Aug 14, 2017

Chile sect: German court jails fugitive doctor over child sex abuse

BBC News
August 14, 2017

Colonia Dignidad was founded at Villa Baviera, a German community.

A German court has sentenced a doctor who fled Chile to five years in prison for involvement in child sex abuse at a commune called Colonia Dignidad.

The court upheld a Chilean prison sentence for Hartmut Hopp, a German citizen in his seventies.

Hopp worked with Paul Schäfer, a former Nazi soldier who founded the commune in southern Chile 1961.

Residents were indoctrinated and kept as virtual slaves for more than 30 years.

Hopp's lawyer says he will appeal against the sentence.

Hartmut Hopp, now in his 70s, was convicted in Chile of complicity in child sex abuse in 2011.

Schäfer also collaborated with the government of Augusto Pinochet whose secret police used the colony around 350km (215 miles) south of the capital, Santiago, as a place of torture and to "disappear" his opponents.

Germany last year said it would declassify its files on the sect, and the foreign minister at the time, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, admitted that the diplomatic service had failed to stop the abuses.

The scale of the abuses only came to light after Schäfer faced a series of lawsuits in 1997.

He fled Chile and was arrested in Argentina in 2005. He was convicted in Chile of sexual abuse of children, weapons possession and human rights violations.

He died in a Chilean jail in 2010 at the age of 88.

Former Cult-Member Support Group

For those who have been in a cult, or highly controlling relationship.

Family and friends of those in cults are certainly welcome, as well.

Groups meet weekly on Wednesday evenings, from 7-8:30 PM, and will take place in my office at the address below.

The fee per group session is $50.

It is necessary for me to speak with you before you attend for the first time to make sure the group is a good fit for your needs. Please be in touch.

Rachel Bernstein, LMFT, MSEd
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

16255 Ventura Blvd, Suite 806, Encino, CA 91436


Aug 11, 2017

How Cults Use YouTube for Recruitment

Screenshot of Ghoulies II
You can now unknowingly be recruited into a cult without leaving your home.

August 11, 2017

On July 15, Steven Mineo was found dead from a single gunshot.

According to his girlfriend, Barbara Rogers, Mineo was seated on the ground cross-legged in his Pennsylvania apartment when she pulled the trigger of the Glock. Rogers also told police that her boyfriend wanted to die.

For years, the two allegedly belonged to a cult started by Sherry Shriner, an online conspiracy theorist. Shriner works through the internet with a website, a podcast, and a YouTube channel. She preaches that a group called the New World Order—made up of reptilians and aliens—is plotting to take over the world.

Speaking with police, Rogers said that Mineo wanted to die because of a feud with the Shriner and her followers. She said the troubles started with Shriner seeing a picture of Rogers eating raw meat. Upon viewing this image Shriner dubbed Rogers a reptilian and excommunicated the two from the group. The two were then harassed by Shriner's followers for three months. It didn't end until Rogers shot Mineo in the head—Shriner for her part says that Mineo was killed by NATO.

On her website, Shriner writes long diatribes with titles like "The Coming Alien-Locust-Giant Invasions" and "How Aliens Target, Manipulate, And Control Mankind." While Shriner preaches from Ohio, her videos are used as a global entry point to recruit believers from all over the world. Her website has a YouTube subscriber count of over 6,000, and cumulatively her videos have been seen over a million times.

This isn't a phenomena unique to Shriner. Essentially, social media—especially YouTube—has become the secret weapon of cult recruitment.

"What I think most people don't realize is how a group can be just totally in the ether," said Rick Ross, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Cult Education Institute. "People interface with them using social media—using Skype—they don't meet face-to-face."

"This is a phenomena that we're seeing more and more of—we're seeing it every day."

Join a Cult Without Leaving the House

The definition of a cult has become a little bit of a moving target over the years. Perhaps the closest to the definitive explanation was proposed in a 1981 paper, wherein Dr. Robert Lifton, a psychologist known for his theory of thought reform, wrote that regardless of its ideology a "destructive cult" had three recurring themes: an authoritative or all-knowing leader; the existence of a thought control program that breaks down critical thinking to gain undue influence; and the exploitation of its members.

Steve Hassan, the founder of Freedom of Mind Resource Center and mental health counsellor who specializes in helping those in cults, says familiar exploitation tactics are increasingly being applied online. "The younger generation has grown up on the internet, this is the fertile recruitment zone," Hassan told VICE. "They're now more likely to be recruited in social media than in person."

Major cults such as Raëlism, The Church of the Brethren, The Moonies, The Family International all have prolific YouTube presences. Raëlism—a cult founded in the 70s that believes humans were created by aliens—has what they call Rael TV and the Rael Academy where they post videos that are aimed at people who don't know about the group but want to learn more—some of the videos have hundreds of thousands of views.

For every one of these larger, more established groups there exists several small ones like the Divine Truth, Trumpet Call of God, and Shriner.

Some videos recruit by twisting established religions, while others claim to offer a more secular "truth." Some encourage followers to self isolate and only communicate with other group members online, all while sending money to the leader. A few simply tell people to drop everything to join a compound. While each cult differs in tactics, there is a recurring theme—they can all recruit you from the comfort of your own home.

"It's creepy," said Ross. "You're a parent and your kid is in his bedroom and he's on his smartphone and he's in a cult and he's in your house. You're there watching Netflix and your kid is interfacing with cult members and a cult leader on his smartphone."

Some of the groups and leaders subsist solely off YouTube. One alleged cult called Fellowship of the Martyrs—who are focused on demonology among other things—is run by a man named Doug Perry who has about 15,000 YouTube subscribers and 1,300 videos posted so far. All the videos are just Perry talking into the camera talking about his religion like he is giving a sermon to a congregation.

Two experts consulted for this piece stated that on a purely technical level, ISIS is the most successful cult at harnessing the power of the internet. The radical Islamic terror cell operates an extremely sophisticated network of online propaganda. This propaganda is why it's possible for people to self-radicalize and commit terror attacks without ever physically meeting anyone in the group.

While YouTube is one of the bigger platforms utilized by cults, they will use any tool available to extend their reach, said Ross. This utilization of social media, paired with the platform's ability to allow people to entrench themselves into a bubble is something further exasperating the issue.

"People can cocoon themselves in a kind of alternative universe, you choose who you friend on Facebook, you choose who you follow on Twitter, you choose who you watch on YouTube and you can kinda create an alternative reality," said Ross.

"I've been doing this for a long time, and people can embed in such a way that they cut themselves off from reality. There is this self-reinforcing alternative universe they occupy. It's something people can create more and more effectively right now."
A Former Follower's Tale

Marisa O'Connor was in her early 20s when she was turned onto Freedomain Radio (FDR) and the teachings of Canadian pseudo-philosopher Stefan Molyneux.

It started when one of O'Connor's friends gave her the name of a bald, pleasantly accented man preaching about anarchism on the internet. This was a subject she was interested in, so she decided to give it a try. From the get-go O'Connor "was pretty much hooked" by Molyneux's long diatribes in which he stares directly into the camera for hours.

"It started off with him talking about anarchy and then he gets into criticizing religion and saying stuff like all the worlds problems are caused by 'bad parenting,'" O'Connor told VICE.

Listening to Molyneux for hours on end talking about this, O'Connor convinced herself that her parents didn't really love her and were instead abusive and manipulative. She also learned that Molyneux has a solution for people who end up falling into this line of thinking: deFOOing, completely dissociating yourself from your family.

"[Molyneux's] theory was that if enough people did this—made this sacrifice—then he would send a message to the world that parents need to treat your kids better," said O'Connor. "So that's what I believed I was doing, I was taking part of this mission to protect children."

You may have heard of Molyneux or seen his face. In recent days, he has garnered attention as a pro-Trump media figure—his work was just touched upon in a New York Times write up about YouTube being the new far-right talk radio. On YouTube, Molyneux regularly gets high profile interviews and boasts about 650,000 subscribers. His videos have been viewed over 185 million times—he also has a subscription service on his websites that can cost his listeners up to $500.

For almost a decade now, experts and former members have stated Molyneux's Freedomain Radio (FDR) functions as a de-facto cult because of deFOOing—as it results in self-isolation and devotion to Molyneux. The Cult Information Centre in Britain, which has been around for 30 years and offers help to cult victims and their families, has even gone so far as to deem Freedomain Radio a cult, while the group's overarching cultyness has been touched on by outlets like The Guardian and the Daily Beast. Steve Hassan is one of the experts critical of Molyneux. On Hassan's website Freedom of the Mind, it states that FDR utilizes behavioural and emotional control such as excommunicating people who criticize him or the group, and inspiring fear of the outside world to his followers.

Molyneux has previously disputed claims the FDR is a cult and did not respond to VICE's request for comment.

A FDR member was actually the first person that Hassan was hired to help who had been "recruited in his own apartment" after spending "hours and hours listening to podcasts and watching videos." Hassan said the political conversations and interviews are the entry point to deFOOing. That people watch Molyneux because he's charismatic, picks hot button issues to speak about, and puts on the image of a man who knows what he's talking about.

