The New Heretics of France: Minority Religions, la République, and the Government-Sponsored "War on Sects"

By Susan J. Palmer | Go to book overview

PART I
THE RISE OF THE GOVERNMENT-
SPONSORED ANTISECTE
MOVEMENT

On October 4 and 5, 1994, a secret society of Neo-Templars set fire to three ski chalets in Quebec and Switzerland. Fifty-three people suffered violent deaths. Some were shot in the head as “traitors,” while others were drugged and immolated. The two grandmasters of the Solar Temple and their core group died in a dignified, “fully conscious” manner, having planned their “glorious transit” to the star Sirius. The bodies lay in ritual postures, dressed like medieval knights, but most of the fiftythree were unwitting victims in an ideologically driven mass suicide.1

Suddenly, all of France became aware of the Solar Temple (l’Ordre du Temple Solaire, or OTS), a sinister secret society that embraced death and perpetrated a carefully planned and executed ritual of mass suicide with sanctimonious arrogance. Surprise was expressed that the dead templars did not conform to the model of the young, uneducated, vulnerable cultist. In fact most of them were respectable French and Swiss citizens—middle-aged or elderly professionals, businessmen, sportsmen, politicians, orchestral musicians—and some of them were millionaires. This disturbing event stirred up a wave of fierce opposition to sectes in France. Stories about the dangers of sectes flooded the mass media, and soon other groups—Mandarom, the Raelians, Moonisme, Scientology—were in the headlines, portrayed as suspicious OTS-like groups who might be plotting more mass suicides.


The 1996 Guyard Report

Within a few months of the Solar Temple tragedy, on June 29, 1995, the National Assembly voted unanimously to appoint a commission “to study the sect

-9-

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