February 21, 2020

In 1977 Jim Jones relocated nearly 1000 of his followers to the jungle in Guyana.  The promise of easy living at the ‘Peoples Temple Agricultural Project’, aka ‘Jonestown’, was appealing to many.  The reality was a very harsh life toiling under the tropical sun, with multiple allegations of human rights abuses.  Followers were expected to devote themselves to the project, work long, unpaid hours and often had to break off all contact with their families.  You’d be forgiven if you thought this was the BCP work camp!  With authorities starting to investigate the commune, Jones organized a mass suicide that would claim the lives of 918 members, including 304 children. 

Marshall Applewhite was by all measures even more mentally unstable than Jim Jones.  He too believed he was a divine messenger.  He was convinced, and convinced others that our bodies are merely a container for the soul.  The return of the Hale-Bopp comet in 1996 was seen a sign that they were going to have their souls transferred to another planet via the comet.  Through a combination of being a skillful manipulator and having willing and faithful followers, Marshall Applewhite and the Heaven’s Gate cult participated in a mass suicide taking the lives of 39 people. 

Vernon Wayne Howell was born on August 17, 1959 to a 14-year-old mother.  4 years later his mother would abandon him, leaving him in the care of his grandmother.  He lived a lonely, troubled childhood and dropped out of high school in his junior year.  In May of 1990 he would change his name to David Koresh and became leader of the Branch Davidians.  Again, he felt that he was a prophet and the spiritual descendant of King David. 

Allegations of child abuse and statutory rape would draw the attention of the Texas authorities.  A siege of the compound at Mount Carmel began February 28, 1993.  A gun battle ensued killing 4 FBI agents and 6 Branch Davidians.  51 days later the siege would end after a final advance by the FBI.  During this advance the church caught fire.  79 more people would perish.  The carnage wouldn’t end until April 19, 1995 when, in an act of sympathy for the Branch Davidians, Timothy McVeigh drove his truck loaded with explosives into an Oklahoma government office building.  The explosion would kill 168 and injure 684.  

Why would I write a short history of cults that ended in mass murder and suicide?  Sometimes a graphic illustration is required to show unintended consequences.  I doubt any of the people involved signed up for suicide.  They believed in their leader and had unquestioning faith.  Blindly following someone or simply adhering to an idea will more often than not lead to unintended consequences.  It is important to maintain your own ability to reason and think through any problem you encounter.  When presented with one side of an argument, seek out the other. 

Presently we are being fed a certain viewpoint and ideology that many believe to be deeply flawed.  The consequences and fallout from the obstacles in front of us will reverberate for years to come.  Before taking the Kool-Aid, we need to ask, ‘What’s in this anyway?’  I believe far fewer than 1135 people would have died in these incidents had a few of the followers trusted their instincts and walked away. 

Cult members can often be spotted in groups going to meetings.  They speak in a unique language using buzzwords like: fourth quartile, competitive, total package, industry standard and sustainability.  If you encounter someone that says something like “We need to align our business synergies to be competitive in the industry so as not to be in the fourth quartile, while maintaining our integrity and excellence”, avoid direct eye contact and do not provoke the individual.  Contact A&E for a possible trip to an intervention centre.  Their number is 1-800-662-HELP. 

As Floyd Favel Starr said on the Dead Dog Café, ‘Stay calm, be brave, and wait for the signs’. 

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