Do you know what the creepiest part of the Heaven’s Gate cult was in my opinion? It wasn’t the worship of a spaceship that didn’t exist (Lewis Black, the Angry Comic had fun with that one), it wasn’t the way the women were forced to look gender neutral so as not to incite the men’s lust, it wasn’t forced celibacy. It was the mass suicide of all its members at the end of its existence. Unlike Jonestown, the Heaven’s Gate suicides appeared to be true suicides and not murder. We know Jonestown involved murder because of gunshots to the heads of members who tried to run away….wonderful. A real charmer that Jones. Anyway. HG was an American UFO religion doomsday cult based in San Diego, California, founded in the early 1970s and led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles. I don’t like the sound of military involvement already. What, you may ask, is a UFO religion? Here is the formal definition: A UFO religion is one where extraterrestrial (ET) entities operating unidentified flying objects (UFOs) are an element of belief. Here is mine: Vulnerable whack-jobs who missed the memo that Stephen King’s E.T. was fiction, not fact.
There is actually a long and self-conflicting history of UFO religion, which took hold of many countries worldwide (including Canada, Britain, Japan and the U.S.), around 1950. It has its roots in early science fiction (see?…fiction, not fact), and weird sci-fi fiction writings (are there any non-weird sci fi writings?), in ufology, (there’s such a word?), and in the subculture of UFO sightings and alien abduction stories. Raelism is the largest UFO religion in the world. Invert the letters a and e In Raelism and you have Realism. Seriously? Perhaps it means these people are realistically insane. Some adherents believe the arrival of alien civilizations will enable us to overcome ecological, spiritual and social problems, such as hatred, war, bigotry, poverty. In October 1996, HG purchased alien abduction insurance to cover up to 50 members at a cost of $10,000.
Consider the Nation of Islam (NOI), a religious movement founded in Detroit, Michigan by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in July 1930. NOI’s goals are to “improve” the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of African-Americans in the United States and all of humanity. Its critics accuse it of being black supremacist and antisemitic. Small wonder: when Malcolm X was leader of the Nation of Islam, he preached that black people were superior to white people, but were dominated by a system of white supremacy. NOI itself attempts to teach from the perspective that 85% of the world population are the “deaf, dumb and blind” masses of the people who “are easily led in the wrong direction and hard to lead in the right direction”. How enlightening and heart-warming. Their information comes from the Mother Plane or Wheel, a UFO that was described in the visions of the prophet Ezekiel in the “Book of Ezekiel“, in the Hebrew Bible. After a decade, when Malcom X experienced conflict with Nation of Islam head Elijah Muhammad he left NOI in March 1964. In February 1965, less than a year after leaving, he was assassinated by three members of the group. Let’s examine these facts (not fiction): NOI is going to “improve” the spiritual and mental condition of African-Americans, and in so doing killed one of its African-American former leaders. Perfectly rational mentality, that.
Back to unlocking Heaven’s Gate. Applewhite grew paranoid that he was being persecuted by people outside the cult, and the cult ceased all contact with friends and family. Fortunately, many members dropped out and went in search of their families. They were the lucky ones. As the cult became more secluded, androgyny became the norm for women. The women didn’t wear dresses, make-up or jewelry, and wore baggy shirts and slacks. They were decidedly unattractive and it was easy to mistake them for men. Seven of the male members of the group, including Applewhite, voluntarily underwent castration in Mexico as an extreme means of maintaining an ascetic lifestyle.”The “students” allowed themselves to be videotaped “before we leave.” They were remarkably calm and espoused the wisdom and peace they’d acquired from the cult. They joked and giggled. It was as though they were kids at a campground and were heading home safely when the weekend ended. They beamed and insisted they were “going home.” Some cult members proudly revealed they had been members for 21 years and more. The Day After the mass suicide, a media storm began, transmitting the sad information to the public as an example of cult suicide. “They took the poison and went to sleep, never to wake up,” one reporter stated.
39 women and men, known as students of HG, were discovered lifeless inside the Gate’s compound. It was apparent that not all of the members had committed suicide at the same time; some bodies were more decomposed than ever. Ugh. They were discovered on Wednesday, and the coroner’s guess was that some of the suicides were on Sunday and some were on Tuesday, and some in between. Fifteen members died on March 24, fifteen more on March 25, and nine on March 26. Leader Applewhite was the third to last member to die; two women remained after him and were the only ones found without bags over their heads The scene was videotaped. It was eerily quiet. The members ate pudding mixed with phenobarbital, pineapple, and washed down with vodka. Additionally, they secured plastic bags around their heads after ingesting the mix to induce asphyxiation.
Bodies lay beneath purple shrouds (an HG theme colour, as it were), some in single beds, some in bunk beds. Each member carried a five-dollar bill and three quarters in their pockets for interplanetary toll. All 39 were dressed in identical black shirts and sweat pants, brand new black-and-white Nike Decades athletic shoes, and armband patches reading “Heaven’s Gate Away Team,”; the graduation uniforms the members had purchased. A homicide investigator stated “the entire scene was so surreal…[it was as though] they are all sleeping, because that’s what it looked like.” It was a wake without visitors and family (except those in the cult). The scene is reminiscent of the lyrics to the Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby, who died and was buried along with her name…nobody came. I doubt the spacecraft came for HG’s members. Some former members commented on the suicides. Some believed the cultists had indeed “graduated.” Others were stunned with disbelief and grief.
Survivors of the deceased were baffled, not just by the deaths, but the recruitment itself. They didn’t understand why their loved one, a sibling, a child, a parent, would fall under the influence of this bizarre cult. One woman, upon receiving a phone call from the coroner’s office and whose son was recruited into the club, stated, “I knew that all hope was lost.” A young woman, Gail, was only 30 when she died. Her parents commented they didn’t recognize her in her good-bye video. “That wasn’t our Gail,” they insisted. “That was one suicide and 38 murders.”