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Saturday, 18 March, 2000, 20:28 GMT
When devotion means death
Waco compound in flames
The most dangerous cults believe the world will end in disaster
Superstitious dread about the end of the world is nothing new.

Some historians claim the first doom merchants were causing panic over 1,000 years ago, predicting calamities as the first millennium drew to a close.

The last decades of the 20th Century have seen similar predictions - charismatic leaders of cults convincing their followers that the world will end in sudden disaster.

Some of the more bizarre cults which were not prepared to wait for the final apocalypse, or which believed they had devised an escape route, have resorted to mass suicide.

Jungle nightmare

One of the most notorious examples is The People's Temple, founded by the Reverend Jim Jones in 1957.

Mass suicides
March 1997-San Diego: 39 Heaven's Gate followers poison themselves believing UFO would pick them up

Oct 1994-Switzerland: 48 Solar Temple members found burned in chalets

Oct 1993-Vietnam: 53 hill tribe villagers die using primitive weapons, led by blind man Ca Van Liem

Nov 1978-Guyana: 914 drink cynanide, led by Rev Jim Jones
Rev Jones considered himself the reincarnation of both Jesus and Lenin, and had visions of impending nuclear holocaust.

In 1977, he led his followers to Guyana, in South America, and created his dream community, named Jonestown, in the jungle.

Two years later - his utopia allegedly deteriorating into a nightmare - he ordered 638 adults and 276 children to drink juice laced with cyanide.

Those who resisted or tried to escape were shot, and Jones himself died from a bullet wound to the head.

Branch Davidians

David Koresh, a failed rock star turned doomsday prophet, lived with 80 of his followers in the Branch Davidian compound on the outskirts of Waco, Texas.

Some of the Branch Davidians were shot by the FBI
He preached a messianic gospel of sex, freedom and revolution and told his followers he was Jesus Christ.

In February 1993, federal agents tried to enter the compound, which resulted in a siege of the Davidians lasting 51 days.

It ended with the "fiery apocalypse" predicted by Koresh - the compound was stormed by the police and a fire broke out which killed 86 people inside.

An investigation into the cause of the blaze is still going on.

Solar Knights

The Order of the Solar Temple was founded in 1987 by Luc Jouret and Joseph di Mambro, after the two were expelled from another cult.

Its motto was "Money, Sex and Joy", and Jouret quickly attracted a large gathering of wealthy, professional followers.

Burnet Solar Temple chalet
The Solar Temple victims were found in a star-formation
The cult appeared to place great importance on the Sun - their fiery murder-suicides were meant to take members to a new world on the star 'Sirius'.

The Temple came to prominence when police found the charred bodies of 48 members in a farmhouse and three chalets in Switzerland, and several more in Canada.

Not all the deaths were voluntary; some of the victims had been shot or asphyxiated.

Jouret, 46, was amongst the dead.

More Solar Temple deaths were discovered in 1995 and 1997.

Alien Rescue

One of the most unusual mass suicides of the last decade was the Californian-based cult Heaven's Gate, who believed that a spaceship flying behind the Hale-Bopp comet was coming to pick them up.

Hale-Bopp comet
Heaven's Gate waited 22 years for Hale-Bopp
Thirty-nine members died in their mansion in San Diego after eating poisonous pudding or apple sauce, washed down with vodka.

The bodies were discovered lying in bunk beds covered in purple shrouds, each with a five-dollar bill in their pocket and a small suitcase beneath the bed.

Founders Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles wrote on the cult's website that in their suicide they were 'graduating' to a higher level of life.

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Uganda's death cults
Click on the stories below for more on Uganda's doomsday cult.
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When devotion means death
'Why I joined a cult'
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See also:

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Police swoop on Ugandan cult
18 Mar 00 | Africa
Cult tragedy in Uganda
23 Nov 99 | Africa
Ugandan millennium cult smashed
01 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's computers hit by cult fears
28 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
China hits out at sect
25 Oct 99 | Middle East
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13 Jul 99 | e-cyclopedia
Cult or religion: What's the difference?
09 Jan 99 | Europe
EU considers action on cults
05 Jan 99 | World
Cults: Worry ye not
27 Aug 99 | Americas
Koresh and the Waco siege
11 Jan 98 | Europe
Cult leader sent to jail
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