Dec 8, 2017

Russian court turns properties of banned Jehovah’s Witnesses over to government

December 08, 2017

According to the court findings, the Jehovah’s Witnesses administrative center in Russia transferred an estate on the shore of the Gulf of Finland to the Society as a donation in 2000

ST. PETERSBURG,  A district court in St. Petersburg passed a resolution on Thursday to confiscate 16 items of real estate in St. Petersburg worth more than 880 million rubles [$14.9 mln], which belong to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania registered in the U.S., and to turn them over to the government, the united press service of city courts said on Thursday.

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania received the immovable property from the Jehovah’s Witnesses administrative center in Russia that has been banned by the Russian authorities.

"The Sestroretsk district court entertained a lawsuit filed by the Prosecutor’s Office of the Kurortny district against the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania legal entity and confiscated in favor of the state the entity’s properties consisting of 16 items [land plots, residential houses, buildings] having the cadastral value of 881,407,566 rubles [$ 14,939,111]," the press service said.

According to the court findings, the Jehovah’s Witnesses administrative center in Russia transferred an estate on the shore of the Gulf of Finland to the Society as a donation in 2000. Later on, however, it continued using the compound - a fact proceeding from which the court recognized the transfer null and void.

The real estate will be turned over to government property.

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation declared the Russian affiliation of Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization and banned its activities in this country.

Dec 7, 2017

Girls are found after Amber Alert issued in Utah; their father, a member of a group called Knights of the Crystal Blade, is linked to their disappearance

Samuel Warren Shaffer
Nate Carlisle
Aubrey Wieber

Salt Lake Tribune
December 4, 2016

Police have found two young girls allegedly kidnapped by their father, who court records say is a “doomsday prepper” belonging to a new religious group.

An Amber Alert that was sent about the two girls Monday afternoon was canceled at 7 p.m. The girls, 4 and 8 years old, were recovered shortly after a friend of their father was found and taken into custody west of Cedar City, in the Lund area.

Lt. Del Schlosser of the Iron County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Monday evening that Samuel Warren Shaffer, 34, was in custody of the Sheriff’s Office .

Shaffer was booked into the Iron County jail early Tuesday morning on suspicion of two counts of child kidnapping and four counts of reckless child abuse.

“For us, the value of the Amber Alert system, that was key in locating Mr. Shaffer and recovering the girls,” Schlosser said.

Shaffer was believed to be traveling with his two daughters and the two daughters of his associate, John Coltharp. Shaffer allegedly sees himself as a prophet for a new fundamentalist Mormon group, of which Coltharp, 33, is a member. Coltharp was arrested and booked into the Sanpete County jail Friday on suspicion of kidnapping and obstructing justice. Formal charges have not been filed.

Schlosser said a person called to report a single male walking about Lund. The male was Shaffer, and officers apprehended him. Shortly afterward, they located two young girls. One was one of Shaffer’s daughters, and the other was one of Coltharp’s daughters, Schlosser said.

Police found the other two girls shortly afterward, within 5 miles of Shaffer and the other pair.

“They were in good conditions,” Schlosser said, adding that they were cold and hungry before they were taken to Cedar City Hospital for medical evaluations.

“They were shaken, but as they got warmer, they became much more calm and talkative,” he said.

The girls had been with their father, who does not have legal custody of them, since September. The circumstances of their lives over the past few months are being investigated, Schlosser said.

Deputies from the Iron County Sheriff’s Office raided a compound in that county Monday, said Spring City Police Chief Clarke Christensen, and found Coltharp’s two boys, who also had been reported missing. A KUTV reporter tweeted video of law enforcers searching a train in Lund as a helicopter flew above.

Coltharp may have put his daughters in danger, said Kelly Peterson, an attorney representing Coltharp’s ex-wife, “and he has stated, according to my client’s understanding, that he would rather see the kids dead than with the police.”

On Friday, 4th District Judge Derek Pullan imposed a $100,000 cash bail in a divorce case between Coltharp and his ex-wife, citing Coltharp’s unwillingness to tell police where his daughters were.

Christensen said Coltharp refused to disclose the location of the children, even though the county prosecutor visited him in jail and offered him a deal in return for his cooperation.

“The information this morning was that he was going to make bail, and then the concern would be that he would be in the wind,” Peterson said.

Coltharp’s sister, Cindi Ray, on Monday said her brother has fundamentalist Mormon beliefs, including support for polygamy, though he has never practiced plural marriage. Coltharp and Shaffer, Ray said, started a religion called Knights of the Crystal Blade and have baptized each other and Dinah.

On a website titled “The kingdom of God or nothing!!!,” Shaffer outlines a religious doctrine he says was handed down to him by God on the morning of June 22, 2015.

God told him the Book of Mormon is law, he says on the site, as is plural marriage, including coupling with children. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not endorsed polygamy since 1890.

Ray worried her nieces were being hidden so they could be placed in a marriage at an early age.

According to her, Coltharp has “said to all of [his] siblings in the past that girls are meant to get married at the age of 12 — their bodies are ready.”

According to court records from Coltharp’s divorce, his ex-wife said he is a survivalist “doomsday prepper” who distrusts modern medicine and refused to allow her to use pain medication during childbirth.

Coltharp’s ex-wife also says, Pullan wrote in a September ruling, that Coltharp carries a pistol and “has threatened to send any DCFS [Division of Child and Family Services] worker or police officer to the next life if they try to take the children from him.”

The court records say Coltharp’s group is called Knights of the Crystal Blade and is led by Shaffer, who is referred to as a prophet. He also goes by Fredrick Shaffer and has published writings and videos espousing fundamentalist Mormon beliefs.

Pullan, in that September ruling, denied a temporary restraining order that would have granted the ex-wife custody of all four children. Pullan said Coltharp’s religious beliefs were not extreme enough to constitute an immediate threat to the children.

But as normal divorce and custody proceedings continued, Pullan granted the ex-wife full custody on Nov. 27. Coltharp is accused of not turning the children over to their mother. Besides their two daughters, the former couple have sons, ages 7 and 6.

Samuel Shaffer’s brother, Benjamin Shaffer, said Monday that his brother is no threat to any of the children, and that he is probably just taking care of the girls to do a favor for his friend.

“I certainly hope they don’t go in there, guns blazing, threatening my nieces just because he’s taking care of other kids,” Benjamin Shaffer said before the girls were found.

Benjamin Shaffer also disputed the characterization of the Knights of the Crystal Blade in court documents. It is not a church, he said, but more of a club or fraternity that Samuel Shaffer and Coltharp formed to discuss philosophy and religion.

There is no record of Knights of the Crystal Blade being incorporated with the state, as most churches are.

Deputies raid house of polygamist sect in Southern Utah, find 2 boys, but 2 girls missing

Spring City, Utah police arrested John Coltharp for investigation of kidnapping his children

The Denver Post
December 4, 2017

An Amber Alert has been issued for two sisters believed to be with a man calling himself a prophet after authorities raided a home in Lund, Utah and rescued two boys in a case with Colorado ties.

The Iron County Sheriff’s Department activated the Amber Alert on Monday afternoon after learning that the two sisters, Dinah Coltharp, 8, and Haddie, 4, were last seen with Samuel Shaffer, his two daughters and two women.

Family members had said Monday before the discovery of the girls’ two brothers, William, 7, and Seth, 6, that they fear the girls may have been betrothed to a man for marriage by their father, John Coltharp, who was arrested Saturday.

Family members of Coltharp, who moved from Highlands Ranch to Utah and then helped form a religious/survivalist sect, say they are worried about the safety of his two daughters after they say he told relatives he would rather kill the kids and anyone who tried to take them than let the government take custody of them.

Police in Spring City, Utah, arrested Coltharp, late Saturday for investigation of kidnapping his four children, said Spring City Police Chief Clarke Christensen.

Upon his arrest Coltharp refused to divulge the location of his children, even after a prosecutor offered to release him on his own recognizance from jail if he told officials where they were, Christensen said. He is being held on a $50,000 cash bond, Christensen said.

“I consider them to be in danger because of the group they are with,” Christensen said.

He said the boys were found Monday afternoon just outside Cedar City limits.

John Coltharp and Shaffer, who calls himself a prophet and a seer, formed a polygamist sect called “Knights of the Crystal Blade” about a year ago, said Coltharp’s wife, Micha Soble, 28, of Springville, Utah.

Soble and John Coltharp’s sister, Cindi Ray, said they were concerned about the safety and well-being of the children because they say he has threatened to kill the children and anyone who tries to take them.

“My brother’s views are so extremist I wouldn’t put it past him to put a bullet in their heads,” Ray said Monday. John Coltharp has told family members it would be preferable to kill the children so they could go to heaven rather than let the government take custody of them, said Ray’s husband, Greg Ray, 30.

The daughters may have been with Coltharp’s parents, Keith and Catherine Coltharp, formerly of Highlands Ranch, Christensen said.

John Coltharp persuaded his father, Keith Coltharp, to quit his job as an accountant at Lockheed Martin and his mother to quit her job at a Highlands Ranch nurse’s office and move to Spring City two years ago, Soble said.

Even if the girls haven’t been physically harmed, Cindi Ray said she is concerned about their health and nutrition.

“Are they being fed? Are they being taken care of?” she said.

But Shaffer’s brother, Benjamin Shaffer, said his brother may not even know of the Amber Alert and that from his perspective all he is doing is babysitting the Coltharp sisters.

“The last thing I want is for police to shoot a babysitter,” Benjamin Shaffer said. “My brother is a bit eccentric. But I don’t believe any of his religious beliefs are dangerous. I don’t see a concern about child brides.”

He said the allegations against his brother, who is harmless, are exaggerated. Their group was a philosophical club, not a religion, and certainly not a cult, he said.

The Coltharps grew up in Highlands Ranch and were members of the Mormon church, Soble said. At the age of 16, Soble joined the Mormon church and married John Coltharp, who immediately began “brainwashing” her about beliefs not held by the church, she said. They moved from Colorado to Provo, Utah, in 2008.

Soble said the Mormon church excommunicated her husband because of his extreme beliefs. She said her husband forbade her from interacting with their Mormon neighbors, claiming that the Mormons are Satan worshipers who “eat babies.” Their children couldn’t play with neighborhood children because the kids were “spies.”

He wanted her to move into the woods and live “off the grid.” She refused. They separated, but continued living in the same apartment, one living upstairs and the other downstairs. John Coltharp quit his job in May and took their four children with him to live with his parents in Spring City, Soble said. Soble couldn’t pay rent on her wages alone, she said.

“There was no way he was going to let me take my children, so he took them first,” she said. “I was left homeless, living in my van.”

On Sept. 15, John Coltharp and his parents gave their chickens away and disappeared, presumably to live near Cedar City, Utah, Soble said.

Soble called police and filed a report. But Christensen said at that stage her husband was the children’s legal parent.

“A parent can take their kids. He’s claiming he’s on an extended vacation,” Christensen said.

Soble said she filed for divorce and obtained sole custody of her children. She said she hasn’t been able to sleep and lives in constant fear for her children. Police and family members have received tips that John Coltharp is in a mountain retreat where he has stockpiled weapons and food.

“I have been living an absolute nightmare,” Soble said.

Relatives, associates want remains of cult leader Charles Manson

Convicted murderer Charles Manson is photographed during an interview with television talk show host Tom Snyder in a medical facility in Vacaville, Calif. on June 10, 1981. (AP)
Don Thompson
December 6, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The body of murder mastermind Charles Manson was barely cold when competing bids began for his remains and belongings among relatives and longtime associates.

Their plans have not been divulged, but some fear they might create a shrine for those who are still fascinated by the man behind the bizarre celebrity slayings that terrorized Los Angeles nearly a half-century ago.

The value of Manson's belongings -- said to include music, artwork, writings and at least two guitars -- is unclear. But probate attorneys said the real value of his estate could be in controlling the use of his image and the power to authorize any biographies or documentaries.

"It's going to be a food fight," said probate attorney Adam Streisand, who is not involved in the Manson case but was involved with Michael Jackson's estate and currently is representing the estate of Hugh Heffner.

"You have to sort of worry about creating a monument that becomes a focal point for people to exercise their extremist views," he said.

At the very least, it seems, Manson devotees want to prevent his ashes from being anonymously interred with other indigent inmates.

One person seeking control of Manson's estate is his purported grandson, Jason Freeman, who flew into California with a documentary film crew after Manson died last month.

His effort is challenged by Manson associate Michael Channels, who exchanged letters and visited the killer in prison. Channels has filed a two-page will in court dated Valentine's Day 2002 that purportedly leaves everything to him.

Freeman's attorney, Dale Kiken, said there might be a third claim by Los Angeles musician Matthew Roberts, who has described himself as Manson's son. His bid is backed by Ben Gurecki, who has done YouTube videos focused on Manson and told several media outlets that he obtained a January 2017 will from Manson naming Roberts as his heir.

Kiken said prison officials told him Manson left no will and he disputes the validity of the ones that have surfaced.

Kiken provided The Associated Press with a copy of a 1986 Ohio court ruling saying Freeman is the son of Charles Manson Jr., and a 1993 Colorado death certificate showing Manson Jr. as the son of Charles Manson and his first wife, Rosalie Willis.

Manson, 83, died Nov. 19 of natural causes after spending decades in prison for orchestrating the 1969 killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and eight other people. Prosecutors said the slayings were intended to trigger an apocalyptic race war.

Tate's sister, Debra, fears those seeking control of Manson's remains and belongings hope to profit from his dark legacy.

"Whatever he was in life, in death he deserves dignity," she said, asserting that the only way to ensure Manson is undisturbed is to have his body cremated and placed at an undisclosed site.

Freeman said he is a man of faith who wants to have his grandfather cremated and his ashes properly placed.

"It won't be in the media, it will be a private family matter from that point," he said, adding that he won't disclose his plans until the release of his planned documentary.

"We've got some plans and I'd like to see this ship take flight," he said.

Freeman, a Florida resident, and his film crew travelled last week to Corcoran State Prison, where Manson was housed in a special protective cell because of his notoriety. Freeman was accompanied by Manson associate John Michael Jones, who said he wants to ensure "that Mr. Manson's death wasn't turned into a spectacle like his life was."

Joe Townley, chief operating officer and executive producer of MY-Entertainment, said the company has been filming for about six months.

At one point, Freeman requested $3,000 each time the AP published an article about him, to provide "assistance in my time of hardship being away from my family and taking care of my grandfather." He dropped the request after it was refused.

Freeman said he was largely protected growing up when his mother and grandmother "kept the Manson name away from my doorstep."

However, he long blamed Manson for his father's suicide until he came to believe the real cause was the media pressure from being Manson's son.

He exchanged letters and phone calls with his imprisoned grandfather in recent years, and said he is determined to be present for his own children to break the cycle of fatherless upbringings that he believes doomed both his father and grandfather.

"It was almost as if he had a shield in front of his heart and I tried to share personal stuff with him about my father and about my children so he could understand that in my lifetime I brought the family tree full circle," Freeman said of Manson.

Gurecki and Roberts did not return repeated telephone messages, and Channels could not be reached despite repeated telephone calls.

Dec 6, 2017

This is Your Brain on God | Michael Ferguson | TEDxSaltLakeCity

Can science give us insights into age-old questions about religion? In this talk, Dr. Michael Ferguson describes the study he and his team conducted on believing Mormons when they reported to "feel the Spirit," a central event in Mormon worship. What they found might surprise both believers and skeptics.

Michael Ferguson is inspired by questions about human brains and the gods they adore. His research program examines the intersections of culture and brain through the lenses of cutting-edge fMRI methods and cognitive neuroscience. Most recently, he is conducting interdisciplinary work with philosophy of mind to analytically describe intelligence. As a graduate student at the University of Utah’s department of bioengineering, he, his committee chair, and co-investigators designed and executed a first-of- its-kind fMRI study, looking at the brain activity of returned missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while the research participants were involved in acts of religious worship and devotion. Michael and his husband were the first same-sex couple legally married in the state of Utah, and they retain a major portion of their heart and love in Salt Lake City. They currently live in upstate New York, the spiritual cradle of their native faith.

Cult leader Simon Kadwell inquest hears police failed to investigate leads including reports of 'dead flesh' smell

Chantelle McDougall — pictured with her six-year-old daughter Leela — left a note saying the group was headed to Brazil.
Gian De Poloni
ABC Online
December 6, 2017

A coronial inquest into the baffling disappearance of a cult leader and his family has been told police failed to fully investigate all of the evidence and possible sightings.

Internet cult leader Simon Kadwell, partner Chantelle McDougall, their daughter Leela, and lodger Tony Popic left their home in the small West Australian town of Nannup in 2007.

Coroner Barry King is probing their suspected deaths at the request of Ms McDougall's parents.

The four left behind a house full of furniture, but few personal belongings.

