Heaven's Gate (cult)

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Heaven's Gate was the name of a cult co-led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles until Nettles' death. The cult's end, coinciding with the appearance of comet Hale-Bopp, created a sensation in the United States in 1997. Applewhite convinced 39 followers to commit suicide so that their souls could take a ride on a spaceship that they thought was hiding behind the comet; members reportedly believed themselves to be aliens.

Heaven's Gate was a secretive New Age religion. Knowledge of their practices is limited. Upon joining the group, members often sold their worldly belongings in order to break their attachments with earthly existence. For many years the group lived in isolation in the western U.S. Members often traveled in pairs and rendezvoused with other members for meetings or presentations they gave to recruit new members. For a time, group members lived in a darkened house where they would simulate the experience they expected to have during their long journey in outer space. Much of what is known about the group comes from the research of Robert Balch and David Taylor, who infiltrated the group in the 1970s.

Group members gave up their material possessions and the male members of the cult underwent castration. In preparation for their suicide, members of the cult drank citrus juices to ritually cleanse their body of impurities. In the wake of the cult's suicide, some attributed the cult's ability to attract new members to the growth of the Internet. (The cult earned money by providing their services as professional web page designers.) The thirty-nine bodies of the cult members were found in a rented mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, California on March 26, 1997. Their suicide, conducted in shifts, was accomplished by ingestion of phenobarbitol-laced apple sauce and vodka. A video of the bodies in bunkbeds, covered neatly with purple blankets and wearing identical brand new Nike sneakers, was shown repeatedly during the media coverage following the suicides. They had also packed suitcases and money, presumably for the UFO trip.

On May 5, 1997, two remaining members of the group, Chuck Humphrey (known as "Rkkody") and Wayne Cooke ("Jstody") also attempted to "exit their human vehicles" (commit suicide) in a motel room in Encinitas, CA. Cooke's attempt was successful; Humphrey was comatose for two days but recovered, and started a website that continued to promote the Heaven's Gate beliefs, also selling memorabilia such as mousepads, T-shirts, and "Away Team" patches. In February 1998 Humphrey made another attempt to "exit", this time successful. While Humphrey referred to himself as "the sole survivor of Heaven's Gate", he and Cooke had previously held a press conference, along with two others known as "Juan of Venezuela" and "Crlody", to explain the beliefs of Heaven's Gate. Who the other two representatives were and where they went is not known.

Trivia

The 1982 TV movie Mysterious Two [1] (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084375/) was loosely based on the teachings of Heaven's Gate founders Applewhite and Nettles.

A 1997 episode of Saturday Night Live opened with a sketch in which the dead members of the cult were still alive, had been successful in boarding an alien spacecraft in the comet, and were doing a live interview from the spacecraft with Ted Koppel on Nightline.

In 1999, the Family Guy episode "Chitty Chitty Death Bang" lampooned the cult, including the castrated males, the mass suicide, the teachings, and the Marshall Applewhite character.

The cult S.C.R.A.T.C.H. from the Cowboy Bebop episode 'Brain Scratch' may have been based on Heaven's Gate.

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