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Humans have a long history of trying to predict when and how the world will end. While many predictions that failed to come true are widely known, such as Y2K and 2012, the reactions of the people who really believed in them are not, except for a few cases of doomsday cults.

But cult members are not representative of the surprisingly wide range of people who have come under the influence of apocalyptic beliefs. Alongside the kind of wild-eyed eccentrics that one might expect to be believers are artists, celebrities, and some seriously powerful public figures. What follows are the stories of ten such people who allowed doomsday predictions to direct their actions, with strange, silly, and scary results.

Related: Top 10 Ways Science Predicts the World Will End

10 Burning Priceless Renaissance Art

Probably, just as long as they have been predicting the end of the world, people have been trying to banish bad ideas by burning them. Countless books and works of art have been thrown onto fires as they were at the “Bonfire of the Vanities” in 15th-century Florence. The bonfire took place in 1497 and saw people burn anything that could distract them from their religious duties. This was all because a friar called Savonarola had convinced them that the Apocalypse was a mere three years away.

Savonarola was a powerful man who had already taken control of the city from the Medici family. This gave him a lot of influence, including over one of the most famous artists of all time, Sandro Botticelli. The legendary painter of The Birth of Venus might well have thrown some of his own invaluable artworks onto the fire. Luckily, concerned Florentines quickly put a stop to Savonarola’s destruction of their heritage, and he was later executed.[1]

9 Panic Buying “Anti-Comet” Pills and Umbrellas

Every 76 years or so, Halley’s Comet can be seen from Earth. Records of its appearance date back to ancient times. But when it was due to appear once again in May 1910, panic broke out. What was different this time? The answer was a new science called “spectroscopy.”

A few years earlier, scientists in Chicago had used spectroscopy to analyze the tail of another comet, which they reported to be full of invisible toxic gas. A French astronomer, Camille Flammarion, predicted that similar gases in the tail of Halley’s Comet would reach Earth and suffocate everyone. Misinformation spread fast, and although other scientists tried to assure everyone that Earth was safe, people shut their windows, stayed inside, and prepared for the worst.

However, while some people panicked, others smelled opportunity. Unscrupulous businessmen were suddenly selling “anti-comet pills,” which they promised would protect people from the comet’s harm. Also available were “comet protecting umbrellas” and gas masks. Fortunately, the only side effect appeared to be embarrassment when the comet’s tail missed Earth by an estimated 197,000 miles (317,040 kilometers).[2]

8 Climbing an Extraterrestrial Pyramid Mountain

It is easy to think that the fear of an impending apocalypse is now a thing of the past and that people know better in the 21st century. However, the new millennium began with widespread anticipation of a global disaster, and this was repeated twelve years later. While neither provoked mass panic, each had its share of dramatic and eccentric responses. For example, in December 2012, many people had heard that the Mayans expected the world to end on the 21st of that month.

While most people simply ignored it and got on with their lives, a few took it seriously—so seriously that they hopped on a plane to Serbia. Some even traveled there from as far away as Australia. They hoped that a magnetic force emanating from Mt Rtanj—a mountain in the Carpathians with an almost perfectly pyramid-shaped peak believed by some to have been built by aliens—would protect them from the end of the world.

Nearby villages were reportedly overwhelmed by hundreds of new arrivals, who braved blizzards to have their shot at survival.[3]

7 Spending $10 Million

Some people expected the Mayans to be right but did not see any hope for survival. The American reality television power couple Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag were among them. Nicknamed “Speidi,” the couple first made their name on The Hills before starring in other shows like the UK’s Celebrity Big Brother. By the time 2012 rolled around, they had had very successful careers, with Spencer estimating that they had made around 10 million dollars.

But when they heard that an asteroid was going to hit Earth in 2012, they decided that the best course of action was to spend all their money before their untimely deaths (and everybody else’s). Some of the things they spent their money on were a “million-dollar wardrobe,” a monster truck, plastic surgery, and—bizarrely—having people open doors for them.

Spencer also added that they would hand out cash and cars to their friends. The couple succeeded in spending it all and by June 2011 were living for free at Spencer’s father’s house.[4]

6 Posing as a Bow-Tie Sporting Weatherman

Spending all of one’s money because of the unfounded guesswork of an ancient civilization is obviously silly, but it might be excused if the threat of the world ending is credible. But can anything be excused if a global threat is credible? One widely-mocked case from 2014 says not. While not everyone is convinced, climate change is at least much more credible than the Mayan’s theory ever was.

One man convinced of its danger adorned the cover of Le Parisien Magazine in June 2014, accompanied by the alarming claim that there were only 500 days left to save the planet from it. Surprisingly, he was not a disheveled, die-hard climate activist but the then-foreign minister of France, Laurent Fabius.

