It’s not every day that you find out a dear friend from college has been sucked into a cult. And it’s even more rare to discover said cult is under investigation for potentially murdering their leader at worst, and at best transporting her body across multiple state lines, Weekend-At-Bernie’s style pretending she’s asleep in the backseat. But this is the case of my old friend Gabe Gomez and Amy Carlson’s cult, subject of HBO’s new 3-part documentary ‘Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God.’
Back in 1997 when I first met Gabe, we were freshman at Occidental College, both living in Pauley Hall on campus. Gabe was warmhearted, sensitive, so funny, incredibly smart, AND gorgeous with a smile that could melt butter. I had such a crush on him for the longest time. I was having a rough go of the transition to Los Angeles from my lifetime abroad and Gabe was one of the few people who would really check in with me and make efforts to help me feel at home. Gabe had the kinds of hugs that make you feel like you’re a real person. Grounded and safe. Gabe always kept it real, even when it was hard talk he found a way to be compassionate. And we had deep conversations about art, politics, and social justice. Gabe changed my worldview when he introduced me to James Baldwin’s writing — an intro that has led to one of my current book projects on white devilry decades later. We were close freshman year, and then as time moved on I saw less and less of him, especially once we no longer lived in the same dorm. But he’s always had a dedicated place in my heart. The last time I saw him was our graduation in 2001, and it would be several years before we reconnected on Facebook. By that point he was bassist in an amazing reggae hip-hop band Sol Rising. Still kind, still beautiful, still so smart.
And then all of a sudden there was a marked change. His posts stopped being about social justice and music and his search for love. Instead, he was sharing odd conspiracy theories and informing us that he had met god’s incarnation on earth. That he called her “Mother God” and she used to be Marilyn Monroe and Joan of Arc and even Jesus, and we should wake up to join their enlightened crew.
I wasn’t the only old Oxy pal who was concerned. These posts were met with a lot of reasonable questions from mutual friends, especially as he was fundraising to send “Mother God” to Disneyland and showing us pictures of her boil-infected back, saying she has been processing the evils of the universe and we should send money to help. I watched him get scary skinny, finding out later “Mother God” decided how much and when they could eat. He turned over his life savings and cashed out his 401k. His family were desperate in the FB comments, begging him to answer their calls, to come at least visit. But Gabe was now “Commander Buddha,” and “Mother God” called all the shots for him and all her followers.
Seeing Gabe’s face pop up again and again in ‘The Cult of Mother God’ documentary was beyond surreal. As was listening to the rhetoric falling from his mouth that would have had the Gabe I knew in 1997 laughing his ass off. And it just got worse and worse from there, watching what has happened to him and where he’s been these past years.
As seen in ‘The Cult of Mother God,’ the group was founded online in 2006, on message boards and blogs, with the claim that Amy Carlson is the physical incarnation of god on earth and this is undeniable fact and truth. Amy’s philosophy involves a mishmash of every religion/faith under the sun including an offshoot of Scientology in “The Galactics,” a team of historic and other figures including Robin Williams and Donald Trump who advise “Mother God.” But, Love Has Won has some key divergences from other religious groups, the main one being its leader encouraged the consumption of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs, herself drinking a gallon of vodka a day during her peak “power.” Disciples were also very much plugged in to the internet at all times, live streaming events and sessions almost 24-hours a day. Essentially weaponizing the worst inclinations of cybersphere conspiracy theories to take advantage of people desperately seeking community. This is how they ended up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank, and devotees traveling from as far as Australia handing over their entire life savings to “Mom.” My friend Gabe talks about doing this very thing in one of his many on-camera interviews.
This rock and roll lifestyle under the guise of spiritual enlightenment led to “Mom” eventually becoming paralyzed from the waist down as a result of liver and kidney failure due to the alcohol abuse. She also slowly turned blue from ingestion of enormous quantities of the group’s homemade colloidal silver tonics, which they sold online as a cure-all, and which was one of the eventual causes of “Mother God’s” death. “Get your Kool-Aid!,” Commander Buddha says into a livestream, busting up with laughter at the Jonestown joke — and a heartless foreboding of what the product would do to Amy Carlson. Starvation was the third thing that killed her.
And as we watch Amy Carlson dying through the footage of her followers, we also hear the absolutely deranged justifications and explanations for what’s happening to her. Just unhinged shit. We even see “Mom’s” devotees in livestreams essentially praying for her death, while invoking the “Galactics” who were supposed to come collect her. Because once you’re that deep into a cult narrative, you can’t backtrack without admitting you were wrong. And none of these folks had the humility to help a woman in clear need of medical attention — even when “Mom” herself asked to go to the hospital. Or see through the complete nonsense of her “belief” system, that was clearly rooted in deep insecurity, alcoholism, and a desire to be seen as special and important. Watching them pour colloidal silver down her gullet right until the end was sickening. Had the group not been primarily white people, they would have been charged with murder, if not at least manslaughter for their role in her prolonged demise.
And it’s peak irony Amy Carlson called herself “Mother God” when she abandoned her own children for her cult.
Seeing Gabe every few minutes in the documentary and in old footage, participating, rationalizing these terrible actions with monumental leaps of logic, looking just like the boy I once knew — same soulful eyes and beautiful smile — I had my own epiphany. This person might have the same face as the boy I loved who introduced me to James Baldwin. But behind the eyes, that person is gone. I don’t know “Commander Buddha.” I want nothing to do with this pod person who ate my Gabe. This person who continues to promote colloidal silver sales online, even though it killed his “Mother God.”
And more than anything, I miss my friend. Seeing Gabe’s transformation into “Commander Buddha” reminds me of just how many friends I’ve lost in so many ways, concretely and through circumstances, who I’d give anything to see again just one more time like they were before. Gabe, dude, come back to us please. We miss you so much.
✨💔/5 stars. I can’t recommend this documentary in good conscience. It’s like watching a snuff film in real time and I feel oddly complicit having seen it.✨
Zuzu Zombie’s #Horrorthon365 project is a collection of eclectic genre watchlists with accompanying microreviews to suit the changing seasons. Horrorthon365 was sparked by a gnarly hand injury and carpal tunnel surgery gone awry, hence the flash-style reviews. After a wicked fall at home and brutal elbow fracture that required surgery, posts will be sporadic until I’m healed. In the meantime, browse the entire collection here.