Cults are having a cultural moment. Between the success of Hulu’s The Path, the upcoming Waco miniseries and recent allegations that R&B singer R. Kelly has been operating a sex cult – which he has denied – we can’t turn away from all the gory, manipulative details. But perhaps the best example of the pervasiveness of cults in pop culture came last week with the premiere of American Horror Story: Cult in which we can expect to see versions of cult leaders like David Koresh and Jim Jones – all portrayed by Evan Peters.
Our fascination with cults – real or fictional – may stem from the fine line between being drawn to what appears to be a utopian community and a dangerous, free-will-stripping group. Here, five examples of American cults that have exerted undue influence on members – sometimes with fatal results.