What The Heaven’s Gate Suicides Say About American Culture

 
 

This article was originally published at The Conversation. The publication contributed the article to Live Science’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Heaven’s Gate — also known as the “UFO cult” — burst into American consciousness 20 years ago this month, when, on March 26, 1997, law enforcement discovered 39 decomposing bodies in a San Diego, California mansion.

Each detail that emerged from the scene stunned a rapt public: Adherents had committed suicide in waves on March 22 and 23, ingesting a lethal mix of barbiturates and alcohol; they lay under purple shrouds, with five-dollar bills and rolls of quarters in their pockets; all wore simple dark uniforms and Nike tennis shoes.

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