Some of them have become household names, while others fly under the radar. From murderous to just plain weird, cults have been a subject of fascination to people everywhere who ask, "Who would sign up for this?"
From big to small, here's a list of 20 cults that freak us out.
More than a weird cult that celebrities seem to sign up for in droves, Scientology has become the target of a massive campaign to uncover the truth about their money-grabbing and family-destroying practices – specifically, their practice of encouraging families to “disconnect” from members who leave Scientology.
Started by L. Ron Hubbard as an outgrowth of his book Dianetics, Scientology’s bizarre belief system is too complicated and bizarre to comprehend – even by its followers who shell out their life savings in order to achieve the coveted status of “Going Clear.” Leah Remini’s A&E series Scientology And The Aftermath is working hard to dispel the myth that Scientology is a “religion,” and it’s only a matter of time before the house comes crumbling down. Tom Cruise’s couch jumping days are numbered.
The Manson Family
An equally famous but short lived cult run by psychopath Charles Manson, this 1960s group was founded on Manson’s belief that he was a prophet whose mission was to usher his chosen people into the apocalypse.
Manson built up a harem of young women, who he demanded sexual favors from, then ordered to murder 8-months pregnant Sharon Tate and four of her friends in Roman Polanski’s home. The gruesome murder shocked the world, and landed Manson in prison for life, where he continued to preach his twisted doctrine until his 2017 death.
Children Of God
In one of the most vile doctrines of any cult leader, Christian minister David Berg normalized pedophilia among his followers, preaching that adult-child sex was not only alright, but actually mandated by God. Actress Rose McGowan has spoken about her family’s negative experiences in the cult widely.
The 1970s cult started out as an anti-establishment hippie movement, but quickly veered off into the horrific territory of sexual predation on minors. The cult also forced some female members into prostitution. The group eventually disbanded years later when an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases infected a large percentage of the community.
The Branch Davidians
Led by David Koresh (born Vernon Howell), the Branch Davidians were a radical offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. An apocalyptic cult, the Davidians expected the end times to come, so when ATF agents stormed the compound in 1993 on charges of Koresh stockpiling automatic weapons, the group engaged in a shoot out that left casualities on both sides.
The 51-day standoff that followed resulted in a tragic ending: Almost all of the Davidians died in a fire after FBI agents pumped tear gas into the compound, leaving the nation to question how this nightmare could have been avoided.
Another apocalyptic cult, Heaven’s Gate was built on the “end times” prophecy in the Book of Revelations, as interpreted by cult leaders Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles from the 1970s-1990s.
Unlike the Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate theorized that a literal spaceship would show up to scoop up all “believers” before the apocalypse happened, thus saving them from the end times. In morbid preparation for this spaceship, 37 members of the cult committed mass suicide in 1997 by wrapping themselves in plastic bags and purple cloths. The ship never came.