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July 16, 1997

Psychiatrist Explores Apocalyptic Violence in Heaven's Gate and Aum Shinrikyo Cults

Author Affiliations

JAMA contributor

JAMA. 1997;278(3):191-193. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550030031013

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"COLLECTIVE SUICIDE is a waste and a tragedy, but it is in no way comparable to the evil of mass murder," Robert Jay Lifton, MD, said in a presentation exploring parallels and contrasts in the Heaven's Gate and Aum Shinrikyo cults at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in San Diego, Calif, in May. Lifton also addressed the characteristics of cult leaders, the attractions cults hold for members, and the help physicians can offer cult members and their families.

Lifton's presentation, "Cult Violence, Death, and Immortality," was proposed and cosponsored with the APA by the San Diego County Medical Society following the mass suicide of 39 members of Heaven's Gate at that cult's headquarters near San Diego on March 26, 1997. Lifton is Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology and director of the Center on Violence and Human Survival at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice