Join 3,494 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The End of the World Cult
January 1, 2009 3:42 AM   Subscribe

The End of the World Cult is a 2007 documentary about the Lord Our Righteousness Church, aka the Strong City Cult, as they count down the days before the end of the world on October 31st 2007. The film features unusually good access and especially focuses on the creepy sexual relationship cult leader Wayne Bent has with his mostly female followers. If you watch the film and are hankering after justice, you'll be pleased to know that yesterday Bent was sentenced to eighteen years prison for sexual relations with minors. Oh, he also has a blog.
posted by dydecker (38 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
It was a good documentary, I highly recommend anyone interested buy it or download it.
posted by Dean Keaton at 4:19 AM on January 1, 2009


Man, this is why I come to MeFi.
posted by telstar at 4:28 AM on January 1, 2009


So this is why I've felt like crap since the Halloween before last. And I thought it was because I gorged on Mallomars.
posted by orthogonality at 4:56 AM on January 1, 2009


He says at various points that it was God who ordered him to "lay down with the virgins" and sleep with the wifes of other cult members. But I have a hankering that it really was his dick speaking to him.
posted by sour cream at 5:42 AM on January 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Painful introspection? Check. Deep self-loathing? Check. Where can I join?
posted by punkfloyd at 5:46 AM on January 1, 2009


So, when's the next scheduled end of the world?
posted by qvantamon at 5:58 AM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I watched this on Hulu a couple weekends ago. It never ceases to amaze me that cult leaders follow the same general patterns, which almost always includes severe restrictions on followers' social and sexual relationships but a rule for unfettered access by the leader. It's such a primitive power play - far beyond the financial scam these guys tend to run, too - and I often wonder if followers have a predisposition toward cuckolding or if they just feel like they can't say no, because if G-d reincarnate wants a piece of their wife/daughter, it's not their place to make waves.

I'm glad he seems to be getting his due. Jail time will not be fun for him. Still, though, those kids - the young women - will live with the effects of the situation to which their parents introduced them for far, far longer than this man will live. (That some of the kids came back even after their parents left is sad and frightening.)
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 6:15 AM on January 1, 2009


Yes. This was a good film and I'm glad the Wayne guy is in jail!
posted by flipyourwig at 8:04 AM on January 1, 2009


"When the virgins came to me and asked to lie naked on my bed, I told them that this would open up the seven last plagues.... I told one of the young ladies that it might kill me to follow her requests. I asked her, 'Would you still ask these things of me if it would kill me?' She said 'Yes,' revealing the Spirit that had taken up residence within her."
Yeah, that's some grade-A creepy right there.
posted by verb at 8:07 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sadie: I'm not sure that followers have a predisposition towards anything but following, and the rest kind of ...well follows.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:14 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


He says at various points that it was God who ordered him to "lay down with the virgins" and sleep with the wifes of other cult members. But I have a hankering that it really was his dick speaking to him.

You have a hankering?!

I have an inkling that that's a little creepy...
posted by fairmettle at 8:45 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


True, true, leotrotsky. But there are followers all over the map - arguably, adherents to any religion or belief system are "followers" ... I suppose I'm curious if there's a certain profile that makes some folks turn to a cult, and if there's a common something-or-other that makes it okay for Supreme Leader to change the rules of their spousal/parental relationships instead of seeing it as a red flag from which they should flee. Is there something in it for them? Are they just afraid or terrorized? Do they think it'll get them closer to the right hand of G-d? Or are they just suddenly in touch with their freaky side, and this creepo is just the ticket to emasculate them in just the right way?

Eh, I guess I'm looking for something that just might not be there, too.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 9:07 AM on January 1, 2009


I love learning about new cults! This guy is grade-A material. I am the Son of God, so please, little virgins, lay naked with me. It's God's will, by Jove! Classic. Also, really good cinematography for the access and subject matter.
posted by billysumday at 9:19 AM on January 1, 2009


I'm not sure that followers have a predisposition towards anything but following, and the rest kind of ...well follows.

