The infamous doomsday cults of the 20th century

Saturday April 14 2018

Members of Peoples Temple attend an anti-eviction rally at the International Hotel, San Francisco, US, January 1977. PHOTO | WIKICOMMONS

A doomsday cult is a description of a group believing in apocalypticism and millenarianism, and can refer both to groups that predict disaster and to those that attempt to bring it about.

“Cults have been around about as long as there has been religion, starting as a splinter group that goes against conventional beliefs, sometimes growing into a mainstream religion and sometimes never achieving anything more than sideshow status…,” Abdul Alhazred observes.

There are several religious doomsday cults in existence in the world today but below are some of the most infamous ones of the 20th century.

The Peoples Temple (Guyana, Central America): Led by American Jim Jones, this cult is best known for its mass suicide on November 18, 1978, when 909 members drank cyanide mixed with a soft drink. Members who were reluctant to drink the poisonous drink were shot.

Branch Davidians (US): The cult’s compound outside Waco, Texas became infamous in 1993 when federal agents attempted a raid to look for illegal weapons, signs of child abuse, and people being held against their will. The raid resulted in a 51-days long siege that led to the deaths of four federal agents and 83 cult members, including the leader David Koresh.

Heaven’s Gate (US): On March 26, 1997, 39 members of this cult were found to have committed suicide with the intention of being picked up by an alien spacecraft and taken into outer space where they presumably would find eternal happiness. 


Aum Shinrikyo (Japan): This cult is best known for its 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway using Sarin poison gas, killing 13, seriously injuring another 54, and perhaps exposing 6,000 people to the deadly poison.

Order of the Solar Temple (Switzerland): This religious group was formed in Geneva in 1984 by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret. The sect became renowned for their mass suicide acts beginning in 1994 and lasted until 1997. In total, 74 members of the Order died in an attempt to escape from a world they see as filled with hypocrisy and oppression.  

- Compiled by Bamuturaki Musinguzi from Internet sources