American Cult: 5 Spiritual Groups That Went Too Far

From the Heaven's Gate tragedy to a sect that allegedly encouraged sex between kids and adults, a look into some utopian communities gone wrong

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The Branch Davidians (1955 - 1993)
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Smoking fire consumes the Branch Davidian Compound during the FBI assault to end the 51-day standoff with cult leader David Koresh and his followers. Greg Smith/Corbis via Getty2/5

The Branch Davidians (1955 - 1993)

Although this extremist sect of the Seventh Day Adventists has been active since the 1950s, the Branch Davidians are best known for the 1993 standoff in Waco, Texas. David Koresh, the leader at the time, believed he was the Messiah and declared all women – including those underage or already married – his "spiritual wives." The group believed the apocalypse was imminent and, fearing its arrival, locked themselves into a sprawling compound. On February 28th, 1993, agents from the Department of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco raided the Waco compound on the suspicion that Koresh was stockpiling weapons. What started as a shootout soon turned into a standoff between the Branch Davidians and the FBI. It lasted 51 days, and eventually ended when tanks were brought in: the compound was filled with tear gas and caught on fire, leaving more than 80 people dead.

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