Heaven’s Gate was an American UFO religious Millenarian group based in San Diego, California, founded in the early 1970s and led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles.
On March 26, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group who had committed mass suicide in order to reach what they believed was an extraterrestrial spacecraft following Comet Hale–Bopp.
Heaven’s Gate members believed the planet Earth was about to be “recycled” (wiped clean, renewed, refurbished, and rejuvenated), and the only chance to survive was to leave it immediately. While the group was formally against suicide, they defined “suicide” in their own context to mean “to turn against the Next Level when it is being offered” and believed their “human” bodies were only vessels meant to help them on their journey. In conversation, when referring to a person or a person’s body, they routinely used the word “vehicle”.
The members of the group added to the first names they adopted in lieu of their original given names, which defines “children of the Next Level”. This is mentioned in Applewhite’s final video, Do’s Final Exit, filmed March 19–20, 1997, just days prior to the suicides.
They believed “to be eligible for membership in the Next Level, humans would have to shed every attachment to the planet”. This meant all members had to give up all human-like characteristics, such as their family, friends, sexuality, individuality, jobs, money, and possessions.
These basic beliefs of the group stayed generally consistent over the years; however, “the details of their ideology were flexible enough to undergo modification over time.” There are examples of the group’s adding or slightly changing their beliefs over time, such as: modifying the way one can enter the Next Level, changing the way they described themselves, placing more importance on the idea of Satan, and adding several other New Age concepts. One of these concepts was the belief of extraterrestrial walk-ins; when the group began, “Applewhite and Nettles taught their followers that they were extraterrestrial beings. However, after the notion of walk-ins became popular within the New Age subculture, the Two changed their tune and began describing themselves as extraterrestrial walk-ins.” The idea of walk-ins is very similar to the concept of being possessed by spirits. A walk-in can be defined as “an entity who occupies a body that has been vacated by its original soul”. Heaven’s Gate came to believe an extraterrestrial walk-in is “a walk-in that is supposedly from another planet.