In his testimony, Senior Sergeant Gregory Balfour said there were four reported sightings of the family in the Busselton area in 2008, but police did not investigate due to a lack of evidence.

He said three months after Ms McDougall disappeared, prison workers also reported finding a woman's T-shirt along with the smell of "dead flesh" in bushland near Northcliffe.

However, the report was not fully investigated until 2015, by which time bushfires had swept through the area.

It was also revealed items belonging to Ms McDougall were found at the Nannup tip, but never recovered by police.
Plans for 'peaceful' family suicide pact

Senior Sergeant Balfour described Mr Kadwell as a heavily spiritual self-styled shaman who had a cult following online.

Weeks before his disappearance, Mr Kadwell discussed plans with his online followers for a "peaceful" family suicide pact using drugs.

Mr Kadwell said he planned to take the drug after Ms McDougall and Leela, giving him time to bury their bodies in the forest.

However Senior Sergeant Balfour said Mr Kadwell went cold on the idea, instead contemplating moving to an isolated location.

A few days before vanishing he was stopped by police while driving in Nannup.

Senior Sergeant Balfour told the inquest the officer involved said Mr Kadwell looked uncomfortable with questions about his identity.

He said the officer believed the incident was a catalyst for the family's disappearance.

Police suspect Mr Kadwell stole his identity from an associate in his native England, and have established his real name as Gary Felton.
Pizza delivery driver's 'creepy' encounter

The inquest also shed light on the last known movements of Tony Popic, a friend of Mr Kadwell and Ms McDougall, who lived in a caravan parked on their property.

Police believed Mr Popic checked into a backpackers' hostel in Northbridge on July 15, 2007 — a day after the last reported sighting of Ms McDougall.

A pizza delivery driver was the last known person to see him alive, when he delivered food to him that night in bushland in Perth's Kings Park.

The man, who now lives in Malaysia, later described the encounter to police as "unusual" and "creepy".

Senior Sergeant Balfour told the inquest police believed Mr Popic used a fake name to travel on several bus and train routes spanning from Northcliffe to Kalgoorlie in the two days after leaving Nannup, but his final destination was unknown.
Parents continue to hold out hope

Outside the inquest, Ms McDougall's parents Catherine and Jim said they would never give up, even if the inquest provided no answers.

"Sometimes I think they have just sort of gone off the grid and are hiding somewhere and just living their quiet lifestyle," Catherine McDougall said.

"Then sometimes I think that something has happened to them. That they've been killed or committed suicide or something like that."

The family's Nannup landlord Lyndon Crouch found a note written by Ms McDougall indicating the family had moved to Brazil.

He told the inquest he did not believe the four were dead and suggested they followed through with their travel plans.

The hearing has been set down for three days.

Nov 28, 2017

The Dangerous Myths About Sufi Muslims

Whirling dervishes perform an Egyptian Sufi dance in Cairo. Whirling dervishes perform an Egyptian Sufi dance in Cairo
Detractors and admirers alike embrace the same misunderstandings.
The Atlantic
November 27, 2017

The attack on Al Rawdah mosque in the Sinai last Friday, during which Islamists claimed at least 305 lives, was quite possibly the deadliest terrorist atrocity in modern Egyptian history and one of the largest terrorist attacks worldwide. Because the mosque was often frequented by Muslims linked to a Sufi order, the massacre also brought to light the deeply flawed ways Sufism is discussed—both by those who denigrate Sufism and by those who admire it.

Extremist groups like ISIS promote the idea that Sufism is a heterodox form of Islam, and then go further to declare Sufis legitimate targets. But it’s not just violent extremists who foster the heterodoxy misconception. In Saudi Arabia, for example, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman claimed on Sunday that “the greatest danger of extremist terrorism is in distorting the reputation of our tolerant religion”—yet intolerance with regard to Sufism is the bedrock of much of the purist Salafi approach that underpins the Saudi religious establishment.

That’s not to say that all those who self-describe as “Salafi” claim that Sufism ought to be met with violence. But many, if not most, deny its centrality within Sunni Islam. Certainly the vast majority of the Saudi religious establishment espouses that kind of belief, which is a massive challenge that the crown prince will have to tackle if he’s serious about his promise to spread “moderate” Islam.

The birth of the purist Salafi movement (which many pejoratively describe as “Wahhabism”) saw preachers inspired by the message of 18th-century figure Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab attacking Sufism writ large in an unprecedented way. While presenting themselves as the orthodox, these types of purist Salafis were actually engaging in a heterodox approach. Many of these figures had to ignore or rewrite large chunks of Islamic history in order to present Sufism and Sufis as beyond the pale.

Ahmad bin Taymiyya, a commonly quoted authority for Salafis, for example, was reportedly a member of the Sufi order of Abdal Qadir al-Jilani. The Sufi affiliations of many medieval authorities have been airbrushed from history in several modern editions of their texts published by Salafi printing houses. Yet, there were virtually no prominent Muslim figures who cast aside Sufism in Islamic history. When followers of ibn Abdul Wahhab attempted to do so by describing Sufis as outside the faith, they were themselves decried by the overwhelming majority of Sunni Islamic scholarship as indulging in a type of heterodoxy because of their intolerance and revisionism.

While some who portray Sufis as heterodox do so with malicious intent, many fans of Sufism in the West seem to agree that Sufis are heterodox—it’s just a type of heterodoxy that they prefer to the normative mainstream of Islamic thought, which they seem to think is different from Sufism. Ironically, the well-meaning nature of this misinformed perspective echoes the fallacy that extremists promote.

And it is an extraordinary fallacy. Until relatively recently, it would have been unthinkable for students in Muslim communities to consider Sufism anything other than an integral part of a holistic Islamic education. The essentials of theology, practice, and spirituality—that is, Sufism—were deemed basic, core elements of even elementary Islamic instruction. And religious figures known for their commitment to Sufism would not have been considered a minority; they would have been by far the norm. Indeed, the very label of an Egyptian “Sufi minority” being bandied about since the mosque attack is a peculiar one: Sufism isn’t a sect—it’s integral to mainstream Sunni Islam.

Sufism never betrayed Islamic orthodoxy; if anything, it is Islamic orthodoxy in its purest form.

The most famous Sufi in the West, as shown on Amazon bestseller lists, is Rumi, Afghan poet extraordinaire. Another renowned figure is Ibn Arabi, a Spaniard of the 12th century. But few in the West seem to realize that such figures, while indeed Sufis, were very much within the Islamic mainstream. Rumi, for example, was an author of fatwas and a specialist in an orthodox rite of Sunni Islamic law (the Hanafi school); Ibn Arabi was even more steeped in Sunni legal expertise, to the point where he was described by many medieval authorities as being capable of forming his own school of law.

That doesn’t mean that Sufis were never singled out for criticism in traditional Islamic scholarship—they were. Those criticisms were issued by Sufi scholars themselves, much as expert jurists criticized what they saw as shoddy attempts in jurisprudence, and specialized theologians critiqued amateurish forays into theology. One modern critic, a famed Sufi of the Comoros, said, “If we were better Sufis, everyone else wouldn’t think we are anything but good Muslims.”

Another myth is that Sufis are generally apolitical or eschew any martial activity. Historically, that certainly was not the case. Sufi figures like Abu-l-Hasan al-Shadhuli and Ibn Abdal Salam (the latter a famous jurist of his time) were at the forefront of campaigns to defend Egypt from the armies of King Louis of France. The Libyan struggle against the Italian fascist occupation was led by Sufis of the Sanusi order of Sufis, including the famed Omar al-Mukhtar. Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Jaza’iri was a militant opponent of the French invasion of Algeria in the 19th century, while Imam Shamil of the Caucasus fought against the Russian incursion into his own land. But while they most certainly believed in that martial endeavour, and called it jihad, it was a jihad that meant that the likes of al-Jaza’iri fought to protect Christians; a jihad that meant that al-Mukhtar refused to mistreat prisoners of war; in other words, a jihad that was constrained by the mainstream understanding of Sunni Islam.

This activist trend among Sufis remains in existence today. In my own research over the years, I came across teachers of Sufi texts like Shaykh Seraj Hendricks of South Africa and Shaykh Emad Effat in Egypt. The former was detained for activism against apartheid, while the latter was killed in the midst of protests in late 2011. This is to say nothing of the scores of members of Sufi orders in Syria who participated in the Syrian revolutionary uprising against the Assad regime, as well as against ISIS. It is also true that some Sufi figures engaged in actively supporting autocrats and repressive governments—which other Sufis critiqued for what they saw as inconsistency. That critique has everything to do with what such Sufi figures see as orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the Islamic tradition.

