Feb 21, 2018

Nithyananda Sangha also known as Life Bliss Foundation / Nithyananda Meditation Academy UK

Founded by Paramahamsa Nithyananda (b. 1977 or 78 - there is some disagreement)
First ashram opened in Bangalore, India in 2003

Websites- group’s own - http://www.nithyananda.org/

General information:
Nithyananda is described as the youngest living enlightened master by followers and as a controversial 'godman' by the Indian press. He is called a sex swami on the critical websites.

Life Bliss Foundation is the name of the worldwide movement of Nithyananda - http://lifeblissfoundation.org/default.asp
It has the Nithyananda Vedic Temple in Los Angeles, USA - http://www.nithyanandavedictemple.org/index.php

In the UK it is a registered charity number 1149994 - Nithyananda Meditation Academy UK but with working name Life Bliss UK. registered December 2012. very low income so far (just over 3000 in 2013, just over 1500 in 2014).

Claims on group's homepage:
Cutting edge research in Yogic sciences - such as Kundalini Awakening, teleportation, levitation... Using modern neuro-psychology, medicine and quantum physics

Pioneering a Vedic Renaissance - Over 30 Vedic temples where ancient Vedic rituals, deities and festivals are experienced by thousands everyday
150 countries. 10 million followers. 1000 centers - The fastest growing spiritual community around the youngest living enlightened master.

"Nithyananda, the founder, says "Enlightenment flowers when individual consciousness merges into universal consciousness. It is an experience beyond mind, and out of it ecstasy and energy are born." The meditation and spiritual  programs help one to tap into this energy and experience eternal bliss." http://lifeblissfoundation.org/

Also has a focus on education - "Planet earth needs more and more people who are awakened and enlightened. The age group that transforms the fastest is youth.  We have created a brand new form of education, ‘enlightening education’ for children."
The vision is "To create a quantum intelligent civilization based on consciousness, compassion, creativity and confidence in at least 10 million children." http://en-education.nithyananda.org/about-us/

Offers a 'unique' meditation called Nithya Dhyaan aka Life Bliss Meditation and a yoga practice called Nitha Yoga - which includes techniques to overcome 108 diseases (http://www.nithyayoga.org/).

Also has an education system called eN-education which teaches "Enlightened Education" - "Creating leaders of the quantum intelligent civilization. Nurturing the children such that they blossom to their fullest potential, expressing their innate creativity, spontaneity, clarity and bliss is enlightened education. Not only does this education put them above par other children their age, it also leads to the awakening of their consciousness. " (http://en-education.nithyananda.org/).

Runs various meditation and yoga courses - for beginner and advanced and for children - as well as courses on health, fitness, wealth etc. Also on pregnancy and parenting. As well as more spiritual courses such as Nithyanandam an 'enlightenment intensive', described as "a unique and intense meditation camp wherein we work directly upon the cancerous tumors of ego in each of us"http://www.nithyananda.org/program/nithyanandam#gsc.tab=0

Courses take place at the Ashram in Bengaluru (Bangalore) although there are also many E-Courses and Nithyananda has his own TV channel.
Initiations and darshans also take place at the ashram.
The ashram daily schedule begins at 4am and ends at 10pm http://www.nithyananda.org/ashram#gsc.tab=0

October 2014 - according to the critical website, Nithyananda has gone on criminal trial for "rape, unnatural sex, criminal conspiracy, threat to life, and fraud" (http://nithyananda-cult.blogspot.co.uk/)

October 2013, the school at the ashram was investigated by the Ramanagaram child welfare committee (CWC) for having no proper accreditation or syllabus.
There is a Gurukul (school) at the Ashram.
In October 2013, The Indian Express reported that:
"Accused of rights violations, the Bidadi ashram of self-styled godman Nithyananda Tuesday produced 88 of the 108 students registered with it and their parents before the Ramanagaram child welfare committee (CWC). The district officer of the CWC, Radha, was present.
The students from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, the US, UK, Singapore and Australia were produced following a directive by the district authorities."
It goes on to say that the CWC found the children "brilliant" but that the school was not accredited and had no proper syllabus. The CWC was to write up a follow-up report.

Legal troubles in 2010:
In March 2010, Tamil television channel, Sun News, exposed Nithyananda engaging in sex acts with a woman. After evading summons for 49 days, Nithyananda was arrested on 21 April 2010 in Arki in Himachal Pradesh but was released from judicial custody after 52 days in Ramanagaram sub-jail.
In June 2010, former follower Arathi Rao, claimed that Nithyananda had repeatedly raped her over a 5 year period. On 13th June, Nithyananda surrendered himself before a court in Ramanagaram.
December 2010, India Today reported that police planned to conduct an investigation into the wealth of Nithyananda and the ashram. He was alleged to have accumulated $23 million in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu."
(source 8 Most Controversial Gurus of India in E News)

The First Encounter Between Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and The Beatles

February 20, 2018

An excerpt from Ajoy Bose’s Across the Universe: The Beatles in India that traces the path The Beatles took to India and their stay at the Himalayan ashram in 1968.

A group photo of The Beatles and their partners with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram in Rishikesh in 1968. Credit and copyright: Paul Saltzman

As the heiress grew closer to the Maharishi, she rented a house near where he stayed. Nancy moved in with her so that they could continue with their joint meditation sessions. Some months later, the Maharishi and the rest of his American followers were overjoyed by a contribution to their Spiritual Regeneration Movement of a whopping 1,00,000 dollars from a Doris Duke owned charitable trust. It was the highest donation the Maharishi had received so far, fulfilling a cherished dream a new ashram at Rishikesh, including a grand bungalow for his personal use.

The only problem was that the news leaked, although Doris had insisted her donation be kept a secret. On a subsequent visit to India, she was pestered for similar largesse by other Indian monks known to her. In a fit of pique, the angry heiress cut off all contact with her guru and Nancy, refusing to have anything more to do with his movement. Nancy later recalled how the Maharishi would go on urging her to somehow get Doris back into the fold but her efforts were to no avail. She, however, had impressed the monk with her contacts in high society and moved closer and closer to him. A few years later, the Maharishi would choose Nancy to look after the Beatles and other international celebrities when they came to his Rishikesh ashram.

By the time the Maharishi met the Beatles in August 1967, he had already been in the West for nearly a decade. He had by then made a shrewd assessment of the Western audience and knew how to pitch his message for them. So far he had mostly dealt with Americans, including some socialites in the tinsel world of Hollywood, and had little experience with rock stars, particularly of the British variety. But the Indian monk knew the right chords to strike. By all accounts, he was an instant hit with George, John and Paul when they first encountered him at his public lecture in the ballroom of London’s Hilton hotel which had been turned into the Maharishi’s headquarters.

Ajoy Bose
Across the Universe: The Beatles in India
Penguin Random House, 2018

According to Brown, the Beatles, immediately after arrival at the Hilton, were shown to the front row of the ballroom packed with over 1000 people:

The Maharishi turned out to be a tiny, brown-skinned man with a squeaky, sing-song voice, who wore flowing white cotton robes . . . He spoke to the Beatles of Jesus, of Buddha, of God; of eternal happiness and peace; of the inner self and of sublime consciousness; about reaching a state of nirvana all without the use of messy and illegal drugs. His sales pitch, in short, was that Transcendental Meditation, when practiced twice a day, would make you a better, happier person at whatever it is you do.

Brown observed in his book later that although the Maharishi may have been only scratching the surface of the complex spiritual message of Hinduism, he was right on target for the Beatles. He compared the brand of instant relief and salvation that the Indian guru offered them to a psychic Band-Aid. He recalled the Beatles being quite overwhelmed as the Maharishi went into a deep, trance-like state for ten minutes right there in front of them:

A holy man who could give you a magic word to chant; a mystical trance that sent you into a psychic dreamland. John in particular was swept away by his emotion. He had found it! He had found the key, the answer, what he had been looking for! The Next Big Thing.

After the lecture, the Maharishi, sensing the impact he had made on the Fab Four, invited them to his hotel suite for a one-and-a-half-hour private audience. According to Brown, he told the Beatles, ‘You have created a magic air through your names. You have got to use that magic influence. Yours is a tremendous responsibility.’ When John left the Maharishi’s suite that night, all he could say to reporters was, ‘I’m still in a daze.’

It was not just George and John who were excited about the Maharishi but Paul as well. Many years later, he told his friend Miles:

‘We’d seen him years before on a Granada TV current-affairs programme. There he was, just a giggling little swami who was going around the world to promote peace. So when he came around again and somebody said there was a meeting, we all went, “Oh, that’s that giggly little guy. We’ve seen him. He’s great.” We wanted to try and expand spiritually, or at least find some sort of format for all the various things we were interested in: Indian music, Allen Ginsberg, poetry, mantras, mandalas, tantra, all the stuff we’d seen. It made us in a mood to inquire.’

Paul was quite gaga, particularly with the Maharishi’s spiritual imagery after the Beatles finished their lengthy private chat. Apparently, the monk had presented his philosophy to the Beatles using the analogy of a flower, with its roots in the earth, a stem and a beautiful head. He told them to think of themselves as the head of the flower, the visible manifestation of creation. He told them that the sap flowing through the stem was the source of the flower’s energy and explained how water and nutrients in the soil are drawn up to make the flower head from a reservoir of goodness in the earth.

Also readThe Beatles and Me: In the Maharishi’s Ashram, 50 Years AgoWhen the Beatles Came to Rishikesh to Relax, Meditate and Write Some Classic Songs

The Maharishi also told them, ‘You have created a magic wand in your name. Wave it so it will move in the proper direction. Join me tomorrow at one of my schools of meditation in Bangor, North Wales. We will make room for you somewhere on the train.’ At which point John, whose sense of humour had not deserted him even in his daze, quipped, ‘There’s always the luggage rack.’ The Himalayan monk giggled his head off. The boys all spontaneously agreed to go to Bangor.

Ringo missed out on the excitement because he was at the bedside of his wife, in hospital for the birth of their second son. He found a flurry of phone messages from his bandmates waiting for him when he got back home. ‘I got back that night and there were all these phone messages on my answer phone, saying, “Going to Bangor, you’ve gotta come. This guy is incredible!”’

All four set out the following day, not by limousine with an entourage and bodyguards but alone, for the first time as the Beatles, on a public train from Euston Station. The busy railway station in London was even more jam-packed on a Friday afternoon, the beginning of a long British bank holiday weekend, and when the news spread that the Beatles were travelling by train, there was complete mayhem. The boys and their wives and girlfriends jostled through the shrieking crowds, managing to reach the train several minutes after it was supposed to leave. In his exuberance over the Maharishi, John had left behind Cynthia, who sobbed on the platform as she watched the train steam away with her husband on board. She would later be driven to Bangor by Aspinall.

Along with them on the train was Rolling Stones star Mick Jagger and his girlfriend, the English singer and songwriter Marianne Faithfull. In those days, Mick and John, who were good personal friends despite being the two biggest rival rock stars, needed to constantly check what each was doing out of mutual admiration as well as competition. So the Rolling Stones lead singer had tagged along for the ride and the Beatles were fine with it. But the Beatles as well as Mick and his girl were quite overwhelmed at this unusual train ride. Hunter Davies, who had been authorized to write their biography, travelled with them on the train and wrote a graphic account.

Davies pointed out that the decision to go had been sudden and although Epstein knew about it, he wasn’t involved in any way. Even the ever-present Evans and Aspinall hadn’t been brought along. For five years they’d never gone anywhere without Epstein or someone looking after them. The biographer quoted John as saying, ‘It’s like going somewhere without your trousers on!’

Ajoy Bose. Credit: Penguin

According to Davies, they sat tight in their seats for several hours, scared to go to the lavatory in case they got mobbed. They had no idea what had happened to their luggage. No one seemed to have any money. They wondered what the Maharishi would tell them. John said perhaps he might just turn out to be another version of what they already knew, but on a different label. ‘You know, like some are EMI and some Decca, but it’s still really records.’

But George, according to Davies, said he didn’t think so, and was sure this was going to be it. Mick sat very quiet and serious. John said he hoped it would save him having to go on working as a Beatle, if the Maharishi told him to go off and sit in a cave in India for the rest of his life. ‘But he won’t, I bet. He’ll just say go away and write “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.’

The Beatles eventually went into the Maharishi’s compartment. He laughed a great deal as he chatted with them. He said that Transcendental Meditation, which he would indoctrinate them into at Bangor, was simply a method of quickly and easily reaching a spiritual state. His meditations, once learnt, had to be practised for only half an hour every morning. That would be enough for the day. He said it was like a bank. You didn’t need to carry money around with you if you had a bank, you just had to pop in now and again to get what you wanted.

‘What if you’re greedy,’ said John, ‘and have another half hour’s meditation after lunch, then slip in another half hour after tea?’

Everybody laughed. The Maharishi nearly bumped his head against the ceiling this time.

There was a huge crowd waiting for them when they reached the Bangor station. Ringo recalled, ‘We got off the train [platform 3] and, of course, the press got us leaving London and wired Bangor. So, there’s like five thousand kids there, and [the Maharishi] got off the train thinking, “Wow! I must be really getting big in Bangor!” He really thought it was for him. He was so naive. When he realised that suddenly we could attract these crowds, his aim in life was to get the whole world meditating. So, he thought, “I can use them.”’

With the decision for the Beatles to come to Bangor made virtually overnight, the Maharishi had no time to make special arrangements for their stay. So at night they slept in college dormitories like the other 300 ordinary members enrolled for the special Transcendental Meditation course. ‘For the Beatles this only increased the sense of adventure, and a warm wave of camaraderie from the old times washed over them,’ wrote Brown.

Of the four, Paul had the most vivid recollections of the trip and their first initiation by the Maharishi:

‘The actual ceremony in Bangor when we got given the mantra was nice. You had to wait outside his room as he did people one by one, and then you got to go into the inner sanctum, just a room they’d put a lot of flowers in and a few drapes around, and lit a few joss sticks. You had to take some cut flowers to Maharishi as some sort of offering. It was all flowers with Maharishi, but flowers were the symbol of the period anyway so it was very easy. So you got your flowers, you took your shoes off and went into a darkened room where Maharishi was. It was quite exciting. It reminded me of Gypsy Rose Lee’s tent in Blackpool “Come inside!” Santa’s grotto or something.’

Paul went on to give details of the mantra ceremony:

‘Maharishi explained what he was going to do, he said, “I’ll just do a few little bits and pieces . . .” however he put it, of this and that, little incantations for himself, then he said, “I will just lean towards you and I’ll just whisper, very quietly, your mantra.” He gives you your mantra and he’s only going to say it once and you repeat it once, just to check you’ve got it, and he says, “Yes, that’s it.” And he said, “The idea is that you don’t mention that to anyone ever again, because if you speak it, it will besmirch it to some degree; if you never speak it, then it’s always something very special.’”

The large media contingent that had converged on Bangor for what seemed to be the big story of the weekend the Beatles jazzing off with an Indian guru to a spiritual retreat in Wales wasn’t sure in the beginning whether this was a publicity stunt by the band or some serious new development. But they had to sit up and take notice after the Beatles held a press conference there with a startling announcement: They were giving up drugs. John, George and Paul explained that it was impossible to achieve spiritual harmony with foreign substances in one’s system, and since they wanted to give the Maharishi a fair shake, they were giving it all up. ‘John seemed as sincere as the rest. And for a few days, at least, he kept his resolve,’ wrote Brown tongue in his cheek.

The news was huge. Nobody really knew of George’s decision to quit hard drugs after his traumatic visit to Haight-Ashbury earlier in the month. Nor was John’s mental stress from increasingly bad acid trips and the sheer physical strain of his daily dose of drug cocktails public knowledge. In fact, Paul’s recent confession that he too took LSD, and the band’s earlier public demand for the legalization of marijuana had given the impression that the Beatles were deeply embedded in the drug culture of the mid 1960s. After all, it was just a few months ago that they had released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, hailed as the signature album of psychedelic rock.

But before the full import of the sudden repudiation of drugs by the Beatles could sink in, something even more dramatic happened. The Beatles had just finished a late lunch and were strolling around the green campus at Bangor mulling over their new mantras from the Maharishi, when they got a phone call from Brown, second in command to their manager Epstein: ‘I’ve got bad news,’ I told Paul. ‘Brian is dead. They found him at Chapel Street just a little while ago. The press is on to it, so you’d all better get back to London.’

Excerpted, from Across the Universe: The Beatles in India by Ajoy Bose.


Feb 20, 2018

How to Deprogram a White Supremacist

Deborah Jian Lee
February 19, 2018

In his 13 years deep within skinhead subculture, Brad Galloway brawled in dozens of street fights. He’d emerge bloodied from 75-person melees feeling like a good soldier, ideology unshaken, until one brutal encounter in his early twenties.

It was nighttime. Galloway and a fellow skinhead were walking down a street in the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto, jackets opened to swastika-emblazoned shirts. They ran into two members of a rival Vietnamese neighborhood gang. When a fight broke out between the pairs, about 40 from the rival gang sprang from a nearby restaurant. The beatdown was so fierce, Galloway doesn’t remember much. Belts with knives slashed him. Boots pummeled his ribs. Blows from every direction. Then everything went black.

When he came to, he saw bright hospital lights, his swastika shirt stained with blood, and an Orthodox Jewish doctor walking through the door.

“He was a Hasidic Jew,” Galloway recalls in an interview with Playboy. “Beard. Hat. Sideburns. I couldn’t believe this was happening.” At the sight of Galloway’s skinhead uniform, “I thought he would leave the room.” But he didn’t.

“He said, ‘I’m here to help you,’” Galloway remembers. “He didn’t have a sick look on his face. He just saw a person in distress who needed help.” As the doctor stitched him up, he explained that Galloway had lost so much blood, he was within six hours of dying, Galloway recalls. He left the hospital having been treated for a broken arm, a skull fracture and bruises and cuts all over his body. He also left with an indelible memory of his doctor’s compassion, which Galloway knew he did not deserve.

Though it would take years, this encounter marked a turning point in Galloway’s life and has played a critical role in his long journey toward deradicalizing from the white power skinhead movement that he had come to lead on an international scale.

White supremacist extremists have committed more violent attacks than any other domestic extremist movement in the past 16 years.

Amid the accelerated activity and coverage of white supremacy groups, Galloway is part of a subset of this movement that is often overlooked: those who have grown disillusioned and now seek to deradicalize themselves. They call themselves “formers.”

Experts say the deradicalization process can take years or decades and only works when formers initiate the process, take responsibility for their actions and do the long, hard work it takes to dismantle the violent ideology that has come to define them. The good news: change is possible and there are tools and methods to make that happen. The bad news: these efforts are under-resourced, underfunded and often dismissed as unnecessary.

That’s because warnings against domestic white extremist groups have long been disregarded as inconsequential by those who wish to swing the spotlight back to the threat of Muslim extremism. In 2009, a Department of Homeland Security report warned of homegrown antigovernment extremism rising after the election of President Barack Obama and received such backlash from conservatives that the department retracted the document and issued an apology. In 2017, news spread that the Trump administration wanted to rebrand the government’s Countering Violent Extremism program to focus solely on Islamic extremism and halt efforts to curb violence by white supremacists. The administration kept a number of the program’s grants that targeted Islamic groups, but rescinded a $400,000 grant to Life After Hate, a group focused on helping people exit white power groups.

White supremacist extremists have committed more violent attacks than any other domestic extremist movement in the past 16 years, according to a joint report by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hate groups have exploded in size, scale and platform since the turn of the millennium, fueled in part by figures from the United States Census Bureau that predict whites will be a minority by 2040. In additon, animosity toward Latino immigration is growing as the debate over Dreamers intensifies, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors these movements. The Center reports that since Obama’s election, the number of hate groups have ebbed as they’ve taken their activities to the web. In the past two years, those numbers have bursted upward again amid a presidential campaign and administration that has bolstered white nationalism while refusing to condemn their violence and rhetoric.

With the memory of Charlottesville fresh in our minds, the work of deradicalization seems both elusive and urgently imperative all at once. But what drives someone to radicalize in the first place? The reasons vary widely. Those who join white supremacy groups are rural, urban, suburban, rich, poor, middle-class, highly educated or lacking high school diplomas. In other words, these movements draw all kinds. “There’s…no one-size-fits-all” explanation, says Peter Weinberger, senior researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). But the data that Weinberger analyzes shows that, among those radicalized in the United States, “there’s a high prevalence of trauma in the life histories of these individuals”—though he is quick to clarify that trauma isn’t a predictor. “Each person’s resilience is different” and plenty of people overcome childhood trauma and build productive lives.

Galloway was untouched by trauma and raised in a cocoon of loving comfort: his parents never split, he was served dinner at six every night, he played hockey with his dad and vacationed at Disney World. With his solidly middle-class life in suburban Toronto, Galloway admits, “there was no struggle.”

But Galloway grew angsty in middle school when, as a middle-class white kid, he felt he didn’t fit among his mostly rich, mostly Jewish peers. Add to that the occasional bullying and “that enraged me further.”

Galloway began hanging around skinheads and going to white power concerts. He experimented with risky behavior like breaking into cars, graffiti and selling pot. “This is cool,” he thought.

He doesn’t recall indulging any active, violent racist thoughts early on but, he explains, he grew up around what he calls “passive racism,” the kind of offhand remarks at the expense of minorities that no one questioned. Then, an older skinhead took Galloway under his wing and began saying things like, “Look how different the Orthodox Jewish community is. They’ve taken over this neighborhood. We’ve got to take it back.” Galloway thought, “I can see what this guy is saying” and soon found himself in a world where people raved about “saving” the white race, fighting the “marginalization” of white people and killing Jewish people. “Whether [his ideology] was right or wrong didn’t matter to me,” says Galloway. “I chose to side with him because he had invited me into this circle of tough guys. I was kind of a blank slate.”

The group offered to Galloway what so many people long for: a framework of understanding and a place of belonging. “People are often drawn to movements that offer a simple explanation in a time of complexity and change,” says Weinberger. “With white supremacists, there’s often a common profile: casual racism at home, if not gratuitous racism. It’s not explicitly taught that it’s wrong. And then stressors come in.”


As a teenager, Tony McAleer felt drawn to violent extremism at a time of instability when he sought to regain control. “What the movement gave me was power when I felt powerless,” says McAleer, a former organizer for the neo-Nazi group White Aryan Resistance and former skinhead recruiter. Today, McAleer works to help people leave extremist movements through Life After Hate, which he co-founded. He has also worked to make amends with the communities he violently harmed in his previous life. He understands firsthand why people turn to violent extremism: “It’s that dark part of human nature that wants to take the bad things that happened to us and put it on another human being.”

McAleer has seen that pattern repeated in so many, from teenagers with social anxiety who find acceptance online to people who are just looking for something bigger than themselves to be a part of. And now, powered by the internet, these hateful ideologies are rapidly proliferating, allowing leaders to recruit and groom minds at a scale unseen in the recent past.

“Extremism burns people out when they’re young. It takes a lot of emotional energy to be so hateful.”

Combatting that tidal wave may seem insurmountable, but groups like Life After Hate continue to work at plucking people away from extremism one by one. For a small non-profit with two only full-time staff members, Life After Hate recognizes scaling up is necessary. After all, deradicalization is labor intensive. The virtual organization, which relies on volunteers, must field messages from those looking to leave extremism, engage in multiple online and phone conversations, bring newcomers into the fold, help build them a support system and then connect them with local therapists and specialists familiar with their particular challenges.

“Since Charlottesville, we’ve had an amazing [number] of volunteers from all over the country, many of whom are social workers and psychologists,” says McAleer, adding that some $600,000 in donations from 10,000 donors came through.

Those donations have allowed McAleer to pursue an inititaive they believe will expand their outreach. Life After Hate is partnering with a tech company that’s developing an algorithm to mine social media for profiles of someone either dabbling in or aligned with extremist groups. The goal is that a bot will be able to sow seeds of doubt through targeted advertisements and “disillusionment-themed videos” on their social media feeds and eventually draw them into conversations with a person who can help put them on the path to deradicalizing. “People who we’ve helped want to give back,” he says. So even though the workload exceeds the capacity of the organization’s cofounders, McAleer remains hopeful. As the technology becomes available and more volunteers offer help, he says, their efforts to deradicalize a wider population will become scalable.

One of the most important factors in deradicalizing “is distance from the group they were a part of,” says Pete Simi, a professor of sociology at Chapman University. Simi, who studies extremism, says distance “doesn’t necessarily get rid of the beliefs but is important for allowing the person to breathe and get some perspective.”

From there, experts advise those exiting extremism to educate themselves about the groups they hate. Learning the truth about these communities and their histories helps dismantle hateful ideologies. Resources for this kind of education abound, from reading books and articles to taking classes and going to museums that explain the Holocaust, African American history, LGBTQ history and more.

Because deradicalization cuts at the core of one’s identity, experts also recommend working with a professional therapist throughout the process. With psychological guidance, formers can safely explore their motivations for joining extremism, the harm they caused while in the movement and strategies for deprogramming, such as making amends and confronting related issues like substance abuse or social isolation.

Weinberger recommends pairing that with a support system comprising other formers. Given the magnitude of domestic extremism, he believes the Alcoholics Anonymous framework could be a model for scaling up deradicalization. Those leaving need the help of a fellow former, who acts as a sponsor, to navigate the path to recovery. Sponsors can provide support as they navigate relationships, avoid triggers and search for jobs.

Formers need so many reinforcements because extremism holds a grip on both mind and body. The process of extracting from hateful ideologies can be so intractable that researchers compare it to addiction recovery. The extreme conditions of radicalization “may generate neurophysiological changes that over time mimic addiction,” write the authors of “Addicted to Hate: Identity Residual among Former White Supremacists,” a report published in the American Sociological Review last year. The study cites examples of formers who, even after deradicalizing, feel involuntary mental and physical responses triggered by things like white power music. For some, they remember racial hate or feel a thrill return in the form of goosebumps. For others, the triggers unleash even more alarming behavior.

Even after deradicalizing, formers, particularly those who haven’t replaced extremism with something positive, can easily regress, launch into racist diatribes or feel violent or racist thoughts surge back, research shows. Extremism is so consuming that it produces a “deep physical embodiment” that can easily reactivate even after recovery, says Simi, who coauthored “Addicted to Hate.“

In addition to distance, education, psychological intervention and support groups, research shows that mind-body interventions like yoga can help quell hateful thoughts and impulses. Formers who have successfully deradicalized rely on self-soothing techniques to avoid spiraling back to old habits. Simi said even simple self-talk mantras can go a long way. If a racist thought rises to the surface, verbalizing something like, “I don’t believe that anymore” reminds a former that they’ve changed.

The work of deradicalizing is hard, complicated and filled with pitfalls and failures. Experts say the most successful formers recognize they’re in it for the long haul and work hard to replace the extremist lifestyle with something positive and substantial, like spirituality or an altruistic cause.

Critics argue that violent extremists are criminals. Why should the public fund their recovery?

An obstacle to widespread deradicalization programming is the lack of a comprehensive, public-health-minded approach toward countering violent extremism. Collective action from those in medicine, criminology, psychology, education and other disciplines could go a long way in stemming the tide of extremism. “If you recognize that public health officials, mental health officials, educators and others have the capacity, then it’s just an education and knowledge-reframing issue,” says Weinberger. “Then you have capacity that can be easily scaled up.”

Simi agrees that we need a comprehensive, public-health model, but noted that this approach “is at odds with what our country has done in the last 30 years. We’ve disinvested in things that could help counter violent extremism [by] disinvesting from mental health, public education…”

In addition to structural obstacles, some critics argue that violent extremists are criminals, harmful to society and undeserving of public resources. Why should the public fund their recovery? While Simi understands this critique, he insists that intervention and treatment of white supremacists is in the public interest. “If helping individuals come out of these groups reduces the potential number of victims they reach, that means less victimization,” he says.

To anyone considering joining the white power movement, former hate group members and experts alike warn that early feelings of acceptance are quickly overshadowed by an all-consuming, self-destructive lifestyle. “If someone is flirting with white supremacy, it’s best to get them out early,” says Weinberger. “It’s not a phase or acting out. It’s very serious. It’s terrorism.”

McAleer gained fame and power in the skinhead movement, but “the rest of my life was going backwards.” That’s the skinhead culture package deal: a daily churn of combative rhetoric that fuels combative behavior. He fought in hundreds of brawls, expected to die in one by his twenties and secretly knew his own peers wouldn’t care when he did.

And of course, most significantly, extremist ideologies inflict violence upon innocent people from already disenfranchised communities. That’s exactly what McAleer’s involvement brought about. At age 17, when he and his buddies saw a gay man walk by, they screamed slurs and chased him into the crawl space of a construction site. They proceeded to pick up stones and whip them into the darkness, eagerly listening for the man’s cries. He called it “the most shameful thing” he has ever done. But beyond the stones he threw, McAleer’s massive recruiting efforts and white supremacist phone line (a pre-internet propaganda tool) hurled countless other stones that maimed innocent people. “Guys who were recruited by the guys I recruited murdered a Sikh,” he says. “Can I say that the propaganda I put out had 0.00 percent to do with the murder? I can’t say that.”

“The end result of this ideology is always murder,” he says. “That’s the first thing to remember about this ideology. Charlottesville is an example of this. Nazi Germany was an example of this. Lynching in the South. History is littered with this ideology leading to murder.” Nothing positive comes from white supremacy, McAleer insists.

Former violent extremists call their years in the movement the “lost decade,” he says. “People who stay in this end up bitter. It destroys their lives. Yes, it’s exciting. You’re living out fantasies of Vikings. But it’s not fantasy. It’s facade.”

For Brad Galloway, the facade began to crumble when he realized that he lived in constant fear. The nonstop anticipation of a street fight—and the street fights themselves—took a toll on him physically and psychologically. He experienced “continuous migraines” and could not overcome the trauma of the violence. “That violence doesn’t go away,” even years after the fact, he says. But the violence had become central to his identity, his community, his entire way of life. He wondered if he could ever break free. Then he met the Orthodox Jewish doctor.

Some version of Galloway’s story is echoed in the stories of many formers, according to deradicalization research. Their long, difficult process of deprogramming from hate was triggered by reconnecting with the humanity of another.

For McAleer, that moment came when his daughter was born. As he held her for the first time, he felt something the movement never gave him, a genuine “connection to another human being.” McAleer’s son was born 15 months later and together, his children’s love ignited a “thawing process.” “My identity became not Tony, white supremacist, but Tony, single father of two.”

The birth of a child is a common turning point among many who leave these movements, according to researchers. Also pivotal is a human connection with those they hate, even briefly. After all, extremists rage against caricatures of groups without understanding the real people. Galloway’s encounter with his Orthodox Jewish doctor and later, with colleagues from other minority groups, destabilized his ideology so much that he had no choice but to reject it completely.

Weinberger has seen this play out in his research, but the burden of deradicalization should not be placed upon victims of hate. “It would be false to say that there’s equal responsibility on the victims,” he says. The person leaving extremism “has to do the work and own what they’ve done.”

Galloway didn’t know of any formal deradicalization resources in his early years of exiting the movement. His wife had urged him to do whatever it took. So he moved his family to a different neighborhood. When that didn’t work, they moved to a different city just to get him away from the triggers and social backlash that threatened to derail his recovery. Galloway focused on reintegrating into mainstream society by returning to school to pursue a criminology degree. He spent three years trying to change on his own, and then a friend told him about Life After Hate.

At Life After Hate, Galloway found a community of people just like himself. He met McAleer, who became a mentor, and found the support he needed in his path toward healing, atoning for his past and building a better life. The impact on Galloway was so positive that he is now a regional coordinator for the Against Violent Extremism Network, which partners with Life After Hate in helping people exit extremist groups, addressing the needs of victims of extremism and educating teachers, law enforcement and other community groups about the risk factors.

Despite the challenges of leaving extremism, formers and experts agree: people can change, and a better life outside of white supremacy awaits them. McAleer has felt the weight of hate lift away. Each day he experiences the love of his children and the rewards of ushering people out of hate and toward healing. Galloway no longer lives in constant fear. He no longer wakes up filled with rage and dread for his day. Instead he wakes up happy, full of purpose and prepared to actually enjoy his life.

“If people knew they could leave on their own, imagine how many more we could help,” Simi says. He hopes extremists understand that “just because you got involved in this group doesn’t mean you have to join for life. People do change.”


Local church to hold four-day celebration of assault rifles

Hyung Jin Moon (Sean Moon), pictured with a crown of bullets, with his wife, Yeon Ah Lee Moon, and an AR-15 (Photo by Frances Ruth Harris)
Hyung Jin Moon (Sean Moon)
Protest and vigil planned in response: Celebration comes one week after high school massacre in Parkland, Fla.

Frances Ruth Harris
The Pike County Courier
February 20, 2018

NEWFOUNDLAND — A multi-day festival to celebrate assault rifles begins in Pike County just one week after one was used to gun down more than 30 people, 17 fatally, in a Parkland, Fla., school.

In recent years, the famous Moon family has brought to Pike County both a company that sells assault rifles and a church that puts them at the center of religious observances. The church's pastor and his followers say their devotion to the AR-15, a weapon of war used again and again in the nation's worst mass shootings, is rooted in Christian love. They do not see the police or the military as a sufficient bulwark against "the tyrants," "the wicked," or "the mafias...raping our children." Nor do they trust public schools, which they say are indoctrinating children into homosexuality. The pastor says it's up to heavily armed "local militias" to save "our children."

The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland will uphold these ideals at its Festival of Grace from Feb. 22 to 28. It includes a "President Trump Thank You" gun rights dinner in Matamoras on Saturday night, and a Day to Bear Arms at the church and training ground next Wednesday, Feb. 28. The Southern Poverty Law Center's Hate Watch calls the church, also called the Rod of Iron Church, an "anti-LGBT sect."

A blessing for assault rifles Pastor Hyung Jin Moon is the youngest son and spiritual heir of Sun Myung Moon, the Messianic founder known for presiding over mass weddings in Madison Square Garden and other large venues back in the 1980s. On the Day to Bear Arms in Newfoundland, Pastor Moon will bless assault rifles, or receipts for rifles, brought in by attendees.

“Attending the blessing, either with an AR15 or alike or without, is valid, but to attend with an AR15 would be a substantial ‘perfection stage’ blessing," says the invitation on the group's website.

The church has its own militia, the Peace Police Peace Militia, and trains members onsite in the handling of knives and guns.

"The real pious level of protection is the fire power, the power of fire, the rod of iron, and the baptism of (the) Holy Ghost — and fire!" says the Pastor Moon in a video posted on the church's website. "That's the real power. Old people, young people, age doesn't matter, size doesn't matter, everybody becomes more dangerous against evil."

Pastor Moon's brother is Kook Jin Moon, also known as Justin Moon. He is the CEO and president of Kahr Arms, which opened a plant in Pike County in 2014. He moved the company's corporate office out of New York State in protest after New York enacted gun control laws in response to the mass shooting of 20 first-graders and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Two years later, Kahr Arms opened at the long-vacant industrial site in Greeley, with a promise to eventually bring 90 to 100 jobs to the area.

Bob Smart is a salesman at the Kahr Arms warehouse in Greeley, which has its own retail store. He said New York limits choices for customizing AR-15s that make them more deadly.

"Until Cuomo decides what he's going to do, there aren't many choices for New York gun owners to buy the AR-15 beyond the very basic gun," he said.

Salesman Ben Geinble says the Greeley store is the only place in Pennsylvania where you can buy the Thompson AR-15. It is not available online.

Gun experts say the AR-15 is popular because it is light, fast, and easy to use.

"Women like to shoot the AR-15s because they're fun long distance and there's no recoil," said Smart.

