Apr 19, 2008

A day in court: Highlights of the FLDS custody hearing

Trish Choate
San Angelo Standard-Times

April 19, 2008

Modestly dressed men and women from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints listened quietly as intimate details of their lives marched forth matter-of-factly in Day 2 of testimony in a hearing to set temporary custody for 416 of their children.

W. John Walsh, an FLDS expert, said he hoped he wasn't embarrassing sect members, before launching into an explanation of their family values, and attitudes toward sex and underage marriage as he sees them.

"Most FLDS men have never seen their wives naked, no matter how long they've been married," said Walsh.

He was testifying on behalf of parents during the custody hearing.

All eyes in the dimly lit San Angelo Auditorium focused on Walsh, whose slightly blurry on-screen presence filled the cavernous room.

This was a new wrinkle in proceedings to determine whether 416 YFZ Ranch children will go back to their parents. Child Protective Services took them into custody this month after suspicions arose of sexual abuse.

Lawyers, media and law-enforcement officers froze, distracted from fatigue, frustration, confusion, anger, boredom or all of the above.

An unspoken agreement formed not to eyeball FLDS members sitting toward the back of the auditorium. They have been constant subjects of sideways glances, stolen looks and outright stares during the two days of the hearing, the women's old-fashioned dresses especially a novelty.

Here are excerpts from a rolling log of events from Day 2 kept on gosanangelo.com by Standard-Times reporters:

§ "What's important to the court at this point is what do I need to know to know whether or not the children can be returned," Walther says. "That's what I'm focusing on. You all focus on whatever you want."

§ "If the situation could be proposed that the men would leave the community and not have contact," and the same supervision provided as at the San Angelo Coliseum, would (Child Protective Services supervisor Angie) Voss be willing to allow the children to return?

No, Voss answers: "The ranch is 1,700 acres. It's huge. There is no way to secure that I'm aware of."

§ A parents' attorney complains that her mothers haven't been served proper legal documents.

The judge notes the problem of identifying the parents, and that names are "being switched back and forth" in the case.

§ "Up to this point in the investigation, there are over 20 girls in the investigation who have conceived or given birth at the age of 16 or 17," Voss says. "What I'm telling you is that there is a culture of young girls being pregnant by old men."

§ Under questioning from the parents' attorney who's pursuing his objection, the psychiatrist says he has gotten much of his information from the media. Guffaws break out.

§ "What can a parent say to a judge that could be helpful in getting that child returned?" the parents' attorney says.

The witness replies, "What would make me feel comfortable is if a parent came forward and said, 'I don't think a girl should get married as a young teen. We need to know more about the outside world and be more transparent about their beliefs.'" It also would be a good sign if the parent asked for some advice about creating a healthy environment for their children, the psychiatrist adds.

"Believe me, so much of what they do out there is wonderful," he says.

§ "We started this process with over 400 attorneys. Unfortunately, we have a number of attorneys who have had to leave town and have appointed co-counsel," the attorney says. She inquires about perhaps taking lunch so they can get organized.

No, lunch "would only embolden you all," the judge says.

All laugh.

§ The FLDS has been subject to persecution, an FLDS expert says: Law enforcement officers have come in and asked the children, "Who is your mommy, and who is your daddy?" When the children answered, then mommy and daddy went to jail for bigamy.

"Most FLDS men have never even seen their wives naked, no matter how long they've been married," the expert offers under questioning from yet another child's attorney.

They wear religious garments at all times, long-john type garments, he says. They don't take them off during sex.

The FLDS members also have conservative family values, the expert says.

http://www.gosanangelo.com/news/2008/apr/19/a-day-in-court-highlights-of-the-flds-custody/

Apr 16, 2008

A hearty welcome, a contrite tone

Michael Paulson
Boston Globe
April 16, 2008

Benedict decries abuse by priests as cause of a 'great suffering'

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. - Pope Benedict XVI, his white robes billowing in a cool breeze, arrived yesterday for his historic first visit to the United States, setting a contrite tone before he even touched down by telling reporters aboard his plane that the Catholic Church is "deeply ashamed" by the abuse crisis that has roiled American Catholicism.

