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Heaven’s Gate’ Podcast Looks Back At San Diego Mass Suicide

The logo for the podcast,

Credit: Stitcher

Above: The logo for the podcast, "Heaven's Gate."

We're sorry. This audio clip is no longer available. A transcript has been made available.

Twenty years ago, in a rented mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, police found 39 people dressed in identical jumpsuits lying peacefully in beds with purple cloths draped over their heads. It was the largest mass suicide on American soil.

A new podcast takes an in-depth look into this strange episode in San Diego history, exploring what drove people to believe and ultimately die for the religious cult known as Heaven's Gate.

"Heaven's Gate" host Glynn Washington, also host of the WNYC-produced podcast "Snap Judgment," has first-hand experience of what can be so appealing about cults. He grew up as a member of the Worldwide Church of God, before leaving when he was 19.

"You never want to make a straight comparison between one thing and another, but my own background was such that we were taught that the world was about to end at any moment. I remember one of our pastors saying that if we thought we were going to see the end of the 1980s without the return of the Lord, Jesus Christ, then we had another thing coming," Washington said. "The stories you have to tell as an organization to keep that passion and that fire alive, it's very similar here too. (Heaven's Gate leader) Bonnie Nettles told people a UFO would come and get them. And they believed that to the point that they waited out in a field for a UFO to show up."

Washington joins KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday to discuss the Heaven's Gate cult and how the podcast lets him explore his own past.


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