6 Silly Cults That Hid Deep, Dark Secrets
We tend to think of cults in one of two ways. They're either weird but somewhat innocuous, like Mormons or Hare Krishnas, or they're evil mini-theocracies that enslave followers to worship a false prophet, like Scientology or the Taylor Swift fandom. But those lines often blur. What may initially seem like a goofy group of weirdos can turn out to be horrifying, harboring sinister and harrowing secrets. For instance ...
Guru Ram Rahim Made Zany Action Movies Starring Himself (And Is In Prison For Murder And Rape)
The humbly named Dr. Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was an Indian all-faith guru who gained millions of followers through his simple teachings about peace, humility, and asceticism. And the way he brought that message to the masses was by riding around on a massive motor-trike and producing ridiculous action movies based on his teachings.
Since 2015, the Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) sect has produced five action-packed feature films, all written, directed, and edited by Ram Rahim, who also starred. Each one conveys a part of his teachings, and they're all really bad. They make Kirk Cameron's religious schlock look like Oscar contenders. In the third installment of his Messenger saga, MSG: The Warrior Lion Heart (which also stars his daughter), Rahim teaches his followers about the dignity of womenfolk by way of fighting hundreds of Daft Punk spandex aliens -- a passage we have a hard time finding in our copies of the Vedas.
Speaking of the treatment of women, in 2017, Ram Rahim prematurely ended his messianic filmmaking career after being arrested on several counts of rape and one count of murder. According to the prosecution, 50 of Rahim's former female followers stepped forward to accuse him of sexual abuse. When a reporter tried to investigate these and other criminal activities inside the cult, their enlightened leader had him murdered in front of his home. On a lighter note, Rahim also performs on the soundtrack of his movies, has released several albums under Universal's music label, and his hit, "Love Charger," was featured on The Tonight Show.
Between the rapes and the murder, Rahim is currently serving a life sentence in a special fortress prison. That's because, while claiming to be a peaceful and humanitarian sect, the states of Haraya and Punjab fear the DDS. So much so that after the holy man's conviction, they deployed the army with "shoot on sight" orders. As a result, a reported 32 people were gunned down when hundreds of thousands of Ram's followers rioted in the streets, somehow willing to die in the name of the Steven Seagal of rapists.
Adnan Oktar Ran A Hilariously Tacky Islamic Cult (Featuring Lots Of Sexual Assault)
On paper, the Science Research Foundation (bonus points for a name so generic that it belongs in a sci-fi B-movie) looks your typical switch and bait cult. Led by Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya, the cult preaches Islamic creationism and claims that Darwin / Western freemasonry / the Jews are the root of all evil. But the cultists themselves looked less like stereotypical Islamic extremists and more like extras on Jersey Shore.
Based out of Turkey, Oktar's cult runs its own media empire which evangelizes radical Islam, releases anti-evolution "documentaries," and publishes crazy creationism encyclopedias like Atlas Of Creation -- an 850-page, highly academic document that accidentally used a man-made fishing lure as proof that animals were immune to evolution.
While doing all this godly science, Oktar dresses and lives like a villain from a 1980s James Bond porn parody. And like any good cult leader, he demanded conformity from his (mostly female) disciples. But instead of simple robes and modest yurts, it's Gucci suits for the men, mini-dresses for his "kittens," and a compound in which every lodging looked like a room in a Trump Hotel.
These lodgings were also constantly monitored by cameras. Oktar didn't use these to shoot a pilot for the Real Housewives Of Ankara, but to exert a reign of hedonistic terror, allowing no privacy or freedom of movement. And due to a novel and particularly scummy interpretation of Islamic tradition, he was able to justify running his cult like an (even more) dystopian Playboy Mansion, forcing followers to cut all ties with the secular world while he slept with as many models as he wanted.
And Oktar didn't just dress like a pimp; he was one. To be more specific, he was a sex trafficker who coerced his followers to undergo extensive plastic surgery, then pimped them out to politicians for favors and blackmail. Some of those women eventually stepped forward and exposed Oktar as a fraud and abuser. He was arrested in 2018 on charges of sexually abusing minors, kidnapping, blackmail, and espionage. According to prosecutors, he'll be trading in his Gucci pants for prison slacks for a long time.
