On November 18, 1978, in a cleared-out patch of the Guyanese jungle, Reverend Jim Jones ordered the 911 members of his flock to kill themselves by drinking a cyanide potion, and they did. It seems cultists were brainwashed by this megalomaniac Jones, who had named their jungle village after himself and held them as virtual slaves, if not living zombies. Jones himself was found dead. He’d shot himself in the head, or someone else had shot him. Is it plausible that more than nine hundred people took their own lives willingly, simply because he told them to?
This paper will examine aspects of certain religious groups around the world that have shocked us with similar types of behavior. Most of these groups have been categorized into what we refer to as cults. While most of these new religious groups are extremely passive in their methodology, it is my objective to look at those that have gone outside the boundaries of our norms and done such things as mass suicide and acts of terrorism. I will try to understand how the leaders of these groups are able to persuade members to give up all of their possessions and in some cases their lives.
What causes people to remove themselves from their jobs, and families? A cult is any group of people who surround themselves around a strong authority figure. Cults, like many other groups, attempt to expand their influence for the purposes of power or money. However, to achieve these ends, destructive cults employ a potent mixture of influence and deception over members and new recruits. Using methods such as brainwashing, thought reform, and mind control. A successful conversion into a destructive cult removes a person’s former identity and replaces it with a new one.
This is where the new member accepts all of the beliefs of his new group and a new identity is created. However once a member of the group, any deviation from the cult leader’s teachings is strictly forbidden. Individuality is suppressed, and subject to fear and suspicion of everyone around in the group. What could cause people to join such groups when it is common knowledge that these groups are known to go against the norms of our society? Many of those who study these groups say that people tend to be more susceptible to manipulation in times of major change and crisis.
During the 1960s there was an explosion of these new religious groups such as the Hare Krishna and Transcendental Meditation. A decade later, the human potential movement emerged, teaching self-awareness and consciousness expansion. Groups with self-styled s like Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite have flourished, teaching impending doom, using mixtures from Christianity, millennialism and even science fiction. Most of those who join these groups, do not join them with the intention of becoming a cultist, they are usually seeking a new religious group, or a self-help group, looking for some improvement in their lives.
It is the group that they join that play on the individual’s insecurities and giving them some sense of order and a reason for their existence in the world. There have been many religious groups that have caught the medias attention with their deviant behavior such as the members of Jonestown. Here are some other examples that will illustrate the complete dominance that the leaders were able to hold over the members of the cult. David Koresh’s Religious group, known as the Davidian is one of the more familiar cuts during the past decade.
On February 28, 1993, Storm Troopers of the ATF tried to enter the Branch Davidian compound in the outskirts of Waco, Texas, where David Koresh and his followers had set up their haven. The compound was stockpiled with weapons that were to be used for a holy war that the had claimed would be coming soon. David and his followers vowed there would be no surrender. For 51 days there was a standoff between the cult, and the ATF. The doomsday prophet promised to bring forth an apocalypse for all those with him in the compound.
When the ordeal over 90 people were dead. Many of the survivors blame the U. S government for their attack on the compound and have since launched a million dollar lawsuit. Marshall Applewhite believed that a UFO would come to the planet and pick up him and his followers. When the ship did not arrive when expected he and 39 of his followers committed suicide with the cult belief that they would rise to meet a space ship in the sky How could 39 intelligent people be so misled by a confused cult leader predictions seemed destined to never turn out?
The group known as the Heaven Gaters died in three shifts over a three-day period. 15 cultists died the first day, 15 the second and the remaining nine the third day. As one set of cultist ingested the poison, a lethal dose of Phenobarbital mixed in with pudding and/or applesauce and chased with a shot of vodka, they would lie down and another cultist would use a plastic bag to speed up the dying. A frighteningly anal-retentive mass suicide, the cultist would clean up after each round of killing.
Before the last two killed themselves, they took out the trash leaving the rented mansion in perfect order. Wanting to be helpful even after dead, all bodies had some sort of identification. Strangely, though, they also had five-dollar bill and change in their pockets and small suitcases neatly tucked under the cots and beds. Applewhite was not only able to convince his members that suicide was their only option, before this he had all of the men castrate themselves, in order to suppress their sexual desires. Illustrating the complete control he had over his followers.