It’s too easy to cast Sufis as a quasi-sectarian group that is somehow detached from Islam. Sufism never betrayed Islamic orthodoxy; if anything, it is Islamic orthodoxy in its purest form. Both those who denigrate Sufis, like ISIS and the Saudi religious establishment, and those who admire Sufis, like Rumi-loving Westerners, would do well to finally recognize this. Otherwise, we all risk betraying Islamic history.

H.A. HELLYER is a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

Nov 26, 2017

Clinical Meditation

Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge 
November 24th, 2017

Clinical Meditation is a new form of therapy that can be used to treat a large number of physical / psychological / psychiatric ailments. For centuries meditation was considered as a type of religious practice forgetting its clinical aspect. A large body of research highlights the clinical value of meditation. Meditation enhances neuron connectivity in the brain positively changing the brain chemistry. Meditation experience changes the brain structures predominantly increasing the cortical thickness and cerebral blood flow.

Meditation has many health benefits. Meditation balances the body’s homeostatic system.  Meditation can be used to treat anxiety disorders and depression.  Meditation is a great stress breaker . The meditation practice helps to decrease stress hormones in the body. Meditative techniques are indicated in chronic pain. Meditation strengthens the immune system. It facilitates positive emotions enhancing memory and attention. Meditation brings beneficial changes to physical and mental health and it can be used for overall wellness. However meditation remains an under-utilized therapeutic mode in the medical profession.

Meditation Overview

The word meditation” is derived from the Latin meditari, which means to engage in contemplation or reflection (Hussain & Bhushan, 2010). Meditation has been extensively practiced in many civilizations for thousands of years as a means of cultivating a state of well-being and for religious purposes (Braboszcz et al., 2010). Meditation has a number of definitions.

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) defined meditation as a conscious mental process that induces a set of integrated physiological changes termed the relaxation response”. According to Manocha (2000) meditation is a discrete and well-defined experience of a state of thoughtless awareness” or mental silence, in which the activity of the mind is minimized without reducing the level of alertness.

According to  Walsh and Shapiro (2006) meditation is a tool” for spiritual development, where the aim is to reach an inner peace, concentration, positive emotions, while at the same time reducing stress, agitation and negative emotions.

Clinical meditation is a secular psychotherapeutic application that is geared to achieve optimal mental wellbeing.  Clinical meditation helps to combat various psychological / psychiatric ailments such as irresistible stress, severe anxiety, depression, chronic pain and addictions. Meditation is one of the effective psycho- behavioral therapies. It is becoming widely popular as an adjunct to conventional medical therapies (Bonadonna, 2003).

The Clinical Effects of Meditation

Meditation practices are connected with the psychotherapeutic approaches creating a holistic impact. Clinical meditation may mitigate the effects of stress and disease. Clinical application of meditation is indicated in a number of ailments. Meditation is a safe and cost-effective treatment mode which brings effective results. It is a scientifically proven intervention. Numerous researchers have found the    therapeutic benefits of meditation.  Today meditation has become an efficient psychotherapeutic technique in the Western world.

Clinical effects of meditation impact a broad spectrum of physical and psychological   symptoms and syndromes, including reduced anxiety, pain, and depression, enhanced mood and self-esteem, and decreased stress. Meditation has been studied in populations with fibromyalgia, cancer, hypertension, and psoriasis (Bonadonna, 2003). Meditation has become a dominant method for self-regulation. Jindal   Gupta and Das (2013) state that meditation causes improvement in various cardiovascular, neurological, autoimmune, and renal pathologies.

Reibel and colleagues (2001) indicate that mindfulness meditation training program can enhance functional status and well-being and reduce physical symptoms and psychological distress.  Meditation practice can positively influence the experience of chronic illness and can serve as a primary, secondary, and/or tertiary prevention strategy (Bonadonna, 2003). Meditation helps to cultivate positive mental health. Therefore meditation has an immense public health importance.

The Western Theories of Meditation

Although mindfulness meditation has been practiced in the East for more than two millennia, Western scientific research and healthcare programs have only recently drawn their attention to it (Manuello et al., 2016). The Eastern spiritual practice of meditation was brought to the West by various spiritual masters. Among these spiritual practitioners Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a key figure. He developed the Transcendental Meditation technique and popularized meditation in the Western world. Even Beatles became the followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Western theories of meditation include Jungian, Benson’s relaxation response, and transpersonal psychology (Bonadonna, 2003). In the early 1970s  Dr Herbert Benson, -founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston did a number of studies on meditation. Dr Herbert Benson considered meditation is an antidote to stress. Benson and colleagues (1974) surmised that meditation givesrelaxation response by decreasing sympathetic nervous system activity, and increasing parasympathetic activity.

The American Psychologist Robert Evan Ornstein who profoundly wrote about brain’s role in health. According to Ornstein (1972) meditation exercises are designed to produce an alteration in consciousness, which means a shift away from an active, outward-oriented, linear mode towards receptive and quiescent mode with a shift from external focus of attention to an internal one. 

The Australian Professor of Psychiatry Roger N. Walsh states that more than an alternative state of consciousness meditation is associated with calmness, equanimity, concentration, compassion, wisdom, generosity, and perceptual and introspective sensitivity.  

Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School performed a number of research in mediation and found its clinical value.  Jon Kabat-Zinn studied the interaction of mind and body towards health. According to Kabat-Zinn meditation has impact on the entire organism–from chromosomes to cells and to brain.

The Buddhist meditation techniques profoundly influenced Jon Kabat-Zinn. However Kabat-Zinn introduced mediation to the clinical community as a secular model. His studies were mainly based on mindfulness meditation. For Kabat-Zinn mindfulness is being awake. He did clinical applications of mindfulness on people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders and found fruitful results.

In 1979 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program was introduced by the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. This program incorporated mindfulness and assisted people with pain and a range of conditions and life issues that were initially difficult to treat in a hospital setting.  Over the years (MBSR) Program gained immense popularity due to its success rate.  MBSR has been described as “a group program that focuses upon the progressive acquisition of mindful awareness, of mindfulness (Grossman et al., 2010).

Alan Wallace founder of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies describes meditation as cultivating mental balance. Wallace and Shapiro (2006) assume that mental suffering is in large part due to imbalances of the mind and that these imbalances can be overcome by cultivating four kinds of mental balance: conative, attentional, cognitive, and affective (Sedlmeier, 2012).

The Western science views meditation in a neuropsychological lens. Neuroimaging and neuropsychology of meditation states have been studied. According to these research meditation has a positive impact on cerebral cortex, prefrontal area, cingulate gyrus, neurotransmitters, white matter, autonomic nervous system, limbic system, cytokines, endorphins, hormones.

Researchers measured brain activation with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in meditators and found   meditation activates the prefrontal cortex of the brain.  Prefrontal cortex is in charge of abstract thinking, thought analysis and responsible for regulating behavior. In addition prefrontal cortex involved in emotional responses. Prefrontal cortex is responsible for controlling neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin that are important in mood regulation. Hölzel and the group found greater activation of rostral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) in mindfulness meditators.

Jensen and colleagues (2014) found increase of grey matter in the hippocampus (hippocampus- involved in memory formation, memory organization, and memory storing) and parietal lobe (   parietal lobe -processes sensory information) among the mindfulness meditators. Grey matter is a major component of the central nervous system, consisting of neuronal cell bodies, neuropil, glial cells, synapses, and capillaries. There is a strong connection between gray matter and intelligence, self-control and decision making.

Meditation produces positive alterations of neurotransmitters, brain activity, and cognitive abilities (Luders, 2014). Practice of meditation triggers neurotransmitters (Krishnakumar et al., 2015). According to Kang and colleagues (2013) long-term meditators have structural differences in both gray and white matter. Furthermore meditation diminishes age-related brain degeneration. Pagnoni and Cekic (2007) state that meditation may have neuroprotective effects and reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal aging.

Nov 15, 2017

Jehovah's Witness knew she could die when she refused blood transfusions: Quebec coroner

Éloïse Dupuis required a blood transfusion during the birth and died of a hemorrhage. Facebook
Éloïse Dupuis
Dupuis told doctors she did not want a transfusion, even as her condition deteriorated after she gave birth by caesarean section

Graeme Hamilton

National Post
November 14, 2017

MONTREAL — The day before she went into labour with her first child, an excited Éloïse Dupuis had spoken to her aunt. “She said, ‘Do you realize, Auntie, that in a few days I will be holding my life’s dream in my arms?’ ” Manon Boyer recounted Tuesday.

