Dec 15, 2017

Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Fast Facts

CNN Library 
December 14, 2017

(CNN) -- Here is a look at the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), a religious sect that broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, over the practice of polygamy.

2002-present - Warren Jeffs is the spiritual leader of the FLDS. His brother, Lyle Jeffs, overseas daily affairs.

2011 - Warren Jeffs is sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault of a child under age 14, and 20 years for the sexual assault of a child under age 17.

About FLDS:The FLDS has an estimated 10,000 members, most of whom live in Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. The group also has followers near Eldorado, Texas, and in South Dakota, Colorado, Nevada, British Columbia, and Mexico.

The spiritual leader of the FLDS church is considered a prophet of God. He is the only person able to perform marriage and can punish followers by "reassigning" their wives and children to other men.

They believe in practicing polygamy.

Critics of the FLDS maintain that underage females are often forced into marriages with older men.

Eleven of 12 suspects from the 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch have been tried and convicted on charges of child sexual assault, bigamy, or performing an unlawful marriage. The charges against Lloyd H. Barlow, the doctor indicted on three charges of failure to report child abuse, were dismissed.

Timeline:1890 - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, suspends the practice of polygamy in order to gain statehood for Utah. Members who continue to practice polygamy are excommunicated.

1930s - Fundamentalists who practiced polygamy are excommunicated by the Mormon church and settle in Arizona.

July 26, 1953 - Thirty-six men, 86 women, and 263 children are either arrested or taken into custody during a pre-dawn raid in Arizona.- The men are placed on probation after promising to discontinue practicing polygamy.- Most of the women and children return to the ranch after two years of being wards of the state of Arizona.

November 1986 - FLDS prophet and leader LeRoy Johnson dies at age 98, after leading the FLDS since 1954.

1986-2002 - Rulon T. Jeffs rules as prophet of FLDS until his death at age 92.

September 8, 2002 - Rulon T. Jeffs' son, Warren Jeffs, becomes prophet.

May 2005 - A Utah court freezes the assets of the United Effort Plan trust, which encompasses all of the FLDS sect's land, houses and other assets. The trust, established in the 1940s, is worth more than $100 million. While the trust was established for the benefit of all FLDS members, critics charge that Warren Jeffs has used it to punish dissenters by kicking them out of their homes.

June 9-10, 2005 - Warren Jeffs is indicted in Mohave County, Arizona, on felony charges of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a 28-year-old man, who was already married. A state warrant is issued for Jeffs' arrest, although he hasn't been seen in public for months.

2006 - In the ongoing dispute over the United Effort Plan trust, a judge strips the trust of its religious tenets and allows former church members to join as beneficiaries.

April 6, 2006 - Jeffs is charged in Utah as an accomplice to rape for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and an adult man.

May 6, 2006 - The FBI places Jeffs on its top 10 most-wanted list of fugitives.

August 28, 2006 - Jeffs is arrested after being pulled over for a routine traffic stop near Las Vegas.

January 28, 2007 - Attempts to hang himself in his cell while awaiting trial.

September 25, 2007 - Jeffs is found guilty of two counts of rape by accomplice in Utah. He is sentenced to ten years to life in prison.

April 4-7, 2008 - In response to phone calls to a family violence hotline alleging abuse and rape, police raid the FLDS Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch in Eldorado, Texas.- 416 children are initially removed from the YFZ Ranch (The number of children removed rises to 468 after some of the mothers are determined to be younger than 18). About 130 women voluntarily leave the compound.

May 22, 2008 - The Texas 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin rules that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) illegally removed the children from their families.

May 29, 2008 - The Texas Supreme Court upholds the appellate court's ruling, 6-3.

July 22, 2008 - A Texas grand jury indicts Warren Jeffs and other FLDS members, on bigamy and sexual assault charges.

June 9, 2010 - An Arizona judge dismisses the four charges against Jeffs of being an accomplice to sexual conduct with a minor, due to his more serious pending charges in Texas.

July 27, 2010 - The Utah Supreme Court overturns Jeffs' two 2007 convictions by reason of erroneous jury instructions and orders a new trial.

November 30, 2010 - Jeffs is extradited from Utah to Texas to stand trial on two charges of sexual assault of a child and bigamy.

December 29, 2010 - Pleas of not guilty are entered on Jeffs' behalf. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of up to 99 years in prison.

