Mass suicide, especially when cult behavior is involved, is an astonishing topic for readers. How do people surrender their will to group suicide? What are some other famous suicide cults besides Heaven’s Gate? And, how do these types of cults begin?
Three main suicide cults that most people know of are:
Heaven’s Gate was a religious group that started in the 1970s after Marshall Applewhite, a former music professor, met and began cohabitating with Bonnie Nettles, a former nurse. The duo had many aliases, the most common being “Do and Ti”. Both believed they were highly divinely gifted and recruited people interested in their religion and beliefs. When the 1997 Hale-Bop comet came close to the Earth, one of the leaders theorized that a UFO was following the comet, and instructed his members to engage in a ritual suicide to be picked up by the spaceship and brought “to the next level.”
Although the mass suicide was small compared to The People’s Temple, which resulted in over a thousand deaths, the March 1997 suicide still resulted in nationwide astonishment and news coverage, with 39 victims identified dead in the mansion. It is the largest group suicide to ever occur on American soil.
Although it was only a small mass, Heaven’s Gate might be one of the most memorable and fascinating cult suicides. It still spurs modern documentaries and online discussions on sites like Reddit to this day.
Here’s a few interesting facts about Heaven’s Gate:
Days after the bodies were discovered, one nearby 56 year old man committed suicide, with a suicide note that reflected media coverage of Heaven’s Gate at the time. Does Heaven’s Gate help prove suicide contagion is a real phenomenon?
Better question: do cult suicides help prove copycat suicide as a real concept? There are already too many similar stories.
Jim Jones was the cult founder that preached unconventional political ideas to a predominantly African American congregation called “The Peoples Temple.” Throughout the 70s the cult made headlines for suspicious activities, including forcing one of the temple members to sign paternity of their son over to him. The motive? Power. Jim Jones thirsted for power. A lot of it.
Perhaps that’s how Jones had bolstered significant influence over local and federal politicians, bribing them with parties, women, and threatening blackmail. But as Jim Jones upped the temple’s mass security with a militant fist as a result of paranoia and growing scrutiny, he eventually relocated his temple to a remote area in Guyana (later named “Jonestown”).
As more and more headlines were released over mental and physical abuse concerns, Jim Jones began to plan, order, and coerce all commune members to commit suicide. He provided flavored Kool Aid laced with cyanide to both adults and children, then enforced that security members murder anyone that tried to escape. It was much like a “suicide party” Jones threw to “transcend” him and the group away from potential interference.
The Peoples Temple is said to be the biggest mass suicide in history. Over 900 Americans and 909 Guyanans died as a result of the incidents. 276 of these members were children. In fact, until 9/11, it had been considered one of the largest non natural modern murder-suicides for the American people.
The Solar Temple Cult was an international suicide cult that reigned for several years. The Solar Temple had a very similar story as Heaven’s Gate. The Solar Temple is still a cult and religious group scattered around the world, but their fame is known from the 90s. From 1994 to 1997, 74 members committed collective suicide, leaving behind notes that their death would propel them “beyond Sirius.”
Another interesting fact is that the cult members had donated an accumulated amount of over $1 million to the group leader, Joseph Di Mambro. Di Mambro and the other leader Luc Jouret (a leading member of a Belgian neo-nazi group) died with the collective in 1994.
Although not all cults result in collective suicide, there are still many intriguing groups and cases. Some result in similar outcomes such as murder or bioterrorism. Here’s a few that you may or may not know:
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