Jan 29, 2015

Cults: how to separate truth from fiction

Damian Thompson

Cult. The word has a sinister ring to it – and has done since the 1970s, when the Unification Church, a messianic hybrid of Christianity and Korean tradition, started large-scale recruiting of young people in America and Europe. Adherents were called Moonies, after their leader, the Rev Sun Myung Moon, and the media had a field day. The papers were full of accounts of teenagers being held against their will in Moonie compounds, of brainwashing and broken families. Some of these stories were true, others completely false; many were exaggerated. "Anti-cult" activists made a nice living trooping in and out of studios warning that all "cults" – Moonies, Scientologists, Hari Krishna, Mormons (they cast their net wide) – played the same tricks with people's minds. Elaborate theories of "mind control" were wheeled out to explain why cults were different from legitimate religions. The result? A young person had only to attend a meeting organised by a fringe religion and their parents would utterly freak out.

Enter Dr Eileen Barker of the London School of Economics, surely the only sociologist in the world to have begun her career as a professional actress. In 1981, she published The Making of a Moonie, a book that meticulously followed the progress of people who attended Moonie recruiting sessions. Only a tiny percentage ended up joining the Unification Church, she discovered. So if the Moonies were practising brainwashing, they were spectacularly bad at it.

Eileen Barker
Prof Barker, as she became, worked with other sociologists of religion to develop a new framework for analysing "cults". Here's my summary. Cults, sects, new religious movement – it doesn't matter what you call them – are not essentially different from other religions, most of which began as some sort of cult, Christianity being a classic example. They should be judged by the same rigorous criteria as any other group.

But Eileen Barker didn't deny that people who join small groups often experience psychological difficulties, or that recruitment methods can be underhand, or the families come under strain, or that sexual abuse can occur in a closed, highly charged environment. What was needed was a body studying new and minority religious movements (her preferred terminology) based on evidence rather than scaremongering or the cults' own propaganda.
And so Inform (Information network on religious movements) was born 25 years ago. Since then it's helped countless religious believers, ex-members, worried parents, curious academics and nosy journalists uncover the messy reality of faith in the modern era. It has also organised conferences and study days, and advised the British government and police – which is why, quite rightly, it receives public funding.

Interestingly, its focus has shifted as the religious landscape has evolved. There are fewer old-style "cults" now, and more controversial groups emanating from Islam and Christianity, many of them associated with immigrant communities: the theology of "spirit possession" in West African churches, for example, requires constant and sensitive monitoring.

I must declare an interest: Eileen was my (wonderful) PhD supervisor and for several years I was a pretty useless governor of Inform. She's a forceful, funny, affectionate and sometimes rather scary lady – and she continues to drive the few remaining "anti-cult" activists nuts by testing their wild claims.
From Friday 31 January  to Sunday 2 February, Inform is holding a fascinating 25th anniversary conference on Minority Religions. You can find all the details here – and there's an early bird discount if you book before Friday. Heartily recommended. Never in Inform's history has its expertise been so valuable: small, unstable religious allegiances have the power to cause terrible disruption in our society, but we need to know where to look.

A final thought. I remember, back in the 1990s, Eileen telling me: "I hope you realise that you can find the same sorts of abuses in 'old' religion – say, a Benedictine monastery – as you do in the cults." Alas: how right she was.

Tags: cults, INFORM, Professor Eileen Barker

Jan 22, 2015

Man in Yemen accused of attempting to convert others to Baha'i faith

World Religion News
Alison Lesley
January 22, 2015

A man that has been living in Yemen has been tortured and interrogated for being accused of attempting to convert locals to his Baha'i faith.

According to representatives of the predominantly Islamic nation of Yemen, the man was trying to convert individuals to the faith through charitable works, various literacy lessons, and through online media. While the potential outcome for the man as far as punishment is unknown, it is surmised that he will be tried by a special penal council that is made specifically to deal with cases of a heretical nature. Still, his family claims that the charges are false and represent another case of the nation cracking down on the Baha'i faith.


The Baha'i are a religious group that has an estimated several thousand adherents. They consider their prophet as the last in a line that has extended through Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. For this reason, follower of contradicting faiths often consider it to be a heretical religion. In nations such as Yemen, which embraces Islam, the Baha'i individuals are often targets of attacks and repression. While the Baha'i are allowed to openly practice their religion, Hamed Merza Kamali Serostani is being charged for allegedly seeking to convert Muslims to the faith, which is frowned upon. However, in his case, there are additional charges being applied that have labeled him as an agent of Israel who is working to destabilize the region.


There are some discrepancies in the case for Hamed Serostani. For example, he is being named as an individual who has spent the time between 1991 and 2014 working in Yemen as an immigrant. During that time he has played a significant role in building homes and contacts, which the government says he used as an attempt to lure individuals away from Islam and towards the Baha'i faith.

The Serostani family disputes these charges and says that the family settled in Socotra, a small Yemeni Island, since 1945. They have also spoken out against the idea that he has committed espionage against Yemen, claiming that the government is only using this as a means to strike against the Baha'i. Moreover, they state the idea that he had contacts with Israel is only being used to distract the public from the fact that he was tortured and interrogated under duress to get the results that they wanted from him. With his case pending and the severe charges against him, the international community is looking for substantiation in the case of Hamed Serostani to determine whether he is the anti-Islam espionage agent or a helpful pillar of the community in his town that his family claims. It is unknown when the special penal court will be convened against him.


