From utopian compounds to UFO religions, the world’s history has no shortage of cults and their controversies. Whether they’re proponents of child sacrifice, abuse, nudity, cannibalism or gulag-like prisons, these cults have one thing in common: what they practice is far more terrifying than anything you might see on American Horror Story. And the scariest part? Some of them are still recruiting new members and spreading their controversial ideologies to this day.
Once called Teens for Christ, The Family International is a cult still recruiting members today. Its founder, David Berg, turned the original group members into a religious cult called The Children of God. On the outside, the organization appeared to spread the original message while living in seclusion from the rest of the world.
Materialism and sexual hedonism were the primary messages of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the leader of this cult. In 1981, he purchased a ranch where his cult followers escaped in order to create their own utopian reality.
When kumbaya meets emotional and physical abuse, welcome to Buddhafield. The leader, Jaime Gomez (also known as The Teacher), had a talent for attracting members into the cult by making them feel welcomed and loved. He also wore nothing but Speedos.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is one of the Mormon offshoots that believe in polygamy. The cult has an estimated 10,000 members. Controversies around the FLDS include child labor and arranged child marriage, with leader Warren Jeffs getting sentenced to prison for life for child sexual assault.
Led by Jim Jones, Peoples Temple followers were promised the ultimate utopia. Jones recruited members by inviting sick people and miraculously healing them from their illnesses. In 1974, he bought land in Guyana, where he made a home for himself and his followers called Jonestown.
The Manson Family case is perhaps known as one of the most terrifying cults of the ‘60s. Charles Manson, the cult’s leader, created a family that lived together on a ranch where he preached his ideologies about a race war. He encouraged killing sprees, which ended in murdering the then-pregnant actress Sharon Tate at her own home.
Heaven’s Gate had a slightly different set of guiding principles than many other cults. Members believed that the planet was under control of aliens, but that there were a few good aliens — these included Jesus and the cult’s leaders. Almost all of the members participated in a mass suicide on March 26th, 1997, hoping to be transported onboard a spacecraft they believed was trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet.
The Aum cult was founded in the 1980s. Its leader, Shoko Asahara, claimed to be Jesus Christ — the statement alone attracted some followers. Although the cult’s primary focus was on spirituality, it soon became a violent organization. From drinking blood to manufacturing their own weapons, there’s no shortage of Aum controversies.
Founded by fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, Scientology follows "spiritual healing" technology called Dianetics. Scientologists believe in the concept of immortality and reincarnation. Following a strict code of ethics, Scientologists must undergo intense questioning from the church at regular intervals in order to eventually clear themselves from imperfect thoughts and harmful, soul-like beings.
Nicknamed the Foot Reading Cult, this Japanese organization believed in being able to predict illness by examining people’s feet. The leader, Fukunaga Hogen, made members recruit more people by essentially lying about the cult’s capabilities.
Believing in UFOs, Freemason rituals and hardcore New Age philosophy, the Order of the Solar Temple was a peaceful cult until one particular incident involving a baby. The cult was started by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret in 1984 in Geneva and spread to several countries around the world.
The Freedomites originated back in Canada in 1902 after a number of people from various religions escaped Russia. Their beliefs included living in a communal space while being naked. They also supported anarchy. The cult was well known back in the 1950s when it began popularizing its belief system.
As the cult’s name suggests, it was on a mission to live strictly by the Ten Commandments. It was started by five members who claimed they were able to see the Virgin Mary. The group was often referred to as a "doomsday cult" after a failed apocalypse prediction resulted in mass murder orchestrated by the founders.
The Twelve Tribes was first founded in the 1960s. Although it was a fairly small Christian fundamentalist group, it was able to attract followers from around the world. One of the biggest beliefs of the cult was to beat children with a willow cane in order to take out the devil in them.
The Unification Church’s biggest controversy is its mass weddings. They were a result of a firm belief that the cult’s leader Sun Myung Moon was able to create perfect children by pairing the best couples together. Founded in the ‘50s, the cult featured members from more than 100 countries who called themselves Moonies.
Founded in 1959 by Ben Roden, a self-proclaimed religious prophet, the Branch Davidians are a splinter branch of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The cult’s biggest scandal happened in 1993 when it was involved in a 51-day standoff with the FBI, who wanted to investigate the cult’s compound after reports emerged about the stockpiling of illegal weapons.
One of the newer cults, the Nuwaubian Nation believed in a supremacist ideology, Illuminati conspiracies and worship of the Egyptians. Over the years, Dwight York, the group’s founder, abandoned several ideological concepts and preached everything from Judaism and Christianity to a UFO religion and Kemetism.
Based near Albany, New York, the NXIVM cult is described as a multi-level marketing company, offering success seminars through its program. The cult created a special society through its recruiting platform dedicated to women who were branded with a symbol and forced into slavery.
Founded by Reverend Chris Korda and Pastor Kim, The Church of Euthanasia is a recent cult with an extreme belief of restoring population equilibrium between men and animals due to the Earth’s unsustainable population. Its slogans include "Save The Planet, Kill Yourself" and "Eat a Queer Fetus for Jesus."
Started in 1973, the Symbionese Liberation Army was an American terrorist organization that was active for just two years. The group committed several crimes and cruel acts of violence, including the kidnapping of heiress Patricia Hearst, who accused them of sexual assault and brainwashing.
The Jihadist terrorist organization Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. From suicide bombings to militant attacks and other means of radicalization, Boko Haram killed thousands of people in order to "purify" Islam in northern Nigeria.
The Creativity Movement highlights the supposed creative superiority of the white race. The group was formed in 1973, and in 1987 its founder Ben Klassen released a statement that the cult is on a mission for a racial holy war. He describes other races as being inferior, with the cult’s biggest opponent being the Jewish people.
The Church of Bible Understanding was founded in 1971 by Stewart Traill. It follows a strict Christianity protocol, and at one point, it boasted more than 10,000 members. Some of the ex-members came forward saying they were employed by the church, but all their wages went to the organization. Its leader soon became a millionaire.
Founded only in 1993, Chen Tao’s leader Hon-Ming Chen believed in spiritual energy and its intervention in the current world. The cult’s members believed that the world was dominated by evil spirits and only its leader was able to take them to true salvation.
The Raelism movement is a UFO religion, believing that aliens are roaming the planet in disguise. Its founder, Claude Vorilhon, claims that he is the only person who ever got in contact with alien scientists who, according to the cult, created all life on Earth.
Bikram yoga may be practiced in plenty of cities around the world, but the true story behind it is a bit scary. Many original practitioners have reported that the yoga phenomenon’s founder Bikram Choudhury thought of himself as a god that could provide health and happiness to the people.
This cult once had a YouTube channel through which it preached its belief in exorcising demonic life out of non-cult members. The charismatic leader, Bernard Poolman, was able to convince his followers that they could be unprogrammed from typical societal beliefs.
This Illinois-based satanic cult might’ve been much smaller than others on our list (consisting of only four members), but it was involved in several violent crimes, many of which included kidnapping and murdering women. The satanic rituals involved murder and amputation of the women’s breasts.
Once known as the Dignity Colony, this organization was located in a remote area of central Chile. The cult-like organization featured more than 300 German and Chilean residents who made the area their home. The group’s leader, Paul Schäfer, was previously accused of child molestation, but the cult itself was reported as harmless.
The cult of Eckankar is a form of Hinduism, its leader being an ex-staff member of the one and only Church of Scientology. Founded in 1965 by Paul Twitchell — Scientology alumni and one of the first to reach "clear" status — Eckankar quickly became a popular organization, attracting tens of thousands of followers.