My Favorite Death Cult

From my forward observation post here in Indian Territory, I’ve watched my share of wild-ass cults come and go. I grew up steeped in the byproducts of indigenous Oral Roberts-style scammers. In the 70s, the religio-paranoiac militias were all the rage, giving way by the 80s to the Invasion of the New Age Crystal Weenies. Except for separating fools from money most of these groups have been disgustingly predictable and pedestrian. Pikers all!

You want to talk cults that mean business, you gotta talk about Aum Shinrikyo, and “business” to them meant causing death and destruction on a massive scale. Few apocalyptic death cults have even begun to approach the apex they reached. How many cults do you know of that brewed nerve gas or cultured vats of clostridium botulinum and anthrax? Does your local coven ever try to mine uranium for making bombs? Have you ever heard of Scientologists trying to build particle beam weapons or Tesla-derived resonant planet-splitters? My guess would be “no”.

The group was founded in Tokyo in 1984 by  Shoko Asahara, its ‘Holy Pope’ and self-proclaimed reincarnation of Buddha. Asahara claimed he could save his followers when the end of the world struck and that he could teach them the art of levitation. He even offered up his blood and bathwater for his gullible followers to drink (for a hefty donation), and sold a $10,000 electrode helmed so they could have his thought-beams sent straight into their heads. Stealing a page from the Scientology scam they extensively advertised a training program said to improve health and intelligence and became one of the fastest growing religions in Japanese history.

Aum gained official status as a religious organization in 1989, and it was about that time that the cult just went bananas: donations were extorted from member and those trying to leave the fold were held against their will or murdered. A cult critic, attorney Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and child, went missing in 1989 and are now known to have been murdered by the group. Asahara and 24 disciples even ran (unsuccessfully) for the House of Representatives.

Kiyohide Hayakawa, Aum’s “Construction Minister”, started making frequent visits to Russia to acquire military hardware, including AK74s, a MIL Mi-17 military helicopter, and reportedly attempted to acquire components for a nuclear bomb. By the end of 1993 they began manufacturing nerve agents: sarin and VX gas.

The cult found it needed more room for its ambitious WMD projects. With a collective fortune then reported to be around $1 billion, Aum Shinrikyo used some spare change to purchase 500,000 acres of land in a desolate part of Western Australia called Banjawan. In 1993 an enormous explosion shook the outback for hundreds of miles around in an event that registered just shy of 4.0 on the Richter scale. The Australian government later dismissed the mysterious temblor as “probably being natural in origin”. IRIS, the U.S. federal seismology agency, said that the Earth-shaking detonation was “170 times larger than the largest mining explosion ever recorded in that Australian region” and was proven to have the force of a nuclear bomb. Maybe it was just an earthquake, but nobody really looked into what the Aum Shinrikyo cultists were up to out there, even then.

It wasn’t until two years later, when they released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways in 1995 (killing 13 commuters, seriously injuring 54 and sickening thousands) that anybody started to pay serious attention. Even so, two months after the sarin attack they managed to plant several cyanide gas bombs, again in the Tokyo subways (luckily, most malfunctioned). It wasn’t until after the police finally raided their Kamikuishiki compound in May 1995 that the enormity of their plans was uncovered. They found that Aum had previously conducted two mass biological attacks using clostridium botulinum sprayed from trucks (their sprayers apparently killed the bacteria), one attack using anthrax sprayed from their Tokyo location (police investigating a foul odor were told they were making perfume) and had tried to use sarin against a dormitory of judges in Matsumoto (the wind had changed and the gas killed seven other people and injured over 200 in nearby buildings). None of these previously attempted biological or chemical attacks had been detected, a fact attributed to certain aspects of the Japanese culture and the governmental attitude toward religious organizations, as well as the complete outlandishness, the unthinkable nature of the cult’s schemes.

The Tokyo police have just ended their 17 year investigation of Aum Shinrikyo and its crimes. Aum founder Shoko Asahara and 12 close followers have received death sentences, though their executions are on hold due to the recent surrender of another wanted cult member, as they might be required to offer testimony.

Aum Shinrikyo is still in business and open under new management with a new name.  Known as “Aleph” since 2000, the resurrected organization is again recruiting and growing fast, but this time around they won’t be able to fly under the radar so easily. Groups are actively de-recruiting their members and warning the public about the potential for a repeat of the cult’s previous ‘shenanigans’.


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