Addressing Destructive Cults?

Info gathered from the book “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out” 

‘Critics of the term cult generally object to its standardized application, claiming that it denigrates “new religious movements.” But since many cults are not religious, this objection seems misplaced. Any meaningful investigation into the nature of cults must forego specific beliefs and instead focus on the practices that make a group or relationship harmful. Whatever the cult, there is almost always sustained deception. This fact raises the issue that there is an absence of informed consent. Cults employ secretiveness, because most people would otherwise not knowingly affiliate with them. Neither intelligence nor family background precludes being tricked and caught by a cult. People who have been caught weren’t necessarily “seeking” or looking for “something.” We don’t know whether everyone in a cult has been traumatized. We do know that many have had very difficult and painful experiences. We don’t have the data to support the contention that every former cult member needs professional counseling. But we do know that education about cults has been helpful and is an important facet of recovery, which often alleviates the confusion and suffering of former cult members. Professional counseling is, by its very nature, a persuasive process. Education focused on critical thinking, the power of persuasion, deception, and indoctrination practices with the support of research is, in my opinion, a better choice to assist former or current cult members. The concern is that reliance on counseling rather than on education has the potential to create dependence on an authority figure and doesn’t necessarily nurture the autonomy and knowledge one needs to make decisions in a rational and systemic fashion. The education or help is beneficial if done or designed to provide understanding of the important information that can lead to genuine independence and freedom. Criticism and dissent are good; they make our theories better. There are no theories that are absolutely proven where new more accurate evidence can alter them in science. Some research is better supported than other research. And good research acknowledges that it needs more ongoing support. We can all be students, academics, and adventurous seekers of the “truth” and overcome adversity. But as seekers we must recognize that some organizations are harbingers of danger. Finding the truth is a process that is ideally transparent, engaging, and respectful of each person’s unique human essence. Destructive cults frequently target and exploit the elderly. Volunteers often provide meaningful help in nursing homes. There were many volunteers who regularly visit the elderly in nursing home. Some came specifically in response to requests residents made. But the idea that a group deliberately circumvented the usual process for entry and planted people in the nursing home staff to pursue a hidden agenda was deceptive and unethical. Often the main purpose one puts elderly in a nursing home is with a desire to make sure they as comfortable and happy as possible and likely by such an age in life had survived enough hardships during her life and had the right to receive respect and live what was left of her life with dignity. Most often the requests for help tend to come from parents, but there were also calls from spouses and at times from the adult children of cult members. “involuntary deprogramming” which involves the physical restraint of an adult cult member under the supervision of his or her family. The use of such restraint guaranteed that the family would have time to adequately address their concerns without cultic interference is not recommend, especially because to consider such an approach likely will involve legal consequences.  In involuntary deprogramming parents often hired people to serve as security guards to ensure that an adult cult-involved child couldn’t leave until parents determined that the intervention had concluded. This is unlike a voluntary intervention, which is based on the willing cooperation and consent of the cult-involved individual, who is free to leave at any time. Successful interventions require substantial time allotted for discussion and exchange of ideas. Concerned families used restraint “involuntary deprogramming” wishing to guarantee them that time. The courts, legal option is that claims of “Temporary Legal Authority/Conservatorship (wishing to do involuntary deprogramming legally)” over an adult cult member was ruled a violation of the US constitutional provision for freedom of religion. At this point it is important to note that many groups called “cults” are not based on religion. For example, cults can be based on some form of training, therapy, business plan, philosophy, diet, or exercise that forms the outer facade a group uses when the general public sees it. minor children may be mandated to participate in an intervention under the direct supervision of a custodial parent or authority figure. These are the legal boundaries regarding cult-intervention work today in the United States. In voluntary interventions adult cult members are free to go at any time. Most cult members willingly stay and agree to participate due to the expressed concerns of family members, friends, and others. Most of my intervention cases have been successful—that is, at the conclusion of the intervention, the cult-involved individual decides to leave the group that has created concern. Public education about the dangers of destructive cults is the best deterrent. Destructive cults have historically targeted college campuses for recruitment. Today that website is a database known as the Cult Education Institute (CEI) https://www.culteducation.com/ , which is the largest and most comprehensive cult-related online library that is freely accessible to the general public. CEI features a database of information about controversial groups and movements, some of which have been called “cults.” The attached public