“It’s not every day you get to interview a doomsday leader,” notes Reza Aslan.
This week on his show Believer with Reza Aslan he heads to balmy Hawaii, an unlikely place for a cult obsessed with the Earth’s annihilation and imminent death.
The episode is titled Doomsday Cult in Hawaii and sees us travel with Aslan to the big island of Hawaii as he embeds with an apocalyptic cult run by a self-proclaimed prophet named JeZus.
“There’s no place on earth I feel closer to creation,” says Aslan of his travels. “You can feel divine presence in the soil.”
Cinderland (aka Rainbow Village) is run by a man named JeZus, and Aslan seeks this enigmatic and hard-to-find leader out to interview him and find out what is motivating his cult teachings.
En route to the cult’s village and taking a pit stop, Aslan queries the local guys at the hot-dog stand about JeZus.
They then give him an earful about what they have observed over the years as the cult has grown and also about this physically mysterious Pahoa compound on the big island.
“When I was a kid you heard about cults all the time,” says Aslan as he drives to Pahoa. He recalls the infamous American cult leader Jim Jones of “Jonestown” fame who set up his shop in Guyana and the mass suicide of over 900 people.
Aslan also lists some of the most famous cult episodes in US history. The fiery demise of the 1982 Waco, Texas, cult lead by David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, and “Heaven’s Gate” cult leader Marshall “Do” Applewhite who warned of the Earth’s demise.
Applewhite and his 38 disciples mixed downers with apple sauce and vodka, wrapping their heads in plastic bags to suffocate themselves.
It seems unlikely in this idyll of lush natural beauty that a full-blown cult exists, but up pops Ocean and Daniel who are shirtless as they greet Aslan and whack open a coconut to welcome him to their “tribe.”
Ocean and Daniel give Aslan the nickel tour of the compound and he marvels at how far the village has come. A few years ago it started out as ash and lava rock and now is a living breathing forest.
Cinderland is impressive for such an ad hoc sort of compound. It boasts solar power, raised gardens, fruit trees, and musical instruments meant to be played around fire pits, as hard-core believers mix it with transient folks.
“A storm is coming, we must prepare,” says Ocean. This is the claim that is driving up the cult’s numbers.
Aslan has to go through a “process” to meet JeZus, he is told. This “ballsy” initiation demand impresses Aslan as he must sit it out in a cold, wet subterranean cave for a spell.
The test is a failure for Aslan. But Ocean feels his heart and “approves” his visitation.
A calm and collected JeZus tells us he is from the Yucatan, and sips tea as Aslan asks him about how he made the village of Cinderland.
A curious journalistic trooper, Aslan gamely speaks with JeZus for over two hours…and then things get extremely weird as JeZus has a meltdown and devolves into a manic display of what can only be described as pure craziness.
JeZus lets loose with a stream of babble: “I believe that my father is the sun…I am the messiah, I am the king,” he says as he thrashes about.
“I’m a prophet…I saw the destruction of the entire planet by an ecological apocalypse…I’m building an arc to escape biological apocalypse.”
According to JeZus, the arc will dock in Machu Picchu where he will establish a home base to repopulate the Earth.
“JeZus is a lot more unhinged than I expected,” says Aslan, who compares him to another doomsday nutter, Charles Manson. The comparison he draws with footage is eerily similar.
Believer with Reza Aslan airs Sunday, March 12, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNN.