He believed that he could talk to God and that he alone could bring about Zion in Kirtland. All he had to do was gain complete control over the members of his cult.
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.
After being shut down by the FBI, Arthur Bell returned and established a tax-exempt church that would allow him to extort his followers for millions. As they lived in coarse conditions, Bell would live a lavish lifestyle funded by his members.
Imagine only working four hours a day, four days a week, eight months a year. On the heels of the Great Depression, Arthur Bell used his charisma to convince people to follow him and join Mankind United. He promised that a group of wealthy, good people called the Sponsors would create a Utopia for anyone who joined, only the Sponsors wouldn’t offer the program until Mankind United had reached 200 million members. Then his cult spread like wildfire.
The Hernandez Brothers Cult was founded by Santos and Cayetano Hernandez in the early 1960s in a small, northern Mexico village. What started out as a simple scam for power and money from uneducated villagers descended into blood orgies and human sacrifices after the brothers hired a sex worker to impersonate a Goddess.
By 1960, the Lumpa Church was the most influential religion in Zambia and seen as a political threat by Prime Minister Kenneth Kaunda. To avoid escalating violence, the Lumpa Church moved out of the villages to establish new settlements, but Kaunda demanded they return. When they refused, Kaunda destroyed the settlements and murdered its residents.
After a life-changing vision turned her into a prophetess, Alice Lenshina rose from one of the minor tribal houses of Zambia to become the founder and leader of the Lumpa church, one of the most powerful organizations in the entire country. At its height, it had over 150 thousand followers, until it became too big a political threat for the government to ignore.
Sahaja Yoga continues to prosper with more than 30,000 members worldwide despite allegations of child abuse, tax evasion, and harassment from ex-disciples. How has the cult managed to remain so strong and what role did the death of Shri Mataji play in that success?
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi is the founder of the Sahaja Yoga Movement, a form of meditation meant to help practitioners unlock an inner awareness. She began with good intentions, as an activist in the Indian independence movement of the 1940s. As she gained a reputation for healing the sick, she grew in prominence as a spiritual leader. How did this spiritual role model turn into the leader of a cult?
Elizabeth Clare Prophet was the charismatic leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant who had no problem recruiting members. Not even her incorrect prognostication that the world would end by nuclear war in March of 1990 could shake her members’ devotion. But could their faith withstand the public disillusionment and exit of the cult by her own children?
When Mark Prophet died suddenly of a stroke in 1973, Elizabeth Clare Prophet usurped his position as the leader of Summit Lighthouse, and changed its name to Church Universal and Triumphant. After several visions and messages from her masters, Elizabeth Prophet declared to her followers that the Apocalypse was approaching rapidly. Would they believe her narrative, and follow her into underground bomb shelters to avoid humankind's impending doom?
Raël recruited members through his media appearances. The more appearances he made, the more books he sold, and the more followers he got. Controversy over sexual practices at Raelian events crossed the line for some, and drove interest for others. But what would his members do when they learned of his quest to make human clones?
While on a nature walk in his native France, 27-year old Claude Vorilhon saw a small, alien spacecraft land in front of him. A four foot tall affable humanoid named Yahweh emerged and told Vorilhon to relay the encounter to all mankind — who will be judged for eternity based upon their reaction. But, who would believe him without any proof?
Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret founded The Order of the Solar Temple. They told their followers that the world would end in 1995, but if they killed themselves, they would be reborn on the star Sirius. Then one night in October of 1994, 48 members of the Orders of the Solar Temple died across two continents. How were Di Mambro and Jouret able to convince so many followers to die for something they likely knew not to be true?
Joseph Di Mambro was no stranger when it came to new religious movements. He had joined a few of them as a young adult, and when he decided to start his own, he had a hard time getting followers. With the help of Luc Jouret, the two founded The Order of the Solar Temple. Their goal was to unlock the secret knowledge of the universe, but it ultimately would lead to their deaths.
For the past 150 years, members of the Leopard Society in West Africa dressed in leopard skins and brutally murdered over six-dozen victims. The murders were so gruesome that at first, it was speculated actual leopards caused these deaths. It was later discovered that these killings were part of a cannibalistic ritual that involving the distillation of an elixir from the boiled blood and organs of the victim.
Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo founded the Narcosatanists in Mexico City in 1985. He was able to keep his few but loyal followers by his side as he murdered victims in the name of ancient gods. But the killing of an American college student would ultimately lead to the end of the Narcosatanists and the demise of Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo.
Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo spent his early life training in the mystical religions of Santería and Palo Mayombe. Those close to him placed no value on the lives of those who didn’t subscribe to the religions. As he got older, this philosophy would play a large part in his founding of the Narcosatanists.
Sun Myung Moon's church used a well-practiced set of tactics on each prospective cult member. Once inside the cult, members fell deeper into church's doctrine. What were these tactics and what made it so difficult for members to leave?
Sun Myung Moon was the son of farmers who converted from Confucianism to Christianity when he was about 10 years old. As he grew older, he became so devoted to his religion that he founded his first church, Kwang-Ya, in his mid-twenties. A decade later, he would found the Unification Church and develop it into a multi-billion dollar global business empire.
John Humphrey Noyes’ Oneida Community practiced polyamory long before the free love movement of the 1960s. But his pioneering community had a darker side to it. We’ll uncover the alarming practices intended to serve the perverse sexual needs of Noyes and the community leaders, including a sexual initiation policy for young children, a eugenics program, and incest.