When James Baker started his health food restaurant on the Sunset Strip in the 1970s, he had no intention of creating a spiritual commune. But opportunity knocked, and soon, he was the leader of a yoga-based cult in Hollywood Hills that launched Baker to wealth and fame. When the cult came under scrutiny, Baker ran. And to his surprise, his people followed.
With Greg Polcyn & Vanessa Richardson
Mystery. Manipulation. Murder. Cults are associated with all of these. But what really goes on inside a cult? More specifically, what goes on inside the minds of people who join cults and leaders who start them? Every Tuesday, Greg and Vanessa (co-hosts of the podcast Serial Killers) explore the history and psychology behind the most notorious cults. Cults is part of the Parcast Network and is a Cutler Media production. Ad-free archives of episodes six months or older are now available through Stitcher Premium.
For around 15 years, this guru was a beloved spiritual leader with hopes of opening a worship oriented theme park. In 1985, everything changed when a vicious attack resulted in a head injury, coma, and ultimately a sinister personality change. He started using brutal tactics to keep his followers in line, including violence, espionage, and his own personal hitman.
For 26 years, he was the guru and leader of the New Vrindaban cult in West Virginia. Kirtanananda Swami would turn this vacant land into a 1200-acre sanctuary for all faiths complete with an enormous gold palace. What seemed like an idyllic paradise, was actually just a plot to steal member’s money. Swami was successful in swindling $10.5 million in just four years.
By the 1970s, Comrade Bala's small collective had gone completely underground. His followers lived in constant fear of advanced Chinese technology capable of reading their thoughts, and killing them at any moment. Amidst the chaos, Comrade Bala fathered a child who would spend the first 20 years of her life in his strange home, a slave to the Maoist Collective. But when she finally escaped, she would be his downfall.
His communist cult was started in 1974 in hopes of convincing working class citizens of England to rise up against their capitalist overlords and join forces with communist China. After two "members" escaped in 2013, it was revealed Aravindan Balakrishnan was enslaving women in the basement of his London flat. One woman born into the cult never had contact with the outside world before her release.
This Cult’s beliefs often steered members to protest against the Canadian government. Due to their lack of regard for laws and public policy, officials began rounding up Freedomite children between 1953 and 1959. Two hundred children were brought to a compound called “New Denver” where they were imprisoned in a filthy, overcrowded institution and would suffer lifelong effects.
Reigning over Shepherd’s Camp throughout the 1990s, Victor Barnard was the king of his own Eden. As he becomes more and more abusive to his followers, one of them begins plotting his demise. When she finally strikes, she will prove to be a cunning viper that finally exiles Barnard from paradise.
After spending years indoctrinated in the Way International, Victor Barnard started his own cult in the early 1990s and moved off the grid to an isolated campground in Minnesota. With the blessings of their parents, he married a dozen pre-teen and teenage girls. One of these women would later speak out against the abuse she suffered and fight to bring about his downfall.
This alleged cult’s vineyard has produced wines served at former President Ronald Reagan’s birthday party, and other illustrious restaurants in the pacific northwest. Will abuse allegations made by former members, and disputes with local Yuba County officials over taxes take this successful business down? Robert Earl Burton used elements of mysticism to lure vulnerable followers to his group, but his shaky past threatens their future.
In 1970, his fellowship began with just two members huddled around a dining room table in Northern California. But within a few short years, Burton’s influence would reach across the globe, preparing thousands of members for an apocalypse. And while their eyes were turned towards the heavens, he stole their children behind their backs.
What started as a mission preaching tolerance and empathy, quickly turned sour when rumors of drug abuse and financial impropriety started to swirl. The majority of what we know about Kashi Ashram surfaced during a bitter divorce between the ex-public relations director of the group, and his wife, who was serving as a monk in the group.
What do Julia Roberts, Ivanka Trump, and Arlo Guthrie all have in common? They were all financial backers of the charismatic housewife turned cult leader, Joyce Green. She founded Kashi Ashram in 1976 in Sebastian, Florida and began community service projects to help the LGBT and HIV-positive communities. Controversy would eventually strain Kashi Ashram, turning some of Joyce’s closest allies against her.
Masonic ideals helped shape one of the most powerful nations in the world. The Declaration of Independence was signed by at least nine Freemasons. Yet, the secret society has long been associated with political controversy, witchcraft, and even murder.
One of the oldest secret organizations in the world that dates back to 1425. The movements developed by the Freemasons changed the course of history. Originally founded as a working union, it evolved into one of the most exclusive international clubs controlling world politics.
A disgruntled pastor of the Evangelical and Reformed Church creates his own religious group in 1942 after claiming he received Biblical secrets dating back from the First Century AD. By 1980, The Way International was one of the largest and wealthiest cults on Earth. Despite it’s tremendous growth, Victor Paul Wierwille’s paranoia and institutionalized methods of control ultimately led to the cult’s demise.
After creating a live radio show in 1942 to broadcast his sermons, an out-of-work preacher from Ohio was quickly throw into the spotlight of an international spiritual movement. Through his hypnotic Power for Abundant Living (PFAL) course, Wierwille bought the Way International to a large farm in Ohio during a time of revolution in the 1960s. “The Teacher” appeared to be devoted to God, but actually wanted sex, money, and control.
The rapid rise to power and fame went to Lavey’s head resulting in followers abandoning him and a loss of control over the Church. How did the Church of Satan fare after his death in 2001? The results will surprise you.
He is known as the real-life incarnation of the devil and would be responsible for spreading satanism into the mainstream during the 60s and 70s. Anton LaVey would go on to publish the first Satanic Bible which continues to influence people all over the world today.
In an attempt to gain freedom from the government, Vissarion’s followers disregarded their material possessions and built a remote village for their God.
This traffic cop turned cult leader got his followers to believe he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Sergey would go on to start the religious movement known as the Church of the Last Testament.