The festival was planned before the AR-15 became the flash point of a fresh call for action, led by Parkland's student-survivors. The festival includes an apologetics speech contest, food festival to raise money for the local fire department, a raffle of donated baskets, a goat-skinning and -cooking lunch, survival contest, fishing competition benefit for Vetstock, arts festival, ministries demo, shooting competition, and prayer breakfast.

Protest plannedEd Gragert of the Delaware Valley Democratic Club said the club is pushing back with two events, one at the "Thank You" dinner and a candlelight vigil at the Pike County Courthouse on Feb. 28. (Check back for more details about these events.)

"For us, it is obscene to glorify the AR-15 assault rifle when it’s been used once again in Florida to kill 17 students and teachers," said Gragert. "There is no room for hate/cult groups and such glorification/trafficing in assault rifles in Pike County!"

Sean Strub, the mayor of Milford Borough, said, "Anytime we have elected officials, business, faith or civic leaders who consort with white supremacists, homophobes, and anti-Semites, it is cause for concern...

"It seems like guns are their God. Telling their faithful they need to buy an AR-15 to get the church's "highest blessing" is, quite frankly, grotesque."

Chief Chad Stewart with Eastern Pike Regional Police addressed how he would balance the situation of armed diners and protestors.

"As long as the protesters exercise free speech and assemble peacefully, there shouldn't be a problem if people protest," he said. "Best Western is private property. People can carry as long as they don't break the law."

'The intersection of guns and Jesus'Pastor Moon said the Bible condemns homosexuality and that he opposes LGBT people who politicize sexual behavior. He said he has a gay acquaintance who knows Moon disapproves of him, but Moon does business with his acquaintance anyway because he is not political.

Larry Pratt, executive director emeritus of Gun Owners of America, which has a more absolutist stance on guns even than the National Rifle Association, will speak at the "President Trump Thank You" dinner. The Southern Poverty Law Center says Pratt "stands at the intersection of guns and Jesus, lobbying for absolutely unrestricted distribution of firearms while advocating a theocratic society based upon Old Testament civil and religious laws. A pivotal figure in the rise of right-wing militia, or 'Patriot,' groups, he spoke at the notorious 1992 'Gathering of Christian Men' in Estes Park, Colo., where 160 neo-Nazis, Klan members, anti-Semitic Christian Identity adherents and others arguably laid the groundwork for the militia movement that would explode in 1994. He believes that white Christians must arm themselves for self-protection in the inevitable social implosions and riots that are soon to come."

Moon conducts three-hour broadcasts titled "The King's Report" from Monday through Saturday out of his home studio. On the day the Courier visited, the morning after the Parkland massacre, the show's guest was Carla D'Addesi. She works for Paul Mango, who is running for governor on a "Faith, Family and Pennsylvania Values" platform opposing abortion and LGBT rights.

http://www.politicspa.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Mango-on-King-Report.png">On a show in January with Mango himself, Moon said parents are afraid to send their children to public schools.

“They’re not only going to learn the actual required course load, they’re getting indoctrinated into the homosexual political agenda, they’re getting indoctrinated in the transgender agenda saying that their emotions, that they can choose how they feel based on how they feel their gender which is totally against the bible," Moon said. "It’s totally against biology, I mean my goodness."

Wearing a crown of bullets made by a parishioner, Moon told The Courier that the Book of Revelations says "the rod of iron" honors God: "And He shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from my Father," he quoted.

Three men, including Pastor Moon, were wearing crowns on the day after Parkland. In Moon's church, crowns celebrate sanctity and are worn by sanctified males. Moon said every man knows when he is ready for his crown. Pictures on the walls show women wearing crowns on formal occasions in the company of sanctified men.

The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church was listed as a hate group with The Southern Poverty Law Center just a week ago. Pastor Moon's replied on Facebook that he would counter their hate and meet it head on.

"The Southern Poverty Law Center is well known as an extreme left hate group," said a posting on the church's Facebook site.


Sex abuse claim against Guam church brings total lawsuits to 157

Catholic Church in Guam
February 20, 2018

Another lawsuit has been filed against the Catholic Church in Guam, bringing the total lawsuits alleging historical sexual abuse to 157.

The latest case, against a priest Louis Brouillard, is for raping an altar boy during sleepovers when he was a teenager in the 1970s.

Mr Brouillard, who is now 96, was on Guam from 1948 to 1981, and is accused of abusing boys in 100 of the lawsuits the church is facing.

He has admitted abusing boys during his time on Guam, before the church relocated him to the United States mainland.

Fifteen other priests, two archbishops and a bishop have also been implicated in abuse that spans from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s.

So far, the sum of the lawsuits the Catholic Church is facing exceeds $US600 million.


I left my childhood cult behind, but not the cynicism it instilled in me

 ‘Growing up in a cult, contemporary society was a foreign country for which I had no passport.’ Photograph: naufalmq/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Niggling doubt freed me from a dysfunctional upbringing and led me to write a novel daring teens to find their own path
Ellie Marney
The Guardian
February 20, 2018

Growing up in a cult, contemporary society was a foreign country for which I had no passport.

Hey there! I’d like you to join my cult. Sell your house and come live in the same street as all my other followers. You can join us for gatherings two or three evenings a week, then devote another weeknight to special teachings. Every Saturday and Sunday will be spent in our hall, in one long inspirational love-fest. Doesn’t that sound great?

Your children can date the children of other followers. Don’t worry, we’ll keep a close eye on them, especially if they’re girls, who should really pay attention to how they look and behave; the women of our community are respectful and model passive submission, which is just biology after all. You can probably put aside things like outside social contacts, contemporary music and certain types of literature and media – you’re really better off without them. Oh, and if you’re having emotional trouble, relax. We’ve got special counsellors who can make everything better.

While you’re at it, why don’t you pull out your wallet and give me a tenth of what’s inside? Yes, that’s right, just hand it over – and then make sure you surrender a portion of your weekly earnings as well.

So … what do you think? Are you in?

Cults don’t follow this kind of script, of course. If I walked up to you and looked into your eyes and gave you this speech, you’d probably run away screaming. But what if I sat next to you, listened to you talk about your anxiety, your grief, your personal pain? What if I empathised with you, gave you comfort, reassured you that you were a great person, promised you that I could help? What if I suggested that there was a better way of living? What if I seemed like a really decent human being? Would you be more receptive then?

We’ve come to associate the word “cult” with Svengali-type characters, Jonestown and gurus – the Charles Manson effect. But cults take many different forms. I grew up in a Pentecostal-style “Christian community fellowship” in Brisbane. I left when I was 19, but I still remember the experience of emerging, blinking, into the regular world.

Life outside the community was utterly disorienting, quietly terrifying, and bigger than I had imagined. There were a host of things I was clueless about. I knew about tithing, but I didn’t know about banking. I knew about prayer meetings but not how to make myself a dental appointment. I knew Scripture, but had no idea of politics or social history. I didn’t know how to rent a place to live, or access public services, or fill out forms. I was a teenager who had never tried alcohol, had been warned that rock music was of the devil, and who had no real concept of dating that didn’t involve my parents praying over me as I left the house. I had no secular friends. I had no driver’s licence.