The pope's remarks, in which he also said that "for me personally" abuse by priests "is a great suffering," were by far the most direct and emotional offered by a pope in the six years since the abuse crisis erupted in Boston. Benedict himself chose to address the issue en route to the United States, putting to rest questions about whether and how he might deal with the controversy.

He arrived at Andrews Air Force Base at 3:50 p.m., his chartered Alitalia Boeing 777, dubbed Shepherd One for the duration of his trip, descending from a cloudless sky to a round of cheers from a crowd of about 1,000 well-wishers who spent several hours waiting for a chance to get a glimpse of the spiritual leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics.

The pope, his head-to-toe white vestments punctuated only by his red loafers, was welcomed by President Bush, his wife, Laura, and their daughter Jenna. The pope's arrival marked the first time Bush traveled to the airport to welcome a visiting leader, and the warm welcome will continue today, as the largest White House crowd of the Bush presidency - more than 9,000 people are expected - is to gather on the South Lawn to welcome the pope to a meeting with the president.

At the air base yesterday, the pope smiled and wiggled his fingers as he waved toward the crowd, but he did not approach the stands packed with children and adults waving the yellow and white flags of the Holy See alongside the stars and stripes of the United States. The pope also did not kiss the ground, a practice of his predecessor, John Paul II, that Benedict has discontinued.

"I've lived to be 68, and I'm finally getting to see a pope," said Joyce Kearney, an Arlington native who now lives in Laurel, Md. "This is such a blessing to be here."

Air Force Tech Sergeant Jennifer Taylor, 29, of New Bedford, called the arrival ceremony "a once in a lifetime opportunity, to see the pope and the president," while Vincent Harrington, a 16-year-old high school junior from Maryland, was delighted with the photos he had snapped on his cellphone, saying, "It was amazing, and I got so many good pictures."

As the pontiff walked along a red carpet rolled up to the forward door of the plane, he greeted a variety of prelates before walking with Bush into a terminal where he waited for the 24-vehicle motorcade that whisked the pope and his entourage into Washington. The pope, who will celebrate his 81st birthday today, was to spend the night at the Embassy Row residence of the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who is the Vatican's ambassador to the United States.

The pope is to remain in the country through Sunday. He will say two Masses for large crowds, at the new Nationals Park in Washington tomorrow and at Yankee Stadium in New York on Sunday. He will also make an important speech to the United Nations on Friday.

At the White House today, the pope and the president are expected to talk, at least in part, about extremism, "especially in the Muslim world," terrorism, and religious freedom, as well as about problems in Africa and in Lebanon, White House spokeswoman DanaPerino said at a press briefing yesterday. Perino acknowledged that the president and the pope disagree about the Iraq war and capital punishment - both of which Bush supports and Benedict opposes - but said "there is much more agreement between these two leaders than there is disagreement."

The question of how Benedict would handle the abuse crisis has lingered over the trip, the first papal visit to the United States since the crisis exploded in 2002. That summer, John Paul II conspicuously skipped over the United States during a trip that took him to Canada and Mexico; in planning this year's trip, Benedict rebuffed repeated invitations to come to Boston, apparently in part because of a concern that the city's close association with the abuse crisis would dominate coverage of his visit.

But Benedict's aides had made it clear that he would address the crisis, possibly more than once, during his visit, which includes stops only in Washington and New York. The apostolic nuncio also has said it is possible that he will meet with abuse victims, although no such meetings are on his official schedule.

Benedict did choose to address the issue head-on yesterday, as the plane winged its way from Rome's Fiumicio airport across the Atlantic. Benedict agreed to answer four questions on board that had been pre-submitted by members of the Vatican press corps traveling with him. Abuse was the first issue the pope addressed, and the only one in English; he also fielded questions in Italian about immigration, about the comparative roles of religion in the United States and Europe, and about the themes for his visit. Reporters aboard the plane filed stories based on his remarks from midair, so the abuse comments arrived hours before the pope did.

"It is a great suffering for the church in the United States, for the church in general, and for me personally that this could happen," Benedict said. "If I read the histories of these victims, it's difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way their mission to give healing and to give the love of God to these children. We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible that this cannot happen in the future."

