12 Modern Cults That You Can (But Shouldn’t) Join Today (Part 2)
The Killer Queen
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Hey, y’all. Thanks for coming back for part 2! If you missed Part 1 of 12 Modern Cults That You Can (But Shouldn’t) Join Today, you should check it out for the beginning of the list but also to learn a little about what defines a cult. Let’s get to the rest of the list!
In 1978, Hulon Mitchell, Jr., a member of the Nation of Islam, decided that he was bored of the mainstream extremism. So, he does what any reasonable person would do, right? He rebrands himself as Yahweh ben Yahweh and starts his own religion, the Nation of Yahweh.
At first, things were going pretty well. The guy was so popular that Miami even gave him his own day. But then Yahweh goes off the deep end, ordering his followers to murder on his behalf. This earned him a ticket to prison on conspiracy charges, and he died not long after his release.
Despite all this, he’s still got a small group of die-hards in Miami, who keep his memory alive through Facebook posts that combine religious fervor, anti-abortion memes, and a healthy side serving of homophobia.
Meanwhile, there’s another cult that goes by the name of the House of Yahweh, and they’ve cornered the market on apocalyptic wrongness. It’s run by a guy formerly named Buffalo Bill Hawkins, but after a seven-year spiritual field trip to Israel, he decided Yisrayl was a better fit. Together with his brother, he’s convinced they’re the opening act for the Second Coming.
Taking a mish-mash approach to their theology by borrowing from Judaism and Christianity, the House of Yahweh became the ‘it’ cult of the 80s. Yisrayl Hawkins became something of a doomsday prophet meets L. Ron Hubbard, penning a series of prophetic books with titles that could double as B-movie horror flicks, like ‘Devil Worship: The Shocking Facts!’ and ‘Unveiling Satan!’
The House of Yahweh has a rap sheet as long as your arm, with members, including Hawkins himself, doing time for crimes that range from sexual assault to bigamy. Hawkins supposedly shuffled off this mortal coil in 2021, but the church is playing it coy, carrying on as if their leader isn’t deadd. So if you’re ever in the mood for a side of prophecy with your crime, you know where to look.
5. Unification Church
Sun Myung Moon had a lightbulb moment in 1954 in South Korea and decided he’s the second coming of Jesus Christ. Instead of keeping this to himself like any normal person with delusions of grandeur, he started a new religious movement that would make even the most ardent of televangelists blush. This is the Unification Church, or as most people know it, the Moonies.
If you’ve heard of the Moonies, it’s probably because of their mass weddings, which are less like traditional weddings and more like gigantic spouse-swap meets. Yep, they’re known for making couples out of total strangers, often hundreds at a time, all decked out in matching outfits. It’s like a bizarre cross between a speed dating event and a cosplay convention, but with the added bonus of lifelong commitment.
The weirdness doesn’t stop at matrimonial musical chairs. When Reverend Moon kicked the bucket in 2012, it didn’t spell the end of the Moonies. Instead, they just got weirder and worryingly started moonwalking into the realm of American politics. You know, because why stick with just mass weddings when you can also meddle in the government?
In 2021, they rolled out the red carpet for Donald Trump, who, let’s face it, never misses a chance to talk into a microphone. The Moonies are as anti-communist as they come, and they seem to have a soft spot for Trump’s brand of political swagger. This isn’t just an American thing either; a Japanese cabinet minister even had to resign recently due to his ties with the church.
So, there you have it. The Unification Church: matching strangers for life and meddling in politics since 1954. It’s like a reality TV show that nobody asked for but we can’t stop watching.
4. The Larouche Movement
The Larouche Movement is a political oddball that has been swinging around the political spectrum like a hyperactive pendulum since the swinging ’60s. Yes, you heard that right, this cult — sorry, movement — has been chugging along for over half a century.
In the 1960s, Lyndon LaRouche started a radical leftist group for students. But here’s the kicker, as time passed, this network went from singing ‘Kumbaya’ around the campfire of leftism, to suddenly belting out the anthems of the far-right.
Now, some scholars might get all uppity about calling it a cult. But when your group kicks off as a Marxist faction, then pulls a 180 to become a far-right organization, all while nurturing a healthy reputation for harassment, violence, and more conspiracy theories than an Area 51 truther’s blog, well, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…
The LaRouche movement isn’t just your run-of-the-mill political group, though. They developed a private intelligence agency and rubbed elbows with foreign governments. But, there’s a twist. In 1988, LaRouche and 25 of his comrades were convicted on fraud charges tied to fundraising. Of course, the movement cried foul, claiming the prosecutions were politically motivated.
Fast forward a few decades, Lyndon LaRouche has left the building, and his widow, Helga Zepp-LaRouche, is running the show. There’s a veritable United Nations of LaRouche followers, with parties in France, Sweden, and branches in Australia, Canada, the Philippines, and several Latin American countries. It’s like the world’s most contentious book club, engaging in political organizing, fund-raising, cultural events, research, writing, and internal meetings.