Jan 20, 2015

Guru sex scandal at Mount Eliza yoga retreat

Brisbane Times
January 20, 2015

A sex scandal has shattered the zen-like calm of an ashram in Mount Eliza, with revelations its "guru" and director, Swami Shankarananda, allegedly had sexual relations with dozens of women attending the ashram.

Distressed former members of the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga claim Swami Shankarananda, 72, had sexual relationships with up to 40 women, and say a number have since sought counselling.

At a prayer meeting in December, a board member of the residential ashram - which has about 500 members and up to 40 "seekers", or residents - announced the ashram was aware of sexual allegations against American-born Swami Shankarananda, also known as Russell Kruckman, and he would be standing down as director.

The ashram then released a statement to members saying it was aware the swami had had "secret sexual relations" with a number of women over time but he had never claimed to be a sexual renunciant or demanded celibacy from his disciples.

"It is well known that our lineage is a tantric path, involving worship of the Goddess with strict disciplines," the letter says. "...until now Swamiji has kept aspects of the teaching and his personal activities secret in line with age-old Hindi tantric scriptures."

"Swamiji now accepts that this is not appropriate, and he must be transparent both personally and in the teachings."

The letter goes on to say that while the board has been advised there is no basis for criminal complaint, the activities in question raise a number ethical questions, and free counselling is available.

"Swamiji has asked us on his behalf to reiterate his message for the year of holding the feeling - that is, stay away from enmity, and keep returning to love."

In an accompanying letter, the swami directly addresses the members of ashram, apologising and saying he had a "carrot in his ear", an apparent reference to a book he wrote in 2004 calledCarrot in My Ear: Questions and Answers on Living with Awareness.

"My dear ones, I feel a lot of anguish ... l had a carrot in my ear. Truly. When contemplating Baba's life, I was most engaged by the dramas of succession. I profoundly underestimated the impact of his tantric sexual activities. And my own. I recognise at last their disastrous effect."

Swami Shankarananda vowed to stop his behaviour and make amends in an atmosphere of "love and generosity of spirit".

"I am open to a dialogue about the role of the guru and the sannyasa in the modern West and also the place of sexuality in spiritual life ... we are pioneers, after all, and getting it all right isn't easy."

A longtime member of the ashram - who did not have sexual relations with its director - said members felt "absolutely shocked" and "aghast" that the swami remained in his role.

The source described it as an abuse of power from someone who held "huge sway" over a number "impressionable" people.

"He's very charismatic, he's like a big teddy bear. Everyone loved this guy but he's just a master at this," they said. They claimed that women were told that sex with the swami represented a path to "enlightenment".

Some residents at the ashram are now scrambling to try to find alternative accommodation and many long-term members had left, they said.

Fairfax Media was told the management committee of the ashram is deeply involved in the everyday life of its members, including giving advice on their relationships and marital problems.

In a statement the Shiva School said Swami Shankarananda is not on the school's management committee but remains the spiritual head of the Shiva ashram.

The ashram has engaged mediator Callum Campbell, the chief executive officer of the Australian Mediation Association, who will undertake a confidential mediation process and then report back to the ashram with recommendations for any action.

There is no current Victoria Police investigation and Fairfax is not implying that there is any evidence of sexual abuse.

Swami Shankarananda established the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga in 1992.


Jan 19, 2015

Makayla Sault, girl who refused chemo for leukemia, dies

Ontario First Nation girl, 11, dies after abandoning chemo for traditional, alternative treatments

By Connie Walker
CBC News
Jan 19, 2015

Connie Walker is the lead reporter at CBC Aboriginal and was previously a producer on the "8th Fire" series. She is Cree from the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan.

Makayla Sault, the 11-year-old Ontario First Nation girl who refused chemotherapy to pursue traditional indigenous medicine and other alternative treatments, has died.

She died Monday after suffering a stroke Sunday.

"Surrounded by the love and support of her family, her community and her nation … Makayla completed her course. She is now safely in the arms of Jesus," her family said in a statement published by the Two Row Times.

The girl's case made national headlines and ignited a debate about the validity of indigenous medicine and the rights of children to choose their own treatment. The Saults are from the New Credit First Nation near Caledonia, Ont.

Makayla was given a 75 per cent chance of survival when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in March. She underwent 11 weeks of chemotherapy at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton.

Her mother, Sonya Sault, said Makayla experienced severe side-effects and at one point ended up in intensive care.

After Makayla said she had a vision of Jesus in the hospital, she wrote a letter to her doctors asking to stop treatment.

"I am writing this letter to tell you that this chemo is killing my body and I cannot take it anymore."

She left chemotherapy treatment while in remission to pursue alternative and traditional indigenous medicine.

"Makayla was on her way to wellness, bravely fighting toward holistic well-being after the harsh side-effects that 12 weeks of chemotherapy inflicted on her body," the family statement reads. "Chemotherapy did irreversible damage to her heart and major organs. This was the cause of the stroke."

Although her family claims her death was due to chemotherapy, in September, a McMaster oncologist testified that Makayla had suffered a relapse. The doctor also testified that there are no known cases of survival of ALL without a full course of chemotherapy treatment.
Attended 'life transformation program'

When Makayla decided against continuing chemotherapy, the hospital referred her case to the Brant Children's Aid Society. After a brief investigation, it decided Makayla was not a child in need of protection and that it would not apprehend her to return her to treatment.

