Human history has produced several cults. While cults are not inherently bad, the devotion of the followers’ lives—and sometimes the “after-life”—to the leaders of cults has had devastating consequences on cult members and society at large. People have lost their free will, happiness, freedom of movement, and sometimes lives to dubious and manipulative cult leaders who prey on their innocent followers for personal gain.
We have seen the state intervene to stamp out dangerous cults. In contrast, others collapse due to the death of their leaders, while others simply fade into oblivion. We admit it is a victory for humanity when a dangerous and disturbing cult fades into oblivion. However, it is much more devastating when society has forgotten a dangerous cult, but they are somewhere in one corner of the globe, quietly carrying out their nefarious activities. These are ten disturbing cults that are still active but largely forgotten.
10 Rajneesh Movement
The Rajneesh Movement is a cult of people inspired by the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as “Osho.” He was born in 1931 and died in 1990. Rajneesh, a controversial philosophy scholar, and professor, founded the movement between the late 1960s and early 1970s.
This was after the University of Jabalpur officials forced him to resign from lecturing in 1966 due to his controversial views about multiple aspects of life, especially marriage, which he referred to as social bondage. The movement was very controversial in the sense that it took families away from cities and put them in isolated areas where they denied children the opportunity to go to school.
When the cult started having problems with Indian authorities, they relocated to Oregon in the United States. The group met its Waterloo there due to a wide range of criminal activities, including the largest wiretapping operations in U.S. history and the largest immigration fraud ever recorded. The movement is also responsible for the largest bioterrorist attack on American soil.
In 1984, the movement poisoned salad products with salmonella at local restaurants and shops. Rajneesh was subsequently prosecuted, convicted, and deported. Since the death of Rajneesh, his movement has steadily declined. However, it is still in existence in small units in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands.
9 Order of the Solar Temple
The Order of the Solar Temple is a controversial, modern religious cult established in Geneva, Switzerland. It is also known as the “Solar Temple,” the “International Order of Chivalry Solar Tradition,” or “Hermetica Fraternitas Templi Universali.” It was founded by Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro in Geneva in 1984.
The group used tricks to manipulate its members into believing what it preached. The cult activities also borrowed from New Ageism and several Freemason rituals. It is associated with a series of murders and mass suicides that claimed several dozen lives in France, Switzerland, and Canada in 1994 and 1995.
In its heyday, the Order had a presiding council and multiple “lodges” around the world where they performed initiation rites and ceremonies. The central focus of the ideology of this cult is the popular belief that an apocalyptic event would occur in the mid-1990s. The 1990s came and went, and the world did not witness any apocalyptic event—thus, the group was demystified.
The Order has steadily declined as many members have come to realize that the group was founded on an illusion. This group is believed to still have between 140 to 500 members to this day.
8 AUM Supreme Truth
Aleph is a Japanese doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1987 as “AUM Shinrikyo” (AUM Supreme Truth). AUM emerged out of Asahara’s dissatisfaction and disillusionment with traditional Japanese Buddhism. Asahara found Tibetan and Theravada Buddhist teachings more appealing than the dominant forms of Japanese Buddhism. He thus proceeded to create a form of Buddhism that emphasized non-Japanese themes. He espoused a spiritual path with the goal of attaining enlightenment and using psychic-development exercises to assist his followers’ growth toward enlightenment.
The organization came to public attention when authorities—and the world—learned that several of its top leaders had perpetrated the Tokyo subway attack in 1995. Thirteen people died, and thousands were injured following the release of nerve gas into the city’s subway system. The group’s leader Shoko Asahara insisted on his innocence in a radio broadcast from Russia.
In 2000, the new leaders of the group verified Asahara’s role in several crimes, including the gas attacks. At that time, they renamed the group Aleph.
On July 6, 2018, after exhausting all appeals, Shoko Asahara and six other members of his cult were executed for their role in the deadly attack. In 2019, an AUM sympathizer, Kazuhiro Kusakabe, admitted to Japanese authorities that he intentionally rammed into pedestrians crowded into narrow Takeshita Street in the Harajuku district as a terrorist attack in retaliation for the 2018 execution of some Aleph cult members.
Although the organization has steadily declined and is largely forgotten since the death of Shoko Asahara, the cult is still active in Japan.
7 Twelve Tribes
Twelve Tribes is a controversial religious group and an alleged cult that was engulfed in allegations of abuse, kidnapping, and murder in its heydays. The group was founded in Chattanooga in 1972 by a former carnival barker and high school guidance counselor, Gene Spriggs. Twelve Tribes reputes itself as seeking the restoration of what its members believe to be the truest form of Christianity.
The organization had grown to more than 3,000 followers before Spriggs passed away in 2021, leaving the movement without a formal leader and facing an uncertain future. Spriggs died at the age of 86 years. When he founded the movement in 1972, he was able to steer the group to popularity with his youthful energy. Still, as Spriggs advanced in age and without handing over to a deputy, the group declined in popularity. Twelve Tribes is no longer in the news, but the organization is still very much active.
6 The Family International
The Family International is a Christian New Religious Movement founded in Huntington Beach, California, in 1968 by David Berg. Originally named “Teens for Christ,” the group has gone under different names but particularly gained notoriety as “The Children of God” (COG). One notable thing about this group is the consistent name change. In 1978, it was renamed “The Family of Love,” which was eventually shortened to “The Family.” The group has been accused of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, exploitation, and targeting of vulnerable people.