July 25, 2011 - Trial begins in Texas on charges of sexual assault of a child. Jeffs is granted the request to represent himself.

August 4, 2011 - Jeffs is convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child under age 14 and sexual assault of a child under age 17.

August 9, 2011 - Jeffs is sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault of a child under age 14 and 20 years for sexual assault of a child under age 17.

January 2012 - Texas prison officials find Jeffs guilty of "a major disciplinary infraction" for violating policy by making conference calls to preach to his congregation.

October 9, 2012 - The bigamy charges against already-imprisoned Jeffs and three other sect members are dismissed. The motion states "in the interest of judicial economy, the State moves to dismiss the indictment."

November 28, 2012 - The Texas Attorney General's Office announces it has begun legal proceedings to seize the 1,600-acre YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, Texas.

April 17, 2014 - Officials confirm that Texas authorities have initiated the seizure of the YFZ Ranch.

February 23, 2016 - Eleven FLDS members, including Lyle Jeffs, are indicted. They are accused of fraud and money laundering.

March 7, 2016 - A federal jury finds that the city governments in Short Creek -- Hildale on the Utah side and Colorado City on the Arizona side -- were so corrupted by the FLDS that they discriminated against non-members by denying them police service, water hookups and other utilities. A federal judge has set aside four days in late October for testimony to help him decide what steps to take.

June 2016 - While under house arrest awaiting a fraud trial, it is discovered that Lyle Jeffs has removed his FBI tracking bracelet and fled.

June 14, 2017 - A tip leads to Jeffs' arrest in Yankton, South Dakota. He had been on the run for over a year.

August 4, 2017 - The court announces Jeffs' trial is postponed until October.

September 5, 2017 - Warren Jeffs is ordered to pay $16 million to a former child bride.

December 13, 2017 - Lyle Jeffs is sentenced to 57 months in federal prison for his role in food stamp fraud and escaping house arrest.

Dec 13, 2017

'Nobody saved us': Man describes childhood in abusive 'cult'

In this Nov. 16, 2017 photo, Jamey Anderson's high school transcript and diploma from the Word of Faith Christian School is displayed during an interview in Charlotte, N.C. Anderson walked away from Word of Faith when he was 18, leaving behind the only life he had ever known. He wanted "freedom," even though he wasn't quite sure what that meant. He still struggles to adjust.Chuck Burton / AP
Mitch Weiss And Holbrook Mohr
National Post
The Associated Press
December 13, 2017

SPINDALE, N.C. — Jamey Anderson vividly recalls being a skinny kid trembling on the floor of a dank, windowless storage room, waiting in terror for the next adult to open the door.

He was bruised and exhausted after being held down while a group of Word of Faith Fellowship congregants — including his mother and future stepfather — beat him with a wooden paddle, he said. As with most punishments at the secretive Christian church, Anderson said, it was prompted by some vague accusation: He had sin in his heart, or he had given in to the “unclean.” The attacks could last for hours until he confessed to something, anything, and cried out to Jesus, he said.

Sometimes even that wasn’t enough for redemption. Then, Anderson said, he would be locked in a dark place he called the “green room,” where he would bang his head against the brick wall, wanting to die.

“I just wanted it to end,” he recalled in a series of interviews with The Associated Press. “Of course, they told us that killing yourself is the unforgivable sin.”

Today, Anderson is a 29-year-old handsome, articulate attorney with a quick wit and a sarcastic side. At first glance, he seems well-adjusted. But he finds it hard to trust anyone.

He fled the secretive evangelical church when he was 18, but he is not free. More than a decade later, he still struggles to find his footing in a world that he doesn’t understand, having been raised, as he puts it, in a “cult.”

Night terrors jolt him awake. He fears people will think he’s delusional if he discusses his experiences in Word of Faith because the stories seem unbelievable. He missed a lifetime of pop culture, which makes it difficult for him to build connections with his peers.

Worst of all is the suffocating anguish that rushes in when he looks back on the beatings and isolation.

“There were times that mentally you just feel broken,” he said. “I mean, I was a kid — I couldn’t even process why this was happening to me.”

As part of an ongoing investigation into Word of Faith Fellowship, dozens of former congregants have told the AP that church members were regularly beaten in an effort to “purify” sinners — even children. But despite allegations of abuse spanning two decades, authorities have done little to intervene.

As a child, Anderson said, he was questioned by social services investigators in church co-founder Jane Whaley’s office, but was too afraid to tell the truth. In 2003, he said, the church forced him to sign an affidavit saying he had not been abused and that “church discipline” was “God’s mercy on my life.”

Anderson was about 4 years old when his mother joined Word of Faith. He describes his childhood as nothing short of hell.

Throughout his adolescence, he was singled out as a rebel and suffered some of the most brutal treatment in the church, nearly two dozen former congregants told the AP. Among his transgressions: making a funny face at a classmate.

His most traumatizing memories stem from the “green room,” a storage area named for the colour of its outdoor carpeting in a house his family shared with more than a dozen church members. The long stretches of isolation, the incessant hum of a dehumidifier and the pervasive smell of mildew almost drove him mad, he said.

“I remember thinking about it in that room, thinking, ‘I wish that someone cared. I wish that someone got me out of here,”‘ he recalled.

Former Word of Faith member Risa Pires said that when she visited her aunt, who lived with Anderson’s family, it seemed like “Jamey was always in that room.”

Pires, who left the church three years ago, said children were encouraged to tell on Anderson — and others — for the slightest perceived infractions in the church’s K-12 school, where she was in his class until the ninth grade.

Anderson would be pulled from the classroom and brought to another room where he would be “brutally paddled,” she said.

“You could hear the loud whacks through the wall,” she said. “You just sat there, hoping you weren’t next.”

After breaking with Word of Faith, Anderson lost all contact with his mother and brother, who remain in the church. He said Whaley even refused to let him attend the funeral of his grandfather, the most important male figure in his childhood, and that he was omitted from the list of family members in the obituary.

He is free and yet, he said, he cannot escape the church’s reach. It has branded him — permanently, he fears.

He is speaking out now, he said, because “I want to make sure that kids there, they know that there’s a better way to live. That people can love you for who you are. That they’re not going to mistreat you.”

Noell Tin, an attorney for Whaley, denied Anderson had been mistreated. “Mr. Anderson’s claims are disputed not only by Ms. Whaley, but also by members of the church,” he said.

To understand what Anderson lived through, it is necessary to understand Word of Faith. Founded in 1979 by Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam, the church has grown to a congregation of nearly 750 people in rural Spindale with hundreds more followers extending to Brazil, Ghana and other countries.

Jane Whaley is the unquestioned leader, presenting herself as a prophet. Over the years, she has decreed ever more stringent rules, dictating how followers dress, where they live, who they marry and even when they have sex. Birthday celebrations, television and music are strictly off-limits.

A series of AP stories over the past year have documented widespread abuses within Word of Faith, prompting investigations in the U.S. and South America. In July, the AP revealed how the church mined its two branches in Brazil for a steady supply of young labourers who say they were forced to work for little or no pay in the U.S. at businesses owned by church leaders. In November, the AP documented how the sect used it power and influence to wrest children from poor single mothers.

Anderson said some of his earliest memories are of a church practice called “blasting,” in which congregants are shrieked at, sometimes for hours, to drive out devils. The sessions often graduate to slapping, punching and choking, according to more than 40 former members interviewed by the AP.

The members said Whaley quotes Acts 2:2 and other scriptures to justify the practice: “When suddenly there came a sound from heaven like the rushing of a violent tempest blast …”

From early childhood, Anderson always seemed to be in trouble, resulting in regular severe beatings, several former members said.

Anderson recounted a particularly brutal attack when he was about 9, when he said a female church member pinned his arms down while his mother sat on his legs and beat him with a paddle.

“It hit me in many other places than where it was supposed to. But they didn’t stop, because I needed a ‘breakthrough.’ The demons were ‘taking me over,’ as a kid. I was going to go to hell. And so they kept swinging the paddle, swinging the paddle,” he said.

Anderson’s mother, Patricia Dolan, did not respond to phone and text messages from the AP.

Former congregant Danielle Cordes said it was common for adults to hold children down by their arms and legs during attacks. It happened to her, too. “That was normal,” she said.

Forced child labour was another staple of life, several former members told the AP.

Anderson said his work details began around sixth grade — sometimes during school hours — on construction and real estate projects performed for church members. He recalled being diagnosed with asthma in middle school, a condition aggravated by the outdoor work, and being rebuked for “laziness and foolishness.”

