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16 years after a mass suicide, the webpage is still up (heavensgate.com)
140 points by standeven on Nov 23, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 103 comments

From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven%27s_Gate_(religious_gro...

> Only one of the group's members, Rio DiAngelo/Richard Ford, did not kill himself: weeks before the suicides, in December 1996, DiAngelo agreed with Applewhite to leave the group so he could ensure future dissemination of Heaven's Gate videos and literature.

This isn't surprising. The most dangerous viruses and parasites aren't the ones that kill their hosts immediately - they have to ensure their own survival first. If you view suicide cults as a meme (in Dawkin's terminology, not the Reddit usage of the word), then this makes sense.

> The group earned revenues by offering professional website development for paying clients under the name Higher Source.

Wikipedia cites this[0] article which is pretty interesting. There even seems to be what I assume is a mirror of the original site: http://www.religio.de/highersource/server/

[0]: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=199...

>The group earned revenues by offering professional website development

This is the best part of their story. Just because a person does technical work doesn't exclude them from being a moron.

Cult membership isn't just for "morons". There have been very intelligent people who, because of perfectly human errors in judgement have found themselves inside cult organisations.

Look at Scientology and lots of other cults like it. The people in it aren't stupid. Brainwashed, perhaps. There are many tricks both seemingly logical/cognitive and emotional that people can be taken in by. The emotional side is important: these people show affection to people who join them, and they often target people who are at uncertain points in their lives. Cult-style groups have often gone after college students precisely because they are at a point in their life where they are unsure about their future and potentially emotionally volatile.

There's a lot of people out there who are living unhappy lives, who find themselves alienated from society, who have a strong but unfulfilled desire to join together in a community with others, who lack self-confidence or enough self-belief to push back.

Cults aren't just stupid people making stupid decisions: sometimes joining a cult is a decision made by an intelligent, educated person in a moment of weakness. And the way the thing is set up makes it not seem cultish when they are joining. Scientology don't tell you about Lord Xenu on day one. They lure you in with promises of making you a better person: reducing your stress and anxiety, helping you with addictions to drugs, tobacco, alcohol etc., helping you succeed in business or education or whatever, helping you have a better relationship with your partner or family. Out of that menu, there's something everyone will want. Those are all the same things advertisers lure people in with. Falling for that kind of pitch doesn't make you stupid, it makes you human.

Whoa whoa whoa. You can't take what I said and then decide I'm lambasting everyone who ever joined a cult. That's your projection, not my comment. I'm sympathetic to people who find themselves in a cult or religion that goes against their self-interest. But... there is a spectrum. Killing yourself to somehow spirit away to an imagined UFO following a comet is at the very far end of that spectrum.

My point was that IQ and/or technical competence are no assurance that you won't make really, really bad choices in life.

> Just because a person does technical work doesn't exclude them from being a moron.

True that. I see it all the time. Though in practice, the most technically brilliant people are unlikely to be morons. It's usually the average and underachieving ones, IME.

Paul Frampton is hardly an underachiever, but he's still under house arrest in Argentina for drug smuggling.


The keepthefaith.com site listed in examples certainly looks as if it could of been designed by Higher Source.

I wonder...

I think you've missed the point on a lot of stuff here.

Viruses and parasites gain nothing from killing their host, hence most don't.

Heavens Gate has a very very small following today, so no it's not a meme by any means, it's failed to spread at all.

The religious memes aren't herded towards a path. There are millions of religions created and through evolution some succeed while most of them fail.

I watched a really interesting TED talk last night about this: http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_ewald_asks_can_we_domesticate_...

While I agree with the characterization of Heaven's Gate as a parasite or virus, I disagree that this is a means of "survival." Suicide cults are an ancient phenomenon, and a key to their success (I think) is ignorance.

I hope the web page stays online. It serves as a monument to how wrong they where. Now that Heaven's Gate has run it's course, I think the biggest threat to the "virus" at this point is sunlight.

And, plus, I think it's an important part of Internet history. The Internet during the '90s was an amazing transformation of society, and this site shows how old ideas embrace new means. It's fascinating from a sociological perspective.

> It serves as a monument to how wrong they where.

Except it doesn't, for two reasons:

People who are inclined to sympathise with them have no way of seeing any "failure". They left their bodies behind, sure. Wannabe believers will assume they've left with the aliens and are now happily enjoying the fruits of their belief.

Secondly, cults does not work the way you'd expect them to: Failure does not diminish the belief of true believers.

