While short-lived, Cantelmoism made a lasting impact in the world of internet oddities. For the cult’s irony-steeped followers, founder Chris Cantelmo quickly went from Reddit meme to Christlike figure. And it wasn’t until his humanity showed that he was abandoned (left for dead, as you will soon see).
This story is a cautionary one. Perhaps in the future, more cults will begin as a joke, a collective interest in a comically delusional personality. Unfortunately for followers of Cantelmoism, that curiosity resulted in relentless cyberstalking and even death threats.
Who Was Chris Cantelmo?
Vaping DMT on a misty mountaintop in the Angeles National Forest pic.twitter.com/MO3ARggdnd— Chris Cantelmo (@CCgc2018) September 27, 2019
Despite all the preposterous beliefs that Cantelmoism promoted, Chris Cantelmo was, at least for a time, a truly intelligent person. A Yale graduate, he was a skilled biochemist who acted as president of GL Sciences. He owned a ranch in Southern California and was, to put it bluntly, loaded with money.
Even with all his success, however, he was severely depressed. Some time in his mid-50s, he had his first experience using the psychedelic drug DMT . From this point onward, his life would never be the same.
He became a frequent user and began formulating Cantelmoism’s foundational belief system: that all human problems, from war to disease, can be cured through the use of DMT.
How Did Cantelmoism Build a Following?
What separates Cantelmo from the majority of cult leaders is that he did not gain followers via verbal manipulation. Instead, he essentially paid for a fanbase.
In 2019, before his beliefs were even made public, Cantelmo—who operated under the screen name u/ChrisCGC—was making a name for himself on the forum site Reddit by spending thousands of dollars a day on Reddit badges. He would mostly award these badges to users in the r/teenagers subreddit (a “subreddit” is simply a user-created forum within the Reddit platform). At this point, users already referred to him as the Golden God of Reddit. He was generally viewed positively due to his generosity.
Note: For those unfamiliar, Reddit badges are essentially “good job awards” used as gifts from one user to another. If a Redditor likes someone else’s post, he or she can award that post with a badge, which grants the poster certain benefits, such as ad-free Reddit for a week. These badges cost the giver real-world money, which is why Cantelmo’s frivolous awarding of them caught the attention of so many of the platform’s users.
Soon, Redditors, mostly from r/teenagers, flooded into Cantelmo’s own subreddit r/Cantelmoism, hoping to be awarded badges. And unsurprisingly, most of them got what they were seeking. However, they were also subjected to Cantelmo’s bizarre beliefs.
Why Was Chris Cantelmo Spending So Much Money on Reddit Badges?
When messaged privately about whether or not there was a greater point to his extraordinary spending habits, Cantelmo responded: “Anything anyone can do to help spread the message that love is all that matters and that DMT cures cancer, or at least makes cancer beautiful, will be richly rewarded by me and others, I assure you.”
See, Cantelmo was targeting young people for a reason; he believed them to be both easy to manipulate and desperate for cash. And to his most loyal followers (i.e. those who actively spread the ideas Cantelmoism), he awarded far more than Reddit badges. He bought them plane tickets, encouraging them to visit him and experience DMT for themselves. He even went as far as to pay for the college tuitions of some of his disciples.
Cantelmo was essentially buying the promotion of his ideas, which became increasingly dangerous. Aside from his viewpoints on DMT, he claimed the following:
- Mental illness, namely schizophrenia, is actually a state of spiritual enlightenment that one can achieve by ingesting high amounts of DMT.
- Those who commit suicide go to, as he put it, “a cooler place.”
- It is healthy and encouraged to stare into the sun every day.
- Chemotherapy is “torture” and makes patients worse instead of better.
Oh, and he also thought himself to be God.
It is unknown how many of Cantelmo’s followers were genuine vs. how many were “in it for the meme.” However, based on information we have on the subreddit r/CantelmoismExposed, it seems that there were quite a few users who actually bought into the cult’s ideas.
The Decline of Cantelmoism
Chris Cantelmo was obviously not right in the head. While he may have been rich for a time, his insane spending eventually caught up to him. And when his money ran out, so did the loyalty of many of his followers. And this is when Cantelmo transformed from the generous “Golden God of Reddit” to an utter villain.
He was called out for many of his lies, namely the proclamation that he himself had brain cancer, which was cured by DMT. He explained himself in this video, stating, “I’ve never had any form of cancer. But I do believe that ayahuasca, I mean, DMT will cure it. It will cure all your diseases. I know that for a fact. I had the worst form of cancer, atheism, and DMT cured that.”
In conversation with a real-life cancer patient who questioned the legitimacy of Cantelmo’s supposed miracle cure, he resorted to childish name-calling: “You are an utter moron and loser.” Things only became worse when he started sending death threats to users who were leaving Cantelmoism due to the lack of continued financial support.
These death threats against his former followers would eventually get Cantelmo banned by Reddit. In response, he simply made countless new accounts to continue his harassment. It seemed as if there was no end in sight for those who were unfortunate enough to get involved with Cantelmoism.
Chris Cantelmo’s Death
Chris Cantelmo had been the leader of a Reddit pseudo-cult known as Cantelmoism. He was famous for handing out free money and claiming DMT, a drug he wanted to turn the world on to, cured his cancer.— Motherboard (@motherboard) April 27, 2022
But within two years of first trying DMT, he was dead. https://t.co/3pxIiMKk9R
On November 24, 2019, Cantelmo was found dead in the woods nearby his ranch. He had committed suicide. While he left no note hinting towards his motivations, many assumed that his death was the result of both the loss of money and his followers.
What was Cantelmo like prior to his first DMT experience? Little is known. Considering that he acted as president of a major biotech company, we can assume that he was at least moderately stable. However, we must remember that it was his dissatisfaction with life that led to his initial experiments with the drug. Perhaps he was always disturbed, and his heavy use of DMT only brought his inner negativity more to the surface.
Whatever the case, the story of Cantelmoism is a lasting piece of internet lore. While Chris Cantelmo was indeed delusional, one cannot help but feel at least a sliver of sympathy for him. His mental degradation happened before our very eyes and ended in the most tragic way imaginable.
We hope that his story acts as a warning to never be swayed by those promising miracles.