When we think of cults, it’s hard not to create a stereotype in our heads of coitus-crazed adults running around in the nude with a solo cup filled to the brim with the proverbial kool-aid. But do you ever stop to think about what the kids have to deal with in these cults?
Sure, many of the adults were seeking some form of higher enlightenment and they were brainwashed into thinking that person or persons were going to give it to them, but at the end of the day, they made a choice. The children did not.
What if you weren’t given the opportunity to make that choice? What if this is the life you were born into? Surrounded by people who believed the cult leader was the second-coming or some beloved prophet who only spoke the truth, would you ever know that there were other options out there?
Would you want to know when finding out the truth meant also discovering that your entire dream childhood was actually an ongoing nightmare?
Every cult has a story and here are 15 stories of cults that brainwashed kids (or worse).
15 Lee Kaplan - Twelve Young Girls
Kaplan has been accused of leading a cult with 12 young girls as his followers. They believed him to be a prophet of God and Lee Kaplan physically abused the girls, impregnating the oldest one twice resulting in two young children. What makes this story even sicker? The girl's own parents offered her to Kaplan as thanks to him for helping them through a financial situation. The rest of their daughters soon followed resulting in his own small cult.
Growing up in an Amish community, the family always relied heavily on faith for the answers so when they met Kaplan, who they believed was a prophet, they quickly fell into step with his beliefs and expectations. Living in his home with him, the girls were kept close to Kaplan so that he could exert absolute control—a classic sign of a cult leader.
Being so young and coming from such a sheltered background, the girls did not recognize his behavior as being out of the ordinary—they just accepted that this was his will. He was arrested and convicted of all 17 charges including violation of a child and statutory physical assault.
14 Branch Davidians - No 'Brainwashing' Here
Perhaps one of the most notorious cults, the Branch Davidians were founded by David Koresh and stemmed from disaffected members of the Seventh Adventist church. Koresh made his followers wake up every day at 5:30 am and complete different physically extraneous drills without receiving any water. But what made this leader particularly evil? He allegedly abused underage girls, forcing them to have intercourse with him, including his own niece. If that weren’t enough, Koresh was also known for physically abusing babies until they would bleed.
Older children were also beaten by him for making small mistakes, like spilling a drink. The government got involved with the dismantling the cult and things escalated quickly, ultimately resulting in mass casualties, including the death of 23 children. A newer memoir has been released by one of the surviving members who claim that none of the followers were brainwashed. If that is true, and they knew the true horrors happening behind closed doors—let’s just hope that Karma has a turn.
13 People's Temple - Hundreds Of Children Lost Their Lives
If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “Don’t drink the kool-aid” comes from, then look no further than Jim Jones, founder and cult leader of the People’s Temple. A true leader who took the wrong path, Jones was as charismatic and idealistic as they come. Jones adopted many children throughout his time and forced them to partake in “Survival Training” which included such tasks as being dropped into the middle of the river and unable to change into dry clothes, despite the cold temperatures.
During his own teachings at the school, Jones would often describe his own physically inappropriate exploits in detail to the children, preaching to young boys the importance of constant masturbation. Many parents had to endure listening to their children give prepared speeches which accused their parents of violation or other heinous crimes. Once the compound was under siege, the members were forced to drink the cyanide laced kool-aid and it has been reported that 304 children died.
12 The Children Of God - Bred Celebrities
Founded by David Berg, The Children of God was a cult founded on socialistic principles based on free-love and pure morality. Many celebrities grew up in this cult—their childhoods completely cut off from the rest of the world. No television or newspaper, no contact with any people outside of the cult. Some of these celebrities include Rose McGowan, Joaquin Phoenix, and River Phoenix, Susan Cagle and Chistopher Owen. Once the cult began to advocate free-love among members including physical relationships between adults and children, some members disaffected, but many others chose to stay.
The group’s manual, The Book of Davidito, included physical relationships between children and adults as a commandment. Women in the group would groom the younger girls and prepare them for physical interactions with Berg. Probably the scariest cult on this list because the group’s newest leader has gone into hiding leaving the fate of many children unwritten.
11 The Family - Can Never Be Dismantled
Leader Anne-Hamilton Byrne, a yoga teacher to some, a malicious cult leader to many others. She believed herself to be the female reincarnation of Christ. Founded in Australia, this cult had over 28 children, some of who were born into the cult and others who had been kidnapped and forced to be members. Any biological mothers who gave birth to her child in the cult was drugged and forced to sign adoption papers, signing the child over to Anne.
