Notorious Cult Leaders Throughout History

Throughout history, various charismatic and narcissistic leaders have risen to ranks of influential power, for better and for worse…


Jim Jones



American cult leader James Warren Jones was the founder of the religious cult of the Peoples Temple during the 1950s in Indiana.  He was also responsible for the mass murder and suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978, one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in America. Over 900 civilians were killed in a single event after drinking poison that he urged them to drink.



Gwen Shamblin



Sixty-three year old Gwen Shamblin is American Christian non-fiction author. She is also the founder of the Weigh Down Workshop, as well as the Remnant Fellowship Church. Gwen is best known for her writing that combines both religion and weight loss.  She has sold more than a million copies of her book and has a huge following.


Asaram Bapu



Asaram Bapu is a religious leader in India who began to get a following back in the 1970s. Over time, he established more than 400 ashrams throughout India, as well as abroad and has become popular among many politicians.  He is currently in prison for rape and murder with a life sentence.



Brigitte Boisselier



Brigitte Boisselier is a French chemist with two PhD’s.  In addition, she is also a religious leader. She is best known for her claim to have overseen the first human clone.  Brigitte has devoted herself to lecturing about Clonaid and being their spokesperson.


Charles Manson


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Charles Manson was both an American cult leader, as well as criminal, which he is most well-known for, becoming basically an icon of evil. In the 1960s, he formed the Manson Family in California. His followers helped him commit an entire nine murders and four different locations in 1969.  He died in November of 2017 after a long period spent in prison.



Aimee Semple McPherson


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Aimee Semple McPherson, best known as simply Sister Aimee was a Canadian-American Pentecostal evangelist as well as celebrity in the late 1920s and early 1930s. She was most recognized for founding Foursquare Church. She died in September 1944 of an accidental drug overdose.


Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh


This Indian guru and singer founded the Dera Sacha Sauda sect in 1990. He had such a strong influence and following, that once he was sentenced to prison for raping two of his followers, it led to fatal clashes in Haryana.  Close to 30 supporters were killed during the protests.



David Koresh


David Koresh was the leader of the Branch Davidians. Together with his followers, they built an ”Army of God” by stocking up on weapons as part of preparation plan for the Apocalypse. In February of 1993, his house was raided which resulted in a fatal standoff against the FBI that lasted an entire fifty-one days. The standoff was also against the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Koresh shot himself dead.


Shoko Ashara


Shoko Ashara was born to a very poor family in Japan and was half blind. In 1987, he found his own religious enlightenment and formed his own cult, Aum Shinrikyo. The group had gained almost 10,000 followers by the 1990s.  In 2004, he was convicted of running a gas attack that killed 13, and injured thousands more. Shoko was sentenced to the death penalty.



Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh


This cult leader was seen as a spiritual leader, and was known for his technique of dynamic meditation, as well as for his Rolls-Royce collection. He brought thousands of his devoted followers to the small town of Antelope, Oregon in the 1980s, where they became the victims of criminal activities such as mass poisonings and attempted murder. 


Roch Thériault


Canadian cult leader Roch was known for his accounts of sexual assault, and for both psychological and physical violence towards children and women. Furthermore, he is also known to have performed various operations while drunk and untrained to perform such procedures.  He was given a life sentence in 1993 and was then murdered by a fellow prisoner in 2011. 



Bikram Choudhury


Bikram Choudhury is followed by thousand of people, whether they know it or not. He is the man behind Bikram yoga. Most of us don’t realize, but he is also viewed as a cult leader, and has been accused of sexually assaulting several of his former students. He is no longer head of the company that holds his name, and he has been arrested.


Warren Jeffs


Warren Jeffs, a well known polygamist, was the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This was a group that was understood to be white supremacist, anti-state, and homophobic. Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for sexually abusing underaged children, and assisting in rape.  



Swami Premananda


Swami was a Sri Lankan Guru who made his way to India in order to start a spiritual movement.  He started an ashram which provided housing for refugees during the Sri Lankan war, including many young orphans as part of a humanitarian effort. That is until one of the girls ran away and revealed that he had both raped and impregnated her. It was then discovered that 13 of the girls at his ashram were being used at his sex slaves, and one was murdered for threatening to reveal his crimes.


Valentina de Andrade


This Brazilian cult leader ran the cult ”Lineamiento Universal Superior”. Valentina taught a combination of alien message UFO fanaticism, with fringe Christianity and new-age psychic theosophy. It was revealed in the 1990s that she had been kidnapping young boys in order to castrate, mutilate and then murder them.  She then sold their organs on the black market.



Yahweh Ben Yahweh


Yahweh was the leader of a black-supremacist cult in the United States. It was known as the ”Nation of Yahweh” and claimed that Jesus was in fact black, as well as the other major characters in the Bible. His movement gained an impressive following where it was based in Miami, but as it turns out, in order to reach the highest level of the cult, one was required to murder a white person and provide proof with a body part. He was charged for 14 murders and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.