Even more surprising was that the minister was posed as a smiling weatherman, sporting a bow tie and pointing his fingers at a map, which was quickly replaced by E.T., God, and a pair of nostrils as the quirky cover photo circulated online. The French public hardly reacted with the seriousness Fabius probably wanted. Instead, he became one of several top French politicians who also starred in accidentally hilarious covers for the same magazine.[5]

5 Enabling–and Even Encouraging–Environmental Destruction

Strange as his strategy was, Laurent Fabius was trying to get people to care about the environment and stop climate change. He is not the only politician to have been motivated by a feeling that the end is nigh. However, some have taken the opposite view to his environmentalism. One such man was James Watt, U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan.

In his view, natural resources were there to be exploited. He hated environmentalists and thought that they restricted individual freedoms and the nation’s economic growth. As secretary, he handed out oil, gas, and coal leases. He eased restrictions that aimed to preserve the environment. But his most infamous moment came when he was being questioned by the House Interior Committee.

Asked whether he wanted to preserve the wilderness for future generations, he replied, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.” Essentially, he thought that judgment day was just around the corner, so it made no sense to preserve much. His views were widely mocked and even parodied in a Saturday Night Live sketch.[6]

4 Making Doomsday Prepping a Government Priority

By December 1999, computers had become essential to communications, banking, hospital equipment, and more. But they often used code which would have problems when it had to shift from the year 1999 to 2000. Nobody knew exactly what the problems would be, but some predicted that there would be global chaos.

Those who prepared for this risked being called paranoid, but many powerful organizations did, including the Canadian government. They made Y2K preparation a top priority after a 1998 investigation into possible consequences of the bug. No new law or program could compete with the preparations on which 11,000 people worked. When New Year’s Eve came in 1999, Canada had been preparing for 18 months. They had 13,000 troops on standby, four times the usual cash reserves at the central bank, and a lockdown on the top cabinet ministers.

Knowing now that nothing happened, it is easy to think that they essentially paid for the world’s most expensive computer update. But real problems were found and fixed. One senior bureaucrat summarized Y2K as a mixture of the biggest hoax ever pulled and the biggest crisis ever averted.[7]

3 Suing to Stop the Large Hadron Collider

The Canadian government might have averted a crisis with Y2K, but in 2008, the U.S. government was sued for almost causing another. A retired nuclear safety officer and a journalist brought the suit against the Department of Energy and research institutes such as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in response to the Large Hadron Collider being switched on. They believed that the LHC had so much power that it could really cause the end of the world.

One of their arguments was that it could create a mini black hole into which the earth would fall, even though Einstein’s and Stephen Hawking’s theories said that this was impossible. The litigious pair also claimed that strange matter might fuse everything on Earth into one big clump, or new particles might be created, which would cause atoms to decay faster. The lawsuit was thrown out in 2010 because the pair had failed to prove that there was a credible threat.[8]

2 Moving to Texas to Await the Second Coming

This list would not be complete without a couple of kooky personalities like Chen Hong-min. The Taiwanese leader of the Chen Tao cult, like many other cult leaders, convinced his followers that the world was ending. Luckily for them, he did not ask them to end their lives. In fact, when the world did not end as he expected, he owned up to his failure.

Chen first gained followers when he defected from a UFO religion he had joined in the early 1990s. By 1995, he had decided that North America was the land of God. He moved there with his followers to wait for God to take them away in flying saucers shaped like clouds. Specifically, they had to wait in Garland, Texas, because he thought Garland sounded like “God-land.”

Photographs of the group from that time show them wearing all-white uniforms and wide-brimmed hats. When the UFOs did not arrive on his predicted date of March 31, 1998, Chen held a press conference where he called his prophesy “nonsense.” Many members left. Later, however, he reinterpreted his statements and moved his cult to New York.[9]

1 Wearing a Rainbow Wig, Becoming a TV Star, and Taking Hostages

In the 1970s and ‘0s, a familiar face—or, more accurately, a familiar hairdo—kept popping up at athletics events. Rollen Stewart, aka the “Rainbow Man,” was not an athlete, but by wearing a wild rainbow-colored wig, he almost always managed to get himself on camera and became a minor celebrity. But behind his fun-loving exterior was something darker.

In the 1980s, he was converted by a TV evangelist and started displaying Bible references when he got on camera, so directors started trying to stop him. He had never converted his small degree of fame into dollars and soon became broke and homeless. He then became convinced that Jesus would return. Wanting to let the world know, he launched a stink bombing campaign but took more drastic action when it failed to attract enough attention.

In 1992, he took three hostages at a hotel in Los Angeles and had an eight-hour standoff with police while he demanded to be given a television slot to warn the world that judgment day was around the corner. He later said that while his timing was wrong, his actions were “a crime to prevent a greater harm.”[10]

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