Over the years, he said, the work increased. Anderson said he cleaned the Whaleys’ house, sometimes working until after midnight, then would return in the morning to mow their lawn. At times, he said, he was forced to work several nights a week, often doing remodeling work like painting and drywall repair. He said church leaders called it “volunteer work,” but that the punishment for refusing could be severe.

And though he thought his life couldn’t get any worse, it did.

When he was 14, Anderson said, Jane Whaley called a mandatory church meeting, on a weekday. Waiting in the sanctuary that day in early 2002, “we knew it couldn’t be good,” he said.

When Whaley arrived, she pointed to Anderson and a group of “troublemakers” she called the “five boys.” For two hours, he said, Whaley screamed and shamed them.

They were expected to fall to the floor and cry out to Jesus for forgiveness. Some did, but Anderson said he was too scared to move.

“That meant to Jane that my heart was hard. I was unreachable and that’s when she got very close to my face and called me everything she could think of, yelling at me at the top of her lungs,” he said.

Whaley placed Anderson and his four friends in isolation for a year, he said. Instead of attending class, he said they sat in a room watching videos of Whaley preaching and were confined to their homes after school and on weekends. Family members weren’t allowed to talk to them. When it was time to eat, someone would open the door and slide food in, “like in a prison,” Anderson said.

They were treated as if they did not exist — except when it came time for punishment and they were told they were full of “witchcraft and warfare,” he said.

Ministers constantly grilled them with questions that would devolve into the “sexual realm,” said Peter Cooper, another of the five, who called the ministers relentless. If the boys didn’t answer the “right way,” he said, they were blasted and beaten.

“After you’ve been told repeatedly that you’re unclean, you know it’s better to go ahead and admit it. You start confessing to things you didn’t think about. They destroy your will,” said Cooper, 28, who left the church in 2014.

To this day, Anderson said he can’t understand why the boys were singled out and considered so unworthy of love and acceptance.

“If there was ever a time I was broken, that was it,” he said, pushing back tears.

When Anderson walked away from Word of Faith, he left behind the only life he had ever known. He wanted “freedom,” even though he wasn’t quite sure what that meant.

Despite having an outgoing personality, his isolated upbringing makes it hard for him to fit in. If he’s hanging out with a group of peers and someone cites a scene from a movie or line from a song, he has no idea what they’re talking about. He doesn’t get their jokes. The loneliness can be crushing, he said.

It also remains difficult for him to maintain romantic relationships, crippled by the fear of questions about his past and embarrassment about his night terrors.

“I don’t trust anybody. With this thing, it can change the way people look at you,” Anderson said.

Still, he forges on, determined to build a happy life.

He graduated from law school and was hired by a respected firm in Charlotte, and his future — for a change — seemed bright. Then one night in October 2016, the police knocked on his apartment door and arrested him for trespassing on his brother’s property.

Nick Anderson had sworn to a magistrate judge that another church member spotted Jamey on his property. When presented with overwhelming evidence that Jamey was nowhere near his brother’s home that night, District Attorney Ted Bell dismissed the case. But Jamey said he was humiliated by having to explain to his neighbours and law firm that members of a “crazy church” had made false accusations against him.

Reached by phone, Nick Anderson declined to comment.

The district attorney said he considered charging Nick Anderson and the church member with intimidating a witness, but instead would “send them a strongly worded letter to not do it again.”

That provides little solace to Jamey. Like the skinny little kid locked away in the storage room anticipating the next beating, he still can’t escape the fear of what the church might do next.

Because he does not want any other child in Word of Faith to suffer like he says he suffered, he tells his story to “be the light that I used to see as a small child, that got extinguished when nobody saved us. . I don’t want to watch and see as other kids grow up and they start to leave and say, ‘Why didn’t someone come and help us? Why was our childhood destroyed, when you knew better?”‘

Ex-Polygamous Sect Leader Gets Nearly 5 Years in Fraud Case

In this Jan. 21, 2015, file photo, Lyle Jeffs leaves the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. The former polygamous sect leader was sentenced Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, to nearly five years for his role in carrying out an elaborate food stamp fraud scheme and for escaping home confinement while awaiting trial. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File) The Associated Press
Lyle Jeffs
A former polygamous sect leader has been sentenced to nearly five years for his role in a carrying out an elaborate food stamp fraud scheme and for escaping home confinement while awaiting trial.

U.S. News & World Report

December 13, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former polygamous sect leader was sentenced Wednesday to nearly five years in prison for his role in a carrying out an elaborate food stamp fraud scheme and for escaping home confinement while awaiting trial.

U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart said during a hearing in Salt Lake City that Lyle Jeffs deserved the 57-month prison sentence because his behavior showed he doesn't respect U.S. laws and puts his allegiance to his brother and the sect's imprisoned prophet, Warren Jeffs, above everything else.

Stewart said Lyle Jeffs' religious beliefs provide context for his decision to follow his brother's orders, but don't justify the fact that he "cheated" taxpayers out of government funds.

Lyle Jeffs is lifelong member of the Mormon offshoot group based on the Utah-Arizona border known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

"Mr. Jeffs is an adult. He knows right from wrong," Stewart said.

Prosecutors accused Lyle Jeffs of running a scheme to divert some $11 million in food-stamp benefits to a communal storehouse and front companies.

Prosecutor Robert Lund asked for the maximum five-year sentence to send a message to Lyle Jeffs and other sect leaders that a "culture of corruption" in recent years won't be tolerated.

Lyle Jeffs was also ordered to pay $1 million in restitution. He had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit benefits fraud and failure to appear.

Lyle Jeffs 57, spoke briefly and said he accepted responsibility for his mistakes and that he erred in not properly researching food stamp fraud laws.

"I do your honor humbly and respectfully say that I acknowledge my mistakes and decision-making," said Lyle Jeffs, his hands and ankles shackled. "I do humbly accept my responsibly for my actions. I don't blame anyone."

His attorney Kathryn Nester said the scheme wasn't malicious but meant to ensure everyone in the group had food to eat as part of the group's religious beliefs in communal living.

She said Lyle Jeffs has already suffered tremendously because he's been banned from the sect by his brother Warren Jeffs. That means he's lost his family, his job and his faith.

"If you're looking to humble him, I think we're there," Nester said.

Lyle Jeffs was first charged in February 2016 along with 10 other members of the sect in the fraud scheme. Cases against the others ended in plea deals without prison time or dismissed charges.

Lyle Jeffs compounded his legal problems when he became a fugitive after he slipped off an ankle monitoring device in in June of that year while out on supervised release. He was caught in South Dakota a year later after pawn shop workers spotted him and called police.

His brother Warren Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting girls he considered wives.

Self-Help Group Lured Man Into Sexual Cult, Lawsuit Claims

The Daily Beast
December 13, 2017

So many people have Googled “Gratitude Training cult” that the self-help seminar company launched the webpage “” to combat the allegations.

“Is Gratitude Training a cult?” it asks. “Well, the answer is decide!”

A new lawsuit has decided yes.

Mark Robbins claims he and his twin children joined the Florida-based group for its personal development seminars. Instead, Robbins claims, he got suckered into an exploitative club that left a dead rat on his doorstep after he left. In a new wage theft lawsuit, Robbins accuses Gratitude Training of being a cult. But Gratitude Training’s founder says they’re no more a cult than Apple fans are.

Gratitude Training advertises itself as a three-step self-improvement program to “awaken the planet, maximize joy and actualize peace.” That peace can be yours for $3,585, the combined price of Gratitude Training’s increasingly expensive and time-consuming sessions. (The final session clocks in at nearly 200 hours, spread out over three months.)

Robbins, who joined Gratitude Training in June with his twin children, says he made it through the program’s first two phases before his doubts began piling up. In his suit, he describes allegedly witnessing Gratitude Training staff bully a young woman into an “altered state” during an “exercise,” and berate a man with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Robbins claims Gratitude Training knowingly enrolled people with histories of sexual misconduct and that he witnessed those members participating in sexualized rites, “which include group stroking and massaging, lifting members in the air by their buttocks; and skits in which male members wear diapers.”

Jo Englesson, Gratitude Training’s founder who is named as a defendant in the suit, says that’s not true.

“There’s nothing immoral or sexually inappropriate going on in these trainings,” Englesson told The Daily Beast. “It’s a completely frivolous lawsuit and we’re filing a defamation suit against him next week.”

If Gratitude Training is a cult, then so are people who line up for the iPhone, Englesson said.

“If it’s a cult in the sense of the cult of Apple, people who like the computer product, then yeah,” she said. “But it’s not a cult in the way he’s alleging.”

