The Euphemization of Violence
The Case of Heaven’s Gate
In 1997 the members of Heaven’s Gate, a small UFO religion, committed mass suicide in Southern California. Given the group’s original teaching of bodily ascension into waiting UFOs, analysts have often called attention to the contradiction between its early eschatology and its later valorization of suicide. This chapter takes a new approach by considering what it refers to as the “euphemization of violence”—the rhetorical transformation of (self-)violence into a more benign act. After providing an overview of the group’s history, the chapter traces this transformation through three phases of the movement’s twenty-year history.
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