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The Five Most Interesting Cults (in my opinion)

I’ve always been into true crime. I listen, religously, to My Favorite Murder and Serial and will go on for hours about different true crime phenomena to anyone who will listen. But ever since I was a kid, something that always interested me was cults. Maybe it was growing up in the San Francisco bay area and hearing about Manson, or reading historical fiction like The Girls, but the whole sensation behind cult things always pique my interest. So, if you’re looking to learn more about some of the most popular cults in history and why I think they’re so interesting, read further. 

Heaven’s Gate

 This cult is literally a Jesus-turned-90’s sci-fi horror story. Heaven’s gate was led by two individuals who believed they were the second coming of Christ, and would consistently ‘prophesize’ that the end was coming and that they would go, on a comet, to another extraterrestrial dimension. They had meetings to recruit disciples that they called ‘the crew’, wore white tracksuits, and eventually committed group suicide by lacing applesauce with poison and washing it down with Vodka. 39 people died in Heaven’s Gate. This one is interesting to me because it just seems so far fetched. Like, I understand wanting a philosophy to follow with your life, but Jesus as an alien in a second life on a comet is a little too far for me. I think the whole sci-fi factor to it is what seals the deal. 

The Manson Family

This cult has ALWAYS piqued my interest, mostly because one of my favorite novels as a teenager was based off of it. But more importantly, this cult is crazy because Charles Manson was alive for so long afterwards. He recently passed away in 2017, but the fact that he continuously was writing letters and was releasing media while in prison was quite honestly, terrifying. My mother knew a girl whose friend was Leslie Van Houten, one of the ‘family’ members. Her friend would visit Leslie in jail and talk about how crazy of a change she had gone through since joining the Manson family. Having that third degree of separation from a woman who literally helped commit famous murders? Terrifying. 

 

Branch Davidians

Have you ever heard of the 6 part TV show on Netflix called Waco? Well, I had never heard of the Branch Davidians until Waco came out on Netflix this year. I binged this show, hard, and was totally drawn into the amazing performances of Mellissa Benoist (Glee!) and Michael Shannon. But more importantly, the whole story behind the Waco, Texas siege is so insane. Yes, they were a cult, but watching the government side of the entire operation and the fact that they were not supposed to die until the government intervened unjustly, just broke my heart. The Branch Davidians weren’t necessarily the craziest cult – though they had all the basic cult stuff: a leader who could ‘talk to God’, multiple wives, and young girls getting pregnant – the story behind them was the craziest to me. The psychology behind their leader, David Kouresh, is what truly gets me wrapped up in the story. He would convince people to join by his music which is what really set him apart from other cults of that time. At the end of the day, the Branch Davidians were pretty sick and twisted, but the show does a really good job at depicting both sides of the story. 

The Peoples Temples

Jonestown must have been one of the biggest mass suicides ever committed. More than 900 people died in 1978 at a place that was called “jonestown” – actually a jungle ‘utopia’ in south america. “The Peoples Temple” was a San Francisco based evangelist group gone awry in the 70’s. Jim Jones’ philosophy with the people’s temple started pretty innocently. He believed that a just society would overcome the evils of racism and poverty. A pretty sound concept, in my opinion. Until he started exploiting the money and using it for himself, growing drunk on power, and eventually being responsible for the deaths of so many. Why this cult is one of the most interesting to me is because it had so much potential had it not been a power corrupt cult. I, too, would love to live in a society freed of racism and poverty. But I absolutely would draw the line at forcing 900+ people, including women and children, to drink cyanide laced kool-aid because I had killed a public official. More info on Jonestown, here

The Family International

This cult is still active as we speak. Don’t believe me? Read their website. They have 1500 members. The Family International started as the “Children of God”. They were a group based on David Berg’s belief that he was “God’s Prophet for the contemporary world.” Okay, we’ve heard this before, David. The Children of God would use ‘flirty fishing’ to recruit members. Women members would ‘seduce’ prospective members and then once they got all… you know… they would tell them about the Children of God and persuade them to join. In 1978, 10 years after the cult started, they rebranded and called themselves “The Family of Love”. In the Family of Love, flirty fishing was amped up, and members would use escort services to show “God’s Love”. From 1974 until 1977, members had sexual contact with over 223,000 people. In 1982, they rebranded once again and called themselves “The Family”. Familiar? Yeah, Manson was ALSO “the Family”. Once the Family was established as their new name, they stopped all flirty fishing. Apparently, it wasn’t giving them a good wrap. Well, that, and the fact that they had tons of child abuse charges brought against them. In 2004, they rebranded one last time to The Family International which is what they’re known as now. Whether or not they still use the same creepy practices or tie themselves back to their Children of God roots, I’m not sure. But the fact remains that they started as a cult and now still have 1500 active members. This is one group that just doesn’t sit well with me. Sure, they’re not committing murders like Manson, but their sketchy past is what does it for me. 

All in all, cults are crazy, but so interesting to learn about. I love reading books about cult survivors and watching docu-series’ about that kind of stuff. It is totally terrifying, but at the end of the day the psychology behind it is what draws me in.

Grace LemMon

UC Riverside '22

It's Grace! I am a student at UC Riverside, studying Theatre, Film, and Digital Production. Post-grad I want to be a post-production editor and work one day as a big-shot producer. Most of all, I want to be thriving and passionate. In my free time, I'm surfing, drinking coffee, and watching new movies :-) instagram: gracejlemmon
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