His remarks did not satisfy victims and their advocates, who said they wanted him to take more steps in response to the crisis. DavidClohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he would rather see Benedict take two steps: "discipline complicit bishops" and impose sex abuse prevention measures globally, rather than just in the United States.
"On the one hand, it's always beneficial when clergy sex abuse is discussed and not ignored, but on the other hand, no one should confuse talk with action," Clohessy said. "Sincere intentions, genuine remorse are good but inadequate. And for decades Benedict has been an extraordinarily powerful Vatican official with tremendous power to do good and protect kids, and that power remains largely unused."
Benedict is highly familiar with the abuse crisis, because in his previous post as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he was responsible for reviewing the cases of abusive priests who the Vatican was considering defrocking. His record on handling abuse cases is mixed and controversial - at one point he dramatically underestimated the scope of the abuse - but he attracted notice by appearing to describe abusive priests as "filth" at a Good Friday liturgy in 2005, and as pope he barred from ministry the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was an alleged abuser who was not disciplined by John Paul II.

Benedict said yesterday that the abuse crisis should be dealt with on three levels: by barring abusive priests from ministry, by offering help to victims, and by better screening candidates for the priesthood. Although Benedict has been viewed as a critic of gay men as candidates for the priesthood, yesterday he made it clear that he was not equating homosexuality with abusiveness.

"I would not speak in this moment about homosexuality, but pedophilia, [which] is another thing," he said. "We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry, this is absolutely incompatible. And who is really guilty of being a pedophile cannot be a priest."

Benedict described the abuse scandal as a "wound," and spoke of the importance of "reconciliation," saying, "we hope that we can do, and we have done, and we will do in the future, all that is possible to heal this wound."

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/04/16/a_hearty_welcome_a_contrite_tone/?page=1

Apr 14, 2008

12 killed as banned Kenyan sect protests: police

AFP
April 14, 2008

NAIROBI (AFP) — At least 12 people were killed Monday in a series of clashes involving Kenyan police and members of a banned Kenyan sect protesting over the killing of their imprisoned leader's wife.

Police said five people were killed in Nairobi, four in central Kenya and three others in the Rift Valley region where members of theMungiki sect were blocking roads and stoning motorists.

Nine of those killed were Mungiki members shot dead by police, while the three others were reportedly civilians caught up in the violence, police officials said.

"We have things under control and have deployed security forces across the country to ensure that peace prevails," national police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told AFP.

"We assure the public that peace will be restored and all these hooligans brought to book," he added.

The Mungiki sect was once a religious group of dreadlocked youths who embraced traditional rituals, but the authorities say it has evolved into a ruthless criminal gang involved in extortion and murder.

The Mungiki members were protesting the killing of Virginia Nyakio, the wife of imprisoned sect leader Maina Njenga. Nyakio'smutilated body was recovered on Friday -- three days after she was seized by unknown kidnappers.

Since March last year, the Mungiki gang has been blamed for murdering dozens of people, including several beheadings, mainly in the slum districts of the capital Nairobi and in central Kenya.

Police responded with a crackdown in which they have killed scores of gang members.

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5ipg4xpOg22o4y5R298zM8imFb2VQ

Apr 8, 2008

400 Children Removed From Sect's Texas Ranch

AFP
April 14, 2008

NAIROBI (AFP) — At least 12 people were killed Monday in a series of clashes involving Kenyan police and members of a banned Kenyan sect protesting over the killing of their imprisoned leader's wife.

Police said five people were killed in Nairobi, four in central Kenya and three others in the Rift Valley region where members of theMungiki sect were blocking roads and stoning motorists.

Nine of those killed were Mungiki members shot dead by police, while the three others were reportedly civilians caught up in the violence, police officials said.

"We have things under control and have deployed security forces across the country to ensure that peace prevails," national police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told AFP.

"We assure the public that peace will be restored and all these hooligans brought to book," he added.

The Mungiki sect was once a religious group of dreadlocked youths who embraced traditional rituals, but the authorities say it has evolved into a ruthless criminal gang involved in extortion and murder.

The Mungiki members were protesting the killing of Virginia Nyakio, the wife of imprisoned sect leader Maina Njenga. Nyakio'smutilated body was recovered on Friday -- three days after she was seized by unknown kidnappers.

Since March last year, the Mungiki gang has been blamed for murdering dozens of people, including several beheadings, mainly in the slum districts of the capital Nairobi and in central Kenya.

Police responded with a crackdown in which they have killed scores of gang members.