Charles Manson, the son of a teenage, bisexual, alcoholic, prostitute was the poster-boy of institutional life. Before he was thirty-five, he had spent more than half of his life incarcerated During the late 1960’s he built himself a harem of young women by praying on the outcasts of society. At its highest level his cult had over 30 young women who truly believed that he was god. With an odd interpretation of the Beatles’ song Helter Skelter Charles believed that a war of the races was coming in which the blacks would win.
However once this war was over the blacks would need someone to show them what to do, and Charles would be the true leader of the new world. During his reign Charles had his members commit nine murders. Who’s brutality still shock us today? Even during his trial members were outside of the courthouse carving swastikas in their foreheads, in order to mimic their leader. The Order of the Solar Temple is the closest example that I have been able to find. This group came to light on October 5, 1994, when 53 members committed murder-suicide simultaneously in Switzerland and Canada.
The two known leaders of the group, Luc Jouret, a Doctor, and Joseph di Mambro, a wealthy businessman, were among the dead in Switzerland. Investigators have been trying to find out who took over from the Jouret and Di Mambro. French police say the new leader could be Michel Tabachnika, a Swiss orchestra conductor. The conductor has denied press reports that he is a cult member, however, his wife died in the 1994 murder-suicide ritual in the Swiss village of Cheiry. The cult seems to give great importance to the sun.
Their fiery ritual murder-suicides are meant to take members of the sect to a new world on the star Sirius. To assist with the trip, several of the victims, including some children, are shot in the head, asphyxiated with black plastic bags and/or poisoned. Luc and Joseph wrote, in a letter delivered after their deaths that they were leaving this earth to find a new dimension of truth and absolution, far from the hypocrisies of this world A second mass suicide ritual occurred about a week before Christmas in 1995.
On December 23, on a remote plateau of the French Alps police found 16 charred bodies arranged in a star formation with their feet pointing to the ashes of a fire. Like the rituals of 1994, they all died by stabbing, asphyxiation, shooting and/or poisoning. Their bodies were burned to a crisp as part of a cleansing ritual. A week before discovering the bodies, Swiss and French authorities suspected the worst when the 16 cult members disappeared from their homes. Some left behind handwritten notes expressing their intentions of committing mass suicide.
One of the notes stated: Death does not exist, it is pure illusion. May we, in our inner life, find each other forever. Two of the dead were the wives and son of French ski champion and millionaire eye wear manufacturer, Jean Vuarnet. In March 23, 1997 five more dead bodies were found in a burned house owned by Didier Queze, a member of the Order, in St. Casimir, Quebec. The bodies of four cultists, Didier, her husband and another couple, were found in a bed upstairs positioned in what may have been intended to be the shape of the cross.
The mother of Didier was found dead on a sofa downstairs with a plastic bag over her head. Unlike earlier suicides in which adults killed their children, the three teen-age children of the cultist couple were spared In all of these cases it has been shown that these people were clearly acting out of their normal behavior. But how is it possible for these s to lead take such control over there members. Many feel that the modern cults provide its participants with a level of social support and acceptance that compares with what they may find in their nuclear family.
Cult activity, is often which is defined as direct contact with the divine, generating a sense of belonging to something profound and of being a somebody. The modern cult may be viewed as a group that gives its members an identity and a sense of meaning in a world that has somehow failed to provide them these things. With over 3000 destructive cults in the U. S. claiming over 4 million members, it seems that there may only be more trouble to come with these new religious organizations popping up almost out of nowhere. Their leaders seem to pray on the vulnerable and lonely.
Perhaps causing them to behave in a manner that would not be in their normal behavior. I am not suggesting that all of these religious groups are threat to our society. In fact I believe that these self-help groups are an asset to the people that they help. However trouble arises when the leaders of these groups lose control, demanding complete and total obedience. It is quite evident that one person’s cult may be another person’s religion, and history has proven that yesterday’s fringe group may be tomorrow’s mainstream religion. All of our popular religious groups once started as out as a cult at one time or another.