Heaven's Gate was, until the appearance of Hale-Bopp
in 1997, a fundamentalist, post-apocalyptic cult based in San Diego, California
. Comprising of 39 members, Heaven's Gate followed a system of beliefs based on science-fiction television programs such as Star Trek
and the X-Files
The cult centered around two leaders, Marshall Herf Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles, known respectively as Do and Ti, Peep and Bo and, collectively, "The Two". Nettles died of cancer in 1985, after allegedly ascending to 'the level above human'. 'The Two' had come together in Houston in 1972, after Applewhite had been dismissed from his job over allegations that he had entered into a relationship with a male pupil. He had committed himself to a psychiatric hospital, in which Nettles was a nurse, attempting to find a 'cure' for his homosexuality. They formed a close relationship and were together for thirteen years. Applewhite was disgusted by his sexuality, and found Nettles a perfect partner, one he could love without the complications of physical attraction ever arising.
While camping in Oregon in 1973, Applewhite had a vision in which both he and Nettles were the two prophets from the eleventh book of revelations. He believed that in 1260 days, they would both be assassinated by satanic forces, at which time they would ascend to heaven in a spaceship. 'The Two' set out across America to spread the word, driven by a relentless sense of purpose. Originally calling themselves Guinea and Pig, they eventually settled on Bo and Peep. After giving a number of lectures and 'sermons', the pair accumulated a sizable following of several hundred men and women. In 1975, they instructed that the group should be split into smaller 'cells', and spread out across the country. After this, both Nettles and Applewhite vanished without a trace, appearing six months later only to discover that a number of their followers had lost faith and abandoned them. Those who had remained loyal were proclaimed by The Two the 'true believers', and the 1260 day deadline was abandoned. To explain the cancellation of the deadline, The Two told their followers that their assassinations had been postponed, as their followers were not ready. Their new mission was apparently to prepare their followers so that they too could join Nettles and Applewhite when they made their heavenly ascension.
The message they spread was thus: that Christ had been an emissary from the beings they knew as 'the level above human', and that when he was killed, his extraterrestrial leaders had given the people of earth two thousand more years to evolve before sending two more messengers, this time Ti and Do, as The Two were now calling themselves. Their mission was to gather a group of 'enlightened followers', who could be saved before the earth was recycled (it was apparently seen as a moral threat to the welfare of the universe).
The group relocated to a forty acre compound in the area around Albuquerue, New Mexico. The group, now numbering at around fifty, began work on 'The Earthship', using Ti and Do's limited knowledge on the layout and construction of flying saucers. The group's strict policies against sex, drugs and alcohol were enforced with strenuous physical and mental exercises, along with meditation, all helping to prepare the group for their ascension to the level above human.
In the late 1980's, the group established a web design company, providing low-cost, low-maintenance websites for their commercial clients. The company designed a website for the Heaven's Gate cult, designed to spread the views of the group throughout the world. A mirror of the site can be found at:
The website featured video lectures given by Applegate available for download, advertisements for books published by the group, a picture of how a member of the level above human might appear, as well as pages detailing the group's views on various topics, including, ironically, an account of the groups opposition to suicide:
The true meaning of "suicide" is to turn against the Next Level when it is being offered. In these last days, we are focused on two primary tasks: one - of making a last attempt at telling the truth about how the Next Level may be entered (our last effort at offering to individuals of this civilization the way to avoid "suicide"); and two - taking advantage of the rare opportunity we have each day - to work individually on our personal overcoming and change, in preparation for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.
With the appearance of Hale-Bopp in 1997, the following statement was made on the group's website:
Whether Hale-Bopp has a "companion" or not is irrelevant from our perspective. However, its arrival is joyously very significant to us at "Heaven's Gate." The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human (the "Kingdom of Heaven") has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp's approach is the "marker" we've been waiting for -- the time for the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to "Their World" -- in the literal Heavens. Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion -- "graduation" from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave "this world" and go with Ti's crew.
The 'older member' referred to in the statement was apparently Applewhite, and the group took the coming of the comet as a sign that it was time for them to depart from this world and join their 'older member' in his ascension to the next evolutionary level. They believed that cloaked in the tail of Hale-Bopp was in fact a spacecraft belonging to the beings of the level above human, which was to take them on to the next evolutionary level. In order to board this space ship, they would not utilise any special transporter system. Instead, they would all simply take a lethal dose of phenobarbital and place plastic bags over their heads in order to ensure swift evacuation of the earth; they did not believe that they would need their earthly bodies once aboard the ship. The 'evacuation' actually took place over a period of three days, with two other members following a week later. On day one, the first fifteen people departed, followed by another fifteen the next day. On the third day, nine members committed suicide, after tidying up multi-million dollar mansion rented by the group as a training base and placing the rubbish out for collection.
When police arrived at the scene after an anonymous tip-off, they found the eighteen females and twenty-one males all dressed in baggy black trousers, loose shirts and brand-new Nike trainers. Each member lay on his or her own bunk, each draped in a purple shroud. Strangest of all, each person there had a five dollar bill in their pockets, as well as some spare change. Evidently they believed the concept of currency was not restricted to Earth alone.
The following week, the bodies of two more members of the cult, those of Wayne Cook and Chuck Humphrey, were found in a Holiday Inn in San Diego. One of the men was dead, and the other is still in a coma. The clothes worn by the men were identical to those of the thirty-nine found the week previous, and, like the others, both were found with a five dollar bill stuffed in their pockets. A suicide video left by Wayne Cook revealed that he regretted having left the group, and had decided to join them. It emerged that his wife had been among those who had died the previous week. He sent copies of the tape to both his family and CNN.
Unlike other cult-related mass suicides such as the Jonestown Massacre, Heaven's Gate was not seen as a dark marker in the history of organised religion, but was instead regarded in a light, almost humourous way. Before the suicide, there was not the hysterical fear of impending doom witnessed in other apocalyptic cults. Instead, the members of the group are seen in videos shot days before the suicide to be light hearted and in good humour. Unlike Jim Jones, there was no evidence of corruption amongst the group leaders. It is obvious that they too believed what they preached, right up until the end.