But wait, there’s more! In 2021, Zepp-LaRouche publicly denounced the LaRouche Political Action Committee (LPAC) and its treasurer, Barbara Boyd. According to her, they’ve gone rogue, deviating from the sacred LaRouche teachings. She even accuses them of misrepresenting her and her late husband’s positions. The drama!
So, she did what any scorned cult leader would do—she slaps them with a legal action to stop using Mr. LaRouche’s name, likeness, and anything remotely LaRouche-esque. So, in the end, the LaRouche movement is not just a political network, it’s a wild, twisty-turny rollercoaster ride of ideological shifts, legal battles, and international skulduggery.
3. The Church of Bible Understanding
If you’re a fan of Seinfeld – and let’s face it, who isn’t? – you might remember the Sunshine Carpet Cleaners, a jovially-named cult with a knack for cleaning rugs and brainwashing followers. They gave George a hard pass in the episode, proving that even cults have standards. Well, strap in, because this slice of sitcom lore was, in fact, inspired by the real-life, much less amusing Church of Bible Understanding.
In 1976, Stewart Traill, an entrepreneurial evangelist, birthed this curious entity in New York. The Church of Bible Understanding wasn’t just about bible study and group prayers; they had their fingers in various pies – Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaning, a used-van enterprise, and an antique store.
These were no side hustles, though. Traill used these ventures to rake in the big bucks. We’re talking millions, which he siphoned through the church and into his bank account, while his flock barely scraped by.
At its peak, the Church of Bible Understanding boasted over a whopping 10,000 members. Now, it’s a mere shadow of its former self, with a membership count barely brushing the hundreds. But even after the death of its founder, Stewart Traill, in 2018, this scrappy organization continues to operate. It also continues to make headlines. And not the good kind.
The Church of Bible Understanding recently popped up in the news following a tragic fire at one of their Haitian orphanages that claimed the lives of 15 children. And this has all happened in Scranton, Pennsylvania. So next time you watch Seinfeld, remember, sometimes the wackiest plotlines hide some dark real-world truths.
2. Order of the Solar Temple
The Order of the Solar Temple is a squad of doomsday enthusiasts and Knights Templar fanboys. By the time the ‘90s rolled around, the group had gone from weird to downright horrifying. The leader, a guy with a grudge against shared baby names, decided to off an entire family for naming their kid the same as one of his own.
The Solar Temple cult went full-on horror movie with a staged Last Supper, followed by a mass murder-suicide that left dozens dead. If you’re getting goosebumps, you’re not alone. And somehow, this tale gets creepier. There are still a few hundred members around, and no one really knows what they’re up to. I don’t know about you, but I’d definitely be double-checking my locks at night.
Now, let’s rewind a bit. The Order of the Solar Temple – or OTS for those who like their cults with less of a mouthful – was founded back in 1984 by Joseph di Mambro and Luc Jouret. They set up shop in Geneva with a fancy-sounding French name: l’Ordre International Chevaleresque de Tradition Solaire. After realizing that this was a bit of a tongue-twister even for French standards, they switched to the simpler Ordre du Temple Solaire.
While the OTS hogged the limelight with their dramatics, some historians suggest that the real brains behind the operation was French author Jacques Breyer. Apparently, Breyer had started a Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple way back in 1952. A few years later, French right-wing activist Julien Origas took the reigns and rebranded it as the Renewed Order of the Solar Temple. So, whether you’re into conspiracy theories, grisly crime stories, or just some good old historical mystery, the Solar Temple saga has something for everyone.
1. Remnant Fellowship
Ever heard of the Remnant Fellowship Church? No? Well, get ready this story has more twists and turns than a Hollywood thriller, starting with a famous Christian diet program and ending in a fatal plane crash. And yes, I’m still talking about a church.
A religious cult that flew under the radar until the HBO Max docuseries, “The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin” took a magnifying glass to it in 2021. While your average Sunday school this was not, the allegations were serious stuff – child abuse and other sketchy business, but none of the accusations stuck.
The star at the center of this circus was one Gwen Shamblin Lara, the creative force behind the Christian diet program and the church itself. Now, Shamblin’s church wasn’t just your average weekend worship place. This was a full-fledged life-fixing center, promising healed marriages, joy galore, restored health, repaired finances, and obedient children. Sounds good, right? But many believe it was just another money-making gimmick from the crafty Gwen.
And now, for the real kicker. Gwen, her hubby Joe, son-in-law Brandon Hannah, and four other church honchos met their untimely end in 2021 when their private plane took a nosedive shortly after takeoff. Despite this tragic loss, the church carries on, still hosting Weigh Down workshops, and continuing to make Gwen’s larger-than-life hair a testament to her legacy.
What’s next for the Remnant Fellowship Church? Nobody knows. It’s like a real-life cliffhanger. But one thing’s for sure: most cults might lock the doors at the mere mention of an HBO documentary, but not this one. The legacy of Gwen Shamblin Lara is too big to be contained.
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