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Cults, or “New Religious Groups” as Sociologists prefer to call them now, have been around since the dawn of time. They start as splinter groups or small ideal-based sects that often have radical beliefs and practices. Some of these religions grow so large that they eventually become recognized as mainstream religion. What makes the modern iterations of these cults so terrifying is their ability to suck in the most reasonable and intelligent of people, and their reach often extends to your friends and family.

Many celebrities were or are currently in cults: Michelle Pfeiffer was a member of an obscure breatharian cult that believed you didn’t need to eat or drink to live and that you could get your sustenance from the sun. It wasn’t until her actor boyfriend at the time Peter Horton got a role acting in a movie about the followers of Reverend Moon of the Unification church that she realized she herself was in such an organization.

Indoctrination and brainwashing are part of what makes cults so influential on educated and rational people, but it’s what these cults do in their rituals and customs that makes them a threat worthy of a good scary movie. Let’s take a look at some of the craziest cults in America.

1. Branch Davidians

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David Koresh was an outspoken member of the Seventh Day Adventists until he was expelled for his radical views. He thought that he was the messiah and all women were his spiritual wives. Following his split with the Seventh Day Adventists Koresh fled, to the now infamous Waco Texas, to establish their center of worship.

They lived on a large compound and stockpiled weapons and armor for the eventual end of the world, which they believed was drawing near based on Koresh’s visions. Their leader was speaking the word of god according to them, and they surrendered themselves wholly to him. Koresh ended up marrying many of the church members wives and children; many of them were very young.

Reports of the Branch Davidian’s hoarding of weaponry and child abuse finally spurred the newly appointed Attorney General Janet Reno to take action. In 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms attempted to raid the compound. The raid ended in a disastrous withdrawal and 4 dead ATF agents along with 7 dead Branch Davidians. The ATF then engaged in a 51 day siege of the compound that culminated in tanks injecting tear gas into the buildings of the compound and a massive fire that killed 77 Branch Davidians including Koresh.

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2. The Manson Family

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Charles Manson founded a bizarre cult around concepts he stole from Scientology, Satanism, and any other fringe religion that suited his motives. Though they practiced rituals in some form or other, they were largely focused on a prophesy Manson envisioned while listening to the Beatles song “Helter Skelter.”

Manson believed there was an impending race war between African-Americans and all other races. He believed  African-Americans would win this war but following this be unable to govern their new society. The Manson “Family,” as they referred to themselves, planned to hide out during the war and emerge afterward to become the leaders of the victorious African-American race.

The Manson Family compound was, appropriately, in Death Valley. Manson ordered his followers to go to Los Angeles and murder nine influential people to frame African-Americans and ignite his prophesied race war. Coffee heiress Abigail Folger and Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of Hollywood director Roman Polanski, were gruesomely murdered with Tate’s unborn child being cut out of her.

The murders enraged and horrified the entire country and Manson and his followers were quickly arrested. Manson was sentenced to life in prison, and most recently was engaged to be married. However, his bride to be apparently confessed to only marrying him to gain possession of his corpse following his death to use as a tourist attraction. Manson believes this a foolish idea, because he believes himself to be immortal.

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3. Heaven’s Gate

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The book of revelations details the end of the world, it speaks of the signs and harbingers that lead to our fiery end. In chapter 11 verse 3, it specifies that there will be two witnesses to God’s eventual damnation. Marshall Applewhite, the eventual leader of Heaven’s Gate, had a heart attack in the early 1970’s and had a vision that he and his nurse, Bonnie Nettles, were these two witnesses.

Applewhite believed he was a direct descendent of Jesus, he merged Christian beliefs about salvation and the end of the world with more modern theories of evolution and even time travel. The end result of this quasi-Christian doctrine was the belief that the world was ending sometime near the second millennium.

Applewhite and Nettles referred to themselves as Bo and Peep, and cultivated a following of members to believe in their version of the end of days. In 1997, Applegate used the appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet to spread the idea that a space ship was following behind the comet to take all of their faithful members to heaven.

