Aug 14, 2018

US supports evil cults to destabilize China: expert

Liu Xuanzun

Global Times

August 14, 2018

Expert rebukes US for supporting cults to destabilize China

The US is trying to destabilize Chinese society by supporting evil cults in China, and its accusation that the Chinese government is restricting religious freedom is a pack of lies, a Chinese expert said on Tuesday.

Article 36 of China's Constitution states that citizens of China enjoy freedom of religious belief, "but an evil cult isn't a religion," Li Anping, former deputy secretary-general of the China Anti-Cult Association, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"Cults call themselves religions, but are in fact reactionary organizations that disrupt social stability," Li said.

On the contrary, Li noted, "cracking down on cults is protecting religious freedom and human rights."

Li's remarks came after a statement released by the US Embassy in China last month, accusing China of restricting religious freedom and naming the illegal cult Falun Gong as a victim of repression and discrimination.

The US accusation was "a pack of lies. It cannot be accepted," Li said.

Falun Gong is not the only cult that has US backing. 

Almighty God cult leader Zhao Weishan escaped to the US in 2000 and controls the cult in China remotely, China Central Television reported.

From November 2016 to March 2017, the cult transferred 140 million yuan ($20.3 million) abroad, Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday.

In 2014, five Almighty God members murdered a woman at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan, East China's Shandong Province.

Cults must be cracked down upon to maintain social stability and ensure people's safety, according to Li.

Accused Nxivm sex slaver Allison Mack wants to go to work, school and church

Emily Saul
Page Six
August 14, 2018

Former “Smallville” star and accused Nxivm sex trafficker Allison Mack is asking a judge to ease up on her bail conditions.

Mack is currently subjected to GPS-monitored detention at her parents home in Los Alamitos, Calif. — but she is allowed to travel locally to meet with her attorneys, and jet to Brooklyn for court appearances.

The 35-year-old’s lawyers now want Brooklyn federal court Judge Nicholas Garaufis to let her leave home for work, schooling and once-weekly religious services.

“While the instant charges have deprived her of pursuing her acting career, Ms. Mack nevertheless is interested in contributing to society,” read the court papers. “These activities not only will allow Ms. Mack to use her time productively while awaiting trial, but will also assist with her reintegration into society if she is vindicated of the charges or even in the unlikely event that she is convicted after trial.”

Mack has been out on $5 million bond since her April arrest, when she was charged with sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and attempted human trafficking.

The onetime actress is accused of helping Keith Raniere, known to his followers as “Vanguard,” mastermind an upstate cult that presented itself as a women’s empowerment group, but, prosecutors say, was actually a secret group of starved and branded sex slaves for Raniere to bed at his leisure.

Mack allegedly recruited women to join the inner group, called DOS, and credits herself with the group’s horrifying practice of branding the women with a symbol composed of her and Raniere’s initials.

Garaufis has yet to rule on the motion.

Mack and Raniere are expected to face trial in January.

Allison Mack’s secret sex cult NXIVM was simply ‘a little edgy’, say lawyers

Rebecca Lewis
August 14,  2018

Smallville star Allison Mack’s secret sex cult NXIV was simply ‘a little edgy’, lawyers for the defendants have claimed.

Mack and founder Keith Raniere have been charged with sex trafficking and forced labour conspiracy after claims emerged that Mack had been involved with supplying slaves to 57-year-old Raniere, the leader of an American self-help ‘sex cult’ organisation called NXIVM.

Raniere allegedly blackmailed women into becoming sex slaves, and the pair allegedly branded victims’ skin with their initials.

Mack and Raniere as well as four others have also been charged with racketeering conspiracy, while Raniere, Mack and Lauren Salzman were also being charged with wire fraud.
They have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

However now Raniere’s lawyer Marc Agnifilo has claimed that Raniere ‘didn’t enjoy the branding’ and that ‘it was something that the women wanted to do and that he thought was not inappropriate if that’s what they wanted to do’.

‘These women wanted to be part of DOS,’ said Agnifilo.
‘It was a little extreme, it was a little dangerous, it was a little edgy, it was all those things. That’s why they wanted it.’

Speaking to Megyn Kelly in a Dateline episode that aired on 6 August, Agnifilo also suggested that he didn’t ‘know why anyone could feel that they’re physically threatened by Keith Raniere or anyone in Nxivm’.

‘Keith Raniere is a remarkably — he might get mad at me for saying this — soft man.’

In 1998, Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman founded Nxivm, offering ‘Executive Success Programs’ that have attracted thousands of people into its classes.

The organisation, which claims to use ‘rational inquiry’ to facilitate personal and professional development and growth, began to be referred to as a cult by outsiders – mainly because Raniere demanded followers address him as ‘Vanguard’ and Salzman as ‘Prefect’.

Over the years, many accused Nxivm of being a pyramid scheme, taking money in exchange for Raniere’s seminars and claiming they could only grow by paying for more workshops, which cost $5,000 a pop.

However it was the deeper world of NXIVM that shocked many when it came to light in court in recent months, as according to the complaint, Raniere ‘maintained a rotating group of fifteen to twenty women with whom he maintains sexual relationships’.

‘These women are not permitted to have sexual relationships with anyone but Raniere or to discuss with others their relationship with Raniere,’ it said.

‘Some of the Nxivm curriculum included teachings about the need for men to have multiple sexual partners and the need for women to be monogamous.’

Mack, 35, was allegedly the leader of a subgroup within Nxivm called DOS (or The Vow), for which she allegedly recruited female members to engage in sexual acts with Raniere.

The complaint against Mack alleges that she would recruit new members, who had to hand over compromising videos, photographs or information to join. As well as DOS members being used for sex, they were also allegedly forced to cut their calorie intake as Raniere preferred thin women, and were not allowed to remove their pubic hair.

Aug 13, 2018

'I was kidnapped in London and trafficked for sex'

Sarah McDermott
BBC World Service
August 8, 2018

Anna came to London from Romania intending to study, but first she needed to earn some money. She took temporary jobs - waitressing, cleaning, maths tutoring. Then one day in March 2011 she was snatched off the street, flown to Ireland and put through nine months of hell.

