Mar 3, 2024

Inside an Internet Cult: Missing Persons, Nude Meditation, Desperate Families

Six people suddenly vanished from a home in Missouri in August. Police believe alleged cult leader Rashad Jamal links them

Liam Quinn
March 3, 2024


Cartisha Morgan first noticed something was different about her daughter Ma’Kayla, a young single mother of a toddler, when Ma’Kayla gave her a candle as a birthday present. They year before, Ma'Kayla had given Morgan a Michael Kors bag.

“I don’t do candles or crystals,” Morgan says.

Up until that point, Ma’Kayla Wickerson, 24, wasn’t really into that stuff either. But she was becoming overwhelmed by motherhood. Still living with her mother and then 2-year-old daughter, Malaiyah, in the St. Louis area, Ma’Kayla started dressing in more off-beat clothing and began seeing a psychic. At the time, though, Morgan had no indication she was involved in anything potentially dangerous.

Ma’Kayla further surprised her mother when in Nov. 2022, she announced that she and Malaiyah were moving into a rented home in Berkeley, Mo., not far from St. Louis Lambert International Airport. 

Morgan was happy for her daughter at first, but in March, she was informed by Ma’Kayla's employer that she had stopped showing up to her well-paying job. When Morgan went over to the Berkeley house to ask her daughter what was going on, she was instead met by a man she’d never seen before holding a gun. He wouldn’t let her in and Ma’Kayla wouldn’t come out to speak to her mother face-to-face.

“I haven’t seen her or Malaiyah since then,” Morgan says. 

Five months after that encounter, Ma’Kayla, now 26, Malaiyah, 3, and the four other residents of that home vanished without a trace. Police who searched the home soon discovered the identities of the other missing individuals: Naaman Williams, 29; Mikayla Thompson, 24; Gerrielle German, 27; and her 3-year-old son Ashton Mitchell.

Investigators believe the group to be followers of Rashad Jamal, who is currently serving a prison sentence in Georgia following a 2023 child molestation conviction. He has not been charged in connection with any of the disappearances.

The six missing persons were last seen on surveillance video at a store in Florissant, Mo., on Aug. 6, 2023. Maj. Steve Runge, the lead investigator for the Berkeley Police Department, asserts that the six are a part of a cult, and that they don’t want to be found. Before that, neighbors reported seeing the group meditating in the backyard, sometimes in the nude, a ritual allegedly in line with Jamal's beliefs.

Runge has been investigating the six and thus Jamal over the past seven months. Jamal, whose legal name is Rashad Jamal White, is a Chicago native. He moved to Atlanta to pursue a music career under the name Jeda D, but his music ambitions never took off. In 2020, however, Jamal started to develop a following on his Facebook live streams, preaching conspiracy theories and other unconventional ideas, including one on how the government uses devices meant to look like pigeons to spy on people. 

“He calls himself a god,” Runge says.

The ideas, also featured on various social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, include musings on natural phenomena, Black history and mythology, says his former girlfriend Darshell Smith, who is also the mother of his young son.

“I didn’t want to hear anything he had to say on that,” Smith tells PEOPLE. “It sounded like gibberish.”

Jamal’s influence persists, despite his various legal troubles. Having previously pleaded guilty to a domestic battery charge in Wisconsin in 2017, Jamal was convicted in 2023 for sexually abusing a 10-year-old girl.

Smith, who still faces threats online from Jamal’s followers, has since started a GoFundMe for her children and is writing a book on her experiences, called Incomplete Shellz: The Breaking of a Chrysalis.

Jamal has been in custody since his arrest in 2022, yet he has over 100,000 followers across his various social media platforms. His school of thought is known as the University of Cosmic Intelligence, which according to its website is “geared toward enlightening and illuminating minds.”

Thousands have added their signatures to different online petitions calling for his release. Unable to conduct interviews because of his terms of confinement, Jamal, speaking through a spokesperson, “vehemently denies” being a cult leader.

“Rashad Jamal is a devoted father and husband, who has tirelessly advocated for peace and social justice,” his publicist Tay Yoncé tells PEOPLE in a statement. “His teachings have always been rooted in love, unity and enlightenment, and he is deeply troubled by the distressing events surrounding these allegations.”

Reuben Mitchell, who lives in Tennessee, has been through Morgan’s ordeal before. His daughter was three years old when her mother left with her to live off the grid. Looking for answers, he says he received strange messages on Facebook referring to his daughter as a “fake child” that led him to Jamal and his teaching, which he believes his daughter’s mother fell into.

Mitchell filed for emergency custody, which was granted, and eventually his daughter was located at a school in Washington, D.C. When he drove down to reunite with her, she was shocked to see him, having been told that her father was dead.

“She’s resilient,” Mitchell says. “I’m making sure she’s experiencing normalcy and love.”

Morgan, like Mitchell was at one point, is still stuck searching for answers and is praying for a similar outcome.

“My heart hurts so bad,” Morgan says. “I need to learn how to live while this is going on.”

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

Russia jails Jehovah's Witness for 8 years after 'mole' secretly films worship meeting
March 1, 2024

(Reuters) – A court in southwestern Russia has sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to eight years in prison after finding him guilty of organising “extremist activities”, according to a spokesman for the group.

Russia’s Supreme Court designated the Christian denomination as “extremist” in 2017, liquidating and banning its nearly 400 chapters across the country.

Russia counted roughly 175,000 active believers at the time of the ban, according to the group’s Russian website. Since then, raids, interrogations and jailings of adherents have occurred with some regularity.

The case against Aleksandr Chagan, 52, was built around a “mole” who secretly filmed worship meetings held by videoconference, said the spokesman, Jarrod Lopes.

Sentenced by a court in Tolyatti on Thursday, Chagan is the sixth Witness to receive eight years, the longest term imposed since the ban, Lopes said.

Religious life in Russia is dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church, which is championed by and loyal to President Vladimir Putin. Some Orthodox scholars view Jehovah’s Witnesses, known for door-to-door preaching and refusing military service, as a “totalitarian sect”.

At least 794 Witnesses have been criminally charged in Russia for their faith, and 127 are currently serving prison sentences, Lopes said.

Last month, four Witnesses in the same Russian region were handed seven-year jail terms in Samara, the same region as Chagan, while a female believer was sentenced in Tolyatti to two years’ forced labour.

The European Court of Human Rights, the court of the Council of Europe, ruled in June 2022 that the ban was illegal, three months after the Council expelled Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Mar 2, 2024


Nestled in a serene primordial forest glen, the Hermit’s Cave is one of Philadelphia’s most intriguing historical landmarks, yet most visitors come upon it by surprise or pass by it unknowingly.

Who was the Hermit?

"Johannes Kelpius, a brilliant Transylvanian scholar, led his followers to the Wissahickon wilderness in 1694 to await the end of the world. In the centuries that followed, lore and legend have surrounded this mysterious Hermit of the Wissahickon.  His historic and symbolic significance has inspired many romantic gothic stories popularized by Philadelphia authors like Edgar Allen Poe and George Lippard, but what do we really know of Kelpius and the first doomsday cult in America?

Young Kelpius was part of a radical German Pietist sect led by Johann Zimmerman called the Chapter of Perfection. Zimmerman studied the Great Comet of 1680 and believed the wonders of the sky were a sign of the end times which he determined would occur in 1694. When Zimmerman died unexpectedly, just as the sect was preparing to set sail for the New World, he bequeathed all his writings, astrolabes, telescopes, and almanacs to twenty-six-year-old Kelpius who became the de facto leader of the group.

These 40 celibate monks (all of whom were men), called themselves “The Society of the Woman of the Wilderness.” Their inspiration was based on an elaborate interpretation of the biblical passage from the Book of Revelations 12:16 in which a woman waited at the edge of the wilderness in prayer and meditation to prepare for the End of Days. They interpreted this verse to mean they should find a location at the edge of the wilderness to await the apocalypse."