On the contrary, what we see time and time again is that while failure may drive away some people, for many cults failure serves as a "do or die" trigger: These people are so incredibly invested already, that they have a deep need to find a way of explaining the failure that can justify their belief to themselves, that many cults after a temporary lull experiences an increase in activity following a failure. E.g. the cult may decide the explanation for the failure of whatever event they are waiting for is that they have not been devout enough, or that more believers are needed, and redouble their efforts to bring about their goal.

Now, I don't think the Heavens Gate site should be taken offline, mostly because there's plenty of worse material online, and unlike most extant cults Heavens Gate is pretty much entirely extinct, so they are not much of a danger to anyone.

But don't assume a "failure" in predictions mean anything to these cults, even if a failure can be objectively proven.

That really shines a light into the mind of Applewhite, while he may have indeed been a lunatic, he knew his ideas were bullshit.

Not sure why this indicates he believed his ideas were bullshit... in my opinion, leaving material behind to spread his ideas after his own death suggests a truly held belief, not a purposeful scam.

It would seem like they got people to believe that The End Was Nigh and that they should commit suicide to avoid said End (Yeah, hold on to your logic there). If he truly believed that it was the end, why would he need to stay behind to tend to other things?

That seems like picking nits, though - these people clearly weren't the best and brightest in the first place.

I was under the impression they believed they were getting picked up by a space ship that was travelling with Hale Bop not that the end was nigh.

The earth was being "recycled". That's why they wanted to hitch a ride on a space ship. So, yeah, end of the world is coming so kill yourself so you don't die.

Read their material - that does not appear to be accurate.

While they did appear to believe the world would be "recycled" and potentially that this means a lot of people would/will die, the excerpts on their website does give vague descriptions of ways that people can be "protected and 'saved' from the approaching recycling". The difference would be that these people would still be "stuck" on this world, though they could "one day find them a member in the Level Above Human".

Consider the similarity to the idea in christianity of the Rapture, where some christian sects expects certain sets of "true believers" to be "raptured", while the rest - believers and non-believers and sinners of all kinds alike - are "left behind", with various means of eventually being saved:

The "recycling" or "spading under" of civilisation from Heavens Gate appears to be a form of the Rapture, with the possibility that many good people who have just not advanced far enough can survive, while the "true believers" are raptured. The difference being that in their version, it appears they believe in some sort of cyclic history for the earth, where there will be another opportunity at some point in the future.

Why would doing such require that member to leave the group?

And the page still has hidden text at the bottom of the page.

Truth be told, this is one of my favorite examples of hidden text, because it shows that people don't always use spam techniques for making money.

I haven't had much luck contacting the maintainer of that page to ask them to remove the hidden text.

Hhahaha - come on Matt... when Heaven's Gate was doing their search spamming, Larry was posting this: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/comp.lang.java/aSPAJO0...

It's strange that Page used to care about being a "good net citizen."

You can list the actions he's taken personally to disprove he's not a 'good net citizen', or you can blame Google for not being a 'good net company', but you absolutely are not allowed to speak for what he thinks.

Actually in the US we have freedom of speech, which includes the right to make ridiculous claims about what other people think.

I don't quite get the connection. It seems like you're trying to point out some hypocrisy, but search spamming is bad and identifying your crawler is good.

I think the only thing he wants to say is that this page is older than Google.


Why on earth do you want the maintainer to harm this historic artefact?

Because people can still find any maybe fall for this insanity?

I doubt it. This land mine went off years ago.

Why are you trying to contact them to remove the hidden text?

From his HN bio:

>I'm the head of the webspam team at Google.

It's a joke

A dark one, given that the maintainer in all likelihood was one of the people who committed suicide.


maybe to improve their SEO.

Ha ha - we quickly forget how the web USED to be.

Once a few clever souls realised they could increase their visibility by adding hidden words, they started appearing everywhere almost completely ruining any chance you had of finding something you want or need by searching due to all the false positives.

I know this arms race is still ongoing, but it's interesting to see back where we've been.

This kind of hidden text seems trivial to exclude. Does the phrase being searched occur in a parseable sentence? If not, penalize the result. Also, it's trivial to deduce that the text doesn't display; that alone should make it excludable from any and all searches.

"Does the phrase being searched occur in a parseable sentence?"

- that's just an insane thing to suggest, that would exclude much of the world's poetry, lyrics (I'm looking at you Icona Pop), code, etc etc etc. What does it even mean "to parse" in this context.

"it's trivial to deduce that the text doesn't display" - for that example it might be, but in general it's anything but trivial.

I think in some way, Google bot behaves as a headless browser (a la PhantomJS albeit their own special sauce). Their goal is to mimic an actual human user visiting a web page so even JavaScript may be getting parsed/evaluated so dynamically included text may also may get indexed.

