It comes as no surprise that cults in America and around the globe continue to exist and thrive in the dark - and not-so-dark - underbelly of society. Unlike cult activity in the past, which required in-person indoctrination and other recruitment methods, many enterprising leaders invest time and money in new communication methods. Cult recruitment videos emerged with the introduction of VHS camcorders, before following technological advancements into internet uploads and digital recordings to spread their beliefs far and wide.
Thanks to YouTube and the internet as a whole, plenty of cult videos exist for non-members to view for themselves. Some of these videos appear on active cult websites. These videos contain disturbing looks into both recruitment methods and members alike, providing brief, eerie glimpses into these secretive societies.
David Koresh - formerly named Vernon Howell - led the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX, from 1987 until a government siege in 1993. Koresh believed himself to be the Lamb referred to in scripture, and engaged in polygamy to create a new line of supposedly perfect children. He took teenage wives and preached the end times were rapidly approaching, leading the government to take notice of his community of well-armed followers.
In what many consider a botched operation, the FBI spent nearly two months attempting to obtain a surrender from the cult. On April 19, 1993, a fire began in the compound, leaving 80 cult members dead - including children and Koresh himself.
This video captures the members of the cult as the FBI campaign took place. Koresh took the opportunity to "break the ice" by introducing his family to the FBI when they asked for video from inside the Waco community. Perhaps the eeriest portion of the tape comes when Koresh addresses the camera directly to tell the FBI he wants them to stop aiming guns at the compound because of his wives and children. He asserts that he's willing to meet them to discuss things and have guns pointed at him, but no one else. Then, Koresh apologizes for the ATF agents who were previously shot and killed, before adding, "But, hey. God will have to sort them out, won't he?"
Referring to Children of God leader David Berg as "Dad," teenage girls - likely born into the cult - sing a song professing their fealty. When you realize the Children of God encouraged sex with minors, incest, and unbridled sexual activity, the video and the lyrics become more sinister.
The beginning features a confession that the teens have been "bad," and the rest of the song continually thanks Berg for loving and forgiving them for their transgressions. The girls and the boys behind them then promise to carry on their leader's crusade to uphold the teachings of the cult.
Jim Jones began the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis during the 1950s, focusing on combating racism and inequality of all kinds. Rumors of financial corruption and abuse of members led Jones to move his followers from the United States to Guyana, where they settled in the newly dubbed Jonestown. Jones exerted power over his multi-racial group of followers by sleeping with women and men, claiming paternity of children and assuming custody, and touting the settlement as a utopia.
Jones grew frustrated when members expressed a desire to leave the fold with visiting Congressperson Leo Ryan and later ordered a successful hit on the politician. On November 18, 1978, Jones forced the residents of his compound to drink Flavor Aid laced with cyanide, which killed more than 900 adults and children. Jones himself died of a gunshot wound to the head.
This video shows followers referring to Jones as "Father" and expounding on the positive aspects of their life within the cult. Each speaker talks of Father's love and how great it feels to live in Jonestown, while reiterating they would never think of defecting back to the United States. One woman even claims Jones performed a miracle on her, saving her life.
According to Heaven's Gate's still-live website, aliens arrived on Earth in the 1970s and placed themselves inside of human bodies to begin gathering more individuals like them for ascension into Heaven. Leader Marshall Applewhite included humans in his invitation to leave Earth with the extraterrestrials he believed traveled behind the Hale-Bopp comet discovered in 1995. When the comet passed closely by Earth in March 1997, Applewhite and 38 other cult members committed suicide to leave behind their "bodily containers" and make the trip to Heaven in the spaceship flying past.
In the above video, Applewhite stares into the camera while delivering an ultimatum, insisting the Earth will soon be no more and that joining Heaven's Gate is the only option to flee. He uses flattery and a friendly demeanor to lull the viewer into trusting him, while repetition pushes his words into the viewer's subconscious. Perhaps the most startling revelation comes with Applewhite's proclamation that Jesus's mind returned to Earth in his body.