Ervil Lebarnon


Lebaron was the leader a breakaway Mormon Polygamist act, having 13 wives, several of which were underage. Ervil wasn’t initially supposed to be the prophet of his church, his older brother was intended to be given the role, however Ervil murdered him. He also arranged for the murders of any member that tried to leave his cult, killing his own teenage daugther while she was pregnant. After hiding in Mexico, he was eventually found and sentenced to life in prison. 




Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi



This woman is a spiritual leader who represents the face of a modern day cult, that is structed somewhat similar to Scientology. She seems innocent, however she has been criticized for disrupting families and brainwashing her members. Followers devote their time to promoting her, as well as to break off ties with their families.


Marshall Applewhite


Applewhite was the founder of the rather strange ”Heavens Gate” cult. This cult was one of the first computer cults, with teaching that were based on a mixture of UFO mysticism, theosophy and Christianity, claiming to be the reincarnated Jesus.  He demanded from his followers that they remain asexual, and that his male followers castrate themselves. The group, together with Applewhite committed mass suicide through overdose, with a death toll of 38. 




Joseph Di Mambro & Luc Jouret



Di Mambro and Jouret together were in the founders of a cult called the Order of the Solar Temple based in Switzerland, as well as in other parts of Europe and in the French speaking areas of Canada. Their practices were similar to those of Masonic groups and would dress up as templar knights and would wear a sword.  The group murdered in a ritual ceremony the baby son of one of their group members in Quebec, claiming it was the incarnation of the anti-Christ. They killed many other members with a death toll of nearly 90 people. 


Credonia Mwerinde


Credonia was a Ugandan woman who worked as a prostitue before founding the ”Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God”, claiming that Virgin Mary had told her to start a cult.  She managed to gain quite the following, with nearly 5000 people at the peak. Members were expected to sell everything they owned and give all of their fortune to the cult. Anyone who criticized the cult was killed, and those that did not meet her expectations were beat for their sins.  On January 1st, 2000, after claiming that the apocalypse would come, and then it didn’t, members wanted their money back. She called them in for a meeting in the church and set fire to the building, killing 738 people. 




David Berg


In 1968 David ”Moses” Berg founded a communist Christian cult in California called ”Children of God”. He had a very sex-centered view of how to spread Jesus’s beliefs, with a tactic called ‘flirty fishing’ in which he would use women to lure in members by having sex with them, as well as having sex with children. It was not only permitted in his cult, but was seen as a divine right. The group has changed its name on various occasions, and still exists today, however no longer permits sex with children. 


Chris Korda


Chris Korda is the main founder of the Church of Euthanasia, a cult that believes that the world is highly overpopulated. Their group is centered around the idea that humans should no longer recreate, and encourages people to have abortions, as well as commit suicide and perform euthanasia.  Many members of the cult support the idea of cannibalism of the dead.





Raelism began during a variety of conventions hosted in France before it became official in 1976 by a man named Rael. Members of this cult believe in extraterrestrials and that they genetically engineered humanity thousands of years ago. They believe that they represented through figures such Jesus and Buddha. Although this cult is not technically considered dangerous, Rael does the power to order someone’s death. 


Hayagriva Swami


The New Mathura Vrindaban group is a branch of the well known Hare Krishna. It was founded in 1968 by Hayagriva and Kirtananada Swami. The group became famous for a variety of multi-million dollar schemes, as well as fraud and illegal sales of material that had been copyrighted.  With the money they earned illegally, they can managed to expand their cult throughout the United States. 




Ching Hai


Ching Hai is often seen in pictures with a glowing light behind her, and has nearly 500,000 followers across the globe who admire her for having founded the Quan Yin Method, a meditation cult that promotes inner peace and light.  It sounds harmless, however Ching has made this a serious financial venture, starting restaurants, clothing and jewelry lines, as well as CDs and books. 


Sun Myung Moon


Sun Myung Moon is a self proclaimed Messiah that claims that Jesus appointed him to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. It has been found that at least 400 members of his church have been abducted by their family members in order to through a process of ”deprogramming”. The church however, denies all claims of having brainwashed its members.





Those who follow the practice of Jasmuheen, an Australian woman who chose to rename herself with this unique name are in serious dangerous.  Her cult is based on the belief that humans can survive without food. It is also very financially draining as they constantly request payments to be a part of the group. Several deaths have been reported due to members trying to live off of mere sunlight.


Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo


Adolfo was a Cuban-American serial killer, as well as drug dealer in the 1980s. He also happened to be the cult leader of a religious gang that the media referred to as the ”Narcosatansists”. Together with his cult, they would perform ritual murders. 




Pyotr Kuznetsov



Pyotr was the leader of a group that broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church. The members rejected any processed foods, and believe that bar codes are holy symbols.  In November 2007, approximately 30 members locked themselves up in a cave and threatened to commit mass suicide if authorities tried to step in.