As a teenager, I’d found some relief in making art – painting and writing, particularly (I was banned from reading Stephen King, so I became my own primary content provider). But leaving the community was a steep learning curve. Contemporary society was a foreign country I had glimpsed on television or read about in books – thank God for books – for which I had no passport.
Now, decades later, I’m an author of novels for young people. While writing a new story I’d been encouraged to dig deeper for inspiration, so I sat down for a week with a notepad, just writing down every single memory of high school and being a teenager that I could think of. Many of the memories were about the community I thought I’d left behind – I found them intensely uncomfortable. It took me a while to figure out that this discomfort was something I should lean into. I remembered the words of writing teacher Anne Lamott: “When you get serious you will be dealing with the one thing you’ve been avoiding all along – your wounds.” So I wrote towards the bleeding parts, and gave the character of Rory Wild in White Night a childhood as steeped in fanaticism as my own.

Sure, I researched. I pondered the issue of how a demagogue can turn a community into a cult, and spent a lot of time looking at contemporary communes and intentional communities, particularly communities that failed. But whenever I really needed to get into Rory’s character, my mind started circling the drain of memory. Rory’s naivety about fashion, school and social relationships? That was mine. Her outsider’s view of contemporary life? That was me, too. When Rory says, “I like the world, but I don’t really feel like I belong in it”, I was quoting from life, and her culture shock at entering high school was my own. The love-bombing and psychological manipulation exhibited by the charismatic leader of Rory’s community was something I’d witnessed firsthand – I’d seen how community leaders drew people in by sidling up to them during personal crises. I had the experience, I had the material – I knew what cults were like.

The pieces of yourself that you gift to a novel are part memory, part invention, part gut instinct. White Night revolves around the question of how teenagers find their ethical path if the adults around them are modelling dysfunction. If that sounds a little cynical as a premise for a young adult novel, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Cynicism is probably one thing I took away with me, after leaving home and, by extension, the community my family was involved in. A little cynicism goes a long way when you’re disentangling yourself from a cult. It’s the questioning voice, the niggle of doubt that gives you the impetus to question more, and finally make your own decisions.

• Ellie Marney is a teacher and an author of award-winning young adult fiction. White Night is her fifth novel for young adults.

Friends: Jehovah's Witnesses shunning drove Keego Harbor mom to murder-suicide

Lauren Stuart
Lauren Stuart
Tresa Baldas
Detroit Free Press
February 20, 2018

Show Caption

At 45, Lauren Stuart appeared to have it all.

A successful husband. Two college-educated kids. A modeling portfolio. And a charming home in Keego Harbor with a heart wreath on the door.

But behind the seemingly idyllic life, friends say Stuart struggled with the anguish of being ostracized from the religion she and her husband had been raised in. About five years ago, Stuart and her husband left the Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination that has been criticized for its strict indoctrination and for its practice of shunning former members.

Friends and others believe that struggle with being shunned may have driven Stuart to do the unthinkable.

Last week, Stuart shot and killed her husband and two adult children, and then killed herself. Police found the bodies Friday morning while responding to a call from a concerned relative.

The tragedy sent longtime family friend Joyce Taylor reeling as she and others say they believe the murder-suicide was the result of shunning by the Jehovah's Witnesses. She said the Stuarts left the religion more than five years ago because of "doctrinal and social issues."

According to Taylor and several other former Jehovah's Witnesses who talked to the Free Press, when someone leaves the religion, a drastic shunning takes place: No one inside the religion, even parents, are allowed to speak to the departed again.

Taylor barged into a Kingdom Hall meeting in Union Lake over the weekend, stood on a chair and lambasted the gathering.

“Excuse me everyone, My name is Joyce Taylor ... Two days ago, four people died as a result of your shunning process," Taylor said, while batting away members and yelling at them. "Five years ago you people pulled your support from this small family, the only support they had was you people. You turned them away and you shunned them."

"For what?!!," she screamed loudly. "Because they wanted to raise their children as they saw fit.”

According to Taylor, Lauren Stuart and Daniel Stuart, 47, wanted to send their children to college, but the religion forbids that. They did so anyway. Their son Steven, 27, excelled in computers, just like his father, who was a data solutions architect for the University of Michigan’s Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care. Bethany, 24, excelled in art and graphic design.

"All they wanted to do was raise their family the way they wanted to," Taylor told the Free Press on Monday, saying the Stuarts were ostracized by their parents and everyone in the Jehovah's Witnesses community when they left.

"They were shunned every way possible. If Lauren went to the grocery store, they didn't look her in the eye," said Taylor, a former Jehovah's Witness herself. "When you are raised a Jehovah's Witness, they choose your friends. They choose who you associate with. And if you go against that, they will dis-fellowship you, or shun you."

The Free Press called the Union Lake Kingdom Hall on Monday, but no one answered. Multiple phone messages were left with the elders of Kingdom Hall, but none of the calls were returned. Messages to the Jehovah's Witnesses national headquarters also were not returned.

Taylor, who last saw her friend a week before she was found dead, said she doesn't know exactly what drove her friend over the edge. She believes that her friend was battling some kind of personal problem, but felt so alone in the world because of being ostracized by her former religious community that she did what she did.

"She worshiped Danny. Danny worshiped her. They were like hand in glove. But she was very concerned about Dan. He was prone to depression and she was always worried about him," Taylor said.

She later added: "She was in emotional distress ... she felt alone. I was her lifeline."

According to interviews with friends, neighbors and employers, Lauren Stuart, after leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses, appeared to be set on making a new life for herself. She contacted modeling agencies and photographers to see whether there was a market for older models like herself. She also worked as a part-time personal trainer at the YMCA in Farmington Hills a few years ago and cleaned houses.

This is how she referred to herself in one online post: "I love acting and modeling. I am a very passionate person and it reflects in my work. I am adventurous in nature and so I like a wide variety of acting and modeling experiences. I enjoy learning new things especially with good direction. ... Life is an adventure and my goal is to die knowing I did the things I wanted to do."

Bernadette Strickland, director of the John Casablancas modeling studio in Plymouth, was among those who gave Lauren Stuart a shot at modeling.

"I remember her because she had enrolled in our workshops. She was very nice. She asked a lot of questions," said Strickland, who recalled Lauren Stuart being happy and having a good life.

"She looked like she had a great family and she was very attractive. She kept herself up so well," said Strickland, adding she was "very sorry" and shocked to learn of what happened.

New Haven photographer Brittni Beversdorf had similar memories. She said she met Lauren and photographed her in 2012. At the time, she said, Lauren and her husband had just bought their home in Keego Harbor and Lauren was excited about renovating it herself.

"She was very friendly," Beversdorf said, noting she was "shocked" to learn of the woman's tragic death.

Taylor said that she last saw Lauren Stuart a week before she and her family were discovered dead.

"She came over to my house. we had tea, coffee and talked," Taylor said, noting her friend gave no signs that she was about to do something terrible.

She said Lauren talked about her kids and expressed excitement about her husband being involved in a project at the University of Michigan, where, she said, he was helping develop a software program that helps detect heart attacks.

"She was talking about the business he was hoping to get going, how much she was looking forward to it. We talked about that, our kids," Taylor recalled.

And then came the phone call. A week later, a mutual friend called Taylor and told her about the murder-suicide.

"I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it," she kept saying.

Keego Harbor police declined comment, saying only that the investigation is ongoing.

This is not the first such incident.

In 2001, the shame of being thrown out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses drove former Michigander Christian Longo to murder his wife and three young children in Oregon. Authorities said his financial troubles triggered his expulsion from the religious group, which then triggered the killings.

