• Nicole Sherwin

The Most Cooked Cults In Recent History

These cults are some of the most coercive, exploitative, dangerous organisations ever.

Source: GoSanAngelo

This segment is from the podcast episode, 'Cults'. Listen below where you get your pods:

Almost all cults are founded under the intention of forming an egalitarian utopia. However, almost all cults turn out to be coercive, exploitative and highly damaging. These are a few of the most cooked cults in recent history:


The People's Temple (Jonestown)

Source: Rolling Stone


We obviously have to start with the cult that defined all cults.


If you’ve ever heard the expression ‘drink the kool aid’ which you definitely have, this is where it comes from. Jim Jones started this 'progressive organisation' called 'The People’s Temple,' in 1955. It was meant to be free of violence and racial inequalities. It advocated for social justice and civil rights, with the aim of an egalitarian utopia. Shit, that sounds good, sign me up.


But thennn, their fearless leader Jim Jones moves his 900 or so followers to Guyana to escape the threat of Nuclear War, which actually in the scheme of crazy cult beliefs isn’t too wild, because it was the middle of the Cold War. Family members got a bit of a whiff of what was going down in Guyana and were like, “This is cooked, they’re brainwashed, they’re sleep deprived.” They sent congressman Leo Ryan to pop over and investigate in 1978. Jones was like, "Oh, shit, I think they jig is up." So one of his henchmen shoots the congressmen and Jones wraps it up by telling his people it’s time 'ascend to a higher level'. He orders his followers to drink a cyanide-laced kool-aid and shot the ones who resisted. Over 900 people lost their lives that day.

Heaven’s Gate

Founder and total cooker, Marshall Applewhite. Source: Rolling Stone.


Heaven’s Gate was founded, like all 98% of truly fucked up cults, in the US in 1972 by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles. It’s important that you Google a picture of this guy, because he looks exactly like the type of guy that would do everything I’m about to say.


Applewhite must have been a really persuasive guy, because Heaven’s Gate is based upon the premise that aliens would escort members to the 'Kingdom of Heaven' via an UFO.


He told his followers he was Jesus reincarnated, that God was an alien and like all good cults, he encouraged his followers to give up all their possessions, money, and to cut themselves off from their family. Also true to cult form is a good low cal diet, so the members are constantly hungry and unable to think straight. The Heaven’s Gate Diet makes Paleo Pete look like an advocate for the food pyramid. They lived on maple syrup, lemonade and cayenne pepper, in order to ‘rid themselves of sexual thoughts.’ Surprisingly, the diet wasn’t effective in that goal and eight members also volunteered to be castrated.


In March 1997, the Hale-Bopp comet swung by Earth. The followers thought this would conceal the arrival of their alien spacecraft and they executed a mass suicide in order to move to the next level. They 20 members were found in matching outfits of black tunics, Nike’s and all had their heads covered in plastic bags.


Genuinely disturbing.

The Family

Source: ABC


A cult a little closer to home, in fact just down the road if you live in Melbourne.


Anne Hamilton-Byrne, naturally thought she was the reincarnation of Jesus. She and her doctor husband started this group, ‘The Family.’ where members would have discussions around philosophy and religion and Anne would demand 10% of her followers income. At its peak in the 60s, there were around 500 members, who were largely doctors, physicians, psychologists, nurses and academics from Melbourne University. Julian Assange's dad even joined for a while. Then she has this vision as cult leaders often do. Naturally, she was also on LSD. The vision suggested she should adopt children and save them from the pending doomsday. So during the 60s and 70s, she adopted 14 children. Some were even through scamming mothers into giving their babies up for adoption with the help of her medical professional followers, and she also convinced followers to give up their children to her. She set up a property in Lake Eildon and gets around the po-po by setting it up as a school. The cruelest, most illegal type of school. The children all had their hair dyed bleach blonde, had to call Anne mum and they suffered horrendous physical and mental abuse by these women called ‘Aunties.’ One of the Aunties was actually one of the children’s biological mothers. They were beaten, starved and plied with LSD.


When Hamilton-Byrne was finally caught, she and her husband fled to New York, where they resumed their life as multi millionaires. They were eventually charged $5000 - that’s it! Anne got to spend her last days in a lush nursing home in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, dying last year at the age of 98.


There are some really amazing documentaries on The Family that also explain the intricacies of the legal process, the dedication of the investigators and ultimately how they literally got away with murder in the end.


The Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints

Source: GoSanAngelo


It would be remiss of us to talk about cults and not mention religion because so many cults stem from religion. In the documentary ‘Explained’, they say that there’s a joke amongst sociologists: cults + time = religion. Which is terrifying and true.


You know when you think of Mormons as those weirdos with 100 wives? Meet the FLDS. The breakaway sect from the Mormon church still practises to this day, putting a range of cruel restrictions on those who grew up in it. What's hard about this one is that most members have been born into it, and don't know any different. In the FLDS, polygamy is seen as the key to heaven, and actively encourages relationships between much older men and young women. Men have multiple wives and can have like 69 children. Women are expected to dress extremely old fashioned and show no emotions orempathy, and to protect their modesty. If anyone steps out of line, they are replaced. As in, your dad is shipped off and replaced with a guy called Steve, like, he is your dad now, no questions.


Members spend their time worshipping Warren Jeffs, who they call the Prophet (self titled, obv) who is currently in prison for arranging the marriage between his underage niece and her own cousin. I know, disgusting. And even after books have come out from his own family - his daughters notably detailed the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their father, as does his own father and niece- his loyal followers still hold onto every word.


The big worry is a lack of access to education, meaning those born into the cult have no way of knowing they are in one. There have been raids, most notably in 2008 which was broadcast on tv when over 400 children were removed from their mothers- but ultimately, with their own schools, laws and police force, this scary cult is still standing.


Thirsty for more? Listen to a new podcast episode every Tuesday.

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