To achieve the ultimate ascension the group donned matching outfits with matching white Nike’s, and all 39 members drank poison while covered in ceremonial purple shrouds awaiting their heavenly transport.

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4. Peoples Temple

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As with many of the cults on this list, Jim Jones started with beliefs bastardized from a more mainstream religion, in this case Pentecostal dogma. Jim Jones’ preaching style appealed to the masses and he became an instant hit from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, particularly among the African- American community, due to his progressive stance on racial equality. By the mid 70’s Jones’ evangelical preaching had gained a following all along the west coast, which had granted him a certain level of political clout.

In 1977, Jones relocated his congregation to “The Commune” in Guyana. The cult rose the hackles of the political elite by moving to a communist nation. Congressman Leo Ryan flew to Guyana to meet with Jones in person, and just before the congressman boarded the plane to return to the US Jones’s followers shot and killed him. Knowing retribution would follow, Jones decided to go out in spectacular fashion and convinced over 900 of his closest followers (some at gunpoint) to commit suicide by poison.

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5. Scientology

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Think the people that make the pilgrimage to Comic-Con in San Diego every year and dress up in costume are a little obsessed? Well, Scientology was founded by one of the early writers of the Science Fiction Genre: L Ron Hubbard and his followers are among the most mysterious and obsessed fanatics in the world.

Supposedly, the founder of the religion was drinking in a bar with fellow author Robert A. Heinlein and the latter bet Hubbard that he couldn’t start his own religion. Well, Hubbard won the bet and is quoted as saying “if a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” Despite all this, Scientology remains one of the largest cults in existence and its members are unerring in their devotion.

Scientology bases its primary tenants on a “science” called Dianetics that Hubbard developed as an alternative to modern psychology. Its members are encouraged to sign over most of their earnings to the church where they progress up many levels, only learning certain truths about the universe as they level up. The basic story, according to its ostracised former members, is that the universe was created by a race called Thetans and the life force of the universe can be manipulated by church elders to make them all think more clearly. The highest echelon members learn of Xenu, a maniacal tyrant who rules the Galactic Confederacy and will reign terror on all of creation. Tom Cruise maintains, along with several nations, that Scientology is a legitimate religion.

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6. Unification Church

Thousands of newlyweds attend a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, about 60 km (37 miles) northeast of Seoul February 17, 2013. The Unification Church founded by evangelist reverend Moon Sun-myung in Seoul in 1954, performed its first mass wedding in 1961 with 33 couples. Approximately 3,500 couples attended the mass wedding on Sunday.   REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ORG XMIT: SEO206

Thousands of newlyweds attend a mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church at Cheongshim Peace World Centre in Gapyeong, about 60 km (37 miles) northeast of Seoul February 17, 2013. The Unification Church founded by evangelist reverend Moon Sun-myung in Seoul in 1954, performed its first mass wedding in 1961 with 33 couples. Approximately 3,500 couples attended the mass wedding on Sunday. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji (SOUTH KOREA – Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ORG XMIT: SEO206

An offshoot of Presbyterian Christianity, Sun Myung Moon founded the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. The North Korean national fled to the United States following an imprisonment in a North Korean prison camp, and started his cult believing that Christ had not completed his mission on earth of having “perfect children.”

Moon told his followers that only he could choose their mates, becoming infamous for his mass wedding ceremonies. Eventually renaming his cult the Unification Church, Moon moved to New York and became a very successful businessman, but parents of his new recruits became suspicious and began filing lawsuits claiming he was brainwashing their children.

Finally in 1982, Moon was convicted of tax evasion and went to prison for a short time. The Unification Church continues today, Moon was even crowned the Messiah at a Senate office building in Washington D.C. in 2003. Moon died in 2010, but his Unification Church continues to be run by his children.

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7. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

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A non-traditional Hindu mystic and guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh became as famous for his indulgences as he was for his fanatical cult. At one time, Rajneesh owned 93 Rolls Royces, the largest collection in the world, and he advocated for a lavish lifestyle of sex and debauchery. The rise of AIDS in the 80s put a stop to those practices, but the cult continued after establishing a community called Rajneeshpuram in Oregon.