I hear ya, but there are different kinds of following. I think it's an unusually strong need for sharing and belonging, even more than following, that draws people to these groups.

One thing they all seemed to have in common was a painful level of sensitivity. Watch their facial expressions and body language - they are constantly comforting and reassuring each other. They seem to crave a level of intimacy with their peers that would be totally unrealistic out there in the big, bad world. These people are all extremely tender, empathic, and group-focused; my guess it that's where the predisposition lies, and the fact that they got mixed up with this loon was a just a horrible coincidence.

Look at the deep, sorrowful eyes and ingratiating smile of Michael's son; on some level, he knows his dad is nuts, but like he said "...I've burned all my bridges... There's nothing for me out there."

I think at some point the object of their devotion is less important to these people than the devotion itself, and the community it has fostered.

It's heartbreaking that the basic human longing for social connectedness can be so crassly exploited.
posted by ducky l'orange at 9:55 AM on January 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


One part desert isolation. One part biblical literalism. Add mentally unstable religious fanatic and culturally sheltered, uneducated followers. Voila! You get another cult.
posted by gallois at 10:09 AM on January 1, 2009


I often wonder if followers have a predisposition toward cuckolding or if they just feel like they can't say no, because if G-d reincarnate wants a piece of their wife/daughter, it's not their place to make waves.


SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!!!

If you haven't watched the movie, stop reading now!

Last chance....

OK, the strongest part of this movie, for me at least, was where the leader's son and right hand henchman fesses up to the interviewer that the hardest part of being in the cult for him was when Daddy started fucking his wife. I mean, what on earth could be going through his mind on such an occasion?

You get some sense of it, when you see how conflicted he is and how unhappy the whole business has made him. He says that he wanted kids, but apparently he never got them, because wifey tells him that if Father wants to 'consummate', then she's going to do it.

And Father did want to consummate. Again and again and again.

Presumably, the son had chosen his wife from among the female cultists in the first place, because it's hard to imagine a non-cultist wife signing up for something like this: OK, I married the son, but I don't get to do him, I only get to do his 65 year old dad instead. But even so, the son appeared to be as traumatized and conflicted as you'd expect anyone to be in those circumstances -- including the other male cultists who'd given up their wives to the Shagger-in-Chief.

There's a really good research study on what happens to the beliefs of these Millenial Cults after the world doesn't end, that I believe provided the basis for Alison Lurie's novel, Imaginary Friends, but I can't for the life of me remember what that book was called. Anyone got a clue?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:17 AM on January 1, 2009


PeterMcD: One example of what happens to them is that they turn into Jehovah's Witnesses, which was a millinarian cult back in the 19th century (1876, I think). After the end doesn't come, they often become rabidly evangelical, because convincing others helps them convince themselves that they haven't been foolishly wrong. (gross oversimplification)
posted by leotrotsky at 10:39 AM on January 1, 2009


It never ceases to amaze me that cult leaders follow the same general patterns, which almost always includes severe restrictions on followers' social and sexual relationships but a rule for unfettered access by the leader.

See, I can kind of understand how people can get sucked in by charismatic religious figures, because it's so commonplace. What blows my mind is when the shit all comes out and they stay with them. Especially when it's the really bad shit - there was a commune type setup in NZ in the 70s where it emerged that, surprised, surprise, the commune leader was raping the kids. When he got out of jail a significant proportion of the commune members went to live with him again with their children.
posted by rodgerd at 10:55 AM on January 1, 2009


I suppose I'm curious if there's a certain profile that makes some folks turn to a cult, and if there's a common something-or-other that makes it okay for Supreme Leader to change the rules of their spousal/parental relationships instead of seeing it as a red flag from which they should flee. Is there something in it for them?

I have cousins--a married couple--who joined a cult many years ago. I don't know them but what I've gleaned from family stories is that they both experienced parental abandonment and pretty severe emotional neglect as children. Since they don't have a frame of reference for how healthy relationships should work, how can they know that the cult is perverting those relationships? I suspect that the rigid structure and authoritarian leadership makes them feel safe, loved, and parented.

