Notorious cults of the twentieth century and the tragedy that followed them were regular spectacles during a century of enlightenment.
Cults are like car accidents: horrific events that people cant help but gawk at in shock. Cult members sacrifice their individuality for the perceived friendship, connections, identity, and meaning the groups offers. It is difficult to define the psychological profile of individuals in cults. There is a significant diversification in terms of age, career, education, ideology, and talents among cult members. Powerful dedication to ideology deludes members into believing they are revolutionaries, or devout followers of a new age religion. All too often, cults end in destruction, through mass suicide or violence. Terrifying, and fascinating, cults manipulated countless people and made headlines throughout the twentieth century. A look at these cults offers more insight into the type of groups that appealed to the varied individuals that would become members.
Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
Ex-Roman Catholic priests grew tired of the organized church, and created the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God. Leaders claimed to have received visions from the Virgin Mary, who told them the Catholic Church failed to follow the Ten Commandments. As a doomsday cult, they predicted the end of the world would happen on January 1, 2000. When the world continued to exist they pushed back the date to March 17. The orchestrators of doomsday must have been out to lunch, so the cult leaders organized a feast for their members. However, the gathering masked the cult leaders sinister intentions, they rigged the feast with explosives. It is believed the leaders murdered their followers when the doomsday prophecy failed to happen, effectively bringing about the apocalypse for the cult.
The Order of the Solar Temple
Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret founded the Order of the Solar Temple in 1984. They believed themselves to be holy warriors reviving the ancient Knights Templar. Doomsdays was predicted to happen sometime in the 1990s, but failed prophecies turned cult members violent and an internal feud. Suicides and murders engulfed the inner circle of the cult, leading to the deaths of over 100 people, including an infant cult members believed to be the anti-Christ. There were Solar Temple lodges in Morin Heights and Sainte-Anne-de-la-Perade, Quebec, Canada, as well in Australia, Switzerland, Martinique, and other countries. The Lodges had altars, rituals, and costumes. Members were initiated at each stage of advancement in ceremonies which included expensive purchases, jewelry, costumes, regalia, and the payment of initiation fees.
David Koresh’s obsession with visions of doomsday lead him to establish a Christian cult, the Branch Davidians. The cult was originally founded by Lois Roden, who developed an intimate relationship with David Koresh, leading her to anoint him her successor. Koresh took his granted power to new heights, declaring himself the spiritual husband of all women in the cult. In preparation for the end of the world Koresh stockpiled firearms. The ATF grew suspicious of Koresh, and raided his holdout at Mt. Carmel in 1993. In the ensuing raid, a fire broke out killing around 70-80 followers, including Koresh.
The Japanese government recognized the 1984 founded cult, Aum Shinrikyo, as a religious organization. Asahara, the founder, mashed the teachings of Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Nostradamus, and Yoga into a belief system for the new age. He claimed divinity, and promised followers they would saved from the inevitable nuclear pocalypse. In the 1990s, members of the cult stockpiled military grade weapons and began behaving violently. Expecting the police to interfere with their operation, cult members used sarin gas in a Tokyo subway before opening fire on a crowd, killing 12 and injuring more than 1,000 people. Investigators tracked the attack back to the cult, arresting Asahara and sentenced the false prophet to death.
The Godfather of Matamoros
Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, a well known drug dealer and killer, founded the Godfather of Matamoros cult in Mexico City. In 1983, he pledged his life to become the Congo “devil” figure known as Kadiempembre. Constanzo claimed to possess psychic powers, but his telepathy failed to foresee the killing of a local crime family would force him to flee Mexico City. He started a crime empire 20 miles outside of Matamoros where he began recruiting members to his ideology. Human sacrifice and satanic rituals were common in the Godfather of Matamoros cult. Constanzo was left alone by police until he sacrificed an American student in 1989, leading to his demise. His empire crumbled as he fled to Mexico City, while his followers were jailed.
