"American Horror Story: Cult" isn't just about modern (fictional) cult leader Kai Anderson, played by series regular Evan Peters. It also referenced several (real) cult leaders in Episode 9, and Peters played them all in flashbacks. In fact, Peters has popped up as quite a few characters this season -- here's a gallery of all of them so far. Some spoilers if you haven't watched through the Oct. 31 episode.
Starting with the election of Donald Trump, Kai has been executing an elaborate plan to gather followers and remake America as he sees fit. It started with a group of people dressed as clowns committing murders around his small Michigan town. Now, Kai is preparing to take the movement national, and learning some lessons from past cult leaders.
Episode 7 of "American Horror Story: Cult" used extended flashbacks to tell a fictionalized account of Valerie Solanas, the woman who shot Andy Warhol. Solanas' plan in the episode to encourage women to kill all men never really took off, and Warhol -- played by Peters -- eventually got the last laugh.
The founder of the real Heaven's Gate cult and his followers believed their souls could evacuate Earth to meet a spaceship in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. Applewhite used the early Internet to gather followers and left a bunch of strange videos after he and 39 Heaven's Gate cultists committed suicide in 1997. In "American Horror Story: Cult," Peters plays Applewhite to recreate some of that video footage.
Koresh and his followers, a real cult of former Branch Davidians, believed he was a prophet. As a cult leader, Koresh took multiple wives and he and his followers stockpiled weapons. That attracted the attention of the ATF, and its attempt to investigate the group's Waco, Texas, compound turned into a siege, and then a deadly raid and fire. In "American Horror Story: Cult," Peters' Koresh starts the fire that, in reality, helped to kill more than 80 of his followers.
Kai calls Jones "the Kanye of cult leaders." The real leader of Jonestown, a commune in Guyana, was responsible for the deaths of more than 900 of his followers after convincing them, or forcing them, to drink Kool-Aid mixed with cyanide. Peters portrays Jones in the story Kai tells on "American Horror Story: Cult," in which the leader really did rise from the dead to save his followers.
Peters also has another role to play in Kai's version of the Jonestown Massacre. He appears as a low-rent Jesus, descending (on obvious wires) from the heavens to resurrect leader Jim Jones and help him save his people. It's telling that young Oz (Cooper Dodson) is the only one who calls BS on the story.
We haven't seen the notorious Manson Family leader on the show yet, but we know he's coming. Creator Ryan Murphy teased the Internet with a shot of Peters as Manson in October. It's a fair bet it'll be Peters' creepiest role on "American Horror Story: Cult," going by this image.