11 Wild Active Cults That Still Exist Today
The most famous cults in the world often come to our attention when disaster strikes. This is usually when members of the cult take their lives, are arrested for dodgy dealings, or have their compounds stormed by police. While you might think this means there aren’t that many cults still going, you’d be wrong, with the world full of active cults growing their numbers and preparing for the apocalypse.
Most of these active cults do their best to stay out of the spotlight, not wanting the attention of some of the more high-profile religious movements. Not every cult is creepy either, with many being a safe place for like-minded people to live their lives in a more alternate way. What they all have in common are enigmatic leaders whose charming ways help attract members and trap them in cult life.
To make sure you are aware of what is going on in the world, we’ve researched some active cults that might be looking for new members. If any of these people approach you, best you politely decline what they are offering and be on your merry way. Nobody wants to end up being part of the next Jonestown massacre or Bonnie Nettles Heaven’s Gate cult.
11 Wild Active Cults That Still Exist Today
Although many believed NXIVM ended when founder Keith Raniere was imprisoned on racketeering and sex offense charges, he still commands a small number of loyal followers from behind bars.
The NXIVM Corporation was established by Raniere and Nancy Salzman in 1998 as a self-help organization where people could take part in seminars and learn how to make the most of their life. NXIVM was also a way for Raniere and Salzman to brainwash folks into becoming members of NXIVM and invest money in the cult. It has a very strong pyramid scheme vibe.
It was then revealed by several newspaper exposes that Raniere was using NXIVM as a way to indoctrinate women into sex slavery. Raniere had a flock of women he would regularly have sex with and make perform sexual acts that would make most people squirm. Those ensnared by Raniere included Salzman and her daughter Lauren, actress Allison Mack, Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman, and bookkeeper Kathy Russell. These women would also be used to gather new members for Raniere.
It all got rather messy when the police became involved in 2018 and Raniere and many of his followers were arrested for a bunch of crimes. While those involved got various punishments, including fines and short jail terms, the worst was handed to Raniere, who was sentenced to 120 years behind bars.
2. Remnant Fellowship Church
Not many people knew about this religious cult until the HBO Max docuseries, The Way Down: God, Greed, and the Cult of Gwen Shamblin, hit the streaming service in 2021. The doco accused the church of child abuse and other dodgy dealings, although nothing has come of these statements.
Started by Gwen Shamblin Lara, who also created the Christian diet program, the church is believed to be another money-making scheme concocted by Lara. The church has its roots in Lara’s Weigh Down Ministries and is a place where “experiencing healed marriages, increasing joy, restored health, repaired finances and children who love to follow the guidance of their parents” takes place.
Sadly Lara, her husband Joe, son-in-law Brandon Hannah, and four other church leaders were killed this year when their private plane crashed shortly after take off. The Remnant Fellowship Church continues to operate despite the absence of Lara, although its long-term future is unknown.
3. The Family International
Creep David Berg started The Family International, also known as The Children of God, in 1968 as a way to build a harem of sex slaves. The United States cult was originally said to be about freedom and individuality before Berg introduced a form of evangelism that involved him and those in high-profile leadership roles having sex with members as a way to show God’s love.
After allegations of sexual abuse arose, hundreds of members left and Berg renamed the cult The Family of Love in 1978. It was during this time that Flirty Fishing – an initiative whereby female members of the cult were encouraged to have sex with potential male members to get them to join – became a big part of the cult. Those already part of the cult also took part in this practice with other members, with The Family of Love becoming something of a sex cult.
In 1982 the cult underwent a dramatic change, with much of the sexual practices wiped out. Under the name of The Family, the cult became much more family-friendly, abandoning many of its shady past practices. In 2004 it underwent another name change, this time to The Family International, and is now known as a harmless group of religious fanatics who want to make the world a better place through good deeds rather than sex.
4. Unification Church
This new religious movement was founded by Dr. Sun Myung Moon and based on his teachings found in the Divine Principle, a book written by, you guessed it, Moon. This South Korean cult came to the attention of the world thanks to its mass wedding ceremonies, where hundreds of strangers would meet and marry.
The Unification Church has many strange beliefs and ties to politics, with the religious group known to be anti-communist and big fans of Donald Trump. The death of Moon in 2012 hasn’t stopped the cult from spreading far and wide, with a Japanese cabinet minister resigning this year due to his affiliations with the church.
5. Branch Davidians
Originally founded by Benjamin Roden in 1955, there are now two groups of Branch Davidians. Trent Wilde leads the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist and Charles Pace leads The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness. Both cults have their roots in the Seventh-Day Adventists religion but have very different teachings.
Of the two, The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness made headlines in 1993 when its leader, Vernon Howell, better known as David Koresh, was involved in a siege with police at Branch Davidians headquarters in Waco. Koresh believed himself to be the Lamb that would come before Jesus Christ, and it was his duty to father the new world leaders. Taking advantage of his position of power as the cult leader, Koresh slept with many of the women who were part of the cult, even those with husbands. He was also accused of sleeping with minors, which is why the ATF attempted to storm the property on February 28, 1993.