"People like this say three true things and slip in something unverifiable or untestable and the mind, in its shortcuts, goes yes, yes, yes, yes and even though that last one is not a yes, it's a question mark," said Hassan.

In 2008, believing her family was abusing her, O'Connor completely stopped talking to them while distancing herself from friends who questioned her actions—she was convinced by Molyneux that these people were cowards. After about a year, her work life became so strained because she was "so immersed in this other world" that she was fired.

From here on out she was completely isolated, only interacting with other FDR members either through forums or Skype. While money was tight she continued to subscribe to Molyneux's premium podcasts and services paying about $50 a month. Molyneux became the biggest part of her world—she was her hero, her teacher.

"When I was isolated, my whole world was FDR, I would come home and listen to the podcast with a fellow member and we would talk about the podcast and have phone conversations with other people in the group," said O'Connor.

This state of self-isolation lasted for years and was one where Molyneux "had the word, he had the truth, he would tell you what to think about." However, after getting into the inner circle and seeing how it worked, O'Connor started to pull away. While the reasons were numerous, she told VICE the biggest occurred when one of her friends left FDR. O'Connor expected this friends life to crumble after turning her back on FDR—something the group was led to believe would happen—but it didn't, she saw her friend flourish.

So in 2012, after four years in isolation, O'Connor reached out to her family and broke her self-isolation. On the forums she started being critical of Molyneux which quickly led to her expulsion from that segment of the group. O'Connor said that life is pretty good these days and that's she's open about her experience—she appeared on a Showtime doc regarding FDR—but it took about five years for her life become normalized again and that she's now extremely wary of what media she takes in.

"Something I've learned coming out of this, is just how much of this there is in the world," O'Connor said. "It worries me a lot... It's so scary because we think of the internet as an incredible resource of information and I guess we have to realize that a lot of it is bad—a lot of it is bad information."

O'Connor said that she's noticed Molyneux doesn't mention deFOOing as much these days but she still sees followers self-isolating to this day. Molyneux hasn't turned down the us-versus-them rhetoric. In a recent video, Molyneux asked his followers to send him money because the "big fight" against mainstream media he's been "gearing up for thirty years" is nearly here.

O'Connor's story is just one of many and FDR is just one of many varying groups preaching online. When asked what could be a possible solution for this problem, Ross told VICE that he believes the answer lies with the platforms themselves.

"I think the social media needs to self-police," he said. "I'm not saying that in violation to freedom of speech or the first amendment but when a group is overtly violent or engaged in outright fraud and financially bilking people and really being abusive, I think YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, whoever it is, needs to self-police to that extent."

While the vast majority of the content on YouTube is not, in any way, connected to cultic activity, some intensely easy-to-find videos are. Recently, YouTube stated they would be self-policing "controversial" videos—specifically referring to terror groups—more rigorously than ever before. This includes working with experts, applying tougher standards, and working with counter extremists. The new policies include a measure that drew the ire of many after they announced they would be placing some "controversial" videos that don't violate their terms in a sort of limbo where they won't be recommended, monetized, and will lack key features.

Hoyt Richards, a survivor from a cult in the 1980s who now works to help people transition away from cults, said that one of the biggest impasses for those fighting cult recruitment is a lack of understanding of what cults are and who can be affected. Recounting his own experience Richards told VICE he was "so convinced it can't be a cult from the mere fact I was in the group. Categorically the biggest problem is people don't understand what it is." This is a notion that O'Connor reiterated. "Honestly, the people that I knew were very smart and it seems like it's harder for intelligent people to come out of it," she said.

Since the onset of the internet, Ross has been hired numerous times to work with people who have joined cults through the web. One of the men Ross was hired to work with was university educated and considered highly intelligent. This man's job required him to work from home and spend hours upon hours on his computer. He was going through a hard time following his best friend's death, and stumbled across videos for a group called Israelites United in Christ.

"He basically marinated his mind in their YouTube until he was swimming in the Kool-Aid," said Ross. "Then he went to the first meeting, but by the time he went he had been convinced and completely captivated by these YouTube videos. He showed up there for the first time as a true believer."

Ross has been working as a cult deprogrammer since 1986 and says he has worked on over 500 cases. His time working with former cult members isn't without controversy. Ross was consulted in the disastrous handling of a cult in Waco—where a botched siege burned down the Branch Davidians compound outside the Texas city and 76 people died as a result—and his involvement was criticized by other experts. In 1995, Ross was sued by Jason Scott, a man deemed to be a follower of pentecostal cult who Ross attempted to deprogram. In a civil suit, Scott was awarded millions—Ross also faced criminal charges but was acquitted by jury. The case bankrupt the Cult Awareness Network which had been in operation since 1978.

While the internet and its platforms allow these groups to operate and to recruit, it also works as a tool for escape. Online there is a lot of information on what cults are—Rick Ross' Cult Education Institute runs a free database that offers information on cults and has contacts for family members who believe a loved one is in a cult.

Furthermore, the online world also offers a community for those reentering the world after freeing themselves from the grasp of a cult. There exists forums and support groups, some of which are even particular to certain cults. FDR Liberated is website critical of Molyneux that hosts which provides support and community to those who have stopped listening to the "philosopher."

"FDR Liberated was incredible for me—it was huge," O'Connor told VICE. "I honestly have no idea what I would have done without it... The forum itself I really appreciated when I was struggling more, to have this place to go and talk about these things."

Hassan said that cult leaders and manipulators will always utilize tools to further their thirst for money, power, or what be it.

"People who think they have the truth with a capital T explore every existing application or platform—maybe even make their own—in order to find their true believers or to find their core membership. It's going to just keep evolving over time, it's not static," Hassan said.

"Whatever it is on today, in three years, it's going to be on new apps and different ways of doing things."

Sentencing expected for man and woman in B.C. child bride case

Brandon Blackmore
Brandon Blackmore
Bill Graveland
CTV News
August 11, 2017

CRANBROOK, B.C. - A B.C. judge is expected to sentence today a man and woman who took a 13-year-old girl into the United States over a decade ago to marry the now-imprisoned leader of a polygamous sect.

Former husband and wife Brandon Blackmore and Gail Blackmore were found guilty by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in February of the charge of taking a child under the age of 16 out of Canada for sexual purposes.

The trial heard that in 2004, the girl was secreted into the United States to marry Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who is serving a life sentence for assaulting two of his child brides. Jeffs was 49 at the time.

At a sentencing hearing last month, special prosecutor Peter Wilson argued that Brandon Blackmore, 71, should serve a jail sentence of 12 to 18 months, while Gail Blackmore, who is 60, should get six to 12 months.

Wilson said the sentence must deter other members of the secluded community of Bountiful in southeastern British Columbia, where plural marriage is practised.

"Deterrence might have particular importance in this case because other persons who could potentially commit the offence are, I would say, a very, narrow group," Wilson said. "The likely group of potential offenders is probably small and could very well be limited to other adherents of the FLDS as it's being espoused by Mr. Jeffs."

Wilson said Brandon Blackmore is more culpable than his ex-wife, but both were present at the wedding of the girl and knew what would happen. He said the girl and many women in the church live cloistered lives.

"The fact that the victim was 13 ... had spent her whole life in Bountiful, and was not what I would call a worldly person, which I submit would have rendered her more vulnerable."

The identity of the teenager is protected by a publication ban.

John Gustafson, Brandon Blackmore's lawyer, told the sentencing hearing his client was ex-communicated in 2012 and has no contact with any of the members of his former church.

He asked for a conditional sentence, a form of house arrest.

A former bishop of the community, James Oler, was acquitted of the same charge in connection to a 15-year-old girl. Justice Paul Pearlman ruled that there wasn't proof Oler crossed the border with the girl, who was later married to a member of the sect.

Oler was convicted last month in a separate trial of practising polygamy. That trial heard he had five wives.

An Expert Weighs In: Can Certain Workouts Be Considered Cults?

An Expert Weighs In: Can Certain Workouts Be Considered Cults?
Kevin Gemmell
August 10, 2017

During my first week at Competitor in June, there was a lot of getting-to-know-you small talk with new colleagues. As you’d expect at a running magazine, the topic of workouts is a popular subject. I mentioned that I did CrossFit in my 20s, but now that I’m 40 I enjoy Orangetheory Fitness as a supplement to running.

“The cult workouts,” joked a colleague.

Though the comment was said in jest, my gut reaction was still self defense. What’s it to you if I enjoy a little camaraderie with my workout? This is my tribe, not a cult.

I’ll show you, my new smarty-pants co-worker. I’m going to find an authority on cults and debunk your shallow-minded insinuation. With that thought, I was officially speeding headfirst down the narcissistic, self-righteous rabbit hole.

I found Janja Lalich, professor emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico, and an expert on cults, extremism and undue influence. Two minutes into our conversation, I knew I was guilty of displaying cult-like behavior.

