How Marshall Applewhite led Heaven’s Gate to a mass suicide
Cults are a crazy hole to fall down, whether you’ve actually joined one or if you’re just bored at 1am on Wikipedia. The things cults have ended up doing, whether we look at the Manson family murders, the Jonestown massacre, or the Heaven’s Gate suicides, are just mind-blowingly insane.
Those who joined Heaven’s Gate found themselves in a cult that not only was uber-religious, but also uber into believing aliens were real. Living a nomadic lifestyle, the group was led by Marshall Applewhite, a former music teacher with fantastic ideas he found himself needing to preach.
How to start a cult
His partner in madness was nurse Bonnie Nettles. The two met when Applewhite went to visit a friend at the hospital where Nettles worked. An instant connection was formed between the two, with Nettles saying their meeting had been foretold to her by aliens, and trying to encourage Applewhite that he had a divine assignment from them.
As they grew closer, they studied the King James bible, the life of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as some science fiction authors. By June of 1972, the couple had the base plan for their views set up, which would later be the foundation of Heaven’s Gate. As they went around to local churches to preach, they were met with poor reception.
From there, they knew they had to contact the aliens to prove their theory. Bringing together other like-minded individuals, they started to form the beginnings of the cult. But this was far from the beginning of their activities.
Disappearing without a trace
In 1975, the group had grown to about 80 members including Nettles and Applewhite, who were going by Do and Ti. The two preached earlier in the year that they were the two witnesses mentioned in the Book of Revelation, and they witnessed the end of time.
As the group grew bigger, the stunts they pulled grew bigger. In late 1975, the 80+ members gathered at a hotel in Oregon, and disappeared without a trace after selling their material goods and bidding family members goodbye. One of the first national reports on Heaven’s Gate was that night.
In reality, the group just moved underground. From there though, the group traveled across the country, sleeping in tents and panhandling on the streets of every town they went to. The group grew in numbers as they traveled from state to state.
Becoming “Heaven’s Gate”
By preaching that members could achieve a higher evolutionary power if they joined the group, Do and Ti having already reached it, the group found themselves shunned by Christians no matter where they went. Granted, that was more related to Do saying he’s Jesus reincarnated and saying Ti is God the Father.
The spiritual hippies of the ’80s were quick to latch on to the movement, as they felt there was more truth in Do and Ti’s movement that structured religion. The group progressively gained more momentum until Ti’s death in 1985. After Nettles passed away, Do started moving the group online, gaining the “cyberculture” reputation it has.
While recruiting was done heavily online, in-person members were much more reclusive and even broke away from the initial reputation of the group. Going by “Higher Power” as a business name, Heaven’s Gate pushed material that the upcoming Comet Hale-Bopp would bring salvation and was key in the group’s ascension into heaven.
Salvation in the wrong way
In 1996, the group started renting a large home in Rancho Santa Fe, Ca., while also buying alien abduction insurance. On March 19th, 1997, Do recorded a final speech speaking of mass suicide, saying he and his members needed to cross Heaven’s Gate before it closed when Comet Hale-Bopp came.
To show unity, each of the 38 members dressed in all black with Nike Decades shoes. Then, over three days, the members would kill themselves by eating pudding or applesauce mixed with phenobarbital, washed down with vodka, and then tie a plastic bag over their head to induce asphyxiation.
Once the member passed, a living member would position them nicely in their bed, and cover their head and chest with a purple cloth. With the exception of the last two members to die, all the members were found in the home like this. While it’s clear no aliens came to take their bodies after death, it’s still bizarre how they were able to believe such lunacy.
No matter what happens in life, there’s always someone who thinks they know how the world really works. Marshall Applewhite’s know-it-all moment left 38 dead, including himself. If you need a reason to not believe in aliens, take Heaven’s Gate as a great excuse not to.
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