Top 10 Cult Leaders in Real Life



Top 10 Cult Leaders in Real Life

Script written by George Pacheco

These were the larger than life personalities behind some of the world's most controversial organizations. From Valentina de Andrade to Michel Rostand and David Berg, WatchMojo is counting down the most infamous, influential and notorious cult leaders from around the world.

Special thanks to our users MikeMJPMUNCH2, extremespyderbyte, MikeMJPMUNCH and Koolyococo for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at https://WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%2010%20Cult%20Leaders%20in%20Real%20Life
Script written by George Pacheco

Top 10 Cult Leaders in Real Life

These were the larger than life personalities behind some of the world's most controversial organizations. Welcome to, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Cult Leaders in Real Life.

For this list, we'll be ranking the most infamous, influential and notorious leaders of cults around the world. Socio-political and religious cults will all be considered for inclusion, so long as they possessed a leader around which most of the group's attention was focused.

#10: Valentina de Andrade

You may not have heard of Brazil's Superior Universal Alignment cult, but that doesn't make the crimes allegedly perpetuated by their leader any less horrific. Valentina De Andrade supposedly believed that children born after 1981 were evil and needed to be eliminated. Only after nearly twenty young men in the country's Altamira region went missing was attention brought upon de Andrade and her organization. Some claim that it was de Andrade's powerful connections that enabled her to successfully escape prosecution for the six bodies and five castrated victims who escaped the cult. Valentina reportedly fled to Argentina after being acquitted, while some of her associates, like Brazilian doctor Anísio Ferreira de Sousa, received convictions for their roles in the cult.

#9: David Berg

Call them The Children of God, or call them The Family International – whatever you call them, this late sixties hippie sex cult was anything but harmless. Its leader, David Berg, who also went under the alias Moses David, adopted a bizarre amalgamation of religion and sexual impropriety. Among other teachings, he seems to have promoted the practice of pedophilia, according to ABC News. Although the present day incarnation of The Family International has since denounced adult-child relations, Berg's incarnation of the cult was described as orgiastic and highly sexualized. The leader encouraged female members to bring men into the fold via prostitution. He called the process "Flirty Fishing."

#8: Sun Myung Moon

His followers were known as "The Moonies," and they made up, at one time, one of the largest cult groups in the world. His name was Sun Myung Moon, and he was seen as the "True Father" for thousands of his loyal cult couples, many of whom he married in mass wedding ceremonies. As a prominent Korean business mogul, Moon was one of the few cult leaders on this list with large international influence. Moon's Unification Church and their ideology of "The Divine Principle" proclaimed him as the Messiah, and the group still exists today. Moon, however, died in 2012, and he hasn't, as of yet, shown any signs of return.

#7: Michel Rostand

Buddhafield. It may be a name which evokes feelings of peace and tranquility, but for ex-members of this cult, the name means anything but. In fact, the group reportedly led by Michel Rostand was the subject of a 2016 film titled "Holy Hell," directed by an ex-member named Will Allen. Allen claims that there was a history of sexual abuse within the Buddhafield cult. The enigmatic Rostand, a speedo-clad Adonis, staunchly claimed that Buddhafield was, in his words, an "anti-cult." Whatever you believe, Rostand remains one of the most perversely fascinating and visually striking cult leaders on this list.

#6: Shoko Asahara

Cult leader. Doomsday prophet. Terrorist. These are all terms which describe Japan's Shoko Asahara, founder of the apocalypse cult Aum Shinrikyo. Born as Chizuo Matsumoto in 1955, Asahara changed his name after laying claim to the cult that would proclaim him as an enlightened Christ figure. The cult itself brought together elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and yoga. Asahara was sentenced to death in 2004 for his role in allegedly organizing the 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo that killed 12 and injured thousands more on Japan's subway system. As of 2017, he continued to be incarcerated and was awaiting his sentence.

#5: Marshall Applewhite

The Heaven's Gate cult grabbed headlines around the world when news of their mass suicide first hit back in 1997. The group's leader was Marshall Applewhite, a devotee of 1970s mysticism who founded Heaven's Gate with nurse Bonnie Nettles. Applewhite would become more emotionally unstable after Nettles' death in 1985. This instability was reflected in the cult's belief that the Hale-Bopp Comet was a key to the ascension from an earthbound existence to one in outer space. The group recorded their "Final Exit" statements on video, with Applewhite's in particular serving as one of the most arresting images surrounding the cult.

#4: Joseph Di Mambro & Luc Jouret

The next two cult leaders were at the center of a series of murders, mass suicides and fires during the 1990s. Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret founded the Order of the Solar Temple in 1984, claiming roots with such secret societies as The Knights Templar and The Rosicrucians. The Solar Temple believed in the second coming of Christ as a sort of apocalyptic unification. Jouret and Di Mambro possessed incredible influence over their followers, to the point where the latter was accused of ordering the death of a baby he believed to be the Antichrist. The pair would eventually die themselves in fires intentionally set within two Swiss OST buildings on October 5th, 1994.

#3: David Koresh

From one fatal fire to another, our next infamous cult leader is David Koresh, leader of the Texas-based Branch Davidians. The man born Vernon Wayne Howell would splinter off from the Seventh Day Adventists to form his own extremist theology. Koresh regarded himself as a sort of father/messiah figure. As such, he fathered children and took multiple wives within the Branch Davidians, with one alleged partner, Michelle Jones, being as young as thirteen at the time. Koresh's volatile behavior eventually reached Waco authorities, the ATF and the FBI. After a 51-day siege in 1993, a series of fires struck the Branch Davidian compound, killing Koresh and over 70 others.

#2: Jim Jones

The Reverend Jim Jones is more than just one of the most infamous cult leaders of all time: he's become a template for the evil, charismatic madman bent on mental and physical domination. So powerful was Jones' influence over his Peoples Temple that he convinced hundreds of followers to leave behind their earthly goods and move to Jonestown, a compound in Guyana. When U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan lead a delegation to look into human rights abuses there, he and four others were murdered by Jones’ followers. Jones then ordered the mass suicide of more than 900 cult members, including about three hundred children, by imbibing cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid, before taking his own life.

#1: Charles Manson

He's been the subject of books, film, television and song. This sinister reflection of the dark side of the hippie ideal is arguably the most well-known cult leader in the world. Instead of peace and love, Manson promoted "Helter Skelter," hoping to instigate a race war, out of which Manson would emerge as victorious leader. All of this could've been played off as an LSD delusion, were it not for the Manson Family's real world connection with the Tate-LaBianca Murders. In 1969, by Manson’s order, members of The Family killed actress Sharon Tate and four others. The murders shocked the nation, and Manson eventually ended up behind bars, serving a life sentence until November 2017 when he passed away of natural causes.