“People might make those comments about a workout program because the person has become obsessed with it,” Lalich explains. “That kind of single-mindedness is a hallmark of a cult. They aren’t jealous, they just think the person has gone over the top.”

The word “cult” has taken on hyperbolic undertones through the years. “Drink the Kool-Aid” has become such a common idiom that few recall its mass-suicide roots. Today—especially in sports—it simply means to buy into the hype and mindlessly go along with the hot take du jour.

Lalich breaks down the characteristics of a cult into three categories:

There is a charismatic leader.There is a transcendent belief system. “You’re required to go through some sort of personal transformation to be on the path to salvation—or weight loss,” she says.There is conforming to the norms of the group.

Hearing this forced me to take a look in the mirrored gym wall and examine how this applies to my fitness life. I follow a charismatic leader (my OTF coach), I underwent a transformation in my thinking (and my weight, thank you very much) and—especially on social media—I conform to the rules of the group.

If we go by Lalich’s definitions, then there are plenty of elements within these group workouts to classify them as cults. Or at least cult-like.

The difference is these “cults” want to help people live healthier lives. Would you rather listen to a co-worker talk about the 100 wall balls they did in 10 minutes or the spaceship that’s coming in 2028 to destroy the earth?

If working out hard with friends is being in a cult, so be it. Guess I’ll keep drinking the Gatorade.

Aug 10, 2017

Health authorities issue measles warning after Perth student infected

The measles vaccine is given in two doses.
The measles vaccine is given in two doses.
Cathy O’Leary
August 4, 2017

Health authorities have issued a warning for a potential measles outbreak, after a Perth high school student was confirmed with the infection after returning from holiday in Italy.

Before being diagnosed, and while still infectious with the highly contagious illness, the student attended Perth Waldorf School in Bibra Lake in Perth’s south.

The student was also in the Midland area on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 25 and in the early afternoon of Sunday, July 30, and may have exposed people there.

The WA Health Department said a substantial number of Perth Waldorf students exposed at the school have not been vaccinated against measles.

The measles vaccine is given in two doses.

The school, which also has pre-school and primary school students, has a metropolitan-wide catchment, making it likely more cases of measles will occur in Perth over the coming weeks.

The school has been working closely with public health staff in notifying parents of the potential exposure.

Director of Communicable Diseases Paul Armstrong said about nine out of 10 susceptible persons in close contact with a measles patient would develop the illness.

“The illness is spread by tiny droplets, released when infected people cough and sneeze,” Dr Armstrong said.

Early symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and sore eyes. These are followed, about three days later, by a red blotchy rash. The rash usually starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body. Measles can be especially severe in infants and people with poor immune systems.

Six West Australians have returned from Bali with the virus.

“Anyone who thinks they are infected should call ahead and mention their possible contact with measles so they can be isolated when they arrive at the GP surgery or emergency department, to prevent infecting other patients and staff,” Dr Armstrong said.

“A person is considered immune to measles if they have previously received two doses of a measles vaccine or were born before 1966.”

The KKK once attacked her family. Now she was writing to a former neo-Nazi.

Stacy Nelson
Michael E. Miller 
The Washington Post
August 9, 2017

On the first day of class, on one of the country’s most diverse college campuses, the assignment came as something of a shock.

Write to a former neo-Nazi who had firebombed a synagogue, the instructor told his students at George Mason University.

Near the front of the class, Stacy Nelson stirred in her seat.

The African American senior had been hesitant to take a course on hate crimes when the subject seemed all too real. At the time, the country was nearing the end of a divisive and racially charged presidential election campaign. The alt-right, with its call for a form of American apartheid, was on the rise. So were reports of hate crimes.

The teacher, Kevin Fornshill, a former U.S. Park Police detective, saw the assignment as an experiment.

Could students studying hate crimes learn from someone who had actually committed one?

Sean Gillespie had been incarcerated at a high-security prison in Colorado for more than a decade, including eight years in solitary confinement. Hisface was covered in racist tattoos that he now longed to have removed.

At 21, Nelson was the same age that Gillespie had been when he went to prison. She’d grown up in Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Decades earlier, her grandparents had been attacked by the Ku Klux Klan — a frightening incident that her grandma had never forgotten or forgiven.

Now the criminal justice major wondered what to write to a man who had tried to ignite a “racial holy war,” a man who’d boasted of attacking black people with a baseball bat.

“Dear Mr. Gillespie,” her letter began.

A courtroom Nazi salute

The molotov cocktail did little more than scorch the synagogue’s brick exterior, but the April 1, 2004, attack shook the congregation at Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City.

It had been nine years since a powerful truck bomb driven into position by Timothy Mc­Veigh had devastated the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building downtown, killing 168.

Now extremism had returned. Some panicked families pulled their children out of the synagogue’s preschool.

Two weeks later, a tip led the FBI to a Burger King in Russellville, Ark., and to a pale-skinned employee with a shaved head named Sean Gillespie.

He’d been a member of the Aryan Nations, a white-supremacist group headquartered in rural Idaho. When the compound was closed in 2001, he joined the Army. After his views got him discharged, Gillespie embarked on a hate-fueled cross-country crime tour that included a stop in Oklahoma City.

Before FBI agents could read him his rights, Gillespie told them they could search his pickup truck. Inside, they found a video camera that contained a recording of Gillespie, staring into the camera as he sat in the truck near the synagogue.

“I am going to firebomb it with a molotov cocktail,” he said in the video. “I will film it for your viewing enjoyment, my kindred. White power.”

Moments later, flames erupted on-screen.

“Damn, I thought I had erased that,” Gillespie said when confronted with the video, an agent later testified.

Gillespie confessed. The plan had been to firebomb a Jewish person’s house, he said. He had found a Jewish-sounding name in the phone book but had gotten lost on his way to the address and attacked the synagogue instead.

He wrote a letter of apology to the synagogue from his jail cell. But Gillespie also bragged about his crimes in phone calls, ending conversations by saying “88,” white-supremacist code for “Heil Hitler.” (H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.)

Doubting Gillespie’s remorse, federal prosecutors refused to offer him a plea agreement, according to his public defender, Tony Lacy. They charged Gillespie with using a destructive device during a crime of violence — which carried a minimum sentence of 30 years — and two lesser crimes. A jury convicted him on all counts.

While awaiting sentencing, Gillespie wrote a second letter to the synagogue.

“To the Zionist scum,” it began. “This letter is to thank you for the lies and your testimony against me.” At the end of the letter, next to a swastika, he wrote “six million more” — a reference to the Jews killed in the Holocaust.

The letters dominated Gillespie’s sentencing hearing. Prosecutors called his initial apology a “song and dance.”

Some of the most moving testimony came from Barry Cohen, the rabbi at Temple B’nai Israel, who called for Gillespie to receive counseling away from the influence of other racists.

“I can only ask what kind of person Mr. Gillespie is going to be when his prison term is concluded,” Cohen said. “Will he have hatred that is honed by decades of neo-Nazi affiliation, indoctrination, or will he be ready to return to society?”

U.S. District Judge Robin J. Cauthron sentenced Gillespie to 39 years in prison.

Before he was led out of the courtroom, Gillespie raised an arm in a Nazi salute.

A transformation

The students were white and black, Asian and Hispanic, Muslim and Hindu, gay and straight. All had had their own encounters with hatred and their own questions for Gillespie.

A Boston Marathon bombing survivor wanted to know the origin of Gillespie’s extremism.

A Latina, writing the day after the election, wondered whether a goal of racial harmony was realistic.

Nelson’s letter began with her family’s story. One night in the 1950s, she wrote, her grandparents were on a date when they were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan.

“My grandpa had to fight the group of guys trying to rape my grandmother,” she wrote. “He got beat up pretty bad but luckily he was able to scare them off. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here today.”

The incident had turned her grandmother against whites, Nelson said.

“I think it’s sad that my grandma has put herself in a little box, separated from the rest of the world,” she wrote.

Gillespie’s letter arrived a few weeks later. Nelson’s hands shook as she opened it.

“I too have had things in my past that were traumatic enough to cause me to hate others,” he wrote.

After his trial, Gillespie remained an avid neo-Nazi. White supremacists across the country considered him a prisoner of war and sent him letters of support and gifts. He accrued racist tattoos including a Nazi symbol on his chin and black Doc Martens boots — a skinhead calling card — on each side of his face, like mutton chop sideburns.

Everything changed in 2008, when Gillespie was put in solitary confinement for stabbing another inmate, he told Nelson.

“It was there that I changed my views on race,” he wrote. “I started to question my past and realized that I did not like what I had become.”

After three years of being surrounded by white supremacists, the isolation was liberating. In therapy, he traced the roots of his racism to sex abuse he had suffered at the hands of an Asian babysitter. Stuck in his cell for 23 hours a day, Gillespie pushed himself to change.

“I used to hate seeing inter-racial relationships on T.V.,” he wrote. “I would cuss my television or change the channel. So I forced myself to watch this.”

He also began to read books by black authors. In fact, he told Nelson, he had just finished “Stride Toward Freedom,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s memoir of the Montgomery bus boycott.