In an interview with CBC News in May, before the Brant Children's Aid Society closed its investigation, the director Andrew Koster said, "For us to take her away, to apprehend and place in a home with strangers, if that's the case, if there aren't any relatives, when she's very, very ill — I can't see how that would be helpful."

"I think people much more knowledgeable than ourselves need to be involved to look at what types of traditional medicines are being used, how does it fare up to some of the chemo treatments," said Koster.

In July, Makayla travelled to the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida and took its three-week "life transformation program." A CBC investigation revealed that Hippocrates is licensed as a "massage establishment," and is being sued by former staff who allege the company's president Brian Clement is operating "a scam under Florida law" and practising medicine without a licence.

Makayla touched everyone she knew, said Peter Fitzgerald, president of McMaster Children's Hospital, in a statement.

"Her loss is heartbreaking," he said, extending his condolences to her family.
Related precedent-setting case in Ontario court

Her death comes a few months after an Ontario judge ruled in an unprecedented case of another First Nations girl who also refused chemo.

The girl, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia​ in August. Doctors at McMaster Children's Hospital gave her a 90 to 95 per cent chance of survival.

After 10 days of chemotherapy, she and her mother left McMaster to seek treatment at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida.

The mother of the 11-year-old girl, who cannot be identified because of a publication ban, says the resort's director, Clement, told her leukemia is "not difficult to treat."

Clement, who goes by the title "Dr.," denied telling the mother that.

In an interview with CBC's Connie Walker, Clement said, "When we educate them they take care of themselves," he said, before shouting, "You're a liar. Get off the property."

In an interview with CBC News, her mother said, "This was not a frivolous decision I made. Before I took her off chemo, I made sure that I had a comprehensive health-care plan that I was very confident that was going to achieve ridding cancer of her body before I left the hospital. This is not something I think may work, this is something I know will work."

The girl's mother said her daughter received cold laser therapy, Vitamin C injections and a strict raw food diet, among other therapies at Hippocrates.

Judge Gethin Edward rejected the application from the Hamilton hospital that would have seen the Children's Aid Society intervene in this case.


Jan 17, 2015

North Korea begins brainwashing children in cult of the Kims as early as kindergarten

Washington Post
Anna Fifield
January 16, 2015
Kim Jong Il picture
 When Jeon Geum-ju was a girl in Hoeryong, a depressing mining town at the very northern reaches of North Korea, she used to sing at school about the country's supreme leader.
"Kim Jong Il, how hard he works, he works so hard that he sleeps in the car and just eats rice balls," sang Jeon, now 29, sitting in a restaurant here trying to recall the words that were once ingrained into her. "On his desk there are piles and piles of reports that he has to read and approve. He works so hard for us, the people."
And when Lee Hyun-ji, 19 and also from the country's north, was in elementary school, learning to throw wasn't a simple matter of pitching a ball.
In gym class, there was a wooden target of a human figure with pale skin and a huge nose, with "cunning American wolf" written on it. Lee and her young schoolmates would practice their throwing with a wooden "grenade."
For North Korea's dynastic Kim regime, citizens are never too young to be indoctrinated. Indeed, an all-encompassing personality cult has kept the country intact even as the Soviet Union collapsed and as China and Cubahave opened up.

