Apr 29, 2015

Gloriavale 'needs to be shut down' as secretive sect goes on the defensive

TVNZSource: ONE News
April 29, 2015

Concerned Kiwis are calling for the Government to intervene and shut down the Gloriavale "cult", as a former member says the religious sect will now be in "defence" mode to protect their way of life.

Yesterday, police called for residents of the West Coast Christian commune to reveal their experiences in light of new allegations by ex-community members of brainwashing, physical punishment and sexual abuse against girls as young as 12.

Do you have connections to Gloriavale? Tell us your story by emailing newsdesk@tvnz.co.nz

ONE News reader Daniel Bestic said: "Gloriavale needs to be shut down. Immediately. Horrible brainwashing and forced marriages are not something our country should allow to continue."

Posting to the ONE News Facebook page, Deb Leete Meads feared another Waco, referring to the violent siege of a religious commune in Texas during 1993.

"No more hanging about, nor being polite, storm it," she said.

Claudine Wharekura Kingi Murray called on CYFS to "do your job" and "protect the kids".

Tanya Eade agreed: "It's a cult and the children are pretty much brainwashed as they know of no other way of life. I agree something needs to be done."

As scrutiny surrounding the isolated commune increases, former member Elijah Overcomer, 26, also said Gloriavale's 16 leaders will now be in "defence" mode.

Speaking to the Timaru Herald he said the secretive sect will now justify how "bad" the outside world is, after television crews and a former member tried to gain entry into the compound.

"It probably wasn't the best thing to do. It will only put those living there on the defensive."

Mr Overcomer is married to former Gloriavale member Rosanna, who recently told TV ONE's Sunday about her 27 years of living a life of submission and fear.

“They really do seriously believe that if I walk out of there I’m sending myself and my kids to hell," Rosanna said.

"They turned on me like a pack of wolves," she said about the group and Gloriavale leader Neville Cooper, who was convicted for indecent assault and served two years in prison during the 1990s.

About 25 ex-Gloriavale members now live in South Canterbury.

Police added yesterday that they did not need a complaint against Gloiravale to act, but information would help in future investigations.


Apr 28, 2015

Self-styled prophet whose cult-like church was linked to horrific killing of five-year-old Scott Chirashi is convicted of two sex offences

28 April 2015
Scottish Daily Record
By Chris Clements

WALTER Masocha, who enjoyed a God-like status, was found guilty of groping a 14-year-old schoolgirl and molesting a 32-year-old deaconess.

A SELF-STYLED prophet whose church was linked to a horrific child killing was convicted of sex attacks yesterday.

Farai Chirashi, who killed her son Scott, five, and ripped out his heart, had attended perv preacher Walter Masocha's cult-like church.

Yesterday, Masocha, 51, was found guilty of groping a 14-year-old schoolgirl. He told her that he was trying to remove demons. The twisted churchman was also found guilty of molesting a 32-year-old deaconess, claiming he was healing her of a stomach ache.

Masocha enjoyed God-like status in his money-spinning church Agape.

But it was touched by scandal when mentally ill Chirashi killed Scott.

Scott was stabbed to death and had his heart ripped out by his mother.

She had descended into mental illness after breaking away from Agape and her husband Tichakunda Chiriseri, who remained devoted to the church.

And yesterday, as Masocha, 51, was convicted of the sex attacks, insiders revealed the shocking truth behind the cult-like operation.

Zimbabwean-born Masocha founded the Agape for All Nations International Ministries, which has brought in more than £3.3million of donations from its followers in the last four years.

Today the Record can reveal:

●Bizarre ceremonies where former Stirling University lecturer Masocha walks across the jackets thrown down by his devout followers.

●Claims of "exorcisms" in his back garden and allegations of financial abuse.

●The terror and isolation felt by members who dared question his

●The church's links with the tragic case of Scott Chiriseri.

● How Masocha encouraged the women of his congregation to call him "daddy".

After a six-day trial, a jury of seven men and seven women at Falkirk Sheriff Courtyesterday took less than 30 minutes to find Masocha guilty of sexually assaulting the deaconess and sexually touching the underage girl. The verdicts were by majority.

The court heard he kissed and caressed the schoolgirl and "pinged" her underwear at his seven-bedroom home, Cosy Neuk, in Sauchieburn, near Stirling.

He groped the deaconess, a married mother-of-four, who was told by her husband that the "prophet" had been trying to remove something from her genitals. The offences took place between January 2012 and January 2014.

But Masocha was earlier found not guilty of two other charges, alleging that he engaged in sexual activity with another girl, then 13, by inducing her to massage his half-naked body with oils. He was cleared after she retracted her claims.

