Former cult members weave a chilling narrative, shedding light on the power and allure of secret sects.

Most of us scoff at the idea of people following a wide-eyed, rambling man into an orchestrated mass suicide. And who in their right mind would attack a group of unarmed civilians at the command of a charismatic ex-con? But this is the power cults wield, drawing ordinary citizens into bizarre and horrific situations.

People Magazine Investigates: Cults S2 starts on Thursday 11 July, and sets out to explore this disturbing phenomenon. Each episode gives viewers an in-depth look at a different organisation, and through horrific re-enactments, reveals how these shocking events transpired.

The Manson Family

Infamously sold as a young boy by his mother for a pitcher of beer, Charles Manson was in and out of prison until he founded his Family. He was influenced by the best-selling, self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, and used similar methods to control his followers. Members of The Family ultimately carried out the violent slaying of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and her four friends, in California, in 1969.

Heaven’s Gate

Who could forget the eerie police crime-scene footage of 39 bodies laid out on bunk beds, draped in purple cloth, and dressed in black tracksuits and matching Nike sneakers. In 1997, Heaven’s Gate founder and leader Marshall Applewhite convinced 38 followers that the approaching Halle-Bop comet was a space ship, and that their collective suicide would be the key to them hitching a ride to Heaven. They downed a lethal cocktail and lay on their beds to await transportation to the next level.

Children of God

This secretive cult originated in the early 60s but its name has changed over the years, and it’s currently known as The Family International. Famous celebrities, like Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan, are former members and survivors. The restrictive religious sect is said to encourage incest and survivors reveal this happens from a heartbreakingly young age. Described as “hell on earth”, members reportedly faced beatings and physical abuse if they did not comply.

Criminal, insane, unbelievable and bizarre – these cults exist. But what makes them so powerful? Don’t miss People Magazine Investigates Cults, where the truth will be revealed.

People Magazine Investigates Cults starts on Thursday 11 July on Investigation Discovery (171) at 21:50. Not at home? Stream it live with DStv Now.