Inside North Korea

With its pudgy leaders and their comical haircuts, its goose-stepping soldiers and its inventive turns of phrase, this bastion of totalitarianism has provided endless opportunity for mockery, most recently with the controversial U.S. film "The Interview."
Although critics have questioned its artistic merits and defectors have lamented the way it makes fun of North Koreans, the movie targets a central tenet of Kimist mythology: the idea that the North's leaders are divine beings. The crucial moment in the film is not the death of Kim Jong Un but earlier, when a talk show host interviews Kim and taps into his daddy issues, leading the young dictator to start blubbering, "I am strong," revealing him to be not only human but also insecure.
The personality cult that permeates every aspect of North Korean life has become an ideology in itself. It revolves around Kim Il Sung, portrayed as
an anti-Japanese revolutionary hero and founding father who remains North Korea's "eternal president" more than two decades after his death.
His son, Kim Jong Il, was, according to North Korean myth, born on a sacred mountain, under a bright star at night. (In reality, he was born in Siberia.) Since Kim Jong Il's death in 2011, Kim Jong Un has taken over the family business.
"I believed in this system for more than 20 years, but I was so thirsty to find out about the outside world," said Jeon, who now lives in South Korea and works in an office. Her curiosity led her to decide to sneak across the border to China. "Then, when I realized it was all lies, it was like I was just born at 23 years old. Twenty-three years had been stolen from my life."
365 days' worth of Kims
In North Korea, there is no escaping the Kims. Every home, office, classroom and even train car features portraits of the first two leaders, and the pictures must be cleaned with a special cloth every day.
North Koreans wear pins, usually of Kim Il Sung but sometimes of both Kim One and Kim Two, on their chests, on the left to be close to their hearts.
Television sets and radios are fixed to state-run channels — being caught with an unfixed device, or worse, foreign DVDs, is a severe offense that often leads to time at a labor camp — and for all but a handful of the elite, there is no Internet. Although an increasing amount of information seeps across the border from China, the state continues to have almost total control over the flow information.
After years of futile efforts to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, the international community is now focused on human rights violations there. Unprecedented attention is being given to political imprisonment and executions.
More pervasive, but less obviously gruesome, is the way the regime brainwashes children from an early age to believe in the Kims as godlike leaders.
This indoctrination program has two basic goals, according to a groundbreaking 372-page report published last year by a U.N. commission of inquiry: to instill utmost loyalty and commitment toward the supreme leader, and to instill hostility and deep hatred toward the United States, Japan and South Korea.
The brainwashing starts in kindergarten.
"The milk would arrive and we would go up one by one to fill our cups," recalled Lee, who came to South Korea only in March and asked to use a pseudonym to protect her family in the North.
"The teachers would say: 'Do you know where the milk came from? It came from the Dear Leader. Because of his love and consideration, we are drinking milk today,' " said Lee, looking every bit a South Korean with her dyed hair and trendy sweater.
"I didn't really ask questions," she shrugged. "Somehow I just knew not to."
Children's books convey the ideology, too. "The Butterfly and the Cockerel," for example, tells the story of an irascible, bullying rooster (the United States) outwitted by a small, virtuous butterfly (North Korea).
Teachers don't just teach history, they teach "revolutionary history." And all music, storybooks, novels and artwork relate to the Kims.
"When I taught math problems, they would go like this," said Chae Kyung-hee, who used to teach middle school in North Korea and now runs a school for defectors in Seoul. "If you have this many of Kim Il Sung's anti-Japanese fighters and this many Japanese soldiers, and X-many Japanese soldiers are killed . . ."
There are 365 days' worth of education materials, so every day teachers could say to their students, "On this day, Kim Il Sung went there, did that." At age 7, all children must join the Children's Union. The next year, they start Saturday "self-criticism" sessions in which they must confess how they fell short of the "Ten Principles" that are the foundation of North Korea's ideology. The principles include requirements such as studying the "revolutionary ideas of Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung" daily.
At 14, they move up to the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League, which focuses on worshiping the Kim family.
High school students in North Korea must complete a three-year, 81-hour course on the history of Kim Jong Un, according to a recent report from South Korea's KBS World Radio, which cited a copy of the North Korean Education Committee's "compulsory education outline." The course is in addition to a 160-hour course on Kim Il Sung and 148 hours of study about Kim Jong Il.
Social molding
Tatiana Gabroussenko, an expert on North Korean literature who teaches at Korea University in Seoul, said that by not allowing people to form their own opinions, North Korea infantilizes its citizens.
"North Korea molds children socially," Gabroussenko said. Books for different generations have different styles but the same message and characters, sometimes involving South Korean "stooges" or American "beasts."
"In the children's version, a child will be fighting Americans by throwing pepper in their eyes and making them sneeze and cough," Gabroussenko said. In the adult version, weapons, rather than condiments, are used.
"The message 'We are one nation' implies that you can't rebel against your father, you can't rebel about your government, that it's important to stick together," she said.
Indeed, the system of surveillance and informing on people is so pervasive that husbands dare not voice doubts about the regime to their wives, and parents, if they are skeptical, dare not try to protect their children's minds.
"My parents were very loyal," said Ji Sung-ho, a 31-year-old who lost a foot and an arm as a teenager when he fell from a moving train while trying to steal coal for his family. "I think my parents really believed it, even when people were dying of hunger."
The U.N. report concluded that the system of indoctrination and surveillance constitutes numerous human rights abuses, including violations of the freedoms of thought, expression and religion. To some, those violations are just as inexcusable as the executions, torture, infanticide and other abuses documented in the report.
"Of course, you can talk about torture and labor camps," said Jeon, the defector, "but I think a more serious infringement of human rights is not giving people any choice to think for themselves or giving them access to outside information."

Anna Fifield is The Post's bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.

Mormon Church Threatens Critic With Excommunication

January 15, 2015
The New York Times

Mormon leaders have moved to excommunicate the prominent founder of an online forum for questioning Mormons, charging him with apostasy for publicly supporting same-sex marriage and the ordination of women, and for challenging church teaching.
John P. Dehlin, 45, host of the “Mormon Stories” website and podcast — a hub of discussion for thousands of skeptical Mormons — said that his regional church leader confirmed on Wednesday that a disciplinary hearing had been scheduled for Jan. 25. Mr. Dehlin said he was told he would be disciplined and probably excommunicated if he refused to remove podcasts that are critical of the church and to disavow his support for women’s ordination and same-sex marriage.
“There’s no way I can agree to those terms,” he said in an interview from Logan, Utah. “I would prefer for them to leave me alone, but if given the choice between denying my conscience and facing excommunication, I’d much rather be excommunicated.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon Church, has in recent years been opening up and addressing sensitive questions about its history and theology, while simultaneously cracking down on members who publicly challenge church doctrine. The church claims 15 million members worldwide, six million of whom live in the United States.
The last year has brought a wave of excommunications, including that of Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer who founded Ordain Women, a group that supports women joining the priesthood. She was excommunicated in June, and Mr. Dehlin was warned then of the charges against him. After the expulsion of Ms. Kelly created an uproar, the church held off on excommunicating Mr. Dehlin, even after issuing him an ultimatum in August. This was the third time he had been investigated in the last 10 years and threatened with disciplinary action, he said.
Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the church in Salt Lake City, said, “We respect the privacy of individuals, and don’t publicly discuss the reasons why a member faces church discipline. Those reasons are provided to a member by their local church leaders.”
He added that Mr. Dehlin had received letters explaining the reasons for the disciplinary action against him.
The letters, which Mr. Dehlin has published online, are far more general than the specific list of accusations that Mr. Dehlin said he was given verbally in meetings with his regional leader, known as a stake president.
The threat of excommunication did not come as a surprise to Mr. Dehlin, who is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and counseling at Utah State University, or his supporters. In recent years, he has become an increasingly vocal critic of the church’s prohibition on gay relationships and its opposition to same-sex marriage. He has conducted research on how church teachings have affected gay Mormons, and given a TED talk on being an ally to gay people.
Mr. Dehlin was working for Microsoft and serving as a volunteer religious schoolteacher in 2001 when he said he first stumbled across “troubling and hard to find historical facts” about the church and its teachings in the Book of Mormon and other scriptures.
He says he founded the “Mormon Stories” podcast in 2005 to explore those issues with others, and has posted hundreds of lengthy interviews with Mormon scholars, historians and key figures in church culture. Many of the podcasts have been downloaded as many as 50,000 times, and others twice that amount.
Jana Riess, a Mormon columnist at Religion News Service, said that Mr. Dehlin’s interviews included a broad spectrum of Mormons, including the orthodox, the curious, the doubters and the heretics — and that his following was similarly diverse.
“The church is trying to work out what is acceptable discourse. Obviously, this is the 21st century and there are now tens of thousands of people who are online discussing Mormonism every day, and some of the public comments are not orthodox,” Ms. Riess said. “The question becomes, how can you police that, or do you even try? I think this is something they are still working out.”
Critics of Mr. Dehlin say he has been courting excommunication for years by publicly disavowing some Mormon teachings. But the role he has played in modern church affairs is far more complex. He founded a website, staylds.com, as a forum to persuade doubters to remain in the church. In recent years, he said, he was asked to share data he had collected with church officials on Mormons who wrestle with doubts and how to retain them in the church.
But Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, a group that defends the church, said that the likely reason Mr. Dehlin was facing excommunication is that he is a nonbeliever who advocates nonbelief.
“He wants to belong to the culture, to the community, but he doesn’t believe in the faith,” Mr. Gordon said.
Each time Mr. Dehlin has been under investigation, he has submitted letters from hundreds of Mormons who testified that he persuaded them to remain in the church. Some ex-Mormons shun Mr. Dehlin’s website for that very reason: They say it is geared too much toward persuading people to stay in the faith.

A version of this article appears in print on January 16, 2015, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: Mormon Church Threatens Critic With Excommunication.

Jan 16, 2015

Aum accused pleads not guilty to most charges on first day of trial

Aum accused pleads not guilty to most charges on first day of trial

The Japan Times


JAN 16, 2015


A former member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult pleaded not guilty to almost all charges against him, including murder, during the first day of a high-profile trial at the Tokyo District Court on Friday.

The trial of Katsuya Takahashi, 56, revisits the fatal terrorist attack on Tokyo’s subway system in 1995 that was masterminded by the cult, and represents the first scrutiny of the case under the lay judge system, introduced in 2009.

The trial is expected to last four months, with a verdict likely at the end of April, according to local media reports.

Takahashi stands accused of involvement in four heinous crimes orchestrated by the cult during its heyday in the early 1990s, including the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subway trains that killed 13 people and left thousands ill.

The charges against him include murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and solitary confinement resulting in death, destruction of corpses and violation of the Explosives Control Act.

“I didn’t know it was sarin that (we sprayed),” Takahashi said of the 1995 attack.

“I didn’t plot murder with anybody,” he added, clad in a black business suit and looking much thinner and more worn-out than when he was finally arrested in June 2012 after 17 years on the lam.

Takahashi’s arrest followed those of two other long-term fugitives, Makoto Hirata and Naoko Kikuchi. Of the three, Takahashi is the only one accused of direct involvement in the sarin attack.

Takahashi is thought to have been the driver for one of the senior cultists who sprayed the gas. Since the plan required close coordination from everyone, however, Takahashi will remain accused of murder, a source said.

Throughout the Friday session, Takahashi’s defense lawyer emphasized the mind-set that pervaded the cult, in which guru Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, brainwashed his disciples into carrying out the heinous attack under the pretext of attaining heightened spirituality. His lawyer used that logic to downplay Takahashi’s culpability.

Takahashi is also accused of participating in the murder of a company employee in December 1994 by again acting as the driver for senior cultists who sprayed extremely toxic VX gas over the victim from behind.

In January the following year, Takahashi allegedly aided in another gas attack by a fellow Aum member. The victim, Hiroyuki Nagaoka, was badly injured and narrowly escaped death after 60 days of medical treatment.

Takahashi has maintained his innocence on the grounds that he was unaware of how deadly the gas was and did not intend to kill anybody.

He is also suspected to have played a crucial role in kidnapping Tokyo notary Kiyoshi Kariya in 1995 by shoving him into a getaway car. Takahashi has admitted to that, but has argued his crime, if any, boils down to aiding the kidnapping. He denied involvement in the fatal drugging of Kariya.

