Cults · Green River · Belize

Plus: Sweet pin, bud

What happens when a former cult member reads a book about how cults work? Kate Gale grew up on High View Church Farm, an organization she tells NHPR was “cult-like,” and a place she left when she turned 18. Now a writer and editor, she says that reading Amanda Montell’s Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism gave her a way to understand something about cults that all my soul-crushing time there didn’t give me.” Pretty high praise, given her insider status.

Gale interviews Montell in a longform discussion on Literary Hub, a piece I never would have seen if Best Evidence subscriber Margaret Howie hadn’t sent it over. It’s a seriously “pour yourself a cup of something and settle in” kind of piece, and it feels wildly relevant: so much of what the pair discuss will make you think not just of Jones or Manson, but of Q and the Capitol. For instance, look at this insight from Montell:

I think most fundamentally when a white, middle-aged, seemingly educated man speaks confidently about God and government, a lot of us are likely to listen by default. That sort of voice is just the default sound of authority in our culture. I sometimes joke that cult leaders like David Koresh and Keith Raniere (the leader of NXIVM) all the way to “cult leaders” like Elon Musk and Greg Glassman (the founder of CrossFit) could be first cousins because they look so much alike. This is just this type of guy who matches our perceptions of power and who we think deserves it. It has little to do with charm or some kind of magical charisma, actually. It’s a question of, who are we willing to listen to by default?

And then there’s this:

People are becoming less religiously affiliated, but they’re not believing in things less. They’re not craving spirituality less. And this can be explained in part because, while citizens of other advanced nations like Japan or Norway or Sweden or Canada enjoy all of these top-down resources like universal health care, the US is sort of this free-for-all. Generation after generation, this lack of institutional support is part of what paves the way for alternative groups. The American unrest in the 1960s and 70s gave us a spike in tumult that prompted the formation of so many cultish groups, not unlike what we’re seeing today. Except today we have social media algorithms—the ultimate “cult leader”—and far more cultish subcultures are able to materialize and find followers online.

It’s a great read, and now I definitely want to read Cultish. I guess that means everyone did their job with the story, which you can check out here. — EB


Howie also pointed us to these cool pins. Now, Law & Order isn’t in Best Evidence’s wheelhouse [“except for certain headlines it rips from!” — SDB], but I’ll bet there are one or two of you who consume both true and ripped-from-the-headlines content. So this one is for you, and it’s only $10. — EB


Hey, do you remember that viral short story “Cat Person”? If not, here’s a refresher, and the slew of coverage explaining why it was such a zeitgeisty piece.

So Tuesday, Slate basically published the true-crime version of “Cat Person,” a first-person account from author Jill McCabe Johnson, who says that she just realized that when she was 18, she had a vaguely not-quite-consensual encounter with Green River Killer Gary Ridgway. Here’s a snip:

He didn’t seem to finish during the sex, though he said he did. He was soon ready to go again, but when we heard my roommates come through the front door, he jumped at the sound. “Who’s that?”

“Just my roommates.”

“Roommates?”

Gary left a short while later. I regretted letting things progress as far as they had. Rationally, I knew even sad divorcés could be as dangerous as anyone, but no one had courted this skinny, bucktoothed, newly minted adult so attentively before. Even though I saw him as pitiable, I was the one desperate for validation.

Throughout the lengthy piece, she wavers between being sure that the man she was with was Ridgway or just a guy named Gary — the pair met in 1980 or 1981, and by the time Ridgway was arrested for killing at least killing 49 women and girls in 2001, her memories have understandably faded.

I was about to say that I certainly don’t have vivid memories of who I slept with 20 years ago, then remembered that I’ve known my husband for that long so I guess I do. So let me say this: when I was 38, did I have clear memories of everyone I hooked up with in my late teens/early 20s? No, friends, I did not.

Johnson makes a decision I’m not sure I agree with in an effort to determine the truth, and the piece ends without a solid answer on if she met Ridgway or not. I just reread it again to see if I could make a decision on it either way, and I’m still not sure. Please give it a read and let me know where you fall. — EB

Leave a comment


That bizarre Belize shooting story is already the next project for the Chameleon folks. You know the one I’m talking about: Jasmine Hartin, the daughter-in-law of billionaire British political figure Lord Ashcroft, allegedly shot and killed a senior police officer in Belize, a slaying that she says was accidental. The Guardian has a solid rundown of the case to date here; it’s a weird one.

According to Deadline, Will Gluck (the director of Peter Rabbit!?!) and Campside Media — yes, the same company following up their Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen podcast with Chameleon: High Rollers — will team up for a docuseries podcast and a scripted TV series on the case.

They pitch it as “Succession set in the Caribbean and with a mysterious murder investigation at the center” and Gluck stays on the Succession party line with this quote: “This feels like Succession if you pumped it full of offshore banking, foreign jurisdictions, homicide, imperialism, and British accents.” It seems like at that point, it’s not really like Succession at all, sort of like if you said you’d be making me a Negroni but with OJ instead of Campari, and vodka instead of gin.* No date yet on when any of this goes into production, but here’s Lord Ashcroft’s actual Twitter account if you want to start talking casting and/or watch an incredibly rich man freak out when he’s trolled. — EB

*I guess that’s a vermouth screwdriver? Does that kind of sound good? Remind me to try this.


Speaking of being trolled, I’m playing into The Staircase’s hands yet again. When we last spoke of this star-studded production, Patrick Schwarzenegger had been cast as Michael Peterson’s son Todd.

And now the other Peterson scion has been cast, Deadline reports: Cure for Wellness moper Dane DeHaan will play Clayton Peterson…yeah, the son who spent four years in lockup after planting a homemade bomb at Duke University’s main administration building. The bomb didn’t go off, and the 19-year-old apparently claimed that the bomb was only intended as a diversion while he stole equipment to make a fake ID for a trip to Myrtle Beach.

In addition to Schwarzenegger, DeHaan will rub shoulders with castmates including Colin Firth, Toni Collette, Rosemarie DeWitt, Juliette Binoche, Parker Posey, and Sophie Turner. What a roster! — EB


Friday on Best Evidence: Something Sarah or I said sarcastically to the other on Slack will likely be turned into a discussion thread.


What is this thing? This should help. Follow Best Evidence @bestevidencefyi on Twitter and Instagram. You can also call or text us any time at 919-75-CRIME.