A cult is defined as a system which venerates one particular individual, ideal or object. They can be a select group of fanatics, or a group of misguided outsiders whose ideals have segmented them from the norm. Many cults don’t begin as dangerous sects – and in fact, if asked, those involved with them wouldn’t describe their group as a cult at all. However, many cults have sinister or extreme agendas that are so far outside they norm they become dangerous. This manifests in mass-suicides, brainwashing, extremist behavior, attacks, abductions, extortion and vandalism. Here are 10 of the most dangerous religious cults of all time.
Scientologists are not your typical doomsday cult grabbing headlines with graphic or shocking religious doctrines and actions. Those who’ve escaped from this cult speak of brainwashing, fraud, and attempts at financial ruin. They talk of open threats and other dangerous methods which cult leaders use to ensure loyalty. The basis of the cult is a confusing mess of alien influence and the human psyche. But at the core, Scientology seems to be about a lot of money. They sue the pants off anyone who speaks ill of them. They seem to act at times like a massive global corporation, and not a religious organization. Famously there are several highly-paid actors who’ve become members, including Tom Cruise among others.
9) The Unification Church
They are called “Moonies” and they are the followers of Sun Myung Moon. They also believe Moon to be a divine being worthy of worship. Moon’s cult was so damning that Germany banned him from the country as it was deemed he was a danger to the people – especially easily influenced youth. Since the Unification Church believes Moon to be God, he is fully supported by his church in every sense of the word. The cult itself has been accused of luring young members into the fold and actively working to separate them from their families or support systems. Moon constantly speaks out against the Christian church, claims that Korea is the chosen realm, and openly expects to be treated as a deity by his followers.
8) The Ku Klux Klan
The KKK is famous for their white robes, pointed hoods and their stance on white supremacy. Lost in this history is the fact that at its core the KKK is, or at least was, a religious sect of extremist Christians. Formed initially after the Civil War, the KKK once boasted nearly four million members. Their terror tactics and stance on blacks, Jews, Catholics and other minorities certainly didn’t win them any favors, but it was the fear tactics and murders which made them exceedingly dangerous. The anonymity of the clan was another contributing factor. Members could live in open society and participate robed and hidden if they desired. They clan lives on today, and while their influence has dwindled considerably they still remain a rather secretive and dangerous cult.
7) The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
Based in Uganda, this cult believed that the end of the world was inevitable and would take place on January 1st, 2000. They strictly adhered to the Ten Commandments. In fact, they were so reverent to the word of God that they went to unusual lengths to not break it. They rarely spoke to one another and many even used sign language so that they wouldn’t bear false witness and break the ninth commandment. They refrained from sexual relations and fasted regularly. When January 1st, 2000 passed without incident the cult began to lose followers whose faith was suddenly shattered. As a result, the cult leaders predicted a new apocalypse in March that year. When 500 followers gathered at a church prior to the end times, it exploded. There were accusations of mass suicide, but most of the victims were strangled or poisoned and it was believed murder was the primary cause of death.
6) Aum Shinrikyo
This Japanese cult translates to the “Supreme Truth” and it was founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984. Under the cover of a yoga and meditation cult, this group was granted religious status and eventually became increasingly dangerous. In the decade that passed Asahara and his followers were accused of forced donations, fraud, and even murder. In 1995 the police began to take a serious look at Asahara and these accusations. So much so that Asahara ordered the release of sarin gas in the subway system hoping to distract the authorities. While the resulting fallout was devastating, the police did manage to capture Asahara and discovered a massive stockpile of weapons, explosives and even live captives. Among the materials the police discovered was enough poisonous gas to kill four million people, a Russian helicopter, drugs (including LSD), and chemical weapons like anthrax. Asahara was imprisoned and his cult disbanded, but some variation of his ideals lives on today in another cult, though the leader has distanced himself from this new sect.
5) Children of God
Few cults are as creepy as those that call themselves the Children of God which was founded by David Berg. The primary belief practiced by followers of this organization is that sex with children is not only ok, but a divine right. Needless to say, there was an extensive history of sexual abuse within this cult. Young women were turned towards prostitution and used to lure new members into the fold. There was an entire system in place for recruitment. Two rather famous actors grew up inside this cult, Rose McGowan and River Phoenix were raised in this “family,” though both eventually escaped and went on to better things.
4) Order of the Solar Temple
This strange cult is based upon the ancient belief that the Knights Templar still exist and that salvation is only available to converted worshippers who would ascend into heaven. It was founded in 1984 by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret. The group’s activities are extremely secretive, but in 1994 cultists brutally murdered an infant because they believed it to be the anti-Christ. What followed was a series of mass suicides (including one in Switzerland, where inner-circle members were poisoned to death, and second one in Canada.) Cultists were shot, poisoned, burned, and suffocated. In the end over 100 people died, mostly by their own hand or at the hands of their leaders.
3) Branch Davidians
David Koresh convinced his followers that anyone not aligned with him, and particularly the United States, were enemies of God. This was the stereotypical apocalyptic doomsday cult built on a foundation of lies, terror and blind faith. Koresh himself claimed he was a voice of a God and even the Messiah and he used his power to regularly engage in sexual relations with his female followers. He moved his followers into a massive compound outside Waco, Texas. Eventually the authorities investigated the compound after accusations of sexual abuse and child molestation were leveled at Koresh and his cult. In a famous standoff in 1994 the ATF fired teargas into the compound. Fires erupted from the building, though no one was certain who started them or if they were a result of law enforcement. In the end 76 people died in the ensuing chaos.
2) The People’s Temple
This sect of religious fanatics was led by Jim Jones, a former Marxist and communist supporter turned Methodist priest. Jones was extremely popular and charismatic. He was also outspoken, particularly against the social elite. Poor and downtrodden members flocked to him in droves and he fully supported their plight. But what started innocently eventually morphed into a strange cult as Jones became more outspoken against the bible and more paranoid about a nuclear catastrophe. Jones was forced to flee the United States for Guyana where persistent sexual abuse was reported. Jones’ congregation took matters into their own hands and assassinated a US Congressman. Eventually, on the orders of their leader, over 900 people committed the largest mass suicide in history by drinking poison-laced Kool Aid, thus coining the term “drinking the Kool Aid.”
1) Heaven’s Gate
Followers of this cult believe that enlightenment and salvation can only be achieved by fleeing Earth before the “great recycling.” Since leaving Earth is somewhat problematic, the leaders of this cult preached suicide as the answer to leaving your body and reaching enlightenment. Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles were the leaders behind this strange cult. They prepared videos on how to leave your earthly flesh behind and distributed them to members. Then, in 1997, Haley’s Comet arrived and Applewhite convinced his followers a spaceship was trailing the comet and those who followed him into death would be saved. Applewhite then ordered 38 people to commit suicide in San Diego when he claimed Haley’s Comet was the sign they’d been waiting for.