Anna was nearly home. There was just enough time to nip inside and eat lunch before leaving for her next cleaning job. She was wearing headphones and listening to Beyoncé singing I Was Here as she walked down the street in Wood Green, north London. She was just a few doors away.

She reached into her bag to pull out her keys when suddenly someone grabbed her by the neck from behind, covered her mouth, and dragged into the back of a dark red car.

There were three of them, two men and a woman. They were slapping her, punching her, and screaming threats in Romanian. Her ears were ringing. The woman in the passenger seat grabbed her bag and pulled the glasses from her face. If she didn't do what they told her, they shouted, her family in Romania would be killed.

"I didn't know what was happening or where they were taking me," Anna says. "I was imagining everything - from organ harvesting or prostitution, to being killed, to God knows what."

The woman was going through her bag, looking in her wallet, scrolling through the recent calls and Facebook friends on her phone, looking at her papers. Her passport was there - she carried it everywhere after her previous one was stolen from her room.

Anna could see there was no point trying to escape from the car, but when they arrived at an airport and she was left alone with just one of the men, she began to wonder if this was her chance. Could she appeal to airport staff for help?

"It's hard to scream when you feel so threatened," she says.

"They had my papers, they knew where my mum was, they knew everything about me."

It was a risk she couldn't bring herself to take.

At the check-in desk, she was crying and her face was red, but the woman behind the counter didn't seem to notice. When the man presented their passports, she just smiled and handed them boarding cards.

Trying to pretend they were a couple, he rushed Anna through security to the boarding gates, and took seats right at the back of the plane. He told her not to move, not to scream and not to cry, or he would kill her.

Anna heard the captain announce that they were flying to an airport in Ireland - she'd never heard of it. Her face was wet with tears as she walked off the plane, but like the woman at the check-in desk the air stewardess simply smiled.

This time Anna had decided that once in the airport she would run, but it turned out to be no bigger than a bus station and two more Romanian men were waiting for them.

The fat one reached out for her hand, smiled and said, "At least this one looks better." It was then that she realised why she had been kidnapped.

"I knew, at that point, that I was going to be sold," she says.

Media caption'Anna' spoke about being held captive by sex traffickers on the BBC's Outlook programme

The men drove her to a dirty flat, upstairs, not far from a bookies. The car broke down on the way.
Inside, the blinds were closed and the air smelled of alcohol, cigarettes and sweat.

Men smoked and looked at laptops in the living room. On the table more than a dozen mobile phones rang, buzzed and vibrated constantly, while girls wearing little or nothing came and went between rooms.

Anna's clothes were ripped from her body by a woman wearing a red robe and flip flops, assisted by some of the men. And from then on she was brutalised.

Pictures were taken of her in underwear in front of a red satin sheet pinned to the wall, so that she could be advertised on the internet. She was given more names than she can remember - she was Natalia, Lara, Rachel, Ruby. She was 18, 19, and 20, from Latvia, Poland, or Hungary.

She was then forced to have sex with thousands of men. She didn't see daylight for months. She was only allowed to sleep when there were no clients but they came round the clock - up to 20 of them per day. Some days there was no food, other days maybe a slice of bread or someone's leftovers.

Deprived of food and sleep, and constantly abused, she lost weight fast and her brain stopped working properly.

Customers paid 80-100 euros for half an hour, or 160-200 euros for an hour. Some left Anna bleeding, or unable to stand, or in so much pain that she thought she must be close to death.

Others would ask her if she knew where she was, if she'd been out to hear the traditional music in the pubs, if she'd visited the local beauty spots.

But she says they knew that she and the other girls were held against their will.

"They knew that we were kept there," she says. "They knew, but they didn't care."

It was obvious from the bruises which covered every inch of Anna's body - fresh ones appearing every day where older ones were beginning to fade away - and it didn't bother them.

She hated them all.

In July, four months into Anna's captivity, the races were on and the phones were ringing more than ever. Then one day the police crashed into the flat and arrested all the girls. Mysteriously, the men and the woman who ran the show, had disappeared in advance with the laptops and most of the cash. Anna wondered how they had known the police were coming.

The police took pictures of the flat, of the used condoms and the underwear and told Anna and the other three trafficked women to get dressed. She told them that they didn't have any clothes and that they were being held there against their will.

"You could clearly see there were signs that we had no power over anything - no clothes, no identity papers," she says. "I tried to tell them, nobody listened."

She was glad to be arrested, though. She felt sure the police would eventually realise that they were victims. But still they didn't listen.
The four women spent the night in a cell and were taken to court the following morning. A solicitor explained there would be a brief hearing, they would be charged with running a brothel, fined, and freed a few hours later. It wasn't a big deal, he said. It was just part of the routine when the races were on - sex workers and sometimes pimps were arrested and released again.

When the women left the court Anna had an impulse to run, though she knew she had nowhere to go and no money. She was given no chance, anyway - her captors were waiting for them outside, holding the car doors open.
In Romania her mother read the headlines about the young women running a brothel in Ireland, her own daughter's name among them.

By that stage she'd already seen the photos the men had posted on Anna's Facebook account too - images of her naked or in ill-fitting lingerie, covered in bruises. Alongside them were comments in which Anna boasted about her new life and all the money she was making as a sex worker in Ireland. More lies, typed out by the men on their laptops.

Not only had her mother seen these photographs, the neighbours had seen them, Anna's friends had seen them. None knew that she had been trafficked and was being held against her will.

At first, her mother had tried to do something. But when she called her daughter there was never any answer.

"My mum went to the police in Romania," Anna says. "But they said, 'She's over the age of consent and she's out of the country, so she can do whatever she wants.'"

Eventually, Facebook deleted her account because of the indecent images and if anyone looked for her on social media it would have seemed that she no longer existed.