Also, it wasn't like anyone realized it was a cult in the beginning. The family all thought it was a typical early 70s hippie ashram/commune thing and that it was a passing phase. My cousins dressed funny, had strange rituals, went by new names, and were vegetarians, but they were still allowed to communicate and visit with family. They had kids who seemed happy and healthy. I remember that there was a lot of contact immediately after Jonestown so they could reassure us that the cult wasn't dangerous. It wasn't until several years later when we learned that their preteen daughter had become defiant and was forcibly removed from the family and sent to live at another site in a different state that we understood how much power the cult held over them. By that time, if they wanted to break free, I'm not sure they could have seen a way out.
posted by weebil at 10:59 AM on January 1, 2009


The Strong City website's web archive has a wealth of info about them and leads to this news-style site the guy did, called The Winds
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:17 AM on January 1, 2009


It never ceases to amaze me that cult leaders follow the same general patterns, which almost always includes severe restrictions on followers' social and sexual relationships but a rule for unfettered access by the leader.

I think one of the best fictionalized accounts of how someone gets lured into cults like this would be the Todd Haynes movie Safe. Very creepy but also very telling, in that you witness the protagonist's transition from every-day person in the world to member of an isolated and possibly abusive cult, in a way that's moves naturally from one progression to the next.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:29 AM on January 1, 2009


qvantamon, Here's an old list of end of the world cults, looks like it was posted around 1999 or 2000. There are some dates yet to be reached, but most were Y2K related. There's still hope for The Large Hadron Collider in 2009, and a number of semi-religious prophecies. There are some more for 2010s, and some Indian astrologers were predicting a catastrophic tsunami in 2010, though we can turn things around if we "erase negative energies and transform them into positive energies."

I'm not worried because, IMDB lists Not the End of the World (2010). And there's the rebirth of the world on December 24, 2011. The best is yet to come (or something).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:31 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've read a lot of studies of cults in the 70s, and intelligence and idealism were two defining characteristics shared by most of the people joining (at that time anyways).

Thanks dydecker, the post/documentary was fantastic. I'd love to see an eventual follow-up with the son in particular.
posted by stinkycheese at 11:45 AM on January 1, 2009


Who Joins Cults, And Why?
posted by stinkycheese at 11:49 AM on January 1, 2009


Here's a bit of his website called "Ask Michael."
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:55 AM on January 1, 2009


Thank you for posting this. One of my weird pet interests is cults.

If anyone wants to learn more about cult psychology, I highly recommend Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities by Oakes.
posted by Nattie at 12:10 PM on January 1, 2009


I'm not sure I can watch anymore of this without breaking something first.
posted by nola at 12:52 PM on January 1, 2009


this is the second time i've watched the film. it's fascinating to really watch the girls closely--how they are constantly spinning their gotta-please-him reassurance webs. they *are* tremendously sensitive and emotionally raw *all the time*. it's like it's their constant state of being--like they're constantly striving for everything to be PURE PURE PURE. i mean, that's the stage of life right there where kids *want*... *ache for* transformative, ecstatic experiences. and there they are, constantly whipping themselves into an emotionally heightened state. spurred on by Michael's massive delusions, of course.

so yeah, they fascinate me--looking into their eyes and watching them try to stay there, in the sweet spot of love and acceptance and religious ecstasy. they're drugged out on their own belief.

but here's what's scary to me. i have to watch the film again to figure out which ones are John and Elsa and Ashleey (i'm terribly with names), but Michael really calls them out in yesterday's blog post. he says they've renounced their faith, and were they to read that they'd certainly be vulnerable to the number he's pulled on their brains. (so i hope they're okay.)