In a similar vein, "invisible to user" text may get cross referenced with "visible to bot" text and if there's a discrepancy, that may count against your rank.

I love how Yoda makes it into the list.

I would assume the maintainer evacuated already...

edit: still ranked on the first page of Google for multiple keywords

buy cheap nike sneakers

Matt_Cutts, what a douche. Surely your algorithm is meant to detect this kind of text spam?

Edit: The website is responsive, clearly got there priorities sorted.

Its not responsive in it current definition. The site is just fluid (based on percentages), the reason some elements seem to realign/behave like responsive design, is because those elements have fixed widths.

History lesson: Fluid widths were quite common until around 2005, as there weren't a large number of resolutions to cater to. Around the start of 2006 designers started switching to 800-960px to have the webpages look the same or nearly the same on every page.

[0] http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_display.asp - In early 2006 77% of displays were between 800-1024px wide.

>Computer technology enables everyone from Madison Avenue executives to Government agencies to keep a record of your every move, and "flags" are thrown up any time you don't fit their pre-conceived mold of what a good citizen should be. Our right to travel and remain nomadic is rapidly being restricted. We often travel light on spur-of-the-moment instructions, however we can no longer take an airline flight on short notice without harassment. Anyone who purchases a ticket with cash without advance reservations and does not have a load of baggage to check will likely be subjected to baggage searches, interrogation, and suspicion. Even when they can find nothing whatsoever that is questionable, authorities have at times reluctantly let our members proceed, convinced that they are indeed guilty of some crime but too clever to be caught. Police presence at border crossings have increased to the point that you feel you are in a war zone.

About right.

I wonder how many mass suicides are being planned today.

Back to the future...

Right after the mass suicide we took over DNS for heavensgate.com.

We pointed it at aolsucks.org until their t1 melted.


We took control of DNS for two weeks. http://linbsd.org/geek.mp3 details the rest of the fun we had from snafu.org. The person who did the hack put himself as technical contact...

Glad we got away with it...

Their indoctrination vids are a must watch for craziness: http://youtu.be/AqSZhwu1Rwo

Check out that thousand yard stare.

This guy reminds me of that insane space cult leader from Star Trek TOS. Apparently this cult was full of ST fans, including wearing "away team" gear while they killed themselves.

I remember hearing this at the time, but it's mentioned on her Wikipedia page as well. The brother of Nichelle Nicholas ("Uhura," as I'm sure you know) was a member of the cult and took part in the mass suicide.


I saw these videos recently as part of Captain Murphy's Duality[1]. Almost seems like something from a movie; it's hard to believe this really happened.

[1] http://vimeo.com/53603603

If you look carefully, he also appears to literally have a "forked tongue"

The wiki page of the sect links to this


I clicked on that link as well and was astonished

by what? that there are people who are stupid like that, or that enterprising individuals or companies would capitalize on their stupidity? i feel like both of those things are well documented in humanity by now...

I'm not sure if "stupid" is the right word for this. These companies are capitalizing on fear. Intelligent people can be fearful too.

sure, but specific instances of both are sometimes baffling.

I remember watching the "Hale-Bopp object" fiasco unfold in real time. It's really quite surreal to think about. A person takes a completely innocent picture and it contains a perfectly typical example of CCD bleeding from a background star. And yet in the hands of someone filled with ignorance and a willingness toward self-delusion they are able to convince themselves that it is in fact a picture of an alien space ship trailing the comet. And many other people fall into the same delusion despite many people trying to correct their misperceptions.

And then other folks who have been stewing in their own brand of delusion mix this new delusion with their own eventually leading to mass suicide.

It makes you think about the importance of critical reasoning skills.

lol @ meta keywords

<meta name="keywords" content="Heaven's Gate, Heaven's Gate, Heaven's Gate, Heaven's Gate, Heaven's Gate, Heaven's Gate, ufo, ufo, ufo, ufo, ufo, ufo, space alien, space alien, space alien, space alien, space alien, space alien, extraterrestrial, extraterrestrial, extraterrestrial, extraterrestrial, extraterrestrial, extraterrestrial, millennium, millennium, millennium, millennium, millennium, millennium, millennium, misinformation, misinformation, misinformation, misinformation, misinformation, misinformation, freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom, second coming, second coming, second coming, second coming, second coming, second coming, angels, angels, angels, angels, angels, angels, end times, end times, end times, end times, end times, end times, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, God, God, God, God, God, God">

How sadly amusing is it that this website can be maintained in its original state 16 years after its owners died, yet publishing companies today routinely fail to protect heir still-alive brands.

