5 Of The Most Infamous Cults in US History

Last updated on March 8th, 2023 at 06:15 am

Since the start of human civilization, cults have had a gnarly effect on people. These secret groups have made countless headlines worldwide and continue to surprise people with the extent of their beliefs.

These groups’ list of crimes and unacceptable activities is ever-increasing. Even more alarming is that these cults are made up of regular people. So far, most of the information learned about these bloody groups has been from podcasts and documentaries.

You’ll find one thing in common when you watch a cult documentary—a disillusioned group of people, an over-enthusiastic leader, and a fictitious belief.

You’ll be surprised that these cults have been around for a long time -let’s look at some of the most infamous cults in US history.

The Manson Family

The story about the Manson family sent shockwaves through the 1970s. The Manson Family was a classic example of a group of people who came together to be wayward hippies.

Charles Manson founded this group in 1967 and referred to them as his family. However, this was no ordinary family. The group had their home at Spahn Ranch, a former movie studio. Here, they enjoyed free access to drugs and orgies.

The situation becomes precarious when Manson begins to preach his ideas about a race war. Charles Manson was obsessed with The Beatles and their White album.

He had plans to initiate a race war called “Helter Skelter.” He also spoke about going on a killing spree frequently. In response to his teachings, some of his members committed a string of murders. The names on the hit list included famous actress Sharon Tate and her husband, Leno LaBianca, Rosemary LaBianca, and Abigail Folger.

Sharon Tate and her family were murdered on August 8, 1969. To top things off, the attackers wrote “PIG” on the door to Tate’s house with her blood.

The next night, the group proceeded to the Los Feliz home of the LaBiancas and murdered the couple. Their deaths were gruesome, as Rosemary was stabbed 14 times.

The cult members tried to deflect attention and blamed their actions on an African-American group called thee Black Panthers. They hoped that by leaving cold messages and symbols in their victim’s blood, no one would suspect them. But this plan failed.

Charles Manson and many of his followers were arrested in October 1969. He was initially given the death sentence but got commuted to a life sentence after the death penalty was abolished in California. Charles Manson died in prison on November 19, 2017, at 83.

Heaven’s Gate

Many Southern Californians still remember tales and news coverage about the “Heaven’s Gate” group. Marshall Applewhite was the famous founder of this group. He established it in the early 1970s along with Bonnie Nettles, one of the nurses he worked with at a psychiatric hospital.

The pair had similar interests in biblical prophecies and the existence of extraterrestrials. After some time, they began to recruit disciples, and the group grew.

To stoke the beliefs of his members, Marshall Applewhite told them many things. Most notably, he called himself the second coming of Jesus Christ and referred to God as an Alien.

In 1975, Applewhite convinced his members to dispose of their belongings and cut ties with their loved ones. The idea was for them to disappear.

Furthermore, members of Heaven’s Gate were supposed to follow a strict diet of cayenne pepper, lemonade, and maple syrup.

This diet was supposed to help them rid their minds of sexual thoughts. In one of the most horrific displays of extremism, eight men in the group volunteered for surgical castration.

What’s truly shocking is the event that followed. In March 1997, Marshall Applewhite and 38 of his follower had a mass suicide in a San Diego mansion.

The group ingested a deadly cocktail made from vodka, applesauce, and phenobarbital. Their goal was to lie down and leave their bodies to enter an alien spacecraft before passing through Heaven’s Gate and transcending to a level above human existence.

When the police got to the property, they found 21 women and 18 men. Each wore a black shirt, sweatpants, and new Nike Decades. Police reports claimed that the entire group lost their lives over three days.

This mass suicide was a scary event that shook many parts of Southern California. When police discovered the home, they found each dead body covered with a piece of purple fabric. It’s still one of the largest mass suicides in the United States.

Many can still recollect the horrific pictures and images taken from the site. But it’s scarier to think that the Heaven’s Gate website is still functional. However, it has received no visible upgrades for a long time now.

Children of God

You weren’t wrong if you thought the 1970s was a period filled with infamous dark cults. The Children of God are another fascinating cult that began in 1968. They are considered a fascinating group because of the contrast between the literal meaning of their name and their actions.

David “Moses” Berg created this group. David dedicated his life to preaching against the harmful effects of evolution and increasing moral decay in Western society.

However, he supported an obscene fantasy – pedophilia. Yes, you read that right. According to David, sleeping with children was a divine right. He used young female members to lure more people to join his cult.

This tactic was called Flirty Fishing, which was coined from a verse where Jesus instructed his disciples to be fishers of men.

The Children of God are one of those cults that have managed to avoid any indictment for their actions. As a result, they’ve enjoyed an uncommon continuity.

David Berg died in 1994 and was succeeded by Karen Zerby. The Children of God have undergone several name changes in the past.

They’ve been called The Family of Love, The Family, and The Family International. This group is still very much around. However, they have reduced their preachings about sex between adults and children.

