The Creepiest Things Cults Said In Public

Statements made by cult leaders often seem so overtly creepy to anyone outside the cult that it can be hard to imagine how anyone could believe what they're saying — let alone go deep into debt, cut off family members, or commit terrible crimes on their orders.

As described by TED-ed's "Why do people join cults?" if a person is struggling with a major life change, like moving to a city where they don't know anyone or grieving the death of a loved one, a cult may attempt to lure them in with promises of a loving and stable community. Another factor is who is doing the recruiting. More than two-thirds of people who join cults are brought in by close friends or family members. Once a person is brought into a cult, it can be incredibly difficult to leave. Former high-ranking Scientologist Mike Rinder (who has since become one of its most outspoken critics) described how treatment of cult members becomes incrementally worse over time, and by the time someone is fully in a cult, they have to become more concerned with day-to-day survival than what is true.

These are the stories of some of the creepiest things cults have said in public.

If you or someone you know is dealing with spiritual abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Church Universal and Triumphant

Church Universal and Triumphant is one of several groups that believe in the "I AM," which is the god-like, higher aspect of all people. Religious teachings from all around the world are incorporated into their beliefs, but, as stated in Britannica, the main goal for members is to become pure and ready for "ascension."

The church was founded by Mark Prophet, but it was his wife and successor Elizabeth Clare Prophet who reorganized the organization into what it is today. She claimed to be able to receive messages from the Masters. Believers were instructed to repeat the "decrees" to communicate with I AM. In the 1980s, members of the church built numerous bomb shelters to prepare for major disasters prophesied by Prophet.

Although the church persists to this day, they may be best known for a recording released in 1984 called "Dedication To The Tackling Of The Beast And The Dragon." As detailed by Vice, the track was included in a collection called "The Sounds of American Doomsday Cults" and has since been sampled by many musicians. In a rapid, almost incomprehensible chant, Elizabeth Clare Prophet calls upon the I AM presence, references the god flame, Jesus, and Buddha, and condemns rock music.

Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple

One of the most infamous events in the history of cults is the Jonestown Massacre. As noted by Rolling Stone, Jonestown was the largest number of American civilian deaths in a non-natural event before 9/11.

The Peoples Temple was a popular radical religious congregation in the 1970s with political sway and thousands of members. Faith healer Jim Jones preached communist ideals for his own ends. Overtime, he grew more paranoid, and, by 1977, he moved his most devout followers to Jonestown, an "agricultural settlement" in Guyana. When U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan attempted to check in on Jonestown, he was murdered. After this, Jones ordered the death of everyone in his organization. Over 900 individuals of all ages were killed — some by drinking cyanide on Jones' command, others by shooting.

Jim Jones's final speech to his followers was recorded. In the speech, he persuades the crowd that they had been betrayed, and their children were going to be taken. Rather than accept their fate, he tells them they should all die together, stating that "death is not ... a fearful thing. It's living that's cuts ya" (via The Jonestown Institute). While it is often referred to as a mass suicide, it can also be considered long-premeditated murder. Jones often encouraged his followers to drink poison — which they survived — as a test of loyalty. Armed guards prevented members from leaving. Evidence of injections, showing that members were poisoned by force, has been found.

Tom Cruise for Scientology

One of the turning points in how the public views the controversial religious organization Scientology came in 2008 when a recruitment video starred actor and devout follower Tom Cruise. In the bizarre footage, Cruise sometimes whispers intensely and sometimes laughs maniacally while talking about a future where everyone on the planet is a Scientologist. He speaks in typical Scientology jargon, referring to "LRH," the Scientology founder and pulp sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard, and how to confront and defeat "SPs", or suppressive persons who don't believe in Scientology. The "Mission: Impossible" theme loops behind the entire interview.

The footage was shown in Scientology churches for believers, but it was never supposed to reach the public. As noted on Tony Ortega's authoritative website about all things Scientology, the leaked video was disastrous for Tom Cruise. From his wild claims about the abilities of Scientologists to his dream that non-Scientologists would someday be nonexistent and only read about in history books, Cruise's statements only served to make himself and Scientology look out of touch with reality. 

The Church of Scientology did everything it could to have the footage removed from the internet, which also backfired, leading to an ongoing feud with internet anti-censorship activists. The video of Cruise remained online.

