This article was originally written during the 1990's when destructive religious cults were a major concern in North America and elsewhere. These groups have since become much less of a problem.
We define Doomsday/Destructive/Apocalyptic cults to be religiously based,
very high intensity, controlling groups that have caused or are liable to cause loss of
life among their membership or the general public.
It is important to realize that out of the tens of thousands of new
religious groups worldwide, only a very few meet these criteria.
We do not include terrorist groups in the above definition, because their
goals are primarily political, not religious. However, groups like Al Qaeda
(The Source) and ISIS do have some points of similarities with destructive religious
What is behind the death of members of destructive cults?
No consensus exists concerning the motivation for the loss of life
within this handful of cults:
Some in the Anti-Cult Movement claim that much
of this loss of life among cult members was the result of mass
suicides ordered by the group leadership. That opinion fits well with
their now-discredited belief that cult memberships have been the
victims of mind control techniques. Having little self-will, they have
been willing to follow any order from the leadership -- even one
leading to self destruction.
The loss of life by the Heaven's Gate membership was
definitely a suicide. The members were convinced that they would be
transported, at death, to a space ship where they would evolve to a
higher level of existence. There is overwhelming hard evidence
that all of the deaths within the Ugandan Movement for the
Restoration..., and many of the Solar Temple deaths were
actually murders to cover financial fraud by the leadership. This may have been the motivation for the Jeffrey Lundgren murders as
well. All of the Branch Davidian victims appear to have been
murdered by their leaders -- either by being shot or as a result of
the arson-set fire. Many, perhaps most, of the People's Temple victims were also murdered. Details are sketchy because of the
advanced state of decomposition of the bodies when investigators
These do not fit the mold of the destructive cults listed above. However,
they do preach hatred of gays, lesbians, African-Americans, communists and other
minorities. Even though the group may preach non-violence, their message of hate
appears to inspire some of their members to commit murders and serious terrorist