In the 1970s, David Berg introduced a new recruitment strategy that he dubbed “flirty fishing,” which involved letting young attractive female members of his cult entice men into the group through sexual seduction. Berg also discouraged members from working and sending their children to school. Members were made to live in large communes, typically with four or five families under one roof, as they awaited an “impending” apocalypse.
Since the demise of David Berg, the movement has gone into oblivion. However, it is still active today and is presently known as “The Family International.” The group is governed by “The Love Charter,” a document that entails each member’s rights and responsibilities.
5 The Nation of Yahweh
In 1978, Hulon Mitchell Jr. left the Nation of Islam because it was not extreme enough for him. He rechristened himself Yahweh Ben Yahweh and founded the “Nation Of Yahweh” in 1979. The movement’s goal was to move African Americans, who the group believes are the original Israelites, to Israel. The movement accepts Yahweh Ben Yahweh as the “Son of God.”
At the height of its popularity, the Nation of Yahweh had satellite temples around the country and a lucrative business empire of apartment complexes, hotels, stores, and fleets of Greyhound buses and Rolls Royce cars. Soon enough, the movement’s founder was indicted on federal racketeering and extortion charges and convicted of conspiracy to commit murder.
The conviction of Yahweh Ben Yahweh in 2001 and his death in 2007 sent the group into near oblivion. Nonetheless, the movement is still active, and its members consider Yahweh Ben Yahweh to be the Messiah.
4 The LaRouche Movement
The LaRouche Movement is a political and cultural network promoting the late Lyndon LaRouche and his ideas. The movement started in the late ’60s as an offshoot of the radical left. However, the group adopted the viewpoints and stances of the far-right from the mid-1970s. LaRouche, in his lifetime, ran for the office of the U.S. president unsuccessfully eight times.
LaRouche had a good deal of control over the lives of the members of his organization, known as the National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC). It was a seven-day-a-week and 24-hour-a-day total immersion, and there was always an atmosphere of tension in the group. LaRouche himself was a political chameleon who changed ideology to suit himself and is widely regarded as the father of political conspiracy theory. He also promoted violence and accused members of his movement of not being tough enough on political opponents.
In April 1973, LaRouche ordered members of his group to attack members of the Communist Party (CPUSA) and others in a daredevil plan called “Operation Mop-up.” In the following months, there were about 40 fights at gatherings of Communists, and many LaRouche members were arrested. LaRouche died in 2019 at a ripe old age. Today, the LaRouche Movement is largely forgotten, but the movement is alive. Its members still participate in American politics.
3 The Remnant Fellowship
The Remnant Fellowship is a movement with a Church in Brentwood, Tennessee, that preaches weight loss as a spiritual assignment. The movement was founded by Gwen Shamblin Lara, an exceptionally thin woman who taught members to pray when they have cravings for food. Her teachings linked diet culture with holiness, and she taught her church members not to bow to their refrigerators and only bow to God.
In reality, Gwen used her influence on her members to exert control over their finances, marriages, custody arrangements, and parenting. She would eventually encourage members of the movement to sever all ties with the outside world. She compelled her members to dress gorgeously to portray an image of happiness, joy, and perfection to the outside world when they were actually suffering internally.
On May 29, 2021, Lara, her husband Joe, and five other leaders within The Remnant Fellowship died in a plane crash outside Smyrna, Tennessee. Being the only popular leader in her church, the Remnant Fellowship went into near oblivion upon her death. However, the movement is still active, with some members committed to upholding the teachings of Gwen Shamblin Lara.
2 Heaven’s Gate
Heaven’s Gate is an American new religious movement founded in 1974 by Bonnie Nettles and Marshall Applewhite, known within the movement as “Ti’ and “Do,” respectively. “Ti” and “Do” met in 1972 and went on a journey of spiritual discovery, identifying themselves as the two witnesses of Revelation. They attracted a following of several hundred people in the mid-1970s. In 1976, the movement stopped recruiting and instituted a monastic lifestyle.
The central belief of the group is that followers could transform themselves into immortal extraterrestrial beings by rejecting their human nature. Then they would ascend into heaven, referred to as the “Next Level” or “The Evolutionary Level Above Human.” The cult’s doctrine and beliefs led to the largest mass suicide on American soil involving 39 victims.
No one really hears about Heaven’s Gate anymore. However, there are “two people” who still manage the movement’s online presence and teach people about its doctrine.
1 Branch Davidian
The Branch Davidians are an apocalyptic new religious movement founded in 1955 by Benjamin Roden. They regard themselves as a continuation of the General Association of Davidian Seventh–Day Adventists established by Victor Houteff in 1935. In 1983, a man named David Koresh (formerly known as Vernon Howell) took over the organization. He was a different cult leader—a criminal mastermind.
When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms suspected the Branch Davidians were illegally converting semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic weapons, they sent in a group of undercover agents disguised as college students to investigate the movement. But Koresh knew what was happening.
David Koresh was always one step ahead of the authorities until he met his fate in a fifty-one-day siege that involved heavy shooting with the FBI and ATF agents. Seventy-six Branch Davidians died in the attack, and four ATF agents were killed, with 16 wounded. The movement still exists, and they still have a presence in Waco, Texas, to this day.