10 of the World’s Most Infamous Cults


Branch Davidians

David Koresh, born Vernon Howell in 1959, was the leader of a Christian sect that would meet a violent and controversial end in Waco, Texas, that would devastate the country. After being expelled from the Church of the Seventh Day Adventists as a young man, Koresh soon joined an offshoot called the Branch Davidians. While there, he shared a special friendship and affair with the leader, Lois Roden, who named him as her successor.

Among Koresh's controversial teachings as leader of the Branch Davidians was his New Light doctrine. This declared that all women were his spiritual wives, even underage girls and those women who were already married. He declared himself a messiah, albeit an imperfect one, and preached that the apocalypse was imminent. Koresh amounted a vast arsenal of firearms and faced suspicion of child abuse at his church center, Mt. Carmel. The cult's members overlooked his sexual abuse because it was his call from God.

Based on weapons charges, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) raided Mt. Carmel in February 1993. After a shoot-out and stand-off lasting 51 days, the ATF finally came in and battered the walls of the center, sending in tear gas. A fire broke out, killing more than 80 members, including about 20 children and Koresh himself.