message board at CEI contains more than one hundred thousand individual entries, including the comments of former cult members, current cult members, affected families, and others. It is the historical accounts of those affected by some of the most horrible cults this history that demonstrates so vividly the cause for concern about cults—that is, because they hurt people. It is this history that forms the basis for why people remain concerned about groups called “cults.” It is the harm they have done, which is neither random nor accidental, that reflects their systemic and systematic practices. Considering what makes a destructive cults as a nucleus definition is based on behavior, not on beliefs. we can see in the context of large organizations called “cults” is also used by smaller groups. There is also evidence of similar manipulation in abusive, controlling relationships and in families that behave like cults. Some multilevel marketing companies and large-group-awareness training seminars have also employed a similar blend of coercive persuasion techniques to gain undue influence and control over people’s lives. There have probably been cult groups following charismatic leaders since the beginning of human history. But relatively few have been historically noted or have garnered the attention of the modern media. The cult phenomenon as a contemporary issue began creeping into the public consciousness during the 1960s and 1970s. For the most part destructive cults chiefly hurt people through some form of exploitation. This might be done by persuading members to relinquish assets or by profiteering through free labor. There is also the personal damage done to cult members both psychologically and emotionally; this damage remains a factor in their recovery from cult involvement in many situations for some time. Many cult groups seem to gain influence and control over their members through a process of increasing isolation and estrangement from mainstream society. This process has often largely included cutting people off from family and old friends. In the most extreme groups, this may be accomplished by relocating members in so-called intentional communities, frequently called “cult compounds.” Some destructive cults have physically hurt people. This harm has included both children and adults in sexual abuse, harsh corporal punishment, and/or mandated medical neglect. In the most severe situations, cult members have been mutilated, murdered, or asked to take their lives in orchestrated suicides. No one has determined conclusively through research the number of destructive cults or an exact count of their total combined membership. Michael Langone, Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association reports that “during the last 30 years, we and other cult-awareness organizations, have received inquiries about more than 5,000 groups.” Per Michael D. Langone, “Terrorism and Cultic Dynamics,” ICSA Today, Volume 6, No. 1 (2015) p. 14. But whatever their number, destructive cults or extreme “cult-like” groups remain a continuing problem that has not abated, as news reports, criminal arrests, and subsequent prosecutions have demonstrated. The problems posed by destructive cults have also proliferated around the world. Many of the larger cults have grown to become international concerns. There is no continent or seemingly few countries that could plausibly claim this phenomenon hasn’t affected them. And with the increasing portability and ubiquitous nature of Internet access, a cult group can potentially touch virtually anyone anywhere in the world, since many maintain a presence on the World Wide Web. The Internet can also provide relatively easy access to critical information about destructive cults. In the United States destructive cults are perhaps more plentiful relative to the population than in any other single country. This may be because many groups called “cults” are largely based on religious beliefs, which receive special protections and tax-exempt status in the United States. Some groups called “cults” may have conveniently defined themselves as “religions” to obtain such protections and tax-exempt status. There is considerable legal protection for any religious group, as provided by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which specifically states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.”2 But as some have noted, the First Amendment isn’t a “suicide pact.” That is, it doesn’t provide the basis to do anything in the name of religious freedom, thereby preventing authorities from enforcing the law equally regarding all religious groups. Dr. John G. Clark, a Harvard psychiatrist known for his study of contemporary cults, observed some years ago, “The new youth cults, though usually self-styled as religious for purposes of First Amendment privileges, are increasingly dangerous to the health of their converts and menacing to their critics.” But in the United States, the First Amendment ideally protects the constitutional rights of groups called “cults” and their critics through its provisions for freedom of expression.” Historically, mental health professionals have described some leaders of destructive cults as psychopaths, deeply disturbed individuals, or both. Within the environment of a tightly controlled cult, there is what can be characterized as an almost symbiotic relationship between the leader and his or her followers. This close relationship in some cultic situations has become the basis for tragedy. In some closely controlled cults generally occurring within members of small cult groups, which then typically become largely dependent on the leader to determine the parameters of reality. In such cults, when the leader is delusional, progressively loses his or her grasp upon reality, or both, group members are often influenced to think, feel, and behave the same way. This situation can become a formula for tragedy. The consequences of such leader-driven, delusional thinking can be catastrophic and cause such cults to either implode or explode.

