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Cults are the ugly stepchildren of religion, usually one-man churches run by lone gurus. And they often produce horrors. Here are some:
The most sensational cult catastrophe was the horrific 1978 mass suicide of 900 gullible believers at Jonestown, Guyana.
Paranoid preacher Jim Jones had built a throng of obedient followers in California, where he tricked, exploited and abused adherents. After news reporters probed his operation, he peevishly moved his flock to a jungle compound at the northern edge of South America.
Rep. Leo Ryan of California heard reports that some followers were held against their will, so he flew with aides and reporters to the locale. Some cultists attempted to leave with Ryan, which sent Jones into a slaughter spree. He sent killers to a landing strip, where they murdered Ryan and four others, and wounded eleven.
Then Jones led more than 900 cultists in a mass suicide with cyanide-laced fruit drink. Believers squirted the poison into their children's mouths before swallowing it themselves. They left a terrible spread of corpses.
Afterward, investigators found about $12 million of Jones loot hidden in banks. Two ex-followers, who had exposed Jones, mysteriously were assassinated a year after the tragedy. One of Ryan's aides, Jackie Speier, survived five gunshot wounds and today is a member of Congress.
Another stunning cult disaster involved the Branch Davidians, adventists who lived in a Texas compound, eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus. Their group was taken over by a young weirdo who called himself David Koresh and took all females as his bedmates.
Koresh bought machine guns and other weaponry for a looming Battle of Armageddon. When federal agents attempted to seize the illegal guns in 1993, cultists opened fire and a gunbattle killed four agents and six Branch Davidians.
The FBI conducted a 51-day siege, but cultists wouldn't surrender. When the FBI finally launched a tear-gas assault, the compound 13 miles from Waco burst into flames and about seventy more died, including Koresh.
Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) was a strange Japanese cult mixing Buddhism, the Book of Revelation, Yoga and prophecies of Nostradamus. Founder Shoko Asahara was so beloved by followers that they paid $10,000 to sip his blood and lesser sums to drink his bathwater or kiss his big toe.
The group turned murderous, killing dissidents and the family of a lawyer investigating the cult. Cultists secretly made nerve gas. In 1994, they spread a cloud in the city of Matsumoto, killing eight and sickening 500. At the time, nobody knew the source of the massacre.
The following year, they planted nerve gas in Tokyo's subway, killing 13 commuters and sickening at least 1,000 more. Founder Asahara and a dozen leaders were arrested. They finally were executed in 2018.
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