Today, a few famous names have been affiliated with the Children of God. Jeremy Spencer was once a member of the cult. Also, Joaquin Phoenix was born into this cult.

He and his family were members between 1972 – 1978. Popular actress. Rose McGowan also spoke about what it felt like to be raised in this cult. She claims she was a member of the cult till she was nine years old.

While it’s difficult to confirm the authenticity of their claims, Family International has identified a few deceased celebrities as spiritual helpers – Richard Nixon, Elvis, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe.

The People’s Temple

The People’s Temple could easily be called one of the most notorious 1970s cults. Don’t be deceived by their name. This group was one of the most intense and was guilty of numerous abominable acts.

However, none of this could be confirmed before the mass suicide of most members of the group. Reverend Jim Jones may have gained worldwide renown for his crimes with Jonestown, but his actions with The People’s Temple are unspeakable.

When this group was initially founded in 1955, it was considered a hub for spreading social change about racial equality. By the ‘60s and ‘70s, The People’s Temple had become a large group with about 5,000 members.

They were even supported by famous political figures, including Jerry Brown (Governor of California), Harvey Milk, George Moscone (Mayor of San Francisco), and Rosalynn Carter (First Lady).

Many suspicions were raised about The People’s Temple and its activities. There were rumors about questionable activities the group engaged in. However, it enjoyed the backing of influential members of society.

Jim Jones

The People’s Temple abruptly ended in 1974. They moved to a small town in Guyana. This town was later referred to as “Jonestown” – a twisted reinvention of the cult. More on that later in this piece. Most of the activities of The People’s Temple were kept under wraps.

Most unconfirmed reports about their activities were from members who broke free of the cult’s influence. Many explained that the group adopted mind control and behavior modification tactics. They would even make parents surrender their children to the community. Now, that’s despicable!

The story about Jonestown starts like a simple case of redemption, but the reality is far from it. During his early life stages, Reverend Jim Jones was renowned for his fiery teachings about racial equality in America.

These teachings endeared him to the African-Americans. From the 1950s until the end of The People’s Temple, Jones was one of the best men of his generation and a beacon of hope in the racial divide.

Reverend Jones’ identity as a cult leader was confirmed when he moved hundreds of his members, The People’s Temple, to Guyana. He named the small town “Jonestown.”

According to Jones and his believers, they would create a social paradise in Jonestown. However, concerned family members of those who had moved to Jonestown went to California Congressman Leo Ryan for help.

The Congressman was interested in investigating the authenticity of the claims about Jonestown. He had reason to believe that some cult members were held in the settlement against their own will. Some family members of cult members and runaways reported that everyone was subject to work six days per week.

This discovery pushed him to have a meeting with the famous cult leader. During Congressman Ryan’s trip to Guyana to speak with Jones, he was attacked by members of Jonestown and killed.

The reasons for his murder are still unclear, but it was revealed that numerous gunshots killed Ryan to his face and body. 

Instead of facing punishment for their crime, Jones and 918 followers participated in a mass suicide with more people than were ever at Heaven’s Gate. This mass murder-suicide was called the Jonestown Massacre and happened in 1978.

While Reverend Jim Jones died from shooting himself in the head, most of his followers died after ingesting a mixture of Cyanide and Kool-Aid. He made the children drink first, before the parents and elders.

Armed guards also surrounded the entire area. Nine hundred eighteen members participated in the mass suicide, of which 276 were children.

The incident at Jonestown was a national calamity and was mourned by the entire country. To date, it’s still one of the largest losses of American lives.

Branch Davidians

The Branch Davidians were a cult founded in 1955 by Benjamin Roden. He was succeeded by David Koresh, whose name has become most associated with the cult. Koresh had a strong belief that the world was about to end.

Koresh was skilled with the guitar and was renowned for his musical talents. But he believed that he was God’s Messiah and the true voice. Koresh’s obscene beliefs did not end there.

According to him, all women were his spiritual wives. As a result, he freely had sexual relationships with several female cult members – single and married women. Koresh led his group without attracting undue attention. This cult operated for more than two decades.

Eventually, they took their delirious beliefs too far. The activities of the Branch Davidians caught the attention of the ATF agents when they began stockpiling weapons in their compound.

David Koresh

They kept the weapons in preparation for a foretold apocalypse. They resisted when the ATF tried to raid the compound in February 1993. The ensuing gun battle resulted in the death of four agents and six cult members. The Branch Davidians resisted state authorities for 51 days.

When the government finally decided to storm the compound, the cult members set the compound ablaze. This caused the death of 76 people. The casualties died either from the fire, gunshot wounds, or after being crushed by debris from a collapsed wall.

Many people salute the blind bravery of the Branch Davidians. It’s breathtaking to think that any group of people would hold their own against the government’s forces for more than a month. However, the gory end and their struggle’s purpose betray their efforts’ admirability.

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