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Cults come from all over the planet, for many different reasons, and they spawn from any religion. Sometimes, they depart from the religion in which they came so drastically, the source is unrecognizable. They also gain strength from the power of one influencing the hundreds of weak-minded, lonely, disturbed people in search of a system, or a place to love and find community.
Many of these cults are exposed, and even many more end in tragic mass death and suicide. Here are 7 of the most infamous cults in human history… let’s leave Scientology out of this for now.
7. Movement for The Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God – Most cults have a catchy name, short and to the point, and others take on the name of the infamous leader. But not this one. The Movement for The Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was to the point with their name. The Ugandan-based cult was big into doomsday prophesies surrounding the turn of the century, moving their predictions from December 31, 1999 to March 17 of 2000 after nothing happened on New Years. That day, police discovered that hundreds of the cult members had been murdered by the leaders because the leaders could not return the possessions they had forced their members to give up for the end of times.
6. Order of The Solar Temple – Founded by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Joret in Geneva in the early 80s, The Order of The Solar Temple was the self-proclaimed revival of the Knights of the Templar. Jouret claimed he was one of the reincarnated member of the Knights, as well as Christ himself, which sounds like a busy internal struggle. The Order was also a doomsday cult, and in 1994 Jouret and Di Mambro convinced their members the end was near and they needed to transport to another planet. 53 members, including the two founders, committed mass suicide or were murdered in Canada.
5. Children of God – The Children of God was birthed out of the hippie movement to California during the late 60s and early 70s. David Berg, a Christian minister, recruited young impressionable hippies to join the Children of God, mostly because he wanted to practice open sexual relationships with his members. This was not known until too late, and the cult had grown to over 4,000 members in 70 countries, and one of the more famous early members was the Phoenix family (and their children Joaquin and River, among others). The sexual promiscuity of the cult caused it to rebrand in the 80s thanks to STDs, and what is so frightening is this cult still exists in a different form, The Family International.
4. Heaven’s Gate – This is where things really get weird. Heaven’s Gate was founded by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, who somehow came to believe they were the two witnesses described in the book of Revelations. They preached about how the end of times would come in the form of a spaceship that would transport their bodies to heaven in cocoons, and somehow a group of almost 60 people bought in. The members moved in with Applewhite and Nettles and shed their wordily possessions. In 1997, the Hale-Bopp comet was nearing earth’s orbit, and Applewhite and his disciples believed the UFO was in tow. In March of that year, the 39 remain gin members were found dead from suicide, all wearing black Nike shoes.
3. The Branch Davidians – Perhaps the most infamous modern news story involving cults was the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. Founded by David Koresh (who’s real name was Vernon Howell), his teachings with the Branch Davidians focused on the New Light doctrine, claiming that all women of the church were his wives, giving him carte blanche with the females. He also convinced the brainwashed members he was a messiah, and, of course, explained the end was near. In February of 1993, the ATF raided the compound in Waco ion guns charges, and a 51-day standoff ensued. It is unclear who lit the fire, but on the final day the compound burned to the ground, killing 80 members, 20 children, and Koresh himself.
2. The People’s Temple – Most people know this as the Jim Jones cult, but The People’s Temple was its official name. Jones was a pentecostal preacher who went decidedly off the rails in the 1950s and started the People’s Temple. His charisma and influence over the weak-minded helped the congregation to grow to thousands across California. In 1977, before an expose was published on the falsity of Jones’s teachings, he and almost a thousand of his members fled to “Jonestown,” a compound he had built in Guyana. In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan decided to visit the compound to learn about it, but was promptly murdered by Jones’s armed guards. That very day, Jones convinced his congregation to drink poison kook-aid and kill themselves. Those who refused were shot dead. All in all, a staggering 900 people died that day, including 276 children.
1. The Manson Family – While the death toll was nowhere near that of Jonestown, the infamy of Charles Manson and his family of murderers sent a shockwave across the world. Manson’s cult was not based in religion, but in Manson’s own insane ramblings about race wars that he and his followers must hide from in the late 70s. Knowing the race war was imminent, Manson convinced his young female followers to commit murders that would be blamed on African Americans in order to get things going. In August of 1968, The Manson Family murdered several people at a house in Los Angeles, including the wife of Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate. They stabbed their victims and used their blood to write profane things on the walls. Manson and the women in his family were captured and sentenced to death, but once California abolished the death penalty they were given life in prison.