The Freedomites Loved Parading Around Nude (And Burning Down Your House)
The Doukhobors, or "Spirit Warriors" were, contrary to their name, a group of pacifist, anti-materialist Christians who fled Russia after czarist persecution. The sect resettled in Canada in the early 20th century, but while many just wanted to live free, tilling the land along with their animal pals, others grew resentful of the Canadians, who politely but firmly insisted that they attend their state schools and fight in their World Wars.
That faction called themselves the Sons of Freedom, or Freedomites. And in keeping with their religion's tradition of ironic names, they made it their goal to impose their ideals on others. The sub-cult became famous for not just eschewing but outright condemning materialism -- something they often expressed by protesting in the nude. These antics put the Doukhobor religion on the map, with many a Life photographer schlepping over to take pictures of these burly farmers marching their bare butt cheeks through the snowy ranges of British Columbia.
But the Freedomites also had another way of showing their disapproval of all things material: burning down buildings. First they did their own, but from the '20s to the '60s, they also carried out over 1,000 arson and bomb attacks on homes, courtrooms, schools, and bridges. Say what you will about the Amish, but their neighbors never had to worry about coming home to find their houses torn down and replaced by barns.
Sadly, the main victims of the Freedomites were other Doukhobors. Freedomites would often roll up to isolated Doukhobor communities, order all the peaceniks out, and then burn their towns to the ground. In fact, many Doukhobors believe that the mysterious train bombing that killed their exalted leader, Peter V. Verigin, was an attack by the radical apostates. But neither the Canadian government nor the media would differentiate between them and their terrorist brethren, thus harassing the peace-loving people almost into extinction. Was there no icy tundra where these poor guys could live persecution-free?
Krishna Venta Led California's First Commune Of Helpful Hippies ... Who Suicide-Bombed Him
The WKFL (Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, and Love) Fountain of the World was founded in 1948 in Southern California, and could be considered the first ever New Age cult. And they nailed it on the first try. Led by messiah Krishna Venta, Fountain members lived in a "monastery" made out of rocks and found objects, wore bright robes, and had a strict beards 'n' bare feet policy. But they were best-known as first responders. They'd combat California's copious wildfires, parachute into disaster zones, and gain international fame in 1949 after arriving first on the scene of a major plane crash and rescuing survivors.
But their teachings were somewhere between Scientology and Mormon doomsday cult, cut with generous amounts of bullshit. Krishna Venta didn't merely claim he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, but also an alien overlord from the planet Neophrates, who landed in the Garden of Eden and had influenced every major human event since. The reason he teleported to Cali was to shepherd believers through the upcoming Soviet-backed race war apocalypse, after which only his chosen (whites) would be left to repopulate the world. If that sounds familiar, that's because Charles Manson spent some time hanging out at the Fountain of the World, and stole a lot of its ideas when he later formed his own "family."
In truth, Krishna Venta -- real name Francis Herman Pencovic (you can see why he changed it) -- was just the first of many holy con men. His followers quickly became suspicious of the guru, wondering why everyone had to give up their earthly possessions so he could drive around in a sports car and make "pilgrimages" to Las Vegas. Or why in this free love / repopulation cult, only Venta was allowed to have sex, or wives, or sex with other people's wives. And come to think of it, why did he install a mattress in the firefighting van, which was always a-rockin' when male acolytes were outside risking their lives?
When two of his followers, Peter Duma Kamenoff and Ralph Muller, confronted their messiah with this philandering and fraud, they were exiled and separated from their loved ones. Fearing how dangerous their alien despot was, the pair bought 20 sticks of dynamite. On December 10, 1958, they detonated a massive suicide bomb in the compound. The explosion was so powerful that it blew people from their beds and evaporated Krishna Venta instantly. But in an ironic twist, the explosion also caved in the doors of the nearest fire station, rendering them unable to get to the firefighting cultists in time. In the devastation, 10 members of the Fountain of the World died, including three children.