and the picture of the burning martyr girl in the blog post? WTF! tell me that isn't a direct message to all these girls, both in the cult currently or without, to find a way to commit suicide. even if he'd not say it directly (he seems very good at pointing externally for everyone doing things of their own "free will" and so he probably wouldn't say it), it is perfectly within realm of their created reality that girls deprived of their "Father" for such an extended period would want to follow their leader into oblivion at this point. he says I feel that I have lost my will to live any longer in the world such as it is. Jesus felt the same way when they were coming for him. He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Matthew. 26:38. I have a broken heart, and I cannot think of anything on this earth that will now repair it. There is no purpose to life if a boy, girl, man or woman cannot follow their conscience and live according to the best light that they have. If their faith can be changed into a crime by the State, then who will finally end up a non-criminal? If one cannot follow the voice to his own soul without being convicted of wrongdoing, then what is the use of life?

so he's obviously pointing to this as a fatal sentence. he doesn't sound beyond being at a point where he would end his own life or starve himself or instigate a prison murder on himself. words, it seems, are everything in this cult. watch the movie and watch how careful they are about what they say. nearly no word is unconsidered or improper by their world view. so nothing he says in that blog post can be taken lightly. and so i wonder if any of the present or ex-cult member teenagers are thinking deeply about those words and being called to suicide to either join or show their emotional distress to the world about how we the Evil World have taken their "Father" away from them.

if i were the relatives of anyone on that property, i'd be worried about them and what they're doing and thinking about *right this second*.

and if any one of them are reading this, please take many long deep breaths and try to see how you've been deluded. my god.
posted by RedEmma at 2:06 PM on January 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Awesome! Caught a TV-ized version of this on National Geographic Channel several months ago and always wanted to see the real product. Thanks so much for this.
posted by fungible at 5:26 PM on January 1, 2009


I'm really curious if this cult is actually still together, or if they've disbanded. Without their leader, I think the facade crumbles pretty quickly. I'd love to hear about these people and I hope especially that those kids get some really hardcore counseling.
posted by zardoz at 5:33 PM on January 1, 2009


"Get Bent" is going to take on a whole new connotation when he gets to jail.
posted by jcworth at 6:03 PM on January 1, 2009


Thanks for posting this. I just finished reading Jon Krakauer's book on Mormon fundamentalists - Under The Banner of Heaven - there were a lot of similarities to this group.
posted by carter at 7:10 PM on January 1, 2009


Thank you for posting this. One of my weird pet interests is cults.

Mine too. I even jokingly started my own UFO themed cult (The Orthogenetic Church) but then the whole Heaven's Gate thing happened during my initial recruitment drive and that was just a major buzzkill. Some day The Grand Inculcator will make another run at it. Someday.
posted by MikeMc at 9:56 PM on January 1, 2009


I've read a lot of studies of cults in the 70s, and intelligence and idealism were two defining characteristics shared by most of the people joining

thank god no one here is idealistic.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:57 PM on January 1, 2009


From filthy light thief's list

23. Kabbalah Learning Center New York
Phillip Berg has claimed the end is nigh on September 11, 1999. Clientele include Rosanne Barr, Madonna,and other stars. A ball of fire will descend, destroying most of mankind.

Heh. A bit less specific, and he'd have hit cult gold!
posted by qvantamon at 2:05 AM on January 2, 2009


It never ceases to amaze me that cult leaders follow the same general patterns, which almost always includes severe restrictions on followers' social and sexual relationships but a rule for unfettered access by the leader. It's such a primitive power play - far beyond the financial scam these guys tend to run, too - and I often wonder if followers have a predisposition toward cuckolding or if they just feel like they can't say no, because if G-d reincarnate wants a piece of their wife/daughter, it's not their place to make waves.

I don't think it's a predisposition to cuckolding, it's that what does a cult leader do when he can do whatever he wants? He screws all the women.

It's fun to think about cults and patterns.

Restricting access to females and controlling folks' sexuality is such a perfect way to control people it crops up again and again in history (and no doubt pre-history). If you pull it off, you've got them by the balls, literally. It's the result of the interplay between and evolutionary psychology "the guy in charge tries to maximize control of and access to the women" and the human religious impulse "believe what your elders tell you, they were right about staying away from the water where the crocs live, so they must be right about the great spirit 'man-who-is-nailed-to-a-tree-but-comes-back-to-life' ". If you manage to convince them that the great spirit disapproves of masturbation and sex outside of marriage, you win.