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5ipg4xpOg22o4y5R298zM8imFb2VQ

Apr 7, 2008

B.C. town feels sting of Texas polygamy raids

Wendy Stueck, With a report from the Associated Press
Toronto Globe and Mail
April 7, 2008

VANCOUVER -- As more than 200 people were bused from a Texas polygamist compound over the weekend after a raid by police, the procession reverberated in the British Columbia town of Bountiful, a polygamous community with ties to the Texas stronghold.

"There are relatives of people in B.C. that would be part of that group down there," said Linda Price, a retiree from Creston, B.C., who has spent years lobbying against polygamy at Bountiful, a community of about 700 people in southeastern British Columbia, near the United States border.

Another B.C. woman, who is a former member of the Bountiful community, said it's possible that some of her relatives and their children could be part of the Texas group.

"I'm not even sure - it's so secretive," said Jane Blackmore, a Creston resident who was formerly married to Winston Blackmore - the so-called bishop of Bountiful, who has more than 20 wives. Last year, she testified for the prosecution against Warren Jeffs, the founder of the Texas compound, whose clash with Mr. Blackmore precipitated a power struggle in Bountiful.

She had feared her daughter was at the Texas compound until a recent visit in Oklahoma, Ms. Blackmore added.

Mr. Jeffs is currently in jail in Arizona. He was found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old, through arranging her marriage to a cousin in 2001, and was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of five years to life.

He is awaiting trial on additional charges relating to arranging marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives.

The underage marriage question was the catalyst for the raid in Texas.

Authorities descended on the compound, near the town of Eldorado, on Friday after a 16-year-old girl's report of abuse.

State troopers armed with a search warrant raided the compound, located on a former exotic game ranch, looking for evidence of a marriage between the girl, who allegedly had a baby at 15, and a 50-year-old man.

Yesterday, officials said they had removed 219 people from the compound, in a rural area that now features a massive white temple. The people were bused to nearby churches and civic centres.

Authorities were still trying to find the girl who made the original complaint.

For Ms. Price, the raid renewed her frustration regarding the stalemate at Bountiful, which has come under the microscope for allegations of child abuse, shoddy education and misuse of government funds.

"I think we admire Texas. Because when that compound was built, they [Texan authorities] said all along that girls under 16 are not allowed to be married in Texas," Ms. Price said.

Last year, after an investigation into allegations of misconduct in Bountiful, special prosecutor Richard Peck recommended that no criminal charges be laid, saying there was not a substantial likelihood of conviction.

But he recommended that Canada's anti-polygamy law be referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal to determine whether it could stand up to a constitutional challenge on grounds of "religious freedom."

Last September, B.C. Attorney-General Wall Oppal appointed lawyer Leonard Doust to review the special prosecutor's decision.

Both the Texas compound and Bountiful are home to members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, which broke away from the Mormon church in the 1930s after the main church turned away from polygamy.

Mr. Jeffs pronounced himself prophet of FLDS in North America in 2002, pushing aside prophet-in-waiting Winston Blackmore and creating a rift in Bountiful and between various branches of the group.

The rift severed family ties, as some members moved to compounds in South Dakota, Texas, Colorado and cut themselves off from relatives in B.C., Ms. Price said.

Even in Bountiful, there are divided loyalties and families.

"It's like a wall goes up," Ms. Price said.

"You could be living across the street from your sister or your mother, but if one of you follows one side and one follows the other, you don't talk."


http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20080407.BCBOUNTIFUL07/TPStory/National

60 more women leave Texas ranch as search for girl continues

Brian West
Deseret Morning News
April 7, 2008

Nearly 220 Jeffs followers removed from Eldorado

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Sixty FLDS women willingly left a cloistered polygamist compound here Sunday to join the now 159 children taken by police and state social workers.

Texas officials can't say why exactly the women agreed to leave the YFZ ranch but said they weren't forced to go and may have left to be with their children.

"I can't really speak for their motivation," said Texas Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins. "During the course of our investigation, we've been talking and conducting interviews and we told the women if they wanted to leave the compound, they were free to do so.

"Sixty chose to do so, but I can't say what they were individually thinking."

No adult men have left or been taken from the reclusive ranch, situated near the western Texas prairie town of Eldorado.