“So I can just imagine the traumatic atmosphere that your grandmother experienced,” he wrote.

Nelson had told Gillespie that she’d “never really faced any kind of real racism growing up,” aside from an elementary teacher telling her she was “a credit to my race.” But Gillespie disagreed.

“To me, what your teacher said is REAL racism,” he said. “I am sorry this happened to you.”

Of all of Nelson’s questions, there was only one Gillespie had difficulty answering: Was he happy?

Solitary confinement had helped him change, he replied, but also left him deeply depressed.

“I have attempted suicide several times over the last few years and just a few months ago cut an artery on my arm, losing 2 pints of blood,” he wrote. “So I struggle with happiness. Prison can drain all the reserves you have.”

Writing to students was one of the few reasons he had to live, Gillespie said.

“It does give me a sense of happiness that I am no longer full of senseless hate,” he wrote.

Nelson couldn’t read the letter straight through. It took her two days to finish it.

“It’s weird to find yourself identifying with someone who once had so much hostility toward people who look like you,” she told The Washington Post.

Other students had similar experiences. One hesitated to write to Gillespie out of fear that he would come after her, only to end up convinced he had changed.

“Sean won a lot of people over,” Fornshill said.

That includes Temple B’nai Israel. In 2014, after several letters of apology from Gillespie, the synagogue forgave him for the firebomb attack.

“Our faith teaches that a person can make teshuvah, a turning towards righteous behavior,” Rabbi Vered Harris wrote. “I pray that your path of teshuvah allows you to live a life of peaceful purpose.”

Gillespie cited the synagogue’s forgiveness when, in 2014, he asked President Barack Obama to commute his sentence to 20 years. The request is still pending, now before President Trump.

He has also asked the Bureau of Prisons for permission to have his face tattoos removed, but the request has so far been denied.

Fornshill plans to have his class write to Gillespie again this fall — as much for the inmate’s sake as for that of his students.

“He needs, I don’t want to say a lifeline, but a purpose day-to-day,” Fornshill said. “Corresponding with students means a lot to him.”

The letters also mean a lot to Fornshill. The former detective and the former neo-Nazi have struck up a friendship, exchanging movie and book reviews.

But Fornshill, who sends Gillespie postcards from family vacations, worries for Gillespie’s safety. Gillespie is now out of solitary confinement. Any day now, he could be put back into circulation with the white supremacists he has denounced.

“One of the white gangs in here is passing out wanted posters with my face on it,” Gillespie said during a recent call from prison. But he said he has no regrets about renouncing his racism.

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished,” he said, quoting Nelson Mandela. “I did some terrible things, but now I’m trying to let that goodness shine.”

France’s ‘deradicalisation gravy train’ runs out of steam

France 24
August 2, 2017

France's first and only deradicalisation centre was shut down last week prompting questions over the country's lack of an effective strategy to handle a pressing problem that has attracted plenty of state funding but no solutions.

It opened in September with much fanfare as news cameras trailed officials through an 18th-century French castle refitted with modern classrooms emptying onto a sun-dappled stone courtyard and single-inhabitant bedrooms sporting clean, cheery sheets.Twitter Ads info and privacy

The problem though was that there weren't too many takers for France's first and only deradicalisation centre.

Housed in the Château de Pontourny in the picturesque central Loire region, the Centre for Prevention, Integration and Citizenship had a capacity for 25 people. At its peak, it housed a grand total of nine participants. None of them, unfortunately, completed the 10-month programme on offer. By late February, there were none at all until finally last week the centre was shut down after a Senate committee deemed the initiative "a complete fiasco".

Since the January 2015 attacks in Paris, France has had the unenviable distinction of being ahead of the curve in Europe's jihadi threat circuit. Home to the continent's biggest Muslim community and at one point the source of the largest number of Western fighters in the Syria-Iraq conflict zone, France has seen nearly 1,000 nationals travel or attempt to travel to the Islamic State (IS) group's erstwhile "caliphate".

The jihadist group may be rapidly losing territory in its Levantine heartland, but experts agree that the threat to the West is largely domestic and not about to die with the caliphate. Once more, France – with its roughly 15,000 suspected radical Islamists on state watchlists, including some 4,000 individuals deemed at high risk of committing an attack – appears on the frontlines of the next step in the grinding, asymmetrical war against radicalism.

The problem though, as the Château de Pontourny experience shows, is that France has not been leading the way in devising or implementing an effective counter-radicalisation strategy.

"The Pontourny experience is not surprising. This is what happens when you start with the wrong diagnostics and then figure out the wrong solutions," explained Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24's expert on jihadist groups. "It's not like you can just give them [radicalised youths] a red pill and they'll start singing the Marseillaise."

Strict, self-defeating admissions criteria

The Centre for Prevention, Integration and Citizenship in the Loire was a pilot site that was supposed to set a prototype for 13 centres of its kind across the country. Designed as a voluntary programme that would provide an intermediate space "between an open environment and a prison", the Château de Pontourny was open to young people between 18 to 30 years.

France's prisons have been hotbeds of Islamist radicalisation and officials were keen to maintain an open-door policy at the centre.

But problems surfaced at the onset, when the local community objected to the prospect of potentially dangerous individuals at risk of turning violent in their midst. Bearing those community concerns, the centre announced strict admissions criteria, which turned out to be self-defeating. The centre was open only to volunteer participants who had never faced terrorism charges, never travelled to Syria and were not listed on France's vast "S" file watch-list of people posing a possible security threat.

The question of how and why would anyone voluntarily succumb to 10 months of a state-run programme – risking boredom at best and future surveillance by the security services at worst – was never addressed.

As a result, the centre never stuck with its own admissions criteria.

In a March 15 op-ed piece in Le Monde, Senator Esther Benbassa, who was part of a senate investigation committee, revealed that one of the centre's nine residents had an "S" file designation. Another was linked to one of the Bataclan attackers who stormed the Paris concert hall in November 2015, killing nearly 90 people. Yet another had been convicted on terrorism charges.

"The de-radicalisation policies have had more than one failure since 2014," wrote Benbassa. "The government's panic following the attacks, the immediate measures taken to reassure the population, the need for a display of promptness have not led to the launching of solid strategies designed after broad consultations that are accessible and pursuing precise objectives."

The state's deradicalisation funding gravy train

Benbassa's conclusions were underscored when a Paris court handed Sonia Imloul, former president of a de-radicalisation NGO, a four-month suspended prison sentence for embezzlement of public funds.

A community activist, Imloul opened a deradicalisation centre in the Parisian banlieue, or suburb, of Saint Denis in 2014.

Barely three years later, she was running afoul with the state. The court found that she had received around €60,000 worth of government grants into her personal bank account and had hired three staffers without proper contracts or paperwork.

By the time the verdict emerged, Imloul had already been consigned to the basket of hustlers jumping on the state's anti-radicalisation funding gravy train.

The Saint Denis community activist was found to be involved, sometimes as a victim, sometimes not, in more than a dozen scam cases over the past 20 years. She was accused of being médiatique – or excessive self-promotion on the media, a venial sin in France – and consigned to deradicalisation history.

'Mme Déradicalisation' breaks with the state

Another médiatique figure to court controversy has been Dounia Bouzar, an anthropologist and writer dubbed Mme Déradicalisation by the French press.

In February 2016, Bouzar made the national headlines when she announced that her NGO, CPDSI (Centre for the Prevention of Sectarian Drift Related to Islam) would not renew its contract with the French Interior Ministry.

The reason for the break with the French state, Bouzar explained, was over the government's bid for a constitutional amendment that would strip dual national terror convicts of their French nationality.

The constitutional amendment bid failed with then French President François Hollande backing down to opposition from civil rights groups as well as members of his own Socialist Party.

But in a book published a year later, it became evident that the nationality-stripping debate was merely the last straw for the French anthropologist-writer. Her problem with the French authorities, Bouzar claimed, was "the essentialisation of Islam", which she explained as the police's penchant for simplifying the markers of radicalisation to cultural traits such as growing a beard or adopting a dress code.

The fall of a médiatique figure

Born to an Algerian father and French mother, Bouzar, 53, was a high-school dropout who resumed her education following a divorce from a violent husband. A colourful personality accused of imperiousness and of ratcheting over €800,000 bills for her work projects, Bouzar has been viewed with suspicion in French establishment circles.

Disapproval over Bouzar's médiatique disposition peaked over her use of a case of a woman -- known by the pseudonym "Léa" – in her press interviews and a book on deradicalisation. Léa, a young Frenchwoman, was planning an attack on a synagogue in Lyon before she was "deradicalised" by the CPDSI. Months later though, the French press discovered that Bouzar's deradicalisation success story had failed: Léa was back in prison.

Recidivism being an unfortunate peril of the job, the case would not have attracted the kind of censure it did in countries like Britain and the US, where private NGOs use the media to raise awareness as well as maintain their funding. But in France, where the state is expected to fund programmes run by bureaucrats with no need for media exposure, Bouzar had indulged in Bouzarisme or Bouzarisation or, in some cases, Bouzarologie.

