'Heaven's Gate' Podcast Looks Back At San Diego Mass Suicide
Rancho Santa Fe is known for multi million dollars homes and rich and famous residence. That should have been enough to secure the neighborhood's national reputation. It is also well-known for something else. 20 years ago, a rented mansion was the scene of the largest mass suicide on Americans soul. -- Soil. A new podcast takes a look into this episode. It explores what drove people to believe, and ultimately die for the group known as Heaven's Gate. Joining me is Glenn Washington, host of the podcast, Heaven's Gate. Glenn, welcome to the program.Great to be here.You already host an NPR podcast. What drove -- drew you to the Heaven's Gate's -- gate story?I grew up in a cult of my own. And end of days, apocalyptic, Jesus cult that imploded in the early 90s late 80s. I kind of saw this as a chance to get a do over and explore what might have happened if things had gone really horribly wrong.Things did go horribly wrong for Heaven's Gate, from our point of view. In 1997, 39 people dressed in identical jumpsuits were found lying in beds with purple cloth over their heads. You make the point in the first podcast that no one talked about suicide when Heaven's Gate first started. What did they talk about ?they talked about life. They talked about joy and about being at her people. The whole point of the Heaven's Gate organization was to ascend or go to the next level. They believed that they were going to go out into the universe on a UFO with their bodies intact. That was the core of where they were coming from.In the first podcast, we also hear a family member of one of the colt members who died, Nancy Brown. You have us introduced to her as she is watching a video of her son and other members of Heaven's Gate on Christmas.It is fun to see how they celebrated the holiday. They really did. You see them not as cultists, but enjoying each other as people. I am glad to know that he had these things in his life. Because I know that he was loved and that he loved others. What more can you wish for your children. That they be loved and have others that they love. That is so important to me.That is so moving, but it also seems a curious take on her son's involvement in this colt. -- Colt. Did it surprise you?It did surprise me. Her generosity was so amazing when it came to talking about her son and what she has left of him. What she has left of him is these memories that she was not a participant in. The tape that you are listening to was of her son returning to a Heaven's Gate house during the Christmas season, and being greeted warmly by all these people. This is a time period when she was not able to contact her son. When she was cut off from her son. She sees this tape and is just happy that he did have a community. That he was not alone. That people cared for him.Glenn, from what you have said about your own personal experience, that feeling of community, that feeling that can make you so certain of your future when you are a group like this -- in a group like this, describe that feeling. Even though to the outside world it might seem crazy.A lot of things might not hold up to scientific rigor. But, when you join an organization that people want to define as a cult, that is at a different level onto your isolation. Generally, colts are organizations that have a single leader. And that leader has you cut all ties with whoever you work for -- that means your --. That means your family, your friends, etc. Often these organizations are apocalyptic. That means they see a very certain end date that you are working towards. I know that is the interesting thing. 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. That it was imminent. As I mentioned, some people had taken to wearing their shoes to bed in case Jesus came in the middle of the night, so that they would be ready. The stories that you have to tell as an organization to keep that passion and fire alive, it is very similar here, too. Bonnie nettles told people that a UFO was going to come and get them. They believed that to the point that at one point they waited out in the field for the UFO to show up.You pose a fascinating question that you hope to answer as the Heaven's Gate podcast continues. That question is, how do you know when it is time to get out of a group that is becoming toxic or dangerous? Just about everyone who met members of Heaven's Gate said they were really nice people.Yes. And, how do you know? We are trying to get as close as we can to what happened inside that San Diego mansion when they made this fateful decision to end their lives and pass on to whatever they thought their reward was going to be. What we are looking for is who still had doubt? Was there anyone in there who did not quite believe? It is impossible to say this one or that one. But, there are all these clues from various people who are basically saying, I don't know. I wonder what was going on. Understand that hundreds of people were at one time associated with Heaven's Gate. There were only 39 who went on and did this thing. A lot of people did in fact get out. A lot of people did he that call and escape.Glenn Washington's podcast Heaven's Gate has new episodes each Wednesday. You can subscribe for free and I tones or your favorite podcast app. Glenn, thank you so much for speaking with us. I really appreciate it.Thank you so much for having me.
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.