corrupt, support our cause and we will make sure the factories stay efficient. You can see this I many 40k stories, individuals supporting the goals of Xenoa or Chaos because they simply see a possibility to get more power. When they realise what they where actually supporting they are then horrified (before being cleansed).

By the time the cult becomes well known then those that could immediately do somthing, or call someone that could, are either dead or part of it. At this point the imperium is relying on a wandering inquisitor noticing and taking an interest, or a space marine squad stopping off. You are relying on that one of billions of planets getting noticed, somthing that genesteelers and as a result the humans they corrupt are very good at making sure doesn’t happen until it’s to late.

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