"When people ask me if I've been brainwashed by Michael, I say, 'Yes I have been brainwashed. Michael has washed my brain of all my sins.'" This was just one of the chilling quotes that struck me while watching The End of the World Cult documentary on Channel 4's website.
The documentary by British journalist Ben Anthony, from 2007, gives a glimpse into the lives of the Strong City cult. The cult, which is in a remote town in New Mexico, believed that the world would end on October 31st, 2007.
A man named Michael Travesser, formerly known as Wayne Bent, is their leader. Their 'Messiah.'
He claimed that he was the 'chosen one'. That God spoke to him and told him the date for the end of the world. That our human existence is doomed, and the only way you can be saved is if you follow his word.
End of the World, End of Innocence
And what is his word, exactly? Based on what this documentary shows, it includes giving up 'our world' and doing whatever Michael--the Messiah--says.
This includes sleeping with his son's ex-wife. Taking two women as his 'witnesses', and sleeping with both of them. Forcing everyone to give up their possessions to him. And most disturbing of all: him laying naked, in bed, with teenage virgins.
Some people were smart enough to escape the cult. However, some children were left behind. There were three teenagers whose parents forced them to leave, but the stronghold of Michael's brainwashing was too strong.
Once they left Strong City, they went on hunger strikes. They harmed themselves. Some even threatened to kill themselves. And so, they ended up back into the clutches of Michael.
One of the most haunting things about this documentary was the look in the eyes of his followers. When speaking with or about Michael, they all had the same wide-eyed look of complete and utter devotion. 100% certainty that his word was as good as God's.
'This is the end. My only friend, the end.'
Obviously, the end of the world did not come. It's nearly 2010, and we're all still here.
So what happened with the Strong City cult? Sadly, the cult still exists. On the bright side, Michael Travesser was jailed for 10 years for sexual misconduct with minors.
But even in his prison cell, he's able speak to his followers.
It's hard to tell what his followers are thinking, and how they felt about his false prediction of doomsday. Obviously, there are those that will follow his word no matter what the actions are (or aren't, in this case).
Going back to the Ben Anthony documentary, I can't help think back to the crazed looks in their eyes. Although this was a controversial documentary, I think anything that can provoke such intense reactions is something worth watching.
Better take the time to watch it before the world comes to an end...