How to Become a Cult Leader has so far discussed building a foundation, gathering a large group, and how to control their minds. Viewers have been given three cult leaders as examples of those who master the above-mentioned aspects, but somewhere they lost grip on them and fell flat. The fourth episode brings to light another aspect of the cult leaders, which is making promises of another kind that convince the members to stay with the group till salvation is achieved.
Marshall Applewhite, aka Do, and his partner Bonnie Lu Nettles, aka It, were instrumental in forming Heaven’s Gate, a cult that was a mixture of science fiction, Christianity, and new-age mysticism, where the group leaders initially promised eternity to followers who joined the group. The group managed to convince a good number of people that they were aliens from the Next Level and were not humans. They are destined to head to outer space through an alien aircraft, and the ones that are left will be destroyed. The universe is their Next Level, and the two of them will train them for it. This is where mental health talk comes into play.
It is appalling that the makers of this documentary did not dig deep into the fact that Do and It probably suffered from some deep-rooted mental ailments, which is why they spoke about some delusional event that will take place, and they managed to convince a large group about the same. This documentary is made for people of this generation, and there shouldn’t have been any harm in exploring that prospect because their heightened sense of superiority, narcissistic qualities, and the existence of an imaginary world they spoke about should have stirred up the mental health conversation. Do’s stories about his experiences hearing God’s voice and offering him a purpose should have been indications. This was a lost opportunity to speak about this subject matter because the leads of this episode belong to a decade where there was hardly any discourse on these topics, and they probably got away by claiming the man and his partner did indeed carry supernatural powers.
This episode, in detail, talks about how Do and It met and realized their destinies were intertwined, and thus they began to recruit people to fulfill their destiny. The couple managed to recruit 80 new-age enthusiasts who were looking for a belief system they could tag along with for the rest of their lives. The American population and their obsession with having to believe in something led to the formation of cults and religious groups that festered and grew in every corner of the country. The younger generation of that era had access to basic facilities, and despite that, most of them were aimless spiritually and emotionally. Cult leaders prey on such a population. Do and It’s Heaven’s Gate only worked because they were able to bring in people who fully believed in them and were willing to understand that there is a Next Level they are seeking and that it is attainable.
Such a vision of eternity is something that cults are good at promising, and there are ample numbers of people who are willing to believe in it instead of being pragmatic. Just like Jaime Gomez, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson were able to establish the thought process, form a flock, and control their minds, the victims of Heaven’s Gate also had their personal lives, food habits, and relationships fully controlled, and the leaders had their delusional reasons to do that. They aimed to transform human minds into alien beings. The members of Heaven’s Gate were subjected to rigorous fasting, unpaid labor work, disallowing physical relations, and resorting to meditation for the above-mentioned task. The followers went ahead and castrated themselves because they believed aliens never reproduced, and having another human being with no Next Level qualities brings no benefit.
Such bizarre concepts were implanted into the minds of the members, and they showed extreme loyalty as well. Group mentality such as this one cuts down on individuality, something cults are good at across the globe. Individual thinking leads to questioning their beliefs and actions, and no cult leader will want that. One of their many fears came true when Bonnie Lu passed away from cancer. This brought into question the founding belief system, which is, “How did a Next Level being die”? Couldn’t they have the means to remain alive or cure ailments? How can Heaven’s Gate promise eternity if the founding figures die unexpectedly? The questioning of their beliefs was just a normal way to respond to their faith, which had been shaken. It only suggests that their claims were incorrect, but since Do had to save face and keep the group from dissolving, he had to come up with a larger reason behind the death of his partner, and Do found one.
Do was quick to let the followers know that It had gone to the Next Level, and he provided all the followers with a ring to issue a commitment to It’s dream of taking all of them up above the earth to throughout the universe on an alien vehicle that would appear on the day as soon as they got a sign from it. The problem with Heaven’s Gate was their ever-changing philosophies, which did not bother the followers, but it did bother the people watching their stories from the outside. The group was quickly deemed bizarre and crazy for their outlandish talks. The group was looking for signs that would take them to the next level; one of them was the Hale-Bopp comet sighting, which was a sign of an incoming UFO that would take them away.
Do was also instrumental in making the followers believe that their souls would be traveling across the universe, leaving their bodies behind and that mind control works in such bizarre ways that it pushed the Heaven’s Gate believers to follow the protocol leading up to their imminent journey. All of them sent out their final videos to their family members and a press release to the media about their plans to head to the Next Level. It is mind-boggling to wonder why the media created any uproar about the so-called incident. This portion of the documentary seems murky because if the world outside of their commune had been informed, the police could have arrested Heaven’s Gate members for carrying out the ghastly act of mass suicide. 39 members of the cult, including Do, killed themselves in the hope of attaining their final goal.
This episode attributed the promise of eternity almost perfectly because it let the audience understand why falling into such ideas of delusional men and women could lead to catastrophic results. Surely none of them realized it was a mistake until they were taking their final breaths. This version of the cult stories was the hardest to watch because the men and women of this group, just like members of the People’s Temple living in Jonestown, were manipulated into taking their own lives.