After hemorrhaging following a caesarian birth, Dupuis, 27, a Jehovah’s Witness, repeatedly refused the blood transfusions that could have saved her life. Her baby was healthy, but Dupuis’ vital organs failed, and she was dead within a week.

News of her Oct. 12, 2016, death sparked intense debate in a province grappling with limits on religious freedom. Critics said her life had been sacrificed for twisted religious beliefs, and there were suggestions she had been pressured to forego treatment. But in a report made public Tuesday, Quebec coroner Luc Malouin concluded that Dupuis chose freely to refuse transfusions with full understanding of the consequences.

“I have no doubt that the medical staff tried everything to get Ms. Dupuis and her family to change their minds about the need to use blood products to save her life,” the coroner wrote. He noted the family members were all Jehovah’s Witnesses. “In accordance with their religious principles, they refused the only medical treatment available to prevent death.”

Malouin wrote that early in her pregnancy, Dupuis advised staff at the birthing centre in Lévis, Que., that she would not accept transfused blood, which Jehovah’s Witnesses believe is forbidden by the Bible.

After complications during her labour, Dupuis was transferred on Oct. 6 from the birthing centre to Hôtel-Dieu Hospital in Lévis, where a C-section was performed and her baby was delivered in good health.

But soon afterwards she began hemorrhaging and was transferred to intensive care. She was diagnosed with anemia — a shortage of red blood cells — and doctors performed a hysterectomy.

In studying her medical records, Malouin found five occasions when Dupuis told doctors she did not want a transfusion, even as her condition deteriorated. “Refusal of transfusion even if death is the result,” one note said the evening after she gave birth.

After she was sedated and no longer able to express her wishes, her husband and parents maintained the refusal to provide Dupuis with blood. She died Oct. 12 of multiple organ failure caused by severe loss of blood.

The coroner noted that her death struck a chord in Quebec, where the once prevalent practice of Catholicism has been largely abandoned and strongly held religious beliefs are often viewed with suspicion.

“At a time when a majority of Quebecers do not actively practise any religion, this notion of respecting religious rules seems to come from a different era,” Malouin wrote. “There was a time in Quebec when such rules were very present and governed the lives of all. It is no longer the situation today, but the choice to adhere or not to religious rules must be respected.”

In a second case from last year studied by Malouin, doctors in a Montreal hospital had to wait six hours before providing transfusions to Mirlande Cadet, also a Jehovah’s Witness.

She had indicated at admission that she did not want transfusions, and when her condition deteriorated after a caesarian birth, her husband maintained the refusal. He relented after the woman’s parents intervened, but Cadet died on Oct. 3. Malouin said it was impossible for him to determine whether the delay in transfusing played an important role in her death from a pulmonary infection.

In his report on Dupuis’ death, Malouin said the law is clear that adults of sound mind are free to refuse medical treatment. The same is not true of minors. Last September, the Quebec Superior Court authorized the McGill University Health Centre to give blood transfusions to a 14-year-old cancer patient, who had refused the treatment because of her beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.

Boyer described her niece as an outgoing woman who occasionally skirted the edicts of her religion. “Her favourite movie was Twilight. She watched it in secret at her friends,” she said. “She listened to disco music in secret in her car because they are not supposed to.”

Dupuis’ husband, Paul-André Roy, sent a message to media Tuesday saying his wife’s refusal of transfusion “was out of respect for her convictions, to which she attached a great price.”

But Boyer believes the price was too high. “I agree with freedom of religion, but not at any cost,” she said. “Her son Liam had the right to have a mother. He had the right to feel secure. He had the right to be breastfed. He got nothing.”

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Involving children in sects should result in revocation of parental rights – Supreme Court

November 14, 2017

MOSCOW, November 14 (RAPSI) – The Supreme Court has ruled that parental rights should be revoked if parents make their children members of sects prohibited in Russia, the court’s plenum has stated.

According to the court, involvement of children in religious or public organizations, which were liquidated or prohibited by Russian courts definitely constitutes abuse of parental rights.

Similar measures should be taken when parents induce children to participate in gambling, vagrancy, begging and other similar activities. At the same time, the court notes that poor financial condition of a family is not a reason for breaking it apart.

The Supreme Court reminds that taking a child away from a family is a measure of last response and may be enforced only when there is a clear danger to a child’s life or health. Evaluation of such danger is to be made case by case.

Revocation of parental rights is also a drastic measure and is to be taken only if there are no other ways to protect rights or interests of a child, the court stated.

The court notes that opinion of a child holds a great value when his or her rights are considered. A child may participate in court hearings after reaching an age of 10 and even younger children may be brought to proceedings if a judge believes that a child may formulate his or her own opinion on the matter. Restoration of parental rights for a child above age of 10 may be completed only if a child agrees. In cases involving multiple children courts must hear opinions of all of them.

It was also noted that courts should not ignore cases when social services failed to take timely measures to protect rights of children.

Nov 13, 2017

Offices of Aum successor Adelph raided over recruiting practices

Police officers stand guard during a search of a facility believed to be used by the Aum Shinrikyo successor group Aleph in Sapporo on Monday. | KYODO
Police officers stand guard during a search of a facility.
Japan times
November 13, 2017

SAPPORO – Police on Monday searched five offices and facilities of the main successor group to the Aum Shinrikyo cult that was responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack.

The raids came after the group, now known as Aleph, allegedly recruited and collected tens of thousands of yen in membership fees from a woman in February without having her fill out the legally required paperwork.

The Hokkaido Prefectural Police raided a four-story building in Shiroishi Ward, Sapporo. The building is thought to be Aleph’s largest facility.

Of the five locations police said they searched, two were in Sapporo and one was in Fukuoka. It wasn’t immediately known where the other two were.

Members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000 in the sarin attack on March 20, 1995. It renamed itself Aleph in 2000.

The police believe Aleph has been luring young followers without disclosing that it is a religious group and without informing them of its links to Aum and its criminal history.

According to the police, there were about 1,500 Aleph followers across the country last year.

The number of followers is on the increase, and many of the younger people who join its ranks are apparently unaware of Aum’s criminal background.

Aleph has organized a number of yoga classes as a means of encouraging potential followers to join, according to the police.

Nov 12, 2017

Jehovah's Witnesses double down on Scripture used to ignore abuse

Jehovah’s Witnesses
Trey Bundy

November 9, 2017

What should Jehovah’s Witnesses do if they think someone they know has sexually abused a child, but no one was there to see it?


So say leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who instruct elders not to take action against a member of the religion accused of child sexual abuse without a confession or at least two witnesses to the crime.

That policy is based on Scripture, according to the religion’s top officials.

The vast majority of sexual predators abuse their victims in secret, with no witnesses present. And even though Jehovah’s Witnesses are under pressure worldwide for covering up child sexual abuse, a senior official says scrapping the policy isn’t up for discussion.

“We will never change our Scriptural position on that subject,” said Gary Breaux, a senior official at the religion’s global headquarters in New York, known as the Watchtower.

Breaux made the statement this month on JW Broadcasting – the religion’s official internet video channel.

“Our good reasoning is pretty solid on this,” he said.

He then looked down at a Bible and read from Deuteronomy 19:15: “No single witness can convict another for any error or any sin that he may commit. On the testimony of two witnesses, or on the testimony of three witnesses, the matter should be established.”

When a Jehovah’s Witness commits a serious sin, such as child abuse, local leaders can form a judicial committee to determine whether the offender should be kicked out of the congregation. But without a confession or the testimony of two witnesses to corroborate the allegations, the elders are instructed to leave the matter to God’s judgment.

The lack of eyewitnesses in most child sexual abuse cases can also be vexing to prosecutors charged with convincing juries that a crime occurred based mostly on a minor’s allegations. Still, such cases are filed every day in courts across the country, and often result in guilty pleas or convictions. In Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations, the burden of proof is so high that some allegations are dismissed even when local leaders suspect that they’re true.

Breaux’s defense of the two-witness rule comes as legal scrutiny of Jehovah’s Witnesses child abuse policies is ramping up around the world. An investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that Watchtower policies dating back to at least 1989 direct elders to keep child abuse secret from law enforcement and members of their congregations.

In September, current and former Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada filed two class-action lawsuits against the Watchtower claiming the organization protects sexual predators in its congregations.