He claims that was perpetrated by other cultists later.

In May of 1995, Takahashi allegedly sent a parcel bomb to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office — a high-profile incident that cost then-Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima’s secretary all of the fingers on his left hand.

Takahashi pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder charge stemming from that incident, on the grounds that there was no malice intended and that the bomb wasn’t powerful enough to kill anyone.



Satan worshipper guilty of murdering two women

Satan worshipper guilty of murdering two women 

Toronto Sun



BARRIE - A Satan worshipper who was found guilty of murder after he partially decapitated two women repeatedly begged to plead guilty before his trial but was refused by the court.


Mark Dobson, 24, was found guilty Thursday of two counts of first-degree murder after Superior Court Justice David Watt threw out his bid to be found not criminally responsible for killing his girlfriend, Mary Hepburn, 32, of Barrie and Helen Dorrington, 52, of Cold Lake, Alta.

Horrified staff found the women in blood-soaked beds with their heads partially severed, surrounded with small dolls and satanic art in a room at the Travelodge motel in Barrie May 2, 2012.

Dobson sat in the room, pale, naked, wet and covered in blood with his neck and arm sliced from his own failed suicide and blandly told them, “I killed them – it was a suicide cult thing.”

The three became friends by chatting on a website called The Joy of Satan and together they planned their deaths so they could travel to the planet Orion.

More than a year ago Dobson repeatedly begged the pretrial judge to allow him to plead guilty.

“I did it, I murdered them and now I want to do my time in the pen,” Dobson told the pretrial judge, Regional Senior Justice Michael Brown in October 2013, but the judge refused.

“You have the authority to refuse me? You won’t accept my plea?” Dobson asked the judge.

“Mr. Dobson it’s in your best interest,” said Brown. “You are looking at a minimum sentence of life in prison.”

Visibly upset and frustrated, Dobson tried again on subsequent pretrial days but each time was refused.

“I feel this is a corrupt justice system,” said “Dobson. “It’s not very efficient … I can’t stand this anymore.”

In the end, he was convinced to take his case to trial. Dobson’s lawyer, Mitch Eisen, fought hard during the trial last fall to prove his client was not criminally responsible because he suffered from schizophrenia and psychosis and therefore could not understand that what he did was morally wrong, but the judge disagreed.

“This case has unusual and grotesque features … by his own account,” Watt said in his verdict.

He noted even Dobson understood the grotesqueness of the killing when, hours later in a hospital bed he told a police officer, “I’ll be looked at as a monster, I know.”

In the same interview, Dobson described in horrific detail how he “kept cutting and cutting,” his girlfriend’s neck even while she pleaded with him to stop and continued to gurgle her pleas from her trachea after her throat was cut, but still he kept cutting.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he told the officer, “I expect I will get the death penalty or life in prison.”

It was Dobson’s own words, showing he recognized the horror of his act that were a deciding point for the judge.

Watt said it was not enough that Dobson was most certainly mentally ill; it was not enough that Dobson suffered from delusions and believed Satan spoke to him; and it was not enough that Dobson intensely believed he was doing right in sending the women to a better place — because Dobson also understood that the killings were morally wrong in the eyes of society.

“He knew it was contrary to the law and it would land him in jail,” said Watt. “He knew what he was doing when he cut their throats and he knew it was wrong.”

Outside of court, Hepburn’s mother, Sonya Hepburn, expressed her grief.

“She was my sweetie, my baby,” said Hepburn, as she held a tiny silver urn containing some of her daughter’s ashes. She said she had no idea her daughter was involved in Satan worship until after her death when she found a Satanic bible in her room.

Crown attorneys Lynn Saunders and Shannon Curry will be back in court Feb. 10 to seek two consecutive life sentences.



Little Boy Who Claimed to Die and Visit Heaven Admits He Made It Up

Sam Biddle
The Gawker.com
January 16, 2015

Book cover The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven
There's nothing God hates more than a liar, and that's exactly what Alex Malarkey—protagonist and co-author of The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven—has just copped to being. In an open letter posted on a Christian website Tuesday, the alleged paradise tourist says "I did not die. I did not go to Heaven." Wow, we have a little sinner on our hands.

The book, probably hoping to make hay of the vast American Gullibility Industrial Complex that made Heaven Is For Real a successful text and movie (and a family called the Burpos very rich), has been mainstay in Christian book stores, the Washington Post reports. No longer:

The bestsel,ling book, first published in 2010, describes what Alex experienced while he lay in a coma after a car accident when he was 6 years old. The coma lasted two months and his injuries left him paralyzed, but the book — with its assuring description of "Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World" — became part of a popular genre of "heavenly tourism," which has been controversial among orthodox Christians.

Earlier this week, Alex recented [sic] his testimony about the afterlife.
This very true story, which has an outstanding 4.3 rating on Amazon and many glowing (like an angel's crown) reviews, includes passages like this one:

"The devil's mouth is funny looking, with only a few moldy teeth. And I've never noticed any ears. His body has a human form, with two bony arms and two bony legs. He has no flesh on his body, only some moldy stuff. His robes are torn and dirty. I don't know about the color of the skin or robes—it's all just too scary to concentrate on these things!"

