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Cult Conflict

Uganda, Jonestown, and other cults in history

by Elissa Haney

Kanunga villagers hold wild herbs to their faces to ward off the stench from mass graves outside a church in Kanungu, southwestern Uganda, on March 19, 2000. (Source/AP)

AT A GLANCE

Uganda

At least 590 deaths linked to a religious cult called the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.

Jonestown

More than 900 people, followers of Jim Jones' "People's Temple," died in the South American jungle.

Waco, Texas

A standoff between U.S. government officials and Branch Davidian cult members, led by David Koresh, left six Davidians and four U.S. agents dead

Japan

Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo allegedly used sarin nerve gas on a subway car in Japan, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,000 others.

Santa Fe, California

39 people were found dead at Rancho Santa Fe, California, in a carefully orchestrated group suicide by members of the Heaven's Gate cult.

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Murder and Suicide in Uganda

When 530 members of the Ugandan sect the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in an intentionally set fire on March 17, 2000, it was labeled the second-worst mass suicide on record, after Jonestown.

Upon further examination of the cult's compound in Kanungu, however, officials decided instead to handle it as a murder investigation. The bodies of 388 additional people—many clearly stabbed or strangled to death—have since been found buried in several mass graves on property owned by the sect.

Police have speculated that the Movement's leaders were systematically killing off members in the months leading up to the deadly blaze. Sixty-eight-year-old Joseph Kibwetere, the top leader, had prophesized that the world would end on Dec. 31, 1999. When this did not happen, Kibwetere changed the date of impending doom to Dec. 31, 2000. Some investigators believe that members of the cult were killed for expressing their disbelief or for requesting that the possessions they surrendered upon joining the cult be returned to them.

The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was founded in 1994 by former prostitute Credonia Mwerinde. Mwerinde and Kibwetere are believed to have fled the Kanungu compound before it was destroyed by the fire.

Ministry of Terror

Twenty years ago an unusual series of events led to the deaths of more than 900 people in the middle of a South American jungle. Though dubbed a "massacre," what transpired at Jonestown on November 18, 1978, was to some extent done willingly, making the mass suicide all the more disturbing . . .

[read more]

Cults in the '90s

In a seven week standoff against government officials, the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, began a showdown that left six Davidians and four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents dead . . .

[read more]


Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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