Attorneys in the U.S. have filed dozens of lawsuits against the Watchtower on behalf of alleged victims of sexual abuse. The commission that regulates charities in England is currently investigating whether the Watchtower’s child abuse policies violate charity laws. In 2015, a government commission in Australia reviewed internal Watchtower documents indicating that officials there had knowledge of 1,006 alleged child sexual abusers in that country. None had been reported to law enforcement.

Reveal’s investigation focused on former Jehovah’s Witnesses who claimed to have been sexually abused as children by a leader in their rural Oklahoma congregation. According to documents, other leaders there had suspected Ronald Lawrence of sexual misconduct “over a period of years in the past.”

In a letter to headquarters in New York, the leaders explained that because no one had witnessed the abuse, and because Lawrence had not confessed, that no action would be taken.

“The matter,” they wrote, “would be left in Jehovah’s hand.”

Trey Bundy can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @TreyBundy.

Murder of three teens in Mexico led police to a fugitive US polygamist and his dark world

Rancho el Negro in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc
Rancho el Negro in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc
Orson Black was arrested after the bodies of three Americans were found near his Mexican ranch – then police and neighbors learned the truth about his life.
Luis Chaparro in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc
The Guardian
November 11, 2017

Rancho El Negro is a five-hectare property amid rolling fields of corn and cotton at the foothills of a lonely mountain outside the town of Ciudad Cuauhtémoc in the north Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Neighbours – mostly members of the region’s German-speaking Mennonite community – referred to the farm as “The Company” and had little to do with its owner.

They knew he was called Black, and lived with several women and young children in a rough concrete house and a handful of RVs. There were stories that he was an American businessman who kept a menagerie of animals including horses, and at least one bear.

“We almost never saw him or his people. He was not a Mennonite and he didn’t go to church on weekends,” said Juanito Peters, Black’s closest neighbor, before adding: “He had a very untidy way of living.”

Then in September, the bodies of three American males, aged 15, 19 and 23, were found shot dead nearby – and neighbours started to fear that the truth about Rancho El Negro was much darker than they had suspected.

Last weekend, more than a hundred law enforcement officials descended on the ranch and four other properties and arrested the owner, whom they identified as Orson William Black Jr, 56 – the fugitive leader of a polygamist sect.

He had been on the run for around 15 years after facing five felony counts of sexual misconduct involving two minors in Arizona.

Along with Black, officials detained three of his wives, a woman described as “a concubine”, and 22 other Americans living in Mexico illegally. Another woman escaped during the raid, according to Mexican prosecutors.

The raids also turned up a bizarre collection of exotic animal parts and stuffed animals, including elephant feet, a lion skin, stuffed birds and buffalo heads.

This week, Black was charged with illegal possession of wildlife and human smuggling – and then quickly extradited to the US.

Named after his father, another polygamist, Black was a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which split from the main Mormon church when it disavowed polygamy in 1890.

FLDS leaders teach that men must have at least three wives to reach the highest level of salvation. The group’s former spiritual leader Warren Jeffs is now serving a life sentence for sex crimes against two girls aged 12 and 14.

Around 1990, Black proclaimed himself a prophet and founded his own splinter group in Colorado City, Arizona.

It was around that time that he met the Petersons – a large polygamist family whose patriarch had more than 40 children.

He took two of the Peterson daughters – Roberta and Beth – as his four and fifth “wives” when they were minors, according to their sister Pennie Peterson, who still lives in Arizona.

“My sister almost died when she had Orson’s son. She was only 12 when she delivered. So in 1997 I had to do something – and filed charges against him for having sex with an underage girl,” she said in a telephone interview.

Black fled to Mexico in the early 2000s with four of his wives and about 20 other followers, including children.

Peterson had no news from her sisters until two months ago, when she received a call from an officer with the US Marshals.

“He asked me to sit because he had some bad news to share, and I though he was gonna tell me my sister Beth was dead. But instead, he told me my two nephews were shot dead in Mexico,” she said.

Robert,15, and Michael, 23 – sons of Beth and Roberta respectively – were murdered on September 10 alongside a third American called Jesse Barlow, 23. Reports in the Mexican media say that all three were shot just outside one of the trailer homes.

Mexican officials initially said that they were investigating Black’s role in the deaths, but he has now been ruled out, and security sources on both sides of the border suggested that the murder may have been carried out by members of a drug cartel.

At Rancho Negro, there is no sign of the bear that Black was reputed to have kept. The gate hangs open, and more than 20 horses wander loose in a scrubby pasture.

Further inside the property are three enormous cages, hung with scraps of animal skin – and beyond them, a huge pile of burnt animal bones.

The house and the five RVs where the family lived are still in chaos, littered with liquor bottles – empty and full – and piles of dirty clothes. The smell is unbearable.

In one room is a pile of scrapbooks, containing hundreds of drawings of Black’s face.

On a kitchen wall there are pictures of his sect: seven men dressed in black, and a separate line of 11 women dressed in flowing pioneer-era dresses and long plaits; none of them is smiling.

Mexican officials say they are still investigating Black’s activities in Chihuahua.

His former neighbours are left with nothing but questions.

“We never knew who he really was,” said Peters. “But now that the news is spreading we keep asking ourselves: what was really going on inside those walls?”

Nov 11, 2017

Jehovah's Witnesses' withheld info will cost them

Complaints of molestations to leaders of Jehovah’s Kingdom Hall in Linda Vista accomplished nothing, according to court documents.
Appellate court lets stand prior ruling that penalizes at rate of $4000 daily

Dorian Hargrove
San Diego Reader
November 10, 2017

The clock is ticking for Jehovah's Witnesses headquarters to turn over documents detailing sexual abuse of children by kingdom elders. For each day they do not, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organizational body, will be forced to pay $4000.

On November 9th, a state appellate ruled that the daily sanctions that a trial court imposed on the church stands.

In 2012, former parishioners José Lopez and Osbaldo Padron sued the Watchtower over abuse they had suffered while members of the Linda Vista congregation at the hands of former elder Gonzalo Campos.

Just months prior to their lawsuit, the kingdom had settled with five other victims whom Campos abused from 1982 to 1999 while serving at the Linda Vista and La Jolla congregations.

Despite the earlier settlement, the Watchtower decided to litigate Padron’s and Lopez’s lawsuits. In 2013, a judge awarded Lopez $13.5 million after the church was accused of withholding documents that potentially showed that Watchtower headquarters was aware of the abuse and did nothing to stop it.

Watchtower attorneys successfully appealed that decision, claiming that the judge had failed to impose daily sanctions first.

Then, in 2015, a trial judge in the Osbaldo case also determined the church was withholding documents. However, instead of issuing terminating sanctions, the judge followed the appellate court's advice and imposed daily sanctions of $4000.

Last year, attorneys for the Watchtower filed an appeal, stating that the court did not have authority to do the exact thing they had wanted to be done in the Lopez case.

As reported by the Reader, on October 11 the appellate court judges expressed their frustration with Watchtower attorneys for trying to play both sides.

That frustration showed in the appellate court's formal ruling as well.

"...[W]e are troubled that Watchtower has taken two inconsistent positions before us," reads the November 9 ruling.

"Here, after the superior court imposed a daily monetary sanction for noncompliance, Watchtower now argues such a sanction is not authorized. We cannot rectify these diametrically opposed positions…. Watchtower has obstinately refused to comply with the order, consistently attempting to reargue the very discovery issues the court already decided."

Padron's attorney, Irwin Zalkin, says it is his firm's position that sanctions should have begun in June when judge Richard Strauss first imposed them.

As for his opinion on the court's ruling, "We are now one step closer to exposing the depth and breadth of the scourge of child sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witness Organization that has been covered up for decades. It's time for them to come clean and seriously address the problem and make good on their public relations refrain that they 'abhor child abuse.'"

Nov 10, 2017

Trump, Scientology and the IRS: Yes, let the tax stripping begin

Cheryl K. Chumley
The Washington Times
November 10, 2017


According to a longtime family aide, President Donald Trump agrees the Church of Scientology ought to have its tax exemption stripped.


At the risk of coming under the aggressive angry eyes of Scientology bulldogs — the kind and type showcased in actress Leah Remini’s “Scientology and the Aftermath” A&E series — fact of the matter is, this brand of religion is little more than a cult. A massive, money-making, real-estate buying, pocket-enriching, nothing-to-do-with-God cult.

And cults in America just aren’t entitled to receive a tax exemption.

From the Huffington Post: “The history of the Church of Scientology and its tax-exempt status is complicated and has long been under a cloud of controversy. The church first obtained its tax-exempt status in 1957, but the IRS revoked the status in 1967. At the time, the agency said the church’s activities were commercial in nature and to the benefit of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, which would disqualify the church from exemption.”