Many of them were injected with LSD as a part of the initiation process. The children grew up believing that Anne and Bill were there parents. They were isolated from the outside world and homeschooled to have full control over what the children would learn.
She believed that the world was about to perish and she wanted to educate those who she deemed worthy of survival. The children lived apart from the adult cult members in their own campgrounds and were subjected to abuse from the older women called “Aunties”. Her objective was to build the ideal race through the children, forcing them to undergo physical, emotional, and mental turmoil. The Family still exists in parts of the world today.
10 Moral Re-Armament - Repressing The Darkness
Led by Reverend Frank Buchman, this cult may be one of the lesser-recognized one on this list. However, famous actress Glenn Close recently opened up to reporters about her own childhood in this cult after her father joined the movement. Her family remained active participants in the cult for fifteen years where they had to live in closed in community centers. She has mentioned that the cult demands its members to dedicate every aspect of their being to their purpose, from the clothes they wear to the words they say.
Close described her emotional and mental abuse brought on by severe isolation from the outside world, repression of any “unnatural desires” and how she felt unable to trust her owns thoughts and beliefs because of the years she spent being taught how to think and feel. Eventually she was able to cut ties from the cult and find forgiveness for her father, but the scars she has from the cult still live on.
9 Church Of Scientology - Growing Up In Isolation
Possibly one of the most outwardly criticized cults, the Church of Scientology has received a lot of bad press especially after famed actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta acted according to the church’s laws which ended up severely hurting their careers and affecting their personal lives. This “religion” was founded by science fiction author, L. Ron Hubbard. One of the more well-known practices is called “sec checking” or security checking where a person is subjected to a lengthy interrogation, forced to answer an extensive list of questions such as: "What has someone told you not to tell?" Or, "have you ever been ashamed of your mother or father?" —and there is no age limit to this interrogation.
Children as young as 6 years old are often subjected to this practice. What might give reason for a child to undergo this process? Something as normal or ordinary as having a temper tantrum. Some children undergo severe isolation, only allowed to see their own parents at certain times during the day. Most children are forced to leave school at a young age to join the Staff and work lowly jobs for little to no pay.
8 Skymont Subud - It Wan An 'Honor'
Started in Indonesia, this cult’s founder, Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, combined Islam, Christianity, and Judaism into a new religion aimed at achieving a unique method of corresponding with God. Families flocked from all over to practice his teachings including the Arquette’s, parents of famous actors Patricia and David Arquette. Suffering from severe drug addiction, the parents turned to religion to help them heal and offer them a better way of life. They lived in seclusion in an isolated commune in Virginia and lived without electricity and running water. Although the mildest cult on this list as members were allowed to come and go, one still has to wonder about the effect of these environmental conditions on the children who grew up there.
Individuals used to actively seek out the commune in search of spiritual guidance. Today however, there is very little left of the commune. From the roadside, all that can be seen is a lonely chimney where there once used to be a lodge that could house and feed hundreds of people.
7 R. Kelly - Kidnapping And Brainwashing
Say what? We all know that R. Kelly has a rocky past when it comes to accusations held against him regarding inappropriate physical relations with younger women, but a cult? So, it seems. As of July 2017, parents have come forward accusing of the famed rapper of holding their daughters against their will in his own cult. These parents claim that Kelly met their daughter and started a relationship with her based on the idea that he would help her advance in her music career.
They now claim that he has brainwashed her and is holding her against her will. Three other women have come forward and admitted that they underwent similar treatment from Kelly as he puts the women up in his own apartments and controls every aspect of their lives from what they wear to what they eat and where they go. Many accuse him of being a master at brainwashing and mind control, but what do you think? Does this rapper belong on this list?
6 Nuwaubian Cult - Kids Served Up On Silver Platter
The Nuwaubians have a unique cluster of beliefs which range from black supremacy, and worship of the Egyptians to a belief in UFOs. Where do these connect? You’ve got me. Despite its convoluted theology and belief system, one thing is easily recognized—the leader of the cult, Dwight York—took advantage of his members and their children. He now faces over 135 years in prison on counts of molesting children among other heinous crimes.
