In 1954, Jim Jones started a church in Indianapolis called the Community Unity Church. He subscribed to an egalitarian Marxist ideology, horribly anathema in the mid-fifties United States, which he used his congregation to propagate. As membership grew, Jones winnowed his message of “religious communalism”, where members donated their material possessions to the church so common needs could be met.
But the ideology didn’t take with the starchy mid-western members, so Jim Jones adopted his “apostolic socialism,” where he replaced “Jesus” with “socialism” in traditional Christian rhetoric. Religion was the opiate of the masses, according to his church, and socialism was salvation. Capitalist America was fascist America, and fascist America was racist America, all of which were condemnably sinful. The only way ‘home’ was to accept Socialism.
This rhetoric appealed to black Americans, many of whom were frustrated with Jim Crow laws. Jim Jones, although white himself, also specifically addressed them because he deplored their condition. Indiana was surprisingly racist at mid-century. In 1974, the church (by then Peoples Church) moved to Guyana so that the black members could “live in peace” in a socialist, predominantly black, and English-speaking country.
Unfortunately, not long afterwards, Jim Jones’ sinister agenda was revealed. In 1978, California congressman Leo Ryan came to Guyana to investigate claims of abuse within the church. When he left, several members of the congregation tried to follow him. They were intercepted at the airfield by church guards who opened gunfire. The next day, Jones ordered his congregation to drink Flavor-Aid (same thing as Kool-Aid) laced with poison in what became known as the Jonestown Massacre. 918 people died, the single largest loss of American life in a deliberate act until 9/11.
Although some cults are simply kooky, like the cult of Norma in Orange is the New Black, some are actually quite insidious. If you’re curious about which celebrities could have been in Jonestown “drinking the Kool-Aid” that day, stayed tuned, and find out which ten celebrities were raised in cults.
10. Joaquin and River Phoenix
Children of God, also known as Family International, is a religious order founded in Huntington Beach, California in 1968. Although it borrows heavily from traditional religious dialogue (salvation, apocalypticism, spiritual revolution & happiness), academics such as Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi and John Huxley have called the organization a cult. Decide for yourself: it preaches revolution against “the System,” otherwise known as the outside world. Joaquin Phoenix, brother to the prematurely deceased River Phoenix, has discussed what belonging to the cult was like. He says that his parents became involved with it in the early 1970s, dragging him and his brother through South America spreading the gospel with them.
9. Glenn Close
As she recently revealed to UsMagazine, Glenn Close was in a cult for most of her youth. Her father, Dr. William Taliaferro Close, joined the radical religious group Moral Re-Armament (MRA) when his daughter was seven. She only managed to break out when she was twenty-two. For years, she lived at the cult’s headquarters in Switzerland, at a hotel they called Mountain House. Although she says she broke free from the cult at age 22, she refuses to say how. “I’m not going to go into all that. You can’t in an interview” is what she said to The Hollywood Reporter. What we know is the group is based on four principles: absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, and absolute love.
8. Winona Ryder
Winona Ryder had colorful parents, which might explain the name of her cult “Rainbow Commune.” Her folks belonged to the 1960s counterculture elite. Her father is Michael Horowitz, friend to beat poet Allen Ginsberg and LSD guru Timothy Leary (incidentally Winona’s godfather.) In her early childhood, Winona’s family went to live with seven other families on a commune in Northern California. There, they had no electricity or television sets. The eight families attempted to live self-sufficiently off of the 300 acre plot of land. In other words, not only was the Winona Ryder raised in a cult, she belonged to a cult that her parents formed. After a few years, her family moved on from the Rainbow Commune and Winona became able to audition in earnest.
7. David and Patricia Arquette
Like Winona Ryder, David and Patricia Arquette lived with their parents in a “universe” of their own creation. Their cult was located in Winchester, Virginia. The Arquette parental unit was made up of two drug addicts who wanted to create a utopian society. Although Patricia Arquette didn’t mention this in the episode of Oprah in which she opened up about her upbringing, it’s presumable that her parents wanted a secluded spot to do drugs. Their commune had no electricity or bathrooms. Patricia doesn’t even remember there being running water. They eventually moved into a conventional home, where the rough and tumble lifestyle continued, with Patricia’s dad even attacking her.
