Sherry Shriner

A conspiracy theorist who convinced her followers to murder and commit suicide

2000s - present

Sherry Shriner

The 2010s were marked by a widespread acceptance of conspiracy theories in the United States as trust in the government reached a historic low, conspiracy theorists were welcomed into prominent government positions, and widespread internet use gave virtually anyone the power to speak to a large audience. It was in this environment that Sherry Shriner thrived and built a lucrative business around her radical beliefs. However, as her cult demonstrates, not all ideas are harmless.

One of Shriner's followers, Kelly Pingilley, had recently graduated high school and struggled to find a sense of direction. As a nice person who was always willing to help others, Pingilley assisted Shriner by transcribing her radio show and traveling with Shriner on "missions" throughout the country. However, as she indulged in hours and hours of Shriner's teachings, Pingilley's own beliefs became increasingly radical. Soon, Pingilley became convinced that the world was about to be invaded by aliens who would enslave and eat humans. Days later, she killed herself with sleeping pills.

A similar incident happened again in 2017. Steve Mineo and his girlfriend Barbra Rogers had been long-time followers of Shriner. However, after Rogers made a Facebook post expressing her fondness of minced garlic on her steak, Shriner determined it was a code revealing that they were reptilians overlords and harshly denounced the couple. After getting shunned and demonized by the cult, Mineo reportedly asked his girlfriend to murder him, and Rodgers complied.

Shriner did not hide events like these from the rest of her followers. Instead, she simply dismissed them with conspiracies about NATO or Reptilian humanoids trying to stop people from knowing the truth. As a result, Shriner's following continued to grow, and her wealth continued to increase until she passed away in 2019. Today, thousands of online followers remain devoted to Shriner's teachings.

Religion: Other

Founder: Sherry Shriner

Founded: 2000s

Size: 20,000 (YouTube followers as of 2019)

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, US; Online

Ohio housewife Sherry Shriner grew to prominence as a social media cult leader, flourishing in the era of conspiracy theories and the 9/11 Truther movement.

She preached the virtues of mysterious orgone energy and Christian prayer as defensive shields against the forces of darkness, including Lucifer and his demons; reptilian shape-shifters masquerading as human elites; the New World Order; cell phone towers; even hostile UFOs that flamed out over her home, visible only as shooting stars.

Amazingly, she built a coterie of passionate devotees. The more outrageous the lie, the more fervent their belief.

In 2017, she told follower Steven Mineo that his girlfriend, Barbara Rogers, was a witch who would kill him. A month later, Steven was dead, and Barbara was in jail charged with his murder.

Steven’s death proved Sherry’s divinity to her followers, but in reality, he was just the latest casualty in a string of online trolling attacks that had left an earlier believer dead of suicide and still more cast into the outer darkness of cyberspace.

Journalist Tony Russo follows Sherry Shriner’s cult, digs into its bizarre beliefs, and reports on the shredded lives and reputations surrounding an otherwise nondescript woman who transformed herself into a web-based evangelist.

The incredible story is documented in dogged reporting, surviving internet chats and transcripts, and voluminous police records.

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Trailer for "The Devil You Know," a series on the cult created by VICE