Los Hermanos Hernández
Los Hermanos Hernández was made up of two brothers and their followers, who manipulated the villagers of Yerba Buena, Mexico into believing they were medieval Gods. Santos and Cayetano Hernández demanded sacrifices in the forms of sex and money, in exchange for a god's treasure hidden the mountains. Sacrificial rituals began to include murders and bodily mutilation. One terrified follower fled to a neighboring village to ask for authorities help. One officer investigated but never returned. Police sent reinforcements, finding the lone officer brutally murdered. Cayetano was killed in personal dispute with a villager, while Santos was shot by the police. The villagers remained faithful to Los Hermanos Hernández, and were convicted of their crimes and jailed.
The Chicago Rippers
Serial killer John Wayne Gacy had a disciple, Robin Gecht, who formed the Chicago Rippers satanic cult. In the early 1980s, 18 women disappeared from the streets of Chicago, and the Chicago Rippers were the prime suspect. Following in Gacy’s sociopathic footsteps, the gang kidnapped prostitutes to use in disturbing rituals, dismembering their bodies for sexual gratification. Miraculously, one victim managed to escape and relayed descriptions of her attackers, leading to the Chicago Rippers' conviction.
The People's Temple
The charismatic Revered Jim Jones founded the People’s Temple in the 1950s. His persuasive sermons attracted numerous followers, and several churches were built in the name of the cult. Radical preaching concerned the United States government, leading the People’s Temple to flee the United States for Guyana in South America, where they established a community, calling it Jonestown. Concerned family members in the States, who had been excommunicated by their family in People’s Temple, lead Congressman Leo Ryan to investigate Jonestown. He intended to bring disenfranchised members back to the US, but was killed by Jones’ personal guard. The event prompted Jones to order his followers to commit suicide. Men, women, and children drank fruit punch laced with cyanide. More than 900 people lay strewn about the ruins of the false utopia, including 276 children.
In the 1970s, Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles formed Heaven’s Gate, an American UFO religious Millenarian Group. Their belief: a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet would save them if they committed suicide as it passed the Earth; they would hitch a ride on the alien spaceship to salvation. Police discovered the bodies of 39 members on March 26, 1997. While alive, members of Heaven’s Gate distanced themselves emotionally, like a Vulcan, and refrained from sex. Members were coerced to disassociate from family members and surrendered their belongings. The practices were intended to prepare members for a life beyond the constraints of being human, a life free of human-like characteristics. Suicide was the only way they could, “evacuate this Earth,” according to Marshall Applewhite.
Charles Manson solidified himself as an icon of infamy after leading his “family” to commit heinous crimes. Born in 1934, his mother was only 16. From an early age Manson was involved in petty crimes and robberies; he was in an out of jail until 1967, when he moved to San Francisco. It was in the The City by the Bay, Manson recruited young, impressionable people into his family. Manson saw himself as a prophet, or revolutionary, and imparted his radical ideas, such as the notion that an apocalyptic race war was inevitable. In 1969, the Manson family members brutally murdered actress Sharon Tate and four others in her home, believing the murders would accelerate Manson’s doomsday delusion. They smeared messages written with blood upon the walls; Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were killed the next day. Manson did not commit the murders himself, but orchestrated murders like a conductor, and serves a life sentence through the joint-responsibility rule.
The Church of Bible Understanding (Formerly The Forever People)
The Church of Bible Understanding is a cult founded by Stewart Traill in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Traill was born in Quebec in 1971. Prior to forming the church, he was an atheist vacuum cleaner repairman. The cult itself espouses a communal form of evangelical Christianity. Church members live together on a commune and donate 90 percent of their earnings to the cult. Traill’s authority is derived by self-proclaiming that he is a reincarnation of the biblical prophet Elijah and only he alone can understand the true meaning of God’s words. Although down to a few hundred members now, in the 1970’s the church had well over 10,000 members. Over time, Traill has become a millionaire and it is believed he took large amounts of the cult money to finance his own lavish lifestyle.
