Special Report

17 of the Most Terrifying Cults in History

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1. The Manson Family

Charles Manson controlled his followers of mostly young hippies with his Helter Skelter philosophy. He was preaching that a racial war, started by the black community, was coming, and that he would protect the “Manson Family” by taking them to live in the desert to wait out Armageddon. He believed it was his and his family’s responsibility to start the conflict. This is one theory for the motive behind the murders of actress Sharon Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski, in their home, and Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The idea was to make people believe the murders were committed by African-Americans. Manson and his followers were together charged with nine murders. He died in prison in 2017.

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2. Heaven’s Gate

The UFO religious cult is one of the most notorious religious organizations in history. In March 1997, the world was shocked when 39 people wearing the same black sweatshirts and sneakers were found dead in a house in a suburb of San Diego. The motive was to reach an alien spacecraft that trailed the approaching Hale-Bopp comet. The cult believed the human body was holding them back by keeping them on Earth and that by abandoning their Earthly containers they move on to the “Next Level.”

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3. Jonestown

Jim Jones, a self proclaimed messiah, was the leader of The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. He and cult members physically and emotionally abused followers, and he had coerced many to transfer their possessions to the church. In 1977, he moved nearly a thousand of his followers to Jonestown, Guyana, where conditions were extremely poor. The night after cult members killed U.S. congressman Leo Ryan who came to investigate conditions at the camp, Jones commanded his followers to drink poison, many forced at gunpoint. In all, over 900 people, one-third of them children under age 17, died on Nov. 18, 1978.

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4. The Children of God

The cult, formerly known as Family International, was founded in 1968 by David Berg, who believed Christians should live as simple as possible and according to the teachings of the First Century Church because all others are fake. Female members were expected to seduce non-member men and recruit them. The organization’s most controversial practice was sexual abuse of children. Members believed in “free love,” which, as Berg explained to them, love was sex and it should not be limited by age or relationship status.

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5. Nxivm

The sex cult is known for its charismatic leader, self-help guru Keith Raniere, who was luring women by marketing self-help organization Nxivm. Raniere, who is awaiting trial for sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy, is alleged to have branded the women in the group with a symbol resembling his initials. Allison Mack, an actress known for her role in the TV series “Smallville,” was an alleged co-conspirator who has recruited women to have sex with Raniere and used damaging photos for blackmail.