Alleged cult leader 'Natureboy' learns his sentence after being found guilty of rape

11 Alive
Author: Meleah Lyden, Tracey Amick-Peer, Donesha Aldridge (11Alive)
March 1, 2024

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A judge sentenced alleged cult leader Eligio Bishop to life without parole plus 10 years after a jury found him guilty of rape and other charges Friday. 

The 40-year-old, known as "Natureboy," is the alleged leader of the "Carbon Nation" group. He was arrested in April 2022. A grand jury later indicted him on five charges, including rape in July 2022.

Below is a breakdown of the verdict and his sentencing: 

  • Count 1 - Rape - Guilty (Sentenced to life without possibility of parole)
  • Count 2- False imprisonment - Guilty (Sentenced to 10 years, to run consecutively)
  • Count 3 - Prohibition on nude or sexually explicit electronic transmissions (12 months to serve, to run concurrent with false imprisonment sentence)
  • Count 4 - Prohibition on nude or sexually explicit electronic transmissions (Sentenced to 5 years, to run concurrent with false imprisonment sentence)
  • Count 5 - Prohibition on nude or sexually explicit electronic transmissions (Sentenced to 5 years, to run concurrent with false imprisonment sentence)

For context about this case, a former member of the alleged cult who identified herself as his girlfriend said he posted revenge porn "because she left him." Police reports detailed that the woman told authorities that "she had joined a sex cult in which her boyfriend is the leader" and that "she did live together with Mr. Bishop, and he has posted sexually explicit videos of her and him without her consent on X, formerly known as Twitter. Later, Bishop's wife and former cult member told 11Alive he had sexually and emotionally abused members.

Before the judge handed down the sentence Friday, some of the witnesses gave statements to the court, sharing some of the abuse they experienced. One of them even described Bishop as “a monster to us all."

"Now you are a prisioner, like you prisoned us," she said. 

Bishop, who the judge told to direct his comments to her, made a statement, claiming he wasn't upset. He repeated several times, "I forgive you" and "I still love you" in court.

The judge said Bishop didn't show remorse during the trial, which led to his life without parole sentence. 

“You’re a master manipulator and probably the classic definition of a narcissist," she said. 

One of the witnesses said past years are time that she will never get back, but was glad that justice was being served.

Kingston polygamist sect trafficked children, violated federal labor laws, Utah lawsuit alleges

The 10 plaintiffs are all former members of the Kingston polygamist sect.

Jordan Miller
The Salt Lake Tribune
March 2, 2024

Ten women have filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the Kingston polygamous sect, alleging the Kingstons trafficked women and children “for decades” while acting under the pretense of a religious community.

The 136-page federal complaint filed in Utah on Wednesday names nearly 50 defendants — including at least 14 members of the Kingston family, the Davis County Cooperative Society, and Vanguard Academy, a public charter school run by the sect. The filing also lists 450 unidentified businesses as defendants that the complaint states the sect operates.

One defendant — South Salt Lake-based Standard Restaurant Supply — was cited by the federal government last year for violating child labor laws.

An attempt to reach legal counsel for the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the Kingston Group, was not immediately returned.

The Kingston sect was the target of a separate lawsuit filed in 3rd District Court in 2022, which outlined similar allegations of sexual abuse and trafficking, according to The Guardian. The plaintiffs in that case, many of whom are identified as plaintiffs in the federal complaint, asked to voluntarily dismiss the case last year with the intent to “include additional facts, parties and federal claims” in a separate federal complaint, court records show.

The federal complaint filed this week describes the plaintiffs as 10 young women who, “from their earliest memories until their eventual escapes, were victims of economic and sexual crimes perpetrated by ‘the Order,’ a criminal enterprise and polygamous religious sect.”

Some plaintiffs were forced to marry close relatives who beat and raped them, the complaint alleges. Others fled before “the Order” could “lock them” into similar marriages, it states.

“Almost all were denied an ordinary education, physically abused (or threatened with abuse), taught to fear outsiders, and forced to work for years of their childhoods,” the complaint states, “often in grueling jobs, with little or no pay.”

While the plaintiffs are identified in the complaint, The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent. A request for comment from defense attorney Roger Hoole, who is representing the plaintiffs, wasn’t immediately returned.

Of the ten women, at least four appear to be closely related to the sect’s leader, Paul Elden Kingston. The filing details allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the sect against the plaintiffs, including incest.

The suit lists 12 causes of action against the defendants, including two allegations of labor trafficking; two allegations of sex trafficking; violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA); and two violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

The list continues with allegations of sexual battery and abuse of children; sexual battery and rape of adults; negligent sexual battery and abuse of a child; conversion — defined as when someone intentionally deprives another of their money; and infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint states that the plaintiffs don’t intend to “disparage the lawful religious aspects or beliefs of the Order,” noting that their allegations, including fraud, child abuse, kidnapping, child endangerment and wage theft, are instead directed at the sect’s “unlawful religious and business practices.”

“The Order engages in a systemic and systematic pattern of unlawful activity designed to enrich certain Order members at the expense of others and to grow the Order’s ranks by pushing girls and young women to have as many children as possible,” the complaint states, adding that some of the plaintiffs began working for Kingston-owned businesses when they were as young as 4 years old.

These children were also forced to commit crimes, the complaint alleges, including falsifying tax returns or destroying evidence.

“It also involves children in various business activities designed to ‘Bleed the Beast’ — that is, in the words of the Order, to defraud federal, state, and municipal government entities,” the suit alleges.

The complaint contends the defendants’ conduct was either “willful and malicious,” “intentional,” or conduct that “manifests a knowing and reckless indifference toward” and “disregard of” each plaintiff’s rights.

The lawsuit seeks a number of damages to be proven at trial, including unpaid minimum wages and overtime wages, and general and punitive damages.

U.S District Magistrate Judge Jared C. Bennett issued an order to propose a schedule for the complaint on Thursday, according to the docket.

As of Friday afternoon, no formal response had been filed by the lawsuit’s defendants, court records show.

Mar 1, 2024

Sex cult leader Eligio Bishop sentenced to life

FOX 5 News
March 1, 2024

Closing arguments end, fate of alleged cult leader 'Natureboy' Eligio Bishop now in jury's hands

The jury will start deliberations Friday.
Author: Meleah Lyden, Tracey Amick-Peer

February 29, 2024

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A case involving alleged cult leader Eligio Bishop is now in the hands of the jury after the judge gave them instructions Thursday evening. The jury is expected to begin deliberations Friday morning.

The 40-year-old, known as "Natureboy," is the alleged leader of the "Carbon Nation" group. He was arrested in April 2022; a grand jury later indicted him on charges of rape, false imprisonment and three counts of prohibition on nude or sexually explicit electronic transmissions in July of 2022.

A former member of the cult who identified herself as his girlfriend said he posted revenge porn "because she left him." Police reports detailed that the woman told authorities that "she had joined a sex cult in which her boyfriend is the leader" and that "she did live together with Mr. Bishop, and he has posted sexually explicit videos of her and him without her consent on X, formerly known as Twitter. Later, Bishop's wife and former cult member told 11Alive he had sexually and emotionally abused members.

Bishop was not in the courtroom Thursday and instead decided to watch his trial from the DeKalb County Jail as he said he was afraid to be there after someone tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

The first witnesses to the defense took the stand on Thursday as well. One of them was a man who said at 17, he joined "Carbon Nation," which prosecutors argue is a cult. The witness was adamantly against this definition.

"It's a tribe. I joined a tribe of my own free will," he said.

He also claimed the rules weren't rules. Instead, they were ways they all agreed to live. One example he gave was about going to the bathroom outside. He also stated he believed Bishop to be a god -- a "messiah" -- as he called it.

Some witnesses also claimed that any violence in the group was acting in order to get more attention online.

"It was all for entertainment purpose. We decided that humanity is in a very special time right now, and we come with a very important message," a witness said.

The prosecution called out one witness who claimed violence in a video was members imitating the Will Smith and Chris Rock slapping incident from the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony. The prosecution claimed the video was from a time period before the awards show. The same witness stated she posted porn online of the victim -- not Bishop.

The defense witnesses claimed the trial against Bishop was corrupt and that people who hated their group were trying to stop them from getting their message out.

That being said, victims who testified earlier in the trial said that Bishop cut off their contact with the outside world and controlled his members.

"He considers himself to be god. He went from 'I’m your higher self' to master teacher to god. He believes he is the end all be all -- the alpha and omega," a victim stated.

In an interview with detectives from 2022 that was played in the courtroom, Bishop told detectives that he was acting and claimed any sex with him was consensual.

“Raping who? I wouldn't rape anyone. I have all of these women. Why would I rape someone? I have five women. Why would I rape a girl? I’m a lady’s man," he argued in his interview with police.

Another victim stated she joined the group in 2017 and said she was punished for breaking the rules.

"He wanted us to approach him a certain way by calling him 'my king.' There was a time I was called in a room and didn’t address him that way, and I was made to do squats -- he made his wife leave the room, and that led to him raping me," she said.

A separate victim also claimed that he posted revenge porn of her.

"After I left, Nature Boy started leaking videos of me that I didn’t want out there,” she said.

The jury is expected to be in court by 9 a.m., and they will start deliberations once everyone has arrived.




Religion Dispatches

It is more than paradoxical that an ostensibly Christian university leader would say, “We are here to put a knife to the throat of religion.” But that’s what Apostle Greg Hood, the founder of Kingdom University in Franklin, Tennessee believes so heartily he emblazoned it on a KU t-shirt.

This is not a hoax. In fact, the bloody tee epitomizes the paradoxes of the New Apostolic Reformation—a movement that says it means to bust out of the “demonic prison” of  religion, knives out. Religion is, of course, one of the seven mountains of culture that NAR seeks to conquer to achieve Christian dominion (the other six being government, family, education, business, media, and arts & entertainment). The rhetoric they employ when discussing how to do it can be violent, if not always t-shirt worthy. But understanding the paradox of religion killing religion helps us understand this campaign for a paradigmatic change in the direction of American and world Christianity.

There’s a certain tension in the NAR, between the metaphorical and the physical; the hyperbolic and the actual. But most often, these are not mutually exclusive. 

They are unambiguous about seeking to remove “demonic obstacles” to the re-emergence of what, in their view, is the church as intended by Jesus. They call this first century-style church “the Ekklesia”—which is Greek for church. The demonic infrastructure impeding God’s intentions for the Ekklesia includes religious institutions; church offices and leaders; denominations; and, not only denominational doctrines, but even traditional prayers. (And, of course, everyone who doesn’t share their religious and political views.)

“Religion when pure is very powerful,” writes Apostle Chuck Pierce in his introduction to the late C. Peter Wagner’s 2005 book, Freedom from the Religious Spirit: Understanding How Deceptive Religious Forces Try to Destroy God’s Plan and Purpose for His Church. “However,” he adds, “religion is also defined as an organized system of doctrine with an approved pattern of behavior.”

Pierce, who’s on the faculty of Kingdom University (the new apostolic school that features the bloody t-shirt) continues, “Demons of doctrine rob individuals of their freedom to worship a holy God in purity.” And they do this, he says, “by instituting rules and regulations for their worship.” 

Pierce, like other apostolic leaders, says he communicates directly with God and issues prophecies on God’s behalf. “I have always had to maneuver past spirits of religion that would resist this gift of God,” he complains. “Demons hate revelation from God. They resist those gifts… that bring revelatory freedom… They attempt to stone the revelation of apostles and prophets because this revealed word establishes God’s foundation in the Church for this age.”

These prominent apostles aren’t merely talking about ossified institutions, feckless leaders, stale ideas, empty rituals, or guardians of the status quo in various Christian denominations. And while the theological details can be fluid to say the least, they all involve some version of the Ekklesia taking political power or leading an End Times army (or both) along with a heavenly host of angels. 

There is no Plan B

Nevertheless, it was probably all but inevitable that these revolutionaries would themselves seek to institutionalize. In fact, KU isn’t the first to do so. Other movement-affiliated schools to follow this path include Wagner University (named for founder C. Peter Wagner) and Apostle Bill Johnson’s Bethel School for Supernatural Ministry, both in California; Charis Bible College in Colorado (see RD coverage here and here); and Apostle Randy Clark’s ministry in Pennsylvania, which has long sponsored several institutions of higher learning, including the Global Awakening Theological Seminary. 

But the trend is epitomized by KU whose program claims to feature weekend classes held mostly via streaming video, on about 20 “campuses” at apostolic centers in 10 states and four countries. US campuses include Tony Kemp Ministries in Quincy, Illinois; Freedom & Fire Church in Winslow, Indiana, and King’s Gate Worship Center in Tupelo, Mississippi.

The movement that so often casts traditional forms of seminary and higher education as demonic is, paradoxically, creating its own system of higher education, religious training, and credentialing. 

That may be why Apostle Dutch Sheets in a recently removed video seeks to assure prospective students that KU is no traditional seminary: 

“It’s not so much about theology and training in a Bible school setting, it’s more of the instruction—hands on, live, what is God saying to the Church today? And how do we prepare ourselves for what he is about to do?”

For two decades Sheets and Pierce have led the development of the politics of the Ekklesia in each state. Their success may be measured in part by the supernaturally-charged politics of the NAR that’s powered many recent electoral campaigns, most prominently those of Donald Trump, but also the 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidacies of state Sen. Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania and State Sen. Brian Dahle in California. 

“When we are born again,” says Sheets, in a 2021 “Daily Prayer with Dutch” video, “we are no longer simply humans… we are a new race of supernatural beings called Christians.” NAR is about the organization of this supernatural race into the Ekklesia, whose purpose he says is “managing and governing the earth.” 

In fairness, Sheets also tells viewers: “obviously we are not to expand the Christian faith or God’s rule by physical force or domination, as some religions do. We are to invade, quote-unquote, our culture, workplace, city, nation, etcetera, with the spiritual might of God’s kingdom.”

But Sheets’ vision is not always so restrained. He often suggests that the final battle to bring in the Kingdom is either already underway or about to break out—and that the Ekklesia will be in it to win it. For example, in a June 2022 “Daily Prayer” video titled “Taking territory for Christ,” Sheets explains that what Jesus wants, “[he] will do through us. We are Plan A. And there is no Plan B.” He ticks off words from scripture that, he says, apply to Plan A: fight, warfare, endurance, victory, overcomer, conqueror, power, and authority

Trampled under the feet of the Ekklesia

At a June 2023 conference led by Apostle Tim Sheets (brother of Dutch), which took place at the Oasis Church in Ohio, Hood announced that he’d had a dream in which God said to “Deploy the Ekklesia.” 

In a conference recording Hood makes the ahistorical claim that pastors led the American Revolution against “the Crown that was oppressing the nation.” He then claims: 

“I believe we are in that day again. I believe we are in a day in which God is raising up… apostolic leaders that are leading an apostolic company into a new kind of revolution for this nation.”

He goes on to float a conspiracy theory about how the criminal indictments against Donald Trump are “not about things that he’s done wrong,” but the result of an unnamed “they” who are trying to keep him out of the presidential race. Hood then claims (this was prior to Trump’s January 6 indictment), that “they” want to convict him of “treason” and “execute him to make a point to anybody else that comes up and stands in their way.” It should be noted that, while it may be the most accurate word to describe his actions, Trump was not charged with treason, and death is not a punishment for the crimes for which he stands accused.

Some NAR apostles and prophets, including Hood and the brothers Sheets, say that God speaks to them through dreams. In Hood’s dream, he says, he was with several apostles in a “command center” at the Oasis Church. The date was January 7, 2020, suggesting that what was occurring was a continuation of what got started on the 6th. Hood describes seeing keys like what the president of the United States would need to unlock the nuclear football. “The church” he says, “is getting ready to release a powerful force… that the enemy will not be able to withstand.”

“We’re not dealing here with politics… or bad presidents,” he declares. “We’re dealing with demonic strongholds that are controlling people, that are using people to keep their agenda.”

Switching back to his dream in the “command center,” Hood recounts:  

“[Apostle Jane Hamon, daughter-in-law of Bill Hamon] was releasing armed drones towards Washington DC. Each of these drones had targets they were locked on and I knew that most of the targets were political targets, unrighteous rulers, people that had partnered with the Enemy and his agenda; people within the system that had compromised and that so had sold America out; these were being eliminated, removed from their offices and their voices were rendered helpless.”

He nevertheless claims “we’re not attacking people”—even as he employs military metaphors and scenarios in which people would inevitably be killed in real life, including by nuclear weapons and drone strikes.

“Wicked things… are happening in our nation,” he says, because “wicked people are ruling at the moment.”  

Back in the dream, Dutch Sheets was wearing a general’s uniform with the name “Dutch Patton”—which Hood took to mean General George Patton, who during WWII famously carried an ivory-handled Colt .45 engraved with his initials, GSP.  Hood incorrectly claims it was pearl handled and engraved with “Isaiah 45”—like the one carried by General Dutch in the dream. (Isaiah 45 introduces the story of the Persian King Cyrus, who Apostle Lance Wallnau famously linked to Donald Trump as part of an effort to justify his candidacy to evangelical Christians.)

Hood goes on to say that the Ekklesia is about to go out on the “battlefield” to “reclaim geography that belongs to God… to take back those nations that have been under the tutelage and oppression of demonic forces.” 

At the end of the dream, “number 45” (he never refers to Trump by name) comes to the command center and gives a “medal of freedom” to Sheets—“knowing of what had been done, that what had been accomplished was from the efforts of both.” 

This is interesting in light of the actual role of the Sheets brothers in facilitating the events of January 6th.

Hood offers a slick mix of historical revisionism and biblical and dream interpretation to envision the role of the Ekklesia. He casts apostles as they appeared in his dream as central figures in history; and the members of the church as heroic martyrs in the conflict to come. He urges them not to fear death when they stand on the ramparts where God has assigned them. “Only you will behold and see the reward of the wicked. The reward of the wicked is slaughter. It is being trampled under the feet of the Ekklesia.” 

The Ekklesia, of course, is to ascend and conquer the 7 mountains of culture. One who epitomizes what’s possible is Tom Parker the elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who grabbed headlines with his theocratic concurring opinion in a case where the court ruled that frozen embryos are people. Parker has been involved with NAR for years, and will no doubt serve as a role model for future generations.

I believe that children are our future

Even as top apostles prime the pump for possible real-world violence, and encourage the Ekklesia to envision themselves as an End Times army, they are, paradoxically, also planning for the future governance of society. While it’s not uncommon for churches to sponsor Christian schools, at least one apostolic center, Impact Church International in Concord, North Carolina, not only hosts a KU campus, but also the K4-12 Daniel Christian Academy, which is explicitly devoted to teaching about the seven mountains of dominion.

From the website of the Daniel Christian Academy.

Apostle and Pastor Donna Wise of Impact Church International claims in a 2022 post that too often the church, broadly speaking, is “concerned more with numbers and dollars rather than a powerful ‘Ekklesia’ whose purpose is to bring the will and rule of God into our nation.” The result, she says, is a “culture of darkness filling our religious assemblies, governments and schools.” 

Taking churches to church is de rigueur among some NAR leaders. 

Indeed, Apostle Jim Garlow brought a similar message to City Elders, a NAR political project, in September 2023. What’s actually important, he says, in a video of his speech, isn’t how many people attend Sunday services, but “how many are deployed into action—who are actually threats to the enemy of God.” 

A more explicit example of the bloody t-shirt’s meaning would be difficult to find.

Feb 29, 2024

Airman who set self on fire grew up on religious compound, had anarchist past

Emily Davies, Peter Hermann and Dan Lamothe
Washington Post 

February 26, 2024

Less than two weeks before Aaron Bushnell walked toward the gates of the Israeli Embassy on Sunday, he and a friend talked by phone about their shared identities as anarchists and what kinds of risks and sacrifices were needed to be effective.

Bushnell, 25, mentioned nothing violent or self-sacrificial, the friend said.

Then on Sunday, Bushnell texted that friend, who described the exchange on the condition of anonymity to protect his safety.

“I hope you’ll understand. I love you,” Bushnell wrote in a message reviewed by The Washington Post. “This doesn’t even make sense, but I feel like I’m going to miss you.”

He sent the friend a copy of his will on Sunday. In it, he gave his cat to his neighbor and a fridge full of root beers to the friend.

Twelve minutes later, Bushnell, who was a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, doused himself with a liquid and set himself on fire. He had posted a video online saying he did not want to be “complicit in genocide.” He shouted “Free Palestine” as he burned.

Secret Service officers extinguished the blaze. Bushnell died seven hours later at a hospital.

His suicidal protest instantly won him praise among some antiwar and pro-Palestinian activists, while others said they were devastated that he would take an action so extreme. But how a young man who liked The Lord of the Rings and karaoke became the man ablaze in a camouflage military uniform remains a mystery, even among some of his closest friends.

Bushnell was raised in a religious compound in Orleans, Mass., on Cape Cod, according to Susan Wilkins, 59, who said she was a member of the group from 1970 to 2005. She said that she knew Bushnell and his family on the compound and that he was still a member when she left. Wilkins said she heard through members of Bushnell’s family that he eventually left the group.

Wilkins’s account is consistent with those of multiple others who said Bushnell had told them about his childhood in the religious group or who had heard about his affiliation from his family members.

The group, called the Community of Jesus, has faced allegations of inappropriate behavior, which it has publicly disputed. In a lawsuit against an Ontario school, where many officials were alleged to be members of the U.S.-based religious group, former students called the Community of Jesus a “charismatic sect” and alleged that it “created an environment of control, intimidation and humiliation that fostered and inflicted enduring harms on its students.” The school, now defunct, disputed the allegations. Last year, an appeals court in Canada awarded 10.8 million Canadian dollars to the former students, who attended the Ontario school between 1973 and 1997.

A receptionist who answered the phone at the Community of Jesus declined to put a call from a reporter through to someone in authority. Emails to the group were not answered.

Multiple people who said they were former members of the Community of Jesus described their years after leaving the compound as particularly challenging. They said former members, soon after they depart the group, often long for a sense of belonging.

“A lot of us that got out are very much into social justice, trying to defend those who don’t or can’t defend themselves, because that is what we went through,” said Bonnie Zampino, 54, who said she was a member of the group for three years in the 1980s.

Wilkins also said it is common for members of the Community of Jesus to join the military, describing the transition as moving from “one high-control group to another high-control group.”

The Air Force said in a statement Monday night that Bushnell’s death is under investigation by military officials, a common practice after the death of a service member. He was a cyberdefense operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, and had been in the Air Force since May 2020, the service said.

To support someone going through a mentally tough time: Offer a safe space to talk and listen. Validate and affirm their feelings. Don’t engage in toxic positivity. Don’t be pushy with advice. Ask how you can help.

In recent years, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation have reached historic highs, especially among children and teens. Experts say urgent reforms are needed for America’s underfunded, fragmented and difficult-to-access mental health system.

Lupe Barboza, 32, said she met Bushnell in San Antonio in 2022 at an event for a socialist organization. She said they bonded over their politics and started working together to deliver clothing and food to people experiencing homelessness.

“He was outraged, and he knew that no one who is in charge is listening to the protesters out there every week,” Barboza said. “He knows that he has privilege as a White man and a member of the military.”

Other friends from San Antonio said they had talked with Bushnell about the Palestinians and their shared distaste for the U.S. role in the Israel-Gaza war. But he had not expressed to them any indication of what would take place in Washington on Sunday.

They also said he moved to Ohio earlier this year for a course for service members transitioning out of the military.

One of his friends, Levi Pierpont, 23, met him for lunch in Ohio in January. Over plates of butter chicken, the two talked about their involvement in the military and what they hoped to do after leaving the force. They had met in basic training in May 2020, when they were both still excited about joining the military and how it could help them experience more of the world, Pierpont said.

Pierpont said he grew disillusioned with the military over time — concerned with what he saw as flippant attitudes toward violence within the force — and said he left as a conscientious objector. (The Air Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his account.) By 2024, Bushnell had become more open about his objections to the military, Pierpont said. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis in 2020, Bushnell told Pierpont he had started to research the history of the United States and wanted to take a stand against all state-sanctioned violence.

Bushnell had considered leaving the military early, Pierpont said, but he had decided he was close enough to the end of his required service to stick it out. Bushnell was scheduled to leave the military in May, Pierpont said.

At the January lunch, Bushnell told Pierpont that he planned to find a job that would let him make enough money to support himself while engaging in political activism on the side. Pierpont said he encouraged his friend to go to college and get a degree in something related to his beliefs.

Self-immolations are rare, but a number are connected to antiwar protests, perhaps most famously that of a Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, who set himself on fire in Saigon during the Vietnam War. An American Quaker self-immolated in 1965 at the Pentagon.

During the Iraq War, an antiwar protester self-immolated near the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. In 2010, a street vendor self-immolated in Tunisia, an act of defiance that served as a spark for the Arab Spring, in which numerous heads of state were forced out in uprisings. In 2022, a Colorado man died after setting himself on fire outside the Supreme Court in what his father believed was a climate change protest. In December, a woman self-immolated outside the Israeli Consulate in Atlanta. She had a Palestinian flag with her, authorities said at the time.

U.S. service members are prohibited from acts of political protest, under the Pentagon’s long-standing policy of remaining nonpartisan while civilian leaders oversee policy decisions. While no one else in uniform has stepped out against the war in Gaza as stridently as Bushnell, some service members do have misgivings about it and frustration that critics of the war blame U.S. military support for Israeli military actions.

Since the Israel-Gaza war began in October, at least 29,782 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 240 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

Hamas and allied fighters took more than 250 people hostage during the attack. More than 100 were freed in exchange for more than 200 Palestinian detainees during a November pause in fighting. Israeli authorities believe that more than 100 hostages remain in Gaza.

On Monday afternoon, about 80 demonstrators showed up at the Israeli Embassy to support Bushnell and condemn Israel for the war. Among them was Sam Osta, playing an audio recording of Bushnell setting himself on fire.

“I wish I would have known. I would have stopped him,” said Osta, 55, who first met Bushnell at a protest at the Lincoln Memorial in 2022. “His life means a lot, and it’s horrifying what happened.”

Some of Bushnell’s friends, including Barboza, said they last saw him in January at his going-away party in San Antonio. It was at a karaoke bar. He belted out song after song, many of which were from “Les Misérables,” which he was known to love. And one was Mandy Moore’s “Wind in My Hair” from the TV series based on the movie “Tangled.”

“I got a smile on my face,” Bushnell sang, “and I’m walking on air.”

Peter Jamison, Omari Daniels, Ellie Silverman, Hannah Allam and Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.

Courtroom fireworks as alleged cult leader tries to fire lawyer

Emily Kean and Lauren Silver
Court TV
February 27, 2024

DECATUR, Ga. (Court TV) — The fourth day of Eligio Bishop‘s trial saw fireworks in court as the defendant argued with the judge after announcing he wanted to fire his attorney.
Bishop faces several charges, including rape, after allegedly leading an online cult known as “Carbon Nation.” He has switched attorneys at least three times since 2022, and has been represented by Robert Booker during the trial, which began on Feb. 22.

After Judge Stacey Hydrick denied a defense motion to dismiss counts 3, 4 and 5, which are related to revenge porn, Bishop announced that he wanted to fire his attorney and hire a new one. Hydrick was adamant that he had only two options: proceed with his current attorney or represent himself pro se.

\“You don’t get to choose a different attorney in the middle of a trial,” Judge Hydrick said.”We don’t stop for you to get a new lawyer. You proceed with Mr. Booker or you proceed by yourself. Period.”

Judge Hydrick, who was wearing a mask when court began, warned Bishop that representing himself was a “terrible, terrible, terrible idea.”

While it wasn’t stated in court that the judge was who had COVID-19, Bishop brought it up, saying that he was concerned and that he was not being treated fairly. Judge Hydrick told Bishop that if he was concerned about COVID-19, he could ask to be kept in a holding cell but he would not be able to see or hear the proceedings.

Judge Hydrick told Bishop that if he fired his attorney and asked to be removed from court the trial would move directly to closing arguments because there would be nobody present to present his case. Ultimately, Bishop decided not to fire his attorney.

The proceedings ended early for the day after a brief conference in chambers with the judge and attorneys, after which Hydrick revealed to the jury that she had tested positive for COVID-19.

Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses in Brazil Fight Against Social Ostracism and Seek Dialogue

Discover the stories of Jefferson Alexandrino de Lima and Fabiano de Amo, who challenge the practice of shunning in religious communities. Their experiences shed light on the need for dialogue, respect, and inclusivity.

Saboor Bayat
February 28, 2024

In 2008, Jefferson Alexandrino de Lima's life took a significant turn after joining the Jehovah's Witnesses in Pernambuco, Brazil. Embracing the faith fully, he ascended to roles of responsibility within the community, dedicating years to its service. Yet, by 2020, questioning internal guidelines led to a drastic change, marking the beginning of his social ostracization. This experience of being treated as deceased by friends, family, and community leaders pushed Lima, now a psychology graduate, to explore the depths of 'Religious ostracism and depression' in his academic thesis. Concurrently, Fabiano de Amo, sharing a similar journey of faith and exit, initiated a virtual petition advocating for the rights and respectful treatment of disaffiliated members.

Understanding the Impact of Ostracism

Lima's academic pursuit sheds light on the psychological ramifications of being ostracized by a religious community. His thesis, rooted in personal experience, aims to highlight the profound effects such exclusion can have on mental health, specifically focusing on depression among former Jehovah's Witnesses. This body of work not only contributes to academic discourse but also offers a beacon of understanding and validation for others enduring similar isolation.

The Push for Change and Dialogue

Amo's virtual petition represents a collective call to action from those who have left the faith, seeking to bridge the divide between current and former Jehovah's Witnesses. This movement emphasizes the need for dialogue, freedom, and mutual respect, challenging the practice of shunning those who choose to leave. It is a testament to the resilience and solidarity among ex-members, striving for a future where personal faith decisions do not result in social exclusion.

Institutional Response and the Way Forward

Despite these allegations, the institution overseeing Jehovah's Witnesses in Brazil maintains that leaving the faith is a matter of personal choice and insists that it does not encourage the severing of family or community ties. This stance, however, contrasts with the experiences shared by Lima, Amo, and others, highlighting a disconnect between official statements and lived realities. As this dialogue unfolds, the broader community is urged to reflect on the principles of understanding and compassion, paving the way for a more inclusive approach to faith and belonging.

The stories of Jefferson Alexandrino de Lima and Fabiano de Amo underscore a critical conversation about religious identity, belonging, and the human right to choose one's path. Their courage in facing ostracism head-on, coupled with their efforts to foster change, signals a hopeful shift towards inclusivity and respect within religious communities and beyond.

Feb 25, 2024

Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental Meditation |

" ... In 1970, after having trouble with Indian tax authorities, he moved his headquarters to Italy, returning to India in the late 1970s.That same year, the City of Hope Foundation in Los Angeles gave the Maharishi their “Man of Hope” award."

" ... In January 1988, offices at the Maharishinagar complex in New Delhi were raided by Indian tax authorities and the Maharishi and his organisation were accused of falsifying expenses. Reports on the value of stocks, fixed-deposit notes, cash and jewels confiscated, vary from source to source. The Maharishi, who was “headquartered in Switzerland” at the time, reportedly moved to the Netherlands “after the Indian government accused him of tax fraud”.) Following an earthquake in Armenia, the Maharishi trained Russian TM teachers and set up a Maharishi Ayurveda training centre in the Urals region. Beginning in 1989, the Maharishi’s movement began incorporating the term “Maharishi” into the names of their new and existing entities, concepts and programmes."

" ... The GCWP unsuccessfully attempted to establish a sovereign micronation when it offered US$1.3 billion to the President of Suriname for a 200-year lease of 3,500 acres (14 km2) of land and in 2002, attempted to choose a king for the Talamanca, a “remote Indian reservation” in Costa Rica."

" ... The Maharishi is credited with heading charitable organisations, for-profit businesses, and real estate investments whose total value has been estimated at various times, to range from US$2 to US$5 billion. The real estate alone was valued in 2003 at between $3.6 and $5 billion. Holdings in the United States, estimated at $250 million in 2008, include dozens of hotels, commercial buildings and undeveloped land.[296] The Maharishi “amassed a personal fortune that his spokesman told one reporter may exceed $1 billion”.Accor ding to a 2008 article in The Times, the Maharishi “was reported to have an income of six million pounds”. The Maharishi’s movement is said to be funded through donations, course fees for Transcendental Meditation and various real estate transactions.

In his biography of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Story of the Maharishi (published 1976), William Jefferson suggests that the financial aspect of the TM organisation was one of the greatest controversies it faced. Questions were raised about the Maharishi’s mission, comments from leaders of the movement at that time, and fees and charges the TM organisation levied on followers. Jefferson says that the concerns with money came from journalists more than those who have learned to meditate.[303]"

" ... Just four years after his death, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Rs 60,000 crore fortune is at the centre of an ugly battle between two groups of followers

Maharishi died in February 2008, leaving behind more than 12,000 acres of land across India.  all vested with the Spiritual Regeneration Movement (SRM) Foundation, set up by the guru in 1959. The guru established several societies with the SRM Foundation and Maharishi Global University based in Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh at the top of the list. The other four educational institutions are Maharishi Shiksha Sansthan, Maharishi Ved Vigyan Vidyapeeth, Maharishi Gandharva Ved Vidyapeeth and Mahila Dhyan Vidyapeeth that run 148 schools in 16 states across India."

" ... Maharishi Nagar Colony in Sector 39 of Noida, which the guru’s followers built in the late 1970s, is in a state of neglect.The colony, spread over more than 900 acres, currently houses four buildings, each with more than 800 rooms. Most rooms lie in total neglect. A helipad once used by the guru is now dedicated to grazing cattle. Local real estate agents peg the worth of the land at Rs 15,000 crore. “The global university no longer operates from here.500-odd devotees of the guru stay in the colony, doing odd jobs to run the ashram.A mere four years after his death, the Maharishi’s legacy in India is in tatters."

" ... Ivanka Trump’s Gurus Say Their Techniques Can End War and Make You Fly
Celebs from Katy Perry to Ivanka say Transcendental Meditation helps them focus. The movement’s chief promises more: quasi-magical powers and the ability to steer world events.

The Daily Beast/October 13, 2018
By Justin Rohrlich

When the David Lynch Foundation held a gala for Transcendental Meditation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., last year, it drew a star-studded crowd. Comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Margaret Cho were there. So was the singer Kesha, as well as White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who had recently published a self-help book that included a section extolling TM’s benefits.

It was a pleasant, 77-degree June evening in the District. The guests wore cocktail attire, and the event was set up almost like a Hollywood premiere, with pre-show celebrity interviews on a red carpet. That’s where Kesha asked for a hug from Seinfeld, who brusquely refused her request while cameras were rolling (she later got one from Bob Dylan). Seinfeld laughed with Jay Leno for the cameras; Hugh Jackman, who co-hosted the event with Katie Couric, posed with real estate developer Jeffrey Abramson and his wife Rona. Jay Leno, Ben Folds, singer Angelique Kidjo, classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, and Seinfeld, Cho, and Kesha performed for the assembled luminaries.

The event was yet another sign that TM, with its lengthy (and growing) client roster of the rich and famous, had cemented a place among America’s cultural elites. Although independent estimates vary, TM officials claim that roughly 10 million people have learned the technique, which is meant to control anxiety, reduce stress, and increase their overall well-being.

“Transcendental meditation is a practice I picked up several years ago and I couldn’t do half of what I do in a day without it,” Ivanka Trump wrote in her book. “Twenty minutes is ideal for calming the mind, eliminating distractions, and boosting my productivity.”

The fundraiser promised to provide TM instruction so that underprivileged kids, military veterans, and trauma survivors could avail themselves of its benefits."

" ... David Vago, a Vanderbilt University neuroscientist who studies the effects of meditation, pointed out that all of the Maharishi Effect studies are basically correlation without causation.  “As much as I’d like to believe that crime rates will reduce in a causal response to group meditation increases, I have a hard time buying this kind of correlational research,” Vago told The Daily Beast.

Clinicaltrials [.]gov, which tracks accredited clinical research studies, found 910 studies of mindfulness currently underway, but only 14 studies of TM—half of which began before 2002. While TM officials often note that the National Institute of Health has funded research in TM to the tune of $24 million, that funding ended in 2010.

In 2014, an independent meta-analysis of meditation research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association for Internal Medicine found “insufficient evidence that mantra meditation programs [such as TM] had an effect on any of the psychological stress and well-being outcomes we examined.” An earlier review of TM data by the NIH also found insufficient evidence that TM lowered blood pressure as claimed.

Other assertions have been fact-checked to TM’s detriment. The organization’s American home base of Fairfield, Iowa has a population of roughly 10,000 residents. In 1993, reporter Scott Shane inquired about the crime rate in the area, figuring that crime must be virtually non-existent what with all the advanced meditating going there on all the time. “Crime here is about the same as any small town in rural America,” Fairfield police chief Randy Cooksey told Shane. In fact, Cooksey said, “I’d say there’s been a steady increase. I think, based on my statistics in Fairfield, I can show they have no impact on crime here.”"

" ... Dennis Roark, the former chairman of the physics department at Maharishi University has described TM’s research as “crackpot science.” Roark said he resigned his position after being told to link TM’s effects to legitimate physics—a notion he described as “preposterous.”

“Although there is substantial work in the physics of quantum mechanics giving to consciousness an essential role, even a causal role, there is no evidence or argument that could connect some sort of universal consciousness to be subjectively experienced with a unified field of all physics,” Roark wrote. “In fact, the existing scientific work suggests just the opposite.”

“The style of research they use is what I call ‘painting the bullseye around the arrow,’” says ex-TMer Patrick Ryan, who attended Maharishi International University, the progenitor to MUM, against his Navy master chief father’s advice, and spent 10 years in the movement as a “spiritual warrior” before quitting in the 1980s. “If a bunch of TM meditators get together and the stock market goes up, TM made it happen. If there’s another course and crime rates go down, or if accidents go down, TM created that. Find a positive thing that’s happened and take credit for it.”"

" ... The relentless focus on money is one of the main reasons Southern California meditation teacher Lorin Roche left TM in 1975.

“The whole focus of TM in the United States became to get all the teachers and all the half-million or more people who had learned TM, to go take expensive advanced courses and learn to levitate,” Roche wrote on his personal blog. “Soon there were tens of thousands of Siddhas trying, but failing, to levitate, all across the United States and around the world.”

Roche “benefited from TM tremendously, but it was a different organization when I was there,” he told The Daily Beast. “Once it became worth a billion dollars, it just changed.”

One billion may be a low estimate. According to The Economist, the Maharishi’s land holdings alone were worth $3 billion in 1998. A 2012 investigation by India Today estimated Maharishi’s real estate assets at the time of his death 10 years later to be worth Rs 60,000 crore—roughly $9 billion.

Although private donations have dwindled in recent years, from $31.6 million in 2008 to $1.5 million in 2015, there still seems to be plenty of money around, and there are dozens of separate but related TM organizations across the globe. The Daily Beast’s detailed review of TM-related financial documentation revealed a byzantine tangle of non- and for-profit corporations, global land holdings, and hundreds of millions of dollars—maybe more—flowing each year through the various entities that make up TM."

Feb 24, 2024

Prem Rawat Is The Lord of Flight

Prem Rawat's Boeing 707: The DECA Project, 1979

In 1979 the acquisition and customization of a Boeing 707 for Prem Rawat's exclusive use became the dominant focus within the then Divine Light Mission. The headquarters of DLM was moved to Miami and large numbers of the most skilled and dedicated ashram premies were moved to Miami into run-down, rat-filled hotels. Work on the 1961 Boeing 707 was completed in 1980 but it's emissions exceeded legal limits so the plane was soon sold to the more famous and much, much richer Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (he had begun his career working as the accounts clerk for a major Indian religious leader, so he could handle legal details like not letting your family steal your inheritance.) The plane was used by Rawat for a US tour and a trip to Australia and New Zealand and a holiday in Tahiti.

She left polygamy and now wants to help others with her story


Nicea DeGering

February 20, 2024

  • Getting a second chance at life with a brighter future for those who have left a polygamous background. Tonia Tewell, the Executive Director of Holding Out Help and former client Hannah Stauber sat down with us this morning to talk about the importance of fundraising for the cause.

o        Holding Out Help helps those who have left polygamy find the resources that they need to become independent and self-sufficient. But Tewell says what is unique about the charity is that they have three different properties so those who’ve left polygamy can stay as long as they want and get back on their feet. Holding Out Help is growing quickly, they now have ten employees and served three hundred and forty people just last year.

o        Hannah is one of them. She was just 14 years old when she married a 43 year old man in her polygamous community. She was his seventh wife. “For twenty years I felt like my sole purpose with him was a physical, intimacy relationship and I was trading my soul for love.” She says leaving was difficult, but Holding Out Help has been a lifesaver. She is now a Family Nurse Practitioner and helps others connect to the truth in their relationships.

o        Holding Out Help is having a fundraiser to help others like Hannah on March 15th. It’s called Securing Their Future and if you would like to find out more please visit:

CultNEWS101 Articles: 2/22/2024 (Jehovah's Witness, Book, TB Joshua, Nigeria, Legal, Abuse, Conspiracy Theories)

Jehovah's Witness, Book, TB Joshua, Nigeria, Legal, Abuse, Conspiracy Theories

"I used to knock on people's doors and tell them the end of the world was coming. We were born imperfect, I would say, and soon will come the day of Armageddon when we will all be tested. Be good and you could win life in Paradise. Be bad, and your reward is annihilation. No wonder people would see us coming and turn off the lights.

Stories have always been in my blood. Until a few years ago, I based my life on their outcome. Raised in the UK as a Jehovah's Witness, I was told we were in "the time of the end", which meant we were in the third act of Life's story, when I would soon be rewarded with eternal life on a paradise Earth.

Every Witness child was given a copy of My Book of Bible Stories, a heavy yellow hardback. From the moment I could listen, I was taught the story of Abraham, who almost murdered his son after God commanded him as a test. The accompanying illustration of Isaac tied up on a sacrificial altar as his father looms over him with a knife was terrifying. Then there was Lot's wife, who was turned to salt for daring to look back at the fire God was raining down on her hometown. I never questioned these stories or their morals. Why would I? They were taught to me at the same time as my ABC. They were my version of "normal".

My entertainment was heavily vetted. Anything with ghosts or witches was banned. Christmas and birthday colouring pages were ripped out. Looking back, I struggle to think of books that would have been more shocking than the Bible. Babies' heads dashed against rocks, entire nations murdered by an angry God, an upcoming worldwide genocide of billions … yet it is a tree with coloured lights that was deemed offensive.

I was allowed to choose my own books, but reading was a pastime that came second to religious activities. I attended a mainstream school, leaving after A-levels, but usually Witnesses attain only the most basic education, and are instead encouraged to direct all effort towards preaching. University is frowned upon. Although I was never forced into full-time preaching, there was little encouragement to take my education seriously. Books have always been the easiest way to travel.

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four gave a label to the "doublethink" and "thoughtcrime" that I accepted as normal. When I read it in my early 20s, I had a genuine watershed moment. The way that "The Party" alters beliefs and insists followers accept these changes without dispute mirrored my community. The story of Winston, who knows the truth and yet must conform for his own survival, opened a door I had never dared to touch.

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale opened my eyes to the danger of a patriarchy that positions itself as beneficial to women. I had recently become a mother and so the themes of suppression of women and loss of agency in the name of religion inspired a visceral reaction. I was already having doubts about my faith, and this book made them snowball.

Perhaps because my imagination was forged in such bloodthirsty fire, stories have always felt more alive and memorable than nonfiction. What could be a more devastating teacher on the subject of slavery and its subsequent trauma than Toni Morrison's Beloved? Parts of the story left me so angry that I had to keep putting down the book to compose myself. I read it after I had stepped away from my community, but it only confirmed my doubts. How could a powerful god stand by and watch this happen and not feel compelled to intervene?

A rule I had always struggled to accept was disfellowshipping, when wrongdoers are cut off and even their family are not to have any contact. Shunning those who simply no longer want to be a member is also normal among Jehovah's Witnesses. Classics such as Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles and John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, which feature characters cast out for allegedly going against the accepted morals of their day, helped me realise the unfairness of such a practice."

BBC Africa Eye:  DISCIPLES: The Cult of TB Joshua
"Man of God? Or a predatory cult leader? A ground-breaking investigation into the world famous televangelical preacher, TB Joshua, told by the people closest to him: his Disciples.

Two young women in Britain watch a VHS tape that will change the course of their lives forever: a Nigerian preacher can apparently heal the sick, cure cancer and AIDS. They decide to visit his church in Lagos to meet him. Joshua invites the teenagers to become his disciples, joining dozens of other young people who live on the church premises and do his every bidding. But life as a disciple isn't what they imagined."

PsyPost: The surprising dynamics of conspiracy theory beliefs
"Many people believe at least one conspiracy theory. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing – conspiracies do happen.

To take just one example, the CIA really did engage in illegal experiments in the 1950s to identify drugs and procedures that might produce confessions from captured spies.

However, many conspiracy theories are not supported by evidence, yet still attract believers.

For example, in a previous study, we found about 7% of New Zealanders and Australians agreed with the theory that visible trails behind aircraft are "chemtrails" of chemical agents sprayed as part of a secret government program. That's despite the theory being roundly rejected by the scientific community.

The fact that conspiracy theories attract believers despite a lack of credible evidence remains a puzzle for researchers in psychology and other academic disciplines.

Indeed, there has been a great deal of research on conspiracy theories published in the past few years. We now know more about how many people believe them, as well as the psychological and political factors that correlate with that belief.

But we know much less about how often people change their minds. Do they do so frequently, or do they stick tenaciously to their beliefs, regardless of what evidence they come across?"

" ... we found that beliefs (or non-beliefs) in conspiracy theories were stable – but not completely fixed. For any given theory, the vast majority of participants were "consistent sceptics" – not agreeing with the theory at any point.

There were also some "consistent believers" who agreed at every point in the survey they responded to. For most theories, this was the second-largest group.

Yet for every conspiracy theory, there was also a small proportion of converts. They disagreed with the theory at the start of the study, but agreed with it by the end. There was also a small proportion of "apostates" who agreed with the theory at the start, but disagreed by the end."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement. assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice. news, links, resources.




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Utah advances bill to criminalize ‘ritual abuse of a child,’ in echo of 1980s satanic panic

Utah could become the first state in decades to enact a law codifying ritual abuse. Others passed similar laws at the height of a since-debunked satanic abuse hysteria.

NBC News

Feb. 23, 2024

By Brandy Zadrozny

After an evening of emotional testimony from activists, self-described victims and law enforcement officials, lawmakers in Utah are moving forward with a bill that would criminalize so-called ritualistic child sexual abuse — a codification critics say is unnecessary and potentially harmful.

Sponsored by Republican state Rep. Ken Ivory, House Bill 196 defines ritual abuse as abuse that occurs as "part of an event or act designed to commemorate, celebrate, or solemnize a particular occasion or significance in a religious, cultural, social, institutional, or other context." The bill lists specific actions that fall under the proposed definition: abuse against children that includes animal torture, bestiality or cannibalism, or forcing a child to ingest urine or feces, enter a coffin or grave containing a corpse, or take drugs as part of the ritual.

At the hearing on Wednesday, several adults who described themselves as survivors of ritualistic child sexual abuse urged lawmakers in the state House Judiciary Committee to support the bill. Their testimony included the stuff of nightmares: devil worship, animal torture, forced bondage, rape, cannibalism, child prostitution and mind control — assaults so physically and emotionally traumatic that the victims said they repressed memories of their abuse.

Kimberli Raya Koen, 53, an activist who heads a nonprofit and leads local summits on ritual abuse, told legislators through tears that "everything named in this bill" had happened to her. Koen has appeared on dozens of podcasts over the years to tell her story: that she was tortured and forced to participate in human sacrifice as part of satanic cult rituals led by family members, neighbors and church leaders. She told NBC News that no one has been charged with her abuse, memories of which she uncovered as an adult.

"Utah has an incredible opportunity to lead the country in naming and acknowledging this horrific abuse is real," she said at the hearing.

If the bill passes, Utah would be the first state in decades to enact a law codifying ritual abuse. Several states passed similar laws in the 1980s and '90s, during the height of hysteria over satanic ritual abuse, but few, if any, prosecutions came from them. Since then, federal law enforcement agencies, scholars and historians have pointed to the scarcity of evidence for the claims of widespread ritual abuse and warned of the lasting legacies of the national panic — including false allegations, wrongful imprisonments and wasted law enforcement resources.

"This bill is a very good example of panic legislation, hastily cobbled together, on the basis of testimony from a couple of women recollecting childhood histories of satanic ritual abuse," said Mary deYoung, a professor emeritus of sociology at Grand Valley State University who has documented the harms of the satanic panic. "It's a bill that responds with the kind of approach where we get really angry and say, 'There ought to be a law.' And we don't think about whether it can be enforced in such a way that adds any benefit to society or that ensures that justice is done."

But Ivory described ritualistic abuse as common in Utah, offering as evidence the anecdotes from constituents and a statewide investigation announced in 2022 that the Utah County Sheriff's Office said resulted in over 130 tips. Ivory characterized those tips as individual victims coming forward.

That investigation, led by Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, who spoke in support of the bill, led to the 2022 arrest of David Hamblin, a former therapist who has been charged with sexual abuse of children in the 1980s. His ex-wife, Roselle Anderson Stevenson, was arrested last August and charged with the sexual abuse of a child decades ago. Hamblin and Stevenson have not yet entered pleas. Hamblin's attorney said in a statement that he "strongly denies the allegations"; Stevenson's attorney said she "is adamantly denying the charges."

Their prosecution has lagged in the courts, the cases plagued by accusations that investigators mishandled witness statements and that the investigation was politically motivated from the start. Prosecutors have disputed these claims in motions before the court, but a judge found them concerning enough to recuse the Utah County Attorney's Office from prosecuting Hamblin's case.

Smith has defended the integrity of his investigation and told lawmakers Wednesday that his yearslong probe into ritual sexual abuse in the state had made him a laughingstock, but that he believed the accusers.

"I was attacked, I was ridiculed, I've had memes made about me because of it," he said. "Without a doubt, these things do happen in Utah," Smith added. "I believe they're happening, I believe they have happened."

Lt. Jason Randall, the county's lead investigator on ritual abuse, argues the new bill would help legitimize this work and encourage more victims to report their abuse, because it would signal that authorities won't discount what can appear to be incredible claims. When asked by lawmakers what in the existing code had kept Randall from being able to press charges against child abusers, Randall answered, "Belief. Belief."

Utah's proposed bill and the county sheriff's investigation have attracted national interest from conservative media and an online network of conspiracy theorists who believe this case will prove that the allegations that fueled the 1980s satanic panic were true all along, and that cabals of satanists are still sexually abusing, murdering and cannibalizing children. Several self-described internet investigators have, in blogs, videos and podcasts, accused hundreds of Utahns of participating in satanic ritual abuse rings.

Utah's role in the 1980s panic was significant. Many of the first well-known cases of alleged ritual abuse originated in the state, as did the movement's central figures, including therapists who used hypnosis and manipulative interview techniques to recover memories from alleged child victims and scholars who made some of the earliest claims of widespread satanic ritual abuse. Local media promoted the claims.

In 1990, Utah's governor formed a task force that spent $250,000 in state funds to address pervasive ritual abuse. Investigators interviewed hundreds of victims in more than 125 alleged cases, only one of which ended in prosecution. A final report from the state's attorney general in 1995 suggested that there was evidence of isolated instances of abuse involving rituals, but not a widespread plot to abuse children in this way. "What hasn't been corroborated," the report said, "is the multitude of reports by abuse 'survivors' claiming to have been party to human sacrifices, sexual abuse of young children, torture, and other atrocities committed by well-organized groups which pervade every level of government, every social status and every state in the country."

National studies from the Department of Justice and the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect found no evidence to support claims of widespread ritual abuse. Child sexual abuse, however, is staggeringly common; about 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 20 boys in the United States are victims, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The unanticipated harms associated with a ritual abuse panic, deYoung said, include "ripple effects" on child victims of sexual abuse. "We spend time and resources and energy going after robed and hooded strangers when the greatest risks to children remain within the home, with family, friends or the local parish priest. Yet we don't have the same degree of moral outrage where the largest risk lies."

California, Illinois and Idaho were among the earliest states to pass laws criminalizing ritual abuse in response to 1980s claims of satanic threats to children, primarily in day care settings, deYoung said. A handful of other states followed suit.

While some states still have these laws on the books, others did away with theirs after the consequences of the panic became clear.

In Utah, the Judiciary Committee voted 10 to 1 on Wednesday to advance the ritual abuse bill to the full House; if passed there, it will advance to the Senate. No one testified in opposition to the bill. With his dissenting vote, Rep. Brian King, one of the two Democrats on the committee, questioned its necessity, noting that state law already criminalizes physical and sexual child abuse. The bill would differentiate the crime and classify it as a second-degree felony, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

Ivory, the sponsor, conceded the offenses were already criminal, but said a specific law was necessary because the crime "is so heinous."

​​Rep. Kera Birkeland, a Republican, cried as she addressed the people who spoke during the hearing. "I had no idea that this was happening in our state," she said. "We believe you."

Brandy Zadrozny

Brandy Zadrozny is a senior reporter for NBC News. She covers misinformation, extremism and the internet.