A very French intellectual powwow

Labels were also applied to her deradicalisation work, which uses family therapy and psychological counselling including tapping into childhood experiences and the use of mentor figures to reach alienated youths, earning her the moniker "Madeleine de Proust".

In the world of deradicalisation, where techniques and policies are still in trial stages, Bouzar's work draws from her doctoral thesis on the anthropology of religion.
Meanwhile her thesis director, Olivier Roy, a renowned French political scientist, has been locked in a bitter intellectual debate on the nature of France's jihadist problem, with his fellow French political Islam scholar, Gilles Kepel.

The vitriolic feud between the two men has raged in the French and international press, with Keppel arguing adopting a structuralist model that faults the radicalisation of Islam while Roy focuses on the individual, primarily the phenomenon of rebelion-seekers adopting Islam or what he calls "the Islamisation of radicalism".

Flush with state funding and under an intense media spotlight, France's deradicalisation circuit has been dominated by intellectual debates, ego clashes and the ever-present whiff of self-promotion and funding misappropriation.

Lost in all the rivalry and backbiting is the business of reaching out to untold numbers of young, disaffected "seekers" in danger of finding answers in the world of violent jihad.

A hard vs 'hug a terrorist' approach

Critics say the state's focus on "responsible citizenship" and relearning "les valeurs de la République" – or Republican values – is not particularly helpful for citizens who have lost faith in the state. The focus, Wassim believes, should be on convincing indoctrinated citizens to reject violence and not deriding their ideology.

"Each case has many levels, but you cannot deny that there is a political and religious motivation," explained Wassim. "It's like trying to address the target market with the wrong gun."

While deradicalisation programmes are in a nascent stage across the US and western Europe, a "soft approach" policy adopted by the Danish city of Aarhus has been widely hailed across the world. The "Aarhus model", which involves helping the IS group's returning fighters reintegrate into society has been dubbed the "hug a terrorist" approach in law-enforcement circles. But many experts maintain it's the best strategy on the table right now.

"They don't tell returnees: 'You're criminals who will be punished'. Instead, they say, 'Okay, you did your duty and you helped the Muslim world. Now you have to disengage and keep up the fight in a non-violent way,'" explains Wassim.

In the absence of a proven, definitive anti-radicalisation strategy, experts are calling for patience in tackling the new threat.

There is "no magic wand, neither in France nor elsewhere in Europe, or in the world," warned Muriel Domenach, Secretary General of France's Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Radicalisation, in a column in Le Monde before adding, "The lessons learned from the evaluation of the Pontourny rehabilitation centre will be put to the test."

In a statement released last week, the Interior Ministry noted that while the Pontourny centre was closing, it would continue to seek alternatives to long-term imprisonment for extremists.

"In particular, the government will study the possibility of opening smaller-sized structures to host individuals in criminal custody and to develop alternative solutions to incarceration," the statement noted.

Until that time though, the Pontourny model is not about to be replicated across the country and the beautiful 18th-century chateau in the Loire River Valley will be heading for another refurbishment and refitting by the French state.

Aug 9, 2017


The community feels conflicted about its new celebrity fans.


August 2, 2017

Kendrick Lamar’s dropped his fourth studio album DAMN. back in April, and attentive fans may have caught a new reference in the rapper’s dense and allusive rhymes. On the album’s third track “YAH.,” the Compton rapper declares:

I’m an Israelite, don’t call me black no more

A few moments later, he adds:

My cousin called, my cousin Carl Duckworth
Said know my worth
And Deuteronomy say that we all been cursed

Kendrick is referencing the book of Deuteronomy in the Bible, where Moses addresses the Twelve Tribes of Israel who have made their exodus from slavery in Egypt and wandered for 40 years in the desert. The Israelites are about to enter the land promised to them by God, and Moses gives them God’s holy law and warns of dire consequences should they break it.

Kendrick’s lyrics often delve into spiritual territory, but the Old Testament fire and brimstone is a new theme for him. Perhaps disillusioned by what many see as a dark turn in the country’s history, he is searching for roots by referencing the teachings of the Hebrew Israelites, a black religious movement that has thrived on the margins of the country’s spiritual landscape for over a century.

Lamar is not alone. Two months after the release of DAMN., Kodak Black echoed Kendrick’s lines on “First Day Out,” the first single he dropped after being released from prison:

I’m a Israelite

“I Can’t Lie I’m #Israel #12TribesOfIsrael,” Kodak announced on Instagram, posing with a Star of David pendant dangling around his neck.

While affinity with the Israelites is common in broader African-American religious discourse, Hebrew Israelites identify as the literal genealogical descendants of the people mentioned in the Bible. The movement is theologically diverse; some follow the New Testament, others study only the Hebrew Bible. Israelites understand their spiritual practice not as a religion but as an ancestral way of life to which they are returning. There is no single patriarch of the Israelite movement but rather generations of 19th and 20th century leaders who taught similar messages, evoking ancient ancestry and teaching spiritual uplift.

The movement’s emergence can be traced to the late 19th century, when former slaves had their hopes for a more just United States dashed after Reconstruction was abandoned by the Federal government due to intense resistance from white supremacists. Blacks in the South became subject to restrictive Jim Crow laws and were the victims of periodic racial violence across the country.

Hebrew Israelites point to the chapter of Deuteronomy 28—in particular a passage that describes how the biblical Israelites will be sent “back in ships to Egypt” for their disobedience to God—as a prophetic foretelling of the enslavement of African people in the Americas.

It was Deuteronomy 28 that caught Kendrick’s attention during one-on-one Bible sessions with his cousin Carl Duckworth, a member of an Israelite organization called Israel United In Christ who goes by the Hebrew name Karni Ben Israel. “The guy is really looking and searching for this truth,” Duckworth explained in a late April Periscope broadcast from IUIC, speaking about his famous cousin. “When Deuteronomy 28 came out, it was like he was blown away, it was like — wow.”

Carl Duckworth can be heard referencing the Deuteronomy 28 prophecy in a voicemail recording towards the end of the song “FEAR.”

Kodak Black also encountered a teacher who introduced him to Israelite beliefs. While serving 97 days in a Florida jail for violating house arrest, Kodak met an Israelite teacher known as Priest Kahan who does regular prison ministry in the state. Kodak, who is of Haitian descent, was particularly impressed with the Israelite teaching that present-day nationalities are descended from Twelve Tribes of Israel. Haitians, according to a widely circulated “tribe chart,” are descended from the priestly tribe of Levi.

Just as Israelite beliefs crystallized in the wake of Reconstruction, contemporary events may be leading to renewed interest.

“Hebrew Israelite beliefs are experiencing something of a renaissance,” said André Key, a professor of African-American Studies at Claflin University who writes about Hebrew Israelites. On the heels of Donald Trump’s upset victory, the country finds itself in political turmoil. “In these times, people who are spiritually or religiously oriented may look toward alternative spiritual perspectives or solutions,” Key told Genius, “and this is one of them.”

According to Israelite doctrine, political activism is futile: hardships will continue to plague people of color until they return to their Hebrew heritage. As Kendrick’s cousin says on “FEAR.,” “Until we come back to these commandments, until you come back to these commandments, we’re gonna feel this way, we’re gonna be under this curse.”

Hip-hop has provided a platform for alternative black spiritual movements for years. Rap pioneers like Rakim as well as Wu-Tang Clan members incorporated the beliefs of the 5 Percenters into their music; Ice Cube peppered his songs with the teachings of the Nation of Islam; in his very early days Jay-Z even referenced Dr. York’s Nuwaubian Nation. Hebrew Israelites, on the other hand, have enjoyed a relatively low profile. But they’ve been out there.

On Doug E. Fresh’s 1988 single “Keep Risin’ To The Top,” a Brooklyn Israelite makes a brief cameo in the video as Fresh raps:

As a brother extended out his hand to me
And asked me would I rock the microphone
I just gave him a pound and said Shalom

On Killah Priest’s “One Step,” a single from his 1998 debut Heavy Mental, the Wu-Tang affiliate spits:

Early natives related to thrones of David, captured by some patriots and thrown on slave ships

The “thrones of David” is a reference to the genealogical line of Israelite descendants coming from the biblical King David. Later on, he continues:

Deuteronomy 28, verse 68, it all relates.

St. Louis rapper Chingy, famous for 2003’s “Right Thurr,” later abandoned mainstream rap, adopting an Israelite identity. In 2013, he released the single “King Judah” to mark the transition.

The latest mainstream breakthrough has generated excitement in the Israelite community. Lamar’s pronouncement launched “FEAR.”-inspired memes, freestyles from underground Israelite rappers, and even fan art.

“This young man has an audience of millions,” said Nathanyel, the leader of IUIC, the Israelite group that Kendrick’s cousin belongs to, in an April YouTube broadcast. “Prophecy is being fulfilled.”

