7 Of America’s Most Disturbing Cults
Warning: this article may contain photos and content that some may find disturbing.
In October 2015, Amy Berg, who gained a lot of fame thanks to her horrifying documentary Deliver Us From Evil, joined forces with writers Sam Brower and Jon Krakauer. Together the trio made made Prophet’s Prey, a documentary focusing on Warren Steed Jeffs and his position within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).
The documentary shocked all by revealing scary information about Jeffs’ 70-odd wives, 24 of which are under the age of 17.
Sadly, the FLDS is not the only influential cult with a lot of followers in the United States. Here is a countdown of seven of the most dangerous and bizarre cults in America that have made headlines over the past few years.
Technically no longer a cult in the United States, Scientology is a belief system that is estimated to have anywhere from eight to 15 million members worldwide.
It was created in 1954 by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. Yes, a religion created by a science fiction author. Scientology is based on a pseudoscience called Dianetics. It is believed that a person is a spirit (thetan), dwelling temporarily in a human body. The basic principle is that over the course of existence, thetans have forgotten their former god-like status because of MEST: Matter, Energy, Space and Time. Scientologists strive to return to their thetan’s natural state, by overcoming MEST. Once someone learns to control their thetan outside their body, they can supposedly be telekinetic.
Then there’s this whole part about Xenu, the dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, but it’s part of the church’s secret “Advanced Technology”. This secret can only be unlocked after a lengthy sequence of courses that cost large amounts of money. Tom Cruise probably knows all about it.
Although Scientology is now officially recognized as a religion in the United States (for tax purposes), it is still considered a cult in countries like France, Germany and Norway. In Belgium, the Scientology church is currently under criminal trial. The charges against them are bribery, extortion, fraud, violation of the privacy and unlicensed practicing of medicine. If this trial results in a conviction, Scientology will be banned from the country.
Many people have come out against the dubious practices within the Scientology church, including celebrities like Leah Remini and Lisa Marie Presley, who have accused the church of brainwashing its members.
6. Branch Davidians.
The Branch Davidians originated in 1955, as a schism of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists. It was led by a man named Benjamin Roden. Leadership was later taken over by his wife Lois, and after that by their son George. George Roden believed he was a divinely appointed messenger of God, here to deliver the message of the apocalyptic seventh angel. George claimed he was the son of Christ.
In 1981, David Koresh arrived at the compound. David Koresh and George Roden did not get along, and when George Roden banned Koresh from the compound, along with other members who he chased with a gun, Koresh started his own Branch Davidians compound in Palestine, Texas. Two years later, Koresh and his followers attacked Roden’s compound, which resulted in a heavily publicized shootout in 1987.
After a bizarre trial, Koresh and his men walked free and Roden spent six months in prison for calling AIDS upon the justices of the Texas Supreme Court. With Roden in jail, Koresh seized the opportunity to take over his Branch Davidians compound.
In 1993, Koresh, meanwhile suspected of polygamy, having sex with underaged girls and stockpiling illegal weapons, was raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Four agents and five Davidians died in the gunbattle. After someone from inside the compound called 911 saying there were women and children inside, the raid was called off.
The FBI took over and tightened the noose around the Davidians with loud music, bright lights, bulldozers and flash-bang grenades, and eventually, tear gas. On April 19, a fire erupted and the building caught fire. The building was reduced to charcoal in less than an hour. 76 people, including David Koresh, lost their lives in the fire, some of them in consensual suicides.
5. The Manson Family.
The Manson Family is what cult leader Charles Manson’s followers were referred to in the late 1960s. It all started in 1967, when Manson was released from prison, where he spent some time for petty crimes.
Charles Manson was deluded into believing that he was the messenger of doom. He believed the end of the world was coming, which he referred to as “Helter Skelter”, in reference to the famous Beatles song. He was influenced by drugs such as LSD, but had a strong belief and interest in the notion of Armageddon. He also had an interest in Scientology and more obscure cult churches such as Church of the Final Judgement.
He gathered a group of followers who shared his beliefs and lifestyle of habitual use of hallucinogenic drugs. The became known as “The Family”, and all moved to a deserted ranch in the San Fernando Valley. The following of about 100 members started believing Manson’s claims that he was Jesus. He made prophecies of a race war, and in 1969, Manson gathered a group of his most loyal followers to carry out a massacre among Hollywood’s elite.
Four of the most loyal and obedient “Family” members attacked Roman Polanski’s Beverly Hills house. Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel carried out the brutal murders, while Linda Kasabian was their getaway driver and later a star witness during the trial. The group shot 18-year-old Steven Parent and Jay Sebring. Writer Wojciech Frykowski and his partner, Abigail Folger managed to escape the house but were chased. Frykowski was bludgeoned repeatedly and Folger was stabbed 28 times. The most inhumane killing was that of Sharon Tate, who pleaded for the life of her unborn child, but was mercilessly stabbed in the stomach by Susan Atkins.
Manson criticized the murderers for being sloppy, and took Watson, Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten to the address of a wealthy supermarket executive, Leno LaBianca, and his wife Rosemary the following night. The couple also fell victim of the horrifying killing spree.
Although the Manson Family was initially arrested for vandalizing a property, a confession by Susan Atkins, who was in custody for an unrelated murder, led to the arrest of the four members involved in the Tate/LaBianca killings.
The trial began in 1970. Charles Manson showed up to his trial with a cross on his forehead. Some of his followers copied the act to show their support. The cross was modified until it was a swastika at a later stage. Throughout the trial, the killers made it clear they felt no remorse for what they had done, by often giggling during the trial and exchanging grimaces with Manson.
Charles Manson was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but that was later changed to life in prison. Susan Atkins was sentenced to death, but that was later also changed to life in prison. She was incarcerated from 1969 until her death in 2009. Charles “Tex” Watson was sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison. He is currently still in prison and has been denied parole 14 times – the same goes for Patricia Krenwinkel, who has shown remorse and has a perfect prison record. Linda Kasabian was granted immunity for her part in acting as a star witness.