Ross, Rick. Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out (Kindle Locations 278-280). Kindle Edition.

Donald Trump’s Cult of Personality?

By Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Cults of personality: the term might evoke dictators like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and Kim Jong-un today. Yet cults of personality can flourish in a variety of political contexts, as long as there are a charismatic leader and a coherent media strategy. Vladimir Putin’s goes with his position as President of an authoritarian bureaucratic state, but Silvio Berlusconi built his while he ran for office. That’s why the concept can help us to understand Donald Trump’s success as he seeks the Republican Presidential nomination. In democracies, it helps if the politician in question already has a winning personal brand, so he (it’s usually a he) can be independent from traditional political machines and finance his own media campaigns. Cue Berlusconi and Trump, worth 7 and 4 billion dollars, respectively. Yet cults of personality go beyond private money and public influence. They are about an emotional tie that is forged between the leader and his followers. For this reason, they can be hard to grasp for those not making the connection. Here’s the trick to cults of personality: the leader has to embody the people but also stand above them. He must appear ordinary, to allow people to relate to him. And yet he must also be seen as extraordinary, so that people will grant him permission to be the arbiter of their individual and national destiny. For instance, they’re not about likeability. Leaders with cults of personality are usually aggressive. They keep audiences on edge with their outbursts and unpredictability. They create a bond that goes beyond agreeing with ideas and policies: people simply want a part of this person. Berlusconi is Trump’s predecessor here. This media and sports entrepreneur could afford to be a maverick when he jumped into politics in the 1990s. His original party, Forza Italia (Go Italy), took its name from a soccer stadium chant. Berlusconi’s ego-laden pronouncements outraged the Italian political establishment, but delighted his fans, as when he described himself as “the Jesus Christ of Italian politics.”  Berlusconi updated the cult of personality for a new age that blurs the lines among media, business, and political interests. Putin, who has been friends with Berlusconi since the early 2000s, has learned from the Italian. Cults of personality have a meaning all their own in Russia: they fell out of official favor there in the 1950s, when leader Nikita Khrushchev criticized them after Stalin’s death. Putin has revived the practice, guiding a wave of nostalgia for Stalin as he advocates for Russian nationalism and anti-West sentiment. Putin has brought the leader cult into the 21st century, authorizing the creation of a Putin persona that has something for everyone. Russia’s rich can buy Putin cologne, an Apple Watch engraved with Putin’s signature, or an IPhone featuring Putin’s head, in gold. For the rest, there are collectibles such as a 2016 Putin calendar issued by the popular newspaper Zvezdi I Soveti. In it, the Russian President is an outdoorsman (including with a naked torso), a somber leader, a lover of animals, nature, and (Russian) female beauty, a churchgoer, a Commander in Chief (lots of camouflage here), and so on. Putin is an everyman – but one who stands above everyone. How does Trump fit into this lineage? He’s unlikely to pose shirtless, but his name has long been written in gold. And like Putin and Berlusconi, Trump’s appeal is less intellectual than emotional. No matter if few of his political ideas are original. It’s the way he presents those ideas—as an extension of his own personality and passion, rather than any party platform— that wins people over. It’s no surprise that in Italy Trump is known as “the American Berlusconi.” All three of these men have mastered the double appeal that is essential to cults of personality. They advertise their wealth and glamour, but connect with people as populists, using language full of earthy sayings, insults, coarse and broad humor (often directed at adversaries), and slogans (called “Putinisms” in Russia) Part of the international elite, they are also quintessentially of their own countries. That is one reason they are much more loved at home than abroad. Trump does not have the ability to muzzle the media, like Putin (although he does his best to intimidate journalists who oppose him). And he does not own television networks, like Berlusconi. And yet Trump he has been able to set agendas and influence the news cycle like no other Republican candidate – as he has also built up a large grassroots following. Social media and the digitization of news have changed the equation between publicity and power that supported classic cults of personality. Berlusconi was ahead of the curve when he first ran for office. He fashioned a new kind of politics, and a new leader image, that was relevant for the media era of the 1990s-2000s. Trump is playing an analogous role in our decade. We can look to the concept of the cult of personality to explain his appeal – and know what to expect if he wins the Republican Presidential nomination. Ref

Secrets of Donald Trump’s cult and why the angriest white voters will not leave his side.

By 

Donald Trump is a political cult leader. In that role, he is also a political necromancer, beating a drum of nativism and fear to control the right-wing political zombies that follow him. Trump’s most strident supporters are found among the alienated, disaffected, fearful, white working class. This is a cohort whose members are facing greatly diminished life chances in an age of globalization, extreme wealth inequality, neoliberalism and a reduction in the unearned material advantages that come as a result of white privilege. As recent research by public health experts, sociologists, economists and others has detailed, the white American working class and poor are, quite literally, dying off. They are killing themselves with pills and alcohol, committing suicide with guns, and dying of despair. For many decades, if not centuries, racism (and sexism for white men) artificially buoyed the life prospects of the white working class in American society. With those palliatives and aids removed, the white working class and poor are left exposed and vulnerable to the realities of the American neoliberal nightmare and the culture of cruelty. They are ill-equipped for life in this new world. Donald Trump knows that a crisis is an opportunity: he is transforming the fear and anxiety of the white American working class into political capital and energy. To that end, Trump is leveraging what social psychologists have termed “terror management theory.” If “Trumpmania” is a puzzle, then terror management theory is a decoder ring or cipher. In many ways, the logic of terror management explains almost all of Trump’s popularity. Human beings are not immortal. To compensate for the knowledge that one’s life will at some point come to an end, the human psyche has developed a range of coping mechanisms. Terror management theory seeks to explain those dynamics:

Terror management theory assumes that humans have developed a suite of defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the existential anxiety they experience when they are cognizant of their mortality. Existential anxiety arises because individuals experience a profound motive, derived from evolutionary forces, to preserve their life. Therefore, an awareness of mortality could evoke existential anxiety, corresponding to a sense of futility, unless humans invoke a set of mechanisms that are intended to curb this awareness. Some of these mechanisms include a tendency to believe in an after life, to feel connected to a broader, enduring entity, or to distract attention from their mortality, reflecting a form of denial

Biology, socialization and cultural norms influence how a given person manages their fear of death. The death anxiety also interacts with one’s political values. In some ways, conservative authoritarians manage their death anxieties differently than people who possess a “liberal” or “progressive” political personality type. Conservative authoritarians display high levels of nationalism, social dominance behavior, intolerance, out-group anxiety and bigotry, racism, a need for binary “yes” or “no” answers, a yearning for epistemic closure, and higher levels of religiosity. Terror management theory suggests that conservative authoritarians are especially prone to loving “the flag, guns, god, and religion” because these symbols and institutions are fixed points that will, in theory, outlive a given person. Neuroscientists and social psychologists have determined that the brains of conservative authoritarians are especially sensitive to feelings of fear and disgust. Research on terror management theory complements those findings by showing that when scared or under threat, conservative authoritarians are more likely to become tribal, bigoted, racist and generally more hostile to those they identify as some type of Other. The intersection of terror management theory and contemporary American conservatism is a profile of the Republican voter en masse, and Donald Trump supporters in particular. Public opinion research has repeatedly shown that today’s Republican voters are angry, afraid and motivated by racial animus, white racial resentment and nativism. Because he is the id of contemporary conservatism, Donald Trump’s supporters display those worrisome and ugly traits in the extreme.

For example, CNN recently conducted a series of interviews at Donald Trump rallies where his supporters explained their attraction to him:

For many Trump fans, the candidate’s once prominent role in the so-called Obama “birther” movement has left a lasting impression. The skeptics, dispersed throughout Trump rallies, have serious misgivings about the President’s U.S. citizenship and Christian faith more than four years after Obama publicly released his birth certificate. “Islam is traced patrilineally. I am a Muslim if my father is Muslim. In that sense, it is undeniable that Barack Obama was born a Muslim,” Michael Rooney said at a Trump event in Worcester, Massachusetts, in November. (Obama is a Christian. He has said his father was born a Muslim and later became an atheist.) … At another rally in Manassas, Virginia, on December 2, Robin Reif, 54, yelled into the crowd that the President was from Kenya. He told CNN afterward that Obama was “too much of a Muslim” and an “Islamist sympathizer.” “In our Constitution, it says that the president has to be an American citizen,” Reif said. “I’m still wondering where is he really from. What is this man’s background?”