In 2014, a family of four was found dead in their South Carolina home in a murder suicide carried out by the father, who was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. All four were shot in the head.


Feb 19, 2018

Opponents of Religious Exemption Carry Children's Coffins to Capitol

The coffins at Monday's march signify the children who have died from faith-based medical neglect in Idaho. (Bruce Wingate)
The coffins at Monday's march signify the children who have died from faith-based medical neglect in Idaho. (Bruce Wingate)

February 19, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – Marchers will carry 183 child-sized coffins to the State Capitol Monday to honor and symbolize each of the children they say have died because of Idaho's faith healing exemption law.

Idaho is one of only six states where parents who withhold medical care for religious reasons are exempt from manslaughter charges.

Bruce Wingate is the founder of Protect Idaho Kids, the group staging the march. He says it's in response to lawmakers being unlikely to address the exemption during this legislative session, and also failing to address it last year.

"On average, three to four kids die a year from faith-based medical neglect,” he states. “That would mean six to eight more children die.

“That's, to me, just not acceptable – to just let it go and say, 'Okay, we're too busy getting elected,’” he states. “’We don't want to deal with this issue right now,' and have eight more kids die."

The march starts at 3 p.m. in Julia Davis Park. Wingate says its tone isn't meant to be dark, but to honor the children.

Groups that rely on faith healing cite their First Amendment right to practice their faith.

Canyon County has been the epicenter of the faith based neglect deaths, where County Sheriff Kieran Donahue is a vocal opponent of the faith exemption.

Before becoming sheriff, Donahue says he worked on many of these cases as a detective, and wants legislators to act.

"It's very frustrating, has been frustrating for years,” he states. “I absolutely don't think it's right that someone who comes up with an idea that, 'This is my religion, so I can treat or mistreat my children, the most vulnerable in our society, there's nothing you can do about it.'"

Wingate supports people's freedom to practice their religion, but believes it can't infringe on the rights of children.

"It's not really a religious freedom issue, although that's what the legislators have used for years,” he states. “It's really a child protection issue, it's a child neglect issue. You can believe what you want. You just can't neglect your child."


Aleph raided over alleged lease fraud

Police officers stand in front of a facility in Kyoto owned by Aleph, an offshoot of the infamous Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, on Monday. | KYODO
Facility in Kyoto owned by Aleph
Japan Times
February 19, 2018

KYOTO – Police on Monday raided facilities of the main successor group to doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo in connection with an alleged case of fraud involving a condominium lease, investigators said.

The facilities of the group, known as Aleph, are in Kyoto’s Minami Ward and are believed to have been used for training and other purposes.

Aum Shinrikyo was responsible for the 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway system that killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000. The cult, led by guru Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, renamed itself Aleph in 2000.

According to the Public Security Intelligence Agency, Aleph has about 1,500 followers and has seen an increase in young members in recent years.

In some cases, Aleph has been luring young followers without disclosing that it is a religious group or informing them of its links to Aum and its criminal history, according to police officials.

Aleph has also set up yoga classes as a means to encourage potential followers to join, they said.

The cult has two other successors, Hikari no Wa (Circle of Rainbow Light) and an offshoot of Aleph.

In November, the police searched facilities used by Aleph in Sapporo and Fukuoka on suspicion that the group swindled a young woman out of tens of thousands of yen in membership fees without having her fill out the legally required paperwork.

Out of Aleph’s followers, about 300 live in Hokkaido, which has the largest concentration of members among the 47 prefectures.

A four-story building the police searched in Sapporo’s Shiroishi Ward is thought to be its largest facility.

In bad faith: Korean woman dies during forced conversion

ore than 1,20,000 people gathering in Seoul and the other major cities of South Korea on January 28 to protest against coercive conversion
Anjuly Mathai
The Week
February 19, 2018

More than 1,20,000 people gathering in Seoul and the other major cities of South Korea on January 28 to protest against coercive conversion

On December 29 of last year, a 27-year-old woman, Ji-in Gu, was killed while she was being held captive at a secluded recreational lodge in Hwasun, Jeonnam, South Korea. On January 18, the parents of the woman were held responsible for the murder. According to the police department of Hwasun, they bound and gagged their daughter, leading to suffocation. The autopsy revealed a “high possibility of cardiopulmonary arrest due to hypoxic hypoxia”. The death has ricocheted from a ‘family matter’ to a national issue, with more than 1,20,000 people gathering in Seoul and the other major cities of South Korea on January 28 to protest against coercive conversion, of which the woman was a victim.

Coercive conversion is apparently a wide-spread phenomenon in South Korea. It is conducted by the Counselling Centre of Cult, which was established under the leadership of Pastor Yong-Shik Jin. Its pastors are from the Protestant churches in the country. They try to forcibly convert people from what they call “cult” churches, like the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, established in 1984, which Ji-in Gu was a member of. They allegedly enlist the aid of the family members of the person to kidnap her and take her to secluded places, where she is forced to undergo coercive conversion education, often through violent means.

The victim had earlier, in July 2016, been confined at a Catholic abbey in the city of Jangseong for 40 days. She had said that although she had escaped from the abbey, she lived in constant fear of being kidnapped again and could no longer trust her family who had colluded with the pastors to kidnap her. After that, she had sent a formal petition to the President of the Republic of Korea asking for the closing down of the Counselling Centre of Cult and to legally punish coercive conversion education pastors. “Please help innocent people by legislating a new law that does not discriminate against religions,” she had written.

“I used to occasionally see her in church,” says Sun Woo Kim, another member of the Shincheonji Church. “She was a very bright girl. More than anything, she wanted peace in her family. That’s why she returned to them even after being kidnapped and made to undergo forcible conversion.”

He says that these pastors go to various churches and conduct seminars. They corrupt the family members and demand money in exchange for converting to Protestantism their children or spouses who have joined other churches.

“More than a conflict between two churches, this is a case of human rights violation,” says Kim. “The politicians consider these pastors as vote banks and hence take no action against them. The police say that conversion is a private matter to be settled within the families and hence refuse to interfere. Ten years ago, a similar case had taken place in which a woman was killed by her husband. While the husband was imprisoned, the pastors went scot-free.”

He says that the pastors use brutal methods to indoctrinate the victims, who are mostly women. “They use sleeping pills to kidnap you,” he says. “Then with duct tape and handcuffs, they subdue you. The victims will be kept close watch over. They’re not even allowed to close the door while using the washroom to prevent them from escaping.”

Sun Woo Kim, another South Korean who vociferously opposes coercive conversion, gives some figures. More than 1,000 people have come out as being victims of these programmes, with 663 claiming to have been kidnapped and 541 beaten. “So, this is more serious than simply being a ‘family matter’,” she says.

“Who gave these pastors the authority to confine, shackle, beat, and murder people for their faith?” reads a petition by the Association of Victims of Coercive Conversion Programmes. “Their disguise is holy and pious, but their actions show that they are willing to commit murder to arbitrarily convert people’s beliefs. The authorities must face reality and take appropriate action against this practice. We should thoroughly investigate the recent death and reveal the true facts. We should root out the real culprit and cause for destruction of this family. Justice should be served, and conversion pastors must be held accountable for their actions. The constant violation of people's universal human right to freedom of religion through abduction, confinement, suffocation and many other forms of physical abuse and violence must come to an end.”