Learn About The 6 Cults From Season 2 Of 'People Magazine Investigates: Cults'

The new season features deep dives into each of these six cults, some well-known, and some you're probably never heard of. Watch Mondays at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.

May 30, 2019
By: Catherine Townsend

Photo By: Charles Manson [APImages/George Brich/courtesy Lucky 8]

Photo By: Bonnie Nettles & Marshall Applewhite [AP Images/Lucky 8]

Photo By: The Work [Stephen Mehl/Lucky 8]

Photo By: The Move [Cara Cobb/Lucky 8]

Photo By: Children of God [Keystone Press Agency/Zuma/Lucky 8]

Photo By: Word of Faith Fellowship church leader Jane Whaley talks to members of the media as husband Sam listens [APImages/Chuck Burton]

The Manson Family

The Manson family cult was formed in California in the late 1960s. It was led by the charismatic Charles Manson, and the horrific crimes committed by members of the group have made headlines for over 50 years.

Manson was an unemployed ex-convict who upon his release from prison in 1967 started developing a following in California.

Manson’s loyal crew – a small group made up mostly of young women and girls – took up residence at Spahn’s Movie Ranch near Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Los Angeles County. He told them that a race war, which he called “Helter Skelter” was coming.

The group became infamous following the murders of actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant, and four others on August 8, 1969 by Atkins, Tex Watson, Linda Kasabian, and Patricia Krenwinkel.

The next night, four family members killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca — and later told police that they were acting under the orders of Manson at the time.

Manson was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for his role in multiple deaths. He was sentenced to death, which was later converted to life in prison. Manson died in 2017 while behind bars.

Heaven's Gate

Heaven’s Gate was founded in 1974 by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles after they met in Texas.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Applewhite was an avid science fiction reader. After meeting Nettles, Applewhite stated that he believed that they had had a relationship in a former life.

Eventually, the couple formed the opinion that they had been chosen to fulfill Biblical prophecies, and that they had been given higher-level minds than other people.

They called themselves "The Two," or "The UFO Two." They wanted to contact extraterrestrials, and sought out followers whom they called "the crew."

In 1975, Applewhite, Nettles, and their followers bid farewell to their families and disappeared form the public eye.

Walter Cronkite reported on the CBS Evening News that "A score of persons ... have disappeared. It's a mystery whether they've been taken on a so-called trip to eternity – or simply been taken."

On March 26, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group in a house in the suburb of Rancho Santa Fe. Investigators learned that the cult members had committed mass suicide in order to reach what they believed to be a UFO that was following Comet Hale-Bopp.

Just before the suicide, the group's website was updated with the message: "Hale-Bopp brings closure to Heaven's Gate ... Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion – 'graduation' from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave 'this world' and go with Ti's crew.”

The Work

The Work was a Connecticut-based cult that attracted hundreds of followers during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

It was founded by Julius Schacknow, who went by the name "Brother Julius".

During the 1980s, the group oversaw the building of an massive real estate and construction business, according to the Hartford Courant.

After Schacknow died in 1996, Paul Sweetman assumed control of the group. In 2004, Sweetman was reported missing by his wife.

In August 2004, part of a human leg was found at the Shuttle Meadow golf course in New Britain. DNA testing confirmed that it was Sweetman's.

Two group members, Rudy Hannon and Sorek Minery, were arrested and charged in connection with Sweetman's death.

Hannon and Minery have both pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The Move

The Move was a nondenominational charismatic Christian group founded in the 1960s by former Baptist preacher Sam Fife in Miami.

Fife attracted a group of ministers who believed his vision of the role of the church in the "end times.” He began teachings on what he called “Divine Order.”

Within a few years, thousands of his followers had moved to a number of communal farms, mostly in Alaska, Canada, and Colombia. They redistributed wealth and combined their resources.

Until the year 2000, women in the Move traditionally wore dresses or skirts, and men shaved their facial hair and wore short hair.

Fife died with three of his followers in the "Body of Christ" in a plane crash in Guatemala on April 26, 1979. He was 54.

Following Fife's death, his teachings were carried on by other ministers – including C.E. "Buddy" Cobb.

Some ex-members have criticized The Move, and reported suffering alleged physical, sexual, and psychological abuse by leaders and elders while involved with this group.

Today, The Move operates under the name International Ministerial Association (IMA) – but their numbers have reportedly declined drastically since the 1980s.

Children of God

The Children of God began in Huntington Beach, California, in 1968 — the height of the hippy era.

It was founded by David Berg and his wife.

Berg allegedly told members that God was love and love was sex. This meant, according to Berg, that age or relationship status should not prevent relationships.

This also meant that Berg reportedly allowed – and, according to many former members, encouraged – sexual contact between adults and children.

During the 1970s they began a method called “Flirty Fishing” that used sex to "show God's love and mercy.”

Berg allegedly referred to himself as a prophet and went by names including "King," "The Last Endtime Prophet," and "Moses.”

The FBI and Interpol investigated the group regarding claims of kidnapping, incest, and sexual abuse, according to The Guardian. Berg died in Portugal in 1994 while still under investigation. Many former members have spoken out about the trauma they suffered as children growing up in the group.

Hollywood stars including Rose McGowan and River Phoenix were reportedly members when they were children.

Former member Verity Carter told BBC News that growing up in the cult was “hell on earth.” She claims that she was sexually abused starting at the age of four by members of the Children of God cult – as well as by her own father.

In January 2005 a spokesperson for the organization stated: “[d]ue to the fact that our current zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual interaction between adults and underage minors was not in our literature published before 1986, we came to the realization that during a transitional stage of our movement, from 1978 until 1986, there were cases when some minors were subject to sexually inappropriate advances ... This was corrected officially in 1986, when any contact between an adult and minor (any person under 21 years of age) was declared an excommunicable offense.”

After Berg's death in October 1994, Karen Zerby assumed leadership of the group. They are still active, now under the name "The Family International."

Word of Faith

Word of Faith was founded in 1979 by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband Sam. Since then, the church has grown to a congregation of nearly 750 people.

Most live in rural North Carolina, with hundreds more followers reportedly based in Brazil, Ghana, and a few other countries.

Jane Whaley claims to be a prophet, and insists that members adhere to a strict set of rules about how they dress, where they live, who they marry, and when they have sex. Pop culture including music, TV, and even birthday parties are forbidden.

Over the years, there have been alleged abuses within the group, and Word of Faith has reportedly been investigated in the U.S. and South America. Former members have stated that the group was abusive.

As reported by The Associated Press, Jamey Anderson recounts that he remembered being beaten with wooden paddles when he was a child. Former Word of Faith member Risa Pires told the publication that children were encouraged to inform on their friends for breaking the rules — and that the children found to have violated them were “brutally paddled.” “You could hear the loud whacks through the wall,” she said. “You just sat there, hoping you weren’t next.”

Whaley has denied all allegations of abuse.