The CNN interviews with Trump supporters also reveal how unrepentant white victimology and white racial resentment drive his popularity:

Energizing the Trump movement are voters who call themselves the “silent majority.” These individuals feel strongly that white people, too, face discrimination in this country, and that they are often wrongly accused of being racist. This is stirring anger at the Black Lives Movement.

Fueled by a series of deadly police shootings perpetrated by white officers against blacks, the Black Lives Matter movement has become a powerful symbol of the racial tensions that run deep in the United States. …

At Trump’s campaign rallies, a similar frustration is palpable — among white voters. Taking their cue from Trump, these individuals are calling themselves the “silent majority.” Some say they suffer from “reverse discrimination.” Rhett Benhoff, a middle-aged white man at a December Trump campaign event in Raleigh, North Carolina, said discrimination against whites is “absolutely” real. “I mean, it seems like we really go overboard to make sure all these other nationalities nowadays and colors have their fair shake of it, but no one’s looking out for the white guy anymore,” he said. Trump’s supporters are also terrified of Muslims and believe that unconstitutional measures should be taken against them:

Just days before, Trump — who had already said he would implement a national database to register Muslims in the United States — had put out a startling press release: a call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

But at Trump rallies, the proposal resonated in a different way.

Just hours after Trump made the controversial announcement, his supporters — waiting to hear him speak in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, said they were fully on board.

“I don’t want them here,” Ed Campbell said. “Who knows what they’re going to bring into this country?”

… Trump’s Muslim ban has unleashed more visceral reactions, including unambiguously hostile views toward Islam.

His supporters across the country — from Iowa to New Hampshire to South Carolina — told CNN in interviews they simply believe Islam is not a peaceful religion.

“Islam is not a religion. It’s a violent blood cult. OK?” said Hoyt Wood, a 68-year-old military veteran …

These are the voices of people who feel neglected by their political leaders, betrayed by a cosmopolitan America, sucked into the disinformation machine that is the right-wing news/entertainment complex, and who likely live extremely race- and class-segregated lives. Donald Trump is a proto fascist. The “strong man” is a central figure in that political imagery. Part of his appeal for the dying white working class lies in how he repeatedly talks about being “high energy.” In this performance, Trump is communicating and displaying a strong “life force” — and this is closely tied to questions of virility and masculinity as well — to a people who are awash with anxieties about death, weakness, impotence and loss. Likewise, Donald Trump obsessively talks about “ratings” and his “popularity” because his public feels estranged and detached from American civic life. One of the few ways for them to feel politically and socially actualized is by participating in the faux democracy that is voting for contestants on shows such as “American Idol” and “The Voice,” “liking” posts on Facebook, cheering at sporting events, or participating in empty consumerism. Donald Trump’s right-wing producerism shtick tricks his white working class and other disaffected voters into believing that they have a voice in a political system run by oligarchs, the 1 percent, and the deep state. Collectively, Trump’s wealth, supposed vitality, and power make him an idol for a segment of the white American public that feels as if they have lost all of those things. Donald Trump’s racial authoritarianism and manipulation of the death anxieties of white conservatives also explains his appeal among overt white supremacists. In the United States and Europe, white supremacists are obsessed with how immigrants and people of color are supposedly driving “the white race” to “extinction.” American conservative elites are not yet publicly using the language of “white genocide.” However, they do signal to the same anxieties with their concerns about “the browning of America” and the increase in the number of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States. In response to fears about “illegal immigrants” and “terrorists,” Donald Trump plans to build a wall on the southern border and to marshal a goon squad that will forcibly remove “illegal immigrants” (code for Hispanics and Latinos as opposed to white Europeans from France, Ireland, Eastern Europe and elsewhere who are also undocumented residents) from the country. Through those plans, Trump is promising to remove what he sees as human pollutants from the white body politic, a move that his supporters enthusiastically support because it satisfies their anxieties about the “racial” life force and health of White America. One of the great tragedies in contemporary American political life is how white working-class voters routinely support political candidates and policies that do not improve their lives, but instead contribute to their immiseration. When the denizens of Red State America look around, they see communities with high levels of illegal drug use, pain pill addiction, unemployment, domestic violence, a breakdown in “family values,” and gun violence. Right-wing America’s opinion leaders routinely use language such as “makers” and “takers” as a way to slur black and brown residents in “the ghetto” or “inner city.” In reality, Red State America consumes more public resources than other parts of the country. There are more poor white people than any other group. And rural white poverty is one of the great hidden shames of the nation. The dying white working class (and other members of Red State America) considers the state of their own broken communities and generalizes to America as a whole. This is an act of confirmation bias on a macro-level scale. When Donald Trump says that “he will make America great again” he is promising greatness to politically disoriented, confused and easily manipulated white voters whose communities and lives are in disarray. It does not matter if Trump’s and the Republican Party’s policies will actually make matters worse; the promise of hope in a sea of hopelessness soothes the fears of conservative voters. In many mythological traditions, the necromancer controls the dead by using a drum or playing a song. These sounds trick the “living” corpse into thinking that it has a heartbeat. When the necromancer stops hitting the drum or ceases the music, the corpse reverts back to inert matter. The political necromancer and cult leader Donald Trump beats a drum of nativism, fear, racism and sexism to control the right-wing political zombies that follow him. The problem is, unlike the undead ghouls of myth and folklore, once Donald Trump stops beating his metaphorical drum, his followers will not return to their graves. Trump’s people are now the walking dead of American political and cultural life, a group that threatens to devour us all. Ref

