What Are Some Well-Known Cults in American History?


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Some well-known cults in American History include the People's Temple, Heaven’s Gate and the Branch Davidians. The People's Temple cult leader was Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite headed Heaven's Gate and David Koresh headed the Branch Davidians. All three cults ended in tragedy.

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The People's Temple, which featured branches throughout California, met its end in the commune known as Jonestown in Guyana. Jones moved his operations from California there in the late 1970s due to media scrutiny over accusations that he abused cult members. Following a November 17 visit to Jonestown by Congressmen Leo Ryan, Jones had the representative and members of his group murdered. Jones forced his cult members to drink cyanide-laced juice.

Applewhite convinced his followers of the Heaven's Gate movement that a spaceship following behind the Hale-Bopp comet would transport the followers off the planet. He and his followers ate applesauce and pudding mixed with drugs in shifts, and the group was found dead on March 26, 1997 in Rancho Santa Fe, California.

Koresh's Branch Davidians fought a standoff against Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents from February 28 until April 19 in 1993. The agents threw tear gas into the compound to force the cult members out; however, instead the cult members burned their compound to the ground, killing 70 members including Koresh.

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