After the police raid, the four girls were moved around a lot, staying in different cities in different flats and hotels. But their lives remained as bad as ever - they continued to be abused at all times of day and night. Anna didn't think her situation could get any worse until she overheard her tormentors making plans to take her to the Middle East. She had to get away.

"I still didn't really know exactly where I was," she says. "But I knew that I had a better chance of escaping from Belfast, or Dublin, or wherever they had me, than escaping from somewhere in the Middle East."

She took the woman's flip flops and opened the door. She had to go very quickly and very quietly. She hadn't run or properly stretched the muscles in her legs for months, but now she had to move fast.

What saved her was the fact that men occasionally asked for one of the women to be taken to them, rather than visiting the flat where they were held.

Anna found these call-outs terrifying.

"You didn't know what crazy person was waiting for you or what they would do to you," she says.

"But any time I was out of that flat I would make mental maps of where I was. While they were transferring us from one point to another I would form maps in my mind - remembering the buildings, the street signs, and the things that we passed."

There was also one man - Andy, a convicted drug dealer on a tag - who never wanted to have sex, only to talk. A friend of his was trying to break into the brothel-keeping business and he wanted information.

"I had to gamble at that point," Anna says. "I didn't trust him, but he offered me a place where I could hide."

Relying on her incomplete mental map, Anna made it to Andy's address, only there was no answer. There was nothing to do but wait and hope that the pimps would not find her.

The gamble paid off. Andy had to return before midnight because of his tag. And he let her stay.

One of the first things Anna did was to call her mother.

The phone rang, and her mother's partner answered. As soon as he realised who was calling he began urging her never to call again, and never to visit. They'd received so many threats from the pimps and traffickers, her mother was now terrified, he said.

"So I said to him, 'OK, I'll make it easy for you. If anybody rings you and threatens you just tell them that I'm dead to you and to my mum,'" Anna says.

He hung up on her.

At this point, despite having no papers or passport, and despite her experience of the brothel raid - when she had been prosecuted instead of rescued - Anna decided to contact the police. And this time, fortunately, they listened to her.

It turned out that Anna was now in Northern Ireland, and she was told to attend a rendezvous with a senior policeman in a coffee shop.

"He took one of those white paper napkins and asked me to write down the names of the people who did this to me on it," she says.

When she pushed it back to him across the table she could see that he was shocked. He'd been looking for those people for years, he said.

A two-year investigation followed. Eventually Anna's former captors were arrested, but she was so worried for her own safety and her mother's that she decided she couldn't testify against them in court.

Another girl she'd known from the flat did give evidence, though, and the gang were convicted of human trafficking, controlling prostitution and money laundering in Northern Ireland.

Each of them was sentenced to two years. They served six months in custody before they were sentenced, then eight months in prison after being convicted, with the remainder spent on supervised licence.

They had already served two years in a Swedish prison on the same set of offences involving one of the same victims.

"I was happy that they were arrested but I wasn't happy about the sentences," she says.

"I guess nothing in this life is fair."

Where to get help

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, contact the police - call 999 if it's an emergency, or 101 if it's not urgent.

If you'd prefer to stay anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

If you want confidential advice about trafficking before calling the police, there are a number of specialist organisations you can talk to:

The Modern Slavery helpline 0800 0121 700, is open 24 hours a day.

If you think a child is in danger of trafficking you can contact the the NSPCC's helpline 0808 8005 000.

Later, with other women, Anna gave testimony to the Unionist politician, Lord Morrow, who had become so concerned about the increasing number of stories he heard about children and adults forced to work in brothels, farms and factories that he put forward a new bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act, passed in 2015, made Northern Ireland the first and only place in the UK where the act of buying sex is a crime. The act of selling sex, by contrast, was decriminalised.

Anna takes satisfaction from her role in this process.

"This law helps the victim and it criminalises the buyer and the trafficker," she says. "So it destroys the ring."

If even a small percentage of the men who used to pay for sex are now discouraged from doing so, that's still a success, Anna argues.

And people like her who are trafficked can live without fear, she says, because instead of being criminalised for being involved in prostitution, they're now more likely to benefit from support.

In 2017, it also became illegal to buy sex in the Republic of Ireland, where Anna's horrific ordeal began.

Her nine months in sexual slavery have left her permanently injured. Men damaged her body in the places where they penetrated her. Her lower back and knees constantly ache, and there's a patch at the back of her head where her hair stopped growing because it was pulled out so many times.
She suffers from terrifying flashbacks. Sometimes she cannot sleep, and when she does sleep she has nightmares. And sometimes she still smells that smell, the alcohol, mixed with the cigarettes and the sweat, the semen, and the breath of her abusers.

But she's looking forward now. She shopped the people who sold her body, she's helped change the law, and after years of not even speaking, her relationship with her mother is good.

"Me and my mum had to go on a really long journey to get her to understand what happened to me," she says. "She had to learn from me and I had to learn from her, but now we are fine."

Anna started a degree course in the UK but had to drop out because she couldn't afford the fees and didn't qualify for any funding. She now has a job in hospitality and it's going well.

"I would love with all my heart to return to my studies at some point," she says. "But for now I have to work, work, work, and keep focused."

All names have been changed.

Illustrations by Katie Horwich.
Slave, published by Ebury Press, is out now.

South Korean 'cult' leader arrested after congregation 'trapped and beaten' on Fiji

Shin Ok-ju and three senior members of the Grace Road Church were arrested
Shin Ok-ju
Julian Ryall
The Telegraph
August 1, 2018

South Korean police have arrested a pastor who allegedly convinced 400 followers to flee to Fiji because a “great famine” was imminent on the Korean Peninsula but then forced her flock to take part in ritual beatings that left one member with brain damage.

Shin Ok-ju and three senior members of the Grace Road Church were arrested after landing at Incheon Airport in South Korea on Saturday.

South Korea’s Christian Daily newspaper reported that Mrs Shin is being questioned in connection with allegations that she confiscated the passports of the 400 members of her congregation who moved to Fiji in 2014. She reportedly refused to let them leave the 83-acre compound where they lived communally under the close watch of handpicked “guardians”.