Children as young as 6 years old were groomed and sent to his retreat known as Camp Jazzir for pleasure. Some of the older women in the cult would show the children [explicit images and videos] and provide instruction to prepare them for their intercourse with York. While York has been convicted, his followers continue to plead for his release.
5 Moonies - Tearing Apart Families For Power
When we speak about a master manipulator, Reverend Sun Myung Moon should spring to the top of the list. Believed to be Jesus Christ incarnate by his followers, Moon started what is known as the Unification Church, but his followers are called Moonies as a derogatory term. Moon started manipulating his followers at a very young age if possible, by separating them from their parents. The children would be sent to many different countries throughout their lives and would have many different caretakers—unable to create any attachments, not even with their own parents.
Thus, they came to rely on Moon as their true guardian. Many children were denied proper medical treatment when necessary and they were told to pray harder to be fully healed. Children were made to watch bizarre and violent practices such as the pre-wedding ritual where the bride and groom would beat each other with bats to rid themselves of every evil. Through his constant preaching, Moon brainwashed his followers into believing every word he said was the truth—especially for the children. Although he has passed away, Moon still has some loyal followers to this day.
4 Warren Jeffs - Unrelenting Control Over His Victims
Leader of the polygamist sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Warren Jeffs faced a conviction in 2011 for the violation and assault of underage girls. Jeffs inherited this group from his father after he passed away but he proved himself to be a vindictive and manipulative leader. He faced his original conviction in 2007 for arranging marriages between his followers and girls who were underage, but this sentence was overturned.
Jeffs controlled every aspect of his follower’s lives including what to eat, what to wear, and who to marry. In 2011, after a raid resulted in evidence of assault on underage girls, Jeffs was convicted and sent to prison. Counts of violation, assault and accusations from children claiming physical misconduct including his own nephew, Brent Jeffs, eventually led to Jeffs landing on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Girls as young as 12 years old were forced to have intercourse with him and to become part of his collection of wives. Although he is now in prison, many believe that he still has control over his followers as the leader of the church.
3 Twelve Tribes - Three Thousand Members And Counting
Founded by Elbert “Gene” Spriggs, the Twelve Tribes has isolated communes scattered around the world which houses its over 3,000 members. The group’s leader advocated radical views including the theory that all blacks were destined for slavery and that homosexual persons should be sentenced to death. Spriggs also promoted a culture where violence against children was not only allowed but expected as a means of offering discipline and structure. Children were punished for activities such as playing pretend or acting out different fantasies.
A German documentary captured over 50 beatings which were so brutal, the German government intervened to rescue the children. The group provides a Child Training Manual which dictates that “the rod must be used” when correcting a child’s behavior. Although many members dispute these allegations, ex-members have come forward over time confirming these claims.
2 Colonia Diginidad - Escape Was Not An Option
Originally established in Chile as a community for Germans to gather and celebrate their language and culture in a post-nazi world, Paul Schaefer stepped in and made it something much, much different—for the worse. Colonia Diginidad was purposefully ignored by Chilean president, Augusto Pinochet, as part of a deal Schaefer struck where he would take in and imprison dissenters in exchange for the president to turn his eye on what was going on - and what was going on is stuff for nightmares.
Members of the colony would adopt children from local villages, making sure that Schaeffer had an endless supply of victims. Children were repeatedly forced to take sedatives to calm down and follow orders. His rule was law and anyone who tried to escape the colony was either tracked down by dogs or shot on sight by the guards in watch towers. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for physically abusing and violating 25 children. This cult has inspired the new Emma Watson film, Colonia, where they hope to capture the true atrocities of the compound.
1 Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps In Fence Lake
Peter Green who oversaw the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps in Fence Lake located in New Mexico, faced 100 charges of criminal penetration of a child according to People.com. The religious group was founded by his mother-in-law, Deborah Green, who many believed was an oracle or prophet of God. The pair of them adopted a young girl from Uganda who told authorities that they treated her as though she were a slave, forcing her to sleep on the floor, to go without food or water, and underwent multiple counts of molestation and violation from her adoptive parents. At this point, it is not certain what the fate will be for the leaders of this cult.
Sources: Moviepilot.com; Daily News; Metro; Variety.com; Lermanet; Rolling Stone; Top Ten Topia; People.com; Patch.com; Daily Mail; Jonestown; CBS News; Buzzfeed; SPL Center; Cult education; The Daily Beast