But Robbins claims Gratitude Training suckered him out of time and money. In his suit, he accuses Gratitude Training of pushing members to work unpaid for the company. Robbins worked over 100 hours without seeing a penny, and one woman in the group “gave so many hours of unpaid service… that she was poverty stricken, and posted on Facebook that she would pose nude for food or money,” he claims.

When Robbins claims he complained about the lack of pay part way through the training’s third phase, he was booted from the group while his children remained on the inside, he alleges. Englesson said Gratitude Training members sometimes volunteer their time and that while Robbins might have volunteered to work security for the group, he never had reason to expect pay.

But other Gratitude Training students have also taken to the internet to complain about an alleged pressure to volunteer for the group. In a 2014 review on the consumer complaint website Ripoff Report, one person claiming to be a former student decried an alleged push for Gratitude Training members to “volunteer, work and recruit for free” while the company profited.

The former student accused Gratitude Training of being a “cult” that uses “public humiliation,” “manipulation,” “food and sleep deprivation,” and “psychological breakdown” to keep members hooked. Gratitude Training staff “keep you in a room for 12-14 hr days, scolded people if they needed to use the rest room other than the assigned few breaks,” the student alleged.

Another reviewer accused Gratitude Training of luring her daughter into a cult. “Not being aloud to speak of what just happened that night (of ‘class’), not coming home and staying at ‘elders’ of the group’s home, being evasive of what her weeks entails,” the reviewer claimed, “I have asked for opinions of others and they all say ‘cult.’”

It’s reviews like these, and numerous threads on cult-discussion forums, that led Gratitude Training to launch the webpage to combat the cult allegations.

“We are aware that there are a few people - some that have actually completed a training with us and others that have not - who had an adverse experience of the Gratitude Training and has utilized cult forums on the internet to share this experience,” the page reads, under a picture of a person making a heart with their hands. “Their ‘testimonials’, even if only a handful, show up at the top of search engines.”

The page goes on to enumerate other “cults you may be part of,” including fans of the brands Apple, Mini Cooper, Ikea, and Lululemon. “Cult” is a misunderstood word, the company argues, while conceding that Gratitude Training might be a cult, depending on one’s definition.

“If we neutrally look upon the word ‘cult’ we can simply recognize that there is a deep faith,” one that Gratitude Training students share, the company claims. The page encourages skeptics to read former students’ reviews.

And most public testimonials are glowing, with some former students boasting of repeating their courses multiple times. On Gratitude Training’s Facebook page, nearly every review is five stars. But the negative reviews are vivid. “Crazy cult-like people comparable to Scientology or religious extremists,” one Facebook reviewer alleged in a one-star review in September. “Run. Away. Fast.”

But when Robbins left, his children remained in the group, which “intentionally and maliciously placed [distance] between Robbins and his sons,” his suit alleges. Since Robbins left, one of his children “was coerced in GT into dancing in a thong with 60 other scantily clad people,” he claims. Englesson told The Daily Beast no sexually inappropriate behavior happens in the trainings.

Robbins has also filmed himself calling “hey cult members” at people gathered outside a Gratitude Training center, and expounded on his Gratitude Training conspiracy theories on his blog, which Englesson claims is defamatory.

Both sides agree a rift has opened between Gratitude Training and the former member.

“Since leaving the Cult, Robbins has received death threats, and been the subject of false claims,” his suit alleges. “Robbins’ car was also vandalized. Cult members left a dead rat on his doorstep.”

The three-month course and the stress of splitting from it have left Robbins with “chronic headaches, nausea, vomiting, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression,” he claims.

He also claims the group “filed meritless claims against [him] with police, and wrongfully obtained a restraining order against [him] based on baseless stalking allegations.”

Englesson confirmed she got a restraining order against Robbins. “He’s also, on a daily basis, contacting all the students who have done our leadership training on Facebook. He’s finding friends of friends of friends and sending them stuff daily from his blog.”

In October, she sent Gratitude Training’s high-level students an email apologizing for what she described as Robbins’ “continuous online harassment and publishing of defamatory content.” The email, which Robbins posted online, prompted students to fill out a questionnaire if Robbins’ emails had led them to cancel their classes—lost revenue that Gratitude Training could try to extract from Robbins if they sue him for defamation.

“We have tons and tons of proof it’s all just crazy talk,” Englesson said. “I’ve been going through this for like three months and it’s pretty hardcore.”

That’s almost exactly what Robbins alleges of her classes.

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.