Heaven's Gate (cult)
Heaven's Gate was the name of a UFO 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 extraterrestrials. Such beliefs have led some observers to characterise the group as a type of "UFO religion".
Origins and history
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 United States. 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. A publication produced at this time that received some press attention was titled "How to build a U.F.O." and purported to describe an interplanetary spacecraft out of materials such as old tires. 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.
The members of the cult added "-ody" to the first names they adopted in lieu of their original given names. For a few months prior to their deaths, three of them, Thurston-ody, Sylvie-ody, and Elaine-ody, worked for Advanced Development Group (ADG), Inc. (now ManTech Advanced Development Group), or MADG (http://www.mantech-adg.com), a small San Diego-based company that developed computer-based instruction for the U. S. Army. Although they were polite and friendly in a reserved way, they tended to keep to themselves. They lived a communal lifestyle in which everyone had the same things and received the same treatment. They believed Star Trek to be actually true. (One of their members was the brother of actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura.) When they quit working for ADG, they told their supervisor that they'd completed their mission.
On December 12, 1996, a usenet posting by "lah" (later revealed to be the account of one Sister Francis Michael) in the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology applauded Scientology for their "courageous action against the Cult Awareness Network" , which she blamed of "promoting all sort of lies" including "cult activities".
A few weeks later, they were dead.
Group members gave up their material possessions and lived a highly ascetic lifestyle devoid of many indulgences. Several male members of the cult voluntarily underwent castration as an extreme means of maintaining the ascetic lifestyle.
The cult funded itself through offering professional website designing for clients. The group was tightly knit and everything was shared communally.
In preparation for their suicide, members of the cult drank citrus juices to ritually cleanse their bodies of impurities. In the wake of the cult's suicide, some of the members attributed their ability to attract new members to the growth of the Internet. The thirty-nine bodies of the cult members were found in a rented mansion in the upscale San Diego community of Rancho Santa Fe, California on March 26, 1997. Their suicide, conducted in shifts, was accomplished by ingestion of phenobarbital-laced applesauce and vodka, not (as is commonly believed) Kool-Aid. (However, Flavor Aid, a product similar to Kool-Aid was used for the purposes of mass suicide in the famous 1978 Jonestown massacre.) 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, and 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 previously 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.
Among the victims was Thomas Nichols, brother of the actress Nichelle Nichols, from the series Star Trek. Applewhite was a fan of Star Trek, and episodes of the show and its spin-offs were often shown to members of the cult.
Heaven's Gate in Popular Culture
The vast media coverage of the Heaven's Gate incident brought about a huge public awareness of the religious cult. In a sense, it was also an Internet phenomenon, since the web was in its early years and the notion of being able to view webpages featuring and created by persons who had recently died was very much a novelty.
This wide coverage would eventually spill over into the entertainment industry, especially among television shows that were inspired by a cult (not always necessarily Heaven's Gate) to create stories that parodied, or otherwise explored, this particular subject.
Well known examples include:
- The 1982 TV movie Mysterious Two  was loosely based on the teachings of Heaven's Gate founders Applewhite and Nettles.
- The 1985 theatrical film Lifeforce postulated a similar scenario with a spaceship "hiding" inside a comet..
- In an episode of Boy Meets World called "Cult Fiction", Shawn tries to combat loneliness by hanging out with a new group of people at a place called The Centre lead by Mr. Mack. The group seems to fill a void of emptiness within Shawn that his friends try to talk him out of. Because this episode aired only a month after the Heaven's Gate incident, viewers are inclined to believe that Heaven's Gate may have inspired this episode to educate teens on the dangers of cults. (Only airing a month after the deaths, and without the comments of producers, it can be assumed to be coincidence, or synchronicity.)
- A 1997 episode of Mr. Show with Bob and David opens with Bob Odenkirk as the leader of a cult called "Heaven's Chimney".
- A 1998 episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Covenant", was based at least in part on Heaven's Gate. In the episode, Dukat (a Cardassian) becomes a Messiah-like figurehead to a group of Bajorans who worship the entities known as the Pah-wraiths. He ultimately told them to commit suicide, although his motives for doing so were insincere and his own pill for committing the suicide was a fake.
- 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. This same episode featured a commercial parody that utilized footage of the cult members' Nike sneakers, followed by the Keds logo, accompanied by the phrase "Keds: Worn by Level-Headed Christians."
- Politically Incorrect's Bill Maher began his Friday March 28th show with a segment lampooning Marshall Applewhite's suicide message, later defending this by stating that the suicide was a voluntary act on the part of the members, citing the Jonestown Massacre as a point of contrast.
- A 1998 episode of The Simpsons, titled "The Joy of Sect" introduces a group called the Movementarians. Most of Springfield joins in along with Homer who brings his unwilling family along to live at the cult's headquarters. The Movementarians' most powerful weapon are the lawyers as they have huge property power over much of Springfield. Some Heaven's Gate influences include the U.F.O. which the followers believe would carry them to a utopian planet called Blisstonia.
- 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.
- The UK's Porcupine Tree on their 2000 album Lightbulb Sun includes a song entitled "Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled". The second half of the song includes audio samples from a Heaven's Gate speech.
- The Chicago based band Tub Ring on their 2004 album Zoo Hypothesis includes the song "Vehicle", inspired by the Heaven's Gate cult. The entire album, featuring comet Hale-Bopp on its cover, is partially themed about the Cult's suicide incident.
- An episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation that aired on October 13, 2005 featured a storyline where a cult commits suicide on the eve of a meteor shower. Heavens's Gate is also specifically mentioned early in the episode.
- In Futurama episode "Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles", Leela says "For Heaven's Gate, Professor!" instead of "Heaven's sake," while they go looking for Professor Farnsworth's gargoyle Pazuzu. The Professor is only going 35 miles per hour when the ship can achieve 99% lightspeed.
- The 2000 film Dude, Where's My Car? featured an almost direct parody of the Heaven's Gate cult, for it featured a cult full of nerds donning identical jumpsuits (made from bubble wrap) who planned to travel into space after intercepting intergalactic signals from an alien device that mistakenly landed on Earth.
- The song "My Adidas" from the NYC band Versus refers to Heaven's Gate. It appeared on the 2000 album "Hurrah," and features lyrics including "now the comet's come and disappeared," and "I think you know it's too late/I'm rocketing skyward/to Heaven's Gate".
- Lalich, Janja. Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults. University of California Press, 2004. ISBN 0-520-23194-5. 329 pp.
- Investigative Reports: Inside Heaven's Gate
- The official website
- "How and When HEAVEN'S GATE May Be Entered" (the cult book)
- All about Heaven's Gate cult by Katherine Ramsland - The Crime Library
- Some members of suicide cult castrated
- Heaven's Gate by Jeffrey Hadden of the University of Virginia
"Original data received from Wikipedia on April 21, 2006. Credit given to original authors can be seen Here."