Love Has Won

The group Love Has Won is most famous for having mummified their cult leader, "Mother God," after her death and then decorating the body with glitter and Christmas lights. As detailed by Independent, their beliefs about their leader in life were just as unexpected as their way of honoring her in death.

Mother God's real name was Amy Carlson, and the members of Love Has Won believed that she was 19 billion years old, the reincarnation of Christ, Cleopatra, and Marilyn Monroe, and planning to lead the members of her cult into the fifth dimension.

The modern group was more visible than most cults, because of their tendency to livestream on a daily basis and post updates from Mother God online. One of these videos was released in 2016 and titled the 9-9-9 message. It opens with Carlson giggling quietly, then letting out a joyful "Whoopee!" She goes on to read a type of prophecy that she states, "came ... through my shaking body." In the message, delivered by Carlson with cursing and peculiar sound effects, she states that "the new story begins today."

Heaven's Gate

The Heaven's Gate initiation tapes were called "Planet Earth About to be Recycled" by leader Marshall Applewhite, because he explained that the current human civilization was about to end, allowing the world to start over.

Applewhite, making intense, direct eye contact with the camera, stated that his father was not human. He stated that his father was "a member of the evolutionary level above human: the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Heaven." Applewhite claimed that he himself had been born in heaven. Applewhite implied that the mind of Jesus Christ might be inside him now.

In an elaborate doomsday prophecy, Applewhite explained that the only people who would survive must "evacuate" with his group. The real meaning of evacuation for Applewhite would be discovered on March 26, 1997. As explained by History, Applewhite convinced 38 of his followers to join him in drinking a lethal substance in order to leave their bodies behind. They were told that this would allow them to go through "Heaven's Gate" and to a waiting spaceship where they would be safe. The spaceship was believed to be hiding behind the newly discovered Hale-Bopp comet.

The Rod of Iron Ministries

In 2012, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church, died, leaving his 10 adult children behind. Moon was viewed as a messiah, so who would take his place (a role referred to as the "Second King") was contentious. According to the Washington Post, Moon's wife claimed that she was meant to be his successor, but his son Sean claimed he was chosen. In 2018, Sean Moon's faction garnered significant media attention for their unusual ceremony: blessing AR-15s.

In an interview with Vice, Moon wore a camo suit and tie (acquired from eBay) and a crown made out of bullets. He explained that his group, officially titled "World Peace and Unification Sanctuary," was known as "Rod of Iron Ministries," based on their love of guns and regal looking headgear.

"The crown and rod of iron is ... the two main Biblical accoutrements of the citizens of God's kingdom in the Bible," Moon stated, "I think it is exemplified strongest in Psalm 2 and Revelations 2, where it says, 'They will rule with the rod of iron, and they will break nations into shivers.'"

Aum Shinrikyo

"Training that doesn't lead to supernatural powers is hogwash!" The AP quotes an advertisement of cult leader Shoko Asahara's book: "Seeing the future, reading people's minds, making your wishes come true, X-ray vision, levitation, trips on the fourth dimension, hearing the voice of God, etc. It will change your life!"

The doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo — or "Aum Supreme Truth" — was based on practicing yoga. Asahara preached based on Buddhist and Hindu beliefs, but he also was an admirer of Adolf Hitler, claimed he could fly, and believed he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Asahara told his members that the end times were coming, and they would come in the form of chemical attacks by the United States on the rest of the world. The group believed that other than members of the cult, only 10% of the world population would survive.

Aum Shinrikyo is most famous for their deadly sarin attacks on the Tokyo subway. As reported on by Time magazine, members released the nerve gas during morning rush hour, resulting in 12 deaths and thousands of injuries.

Children of God/The Family International

As reported by The Guardian, leader David Berg preached an ideology that was part evangelical Christian and part '60s free love. A practice referred to as "flirty fishing" — in which a female member of the group was expected to flirt with potential new members as a means of recruitment — was a widespread one, which made the group notorious. But it was only a small part of the culture of nonconsent promoted within the group. Former members of the group (originally called the Children of God and later rebranded as Family International) have reported child abuse and sexual abuse within the "sex cult."

