The Undeniable Allure of Cults and Some of the Worst in History
Know the unthinkable stories behind Child of God, The Family and Peoples Temple
Child abduction, pedophilia and mass suicide: These are just some of the abominable deeds carried out by some of the worst cults in history. Let’s take a look at utopian veneered societies gone wrong—and the demented leaders behind them.
Wannabe rockstar Charles Manson (he actually has a Spotify) is an inexhaustible topic of pop culture, most recently featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and a subject of investigation in David Fincher’s Mindhunter. (Interestingly enough, both media featured the same actor Damon Herriman as the demented cult leader—just at different stages of his life.) Meanwhile, Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story highlighted a reenactment of the notorious “Manson Family Murders,” which occurred during the summer of 1969 with the assassination of starlet Sharon Tate.
The group of “wayward hippies” believed The Beatles’ Helter Skelter as a motive for a race war. He was known to drug his young followers, and prominently as the only serial killer behind murders, which he never committed himself. He died in November of 2017 at the age of 83 of natural causes.
41 years have passed since the massacre of 900 members of Jamestown’s apocalyptic cult known as the Peoples Temple. The mass murder-suicide was carried out by their leader Reverend Jim Jones, through the infamous Kool-Aid incident in a secluded South American jungle. The drink was spiked with cyanide. (You’ll never look at the childhood strawberry beverage the same way again.)
The manipulative white minister preached to a predominantly African-American congregation; he had nearly 5,000 members. He was troubled in his youth, killing animals, obsessing over death and even looking to Adolf Hitler for inspiration. A former Temple member, Laura Johnston Kohl, who survived the incident shared, “We—all of us—were doing the right things but in the wrong place, with the wrong leader.” The tragedy in 1978 “represents the largest number of American civilian casualties in a single non-natural event” next to the terrorist attacks during 9/11.
Most cults are assembled in the treacherous guise of religion. Anne Hamilton-Byrne of Australia’s most infamous cult raised the young members of her cult dubbed as “The Family” or “The Great White Brotherhood” to believe that she was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
Set up in the mid-1960s, she adopted (some were reported to be abducted) 14 children and groomed them—brainwashed, gave them identical haircuts and gave them all her last name—in anticipation of a “third world war.” She hired well-to-do professionals to join The Family and was rumored to abuse children (through starvation diets and severe beatings), make them use drugs and perform strange spiritual rituals on them. Adults were completely in power, continuously traumatizing the children and hiding them from the world. In 1978, the police rescued the victims in their lakeside compound.
Shoko Asahara is responsible for Japan’s doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo (supreme truth) with approximately 1,600 cult members globally. He declared himself both as Christ and the first enlightened one since Buddha and even considered himself as the incarnation of Shiva, the Indian god of destruction. Their abominable deeds included making weapons of mass destruction, working with the Japanese crime syndicate yakuza and killing anyone that got in the way.
Along with his followers, they carried out the 1995 deadly chemical attack on the Tokyo underground, considered the worst terror incident in the country’s history. The Sarin attack killed 13 and injured thousands leaving them blinded and paralyzed. Asahara believed that it was a “holy attempt to elevate the doomed souls of this world to a higher spiritual stage.”
Children of God
The Family International, more popularly known as the Children of God was previously called Teens for Christ in the 1960s. The “hippie Christian cult” was founded by David Berg who perverted the vulnerable youth, brainwashed them and made them do inconceivable acts—encouraging incest and sex with children. They lived in seclusion; survivors who escaped called it “hell on earth.”
Berg worked on the belief that God was love and love equated to sex so there should be no limits, regardless of age, relationship and gender. In his 1979 annual report, he “witnessed to over a quarter of a million souls, loved over 25,000 of them, and won about 19,000 to the Lord.” Members were as young as two or three—some were believed to be kidnapped. Hollywood actors Rose McGowan and Joaquin Phoenix were born into the cult. Most disturbing is the fact that this cult is still alive today.
Art Alexandra Lara