She is also being questioned about the alleged ritual that church members knew as “the threshing ground”, in which followers were forced to beat each other until they were bloodied. Those who declined to take part would become the “target of God’s punishment”, they were allegedly told.

According to The Korea Times, former member claimed that one boy was forced to hit his father more than 100 times as part of the ritual, while another follower sustained brain damage as a result of the beatings.

Five members of the group were allegedly able to escape and alerted South Korean authorities.

Mainstream South Korean church leaders have described Mrs Shin’s “arbitrary explanations of the Bible” as heretical, while coverage of the church’s activities in Fiji has led to local media describing it as a “cult”.

Followers were allegedly encouraged to give up their studies or jobs to follow Mrs Shin’s teachings, while others left their families or got divorced in order to move to Fiji.

One former member told Christian Daily that conditions within the church worsened after its members moved to Fiji.

“This is not the inner problem of a religion; it is an anti-huma, fraudulent pilgrimage by a fraudulent group”, he said.

China launches crackdown on 'Christian CULT': 'Almighty God' leaders facing action

Christian crackdown: China has vowed to take action against the cult's leaders (Image: GETTY)
A CHINESE court has launched proceedings against leading members of the banned religious group "Almighty God", state media reported, the latest crackdown on what the government has labelled a dangerous cult.

August 13, 2018

China has already sentenced dozens of followers of Quannengshen, or the Church of Almighty God, since the murder of a woman at a fastfood restaurant by suspected members of the group in 2014 sparked a national outcry.

In the latest case, an unspecified number of members of the group have been on trial in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang since July 31, state news agency Xinhua said late on Sunday.

The report said, citing local police: ”Heilongjiang police arrested the leader and some key members of the cult branch in northeast China in June 2017.”

It provided no other details of the case and it was not possible to reach a representative of the group in China for comment.

The group, which originated in central Henan province, believes that Jesus was resurrected as Yang Xiangbin, wife of the sect's founder, Zhao Weishan, Xinhua said. Zhao is also known as Xu Wenshan, Xinhua said, adding that the couple fled to the United States in 2000.

The group mainly recruits less-educated women who have family problems, and "lures" them in with normal Christian teachings, the report said.

"In the beginning new recruits were not forced to donate or attend the gatherings but after becoming a convert they were manipulated to leave their family and devote everything to the cult," it quoted an anonymous Heilongjiang police officer as saying.

Members are banned from using mobile phones, watching television or reading non-religious books and are made to "watch videos made for brainwashing", Xinhua added.

In 2012, China launched a crackdown on "Almighty God" after it called for a "decisive battle" to slay the "Red Dragon" Communist Party, and preached that the world would end that year.

China's constitution proclaims freedom of belief, but in reality the officially atheist ruling Communist Party keeps a tight rein over all religious activities and has cracked down on sects it says threaten social stability and promote violence.

China has previously promised harsh punishments for any group who spread superstitions.

Two people were given death sentences for the killing of the woman in the McDonald’s restaurant in Shandong.

Zhang Lidong and his daughter Zhang Fan were both executed for the murder of the 35-year-old woman, Wu Shuoyan after she refused to give the pair her phone number.

Recovery: From Victimhood to Surviving to Thriving

D​orca ​M​usseb
​ICSA Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA​ July 7, 2018

Faith to Faithless

"Although irreligious people account for an estimated 17%-22% of the world’s population (ICM/BBC), people who do not believe are treated poorly. Discrimination and ill treatment can span multiple areas of life, including the familial, societal, institutional and state level."

"Discrimination can be further compounded for those who are minorities within minorities (e.g. Ex Muslims, Ex Jews, Ex Mormons, Ex Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc)."

"Faith to Faithless was started in mid-2015 by Imtiaz Shams and Aliyah Saleem to 1) draw attention to the discrimination faced in particular by minority within minorities 2) give a platform to the faithless to come out in public and speak out against this discrimination."

"To date, we have held 5 events, received >570,000 views between our videos and a BBC documentary, in the Times, in the Spectator and the Guardian. Our events have led to other apostates coming out publically on our events, on their social media and to their family."

"We want this website to become a first port of call for ex-religious people everywhere, who often feel alone and just need to know that they aren’t. We are going to keep adding videos, doing events and helping bring people together."

Losing one's religion

Imtiaz Shams believes we should put humanity in front of religious differences. Photo: Farah Hancock
Imtiaz Shams
Farah Hancock
August 7, 2018

When Imtiaz Shams realised he no longer believed in religion he thought he was alone.

“In the beginning I thought I was the only ex-Muslim in the world, out of 1.6 billion people.”

Now Shams, through an advocacy group he co-founded, Faith to Faithless, helps connect and support people who have left religion.

He said in the last year the organisation has helped 1000 people from a variety of backgrounds including Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic ex-Jews, Jehovah’s Witness, ex-Muslims, ex-evangelical Christians, Exclusive Brethren, as well as people leaving cults.

Shams, who is visiting from the United Kingdom, was a speaker at the Humanist International Conference held over the weekend in Auckland.

His talk focused on the human rights of apostates. In language similar to what has been used by the LGBT community in the past, many apostates say they remain in the closet fearing if they come out they will be rejected by their family and community.

The biggest risk he’s seen apostates who are “in the closet” face is accidently coming out to family in the heat of an argument.
“If you are young, and you don’t know how to get help you are stuffed. You become homeless, people try to kill themselves,” said Shams.

“When someone leaves a very high-control group, let’s say Jehovah’s Witnesses or Gloriavale for instance, they don’t even know how to access traditional standard services. They don’t know how to go to the police, they don’t know how to get social services, none of that.”

Faith to Faithless connects people with support services and offers training to support services so the help provided is useful.

Research conducted by the group found many apostates felt support services treated them badly.

“Early this year, a girl under the age of 18 contacted us. If they are under 18 we immediately pass them to child-related charities. We did and she [started] talking to someone. That person listened to her story and said ‘It sounds like your problems are coming from leaving Islam. Maybe you should go back.’.

In another case an ex-Muslim man suffering from mental health issues was referred to a Muslim counselling service.

“If someone said to a gay person, I’ll send you to a gay conversion camp we’re up in arms. We need to have the same sort of disgust when it comes to people trying to send apostates to exorcism camps.”

Shams said he has recently trained London's Metropolitan Police on some of the issues faced by people leaving religion and is also focused on universities - a common point in apostates' lives where support is sought from counselling staff.

The charity tries to mend rifts between apostates and their families. Shams said often “high-control” religious groups try to push apostates away and encourage the cutting of ties with their families.

“A lot of these problems are time-based. You might think it is the end of your world right now but over time even your family can accept you.

“We try to keep families together if it’s appropriate. What we want to do is heal the bonds between the apostate and the family,” said Shams.

Shams also gives advice to local groups about how to set themselves up, including how to maintain the secrecy needed to protect members who have not come out.

Most of these groups begin online and then organise in-person meet-ups. These events offer moral support to apostates who often feel emotionally isolated.
“They’re not like an average Facebook group. They’re like fight club. We set them up like that.”

He described the vetting procedure to join a group as “bureaucratic on purpose”.

Through his work Shams said he has loose networks around the world.

“Let’s say if someone contacted us from the Jehovah’s Witness here, there are secret ex-Jehovah’s Witness communities we can plug them into.”

Shams has supported people in New Zealand in the past, including a local ex-Muslim group which he said was one of the first he knew of which started independently of an ex-Muslim online forum on the Reddit website.

He said he has met Muslims and ex-Muslims during his visit to New Zealand, including some who have kept their loss of beliefs secret.

“Yesterday we met a person who doesn’t take her hijab off. She took it off when she came here.”

Even an action as small as temporarily removing a head-covering could have repercussions when people are part of a close-knit community said Shams.

"Imagine if a family member saw her? What would happen then?”

Shams said the 1000 people the Faith to Faithless helped last year represent the "tip of the iceberg". His goal is that one day apostates will be part of the communities they came from even if they have chosen not to follow the faith of the community.

"We should be able to put humanity in front of religious differences."

Over the Moon - Escaping the Unification Church

Talk Beliefs
Published on Aug 12, 2018

Photo-illustrated interview with TEDDY HOSE, a former member of the Unification Church (the 'Moonies'), known for its odd practices including stadium-filled mass weddings.

Growing up, Teddy knew the Moon family well, including Reverend Moon's youngest son, Sean - now leader of the infamous splinter group, the Sanctuary Church.

MARK from Talk Beliefs talks with Teddy about the Unification Church, its splinter group, the Sanctuary Church, and the weird practices of this offshoot sect - practices that Teddy considers to be highly dangerous.

Teddy recently appeared on the A&E documentary series, Cults & Extreme Belief. Now - he tells his powerful story in even greater detail.

Twitter: @teddyhose

WATCH the A&E documentary series 'Cults & Extreme Belief' on Amazon (easiest/cheapest way to access). Teddy is featured in episodes 5 & 9:

Take Back Your Life - Book by Janja Lalich

Vegan restaurants run by cult leader who 'speaks to God'

Ching Hai
Elizabeth Schumacher
August 13, 2018

A millionaire businesswoman whose followers call her "Supreme Master" is behind a chain of popular vegan cafes, including four in Germany. No one knows how Ching Hai amassed her vast fortune.

In just four years, vegan restaurant Loving Hut has opened more than 140 locations in the United States, Austria, Germany, Australia and South America, which makes it the biggest vegan chain worldwide. Its founder, known as Ching Hai, has more than 500,000 followers (by some counts up to 2 million) who believe she has direct conversations with God and call her Supreme Master.

With thousands of videos on YouTube showing spiritual lectures going back to the 1990s, Ching Hai preaches all over the world to acolytes of a meditation-based philosophy she has dubbed Quan Yin. Wearing colorful outfits and sitting on outlandish sets with one or two favored followers, Hai mixes Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam to instruct her believers in how they can achieve higher levels of consciousness and also speak directly to God. She claims to be the next "master" following in the likes of Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed.

In the lectures, she also reminds her adherents that they should not be ashamed of making money, "people will make you feel guilty about making money…it's none of their business."

She also sometimes advocates something called breatharianism, which is a denial of food and water in favor of spiritual "sustenance." The practice, sometimes associated with older religions, has been tied to numerous dehydration and starvation deaths.

Supreme Master TV

Born Hue Dang Trinh in Vietnam in 1950, Hai came to Germany in the early 1970s after she met and married a German scientist. In the following decades, she founded Supreme Master Ching Hai International, selling jewelry and clothing and books authored by Hai.

The company also produces content for Supreme Master Television, which is usually played on large screens at Loving Hut locations, in which Hai, photoshopped onto glowing and sparkly backgrounds, recites aphorisms about time travel and different dimensions.
Hai, who also goes by Celestia De Lamour in the US where she is now based, has been described by the media as a cult leader for decades, and according to "inspires feverish adoration like a kind of deity-cum-rock star."

Questionable business practices

She has also run afoul of the authorities on several occasions. In 1996, $640,000 (€562,000 at today's rate) she donated to the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton was returned for being of "suspicious" origin, and her business has been targeted by Taiwanese authorities for illegally transferring funds in and out of the country.

In China, a group of her followers was accused of using an electronics company as a front for recruiting Quan Yin members and organizing initiation rituals. And according to University of Oxford political scientist Patricia Thorton, the origin of Hai's vast fortune is unknown.

However, unlike practices used at better-known cults, Hai does not seem to be calling on her followers to cut themselves off from their friends and family nor hustling them for their money. According to her website, her lectures, which are attended by hundreds of devotees, are free of charge.

Loving Hut has four locations in Germany: two in Hamburg, one in Hanover and one in Lüneburg. Their offices declined DW's request for a comment.

Aug 12, 2018

Religious sect's new Swiss home prompts concerns

IMO Today
August 12, 2018

A co-operative linked to controversial religious sect that tried to set up a venture in the Isle of Man is creating a stir at its new base in Switzerland.

In 2010, concerns were raised with the Bishop over the arrival of German Klaus Pesch in the island and what his plans might be for Crossags Farm, Lezayre.
Herr Pesch is spiritual leader of a global religious organisation called The Team.

Former members of The Team mounted a highly critical online campaign against the activities of the organisation which they branded a ’cult’.

They claimed members were manipulated and isolated from their families.

Herr Pesch was director of Crossags Ltd, which was refused planning permission to build a barnhouse containing living accommodation, a workshop and storage area in a field hidden away from other buildings.

Now a Swiss publication Beobachter (The Observer) has reported how the activities of a co-operative linked to Klaus Pesch is causing rumblings in the ski resort of Wildhaus, in the Toggenburg region of north east Switzerland.

The Bionarc co-operative has bought up the old town hall and has plans to replace it with a four-storey residence.
Neighbours are objecting to the plans.

According to its website, Bionarc provides consultancy and training in the renewable energy sector. Herr Pesch is a co-director of Bionarc in Germany and is a member of the co-operative in Switzerland.
Beobachter reports: ’Behind the wooden clapboard facades, discontent is spreading.

’Without looking carefully, the local council has rolled out the red carpet for a sect, it is said in the village.’ Mayor Rolf Zullig said there had been no adverse information about the buyer and the current planning application will be treated like anybody else’s.

He said: ’A destructive sect could become a problem for the tourism destination. We do not want that. And if the political community can prevent it through legal action, then it will.’
But co-operative president Patrick Rupf told Beobachter that he denied all allegations against Herr Pesch and The Team.

He said he himself belongs only to a group of believing Christians, a loose circle of nine friends who seek the truth in the Bible, and who do not believe in the end of the world.

He said they came to Toggenburg because they have family roots there.

Herr Rupf insisted there is neither an organisation nor an organisational structure, nor a leader.

He said: ’Klaus Pesch enabled me to enter into a personal relationship with God.’
He described his spiritual mentor as a ’harmless’ man, who is ’not a manipulator’.
There is no blind obedience to the team, no control delusion, no healing exclusivity and no contact ban, he added.

Conference: Recovering From Spiritual Abuse


Spiritual Abuse Resources and Meadow Haven have organized a conference on spiritual abuse.

Learn How Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and Christian Groups Can Begin to Find Healing and Wholeness

This conference provides information and guidance for:

  • those who have experienced spiritual abuse in cults, authoritarian churches, relationships, or mainstream religious organizations
  • professionals, family members, and other persons who want to help spiritual abuse survivors
  • church personnel and volunteers who want to make their churches more welcoming and healing to survivors of spiritual abuse
Some Topics

  • The Varieties of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse (Michael Langone)
  • Aberrational and Healthy Churches: What Distinguishes Them (Robert Pardon)
  • Personal Accounts: Returning From Unhealthy Christian Groups to Healthy Christianity (Maureen Griffo, Ray Connolly, David Clark)
  • Personal Accounts: Returning From Unhealthy Christianity to a Nonreligious Personal Alternative (Carrie Buddington; Samie Brosseau)
  • Personal Accounts: Returning From Non-Christian Groups to a Personal Spirituality (Esther Friedman; Joseph Kelly)
  • The Bible and Spiritual Formation Following Spiritual Abuse (Ken Garrett; Pat Knapp)
  • Postcult Recovery: Overview (Ron Burks; William Goldberg)
  • What Can You Do When a Loved One is Involved in an Abusive Situation? (David Clark; Joseph Kelly; Patrick Ryan;)
  • Does the Bible Really Say That? (Neil Damgaard; Ken Garrett)
  • Getting Help for Depression, Anxiety, and Other Problems (Lorna Goldberg; Lois Svoboda)
  • Marriage Issues for the Spiritually Abused (Pat & Heidi Knapp)
  • How Distorted Views of Heaven, Hell, and Salvation Contribute to Spiritual Abuse (Robert Pardon)
  • The Impact of Cults on Creativity, and of Creativity on Recovery (Diana Pletts)
  • Spiritual Abuse: A Family’s Journey (Sally and Dennis Meyer)
  • Shame and Guilt (Wendy Duncan)
  • Forgiveness (Doug Duncan)
  • Reconnecting with God (Robert Pardon; Eric Sweitzer)
  • Parenting Issues for the Spiritually Abused (Ray Connolly)
  • Dealing with Loss (William Goldberg; Eric Sweitzer)
  • Making Your Church a Safe Haven (Neil Damgaard; Pat Knapp)
  • How to Trust Again (Ron Burks; Lorna Goldberg)
  • Reconnecting with Loved Ones (Doug Duncan; William Goldberg)
  • Finding and Making the Most of a Healthy Church (David Clark; Robert Pardon)
  • Women’s Issues (Judy Pardon)
  • Open Discussion (Co-Facilitators: Michael Langone; Lois Svoboda)

When: October 26-27, 2018
Where: DoubleTree, Bradley International Airport Hotel, Hartford, CT
Fee: $100/person ($150 after September 22, 2018). Student rate: $50 ($75 after September 22, 2018).
Register: Online

Speakers include
  • Ron Burks, PhD, holds an MDiv and an MA in counseling from Asbury Theological Seminary and a PhD in Counselor Education from Ohio University.
  • David Clark, a thought reform consultant from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has been active in this field for more than 30 years.
  • Doug and Wendy Duncan: former members of a pseudo-Christian, Bible-based cult. Several years after leaving, they became active in cult awareness activities.
  • Rev. Kenneth Garrett, DMin, is senior pastor of Grace Church, located in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. For 12-years Ken and his wife Sharon belonged to a high-demand, abusive church whose members lived communally, practicing an overbearing, extreme form of the Christian faith.
  • William and Lorna Goldberg, both licensed clinical social workers and psychoanalysts with over forty years experience working with former cult members.
  • Joseph F. Kelly, a thought reform consultant since 1988.
  • Michael Kropveld is Founder and Executive Director of Info-Cult / Info-Secte, based in Montreal, Canada.
  • Michael D. Langone, PhD. Since 1981 he has been Executive Director of International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), a tax-exempt research and educational organization concerned about psychological manipulation and cultic groups.
  • Bob and Judy Pardon operate MeadowHaven, a long-term rehabilitation facility that can accommodate individuals or families who require long-term (up to a year) care to recover from trauma and cultic abuse.
  • Patrick Ryan, a cult intervention specialist (exit counseling, mediation, religious conflict resolution, thought reform consulting) since 1984
  • … and many others
View the complete list of speakers with full profiles.

Aug 11, 2018

Cult leader who promoted child marriage is sentenced


AUGUST 11, 2018

The Utah man pleaded guilty to sodomy and child bigamy charges.

MANTI, Utah - A self-styled prophet who helped lead a Utah doomsday cult that believed in polygamy and promoted child marriage remained defiant Wednesday as he was sent to prison for at least 25 years.

John Coltharp, 35, told a judge he was following "heavenly laws" and was an Old Testament figure returned to Earth to promote child marriage, the Deseret News reported.

He maintained that it doesn't matter how long he goes to prison because society won't last much longer.
Judge Marvin Bagley told Coltharp his beliefs are wrong and don't come from the Bible. He said he hopes Coltharp is never released from prison.

Coltharp pleaded guilty to sodomy and child bigamy charges in June. He could spend life in prison as he waits for a parole board to determine a possible release date.
Coltharp and Samuel W. Shaffer, 34, formed a group called the Knights of the Crystal Blade based on arcane Mormon ideas abandoned by the mainstream church, authorities said. Both men held the title of prophet at different points and each secretly married two young girls, according to prosecutors. The girls were related to the men.

Deputies discovered the four girls in barrels and a trailer on a compound of shipping containers in the Utah desert in December 2017. A mother of two of the girls had reported them missing along with two of her sons. The men took the children to the compound in preparation for an apocalypse.

Aug 10, 2018

What do you do when your neighbor is a Neo-Nazi?

Sara Sidner
August 10, 2018

Ulysses, Pennsylvania (CNN)Daniel Burnside painted a huge swastika on his home. His woodshop dons Nazi carvings and a Nazi flag. A scarecrow made to resemble Adolf Hitler keeps watch in his yard.
It all sits atop a hill in this small Rust Belt town, a beacon of hate greeting anyone who drives through.

Burnside says he's fighting a culture war.

"The last 20 years, my country has just turned into a cesspool. Garbage," he told CNN. "The UN's taken over. Our cities aren't American anymore."
By that, he means, they're not white.

"We're staring down the barrel of a gun here in white America," the 42-year-old father said. "There's still 193 million white Americans. Yes. The vast majority of them are in their 60s and 70s, will be in the ground in the next 20 years, and therefore we have the possibility of becoming a minority in our own country."

Already, Burnside has been marginalized by residents of this Pennsylvania town. Though he extols Donald Trump -- whom 79.5% of voters here in Potter County chose for President in 2016 -- he's drawn the ire of his neighbors in Ulysses, who say his intense racism doesn't reflect their values and has generated unwanted attention, angst and even fear.

After a story in The Washington Post exposed Burnside's bluster, death threats arrived online, taking aim at the town at large. But for all his fuming, Burnside hasn't broken any laws, a top elected leader in the area said, leaving little officials can do to remove the target of their collective backlash.

"People were posting things like, 'We're going to bomb the place,'" Ulysses Borough Council President Roy Hunt said. "He's just one guy in this town. We don't even want him here. But we cannot legally do anything about that."

"He's disrupting the peace," lifelong resident Carm Barker said. "But since we have no ordinance against that yet, ... he gets away with it. And we live in fear."

'This guy feeds off that stuff'

Burnside says he "doesn't care at all" about scaring his neighbors or hurting his town's reputation. His desire for attention -- he said he sometimes dresses his eight children in Nazi regalia so his neighbors can see them -- seems to outstrip almost everything except his fear of the nation's changing demographics.
"Rural America spoke up when they elected Trump," he said. "Rural America."

Burnside seems to disregard the fact that of the 713 residents the US Census recently estimated live in the Ulysses area, 705 of them -- or 98.9% -- are white. Or that at last count, 250 million Americans -- far more than even he boasts -- described themselves as white.

Meantime, it's not Jews whom Burnside hates but "capitalist Jews," he said, without acknowledging the President's capitalist agenda, including imposing stiff tariffs on longtime US trade partners.

Extreme views didn't always dominate Burnside's character, said Ivan Lehman, a resident of Ulysses. He was a smart kid in school. He seemed to get along with folks.

The Nazi stuff began more than three years ago. And while no one is quite sure why -- and everyone insists blame lies squarely on Burnside -- Trump's rhetoric hasn't helped, Lehman said.

"I would say that the President that we got right now hasn't helped the situation a whole lot," he said. "This guy feeds off that stuff."

'Who does he think he is?'

Burnside, in yet another contradiction, also denies the Holocaust but claims his grandfather fought in World War II and witnessed concentration camps.

The false assertion hits close to home for Barker, Burnside's neighbor, who said his racist views dishonor the legacy of her own grandfather and all other WWII veterans who fought the Nazis, including some who are buried in the town cemetery.

For now, as ever, Burnside rants by day and fires bullets by night to draw notice to his cause. And though at least one supporter said he'd do anything for his neo-Nazi neighbor, most people around here try to shut him out.
"I usually put my book down at 9, and I'm in la-la land when the gunshots go off," Dot Smogyi said. "It's, it's exhausting. I'm a little aged."

"If I disagree with you, I don't go up and hit you in the face," Hunt, the council president, added. "I just go about my business and ignore you, and that's what we have done here. ... Just because we tolerate him doesn't mean he is welcome here."

For others, though, it can be too much to bear.

"We're good people, and he's stepping on us," Barker said. "He's stepping on all of us. You know, we are all one tribe. And who does he think he is?"

CNN's Brian Vitagliano contributed to this report.

Narconon (scientology) - former staff member

"Ex-narconon staff member talks about her journey into scientology via narconon, Discusses the dangerous "rehab" methods, financial coercion, attitude towards children and family, and ultimately her planned escape from the cult."

Cardinal O'Malley opens inquiry into allegations posted online by former seminarians
August 10, 2018

O'Malley called alleged activities 'contrary to the moral standards' of priesthood

Cardinal Sean O'Malley is opening an inquiry into allegations involving St. John's Seminary, which were posted online over the past week by two former seminarians.
The editorial that spawned the inquiry was posted Aug. 3 on a Catholic website,, which describes itself as advocating for the restoration of Catholic tradition.

In the editorial, author John Monaco writes in the first-person about what he says he experienced while attending a seminary. Allegations include an explicit conversation with an older seminarian about masturbation and a drinking party with other seminarians. St. John's is not explicitly identified in the editorial.

Another former seminarian, Andrew Solkshintz, posted on the Archdiocese of Boston's Facebook page Tuesday, with a link to Monaco's editorial. His message identifies St. John's as the seminary involved.

"I can confirm that this is true and in fact there are so many similar stories about this place," he wrote. "As a former Boston seminarian for 3 years I am calling upon the church to seriously examine the seminary located on Lake street. The church has not learned her lesson and maybe if the stories are once again made public then things will finally change."
In response to the postings, O'Malley announced Friday that he asked Msgr. James P. Moroney, rector of St. John’s, to immediately go on sabbatical leave for the fall semester. Rev. Stephen E. Salocks was appointed to serve as the interim rector.

O'Malley also announced that he had appointed a team to oversee an inquiry into the allegations. 

"I have directed this group to proceed with due seriousness of their assignment and as soon as possible to submit to me the findings of the inquiry and a set of recommendations to assure appropriate standards of professional behavior in compliance with Church teaching at all levels of seminary life," O'Malley wrote in a statement. "The faculty, staff and students at the seminary will be advised of my expectation that they will fully cooperate with the inquiry."

Surviving Scientology's suppression

Squeeze My Cans is a one-person show about Cathy Schenkelberg’s experience with Scientology. The religion declared her a suppressive person in 2011 after leaving Scientology. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)
Actor shares her story about life after religion

Randall King 
Winnipeg Free Press
July 23, 2018

A few years ago, actor Cathy Schenkelberg was considered enough of a celebrity that she warranted an audition to be Tom Cruise’s new girlfriend in the wake of his breakup with Nicole Kidman./ Winnipeg Free Press)

That’s the theory anyway, recounted at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival in Schenkelberg’s Scientology survival show Squeeze My Cans, performed at the Platform Centre (Venue 24).

At some point, she was ushered into a room in Los Angeles’s Scientology "Celebrity Center" and invited to talk about Scientology’s most prized celebrity without knowing why.

Squeeze My Cans
Written and performed by Cathy Schenkelberg
Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival
Platform Centre (Venue 24), to July 29
Suffice to say, she blew that audition.

It probably wouldn’t have lasted anyway. As an actor, she was literally invisible, earning most of her revenue as a voiceover artist for commercials, to which she would lend her warm, expressive voice.

And anyway, after spending close to a million dollars at the church to achieve one of the highest ranks possible — an OT VII — she effectively chucked it all when she realized her continued participation in the church would risk not only her sanity but her relationship with her only daughter.

That story is recalled in the one-woman show Squeeze My Cans, a bawdy-sounding reference to the metal cylinders attached to an e-meter, employed to measure electrodermal variations in a Scientologist’s body during "audit" sessions.

It’s a hair-raising story, but it’s told in an entertaining and engaging manner that transcends the subject of the religion started by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard.

"The show isn’t just about a cult and Scientology," Schenkelberg said. "It’s about: what did you survive? Did you have a job you hated? Were you in an abusive relationship?"

“I was brainwashed. I think back and I get choked up because, emotionally, it’s hard for me. I have to relive it, but every time I tell the story, it’s the first time you’ve heard it."

Schenkelberg makes her journey so relatable, it’s not unusual for her to receive consoling hugs from audience members after the play’s emotionally charged conclusion.

"We all have our crosses to bear," she said. "Why don’t we leave something when we know it’s not good for us? Because we think: if I leave, I’ll lose my family or I’ll lose my insurance. I’ll lose my child.

"So I do get a lot of hugs and I’ll tell you, the hugs I get from 20-somethings and teenagers are the best hugs ever," she said. "Because I’ve had people tell me, ‘Oh, I walked down Hollywood Boulevard and they wanted to give me a stress test,’ or ‘I picked up this flyer but I didn’t know it was Scientology, so I went in.’

"So this is what makes me incredibly happy, to reach that demographic."

That helps, given that two decades with the church bring up bad memories for Schenkelberg, not only of her treatment by the church but of her beloved family.

"I was brainwashed," she said. "I think back and I get choked up because, emotionally, it’s hard for me. I have to relive it, but every time I tell the story, it’s the first time you’ve heard it. That means I get to tell you how much I loved my dad, and how close we were, and how my brother’s death affected me.

"So my journey, getting through two decades and a million dollars, has been a long one," she said.

"I still relive it, but I’m functioning and I’m happy. I make very little money, but I’m happier than I was when I made a lot."

"My journey, getting through two decades and a million dollars, has been a long one."

She has experienced some mysterious, petty acts of sabotage against her once she left Scientology. In one instance, a person walked up and down the aisles during one of her spoken-word performances.

In another, she found the air had been let out of her and her daughter’s car tires at their home.

Still, she said she has not endured the abuse suffered by other "apostates."

"I was declared a suppressive person in 2011," she said, referring to the religion’s designation of a known subversive.

"I took a picture of the letter and posted it on Facebook," she said. "It is kind of a badge of honour because you’ve survived something. But everybody has a story to tell. I think of the story of a girlfriend who just got divorced after 17 years in an abusive relationship.

"That was her cult." Twitter: @FreepKing