A controversy started when the community attempted to add votes to their population by busing in homeless people to “share houses” in order to influence the local elections. When this resulted in dissent among its members they turned to more radical methods. They launched the first ever bioterrorism attack in the U.S. poisoning the members of the town of Dalles, Oregon with Salmonella to limit the number of voters going to the polls. Rajneesh was deported from the US and exiled until his death in 1990, however, his teachings still continue to inspire followers across the globe.

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8. Children of God

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Founded by David “Moses” Berg in the late 1960’s, this cult gained followers after Berg moved into seclusion in Texas where he wrote prolifically about his beliefs. Espousing himself as a devout Christian, Berg advocated for the damnation of what he called “moral decay,” which for him included belief in evolution, mainstream religion, western capitalism, the Jewish people, and the criminalization of sex with children.

Berg even encouraged his followers to recruit new members by using flirtatious sex acts and called it “Flirty Fishing.” Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan were raised in the cult and both have spoken out about the atrocities that occurred in the cult including beatings, isolation, and exorcisms. Berg died in 1994, but his teachings continue on with his wife and her concubine that Berg hand picked for her now leading the church.

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9. Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

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A splinter group from another arguably cultish religion, The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was led by infamous criminal and current federal inmate Warren Jeffs. FLDS separated from the Church of Latter Day Saints in the early 20th century due to a conflict over the practice of polygamy. FLDS members practice multi-partner marriages wholeheartedly and the LDS Church denounces the practice formally.

Warren Jeffs came under scrutiny by the FBI when he evaded charges in Utah by fleeing. He was accused of arranging marriages between his male followers and underage girls as well as participating in rape. He made the FBI Ten Most Wanted List in 2006 and has been in and out of prison since then.

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10. Raȅlism

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Founded in 1974, by Claude Vorilhon this cult could be featured on the History Channel show “Ancient Aliens.” The followers of Claude Vorilhon formed a worldwide cult, now named Raȅl, and believe that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of Aliens named the Elohim.

Raȅlians believe that when these extraterrestrial forefathers visited us in early times they disguised themselves deliberately to resemble humans claiming to be angels who led us through each age. According to Raȅl, Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith and others throughout history have been messengers of the Elohim.

Their doctrine describes the Garden of Eden as a large laboratory on an artificial island, Noah’s Ark as a spaceship with genetic information to clone animals, the Tower of Babel was a rocket, and the Great Flood as a byproduct of a nuclear bomb. Raȅlians currently number over 70 thousand and  are apparently halfway to their 20 million dollar fundraising goal to build a landing site and embassy for extraterrestrials. Oh and they also claim to have cloned a woman.

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11. Creativity Movement

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A new age all white religion, the Creativity Movement was founded by Ben Klassen in 1973 to promote above all else: that what is good for the white race is the highest virtue, what is bad for the white race is ultimate sin.

The church’s main enemy is the Jewish race and they actively plot ways to further their goal of populating the earth solely with white people. They have been accused and convicted of several terrible acts including the shooting spree in 1999 undertaken by church member Benjamin Nathaniel Smith who killed 2 people and injured 9 others all of ethnic backgrounds. Smith then killed himself and today is celebrated by the Creativity Movement as a soldier of god.

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12. Chen Tao [The ho ho ho television prophet]

Old grungy Vintage TV with clipping path over a white background

Old grungy Vintage TV with clipping path over a white background

This cult famously predicted that at 12:01 am on March 31st, 1998 God would be seen all across North America (their version of a holy land) on every TV on channel 18. They moved all their 160 plus members to Garland, Texas in preparation for the event, reportedly because the name of the town sounded kind of like God-Land.

The community became restless when 20 homes suddenly were snapped up by a group of people all wearing the same clothes and claiming to have two children who were the reincarnated souls of Jesus and Buddha. When the fateful moment came and nothing happened their leader, Hon-Ming Chen, a former university professor volunteered to be stoned to death or crucified. The members of the cult rather sheepishly shrugged off the event and left their leader alive while simultaneously returning to their old lives.

