America has always been fascinated by cults, those strange groups of slavish devotees who do strange things for strange reasons in strange ways for extremely strange leaders.
Colorado's cultish history is on full display right now in HBO's docuseries Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God. The group Love Has Won was led by Amy Carlson, a woman who abandoned her third husband, her three children and her managerial job at a Kansas McDonald's to move to outside Crestone, Colorado. It was there that she renamed herself "Mother God" and founded the group originally called the Galactic Federation of Light.
Both Love Has Won and Mother God herself grew more bizarre over the years. Carlson, for her part, claimed to have birthed the entire human race and been reincarnated 534 times, including lives as Jesus (he gets around), Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and Marilyn Monroe. She also said she'd been the daughter of Donald Trump in another life on the ancient isle of Lemuria, the existence of which has been disproven through the study of plate tectonics. But good cons never let facts get in the way of a good story.
The Love Has Won group followed that weird mix of conservative conspiracy-theorizing and borrowed spiritual belief —more the former than the latter. It remains unclear how the group defines "Love" having "Won," when most of its tenets are QAnon talking points. Members believed that the world was run by a cabal of villains devoted to keeping the planet in a "low vibration" state. They also averred that COVID was purposeful; the massacre at Sandy Hook, the 9/11 attack and the Holocaust all hoaxes; and that Adolf Hitler intended to "serve the light." A YouTube video described in a 2021 Marie Claire article reportedly shows two followers of Love Has Won talking about just that: "[The Jews] wanted everyone else to do the work and they would take the money. ... The idea behind the concentration camps was to teach them to work.”
Reprehensible idiocy aside, the group supported itself primarily through donations, the sale of new-age products, and health remedies ranging from herbal supplements to "etheric surgery," which purported to remove negative energy and its effects on the body. Most pertinent was Love Has Won's answer to COVID: the ingestion of colloidal silver, essentially just silver particles suspended in liquid. It was sometimes used as a treatment for wounds and infection before antibiotics were discovered, but modern medicine determined that it never had any real healing effect and, in fact, was unsafe.
In her passing, Mother God was proof of that. Her death in 2021 at the age of 45 was determined by the El Paso County coroner to be caused by "alcohol abuse, anorexia, and chronic colloidal silver ingestion." Carlson's body was discovered wrapped in a sleeping bag and Christmas lights, with eyeless sockets painted in glitter. Charges of abuse of a corpse were filed against certain cult members but later dropped.
Love Has Won is far from the only cult with roots in Colorado. Here are a few more — some still active:
Heaven's Gate was the UFO doom cult that (mostly) committed mass suicide in 1997, with members riding the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet into their "Next Level Bodies" — or so was the claim when 39 identically clad corpses were found in San Diego. Despite departing from California, the group had several ties to Colorado, including a house in Denver. Crazy-eyed founder Marshall Applewhite graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1969 with a master's degree in music, after which he met Bonnie Nettles. She was married with children at the time, but the two of them abandoned their respective families to go off together. They renamed themselves Bo and Peep, and then later Do and Ti, and founded the group that interwove space-based new-age thought with classic Christianity. In other words, if you have a strong enough telescope, you could see God. Despite the exodus in 1997, the Heaven's Gate website is still active, as a few believers "stayed behind" to keep the faith...and the glow of the computer screen burning bright.
The Guru Maharaj Ji's Divine Light Mission was a cult take on traditional Hinduism that had connections in India. It was headquartered in Denver's Capitol Hill from its incorporation in 1972 and recognized as a church in 1974, when its membership worldwide counted well over a million. Followers were called "premies" after the Guru's other name, Prem Rawat, and could be found handing out magazines to publicize and promote the DLM all over Denver and across the country. It held festivals to raise awareness (and money), and diversified its profitability through enterprises including laundromats, a natural foods store (the Rainbow Grocery at Colfax and York, later a Wild Oats), used clothing stores, a plane charter agency, a repair service, typesetting facilities (yes, Westword briefly used them) and the "Cleanliness-is-Next-to-Godliness" janitorial service (ditto). It even had its own educational facility, the Unity School, which was once housed at 1225 Emerson Street (now a residential duplex).
We've reported on Denver doomsday cult Concerned Christians several times over the years, but the ridiculousness of Monte Kim Miller is worth recounting. Miller's group was devoted to bringing spirituality back to the apocalyptic biblical roots, railing against feminism, "new age" philosophy, alternative medicine, and any religious belief other than Miller's own. It was housed in what's now the Turntable Studios, a former hotel near Mile High Stadium, but disappeared for a time when Miller's prediction that Denver would be wiped from the map in a disastrous 1998 earthquake never materialized. After a failed rabble-rousing on the streets of Jerusalem in 1999 (which resulted in the group's being redefined as a terrorist organization), Concerned Christians found itself back in Denver for Y2K, only to fade away into deserved obscurity in the years that followed. A 2008 report from 9News says Miller is "still in hiding," but he (or someone posing as Miller) still has a web page, which has an email link at the bottom stating that the owners "usually don't reply."
Colorado's connection to the Twelve Tribes cult gained some notoriety when it was suggested that the Marshall fire, the 2021 blaze that is the state's most damaging on record when measured by buildings destroyed, may have started in a Twelve Tribes shed in Boulder County. In June, an investigation determined that "week-old embers on Twelve Tribes property and a sparking Xcel power line" might have contributed to the conflagration, according to the Denver Post. But before that determination, the purposefully private cult was in the spotlight. "The Twelve Tribes attracts new members with a folksy peace-and-love, all-are-welcome message, but underneath that hollow promise of utopia lies a manipulative cult that seeks to maintain complete control of its followers," refugees of the cult's influence told the Post in March 2022. They recounted tales of child abuse both physical and sexual, the monetary exploitation of its membership, and teachings that embrace homophobia, racism, and misogyny. The cult still operates in Colorado and worldwide; it owns and operates the Yellow Deli on Boulder's Pearl Street, and Maté Factor Café in Manitou Springs.
Miracle of Love, now called the Center of the Golden One, is based in the Berkeley neighborhood (at 4277 West 43rd Ave). It began in 1987 when an "incarnation of God manifesting on earth" named Lord Gourasana entered the body of David Swanson. His wife, Carole Seidman, quickly changed her name to Kalindi, and the two established a meditation-based cult with all the familiar trappings of cult activity: identity shifting, brainwashing, and income generation through membership and charity, according to the Cult Education Institute (CEI). "It's called meditation," says a 2006 CEI report, "but it looks like a scene out of Dante’s Inferno. People writhe on the floor, screaming and crying. Pop songs blare from the speakers — the Black Eyed Peas, Bruce Springsteen, Mike & the Mechanics. A woman speaks soothingly into a microphone, encouraging the people to give their feelings free rein." Though Swanson and Seidman have both passed, the cult continues under the leadership of Gayle Aster, who dubbed herself "The Lady."
By the way, my own brush with cult activity came through a good friend of mine in Phoenix back in the early ’90s. He'd gotten involved with a Christian cult through a local church somehow, and jumped in with both feet. He lived in communal housing and had his paychecks sent directly to the group's bank account. He was given an allowance of sorts, but it was usually eaten up by the paying of "sins," which were charged to members in terms of cash. Not doing the dishes was a sin that would cost you $10. Masturbation was a sin that cost a cool $100. And to further dampen sexual temptations, there were no doors in the shared houses, not even on the bathrooms. My friend, despite working two jobs, found himself always in the red with his own church.
He eventually got out, though I don't know how: He'd estranged himself from everyone he'd known pretty well by then.