Dimas Kanjeng Formed A Cult Based On Silly Magic Tricks (And Killed People Who Threatened To Expose Him)
Some cult leaders swear they have the power to save your soul, unlock your third eye, cure your mental illness, or even take you to a planet full of sex aliens. But Indonesian holy man Dimas Kanjeng figured you didn't need that much mojo to get a cult going. All the magic he needed was the shitty close-up kind your uncle uses to pull a quarter from behind your ear.
Padepokan Dimas Kanjeng Taat Pribadi's con was insultingly simple. The fake holy man claimed he could pull money out of thin air, convincing the Universe to repay those who donated to his church tenfold. How did this awesome power manifest? Kanjeng would awkwardly shove his hands behind his back, squirm around like he was trying to unhook his own bra, and then pull out wads of cash with all the showmanship of a sullen teen producing a bag of weed to campus security.
Kanjeng's shamanistic powers weren't just limited to making it rain, either. He also boasted the ability to produce grapes, noodles, meatballs, and even plastic bags of soup from behind his back (though you'd think God would choose more sustainable packaging).
It doesn't take a keen eye to spot that everything about Kanjeng was nothing but a poorly executed magic trick. But since this was a kind of vamped-up version of a Ponzi scheme, it did pay off for his first and most powerful acolytes, which included high-ranking members of the military, law enforcement, and government. Because of that, Kanjeng amassed thousands of followers, $38 million in donations, and his own palatial compound.
Of course, the cosmic ATM was going to run dry someday. Two of his followers eventually realized that their prophet was pulling this profit out of his ass and not the air. When they confronted Kanjeng, the holy man silenced them by pulling the greatest magic trick of them all: He had them brutally murdered.
But it turns out that Kanjeng is as bad at making people disappear as he is at making money appear. Indonesian law enforcement agents quickly pinned the murders on him. Kanjeng was arrested and convicted in 2016, and will spend 18 years locked up in a small box -- or at least until he can magic a cell key into existence.
Celebs Loved Reverend Tony Alamo And His Crazy Jackets (Made By Child Labor In His Cult's Compound)
Reverend Tony Alamo was an all-singing, all-dancing American preacher with a flair for the flamboyant. In the '70s and '80s, he and his "Jesus Freaks" became internationally famous for designing and making colorfully bejeweled jackets, worn by celebrities like Mr. T, Dolly Parton, and Michael Jackson, who's even sporting one on the cover of Bad.
But behind the sequined curtain, Alamo was a terrifying cult leader who ruled a compound in Arkansas with a rhinestone-studded fist. Before his rise to fame, Alamo was a failed pop singer turned apocalyptic street preacher (Captain and Tennille had the same backup plan). As the head of the Alamo Christian Foundation, he and his wife Susan (a failed actress) would roam California recruiting wayward hippies and street people, declaring that only they could keep them from the fires of Hell -- by making them sew a bunch of jackets.
While folks were queuing up for Alamo's religion-positive jackets, they didn't know they were made in slave sweatshops. In the compound's jacket factory, kids as young as nine worked long hours, their fingers bleeding from handling rhinestones, their lungs raw from chemical fumes. Workers were beaten, abused, and paid only with the promise that their patchwork was pleasing God.
The Alamo Christian Foundation became downright medieval after Susan died of breast cancer. The reverend kept her body on display for six months, forcing his followers to pray over the cadaver day and night to raise her from the dead. When that didn't work, Alamo decided to move on by taking 10 new wives at the same time -- all extremely underage. And when the IRS finally caught on to him, he simply declared the government to be the actual devil and worked his cultists twice as hard.
By the end, Alamo's denim empire was worth around $9 million. But even though the child abuse and sweatshop conditions came out and Alamo had to go on the lam, the perverted preacher later bragged: "The clothing is so groovy, everyone wants it no matter what they think I am." He was sentenced to 175 years in prison for sex trafficking minors in 2009, and died behind bars in 2017. But his jackets endure, still worn today by the likes of Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus -- a new generation of celebs who don't care that their cool rhinestones literally have the blood of children on them.
For more, check out Why The Ninja Turtles' Master Splinter Was A Cult Leader:
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