Raëlism was founded in 1974 in France by Claude Vorilhon. Its core belief is that human beings were created by dissident alien scientists called the Elohim. Elohim is a Hebrew term used in the Bible with dual meanings – God or those who came from the sky. Raëlists believe that the Elohim will revisit the earth when its inhabitants are more peaceful and come to know about them. Unlike more traditional religions, Raëlists don’t believe in a deity. The Raelist ethical structural promotes non-violence, sharing, and world peace. Possibly as a result of its liberal sexual views and promotion of hedonistic practices, Raëlism has attracted clergy from other religions who subsequently became bishops and priest. Raëlism as a religion has been banned in France and most of its 55,000 adherents live in Quebec.
Scientology is a religion created by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954. It is based upon Hubbard’s book on mind and body, Dianetics, and his belief that human beings are actually alien immortals (called Thetans). Thetans have lived numerous past lives, here and on other planets. Because human beings are unaware of their real selves, Hubbard devised techniques to help Thetans come to the realization of who they really are. Scientologists use a device called an E-meter that can supposedly “see” a person’s thoughts and reveal hidden crimes. This device is used in conjunction with what Scientologists term “auditing.” Auditing is a form of counseling whereby an auditor asks questions meant to make the subject recall painful or traumatic events in the past to remove or minimize their psychological effects. Scientologists believe that once a human being has advanced enough levels through auditing, that he will become an Operating Thetan (OT). Once attained, an Operating Thetan will have extra abilities that the trapped human being was initially unaware of. Scientology critics claim that its members are being fleeced by the promise of extraordinary results after auditions, which can be very expensive, especially when going to higher levels. Furthermore, people who leave Scientology are often dealt with in heavy handed ways. It is estimated that there are 25,000 members in the United States and thousands more in other countries across Europe and the rest of the world.
Unification Church (Mooneyism)
The Unification Church is a religious movement started by Sun Myung Moon in Korea in 1954. Its core beliefs are held in a book written by Moon, called The Exposition of the Divine Principle. Mooneyism is similar to other conservative Christian religions in many ways. One key difference is that they don’t believe in the holy trinity. Jesus is not God, but just a unique individual. They also believe that God has male and female characteristics that are in perfect harmony. Moon’s book lays out the promise of salvation through the three Adams. The first was Adam from Genesis who, with Eve, sinned against God. The second was Jesus who was supposed to find the perfect mate, have children, and bring salvation to the world. But he was unable to convince the Hebrews and was ultimately crucified. The third Adam who was born in Korea between 1917 and 1930 would be "the true spiritual parents of humankind." Many church members believe the third Adam was Moon himself who died in 2012. Like any cult, the Unification Church isn’t without its controversies. There have been allegations, including brainwashing of young people, forced begging, and tax evasion. Currently, there is estimated to be less than 5,000 followers in the United Sates.
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas)
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISCKON) was started in 1968 in New York City, by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It is a religious moment based on promoting Bhakti Yoga, which espouses the desire of its practitioners to please Supreme Lord Krishna (the highest form of God). As a result, they consider themselves to be monotheistic. The Hare Krishnas received their more common name from the 16 word mantra that they can be heard chanting in airports, malls, etc.
Hare Krishnas must choose a guru and as his devotee, must worship him. They live an austere existence, often in communes. Self-denial and sacrifice are qualities expected of them. These are the four principles related to the four legs of dharma:
- They must not eat meat, fish or eggs.
- They can’t engage in extra-marital sex and only as a means of having children.
- No gambling.
- No drugs including alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, prescription drugs, etc.
As in all Hindu religions, Hare Krishnas believe in the principal of kharma as well as reincarnation.
Hare Krishnas have had their share of controversy including court cases involving child abuse, racketeering, and brain washing.