Mass suicides, brainwashing, human sacrifices, biological attacks, property and monetary extortion, abduction, torture and many other sinister deeds are just few of the actions associated with the world’s most notorious cults. Every once in a while, small groups whose names had never been heard of, hit the news headlines with disturbing events that sometimes involve the deaths of many innocent people.
Some experts call these groups cults, referring to closed social groups with potentially dangerous beliefs, in which a charismatic leader controls the lives of members. Others refuse the term, considering that many religions started as small cults, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In all occasions, the common factor between them is mostly their emphasis on the centricity of the cult in their members’ lives, and an imagined pivotal role of the group in human affairs. When associated together, these delusions have led to many tragic endings, in which the members followed their cult so blindly into dreadful fates, and paid a very heavy price.
Discover some of the world’s most dangerous cults in the following lines.
1) Drinking the Kool-Aid to Death: The People’s Temple
When Jim Jones (1931-1978) started his little church in Indiana, United States, during the late 1950's, no one ever knew it was going to end up being the largest mass-suicide in modern history.
Jones started off as a Marxist in the American Communist party. He later turned into a priest of the Methodist Church, before launching his own personal church that he called “The Peoples Temple Christian Church”.
His anti-racial and pro-poor stances attracted thousands of followers, and helped to boost his church with numbers and donations. Believing that the world will end via nuclear war in the sixties, Jones moved his headquarters several times to a “safe place”. Former members describe Jones as growing more delusional and inconsistent by the time. At one point, he stated that he was an atheist, denounced the bible, and proclaimed that he was the reincarnation of Jesus, Mahatma Ghandi, The Buddha, and Vladimir Lenin all at the same time.
He moved with hundreds of his supporters to the Temple’s agricultural land in Guyana, and named the new place “Jonestown” after himself. The move came after being exposed to criticism from the American media who interviewed former members of his cult. These members gave testimonials of sexual and physical abuse. In Guyana, Jones' paranoia grew exponentially to the extent that some of his followers assassinated a U.S. congressman along with three members of the media who came to Jonestown in order to investigate human rights abuse.
On November 18th 1978, and following the orders of Jones, 909 people including 303 children, committed the largest mass suicide to date by drinking a fruit punch mixed with cyanide.
The expression “drinking the Kool-Aid”, which means both blindly following the lead of other people, is a manifestation of the event’s impact on American culture.
2) Aum Shinrikyo: Salvation through World War III?
Aum Shinrikyo was a Japanese religious group created by Shoko Asahara. Its name means “Religion of Truth”; its beliefs are a blend of Theravada Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and personal prophecies of Asahara.
Asahara declared himself the “Christ” and Japan’s one and only enlightened being. He took upon himself the mission of carrying the sins of the world and cleansing his followers' bad Karma. He believed that World War III will start in 1997, and that it would result in a nuclear Armageddon in which only those who joined Aum Shinrikyo will survive.
In 1995, the group was reported as having 9,000 members in Japan, and 40,000 worldwide. It attracted a lot of controversy since the 1980’s after murdering several individuals critical of the cult. Following several failed attempts to acquire a nuclear bomb, the cult initiated two terrorist attacks against civilians in 1994 and 1995. The attacks marked the first use of chemical weapons in a terrorist attack, and resulted in the deaths of 20 people, and the injury of more than a thousand.
Asahara was arrested and convicted, and the group disbanded. When Aum’s headquarters were raided, the police found stockpiles of explosives, chemical weapons and biological warfare agents which could have been used for producing enough Sarin to kill four million people.
The reason why such a small group of senior Japanese citizens had committed these horrible acts remains a mystery, although one of the rumors claims that the cult was trying to instigate World War III…
3) Order of the Solar Temple: A death trip to Sirius
The Order of the Solar Temple was a secret society based on the myth of the continuing existence of the Knights Templar. The Order was founded in 1984 by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret in Geneva, Switzerland.
In October 1994, a three months old infant was killed with a wooden stake at the group's center in Morin Heights, Quebec. It is believed that Di Mambro himself ordered the murder, because he identified the baby as the Anti-Christ described in the Bible.
Di Mambro and Jouet convinced their followers that they were members of the historical Templars in a previous life. They also claimed that Di Mambro’s daughter is "the cosmic child" who would lead them after death to a planet around the star Sirius. But in order to do so, they would have to die in a fire, as was prophesied for the end of the world.
A few days later, Di Mambro and twelve followers performed a ritual Last Supper. After that, mass suicides and murders were conducted in Switzerland and Canada, during which more than a 100 members ended their lives.
4) Scientology: The Money Making Machine
In the late 1940's, pulp fiction writer Lafayette Ronald Hubbard announced that “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion”. It didn’t take Hubbard long to walk his talk, mixing various methods of psychotherapy and mind techniques to create a form of regression therapy called “Dianetics”. Dianetics soon evolved into a full-fledged religion with thousands of followers around the globe.
Scientology is described today as one of the wealthiest institutions on the planet; but its notoriety doesn’t stem from its fortune or its exotic teachings about alien civilizations and galactic dramas. It comes from the aggressiveness by which the church had faced its opponents, and its continuous efforts to silence its opposition through any means necessary.
Despite being just 50 years old, the Church of Scientology has been one of the most litigious religious movements in history, filing countless lawsuits against governments, organizations and individuals who dared to criticize it.
The Church of Scientology has been described as a money-hungry commercial enterprise that exploits the status of religion to enjoy tax benefits. The history of Scientology is tainted with stories of fraud, intimidation, financial devastation, and criminal activities leading to the deaths of those trying to escape the religion.
Documents disclosed by the FBI regarding Scientology revealed some of these actions; they included a plan to frame Gabe Cazares, a mayor critical of scientology, with a staged hit-and-run accident, plans to force “Cult Awareness Network” into bankruptcy, and a project called "Operation Freakout" which aimed at ruining Paulette Cooper's life, author of an early book critical of the movement, The Scandal of Scientology.
5) Heaven’s Gate: Committing suicide to catch up with Comet Hale-Bopp
Heaven’s Gate was a small cult with founders who claimed to have arrived to earth in a UFO from another dimension. The ideology of the group contains elements of Christianity mixed with unusual beliefs about UFOs. It was heavily inclined toward refusing the material world in order to transcend it, considering the soul a higher entity housed temporarily in a body. They taught their members to cut off all connections to this world gradually, which included things like cutting off friends and relatives, and even castration, just like the case of one of their leaders.
In 1997, the leaders of the group convinced their followers to commit suicide so that their souls could take a ride on a spaceship that they claimed was hiding behind comet Hale-Bopp carrying all the prophets and the creators of mankind. Consequently, 39 people ended their lives while dressing in identical black shirts and sweat pants, and wearing armband patches reading “Heaven's Gate away team”.