Allegations that he had acted in a similar way on various occasions towards her then 16-year-old sister had been dropped before the trial began.

The court heard during evidence that the 13-year-old girl and her family have since rejoined the sect.

Masocha, in a handmade suit with velvet collar, stood completely expressionless in the dock as the verdicts were announced.

Sheriff Kenneth McGowan ordered that Masocha's name should be entered on the sex offenders' register and deferred sentence.

He continued bail, until May 19 for reports, which will include an assessment of the risk Masocha poses to other women and girls.

In court, Masocha's adult victim wept as she told how "Archbishop" Masocha groped her private parts under the guise of praying for "every part of your body".

She said: "It was like he was feeling me. I was so shocked.

"At that time I saw him as somebody who could never do any wrong, because that was what he used to teach us.

"My husband told me, 'The prophet is seeing something in your genitals that needs to be removed, so he was removing that.'

"Outside, I had to believe that, but inside I didn't."

The court also heard of Masocha's claims to the woman that God had told him that "he was the one with the keys to her destiny".

And she described how she had to undergo an all-night "deliverance" after her husband told her she had to be freed from demons.

She also told how she left the church when her family and fellow members called medics and tried to have her sectioned during one service.

Paramedics agreed the effort had simply been a "public humiliation".

Speaking to the Record yesterday, the woman claimed she had had a number of other uncomfortable encounters with Masocha.

And she portrayed him as a manipulative egomaniac fleecing his followers with promises of a better life, while running his organisation from the comfort of £500,000 Cosyneuk.

She said Masocha – who she and other women followers called "my Dad" – claimed to have heard the "audible voice of God" and to have spoken with the Lord on Mount Sinai, Egypt.

"His whole system is evil," she said.

"Masocha appears absolutely charming. If you were to meet him, you would think, 'Oh my goodness, there is nothing wrong with this man.'

"He is very likeable and is a sweet talker. He is a charismatic speaker and thinks well of himself – typical of any cult leader who controls the crowds. But he simply preys on the vulnerable."

Masocha – a former accountancy lecturer – set up the controversial church in 2007.

Before then, he had already fallen foul of his neighbours in Sauchieburn, who alleged he had carried out an exorcism in garden. The church has denied the claim.

Agape are a registered charity, describing their purpose as the "advancement of religion".

Since 2011, the church have brought in an income of £3,300,720 – most of it raised through donations from his flock.

Over the same period, they spent £2,921,713, the bulk of which goes towards "charitable activities".

In 2014, more than £34,000 of their spending covered "governance costs".

Masocha has so-called satellite ministries in France, Ireland, Canada and the US, as well as Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and his native Zimbabwe.

In the UK, dozens of these branches exist, including satellites in Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen.

There are believed to be around 1000 members of the church in the UK alone, most of them hailing from Zimbabwe.

Videos online show the colourful ceremonies tied to his preaching.

In one scene, Masocha is shown walking across coats thrown down by his followers – an allusion to Palm Sunday.

In another, he is seen preaching a sermon about pigs being possessed by demons.

Such is Masocha's notoriety, his arrest and trial has already been reported by news outlets in his African homeland.

His 32-year-old victim – also from Zimbabwe – says the shamed preacher lures immigrant followers who have no support network on entering the UK.

She explained: "The people who go to this church are already vulnerable adults.

"They are immigrants who have come into this country and find it very hard.

"They struggle with the way they are viewed by society, to get jobs and often have problems with their immigration papers.

"You will find that the people who go to Agape have issues already. They are seeking something more.

"So they look up to this self-proclaimed prophet who is saying to you, 'Don't worry, everything
will be okay. You're going to get your papers.'

"He tells them, 'You're going to be rich.'"

Agape have been attacked by a number of bloggers who were once part of the church, with claims of financial mismanagement and abuse levelled at the church leader.

The former deaconess continued: "When I came out the church, my eyes were open. It is a cult and he is brainwashing people.

"You couldn't have friends outside the church. You couldn't even go to other churches and hear what other ministers are saying.

"You give everything to him. We used to take our wages and literally hand them over to him.

"It got to the point where mortgages aren't being paid because he tells you that the more you give
to the Prophet, the more God will bless you.

"Yes, it sounds stupid … but the level of brainwashing on adults is unbelievable."

A spokesman for Agape, now run by a board of trustees, said: "Dr Masocha's engagement as an employee of Agape for All Nations Ministries International has been suspended.

"Agape sincerely apologises for any harm done to those affected."

The spokesman also insisted: "Agape FANMI is not a cult. It does not fulfil the warning signs of a cult."