Sunday evening, The Eldorado Success reported an additional 32 children and nine adults had been transported from the ranch. CPS officials said more people would likely be taken from the compound throughout Sunday but would not confirm new numbers until a press briefing this afternoon.

All 219 of the FLDS community members who were removed or allowed to leave as of Saturday were taken by bus Sunday afternoon to San Angelo, a town of about 88,000 people nearly 50 miles away. They are now being housed together in a building at the historic Fort Concho, near the Ralph R. Chase State of Texas Services Center.

Police from several agencies have surrounded the building and are keeping the press and public at bay.

"Eldorado is a small community, and we had them at two separate locations there," Crimmins said. "San Angelo is a larger community and the city offered us facilities there."

Dozens of cribs and cots have been set up inside the building housing the women and children.

"They've got everything they need," Crimmins said. "In a large, central location we can better help them."

State officials were still at the compound late Sunday and said they are continuing to look for more children there. Specifically, they are looking for a 16-year-old girl whose complaint prompted the raid.

"To the best of our knowledge, we have not removed her yet," said CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner.

The search began late Thursday when police and state workers forcefully entered the ranch and began taking away children. The actions came in response to a complaint from a 16-year-old girl living there who claimed she was being physically abused.

Meisner wouldn't say how the complaint was received and declined to reveal any details of what the girl said. If the girl is already one of those who have been removed from the ranch, she has not come forward to authorities.

Asked if she believes the girl is hiding or being forced to hide somewhere inside the nearly 1,700-acre ranch, Meisner would only say that FLDS members inside the ranch were being cooperative.

So far, 18 children have showed signs of "sufficient evidence of possible abuse and neglect," Meisner said. Those 18 will be placed with foster families "that have been located and ID'd."

None of the children, however, had been officially placed as of late Sunday.

Once that evidence of abuse was reported to a judge, the court gave state workers permission to remove the children from the compound in order to be taken to a "neutral location" for briefings, Meisner said.

It's unknown how long the women and children will be held in San Angelo. A judge may be holding a court hearing about the matter today, but that has not been confirmed.

The YFZ Ranch is the site of the FLDS Church's first temple. Since finishing the sacred limestone centerpiece in 2006, Eldorado residents say members of the polygamous community have continued building a small city inside the ranch, constructing many buildings, a water tower, a sewer system and other improvements.

Few outsiders are allowed inside the compound, which is guarded by members of the sect.

Tensions were high Saturday night when a SWAT team entered the temple. Sheriff's deputies prepared for the worst, but no incidents were reported. Community members, however, did at first offer resistance to the idea of police entering their temple, which is considered sacred and normally open only to those FLDS members determined to be worthy.

YFZ stands for "Yearning for Zion," which is the name of a song written by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. He is currently behind bars serving two five-years-to-life sentences after a jury in southern Utah last year convicted him of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.

Jeffs is now in Arizona, where he faces additional charges of sexual misconduct and incest involving child-bride marriages. Jeffs had been on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List before he was eventually captured near Las Vegas in August 2006.

E-mail: bwest@desnews.com

http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,695268191,00.html

3rd Protest Of Scientology Set

Stephen Thompson
Tampa Tribune
April 7, 2008
CLEARWATER - Members of the Internet-based group Anonymous plan on conducting another protest Saturday outside the headquarters of the Church of Scientology, an organizer said today.

This will be the third protest in as many months.

Joshua Nussbaum, 20, an organizer, said the group will have a presentation at the Royalty Theatre from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and a get-together for group members at Coachman Park from 1 to 3 p.m.

The protest outside the church's headquarters in downtown Clearwater will begin at 3 and continue to 6 p.m., he said.

Nussbaum has said the point of the protests is to focus public attention on the practices of the church. He said the church coerces members into giving exorbitant amounts of money to it and encourages them to ostracize loved ones perceived as a danger to the church.

Reporter Stephen Thompson can be reached at (727) 451-2336 or spthompson@tampatrib.com.

http://suncoastpinellas.tbo.com/content/2008/apr/07/3rd-protest-scientology-set/

401 children from FLDS compound now in protective custody

Brooke Adams
Salt Lake Tribune,
April 7, 2008

The Texas Child Protective Service now has taken temporary legal custody of 401 children from an FLDS compound near Eldorado, a spokeswoman said today.

The children are accompanied by 133 women, and authorities are nearly done clearing the ranch, said spokeswoman MarleighMeisner.

The agency will file affidavits in court this afternoon that will explain more about why the state should have temporary legal custody, she said.

An April 17 court hearing has been set on the children's status.

Officials are now seeking additional shelters in other parts of the state to house the women and children, members of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Some 200 social workers from across the state are working on the case in a state already experiencing a critical shortage of foster families, Meisner said.

Meisner said she still could not confirm whether workers have found or spoken to the girl who sparked the investigation. A 16-year-old girl called for help on Monday, alleging she had been abused.

The girl's report led authorities last week to raid the 1,691-acre ranch, beginning on Thursday night.

When asked if the state planned to take the children away from their parents, Meisner said: "It's absolutely too soon to make that decision."

Each one of the children will get their own attorney to represent their interests in court, she said.

Meisner could not confirm how many men are at the ranch, but confirmed they are not allowed to leave it.
Tela Mange, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said there was one arrest today -- a man charged with a class B misdemeanor for interfering with the duties of a public servant.

http://www.sltrib.com/Faith/ci_8839610

Apr 6, 2008

Authorities to enter most sacred FLDS temple, prepared for resistance


KTVK-3 TV News (AZ)

April 6, 2008

ELDORADO, TX -- Late Saturday evening a number of emergency vehicles including an ambulance a number of firetrucks entered the FLDS compound in the outskirts of the little town of Eldorado, TX.

According to Texas officials this is in preparation for texas law officers to go into the most sacred site for the FLDS people. Authorities are preparing for resistance to their presence on the compound. Law officers have been on the compound since Thursday afternoon ever since they executed a search warrant.

Authorities now want to search the temple on the compound. As of Saturday they had gone through much of this sprawling 1700 acre complex looking for a 16 year old girl who is at the center of this story.

CPS officials released staggering numbers saying they have taken a total of 183 people from the compound outside Eldorado - 137 of them said to be children most of those girls under the age of 17. The raid is now on its third day. The people removed from the compound by Texas law officers have been bussed to a community center and to a local baptist church where they're being cared for, housed and interviewed by CPS investigators.

According to CPS investigators 18 of those children have been abused or are in imminent threat of being abused. Those 18 are now in protective custody. These events started on Monday with a 911 call placed from inside the compound. A 16 year old girl with an 8 month old child had been physically abused by a 50 year old man. That man believed to be the girl's polygamist husband.

That gave Texas law officers enough to convince a judge to issue a search warrant of the FLDS compound. Authorities won't say whether they have found the 16 year old girl in question or whether they're now looking for her inside that temple. There are concerns that Warren Jeffs' followers may now be hiding children on the property.

CPS authorities also have four workers in the compound going from building to building with law enforcement trying to find other children that may still be in the compound.

http://www.azfamily.com/news/local/stories/phoenix_local_news_040508_poly-stand-off.373e11e2.html 

Apr 5, 2008

A U.S.-Trained Entrepreneur Becomes Voodoo’s Pope

Marc Lacey
New York Times
April 5, 2008


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: Max Beauvoir, above: "We Haitians want to move forward in life. We need to find our identity again, and voodoo is our identity."

THE goat tethered to a tree outside Max Beauvoir’s home is doomed.

Mr. Beauvoir, tall and majestic with closely cropped white hair, is a voodoo priest who was just named the religion’s supreme master, a newly created position that is aimed at reviving voodoo.

His grand residence on the outskirts of the Haitian capital serves as a temple for voodoo practitioners and a late-night hangout for those paying customers eager to take in an exotic evening of spiritual awakening.

The temple, the Péristyle de Mariani, is where Mr. Beauvoir and his followers dance around a giant totem to the beat of drums. It is where they light bonfires to summon the spirits. And it is where they drain the blood of animals like that scrawny white goat to, among other things, heal the sick.

On a recent night, Haiti’s voodooists convened for a special ceremony. With music blaring and devotees dancing with all their might, two children threw white rose petals on a red carpet. Then along came Mr. Beauvoir.

Popular in Haiti even among many of those who attend Christian churches, voodoo lacks the formal hierarchy of other religions. Most voodoo priests, known as houngans, operate semi-independently, catering to their followers without much structure.

But many of Haiti’s houngans recently came together into a national federation and chose Mr. Beauvoir, 72, as their public face. He is now the spokesman for a faith whose followers say too often gets a bad rap and is in dire need of an image overhaul. (Think “voodoo economics.”)

Even before he got the job, Mr. Beauvoir was a voodoo promoter extraordinaire. With his own Web site (www.vodou.org) and a following among foreigners intrigued by voodoo, Mr. Beauvoir is criticized by some purists as too much of a showman.

“My position as supreme chief in voodoo was born out of a controversy,” Mr. Beauvoir said, saying Haiti’s elite had marginalized the houngans who generations ago wielded significant influence in society. “Today, voodooists are at the bottom of society. They are virtually all illiterate. They are poor. They are hungry. You have people who are eating mud, and I don’t mean that as a figure of speech.”

A DOCTOR’S son who was not particularly interested in spiritual matters in his youth, Mr. Beauvoir left Haiti in the mid-1950s for the City College of New York, where he studied chemistry. Then he went off to the Sorbonne for graduate study in biochemistry. After various jobs in the New York area, he returned to Haiti in the early 1970s to conduct experiments on traditional herbal remedies.

It was then that voodoo called.

His grandfather, who was in his 90s, was dying and the entire extended family had gathered around his bed. Before he died, though, the old man pointed at Mr. Beauvoir and ordered him to take over his duties as a voodoo priest.

Mr. Beauvoir said he was taken aback. He did not know his grandfather well, and could not understand why he had been selected from the 20 or so other family members in the room. And he knew virtually nothing about voodoo.

But that was decades ago. Mr. Beauvoir has devoted the rest of his life to studying the religion, a mix of Christianity (introduced by slaves to mask their paganism from their masters) and animism that traces its origins to West Africa, which is also where Haitians, descendants of slaves, originated. The more he learns about voodoo, Mr. Beauvoir said, the more convinced he is that it can, and should, play a role in resolving Haiti’s problems, especially given its reach among the most disenfranchised people.

As it is now, he said, the government seeks the input of Catholic and Protestant leaders when grappling with societal issues. “But do they call for the input of the voodooists?” he asked, shaking his head.

Haiti has long been a battleground for Christian missionaries who view voodoo as devil worship and work tirelessly to convert the population to Christ. Voodoo, like Christianity, has one god, but it incorporates pagan elements that make Christians uneasy: casting spells and worshiping spirits seen as the major forces of the universe.

To turn things around, the country’s voodooists decided they needed to organize themselves and confront voodoo-bashing head on.

“We decided to come together and form a new voodoo structure,” Mr. Beauvoir said. “We Haitians want to move forward in life. We need to find our identity again, and voodoo is our identity. It’s part of our collective personality. We feel the government we have is relying too much on foreigners to fill their pockets.”

VOODOO and politics have long been intertwined in Haiti, with some past leaders reaching out to voodooists as a way of burnishing their populist credentials. Mr. Beauvoir has himself been linked with Jean-Claude Duvalier, or Baby Doc, the dictator who fled the country in 1986 after a popular uprising against him. And Mr. Beauvoir opposed Jean-Bertrand Aristide, making him a hated figure among Mr. Aristide’s loyalists.

In “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier,” her 1994 book on Haiti, Amy Wilentz portrayed Mr. Beauvoir as an opportunist who preyed upon his people and had “the oily manner of a man whom you wouldn’t want to leave alone with your money or your child.”

Mr. Beauvoir waves off such criticism. He acknowledges that he received death threats from political opponents in the mid-1990s and that he was worried enough about his safety — and that of his wife and two daughters — that he fled Haiti for the United States. He settled in Washington, D.C., where he continued with voodoo ceremonies from his apartment not far from the White House. Recently, though, he returned home and wasted no time in grabbing the spotlight.

Speaking of the current crop of political leaders, Mr. Beauvoir is as harsh as some are about him.

“They have been seduced by Western attitudes,” he said of current leaders. “They believe foreigners think that way so they have to think that way. They fear that if they don’t oppose voodoo, they won’t get a dime in their bowl.”

The movie industry is another focus of Mr. Beauvoir’s wrath. And he speaks as something of an insider, having helped the anthropologist Wade Davis with his investigation of voodoo, which first became a book, “The Serpent and the Rainbow,” and later a Hollywood movie. On the big screen, zombies are scary monsters, Mr. Beauvoir complained, and not the carefully controlled subjects of voodoo science that he believes them to be.

“The voice of Hollywood has grown beyond the border of the United States,” he said. “It’s everywhere. The voice of Max Beauvoir is very small compared to that.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/05/world/americas/05beauvoir.html?ref=business

Apr 3, 2008

200 sect members held in Kenya

News24 (South Africa)
April 3, 2008

Nairobi - Some 200 members of a banned sect linked to murders and beheadings, as well as killings during recent post-election violence, were arrested in the Kenyan capital over the past three days, police said on Thursday.

The sect, mainly drawn from President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe, has been accused of carrying out some of the killings that occurred during violence that claimed at least 1 500 lives after disputed elections on December 27.

The arrests came after police launched a house-to-house crackdown on the Mungiki sect on Tuesday in the capital's Kayole slums and outlying areas, said area police commander Leonard Omolo.

"The operation will continue because these people are the ones responsible for most of the crimes committed in the area," he said. "No amount of protests from residents will stop police operations.

Two suspects were shot and seriously wounded when they resisted arrest, officials said.

Once a religious group of dreadlocked youths who embraced traditional rituals, authorities say the Mungiki sect has evolved into a ruthless gang blamed for criminal activities that include extortion and murder.

Since March last year, the sect has been blamed for murdering dozens of people, including 14 beheadings, mainly in slum districts of the capital Nairobi and in central Kenya.

Police have responded with a heavy-handed crackdown, killing scores of Mungiki adherents.

http://www.news24.com/News24/Africa/News/0,,2-11-1447_2299677,00.html

Apr 1, 2008

14 more members of Russian cult emerge from underground cave

Mike Eckel, AP

San Diego Union-Tribune
April 1, 2008



MOSCOW (AP) – Fourteen more members of a Russian cult holed up underground for months awaiting the end of the world emerged Tuesday after melting snows caused more of their hillside cave to collapse, officials said.

The group – including two children ages 8 and 14 – were in satisfactory condition, Penza regional emergency spokesman Dmitry Yeskin told The Associated Press. They were moved to a nearby house where the group's leader, self-declared prophet Pyotr Kuznetsov, has been living.

Yeskin said negotiators were trying to persuade the remaining 14 to come out of the underground hillside shelter built late last year in the Penza region, about 400 miles southeast of Moscow.

Vice Gov. Oleg Melnichenko said part of the cave collapsed around dawn Tuesday, and cult members told emergency officials they had a divine vision overnight that instructed them to leave.

Last Friday, seven other cult members emerged as melting spring snows caused part of the shelter to cave in, sparking fears that the entire structure could collapse.
The group will remain in a so-called prayer house in the nearby village of Nikolskoye until Orthodox Easter, April 27, Melnichenko said.
State-run TV showed women, dressed in long skirts and head scarves, being helped up a hillside by emergency workers and into a waiting bus. Footage taken inside the cave's catacombs showed different rooms, separated by small windows; and plastic bottles, glass jars, mattresses and a chess board strewn on muddy floors. Orthodox crosses were on the walls and the ceilings, along with what appeared to be a child's painting.
A total of 35 people went into the cave in early November to await the end of the world, which they said would happen in May. They told authorities they would detonate gas canisters if police tried to remove them by force.
Yeskin said the group that emerged Tuesday also handed over three rifles.
Authorities repeatedly had enlisted the help of priests from the Orthodox Church in an effort to persuade the group to leave, communicating mainly through a small chimney pipe that poked up through the snowy hillside.
Kuznetsov has been charged with setting up a religious organization associated with violence, and officials later said they had seized literature that included what appeared to be extremist rhetoric. He had been confined to a psychiatric hospital since last November but was taken to Nikolskoye late last month to help in negotiations.
An engineer from a devout family, Kuznetsov – who goes by the title Father Pyotr – declared himself a prophet several years ago. He left his family and established the True Russian Orthodox Church and recruited followers in Russia and Belarus.
He reportedly told followers that in the afterlife, they would be judging whether others deserved heaven or hell.
Followers were not allowed to watch television, listen to the radio or handle money, Russian media reported.