Following, Hubbard and his colleagues spent 26 years fighting to win back the exemption. Then David Miscavige took over the organization when Hubbard died in 1986, and ratcheted the fight even further.

Specifically, church members filed lawsuit after lawsuit against the IRS and against individual IRS workers.

As the Huffington Post noted: “The church launched a sophisticated operation to infiltrate federal government agencies, the New York Times reported: Members filed scores of lawsuits … private investigators probed IRS agents’ personal affairs; and two private investigators set up a phony news bureau and posed as reporters to try to gather information about Scientology critics within the IRS.”

Mafia, move over.

The IRS ultimately gave back the church its tax exemption.

Miscavige declared to his members “the war is over” — meaning, the millions upon millions of dollars members must pay in order to move up in the church’s ranks is largely padding for the Friends of Miscavige’s top brass pockets.

More from the Huffington Post: “The [IRS] decision did indeed provide the cloak of legitimacy that Hubbard had wished for. … The exemption has also given the church an effective attack line when dealing with critics. Responding to allegations of slave labor and church-ordered punishment, members and staff cite religious freedom as the reason those allegations should not be further explored. The church and its staff members will often call reporters and critics ‘bigots’ when they question the church’s policies or actions.”

And into this, enters the Trump White House.

Lynne Patton, who’s worked for the Trump family for years and who now serves the administration in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, told Remini in a Twitter direct message that she was going to press for revocation of the church’s IRS exemption.

However, it’s not clear if Patton did indeed take the next step on this. It’s not exactly lawful for White House officials to try and sway the IRS on such decisions.

Still, the Huffington Post had copies of the Twitter messages, and they seem to suggest, at the very least, that Trump’s not a big fan of Scientology.

Here’s one message, from Patton to Remini: “From the moment I saw your series I told President Trump & his family we needed to revoke their tax exempt status. They couldn’t agree more, but please don’t publicize that yet. I want to do more due diligence on what the IRS has attempted in the past (or maybe you can enlighten me), then I’ll identify who we need to connect with again.”

And in another message, Patton wrote to Remini, according to the Huffington Post: “This is going to get done in the next 4 years or I’ll die trying. Knock on wood!”

What happens from here is an unknown. Really, the White House can’t order the IRS to revoke any group’s tax-exemption status — or grant one, for that matter. The IRS website states that the agency “may begin a church tax inquiry only if an appropriate high-level Treasury official reasonably believes, on the basis of facts and circumstances recorded in writing, that an organization claiming to be a church or convention or association of churches may not qualify for exemption,” as The Hill noted.

But it’s high time to put the pressure on the Church of Scientology — to hold its cultish feet to the IRS fire. What’s leaked over the years about this organization isn’t just an offense to real religion. It’s an outrage and an affront to humanity. If even half of what Remini and other whistleblowers say of Scientology is true, America’s IRS, bluntly put, is simply being used to shelter and pad funding for a near-criminal organization.

Nov 9, 2017

"What Faith Allows?" Classroom in a Cult

Angie Pavlovsky 
November 8, 2017


New York - Eyewitness News investigates the Word of Life Christian Church in our week long series. "What Faith Allows?"

The Word of Life Christian Church had many elements inside the walls of its Chadwicks location, including the congregation itself, a dog breeding business and even a classroom. The Agape Christian Academy was a school inside of a cult.

"Like Jerry, like me, we didn't want our kids to go through public school," former member Gregory Ames said. "In light of that, he found a way that we could start a school and have his kids educated through that, so he wouldn't have to send them to public school. The school was started for Jerry and his kids. He used us because we were members and brought us in on it."

Nathan Ames and his brothers attended the academy every Monday through Thursday, returning Sunday for church service. While Jerry Irwin preached from the pulpit, his daughter's role was sculpting young minds.

"When I was in fifth grade, Tiffanie Irwin was my teacher," Nathan Ames said. "She was only two years older than me. I don't know what grade she was. I think she had moved up two or three grades more than she should have been, because she stayed home and did a bunch of homework. It was all self-taught, so it was home schooling, but done at a private school building.

"We sat in these desks, and what we would have to do is look forward at the wall, and we would just have to do our homework and raise our flags," Ames continued. "When they came to answer the flag, either you were doing a check-up on the pace or you were getting ready for a test or you had questions."

However, requests for help weren't always answered.

"Tiffanie, she was very controlling. She would look down at everyone like she was better than everybody. She wouldn't answer any questions," Nathan Ames added. "I remember one time, just sitting there waiting, and I looked up onto my computer screen, and there was a body standing behind me. It was Tiffanie with a note pad, looking at me with my flag up, and she's just writing stuff down about me. I was just waiting on her to answer my flag, and this happened a lot."

Pastor Jerry Irwin held students to strict standards. Those with a grade mark below 90 were considered failing.

"Jerry would tell us our kids are doing this wrong; our kids are doing that wrong," Gregory Ames said. "Years later, we find out those stories weren't true. We believed Jerry more than we believed our kids. I'm believing everything he is saying because I believe that his word is the word."

Vancouver woman says scars from ritual 'branding' fuel her fight against 'cultish' group

'We were weeping. It was like something out of a horror movie,' says Sarah Edmondson

Yvette Brend
CBC News
October 27, 2017

Vancouver actress Sarah Edmondson is warning people about what she describes as a "secretive" organization that she once embraced and now fears.

Edmondson, 40, said she regrets if she inadvertently helped deliver Vancouver recruits to the group, which she said eventually led her to travel to Albany, New York, last spring, where she underwent a harrowing flesh branding on her abdomen.

The event prompted her to cut ties with Executive Success Programs (ESP), a self-help organization she first joined in 2005, drawn by its positive messages of female empowerment.

At one point, Edmondson spearheaded a Vancouver chapter for the group, opening an office on Georgia Street in 2009.

But her role in the group took a dark turn last January when an ESP mentor and friend flew to Vancouver and urged her to join a secret splinter group.

The two arranged to fly to Albany in March for an initiation.

There, Edmondson joined four other women at a private condo where they took turns holding each other still while a brand was burned into their lower abdomens.
Stench of burnt flesh

"We were looking at each other, at the beginning, and we had surgical masks on because the smell of burnt flesh was so strong," she said.

She left the group two-and-a-half months later.

Back in March, Edmondson said she believed that the ritual would help her become more empowered.

But now she believes her consent was fuelled by what she calls anti-female indoctrination.

"It's not OK to carve another person's initials into someone's flesh," she said.

The branding ritual was never mentioned when her friend, a long-time ESP leader first invited her to join the secret group of women in January 2017.
Secretive group

After leaving the group in June, Edmondson says she was shunned and faced police questions.

She believes another highly-placed ESP leader told police she committed fraud and theft.

Vancouver police confirm its financial crime unit is investigating, but can't confirm who is under investigation.

Police say that investigation connects to NXIVM (pronounced Nex-ee-um), the parent company to ESP, which markets personal development classes.

NXIVM was founded in 1998 by Keith Raniere, an enigmatic leader from Clifton Park, New York, who calls himself "Vanguard" and is linked to actresses and heiresses but does few interviews.
NXIVM says it is not involved in alleged 'branding'

NXIVM leaders did not respond to CBC's requests for an interview.

But following similar allegations reported in other media, an official statement from the company said it had nothing to do with the "social" group allegedly engaged in human branding.

The statement adds that the company condemns violence and has provided educational tools to 16,000 people in 30 countries aimed at human empowerment.
The 'stripe path'

Edmondson said she decided to share her experiences to warn other active members, despite promising to keep them secret.

She said ESP members routinely sign confidentiality agreements to protect course content, which introduces ideas about collateral and penance at higher course levels.

In the past few years, she said more women were assigning themselves voluntary penance, in the form of low-calorie diets or handing over collateral, such as cash paid to the organization, if they failed to hit recruitment goals.

She said the group has changed since she first joined in 2005, when she was searching for personal fulfillment and the classes helped her overcome fears and barriers in her acting.

But there were inklings that something was wrong.

Edmondson read news stories that made it sound "cultish," but says coaches persuaded her that the negative stories were not true.

"I felt like they were family," she said.

CBC News spoke to six former ESP members who described following the so-called stripe path, a merit system that involved earning neck sashes and different coloured fabric stripes as they progressed.

Edmondson earned a green-hued sash after reaching a level of teacher or "proctor."
Hands over nude photo

She says she recruited hundreds of people who paid $300 to $10,000 for workshops and seminars, held all over the Lower Mainland, in New York and Washington States.