Lawyers say aboriginal judge behind unusual chemotherapy ruling has reputation as 'very fair'

Tom Blackwell 
National Post
April 28, 2015

It was, from the start, a strange case, involving a hospital suing a children’s aid society to force an aboriginal child with leukemia back into chemotherapy.

It ended on a no-less unorthodox note Friday, when Justice Gethin Edward agreed to modify his original ruling — five months after the fact — and then wandered down from the bench and did a meet-and-greet with the young patient and various other figures involved in the drawn-out case.

“I see the gang’s all here,” he had said to them with a smile earlier.

Edward was assigned the case by chance last year, but it seems to have been a natural fit for a judge who has quietly built a reputation in Brantford, Ont., as fair, intelligent and attuned to the area’s large aboriginal population — even if it sometimes means courting controversy.

Not only is he an actual member of the Six Nations reserve where the cancer patient — an 11-year-old known as J.J. — lives, but he helped found a special court for First Nations people caught up in the criminal justice system, and once oversaw a native rehab facility.

Edward also ushered in the holding of eagle feathers as an alternative to swearing on the bible in Brantford, and caused a stir when he temporarily banished Canadian and Ontario flags from his courtroom to placate an aboriginal witness.

“The same old, same old, regardless of whether you’re aboriginal or non-aboriginal, isn’t really working,” Edward was quoted as saying when the native court opened last year. “We’ve tried putting people in jail and throwing away the key but, at the end of the day, is there any evidence that it works?”

What brought the small-town judge to national attention, though, was his decision last November that J.J.’s mother had a constitutional right to seek traditional aboriginal remedies — even if it meant pulling the girl from chemotherapy.

It would not have been an easy ruling to deliver, suggests Howard Staats, who gave Edward his first job at a Brantford law firm and worked beside him for 14 years.

“I think it took a lot of fortitude, intestinal fortitude to come up with the decision,” Staats said Monday. “I think he knew it was not going to be a popular decision. But I think that’s the way he saw the law, and a judge is there to enforce the law.”

Indeed, the judgment outraged many observers in the non-native world, while being hailed as an overdue recognition of traditional ways in First Nations communities.

Also revealed Friday was that J.J.’s leukemia had returned, and she was again being treated both with chemo and traditional medicine. Another native girl, from a reserve next to Six Nations, died earlier this year after she similarly pulled out of chemotherapy in favour of alternative health care. Edward was not involved in that case.

The latest hearing came after the Ontario government belatedly got involved in J.J.’s case five months ago.

Lawyers for the province, the family, Six Nations and others hammered together a deal — accepted by the judge — that modified the ruling to state the interests of the child must be paramount, but aboriginal healing still respected.

Edward stickhandled the complex case authoritatively both in the months after his ruling, and during the original trial, said Mark Handelman, a lawyer who represented the local children’s aid society.

“This was a very emotionally charged case, when you think of the issues and the parties,” he said. “He was able to keep tensions and emotions from boiling over in the courtroom.”

According to the University of Saskatchewan’s Program for Legal Studies for Native People, the judge’s path into law began with the program’s eight-week summer course in 1977, designed to prepare aboriginal students for the rigours of legal education.

It was a few years after he graduated from Western University’s law school in London, Ont., that he officially was granted First Nations status, thanks to changes in the Indian Act, according to one online biography. The Act had stripped certain people of First Nations status, including women who married non-natives.

Yet as Edward settled into a combined criminal and family-law practice with Staats, his First Nations identity seemed to play little role, said the lawyer.

“I don’t know if everybody knew that he was, in fact, aboriginal,” said Staats, who is also of native background.

Even when Edward joined the bench in 1996, his nods to the First Nations community were likely more a recognition of the major aboriginal presence in the area than a product of his own heritage, suggested his former partner. Six Nations is Canada’s largest reserve.

The 1998 flag removal did prompt an Ottawa Citizen editorial to call Edward a “rogue judge” who had agreed to “exile the symbols of his own legitimacy.” As president of the National Citizens Coalition then, Stephen Harper reportedly urged that Edward be fired.

The judge, however, said at the time that he had meant no offence, feels deep pride in the flag and only wanted to ensure the court heard from an important witness who refused to testify otherwise.

Last year, he spearheaded the opening of a so-called Gladue Court, versions of which exist in several other cities, too. They stem from a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that said judges should consider the often-tumultuous personal backgrounds of aboriginal accused, and seek alternatives to prison time if possible.

Staats now appears before his former acolyte and, while not always agreeing with his decisions, says his local reputation is rock solid.

“He’s considered to be very fair, very reasonable. And he knows the law.”

• Email: tblackwell@nationalpost.com | Twitter: tomblackwellNP


Apr 27, 2015

Five things you should know about Mormon politics

Tobin Grant
Religion News Service
April 27, 2015

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) remains enigmatic to most Americans. Even less is known about Mormon politics.

