Since the Rev. Sun Myung Moon died this week, obituaries have described a megalomaniacal tax-evader. The messianic leader of his own Unification Church, he ran a sizable corporate empire and dabbled extensively in Korean and American politics. If he still registers on the public consciousness, it is as a weird preacher who performed mass weddings. It’s not easy, then, to recall a time when Rev. Moon was feared by much of the public.
For a few years in the late 1970s, Moon was the most notorious public face of a cult scare. Through that decade, a series of small religious groups earned a controversial reputation by drawing young people away from their families, often to isolated compounds. These were the years of the Children of God, the Hare Krishna movement, The Way International, and the Unification Church—the “Moonies.”
Such cults, especially the Moonies, were the subject of countless news reports. In 1976, Time magazine accused Moon of massive personal corruption and the practice of ritual sex. Other magazines reported “How Sun Myung Moon Lures America’s Children,” or described “Rescuing David from the Moonies.” Books told of “Escape from the Moonies,” of being lured into “Moonwebs.” Moonie-like groups appeared in movies, television dramas and even sitcoms.