In late summer every year the group holds a retreat near Albany to honour Raniere.

The events that led Edmondson to the branding ceremony began last January, when she says a long-time ESP friend — and mentor — came to visit and stayed at her home.

The friend invited Edmondson to join a "bad-assed" secret sisterhood.

She told Edmondson if she wanted to be part of something called "DOS," there were extra hurdles.

DOS was described to her as a secret group of women who would work to change the world.

She said she was asked to provide collateral to ensure the group remained secret.

That collateral included submitting self-incriminating material such as a nude photos and written confessions of past misdeeds, even handing over a condo deed.

She handed over a nude photo of herself and written confessions.

She said she learned she would receive a "dime-sized tattoo." And she would be compelled to refer to her sponsor as "master," and eventually wear a necklace to symbolize a slave collar.

Edmondson said she was reluctant, but her friend eventually persuaded her.

By the time she headed to New York, Edmondson said she had already experienced years of ESP "indoctrination," which introduced ideas about women being emotional, weak, lacking character, and at the same time reinforcing obedience.

She said that DOS, which she was told stood for dominant over submissive, translated from Latin, was a safe place where women could become stronger by learning to "humiliate" each other.

"If a man does it he's seen as an abuser," said Edmondson, who said she now cringes at her former beliefs.
'She was squealing'

In Albany she said five women from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico were blindfolded and taken to a condo.

There they kneeled, naked, and recited a script that began: "Master please brand me. It would be an honour."

Then they took turns holding each other down on massage table while a female doctor burned lines into their lower abdomens with a small cauterizing iron, as they writhed and screamed in agony.

"We were weeping. It was like something out of a horror movie. We were shaking. The woman on the table was squealing like a pig. She was squealing like an animal being branded."

Medical face masks helped with the stench of burning flesh, she said.

Three weeks later, she said she discovered that the third-degree burns etched on her lower abdomen were not a symbol of the four elements, as she believed.

She said her mentor told her that the crude marks are letters forming the initials KR for Keith Raniere.

Edmondson said she felt horrified and misled.

"Branding means you are owned by another person," she said.

By June 2017, she closed her chapter of ESP in Vancouver.

In July, she filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Health against the doctor involved in the branding. Officials there told her to go to police because the issues did not represent "medical misconduct."

Edmondson said she then went to Albany police but her complaint went nowhere because she had consented to the entire exercise.

Police did not respond to queries, but a spokesperson for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CBC that his office is looking into the "disturbing allegations."

Edmondson insists she broke no laws, and just wants to warn others who may get lured in.

"I hope they wake up," said Edmondson.

But she says in an odd way the work she did in the personal development program did make her stronger.

"Crazily enough, they taught us to stand up for our principles. I had to leave ESP to figure out what those principles are," she said.

What Doomsday Cults Can Teach Us About ISIS Today

New York Times
November 5, 2017

How ISIS Resembles the Doomsday Cults of the 1970s

Can the lessons we learned from extremist cults decades ago be used to fight ISIS recruitment today?

A disturbing 1981 film from Canada could serve as an enduring learner’s manual for any family worried about a son or daughter succumbing to the lure of a religious cult. The movie, “Ticket to Heaven,” describes how a young man, adrift and vulnerable, falls prey to a sect closely resembling the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Deprogramming — rescuing him from the zombielike state into which he has fallen — proves a challenge for his friends and relatives.

More than three decades later, a ticket to heaven is what Abdirizak Warsame thought he had bought when he and other young Minneapolis men of Somali origin came under the spell of recruitment videos posted online by the Islamic State. The power of that propaganda to inspire acts of terror was evident again last week in New York, where the authorities said such videos impelled Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant, to drive a truck along a bicycle path at high speed, killing eight people and injuring 11 others.

In Minneapolis, the aspiring jihadists were like the fellow in the 1981 film: nowhere men. They felt distant from both family traditions and the conventions of their adopted country. In 2015, they set out to join Islamic State fighters in Syria, only to be arrested by federal agents who had them under surveillance.

“My son was brainwashed because he was watching this propaganda video,” Mr. Warsame’s mother, Deqa Hussen, said to Retro Report. “He thought that if he go to Syria, he’s going to go to heaven and all my family is going to go to heaven.”

Retro Report, a series of documentary videos that mine past news events for their continuing relevance, explores the behavioral threads that run through the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and apocalyptic cults from years ago. “When you’re in a vulnerable situation,” Leslie Wagner-Wilson said, “by gaining your trust, slowly, you become indoctrinated into the ideology of the organization.”

That description fit Ms. Wagner-Wilson and her family 40 years ago. They were mesmerized by Jim Jones, a charismatic figure who declared himself God incarnate. He founded the Peoples Temple, a cult that promised a future utopia where poverty, racism, injustice and war were banished. Based first in Indiana and then Northern California, Mr. Jones drew thousands to his side. But he became ever more paranoid, and his behavior ever more erratic and menacing.

In the mid-1970s he moved his flock to a jungle base in Guyana called Jonestown. On Nov. 18, 1978, feeling threatened by deepening scrutiny from American officials and the news media, Mr. Jones organized one of history’s most devastating acts of mass suicide and murder. He compelled his followers to drink a fruit punch laced with cyanide.

Ms. Wagner-Wilson managed to escape in time with her young son. Others in her family were not so fortunate. They died, along with more than 900 others, including at least 270 children, their bodies strewn across the jungle floor. The horror shocked the world (and gave rise to a lasting expression for blind adherence to a perilous idea: drinking the Kool-Aid).

Jonestown was not the last cult twisted by visions of apocalypse. Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, the Branch Davidians in Texas, Heaven’s Gate in California, the nonreligious Manson Family — all had faithful disciples. All embraced death.

Now, groups like the brutal Islamic State and the Shabab in East Africa are magnets for several thousand readily duped Westerners, including scores of Americans. Many of them feel isolated from family and community, and long for something to believe in. They’re typically young men like the Minneapolis Somalis. “ISIS tries to instill that there is something greater that you can be doing,” Mr. Warsame said in an interview last year with the CBS show “60 Minutes,” after his arrest and before a federal judge sentenced him to 30 months in prison. “It kind of takes control of you,” he said.

Social media and online videos are powerful recruiting tools that the Islamic State has exploited skillfully and aimed at young people like him and his friends. “If they’re living in a context where they feel alienated, they feel like they’re not getting a fair deal, they can be open to indoctrination,” Charles B. Strozier told Retro Report. Mr. Strozier, a psychoanalyst who is the founding director of the Center on Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, added, “They’re susceptible to thinking of these larger messages which come flooding at them through the internet.”

They are not necessarily beyond salvation, though. Almost as if “Ticket to Heaven” were a training film, the federal court in Minneapolis has turned to a version of deprogramming as a possible solution. Only the word used in connection with jihadists is deradicalization. The court invited in Daniel Koehler, founder of the German Institute on Radicalization and Deradicalization Studies in Berlin. Mr. Koehler has concluded that extremists of all stripes share a sense that what is wrong with the world and what is wrong in their own lives are intertwined.

Many high school or college students feel woebegone: Parents are annoying or teachers are oppressive. Most young people figure out that there are various ways to cope. But for someone who has been radicalized — say, a teenager led to believe that his religion is being persecuted — the perspective can narrow and obvious solutions fade (except maybe violence). Mr. Koehler calls it “depluralization.” What he attempts, he told Retro Report, is to “repluralize the worldview, make it broader again, make them understand that there are no easy answers for single problems.”

That means, in part, reintegrating them back into the larger society and inculcating skills other than how to fire an AK-47 or strap on a suicide vest. He thinks that progress has been made with some of the young Somali men, but not all. The judge in Mr. Warsame’s case, Michael J. Davis, said he remained unpersuaded that the defendant had abandoned jihadist aspirations.

While the Islamic State in recent months has lost much of its territory in Syria and Iraq to United States-backed coalition forces, experts say it is not defeated. Thousands of militants remain in those two countries and presumably are still able to tempt gullible Western recruits, who are within reach via laptops and smartphones. And there’s always a chance that new death-hugging cults will arise. If the past is a guide, some young people are bound to be seduced into picking up a gun, convinced it’s their ticket to heaven.

The video with this article is part of a documentary series presented by The New York Times. The video project was started with a grant from Christopher Buck. Retro Report, led by Kyra Darnton, is a nonprofit video news organization that aims to provide a thoughtful counterweight to today’s 24/7 news cycle. Previous episodes are at To suggest ideas for future reports, email