Koresh and his followers were ready, and what followed was a 51-day siege that ended when the compound went up in flames. Four ATF agents were killed and 16 wounded, while 82 Branch Davidians died, six during the siege and 76 when the fire swept through the compound.
Both groups are still waiting for the return of Jesus Christ.
6. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints started after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints banned polygamy amongst its members. Not wanting to give up the opportunity to have multiple wives, one of the leaders, Ruben Jeffs, started his own breakaway group. When he died, Ruben had around 20 wives and had fathered 60 children, with his son Warren Jeffs taking over and following in his father’s footsteps. He is believed to have taken close to 90s wivies while leading the cult.
A racist, homophobe, and all-around creep, Jeffs was a controlling egomaniac who appeared on the FBI’s Most Wanted List when it was revealed he had married male members with underage girls, while also taking a 12-year-old as a wife himself. It didn’t take long for the police to catch him, with Jeffs convicted of two counts of rape and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Jeffs still leads what’s left of his congregation from jail, although some claim his brother Lyle Jeffs is now at the helm.
7. House Of Yahweh
The House of Yahweh has predicted the end of the world several times and is yet to get the correct date. This controversial cult is a religious group formed by Buffalo Bill Hawkins, who changed his name to Yisrayl after a seven-year excursion to Israel. He and his brother believe they have been sent to earth to prepare everyone for the Second Coming.
Taking bits from Judaism and Christianity, The House of Yahweh gained many followers during its initial years in the 80s, with Hawkins somewhat of a modern-day L Ron Hubbard, writing countless books about his prophecies, including the comically titled Devil Worship: The Shocking Facts!, Unveiling Satan!
Many members of the church, including Hawkins, have been jailed for crimes including sexual assault and bigamy. Rumors persist that Hawkins died on 8 October 2021 but the Chruch has given no indication of this, acting as if everything is fine and dandy.
8. The Church of Bible Understanding
Remember the Sunshine Carpet Cleaners from Seinfeld? They were a cult that used their cleaning business as a front to recruit new members, although they refused to pick George. Well, it turns out the cult was inspired by the real-life group, The Church of Bible Understanding.
Started by Stewart Traill in 1976, this New York-based evangelical commune had many different business operations, including Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaning, a used-van business, and an antique store. Traill used these businesses to make millions of dollars that he funneled through the church and into his bank account, while the majority of his followers lived in poverty.
At one point there were over 10,000 members of The Church of Bible Understanding, but that has dwindled to a couple of 100. Although Traill passed away in 2018, the church is still running and was recently in the news after an orphanage they built in Haiti burnt down and killed 15 children.
9. Nuwaubian Nation
The Nuwaubian Nation is a black supremacist cult that was the brainchild of Dwight York, also known as Malachi Z. York. Abandoning black Muslim theology, York decided to incorporate Islamic theory, Kemetism (an old Egyptian religion), and alien culture into his teachings. If it sounds batshit crazy, that’s because it is, but that didn’t stop York from gaining thousands of followers. But while people were memorized by his captivating personality, York was using his position of power to groom the children of his followers.
He created rules whereby the couples living in his Tama-Re compound could only have sex once a month by appointment, while he was allowed to be with anyone he wanted. York also had sexual relationships with many of his follower’s children, and in 2002, was finally charged with over 100 counts of sexually molesting minors, although there was evidence that he had assaulted thousands. He was found guilty and sentenced to 135 years in prison.
While the majority of followers have now left the Nation, a few remain loyal to York and his teachings and await his release.
10. Aum Shinrikyo
Aum Shinrikyo was responsible for the Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995. This terrorist organization, as it has been deemed by authorities, was founded by Shoko Asahara. His teachings were based on a variety of different religious texts, with Asahara proclaiming himself Jesus Christ in 1992. He believed doomsday was necessary for “human relief” and that he could transfer his spiritual powers to others.
Everything came to an end when Aum Shinrikyo, and specially Asahara and some of his fellow members, were arrested for the 1995 Tokyo subway attack. The trial took more than seven years, with Asahara eventually found guilty and sentenced to death in 2004. He, along with six other cult members, were executed in 2018, 23 years after the attacks.
Aum Shinrikyo has split into two smaller cults since then, Aleph and Hikari no Wa, with both under police surveillance.
When talking about kooky cults, Raëlism is right up there with the weirdest. Followers of Frenchman Claude Vorilhon’s (or Raël as he likes to be known) teachings believe that humans were descendants of aliens. The earth is currently in the Age of Apocalypse and humans must find a way to achieve world peace so the aliens can return and lead us to the promised land.
Founded in the 70s, Raëlism followers are big believers in science and enjoy getting naked and having lots of sex, which seems to be a familiar theme with most cults. The movement became more well-known when they claimed to have cloned a human girl named Eve. This caused all sorts of commotion, and with no proof, the cult was ridiculed by many. While not exactly the outcome Raël had in mind, his new religious movement continues to thrive and is seen as one of the more harmless cults that exist.
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