Case in point: Michelin Guides http://www.constructaquote.com/business-insurance-blog/index...

A town in my state had a similar case where a family of 5 including 3 children committed suicide ( 3 survivors) by consuming poison [1]. Motive? Apparently, they wished to meet Lord Shiva after their death. They even made a video of it where each one was very delighted before the act. In India, lunacy in name of religion is not uncommon but I was deeply disappointed by the kind of foolishness that prevails in my country even with fairly educated people. However, it is surprising how such an incident could happen in US in name of some Sci-Fi Heaven-Earth bullshit.

[1]: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/rajasthan-5-of-a-family-commit-su...

"Lunacy in the name of religion"

Umm... That's par for the course....

A tautology, as far as I'm concerned.

This article from 2012 offers some background on the page: http://lasvegas.cbslocal.com/2012/05/02/heavens-gate-website...

I haven't looked at this in 16 years, but I remembered verbatim one of the links and got a little chill waiting to see it again as I scrolled down: "Our position against suicide".

ReligiousTolerance.org states that:

'A couple of the surviving members of the group who did not "leave" have been maintaining their web site at http://www.heavensgate.com' (http://j.mp/1cKc0KA)

It isn't going to be online much longer.


Creation Date: 1997-12-18 05:00:00Z

Registrar Registration Expiration Date: 2013-12-17 05:00:00Z

   Registrar: ENOM, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.enom.com
   Referral URL: http://www.enom.com
   Status: clientTransferProhibited
   Updated Date: 26-jul-2012
   Creation Date: 18-dec-1997
   Expiration Date: 17-dec-2013
So something was done on 26 juli 2012 at least. I guess that means it is still being actively maintained.

>Creation Date: 1997-12-18 05:00:00Z

Considering the suicide happened in March 1997, I guess the name has already expired once, and someone re-purchased it.

Or it was created after the suicide, perhaps by the guy who was designated to leave the group and continue to distribute information about their beliefs. Also, the group apparently earned revenue by doing web development for hire.

Certainly that can be seen. Does anyone keep historical whois data?

   Server: Microsoft-IIS/7.5
   X-Powered-By: ASP.NET
   X-Powered-By-Plesk: PleskWin
Does 7.5 still get security support?

Absolutely. IIS 7.5 is included in Windows Server 2008 R2, which will be supported until at least 2015 (2020 for extended support)

Clearly not the server to which would originally have been deployed. Someone is actively maintaining it.

Hosting is by hostgator 3600 IN PTR pss010a.win.hostgator.com.

welp, may as well scan for open ports and look for vulnerabilities

On a large commercial shared host... Okay. I have a client who is hosted on hostgator, if you find any issues let please let us know!

Unless someone renews it again, as they have been doing every year since 1997.

A domain name may be registered for more then one year at a time.

I'm aware of this, but the 2012 article posted around here says it was done yearly.

This is a fascinating, well-written account, a decade after the events: http://www.laweekly.com/2007-03-22/news/heaven-s-gate-the-se...

Interesting that the G in gate from the top image is the green bay packers logo from the NFL.

I have bad news for you if you think the packers game up with the idea of a stylized G.

There is a full documentary on youtube about "heavensgate". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBTLThA0wOw

Was Einstein who said that quote about the universe and human stupidity, trying to describe infinity?

Cantor would argue though that some infinities are bigger than others..

Of course I had to contact the Kingdom of Heaven admin to see if they made it to the comet: rep@heavensgate.com.

I wonder if their nads were waiting for them?

Wow... <font size="6"><font color="#ff0000">stuff</font color></font size>

I've been working with an awful shopping cart product with template 'tags' that produce HTML containing <center> and many other unsemantic abominations. You also see <font> tags still come up on stack overflow... Old tutorials will never die, it seems.

nothing wrong with font tags per se (well back then, anyway)... more a matter of what appears to be a complete lack of understanding of the difference between a tag and an attribute. The page is a wealth of HTML abominations and bad quotation mark placement:

alt="To Access Our Book: "Heaven's Gate"

and so on

That was the norm back then. Just be glad the closing tags are present and in the correct order.

Those were dark times.

Aren't attributes in closing tags meaningless?

At the time, the site was hosted by Spacestar Communications (now defunct). Now, it's hosted by Cyrus One.

I wonder who maintains it.

<font size=+1> i didn't know you could do that!

Well, were you expecting someone to take it down?

I was expecting nobody to pay for hosting! Websites don't run on magic.

What if it was real and they are gods now.

And very Geocities looking.

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