6. Michelle Pfeiffer
“I never drank one chocolate malt! No dessert for Ms. Baltimore Crabs!” Sings Michelle Pfeiffer as Hairspray’s Velma Von Tussle. But for a long time, it was a lot more than just denying herself chocolate shakes. When she arrived in Hollywood at the tender age of 20, Michelle Pfeiffer was seduced into the “Breatharians,” a new age cult that believes humans can connect with Earth’s “pranic” energies by refusing themselves food and water. Convinced that their regime of hardcore dieting and mysticism would help her maintain both her figure and her mental stability, Pfeiffer dumped evermore of her money into their treasury, as per their growing fees. They had convinced her that she could not live without them, but that she could live without food and water, fed only by the nutrients in light and oxygen. Her first husband, Peter Horton, eventually rescued her from the cult that said food is more addictive than heroin.
5. Rose McGowan
Like River and Joaquin Phoenix, Rose McGowan was raised in the Children of God cult, but, unlike them, she was in Europe rather than South America. Her father ran the Italian chapter. She spent a lot of her childhood traveling through Europe, visiting the various communes with her parents and two siblings. McGowan told People: “You had no contact with the outside world. Things that are completely unacceptable became normal. I remember watching how the [cult’s] men were with the women, and at a very early age I decided I did not want to be like those women. They were basically there to serve the men sexually — you were allowed to have more than one wife.” McGowan got by with her smarts, running away from home after her parents divorced and taking up with some drag queens in Oregon.
4. Susan Cagle
Susan Justice, real name Susan Cagle, also belonged to the Children of God, also sometimes known as “The Family.” She, along with her nine brothers and sisters and two parents, moved around the world preaching the fundamentalist Christian gospel of this religious offshoot. It was there that she laid the foundation for her trajectory as a musician. She went from performing on the streets of international cities, to performing in the New York subway after she fled from the cult at 20, to becoming a major recording artist today. Now she goes by the stage name Susan Justice, possibly a comment on her upbringing, which she believes to be unjust and from which she used music to escape.
3. Christopher Owens
Christopher Owens, front man of the influential band Girls, is another celebrity raised in the Children of God cult. He has some hard words to say about it: “Imagine being raised in the Taliban,” he says. “Being told everybody else in the world is bad, rejecting technology, rejecting medical research, being devoted to God and believing America was evil and the end of the world was coming: all the same principles.” When his older sister and her boyfriend got out, they were decried as “backsliders”, classic accusatory epithets of a tenuous and insecure group. Eventually, Owens followed his sister’s footsteps, moving to Amarillo, Texas, where he was completely clueless, but preferring total freedom over total oppression.
2. Suri Cruise
Leah Remini was once one of scientology’s most ardent defender. But now, she’s its most famous defector. As the King of Queens actress aged, she became disenchanted with the ideology of the cult, which says that humans are immortal, spiritual beings, originating from outer-space and residing in a physical body. But Tom Cruise, father of Suri, is still going strong. Ten years after jumping on Oprah’s couch, Cruise still belongs to the cult. Into it he brought his now ex-wife, Katie Holmes, and their defenseless daughter Suri, now nine, whose cute looks and cloutful parents promise to turn her into the next celebrity raised in a cult.
1. Angel Haze
Angel Haze is an up-and-coming rapper, shocking people not with her abrasiveness like many rappers and entertainers, in general, but rather with her mix of wit and raw emotion. In her song “Cleaning Out My Closet”, a nod to Eminem, she tackles the abuse she endured between ages seven and ten. A lot of people think that she shouldn’t have been signed, because she didn’t have enough knowledge of the industry, having only started listening to music four years earlier, at fifteen, which is when she escaped from the cult Pentecostal Greater Apostolic Faith, which banned music. About it, she’s said: “You weren’t allowed to talk to anyone outside of that, you weren’t allowed to wear jewelry, listen to music, to eat certain things, to date people… you weren’t allowed to do pretty much anything. Church was on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. When they did revivals it was everyday.”