Interview with a Cultist

Justin Madu | Contributor

The Heaven’s Gate suicide cult formed sometime in 1972, and lasted until March of 1997. During the mid-spring of ’97, thirty-nine members of the cult committed suicide with the belief that their souls would be picked up by an unidentified flying object trailing the Hale-Bopp comet, which was passing by earth during that time.
However, Heaven’s Gate left behind two members to maintain their website, and answer questions from the outside world. The Heaven’s Gate website still exists, unedited since shortly before the infamous mass-suicide. Through their website, I was able to directly contact the two surviving members, who have kept their identities secret for over twenty years. The following interview was conducted via email over the course of several days.

  1. If you had to describe Heaven’s Gate, how would you do so?
    “It is a real, physical level above the human one here on this planet. The individuals there are in real, physical body, in real, physical crafts. The Next Level span the universe. They created this planet and all the life on it. All knowledge that the planet earth has accumulated over time, comes from the Next Level.”  
    Q. How many members of Heaven’s Gate would you estimate are currently worldwide?
    “Zero. It came to an end in 1997. There is no Group or members.”
    Q. What about you? How do you fit within the organization?
    “We joined them at the beginning in 1975 and have been with them for 43 years. Still doesn’t mean there is a Group.”
    Q. Why do you refer to yourself/yourselves as “we”?
    “There are two of [us] here in Arizona.”
    Q. Would you still consider yourself loyal to the cause/ideology that was established when there was a group?
    “Yes.”
    Q. Do you interact much with the outside world outside of emails? Do you hold jobs?
    “Yes, we work full time jobs to pay for things.”
    Q. May I ask why you were chosen to stay behind? What was the purpose of leaving some members behind?
    “To maintain the website, emails and provide information to the world.”
    Q. Were you disappointed to be left behind?
    “No.”
    Q. The media has often portrayed Heaven’s Gate as a “cult,” do you feel like this is an accurate characterization?
    “The definition doesn’t seem to fit. That is not only our opinion but that of academia.”
    Q. What are your thoughts about the loss of your group? Are the two of you saddened by it, or happy that the others were able to fulfill their goal?
    “We are happy they graduated into the Next Level.”
    Q. Do you ever miss them? Would you consider them your friends?
    “Yes to both.”

Interestingly, while there are two members left, there was never any indication as to who was answering my questions. The responses offered by the surviving members are unedited. This means that while the responses retain authenticity, they also have minor grammatical quirks. Additionally, the wide use of improper capitalization is likely intention to convey meaning. It is my assumption that the capitalizing of words such as “Group” likely references terms used within the cult while it was still active. Whomever I spoke to seemed unwilling to answer a question I had asked about how the two survivors were specifically chosen to be left behind. The members’ insistence that they were not a cult was also interesting, because although they stated that “academia” would not consider them a cult, they did not provide any sources supporting this claim. In fact, a cursory search reveals that The Heaven’s Gate group does meet the criteria for being defined as a cult.