Little Boy Who Claimed to Die and Visit Heaven Admits He Made It Up

How could someone make all that up? But in an open letter on the website Pulpit and Pen, Alex wrote that this did not actually happen to him. He didn't visit the Devil, or God, or Heaven—he didn't even die! What the heck:

"An Open Letter to Lifeway and Other Sellers, Buyers, and Marketers of Heaven Tourism, by the Boy Who Did Not Come Back From Heaven."

Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short.

I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.

I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.

It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of Heaven outside of what is written in the Bible…not by reading a work of man. I want the whole world to know that the Bible is sufficient. Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.

In Christ,

Alex Malarkey."
This makes Colton Burpo the only little adorable liar to still claim he died, saw God, and then came back and cashed in.

Little Boy's Fake Trip to Heaven to Become Real Movie
A little boy says he went to heaven, his father writes a book about it, and now this book is…

Read more gawker.​com


Documentary Draws Ire From the Church of Scientology

Documentary Draws Ire From the Church of Scientology


LOS ANGELES — If controversy sells, HBO may suddenly have a hit in Alex Gibney’s new documentary about Scientology and renegades who left it behind.

On Friday, the Church of Scientology is expected to strike out at the movie — which its members and leaders have not yet seen — with full-page newspaper advertisements in The New York Times and elsewhere detailing what it says are journalistic lapses by Mr. Gibney.

In a pointed reference to a much-challenged magazine article about a campus rape at the University of Virginia, the ads ask whether the movie, called “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” is “a Rolling Stone/UVA Redux.” The film is based on a book written by Lawrence Wright, who is a producer of the documentary.

The critique guarantees a combustible debut for a movie that is scheduled to make its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25, and will screen in a small number of theaters before reaching a wide audience on HBO, beginning on March 16.

The church’s forceful response risks calling attention to what might have seemed like old news. Scientology has already been closely investigated by Mr. Wright and others. A similar campaign in 2013 by SeaWorld against the documentary “Blackfish,” about orcas in captivity, did nothing to dampen the film’s popularity when it was broadcast later on CNN. But media flare-ups around accusations of sexual misconduct by Woody Allen and Bill Cosby — denied by both — have also shown that past claims can ignite new problems.

“Going Clear” arrives at Sundance as one of a cluster of volatile documentaries. While part happenstance, film agents say directors are leaning harder into controversy-courting topics as a way to cut through the clutter of television and video-on-demand services, where a lot of these films now primarily play.

Sundance bills “The Hunting Ground” as a “startling expose of rape crimes.” Marc Silver’s “3 1/2 Minutes” is a topical examination of racism in the American criminal justice system, while “Pervert Park” works to humanize pedophiles.

“Among documentaries, we’re seeing an increased shift toward topics that punch you in the gut,” said John Cooper, the Sundance director.

In its ad and in an interview with representatives, the church said Mr. Gibney had rejected its 12 requests for an opportunity to address accusations, while asking instead for interviews with the church leader, David Miscavige, and celebrity adherents that include Tom Cruise, John Travolta and others.

In a statement, Mr. Gibney on Thursday said he had “requested interviews with various people — including current church members and officials — who could shed light on specific incidents discussed in the film.” All of those asked, he added, “either declined, did not respond or set unreasonable conditions.”

Separately, HBO said in a statement that it was customary in making documentaries to request on-camera interviews from those involved in relevant events. “This film identifies those that were approached,” the statement added.

Speaking on Tuesday, several church representatives said the refusal to disclose the film’s assertions was unusual and unfair. “In my 40 years of experience, this has never happened,” said Anthony Michael Glassman, a lawyer who has represented Scientology in media-related cases.

The church representatives said they were making no attempt to block the Sundance screening. But they said they were entitled to address claims in a movie that was built heavily around on-camera interviews with Paul Haggis, Marty Rathbun, Michael Rinder, Jason Beghe and other former adherents who have painted a picture of declining membership and abusive practices within the church.

Interviewed last week, Mr. Gibney said his film was still undergoing a legal review, and that a version shared by digital link at that point might change slightly. He said he was confident of the film’s solidity, but acknowledged having received sharp queries from church representatives who “seem to be warning us, but warning us without knowing” what is in the movie.

Mr. Gibney said he had been working on the film for about two years. Scientology representatives said he first broached the subject of interviewing Mr. Miscavige and others last October.

A prolific documentarian, Mr. Gibney won an Oscar in 2008 for “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about the use of torture by the United States in the war on terror. He said he had frequently been asked to explore Scientology as a subject, but “actually wasn’t that interested.” He became intrigued with Mr. Wright’s book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief,” which was published in January 2013.

Most alluring, said Mr. Gibney, was the book’s underlying theme, which, in Mr. Gibney’s words, explores “how people become prisoners of faith in various ways.” (Mr. Gibney describes himself as “very much a lapsed Catholic.”)

The film includes a small amount of dramatic reconstruction, some harking back to the early days of Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. It also uses clips that were licensed, were in the public domain, or were within the bounds of fair use, Mr. Gibney said. Some wariness surrounds any prerelease discussion of the clips’ precise content. Mr. Gibney and HBO have severely restricted access to the film, to reduce risk of an attempt to block its use of clips before the Sundance premiere.

Like Mr. Wright’s book, the documentary depends heavily on interviews with Scientology dropouts whose filmed accounts mostly track with earlier descriptions of claimed abuse, both physical and emotional, that were compiled by Mr. Wright.