Controlling people through restrictions on social relationships works the the same way.

It's not that a religion perpetuates itself and happens to have these weird features, it's that these weird features are how it manages to perpetuate itself. It's like a game: look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and figure out how to control people through each of those needs (or find an example of your favorite religion doing that). A would-be messiah or gestating memetic complex that tries to base a religion on something that's not in the hierarchy of needs is like a user trying to control a photocopier* by menacing it with a dried lizard; it might be entertaining but it's not going to work.

*(I'd flesh out the simile by equating sexuality with the card-reader or coin-slot, equating safety needs with the power plug, and so on. The stuff under "Self-actualization", (creativity, problem solving, etc.) is sort of like getting the paper feeder working. Not every photocopier has a paper feeder ... I suspect this is one of those late-night thoughts that's not going to make any sense in the morning.).
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:52 AM on January 2, 2009


yes, the group is still together, and is going through a sort of emergency, since their "messiah" is now in prison and has declared his intent to go on his second "final fast". i have no doubt that there are at least a few of his followers who intend to follow him, probably out of a twisted sense of solidarity or competition with the other women over who is willing or is accepted to be the "closest" to him.

this blogger has gotten members to respond to each other a number of times, because they view his documentation as even-handed. (though his latest "poll" puts him and his readers squarely into a rather ghoulish spectator role.) a bunch of the women/girls had MySpace pages until some time in the recent past. i don't have the time to dig further, but i presume that since *all* of them now have deleted their pages, it was because of a group decision, a change to even further distance themselves from the eyes of the world, possibly because of the onerousness of constant criticism. there's no shortage of people telling them they're delusional. they just can't believe it. they've turned down a blind alley of belief wherein Michael is the object of all affection, and the only possible source of sexual gratification for the women. the only sex possible is "spiritual" sex with god, and so it has become a very twisted competition among the women and girls to be the most favored, the most committed, the most touched by the "messiah." also to be the most perfect--the least jealous.

i think what's most obvious in the film is that it's going to be next to impossible for them to extricate themselves from the dead end they're in.

to them, he is the Messiah--Michael. if they turn around and accept that he is not, and is merely Wayne Bent, then all that they have done will have been a sin. a manipulation by a mentally ill man. they would have to believe that they have been fools. the girls believe they have experienced something pure, something perfect, by giving themselves utterly to this man. taking that away from them will be devastating. better to continue on, they must think. no matter what.

and frankly, i think Wayne Bent believes he is what his followers say he is--once again, he'd have to accept that he has participated in something horribly sinful (subtly inducing people to break up their families and have sex with him for starters) in order to stop the delusion.

this is a mass delusion that i believe will end in the starvation deaths of at least a few of his followers. (no matter how many times they've insisted they're against suicide. they'll probably call it something else.) the rest will feel that they are somehow less pure for not being willing to die as well. i suppose what's most tragic is that relatives will have to face the reality that these people would rather wither away than give up their commitment.

i'd be very curious to hear the words of John, Ashleey and Elsa, though i would imagine they feel conflicted about what's going on, and as if they are betrayers. Judases. even if they're on their way to recovery, it would be difficult to imagine that this doesn't mess with them the rest of their lives. somehow i feel worse for those who realize their mistake than those who continue down the dead-end path.

i've been thinking that groups like this are the natural result of extraordinary religious fervor, of a belief in the literal "word of god". if you're going to truly commit to that document as a Truth, no matter its inconsistencies, you have to really twist your mind in knots or simply accept a higher authority as interpreter. so many people choose the interpreter because it's easier than trying to parse out the actual words and constantly deeper meanings. depending on an interpreter's infallibility is where everything goes to hell.
posted by RedEmma at 10:25 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


The book Peter was looking for is When Prophecy Fails, by Festinger, which is apparently about to be re-issued.
posted by Maias at 4:24 PM on January 2, 2009


« Older The sections of britishbattles.com about The First...  |  Start your new year by visitin... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments