Some recognized cults include the Ku Klux Klan, the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate, Peoples Temple and the Unification Church. The Church of Scientology, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Watchtower Society also meet the accepted definition of a cult.
A cult is a relatively small group of people with a system of religious beliefs that are strange, suspicious or outside society's norms. The cult's beliefs and practices may or may not be potentially harmful. Cults are often brought together by charismatic leaders who are venerated as almost god-like.
The Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas were led by David Koresh, a former Seventh Day Adventist who was forced out of the church because of his extreme views. Koresh believed himself to be a savior figure and maintained that all women were his spiritual wives. In 1993, the Branch Davidian compound was raided by law enforcement on charges that people were being held against their will and that they were stockpiling weapons to use against the government. The Branch Davidians barricaded themselves in, and a 51-day siege eventually ended in 77 deaths, including 20 children.
Jim Jones, founder of the Peoples Temple, led his followers to build a commune in Guyana. After New West Magazine published an article on some of the radical practices of the Peoples Temple, U.S. Congressional Representative Leo Ryan flew to Guyana to meet with Jones. Representative Ryan was shot at the commune, and before authorities could intervene, Jones led 900 of his followers to commit mass suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid. This incident is one of the best-known examples of a cult in American popular culture.