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Had anyone heard of "Heaven's Gate" before?
Yes, since the 1970s, under various names including "The Two."

*A list of books, some academic discussion, and historic tidbits about this group.
Why didn't anyone do anything?
Several reasons:

This small group dropped out of the news after their initial publicity splash predicting UFO arrivals;

To our knowledge there were no reports of abuse to authorities (although there may or may not have been abuse beyond the reported castrations);

Tragically, there are too many cultic groups in the US for any watchdog organization or government agency to track them all -- particularly since the Church of Scientology helped destroy the Cult Awareness Network (CAN).

In this country, we balance the freedoms of choice and belief against threats to individual life and wellbeing. Clearly mistakes have been made at Jonestown, Waco, Heaven's Gate, and other less well-publicized tragedies.

What's with the $5 in their pockets?
Two mysteries about the Heaven's Gate cult members -- the $5 bills they carried in their pockets and their warehouse of weapons -- had to do with their fear of police, the man who found their bodies said.

Members began carrying money and identification at all times after one was accused by police of vagrancy, Rio DiAngelo told Newsweek.

He also said cult leader Marshall Herff Applewhite was frightened by the 1993 police siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and thought the FBI was stalking his group.

Why did they commit suicide?
Their stated purpose was the fulfillment of their "mission." Perhaps. But past experience shows that cult leaders inspire mass suicide when they feel their power is threatened. We suspect that it will shortly be discovered that "Do" believed he was dying.

Is this the worst cult in US history?
By no means.

Judging by deaths alone, the 900 suicides and murders at Jonestown in 1978 completely overshadow Heaven's Gate.

Although horribly tragic, death is only one way to measure the toll of cults.

Waco scarred our national consciousness in unexpected ways, contributing to the Oklahoma City Bombing and other crises. And although relatively few deaths have been alleged against large groups like the Moonies, Scientology, and Transcendental Meditation, it is impossible to measure the human tragedy that thousands of their members report experiencing in psychological scarring, as well as loss of career, family, and money.
Will former members of other cults need emotional support?
Yes, some will.

Many former members have contacted us already experiencing great distress -- particularly while watching the videotapes of the Heaven's Gate victims. "I'm so creeped out. That could have been me, looking so blissed out all the time. I'm lucky I'm not the one sucking on phenobarbs and vodka."

Like post-traumatic stress disorder survivors, events like this can trigger depression, nightmares, even flashbacks for cult veterans. You would be an unusual individual if you didn't have strong reactions.

Talk about your feelings with those you trust. You may also want to seek out a support group, email support listserv, cult support organization, a counselor, physician, or crisis hotline.

It's important not to be alone, particularly if your feelings seem unmanageable or unusual.

Important Note: We do not recommend contacting the Cult Awareness Network, or CAN. An extraordinarily courageous and useful organization in the past, CAN was recently forced into bankruptcy with the help of the Church of Scientology, who now owns their records and mans their phones.

39 doesn't seem like many victims to me.
The reach of this group went much further than the 39 lives snuffed out.

We estimate that each victim had at least 5 nuclear family members wounded deeply -- not to count more distant family members. It's also apparent that Heaven's Gate, like most cults, had many times more former members and "fellow travelers" than actual members.

At the very least 1,000 to 2,000 Americans have been touched directly.

Tens of thousands more former members of other groups will have been retraumatized by this national event. Not to mention the perhaps millions of others who have been psychologically maimed to some degree by their participation in cults in the last 30 years.

Is this the first "high tech" cult on the Internet?
Not even close.

Frederick Lenz, alleged by former followers to be the cult leader "Zen Master Rama," has been teaching computer programming as a means of "spiritual development" for years. Another group that critics label a high-tech cult, Neo-Tech, has its own Usenet group. There are others.

Many, if not most, cults have a heavy Internet presence. Not only can they reach millions with their message cheaply -- without threat of rebuttal from a lively press -- people who use computers heavily may be isolated from human contact, one of the criteria for a successful recruitment.

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