Their impact is enhanced by the power of film, however.

“In the book, you have to take my word for it,” said Mr. Wright, who will join the film’s promotion at Sundance. “In the documentary, you get the chance to judge for yourself.”

(Mr. Wright extensively engaged with Scientology officials while writing his book.)

Speaking by telephone last week, Mr. Rinder said he had participated as an interview subject — and would join the Sundance contingent — to prompt change within Scientology. “I hope this movie increases public pressure for the church to change its abusive practices,” he said.

Mr. Rinder mentioned specifically the practice of “disconnection,” under which members of the church break contact with friends, family members or associates who are deemed to have become hostile toward Scientology.

Monique E. Yingling, a lawyer for the church, said shunning was practiced by a number of religions, has been upheld as legally permissible by courts and, in the case of Scientology, is reserved for those who have started “attacking the religion.”

Ms. Yingling and others further challenged claims, reflected in both the book and the film, that church membership had dwindled in recent years. While citing no specific number, Ms. Yingling said adherents of the church number in the millions. Karin Pouw, a church spokeswoman, said Scientology had been growing in the years since Mr. Rathbun and Mr. Rinder left (Mr. Rathbun in 2004, Mr. Rinder in 2007), as it opened new facilities around the world.

Ms. Pouw and Ms. Yingling said the church and its leaders did not abuse members.

Still nine days from a public showing, Mr. Gibney’s film has clearly widened the gap between adherents and apostates. In its newspaper advertisement, the church, without mentioning names, characterized some people who had contributed to Mr. Wright’s book as having been expelled from the Scientology organization for malfeasance.

Speaking last week, Mr. Rinder — who was not named in the ad — had already described the church as “a parasite on society.”

Mr. Gibney, for his part, declined to say Scientology was the toughest subject he has tackled in a filmmaking career that has examined government abuse in “Taxi to the Dark Side,” financial shenanigans in “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and a clerical sex scandal in “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.”

But, he said, “it’s definitely in the top five.”


Brooks Barnes contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on January 16, 2015, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Documentary Draws Ire From Scientology.




Jan 15, 2015

Lawsuit claims Albion rehab center is a Scientology front, latest in long list of lawsuits since 2005

Lawsuit claims Albion rehab center is a Scientology front, latest in long list of lawsuits since 2005


By Will Forgrave | wforgrav@mlive.com 
January 15, 2015

ALBION, MI – A former rehabilitation patient at Narconon Freedom Center in Albion has sued the company, claiming the center uses its program to introduce Scientology to unwitting patients seeking drug rehabilitation.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, Jan. 14, former patient and Ohio resident Lauren Prevec claims the center charged $25,000 in upfront costs before skipping a medical assessment, taking her completely off her anti-depressant medication and attempting to indoctrinate her to Scientology over the course of two months.

She is requesting $75,000 in damages.

Officials at Narconon Freedom Center declined to comment on the lawsuit when called and approached in person Thursday, Jan. 15.

Among other allegations, Prevec claims in her lawsuit that Narconon Freedom Center officials:

  • Engaged in "romantic relationships" with patients.
  • Supplied patients with the same eight course books based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Scientology religion.
  • Had patients perform what they called a "new life detoxification program," which the suit alleges is strikingly similar to a Scientology ritual known as the "purification rundown."
  • Allowed drugs to regularly be brought into the facility.

"Narconon Freedom Center is using the program to introduce Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard's 'technology' to unwitting patients seeking drug rehabilitation," the lawsuit reads. "This is exactly as the Church of Scientology directed as part of its 'Social Coordination Strategy.'"

Prevec was suspended from the center July 3, 2012, because she tested positive for marijuana, the report reads.

Lansing-based Attorney Jeffrey Ray is representing the plaintiffs in the case, including Prevec's parents Frank and Jannette. His paralegal Catherine Villanueva said this isn't the first case the law office has brought against Narconon.

"The first case came across my desk about two-and-a-half years ago, and I didn't think anything of it initially," Villanueva said. "It claimed some strange things about Narconon ... so I ended up searching the ties between Narconon and Scientology and it just opened up."

In May 2012, former Narconon patient Richard Teague brought a lawsuit against the center in Calhoun County Circuit Court, after he claimed the center didn't assist him in his rehabilitation from benzodiazepine.

On January 15, 2011, while at the Narconon Freedom Center in Albion, Teague, while exhibiting symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal, set himself on fire with the use of a cigarette lighter and a cologne bottle. With flames engulfing him, he ran outside and extinguished the fire by plunging into the snow.

"On Jan. 15, 2011, Richard Teague was not supervised, monitored or cared-for properly by Narconon staff," the lawsuit reads. "The plaintiff was in delusional, paranoid state when he was severely and permanently burned."

The Teague case was dismissed May 12, 2014, Calhoun County Circuit Court officials said.

There have been 118 lawsuits brought against Narconon centers across the country since 1992, electronic court records indicate. Court records show there are have been 33 lawsuits brought in Calhoun County courts since 2005 against the Albion center and A Forever Recovery Center in Battle Creek, a Narconon affiliate.

Contact Will Forgrave at wforgrav@mlive.com or 517-262-7554. Follow him on Twitter at @WillForgrave.