This is not a fantasy or sci-fi scenario. This is about a doomsday cult terrorist organisation, akin to Aum Shinrikyo, in the present-day real world.

Is there any way that such an organisation with 10,000–60,000 members, and a \$500 million–\$1.6 billion budget (adjusted for inflation), could plausibly orchestrate and carry out a terrorist attack potent enough to achieve their desired result of an apocalypse scenario?

If so, how could they go about doing so -- using only science or technology, and restrained by their maximum budget, what's the most effective and deadly potential terrorist attack?

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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if a nuclear bomb coukd be used to set off a super volcano, set off even 2 of them at once and nuclear winter could ensue. But ive heard conflicting answers if nuclear winter alone is gaurunteed to kill all humans. $\endgroup$
    – Seserous
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ @ Seserous worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/40936/… . The top answer explains how that would not be possible, cetainly in this measly budget. $\endgroup$
    – P.Lord
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ Most devastating in terms of property damage? Lives lost? What's your metric? $\endgroup$
    – Gryphon
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Aquar1animal The problem is less the direction of the nuke more the fact that the most expensive nuke you can get with 1.6 billion is not setting off any supervolcanoes. Also can I please edit your post to add formatting? $\endgroup$
    – P.Lord
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 0:45
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck - a perhaps unwise assumption. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 22:10

3 Answers 3


Herbicidal Warfare

The best way I can think of is to kill crops.

Whether It is by mixing herbicides into fertiliser or releasing deadly diseases onto crops.

The world can protect against biological, chemical and conventional weapons on a full stomach but starve them and they are useless.

More Typical Warfare

If this cannot easily be explained in your story then you could simply spend the money on a lab to mass produce either chemical weapons (Sarin Gas) or biological plagues (Smallpox).

These would then be released in all major cities (60000 people could do this) all at the same time.

The world will not be able to organise any relief effort as each city will be dealing with its own problems.

Biological makes more sense as it would then spread to the surrounding villages.


One more option would be to create a species of animals that emulates a plague.

Take the wild pig problem in Texas and other US states, pigs have been bred to be the ultimate ecosystem destroyers and eat tonnes of wild crops etc.

You spend your entire budget breeding pigs to be even faster breeders and even hungrier for crops.

Whilst also GMOing them so they cannot be killed easily through disease + poison.

Then you release maybe a couple thousand of these in Asia, Europe, Africa and America.

They become the Apex predator everywhere then start munching our crops.

We try kill them but there are too many.

It sounds silly but it is scientifically possible AND not even very far fetched.

  • You're talking about perhaps 3 divisions of troops, if all go to the frontline. That's less than the estimates of the North Korean special forces. The budget would make them light infantry. Conventional warfare or even guerilla warfare are not going to be apocalyptic.
  • Building nuclear weapons sounds not feasible, too. The Manhattan Project used more people and budget than you have. Also, it had the backing of a government that could help with secrecy and so on.
  • I think the doomsday cult has enough people and budget for biological warfare. Are their people suicidal? (There have been plenty of technothrillers on that basis, e.g. by Tom Clancy.)

So if a cult were to go about taking over the world, I suggest you turn to the fictional world of comics. In the DC universe, there’s this cult called the League of Assassins. They have about 5,000-10,000 members, but managed to figure out a foolproof way to end the world. (Obviously that didn’t happen because.. superheroes).

Biological Warfare

First of all, you kidnap a group of scientists. They should be from all different areas of science, especially biology, chemistry, and technology. Maybe have one of the cult members who is good at stealth and is also a psychologist to scout for scientists that have a superiority complex, where they would do science without care of its result (i.e. the scientists who made the hydrogen bomb or the person - Alfred Nobel - who invented dynamite) and are also pretty lonely and mad scientist-ish.

Second of all, tell these scientists only the parts they need to know. Here the path splits. You can choose to go the hard way and threaten their friends and family. Or, you can brainwash them into being part of your cult, slowly recruiting them just like you recruit original cult members. Pay each a few million. That would probably be enough if your scouts chose them right. If the cult already has extremely skilled scientists, then more power to you. Tell then to develop a small disease that can kill an invasive species. Then give that disease strain to another scientist, and tell them to make it more powerful. (“It’s not working” or “There’s a stronger animal we’re trying to kill, it’s gone rogue.”

After you have your disease, make sure you have an antidote. Tell two groups of separate scientists to find an antidote, and either tell them that you’ll try it on them, or try it on some hapless prisoner this “cult” has captured. This might take some time, but…

Then choose some of the largest cities in the world. Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Ottawa, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, London, Paris… these are all cities you could use. It would be easy. Have a few people let out the disease somewhere. Depending on the type, you can do it in a variety of ways. If it’s a solid, have them go to a popular buffet restaurant and discreetly drop the disease into a popular food. If it’s gas, let them gas it at a construction site or a vaping bar where the gas would be unnoticeable. If it’s a liquid, they could go to a coffee shop and pour the liquid into all the finished cups of coffee… (I’m never drinking Starbucks after this)

While this is happening, have the cult leader meet with some rich and corrupted people and tell them that you have the power to end the world. (Don’t sound like a supervillain or an insane villain though) Sell antidotes to a select amount of people, and the money you get can be used for “greater” things, like a regime or something. (I’m assuming they want to control the world).

Once the disease is released and there is worldwide panic, tell your computer scientists to hack into the global networking system and tell everyone that doomsday's coming. Depending on the goals of the cult, they can either tell people that if they join the cult, they might get an antidote, or that everyone is going to die, hurry up and panic.

And if the people in the cult want an apocalypse as in no one alive at all, then have the antidote actually be a slow acting poison (like some radioactive element) so they support your cause. And then if there are these hermits that never ever touched anyone for the past year and also has enough food to last for many years to come, either track them down or create a disease through plants that spreads like pollen and can also infect humans. Or just nuke the world after this with money from those billionaires...

And there you go, this cult just caused the end of the world. And I was having way too much fun writing this for me to be sane



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