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13. KKK

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The Ku Klux Klan was started in the 1860’s by a group of ex-Confederate soldiers and was originally a social club that focused on campaigning against carpetbaggers; entrepreneurs from the North that these southern men saw as a threat. However, due to their frightening costumes and military bearings they caused quite the commotion in town when congregating and they soon took advantage of this to terrorize the African-American community.

They preyed upon the collective southern fear that the freed slaves would eventually revolt and kill their former white masters. The original iteration of the cult lost power soon and was largely gone by the late 1800’s. The Klan was revitalized in the 1920’s and began a reign of terrorism that continues to this day, resulting in racial tension and thousands of deaths.

At their core, they espouse Christian ideals but their undeniable brutality mocks the typical religious devotion. It is estimated that at one time the KKK had nearly 4 million members and today it has more groups in existence than at any other time in its history. The KKK is believed to be responsible for between 8 thousand and 10 thousand deaths.

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14. The Church Universal

original file name 8_25_03.tif  from Tom Miller's CD "fractual enlargement. ver #28"   RGB

original file name 8_25_03.tif from Tom Miller’s CD
“fractual enlargement. ver #28” RGB

This cult, originally called the Summit Lighthouse was founded by Mark Prophet and his wife Elizabeth Prophet. The group believes that the leaders communicate with “Ascended Masters,” or spirits of saints, and wise men from other religions and the past.

The group hit some hiccups in the 80’s and 90’s during the cold war, because they began hoarding weapons and building fallout shelters. Families of the members kidnaped them back from the clutches of the cult and reconditioned them to normal life, resulting in stories of severe punishment and isolation. Summit Lighthouse lost much of its following in the wake of the death of its founders, but it continues to this day to evangelize traditions from almost every major religion.

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15. Fellowship of Friends

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This “Church” located in California wine country is home to a large winery and art museum. Its central tenets include an extremely strict set of rules that its followers must abide by. The list of rules includes what to eat and wear and how much to sleep. No swimming, no joking, and definitely no smoking.

They live in fear of an armageddon that has been predicted by their founder Robert Earl Burton who claims to be an angel and has been accused multiple times of child sexual abuse of little boys. Members are expected to either work for pennies in the church’s businesses or sign over the majority of their salaries to the church itself.

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16. The Remnant Fellowship

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There’s no doubt this cult is very strange. Its founder Gwen Shamblin is a dietitian and promoter of certain weight loss self-help methods. When she noticed that many of her clients were gaining back weight they had lost, she searched for another answer because she couldn’t accept that it was her teaching that had been at fault.

She turned to the bible, specifically the Book of Ezra chapter 9, versus 8 and 9, that describe a “faithful remnant” that believe in the literal truths of scripture. She saw the people gaining weight as a sign that they believed, and because they had been saved they had a license to sin(eat). The bizarre twisting of weight loss and theology has led this church to grow from its founding in 1999 to having over a hundred “centers” throughout the world now.

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17. The Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments

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This cult was founded by a prostitute named Credonia Mwerinde after she had several religious visions involving the Virgin Mary. The group followed the 10 commandments so strictly that they refused to talk to avoid bearing false witness.

Mwerinde prophesied that the world would end on January 1st, 2000 and when the day passed uneventfully its members’ faith was shaken. To avoid a mass exodus from the church, the leaders predicted another doomsday on March 17th that year. To celebrate the reckoning, they threw a party for all their members. Then they blew them all up.  It was found that many of the victims had been poisoned, shot, or strangled before the explosion. A church that brought about its own end.

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Whether you know it or not cults hide in plain site. The combined members of the cults mentioned in this article number above 5 million members, so chances are you know someone connected at least remotely to one of these insidious and manipulative organizations.

*BEWARE THE PITFALLS OF CULTS , SECTS & SOME RELIGIONS

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OOO

Henry Sapiecha