The leader of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult and a few of its senior members were recently executed for carrying out a sarin attack on Tokyo's subway system in 1995, killing 13 and injuring thousands. We look at some other religious and spiritual groups that shook up society with their radical beliefs
The body of a two-month-old, killed by the Order of the Solar Temple, being carried out at Quebec in Canada in 1994; Image: Getty Images
1) The Manson Family
Leader: Charles Manson
In 1969, Manson’s followers murdered seven people to provoke an apocalyptic war between the blacks and whites. Among the victims of Helter Skelter—named after the Beatles song—was actress Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski. Once the blacks would win, Manson believed, he would emerge as the new world leader.
2) Ku Klux Klan
Emerging over two periods during the 19th and 20th centuries, the Klan pushed the xenophobic, white supremacist agenda in the US. Clad in knight robes and Klan regalia, it organised marches, parades and cross burnings to, first, threaten blacks and later, Roman Catholics, Jews and foreigners as well.
3) Branch Davidians
Leader: David Koresh
Koresh was accused of child abuse in 1992 after he took several ‘spiritual’ wives from among the teenagers of his community settled near Waco in Texas. Following allegations that he was piling up arms, ATF raided his commune. The fire exchange killed 10 and triggered a 51-day standoff before the whole area was engulfed in a blaze, killing 75 people, including Koresh.
4) Peoples Temple
Leader: Jim Jones
Jones started off as a civil rights activist in Indiana, but soon moved to California to “survive a nuclear war”. In 1974, he relocated to Guyana to set up Jonestown, an agricultural commune, where he was accused of fraud and child abuse. In 1978, a US Congressman went on a recce and was killed on his way back. Soon after, over 900 Jonestown residents drank a cyanide-laced beverage to perform a mass suicide.
5) Heaven’s Gate
Leader: Marshall Applewhite
In 1997, a random call led the police to 39 mass suicide victims at a villa in a San Diego suburb. It was the first dekko of the cult led by Applewhite, a music professor who believed God was an alien. Through this, Applewhite believed he was leading his followers, all clad in dark clothes and sneakers, to leave their body and enter a better world via a spaceship.
6) Children Of God
Leader: David Berg
Born out of the Teens for Christ movement, Berg, on an epiphany, transformed the group into a cult where adults were encouraged to have sex with kids. Berg, who preached “sexual sharing” and promoted promiscuity to attract recruits, himself is known to have engaged in such a relationship with one of his daughters. The cult tried to distance itself from Berg after his death in 1994, but skeletons kept tumbling out of its closet through the 1990s and 2000s.
7) Order of the Solar Temple
Leader: Luc Jouret and Joseph De Mambro
The cult, built around belief in an apocalyptic end of the world, wanted to pre-empt a global catastrophe in the mid-1990s. In 1994, 53 members of the group, spread across Canada and Switzerland, were killed or committed suicide to allow them to enter a higher spiritual plane. Next year too, another 16 bodies were found in the French Alps following a similar ritual.