Tony Alamo and His Child Brides
When it started in the 1960s on the streets of Los Angeles, the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries held hope for a better society for young people seeking purpose.
But the word of the group’s eponymous leader (pictured) turned apocalyptic over time, and he began to assert greater control over members’ lives: There were countless rules, including one requiring members to ask permission to go outside.
When Alamo’s wife, Susan, died in 1982, his behavior became even more deviant as he extolled the righteousness of polygamy and marrying young girls. Among his child “wives” was an 8-year-old girl.
In 2009, he was convicted of taking young girls across state lines to have sex with them. He was sentenced to 175 years and died in federal prison in 2017 at 82.
You can watch the full episode of People Magazine Investigates: Cults on Tony Alamo here.
Hundreds Driven to Mass Suicide at Jonestown
Before he became infamous as a murderous cult leader who led more than 900 of his Peoples Temple followers to suicide, Jim Jones was an advocate for the poor who preached a message of racial harmony.
But Jones’ paranoia and abuse escalated as his drug use increased. In 1977, after a magazine article exposed his abuses to Americans, Jones moved his congregants to “Jonestown,” a 3,800-acre jungle compound in northern Guyana.
In Jonestown, children performed forced labor under threat of armed guards, and Jones ran a series of “White Night” mass suicide drills as loyalty tests, in which congregants were told they were drinking a mixture containing fatal poison.
On Nov. 18, 1978, more than 900 people died — including 304 children — when they drank a cyanide-laced solution. It was the largest mass suicide in modern history. (Pictured: an aerial view of the aftermath.)
You can watch the full episode of People Magazine Investigates: Cults on Jonestown here.
A Reclusive Church Turns on 2 Teenage Members
The Word of Life Christian Church (whose headquarters are pictured) started as a small bible study group in upstate New York. But over time, as membership dwindled, church leaders began to exert greater control over congregants.
It all culminated on the night of Oct. 11, 2015, when teenage brothers Lucas and Christopher Leonard, then 19 and 17, announced their plans to leave the church and in response were savagely beaten over 12 hours inside the church’s sanctuary room.
Among the assailants were their parents. Lucas died from his wounds the next day.
Nine members of the church were later sentenced for their roles in the attack.
Cult expert Rick Ross told PEOPLE, “The destruction wrought by the Irwin family caused families to be disrupted and estranged,” He added, “Church leaders broke people down through coercion, persuasion, isolation, and the control of information.”
You can watch the full episode of People Magazine Investigates: Cults on Word of Life here.
A Self-Made 'Son of God' Who Plotted Murder
Proclaiming himself the son of God, Yahweh Ben Yahweh (pictured) — born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Oklahoma before moving south and renaming himself in 1978 — was the leader of the same-named Nation of Yahweh, founded in Miami. Though his community-revitalizing work and gospel of love and self-esteem earned plaudits and devotees nationwide, his endorsement of violent black separatism portended darker deeds.
In 1990, Yahweh (whose name translates from Hebrew as “God, the son of God”) and 12 others were indicted on charges of racketeering and extortion. Authorities said the group had been involved in 14 killings, including one by decapitation. The indictment against Yahweh stated that he had declared to his followers, “Kill me a white devil and bring me an ear.”
A key member, former football player Robert Rozier, turned against the Yahwehs after his own arrest, helping convict Yahweh and multiple other group members. Found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, Yahweh was sentenced to 18 years in prison and paroled in 2001. He died in 2007 at 71.
You can watch the full episode of People Magazine Investigates: Cults on the Nation of Yahweh here.
An 'Oracle of God' Hiding Child Abuse?
Deborah Green (pictured) in 1981 co-founded the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps, a militaristic religious sect in New Mexico, with her husband, James Green.
In 2017, Deborah, as well as son Joshua Green and son-in-law Peter Green and another group member, Stacey Miller, were arrested and accused of various crimes in connection with the abuse of children.
Criminal complaints alleged that Deborah was known to her followers as an “Oracle of God.” Several experts have described the organization as a cult.
Deborah was accused of child abuse, negligent abuse and criminal sexual penetration while Joshua was charged with not reporting a birth.
Miller was accused of one count each of intentional abuse of a child, bribery of a witness and not reporting a birth.
Peter, who helped oversee the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps in Fence Lake, was charged with 100 counts of criminal sexual penetration of a child.
According to allegations laid out in the criminal complaints, both Peter and Deborah sexually abused a girl they had adopted illegally from Uganda. The girl told police that Deborah treated her like a slave, withheld food from her and forced her to sleep on the floor.
The Greens are further accused of of controlling the group’s finances, limiting members’ communication with the outside world and depriving followers of much-needed medical attention.
In a statement in August, the ACMTC rebuked the accusations against its members: “We don’t know who all the accusers are, but the accusations are just re-runs of old lies that have been investigated and shown to be malicious attacks against a legitimate ministry, time and again.”
The People Magazine Investigates: Cults episode on the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps airs July 2 (9 p.m. ET) on Investigation Discovery
An Egyptian-Themed Group Moves to Georgia
The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors — a black separatist, “quasi-religious cult” founded by convicted child molester Dwight York — in the ’90s relocated from Brooklyn, in New York City, to a rural part of eastern Georgia where they lived in a compound known as “Tama-Re” (pictured), which was styled in Egyptian aesthetics.
The group eventually unraveled following an investigation by local and federal authorities. However, the Nuwaubian belief system has persisted in a more diffuse fashion. A Vice article from 2015 defined two of its core tenets as the view that “dark-skinned humans were born of an ancient, superior alien species” and an “obsession with Ancient Egypt.”
The People Magazine Investigates: Cults episode on the Nation of Yahweh airs July 9 (9 p.m. ET) on Investigation Discovery