Berg's beliefs have been recorded in many writings that he sent out to his followers, referred to as "Mo Letters." Many of these are collected on a website maintained by former members. One publication by Berg states his belief that the kingdom of heaven was hidden inside the moon (which Berg quickly followed up with another stating that scientists were incorrect about the dimensions of the moon.)

Many members of the public first became aware of the Children of God through their bizarre, but catchy, songs and music videos. One of these is "Cathy Don't Go," in which the singer urges Cathy not to go to the supermarket despite the sale on rice, because they will use their barcodes and price scanners to lead to total computer control.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.


In an interview for 60 Minutes Australia, leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh boasted of his commune, "We don't have any crime." However former members have revealed that there were hundreds of attempted murders. As detailed by a report in People magazine, the group began as a kind of free love commune in Oregon and grew to a small private city just for believers. Rajneesh often taught nude meditation practices to his followers, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, included hyperventilating, "primal-scream catharsis," and jumping.

In response to conflicts with local government officials over attempts to expand further, several of the most devout members of the cult used salmonella from their lab to poison local salad bars. They believed that resulting deaths would mean less voters in the upcoming election. (They also planned to bring thousands of individuals who were homeless onto the commune in order to increase their own votes.)

When a former member accused Ranjeesh of exploitation, he agreed, saying, "It is true. I exploit people. I exploit them because that is the only way to wake them up. Exploitation is not necessarily evil, and I am a genius in exploitation."

Charles Manson and the Family

Charles Manson may be the most famous American cult leader. In the 1960s, Manson took advantage of the hippie youth culture in San Francisco to create a commune based around his own beliefs (which, according to Britannica, were derived from fringe psychology, the occult, and contemporary sci-fi). The group would become known as the "Family," and the core of its beliefs was Manson's doomsday prophecy known as "Helter Skelter" (via Rolling Stones). The group believed that a race war was coming. When it didn't, Manson manipulated his followers into committing a series of murders to attempt to start it.

Even in prison, Manson continued to deny that he had ordered the murders, or that he had any control over the Family. In a 1993 interview, Manson, who now had a tattoo of a swastika on his forehead, argued with Diane Sawyer about his involvement in the most famous of the Manson murders, the killing of Sharon Tate.

"If you are me and I am you, everything you do is for you is for me, too," Manson shouted over Sawyer's questions, before briefly devolving into singing part of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus."

FLDS and Warren Jeffs

Warren Jeffs was the "prophet" or leader of a group known as FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Jeffs had complete control over the lives of the families in his sect — forcing men out, taking women as "spiritual wives," and forbidding any interaction with the outside world. As reported by the Guardian, when Jeffs began his life sentence in 2011, he had at least 80 "spiritual wives," some of whom were children.

One of the pieces of evidence that was used to convict Jeffs was an audio recording of the "prophet" speaking to women and girls within his group about their duty to become his wives, as he interpreted them from the Bible. As reported by Houston Press, the recording made at least one member of the jury cry.

"Your every desire and prayer is that I will be strengthened, and that is how you are strengthened. If the Lord doesn't name you to be with me, in the heavenly session, then you will fall under a greater condemnation and not be used," Jeffs preached, in between long pauses in which his breathing was audible. "The key word is humility. The humility of service. Make sure you're not tending your own opinion. Make sure you're not holding onto the little particles of selfish emotion."

Rod Ferrell and the Vampire Clan

Sixteen-year-old Rod Ferrell was the leader of a small cult of teenagers referred to as the "Vampire Clan." Ferrell himself claimed that he was not a teenager, but a 500-year-old vampire called Vesago. As explained in a report from Spectrum News 13, Ferrell committed two murders in 1996 — the parents of a friend that Ferrell had encouraged to run away from home and join his group.

Ferrell beat his two victims to death, but has stated that a typical feeding (which would be done between members of the cult or "donors") would involve biting, cutting, and using syringes to take blood. He described it as an act of trust or love.

"You want to know what it is to be a vampire?" Ferrell asked during an interview he gave while in prison on a life sentence, "It equates to the life, it equates to power. It equates to the very foundation of existence. It's the communion. It's the holy wafer of the tongue, and that is what blood is to a sanguinary vampire. That's what a sanguinary vampire is: a blood feeder."