12 Disturbing and Notorious Cults That Are Still Active Today

One might suggest that each religion bears resemblance to a cult, yet the key differentiation is that cults operate as social movements, distinct from the essence of their religious beliefs. While it’s acknowledged that not every cult is harmful, there are notorious examples that have been recognized for their alarming behavior. This overview focuses on active cults infamous for their brutality and malevolence, as revealed by testimonies from ex-members and through the exposure of their actions.

1. Congregation for the Light

This doomsday cult, formed in the 60s, is also known as Manhattan’s Secret Cult. The followers believe they descended from a “master Aryan race” on Atlantis and that humans once lived on the Moon. So, what makes this cult in the heart of NYC so dangerous besides rhetoric? According to former members, the Earth’s end is coming, though the same has been said since the 60s. The group allegedly supports corporal punishment and bans homosexuality, women are denied high education, and members remember their past lives. 

2. Raëlism

Raël, aka Claude Vorilhon, founded the group in France after claiming that aliens told him they created all human life on Earth. He was later invited to visit the aliens on their planet. In the ’90s, the French parliament classified it as a cult. The cult, the subject of Netlifx’s “Raël: The Alien Prophet,” covers most of the alleged controversies from human clones and sex slaves to angel ancestors and extraterrestrial encounters. Le Parisien reported in 2016 that two members were found guilty of “systematically corrupting teenage girls.” Though perceived as a UFO cult, the group’s activities regarding “sexual freedom” and the alleged use of the swastika are what make this group dangerous and highly controversial. 

3. Unification Church

In 2023, Japan asked a court to order the dissolution of the Unification Church branch in Japan after the assassination of ex-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July 2022. The church, started in Japan by Sun Myung Moon, has a strong anti-LGBT stance and close ties to political powerhouses. The Unification Church became known worldwide for mass weddings. In the early 2000s, a former member accused the group of using manipulative techniques to recruit unsuspecting members. The Unification Church has about 100,000 members in the US and around 3 million across the world. 

4. Twelve Tribes

Twelve Tribes also has a presence worldwide. The group was formed from the “Jesus movement,” which started in the 70s and was led by Elbert Spriggs, aka Yoneq. This Christian fundamentalist sect was accused of child abuse and child labor, among other things. The group is also against “homosexual behavior,” though the most concerning were allegations of sexual exploitation of children. The Denver Post reported that children’s education is neglected because they start working in factories as early as 13. The same 2022 report said, “New members must sign over ownership of all of their possessions to the group’s limited liability companies.”

5. Church Of Bible Understanding

The leaders of this group were accused of brainwashing and micromanaging the lives of their members. Former member James LaRue spoke to the press about his experience, saying that the organization is a cult and explaining that members lived “a life of poverty and obedience” while donating massive amounts to the church. The church started several legitimate businesses and inspired the Sunshine Carpet Cleaners from “Seinfeld.”

6. The Nuwaubian Nation

The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors hails from New York. It was moved to Georgia, and its founder, Dwight York A.KA. Malachi Z. York, instructed followers to surrender their material possessions and even raise money to avoid physical punishment. York’s foundations were based on beliefs that Black people were the original people on the Earth, which can be traced back to Egypt, and that Black people should be called Moors. York was charged with 209 counts of sexual abuse, child molestation, and more. While this cult almost dissolved two decades ago, there are still active members in parts of Georgia.  

7. Kashi Ashram

Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati founded Kashi Ashram in Florida in the early 70s. The organization’s initial focus was on spiritual service-oriented endeavors, but among the allegations against the founder and the organization were emotional and physical assaults, substance abuse, and the promotion of cult-like practices. Ma Jaya passed away in 2012, but the group still exists, and that’s despite former members’ allegations of beatings, psychological control, kidnapping, and sexual assaults. 

8. The Family International or The Children of God

The Children of God started in 1968, and though the name changed throughout the decades, the controversies remained. This Christian New Religious Movement began in California and reportedly gathered teen runaways. The late actor River Phoenix grew up in the Children of God and told Details Magazine in 1991 that he was four when he first had sex while part of the group. Many other former members spoke of child sexual abuse and physical abuse, with the leaders reportedly scamming people out of money because “the antichrist was coming so you didn’t have to save for retirement.” 

9. The Remnant Fellowship

Another organization that was the subject of several recent documentaries that caused people’s jaws to drop is still active, The Remnant Fellowship. This Christian organization allegedly promoted guru Gwen Shamblin’s weight-loss program, requiring members to eat up to ten bites daily. Shamblin, the leader, and her group were accused of many things, including urging parents to beat their children into submission and enforcing loyalty to the cause. The former leader infamously said, “Every time you reach for food, 15 to 20 times a day, run to God instead.” Her diet included turning away from the love of food and “toward a love of God.”

10. Branch Davidian

The apocalyptic group was founded in the 1950s  by Benjamin Roden. David Koresh took over leadership in the early 80s. In 1993, over 80 people, including at least 20 children, died in two confrontations between the feds and the Branch Davidian Christian sect near Waco, Texas. Koresh reportedly told his followers that God had sent him a “new light,” and they often included him seducing and abusing girls as young as 12. He allegedly said that he needed multiple wives because it was his duty to father 24 children who would help rule after the kingdom of God was re-established. Though in a smaller capacity, the cult still exists today in Texas. 

11. Heaven’s Gate

In 1997, in a San Diego mansion, the authorities recovered the remains of 39 members of Heaven’s Gate. This group’s beliefs were a mixture of evangelical Christianity, New Age practices, and extraterrestrial technology. The members wore uniforms, like they were in space, and shared elaborate conspiracy theories, including popularizing the so-called Deep State conspiracy. The cult began in the early 1970s, and though the group is pretty much over, there are reports of its online presence and teachers. 

12. The Nation of Yahweh

The Nation of Yahweh is classified as a Black supremacist cult. The movement’s goal was to move Black Americans, who they believed were the original Israelites, to Israel, claiming that the whites held “wicked powers.” The movement acknowledged Yahweh Ben Yahweh as the “Son of God.” The former members spoke about Yahweh’s violent nature and brainwashing, and one person even stated, “We were like the mafia.” Yahweh was convicted in 2001 of ordering his disciples to “kill for Yahweh” in 14 violent Miami crimes.

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