The Top 10 San Francisco Cults: You Will Read This … JOIN US!

They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky. They're altogether ooky –- San Francisco’s Top 10 Cults!

By Joe Eskenazi

Listed in no particular order:


10. The Peoples Temple

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Yes, it’s the granddaddy of all San Francisco cults and the institution that introduced the term “Drink the Kool-Aid” into our society. The Reverend Jim Jones actually started his “Peoples Temple Christian Church” in Indianapolis, but, soured by that city’s inherent racism in the 1960s, later moved to Northern California (where he prophesized that his followers would be safe from nuclear Armageddon). By 1972 Jones operated a thriving temple in San Francisco’s largely black Fillmore District, offering social services for the poor and elderly (just like Hamas!).

Tax questions led Jones to open a massive agricultural community in Guyana in the mid-'70s. When Congressman Leo J. Ryan visited on a fact-finding mission in 1978 –- and several families passed him notes asking help to get them out -– things went badly. Ryan’s party was attacked and the congressman was killed along with three journalists and a defecting temple member. Jones and his henchmen then forced more than 900 followers of all ages to drink cyanide-laced purple Flav-R-Aid (that’s British Kool-Aid).

While the memory of Jones has largely faded, his gift to the American lexicon lives on via –- oh yeah! -– Kool-Aid. For example, many sports journalists drank the 49ers' Kool-Aid this year and predicted the team would be good. Damn 49ers.

9. Dahn

This is the yoga-pushing organization founded by Ilchee Lee that hawks workshops and retreats in which one can perfect an activity called “brain respiration.” In 2005...

one brain respirator’s next-of-kin filed a suit charging the group forced Julia Siverls to haul 40 pounds of rocks across the blazing Arizona desert, resulting in her death.

Sounds charming. But the local tie, as reported by SF Weekly’s own Matt Smith, is that Mayor Gavin Newsom declared Sept. 7 to be “Ilchee Lee Day in San Francisco.”

City residents are urged to celebrate by packing a knapsack full of rocks and walking themselves to death.

8. The Gap

Before Donald Fisher had his name legally changed to “Republican Billionaire Donald Fisher” by peeved San Francisco progressives and long before he began pushing misleading parking initiatives on city voters via blatant lies, he was a founder of a little company called The Gap. You’ve heard of it?

Well, kids, if you are kids, you don’t know how good you had it (unless you're the kids who actually make Gap clothes). While The Gap is in the wane these days, 15 or 20 years ago all you’d see around the Bay Area were legions of people skulking about in boring-assed Gap turtlenecks, sweaters, and khakis – with pleats! Oh, the humanity!

7. Hare Krishna

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Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare!

One more time!

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare…

6. Those Really Litigious People.

You know…these guys. Sssssh!

5. Google

Perhaps the only cult that also doubles as a verb, Google’s members cruise through the city in luxurious black buses and, to the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s dismay, have made The Mission their own personal compound.

I would look up more awful things they’ve done, but suddenly my Internet search engine stopped working.

4. Church of Satan

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Founded in San Francisco in 1966 by Anton LaVey (who claimed to be a former lion tamer), this group seems to be less oriented toward the worship of the Devil and more about wearing snazzy clothes, growing ridiculous facial hair, not being a drag, and living it up in general. If that sounds like fun, feel free to join –- for $200. Hey, snazzy clothes ain’t cheap.


3. In-N-Out

It’s the ultimate Southern California cult: No SoCal resident will leave you alone until you admit In-N-Out burgers are not only the best in the world, but food from a higher plane of existence. In-N-Out started its infiltration into Northern California via backwaters such as Pinole and Pleasanton, but now they’re front and center in Fisherman’s Wharf, disgorging their biblical text-emblazoned burgers and shakes and brainwashing the world one double-double at a time.

2. Christian Spiritualist Church

You can read one woman’s account of living in this San Francisco cult in the 1970s here. While Christian Spiritualist churches still exist in San Francsico, it appears unlikely that they engage in any cultlike behavior (i.e., everyone living in one old house owned by a charismatic, sexually predatory leader who won’t let you leave). Still, to join, you must affirm that you believe “that communication with the so-called dead is a fact, scientifically proven by the phenomena of spiritualism.” In fact, belief in spiritual mediums is central to the church’s philosophy. You can read its FAQ page here.

Personally, if my long-deceased relatives are reading from the great beyond, I’d like them to know they should stop rooting for the Dodgers now because the team moved out of Brooklyn in 1958. Could you do that for me?

1. Gavin Worship

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Seriously, what would Gavin Newsom have had to do to not get re-elected? We'll investigate the subject in a future comic here on SFWeekly.com.


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