10 of the Most Dangerous Religious Cults?

What are the most dangerous cults in the world? Before we get to that, let’s start with the basics. A cult is defined as a system which venerates one particular individual, ideal or object. They can be a select group of fanatics, or a group of misguided outsiders whose ideals have segmented them from the norm. Many cults don’t begin as dangerous sects – and in fact, if asked, those involved with them wouldn’t describe their group as a cult at all. However, many cults have sinister or extreme agendas that are so far outside they norm they become dangerous. This manifests in mass-suicides, brainwashing, extremist behavior, attacks, abductions, extortion and vandalism. Here are 10 of the most dangerous religious cults of all time.

10) Scientology

Scientologists are not your typical doomsday cult grabbing headlines with graphic or shocking religious doctrines and actions. Those who’ve escaped from this cult speak of brainwashing, fraud, and attempts at financial ruin. They talk of open threats and other dangerous methods which cult leaders use to ensure loyalty. The basis of the cult is a confusing mess of alien influence and the human psyche. But at the core, Scientology seems to be about a lot of money. They sue the pants off anyone who speaks ill of them. They seem to act at times like a massive global corporation, and not a religious organization. Famously there are several highly-paid actors who’ve become members, including Tom Cruise among others.

9) The Unification Church

They are called “Moonies” and they are the followers of Sun Myung Moon. They also believe Moon to be a divine being worthy of worship. Moon’s cult was so damning that Germany banned him from the country as it was deemed he was a danger to the people – especially easily influenced youth. Since the Unification Church believes Moon to be God, he is fully supported by his church in every sense of the word. The cult itself has been accused of luring young members into the fold and actively working to separate them from their families or support systems. Moon constantly speaks out against the Christian church, claims that Korea is the chosen realm, and openly expects to be treated as a deity by his followers.

8) The Ku Klux Klan

The KKK is famous for their white robes, pointed hoods and their stance on white supremacy. Lost in this history is the fact that at its core the KKK is, or at least was, a religious sect of extremist Christians. Formed initially after the Civil War, the KKK once boasted nearly four million members. Their terror tactics and stance on blacks, Jews, Catholics and other minorities certainly didn’t win them any favors, but it was the fear tactics and murders which made them exceedingly dangerous. The anonymity of the clan was another contributing factor. Members could live in open society and participate robed and hidden if they desired. They clan lives on today, and while their influence has dwindled considerably they still remain a rather secretive and dangerous cult.

7) The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God

Based in Uganda, this cult believed that the end of the world was inevitable and would take place on January 1st, 2000. They strictly adhered to the Ten Commandments. In fact, they were so reverent to the word of God that they went to unusual lengths to not break it. They rarely spoke to one another and many even used sign language so that they wouldn’t bear false witness and break the ninth commandment. They refrained from sexual relations and fasted regularly. When January 1st, 2000 passed without incident the cult began to lose followers whose faith was suddenly shattered. As a result, the cult leaders predicted a new apocalypse in March that year. When 500 followers gathered at a church prior to the end times, it exploded. There were accusations of mass suicide, but most of the victims were strangled or poisoned and it was believed murder was the primary cause of death.