The small Hebrew Israelite community has also met the celebrity cosigns with ambivalence; it’s glad to have its views broadcast, but questions the orthodoxy of these new advocates. “There’s excitement, but there is also hesitation,” said Tyrone Webb, the publisher of the community magazine Hebrew Israelite Nation Times, to Genius. “Will these stars pick up this truth and then drop it right away? Will they be good representations? You never know what will happen.”

Some have denounced artists like Kendrick and Kodak, doubting their dedication to the movement and saying they are still mired in the “sinful” world.

“We gonna go in on these so-called celebrity Israelites,” one member of the Israelite group known as Grand Millstone said in a YouTube video. “Kendrick Lamar… not putting his whole heart into Yahawah Bahasham Yahawashi,” he said, using a Hebrew rendering of the names of God and Jesus.

There is even dissent in the group closest to Kendrick with some members preferring music produced with Israelite doctrine firmly in mind. In a periscope broadcast, a member of IUIC also cautioned listeners against buying Kendrick’s new album. “I wouldn’t suggest just going out and buying the album,” a leader known as Deacon Abbayael said. He took the opportunity to add, “we got some albums out.”

IUIC has its own roster of rappers and producers who put out polished music videos promoting the group’s message and work. In one video entitled “Purple Reign,” referencing the group’s distinctive purple garb, a group of MCs trade lines in front of a foreboding, computer-generated skyline. The group’s charismatic leader delivers snippets of sermons between verses.

A year before Kendrick told listeners “I’m an Israelite, don’t call me black no more” the rapper Obadia recited, “No Afro-American, Hebraic heritage, backed with biblical doctrinates” on his single “Israelite Boy.”

Israelite artists themselves are embracing the new attention brought by their mainstream competitors, although they have some qualms.

Georgia-based artist Beloved Daud, who released his debut album last year, tells Genius that he would welcome any sincere devotee, but was dismayed by some lyrics from Kodak and Kendrick, which seemed to celebrate money or degrade women. “No one likes a lukewarm believer,” he said. “I can see they love more of the world than the righteousness.”

Still, Daud says he’s seen a wave of new interest following their Israelite-inspired lyrics and he welcomes it. “They started a mass search,” he says. “They put that vibration in the air.”

Sam Kestenbaum is a religion writer and reporter at The Forward.

Rastafarian pot farm shootout sparks religious-use debate

Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church

August 3, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The shooting of two California deputies responding to a disturbance at a Rastafarian marijuana farm has drawn attention to religious use of the drug, sparking debate over whether churches should be protected from drug prosecutions.

Religious organizations throughout California have been growing marijuana for ceremonial purposes for years — and have been losing in court for just as long.

That’s because there is no religious exemption to state and federal marijuana bans, and there won’t be any special treatment when California legalizes pot next year.

That’s unlikely to stop Heidi and Charles Lepp, a Sacramento couple affiliated with the church where Tuesday’s shooting occurred.

Heidi Lepp launched her Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church in 2014 while Charles was serving eight years in federal prison after openly growing more than 20,000 pot plants in Lake County for what he considered religious purposes. She said she’s advised nearly 200 farms affiliated with her church not to adhere to state licensing rules.

“As a member of the church you aren’t bound by a lot of the rules other people are,” Charles Lepp said. “You’re not supposed to grow in Yuba County where this incident happened without a county issued permit, (but) as a church you don’t need a permit.”

Officials don’t agree. The religious argument didn’t keep Charles Lepp, an ordained Rastafarian minister, out of jail, and it hasn’t been successfully used by the Oklevueha Native American Church in Sonoma County. The church filed two unsuccessful civil rights lawsuits against the local sheriff for destroying its marijuana farm in 2015.

Yuba County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Leslie Carbah said the Rastafarian church doesn’t have the proper county license to grow marijuana on the property at the center of Tuesday’s shooting.

She didn’t say whether sheriff’s investigators are looking into the farm’s operations. The property has been cited for illegally growing marijuana and as of October 2016 owed more than $400,000 in penalties, the Marysville Appeal-Democrat reported (

The licensing dispute didn’t stop Heidi Lepp from calling police Tuesday when a worker on the farm told her a newly arrived church member was armed, agitated and destroying pot plants. Heidi Lepp told the worker to leave and then she called the Sheriff’s Department, which dispatched three deputies.

Two of the deputies chased the suspect up a hill and into a house about 100 yards behind the farm. Another deputy remained outside, guarding the backdoor.

Sheriff Steve Durfor said the two deputies exchanged gunfire with the suspect inside the house and both were shot. The suspect died.

Authorities identified him as Mark Anthony Sanchez, 33, of Gilroy, California, a former California State Prison inmate with a history of violent felonies and two active warrants for his arrest. Lepp said he began working at the farm about a month ago.

The two deputies were in satisfactory condition after each underwent surgery. Both are expected to recover, Durfor said.

Jay Leiderman, a Ventura defense attorney who represents clients charged with marijuana crimes, said many people in Lepp’s position want to argue that marijuana is to them as wine is to Catholics. But Leiderman said “religious use is an extremely hard defense to use in California.”

California authorities said religious organizations will have to obtain a state license when they become available next year like everyone else if they want to legally grow marijuana in California.

There will be no exceptions for religious use, said Alex Traverso, spokesman for the state’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.

“There are certainly plenty of other folks who have been doing things one way for quite some time that probably would like to be exempt for other reasons,” he said. “After Jan. 1, it’s really going to be a challenge for everybody to regulate the market and get people who are not in the regulated market into the regulated market.”

But at this point, the Lepps have no plans to come into the legal fold. They insist that religious freedom laws apply to them because marijuana is the sacrament of their religion. Heidi Lepp shares a set of documents with every group that affiliates with her Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church advising them not to consent to property searches or police questioning. She instructs them all to call her before dealing with law enforcement.

“Cannabis is a plant that should be free to everybody,” she said.


Elias reported from San Francisco.

Aug 8, 2017

Blood Cult

Stephen Lemons
Southern Poverty Law Center
August 3, 2017

Utah’s polygamous Kingston clan mixes incest and white supremacy with old-fashioned capitalism.

When it comes to racist Sunday school lessons, the polygamous Kingston clan could teach the Ku Klux Klan a thing or two.

During a recent interview with the Intelligence Report, Jessica Kingston, a former member of the secretive, Salt Lake City-based cult and a star of the A&E reality series “Escaping Polygamy,” remembered, when she was 12, her Sunday school teacher coming into class with a bucket of water and a vial of black food coloring.

The teacher added a drop of dye to the water, and the children watched as the blackness slowly spread.

“The teacher was like, ‘You can never get that out, that is always there now,’” recalled Jessica, now 29. “She talked about how you can’t associate with black people or anybody of a different race.”

This racist display was no one-off. Jessica said she and other children of the Kingston clan — a group also known as The Order, the Davis County Cooperative Society, and the Latter-Day Church of Christ — dropped the N-bomb all the time, as did their parents.

Black people supposedly suffered from multiple scriptural curses, from the mark of Cain and Noah’s curse on Ham in the Old Testament to the racist tenets of early Mormonism that have since been renounced or abandoned by the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the LDS or Mormon church.

Black blood was “the worst thing you can have,” Jessica said, particularly since the Kingstons consider themselves to be the whitest of the white, descended directly from Jesus Christ and King David, the Middle Eastern origins of both men notwithstanding.

Obsessed with the purity of their bloodline and empowered by a sense of entitlement on par with the divine right of kings, the Kingstons have made incest the cornerstone of a self-serving theology that loathes non whites, fosters homophobia and abhors government authority.

Additionally, ex-Order members tell of a reputed church prophecy of an “End of the World War,” an apocalyptic vision that foresees a bloody race war with the Kingstons as the ultimate victors, chosen by their Heavenly Father to rule the world for a millennium.

But given that the Kingstons command an estimated 6,000 adherents, boast a business empire reportedly worth as much as $1 billion and have outlasted myriad bouts with law enforcement and the press, these dreams of world domination may be less delusional than they first seem.
All Along the Watchtower

The Order denies that it encourages racism and homophobia within its ranks.

In a letter to the Intelligence Report responding to allegations made by former members, Kent Johnson, a spokesman for the Davis County Cooperative Society, claimed that The Order’s “foundational principles” include the Golden Rule, and that the church rejects any form of racism or bigotry.

“[W]e directly condemn in action and in words, racist, homophobic or hateful actions against any group or individual,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson maintained that The Order’s vast array of businesses — which includes a grocery store, pawn shops, a garbage disposal business, an insurance company, a politically-influential biofuels plant, and a high-end firearms manufacturer — employs individuals of various racial and ethnic minorities.

The letter asserts that one of the earliest members of the church was a Native American man and that the “Co-op,” as it is sometimes called, has been the victim of prejudice and harassment by Utah’s “majority religion” (i.e., the LDS church) because of the former’s “progressive” ideas.

Indeed, the group was founded during the Great Depression as a communal religious organization where members dedicated their earnings and possessions to building “the Kingdom of God on Earth,” as one church document attests.

Its ominous-sounding moniker, “The Order,” is a reference to the United Order, a quasi-utopian society proposed by LDS-founder Joseph Smith, and practiced in some Mormon communities under the leadership of early church president Brigham Young.

The Order can rightly claim discrimination by mainstream Mormonism, but this is due to its embrace of polygamy, which the LDS church officially abandoned in 1890 in order for Utah to become a state. The renunciation of polygamy is now church doctrine, and the Mormon church has a policy of excommunicating polygamists. Kingston forebears were among those who suffered this fate.

Polygamy is outlawed in Utah, both by the state’s constitution, and in statute, where it is a third-degree felony, with a possible punishment of five years in prison. But for their part, The Order and other fundamentalist sects believe the LDS church exists in a state of apostasy for abandoning what they see as a bedrock principle of their faith.

According to church lore, The Order came into existence when founder Charles “Elden” Kingston saw Jesus in the mountains above the family’s settlement in Bountiful, Utah, inspiring him to create the DCCS in 1935.

The family’s dedication to “the principle” of polygamy already had been established by Kingston’s father, who had three wives. Elden continued the tradition. According to historian Brian Hales’ Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations After the Manifesto, Brother Elden, as he was also known, had five wives and 17 children.

Elden also instituted the church law of “one above the other,” requiring members’ blind obedience to the church’s hierarchy of “numbered men,” with Elden being Brother Number One.

Brother Elden died of penile cancer in 1948, despite the best efforts of some family members to burn away the cancer using acid. Elden had predicted that he would be resurrected from the dead, so clan members kept his body on ice for three days, to no avail.

His brother, John “Ortell” Kingston, took over the leadership of The Order — incorporated in the 1970s as the Latter Day Church of Christ. Ortell is credited with expanding The Order’s business empire and making the family immensely wealthy. His seven sons and two daughters by LaDonna Peterson, the second of his 13 wives, are reputed to be the inner circle that runs the cult.

A stern disciplinarian, who in later years looked and dressed like a mortician, Ortell made incest a tenet of the clan’s faith, informed by his work breeding Holstein cows on the Kingstons’ dairy farm.

A 1999 Salt Lake Tribune article mapped the Kingstons’ incestuous family tree, quoting one of Ortell’s 65 kids, ex-Order member Connie Rugg as saying, “My father experimented [with] inbreeding with his cattle and then he turned to his children.”

In order to maintain his family’s “superior bloodlines,” Ortell married and had children with two of his half-sisters and two nieces. He orchestrated all unions within the cult, which was maintained with classic mind control techniques, corporal punishment, fasting and bizarre dietary practices. Ortell died in 1987, but his progeny continued the polygamy, the inbreeding and the marriages to young female teens that he instituted.

Control of The Order then passed to Ortell’s well-educated son Paul Kingston, one of several lawyers in a cult whose members dress normally and try not to draw attention to themselves.

Known variously as “Brother Paul,” “the leader,” and “the man on the watchtower” by Order members, this unremarkable, balding middle-aged man reportedly has 27 wives and over 300 children. Three of his wives are his half-sisters. One is a first cousin. Two are nieces.

Similarly, his older brother John Daniel Kingston has had 14 wives, four of them his half-sisters. Another is a first cousin.

Like polygamy, incest is a third-degree felony in Utah, and as with polygamy, convictions are rare. Over the years, state law enforcement and the courts have sporadically addressed the incest in the Kingston ranks.

In 1999, Paul’s younger brother David Ortell Kingston was convicted of taking his 16-year-old niece as wife number 15. The incest came to light after the girl tried to escape the arranged “celestial” marriage — an illegal marriage, sans license.

Her disobedience incurred the wrath of her father Daniel, who took her to a family ranch near the Idaho border and savagely beat her. The girl, who as an adult would unsuccessfully sue the clan, then walked miles to the nearest gas station, where she called the police.

Daniel was arrested and eventually spent 28 weeks in a county jail for felony child abuse. David was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the incest, but served only four before being paroled.

In 2003, another clan member, Jeremy Kingston pleaded guilty to incest for taking 15-year-old Lu Ann Kingston as his fourth wife. Jeremy was nearly 10 years her senior at the time. Due to the Kingstons’ convoluted genealogy, Lu Ann was both his first cousin and his aunt. As part of a plea bargain, Jeremy spent just one year in prison.
The ‘Curse’ of Blackness

In secret videotapes of Order church meetings aired on Escaping Polygamy, Paul’s nephew Nick Young, speaking from a church lectern, identifies himself as a numbered man, number 72, to be precise.

The son of Paul’s sister Rachel — herself a daughter of Ortell and LaDonna Kingston — Young was the only current member of the Kingston clan, out of the many contacted for this story, who consented to a live, on-the-record interview.

Young is the owner of Desert Tech, a Utah gun manufacturer, which produces sniper rifles and so-called “bullpup” rifles, The latter, unlike conventional magazine-fed rifles, have shorter barrels, with the gun’s action located behind the trigger. These specialty firearms can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $8,000 each.

Desert Tech and its rifles have been featured on Fox News, Mythbusters, Daredevil and The Blacklist, among other TV shows. Young told Intelligence Report that his company has sold weapons, with the approval of the U.S. State Department, to governments in Europe and the Middle East, Saudi Arabia being one.

Young also claimed Desert Tech had sold guns to Picatinny Arsenal, the research division of the U.S. military.

“We haven’t gotten any big U.S. contracts,” Young explained. “Obviously, we would love to.”

Spokesmen for both the U.S. State Department and for Picatinny Arsenal could neither verify nor deny Young’s claims.

The company was founded in 2007 with an investment from family members. Young denied that The Order was racist or taught any form of bigotry, and said he had people of all races working for him.

“What we’re taught is to love our neighbor, that all people, all races no matter who they are … deserve to be loved,” he explained.

Still, he conceded that some Order members may have prejudiced beliefs because “in our organization people have freedom of choice.”

So what about polygamy? Is it a requirement to gain the highest levels of heaven?

“Yeah, I believe in it,” he said. “As far as how you end up in heaven, that’s up to God.”

Young declined to comment when asked if he practices polygamy. Intelligence Reportthen read the names of women believed to be his wives — four in all.

“Okay, I have one legal wife,” he said. “But I do have children with other women.”

Asked if two women named were in fact his first cousins, Young paused, finally replying, “I guess I’m curious as to what you’re trying to get at here.”

Before the call ended, Young insisted that he “didn’t admit to any kind of incest or anything.” When Intelligence Report inquired if Young thought there was anything wrong with first cousins getting married, Young opined that such issues were between the individuals involved and God.

Nevertheless, former members of The Order say that incest and racism are inextricably linked in The Order’s teachings.

During an interview with this reporter, Lu Ann Kingston, whose defiance of the cult led to the conviction of her former “spiritual” husband Jeremy, recalled that Order members saw intermarriage as a way to “keep the bloodline pure.”

And by pure, they meant pure white.

All outsiders are considered to be beneath Order members, she explained. But The Order saves most of its bile for blacks and other non whites. Ethnic jokes and stereotypes were commonly repeated. Chinese people were called “stupid,” and Mexicans were “dirty,” said Lu Ann, adding, “because of their skin.”

Allison, a 17 year-old ex-Kingston member says not much has changed since Lu Ann’s day.

“I didn’t even know the n-word was bad until I was like 15 or 16,” she told Intelligence Report.

Once free of the cult, Lu Ann, Allison and other ex-Order members have had to unlearn the hatred that was drilled into their heads. The mere rumor of black blood could condemn someone in the eyes of Order members.

That’s what happened with Ron Tucker’s family. Tucker is another of Ortell’s many sons, though not from the favored wife, LaDonna.

Seated on a couch, sipping lemonade in his home in a Salt Lake City suburb, he resembles Paul Kingston quite a bit. The two were playmates when they were boys.

A loyal Order member for years, he lost his faith and ended up leaving the Order over a curse of sorts, leveled at his family by LaDonna. Supposedly, LaDonna had a dream wherein it was revealed that anyone who left The Order would be tainted by black blood.

Somehow LaDonna’s curse was transferred to the Tuckers via Christy, Ron’s wife, because, Christy’s mom left The Order and married an Irishman, before leaving him and returning to the fold.

“I could see that the leaders of The Order really did believe we had black ancestors,” Ron explained, with Christy next to him, and his adult daughters Emily and Julie nearby.

Boys began to show interest in Julie as she matured, but Paul, as the clan’s leader, warned them away, because of Julie’s black blood.

Up to this point, Julie had treated the rumor like a joke. Her younger sister Emily thought it was a joke, too, until one day another Order kid told her, “We can’t play with you because the Tuckers are niggers.”

Julie left the cult at age 19. Her parents and siblings eventually left as well.

Ron says the cult’s justification for its racism goes back to early Mormon teachings about a war in heaven between the forces of Satan and those of Jesus. The battle took place in the spiritual pre-existence that Mormons believe all souls come from. Blacks were “the less valiant people in heaven” who sat on the sidelines while others took sides, according to The Order.

Their punishment? Dark skin, of course.

Another of Ortell’s teachings: Adolf Hitler had the right idea about creating a master race, but didn’t have the Lord’s help, so he failed.

Tucker recounted the clan’s version of the apocalypse, the “End of the World War,” a riff on a prophecy some ascribe to Joseph Smith, called The White Horse Prophecy. In it, black people come close to killing off the white race until they are countered by Native Americans, symbolized by a Red Horse, which gallops to the White Horse’s rescue.

“That will open up for The Order to rise up and take over the world,” Ron said.

The Tuckers think this is all hogwash now, though they were programmed to believe it at the time.

Recordings of church testimony given by various Kingstons serve as further evidence of the cult’s bigoted teachings.

In one, Ortell warns that there is a movement afoot that wants to “homogenize the people” and “make one race,” by mixing all the races up.

In another, Order attorney Carl Kingston warns listeners about marrying up with “Ham’s kids,” a reference to the aforementioned Biblical curse. “If you have as much as one drop of that blood in your veins,” says Carl, “you’re cursed from holding the priesthood.”

The lawyer’s words call to mind another heavenly curse, described in 2 Nephi, Chapter 5 of the Book of Mormon, where God caused a “skin of blackness” to come upon a group called the Lamanites, supposedly ancestors of Native Americans.

Modern interpretations of this passage vary, but The Order apparently takes quite literally this idea of “blackness” being a sign of iniquity.
Soy Makes You Gay

LGBT people fare little better in the Kingston clan.

One ex-Order member, who asked to be referred to as “Scott,” instead of his real name for fear of retribution by clan members, said hatred of gays was big in the Kingston clan, with the word “faggot” in frequent use.

For fun he and other Order men would go to a park frequented by gay males, looking for victims.

“We would cause harm,” he confessed. “Bad harm. Hospital harm.”

While part of The Order, Val Snow, a twenty-something gay man with a wry sense of humor, believed being gay was like “spitting in the eye of God.” Snow is the son of Daniel Kingston, whom he paints as “a little man with a lot of power.”

From a young age, Snow worked for Order companies to help feed his siblings, a responsibility some Kingston men are known to shirk.

Snow began dating men when he was 22. When this got around to his dad, his father packed up Snow’s belongings and left them in the room of a hotel owned by The Order. Daniel’s ultimatum: Stay in The Order, date no one, and have no contact with family. Or leave.

Snow left.

He says The Order regards homosexuality as a choice. If gay men stay in the closet, they are allowed to remain in the cult as “worker bees.”

Snow also remembered being taught end-time prophecies, with a “cleansing” wherein the streets of Salt Lake City would run red with blood.

“All of the gay people would definitely be the first to go,” he said.

Another of the cult’s teachings was that soy can make you gay, an anti-government conspiracy theory popular in some right-wing circles.

“I guess I just had too much soy,” Snow smiled.

Ex-order members interviewed by the Intelligence Report generally agreed with the characterization of the Kingston clan as a “hate group.”

Ron Tucker went so far as to call his former brethren “white supremacists,” and “ten times more racist” than your run-of-the-mill skinhead.

As for its anti-government views, allegations of fraud against government entities have long dogged the Kingstons.

In the 1980s, the state of Utah sued John Ortell Kingston over welfare fraud related to his many wives. Rather than submit to DNA tests, which could have revealed the incest in his brood, he coughed up a more than $200,000 settlement.

More recently, the Kingston-owned Washakie Renewable Energy (WRE) agreed to pay a $3 million fine after it was sued by the federal government for raking in tax credits for biofuels it never produced.

WRE’s influence earned special scrutiny in February 2016 after the IRS, the EPA and other government agencies raided owner Jacob Kingston’s house as well as The Order’s bank and other locations, carting away banker’s box after banker’s box of records. Nothing has come of the raids yet, and the IRS refused comment on the matter when contacted by this publication.

But The Order’s critics say that cult members see nothing wrong with bilking the government, a time-honored tradition among FLDS sects, gleefully referred to as “bleeding the beast.”

More troubling, during a contentious 2004 custody case that ensued when Jessica and her sister Andrea fled Daniel Kingston’s household, a judge in the case reportedly was the subject of a death threat, allegedly from Kingston clan members. There was also testimony, during one hearing, that someone in the Kingston clan wanted to blow up the courthouse.

Given such incidents, could Order members be a threat to law enforcement?

Ron Kingston says The Order’s leadership has too much to lose for something like that to happen.

“Paul would rather have the wealth and the money than the isolation and the conflict,” he said.

Matt Browning seems less sure. A retired Arizona law enforcement officer, Browning is the president and founder of the Skinhead Intelligence Network and is in charge of security for the A&E show, where his wife Tawni works as the casting producer.

Browning sees similarities between The Order and the religion-minded racists of the World Church of the Creator and the Christian Identity movement. There is also some overlap with Sovereign citizens, he contends.

“They’re basically the Utah Mafioso of the white power world,” Browning told Intelligence Report.

And they are growing. Former Order members tell of babies being born nearly every week in the church. And during a recent picnic to honor the birthday of patriarch John Ortell Kingston, Order families descended on a Salt Lake Valley park, where hundreds of children of all ages blanketed the park’s green expanse.

Accounts of clan babies being born with congenital defects and other problems abound, including dwarfism, albinism and children born minus fingernails or without genitals.

Home births and the frequency of miscarriages and still-borns among the Kingstons have led to macabre legends of dead infants buried in Kingston back yards.

There are also accounts of dead babies being buried at the “Holy Spot,” a tree-shrouded patch of land across the street from a grade school in Bountiful, just north of Salt Lake City.

Asked about these legends, Kingston spokesman Kent Johnson, explained via email that “on occasion” Order families have asked to “spread the ashes” of a child lost before or after birth at the Holy Spot.

Johnson also acknowledged hearing family lore — dating to the Depression era — of Order families burying fetuses from late-term miscarriages “on their respective properties.”

Don’t the infant deaths and tales of horrific deformities belie Ortell’s homespun eugenics?

Scott remembered that Ortell had an answer for that question.

“Something along the lines of, to build a superhuman, if you have four or five defects to get the one good one, it’s worth it,” he recalled.

“Because that one is going to be genius-level purity, and that’s what The Order is looking for.”

Why are Scientologists officially at London Ribfest offering a type of polygraph?

Travis Desmeules, a Scientologist for nearly 20 years, was using e-meters to give tests to festival-goers and sell 'Dianetics'
Charlie Pinkerton
National Post
August 7, 2017

LONDON, Ont. — The weekend presence of Scientologists at London Ribfest added a new chapter to the city’s tangled history with the controversial organization.

“We don’t discriminate because we don’t agree with you,” Ruby Hillier, a Ribfest organizer, said of giving the U.S.-based Church of Scientology a booth in Victoria Park.

“As long as you’re not doing anything illegal, it’s fine, we don’t exclude you.”

Scientology representatives were offering e-meter tests, a kind of polygraph used in the church — and a focus of criticism, even ridicule, worldwide — whose beliefs and practices were founded in the 1950s by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard.

Perhaps lost on Hillier, and maybe even the Scientologists themselves, is that the weekend festival was held mere blocks from where Scientology’s most famous dissident, London-raised Oscar winner Paul Haggis, was first attracted to its teachings in 1975.

Haggis was walking to a downtown record store when a young man stopped him at the corner of Dundas and Waterloo streets, he told U.S. journalist Lawrence Wright, who highlighted the filmmaker’s dissent in his book and documentary Going Clear.

“You have a mind. This is the owner’s manual,” Haggis recalled the man telling him as he handed over a book.

Haggis opened the cover and saw it stamped with the words Church of Scientology.

“Take me there,” Haggis said.

Haggis followed Scientology for about 30 years. Now, along with TV actress Leah Remini, he’s one of its most famous opponents — openly criticizing the teachings they once followed.

A much more positive perspective was offered at the Scientology tent in Victoria Park this weekend.

Travis Desmeules was one of three at the group’s official tent. A Scientologist for nearly 20 years, he and other followers were using e-meters to give stress tests to festival-goers and sell a Hubbard book about Dianetics, a substudy of Scientology.

The stress tests are done through typical Scientology practice. The e-meter is used to send a small electric pulse through the subject, which registers a reading in the machine when it leaves the body. Followers of Dianetics and Scientology believe certain readings indicate stress.

“Within the book (of Dianetics) is also a therapy to alleviate those things, so we try to show them that,” Desmeules said.

Haggis won Oscars in back-to-back years, 2004 and 2005, as a screenwriter and producer for Million Dollar Baby and a screenwriter, producer and director of Crash. His 2009 comments to Wright were blunt.

“I was in a cult for 34 years,” Haggis said. “Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.”

Several governments, including those of Germany and France, have condemned the organization.

To that, Scientology’s website reads, “No. It is a religion in the fullest sense of the word.”

Scientology is recognized as a religion in the United States, giving it tax-exempt status. It is not formally recognized as a religion by the Canadian government.