Cults that kill
Take a charismatic leader on one hand; people seeking a better life on the other; and a sure-fire plan for getting there somewhere in between - and what have you got?
Could be Obama and his health care reforms; could be a weigh-loss infomercial; or SatNav; it could be religion; or it could be a cult.
Mention the word "cult" and there are certain things that come to mind; isolation, renunciation of worldly goods, reprogramming, sex, robes, guns, aliens, Nikes, poisoned kool-aid and mass suicide.
Admittedly "religion" has had its fair share of bad-press; wars, inquisitions and intolerance. But religions are big - they have numbers, they have history; and they have a degree of social acceptance and legal protection.
A "sect" sounds kooky, but relatively harmless - but start using the word "cult" and you soon get the feeling that "this isn't going to end well". Because if you've heard of a cult there's a good chance that it ended very badly indeed.
Charles Manson and The Family
In the late 1960s California hippie guru Charles Manson gathered around him a group of (largely female) followers known as The Family. Manson espoused the belief that a race war was brewing and claimed that there were hidden messages contained in The Beatles song Helter Skelter.
In 1969 Family members carried out a number of high profile and bloody murders. Among the victims was actress Sharon Tate, the wife of Roman Polanski, who was eight months pregnant. The word "pig" was left smeared in Tate's blood on the wall.
Although Manson himself did not commit any of the murders directly, the degree of control exerted by him over the Family members who carried out the crimes was enough for him to be convicted along with several Family members. Manson was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to a life sentence when California abolished the death penalty; he remains in prison.
Jonestown - Jim Jones and the People's Temple
Founded in the Indianapolis in the 1950s, the People's Temple combined elements of Christianity with Communism preaching a racially integrated and equal society. In the 1970s Jones began the establishment of an agriculturally based co-operative society in Guyana (a former British colony in South America). Nearly 1,000 Temple members moved to "Jonestown" where Jones was known as the "Father" or "Dad".
However relatives in the US became concerned over the treatment of family members in Jonestown and in 1978 Congressman Leo Ryan headed a delegation to Jonestown to investigate. While waiting to leave Jonestown Ryan's party along with a few defecting Temple members were attacked. Ryan was among those shot dead.
Jones then enacted "revolutionary suicide" close the gap here where 909 people, including 276 children died after consuming cyanide laced cordial. It is from this tragic event that we get the saying "don't drink the Kool Aid".
David Koresh - Branch Davidians at Waco
The Branch Davidians were group that originated out of Seventh Day Adventists. Like the Adventists they believed that a time of reckoning or judgement was approaching along with the second coming of Christ.
Part of this group came under the influence of David Koresh (born Vernon Howell). Koresh, who claimed to be a prophet, established a group near Waco, Texas. Koresh increasingly styled himself as not just a prophet, but as the son of God. Koresh claimed many of the women as his wife, and the group came under scrutiny amid allegations of polygamy, under-aged sex and child abuse.
In 1993 the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to execute a search warrant on the compound. Shots were fired (causing deaths on both sides) and the 51-day siege ensued. The stand-off ended when a fire engulfed the property resulting in the deaths of 76 people including some 20 children.
Order of the Solar Temple - Switzerland/Quebec
Founded in 1984 by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret the order was based upon beliefs apparently drawn from the Knights Templar. The group predicted that an apocalyptic end of the world was drawing near and hoped to survive the calamity by making a "transition" to Sirius.
The group spread to Quebec Canada where it first hit headlines amid an investigation over an illegal weapons stockpile.
In 1994 a fire in a Swiss chalet alerted police to a mass-suicide/murder. Bodies were found behind a false wall, lying in a circular formation. They had a plastic bag over their heads, were drugged, and had been shot. The fire had been set to ignite automatically.
A similar fire in Quebec revealed five more bodies, including that of a three-month old baby and his parents, who had been stabbed to death. In another Canadian incident three teenage children survived the fire that claimed their parents.
A total of 76 members died in murder-suicides in Switzerland, France and Canada.
Heaven's Gate - Marshall Applewhite and the Hale-Bop comet
The Heaven's Gate cult was founded by Marshall Applewhite and combined elements of apocalyptic Christian tradition with belief in UFOs and extra-terrestrials.
Applewhite believed that the Earth was reaching its final days and would soon be destroyed; as such the only way to survive was to leave Earth (and one's Earthly form) on a space craft that was following the path of the Hale-Bop comet.
Members of Applewhite's Heaven's Gate order lived a communal life, giving away their processions and forsaking worldly pleasures. Several of the male members of the group, including Applewhite underwent castration.
In 1997 (at the time of the Hale-Bop comet) police in San Diego discovered the bodies of 39 members of the order; they had consumed poisoned pudding and alcohol. They were found wearing identical tracksuits and brand new Nike sneakers. A plastic bag had been placed over their heads and a square of fabric covered their face.
Aum Shinrikyo - Tokyo subway gas attack
Founded in Tokyo in 1984 by Shoko Asahara, Aum Shinrikyo was based upon Buddhist teachings and quickly gained a following amongst students and university graduates.
In 1994 12 members of the group carried out an attack on the Tokyo subway using a nerve gas called sarin. Five people were killed and an estimated 5,000 were affected by the gas.
An Aum Shinrikyo follower was also convicted of the murder of a fellow member after he left the group.