6) Aum Shinrikyo

This Japanese cult translates to the “Supreme Truth” and it was founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984. Under the cover of a yoga and meditation cult, this group was granted religious status and eventually became increasingly dangerous. In the decade that passed Asahara and his followers were accused of forced donations, fraud, and even murder. In 1995 the police began to take a serious look at Asahara and these accusations. So much so that Asahara ordered the release of sarin gas in the subway system hoping to distract the authorities. While the resulting fallout was devastating, the police did manage to capture Asahara and discovered a massive stockpile of weapons, explosives and even live captives. Among the materials the police discovered was enough poisonous gas to kill four million people, a Russian helicopter, drugs (including LSD), and chemical weapons like anthrax. Asahara was imprisoned and his cult disbanded, but some variation of his ideals lives on today in another cult, though the leader has distanced himself from this new sect.

5) Children of God

Few cults are as creepy as those that call themselves the Children of God which was founded by David Berg. The primary belief practiced by followers of this organization is that sex with children is not only ok, but a divine right. Needless to say, there was an extensive history of sexual abuse within this cult. Young women were turned towards prostitution and used to lure new members into the fold. There was an entire system in place for recruitment. Two rather famous actors grew up inside this cult, Rose McGowan and River Phoenix were raised in this “family,” though both eventually escaped and went on to better things.

4) Order of the Solar Temple

This strange cult is based upon the ancient belief that the Knights Templar still exist and that salvation is only available to converted worshippers who would ascend into heaven. It was founded in 1984 by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret. The group’s activities are extremely secretive, but in 1994 cultists brutally murdered an infant because they believed it to be the anti-Christ. What followed was a series of mass suicides (including one in Switzerland, where inner-circle members were poisoned to death, and second one in Canada.) Cultists were shot, poisoned, burned, and suffocated. In the end over 100 people died, mostly by their own hand or at the hands of their leaders.

3) Branch Davidians

David Koresh convinced his followers that anyone not aligned with him, and particularly the United States, were enemies of God. This was the stereotypical apocalyptic doomsday cult built on a foundation of lies, terror and blind faith. Koresh himself claimed he was a voice of a God and even the Messiah and he used his power to regularly engage in sexual relations with his female followers. He moved his followers into a massive compound outside Waco, Texas. Eventually the authorities investigated the compound after accusations of sexual abuse and child molestation were leveled at Koresh and his cult. In a famous standoff in 1994 the ATF fired teargas into the compound. Fires erupted from the building, though no one was certain who started them or if they were a result of law enforcement. In the end 76 people died in the ensuing chaos.

2) The People’s Temple

This sect of religious fanatics was led by Jim Jones, a former Marxist and communist supporter turned Methodist priest. Jones was extremely popular and charismatic. He was also outspoken, particularly against the social elite. Poor and downtrodden members flocked to him in droves and he fully supported their plight. But what started innocently eventually morphed into a strange cult as Jones became more outspoken against the bible and more paranoid about a nuclear catastrophe. Jones was forced to flee the United States for Guyana where persistent sexual abuse was reported. Jones’ congregation took matters into their own hands and assassinated a US Congressman. Eventually, on the orders of their leader, over 900 people committed the largest mass suicide in history by drinking poison-laced Kool Aid, thus coining the term “drinking the Kool Aid.”

1) Heaven’s Gate

Followers of this cult believe that enlightenment and salvation can only be achieved by fleeing Earth before the “great recycling.” Since leaving Earth is somewhat problematic, the leaders of this cult preached suicide as the answer to leaving your body and reaching enlightenment. Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles were the leaders behind this strange cult. They prepared videos on how to leave your earthly flesh behind and distributed them to members. Then, in 1997, Haley’s Comet arrived and Applewhite convinced his followers a spaceship was trailing the comet and those who followed him into death would be saved. Applewhite then ordered 38 people to commit suicide in San Diego when he claimed Haley’s Comet was the sign they’d been waiting for. Ref