To be fair, not many who watch religion and politics closely know a lot of about Mormons in politics.

But hopefully that will change. Political scientists David Campbell (Notre Dame), John Green (Akron), and Quin Monson (BYU) have a new book on Mormons in American politics. Seeking the Promised Land is comprehensive look at Mormon politics that gives us a picture of how the typical LDS member thinks about politics.

Here are my five takeaways from this book, five ways that Mormons are a “peculiar people” in American politics.
1. Mormons were once public enemy #1 of Republicans

When the Republican Party drafted its first party platform in 1856, it included a resolution calling on Congress “to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy, and Slavery.” That’s right. Slavery wasn’t the only great evil to be eradicated. So too was polygamy, which was practiced by Mormons at the time.

During the Republican dominance of national politics after the Civil War, Mormons were virtually kept out of national politics. It was only after the LDS changed its position on polygamy that Utah was granted statehood. The Utah Constitution included a clause outlawing the practice: “polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited.”

Mormons’ partisanship after statehood could be described as bipartisan. It was not until the 1970s that Mormons moved solidly into the Republican camp.
2. Today, Mormons are the most Republican of any faith

Forget evangelicals — when it comes to religion & politics, no religious group is more solidly Republican than Mormons.

In 1960s, only about a third of Mormons identified themselves as Republican. Recent polls have the percentage around sixty percent. A 2014 survey by Pew has the figure at 70 percent. And many of those who don’t see themselves as being Republican still vote for the GOP on Election Day. For example, in recent elections Mormons in Utah have voted Republican 30 points higher than the national average. In 2012, nearly 90 percent of Mormon voters in Utah voted for Mitt Romney.
3. Mormons believe the U.S. Constitution is divinely inspired

A lot of Americans think of America as being blessed by God. Many even see America as having a special role in the world. For Mormons, however, the United States is literally a nation designated by God as the place where his church would be restored. The United States of America is part of God’s plan.

This plan included the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. In Doctrine and Covenants (part of the LDS cannon), God says,

And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

The Constitution is not seen by Mormons as a mere human document. It is divinely inspired. It’s not scripture; it’s an imperfect document whose principles or fundamentals are from God. This high view of the Constitution is widely accepted among Mormons. In a poll of Mormons in 2012, 90 percent agreed that “U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are divinely inspired,” with most holding this view strongly.
4. Mormons are politically conservative, with a twist

If you gave the typical Mormon a quiz on being a conservative, he or she would ace it. Socially conservative mixed with the small government views of the Mountain West, most Mormons hold conservative positions on the major issues of the day.

That said, there are some nuances. On abortion, Mormons support the view of the LDS Church, which permits abortion in the case of rape or the life of the mother. Mormons are more supportive of allowing abortion in these cases than the average American (that’s right: in these cases, Mormons are the most pro-choice). But on abortion in general, Mormons are among the most pro-life, opposing abortion because the mother is in poverty or has other private reasons for making her decision.

Mormons are also more in favor of immigration, particularly compared to the average Republican. One reason is the exposure to other cultures. Mormons are more likely to see immigration as a good thing if they’ve gone on a mission, particularly a foreign mission.
5. Mormons aren’t always political, but when they are, they can be successful

Like other faiths, the LDS is a religious organization first, not a political one. As a religious group, Mormons are rarely mobilized into politics, but when they are often successful. Few Mormons report hearing about politics in their wards (local congregations). Polls show that it is rare for a Mormons to have politics mentioned in a sacramental meeting (Sunday service) or teaching.

But on rare occasion, such as the fight over California’s Proposition 8 campaign, Mormons can be politicized. Campbell and his colleagues describe Mormons as being like dry kindling. They aren’t always on fire (politically) but they have all that’s needed to burst into flame. They are highly organized, politically homogenous, and hold strong beliefs. When the church takes a clear stand on an issue, Mormons are able to organize politically and be successful.


Apr 26, 2015

Why Scientology is coming to Frederick, and why there's nothing the County Council can do about it

Frederick News Post
April 26, 2015

Is Scientology a dubious “religion”; does it have questionable practices involving bullying and coercion within a cult-like atmosphere?

Is Narconon, a Scientology-affiliated drug and alcohol rehab program, widely disputed as unscientific? Is it criticized as a front to recruit vulnerable people to Scientology, with little success in credibly treating addiction?


Does any of this have any bearing on designating Trout Run, which is owned by the church, historic?


You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s Scientology on trial, if you’d watched the two hearings so far the County Council has held on whether or not Trout Run, a 40-acre rustic retreat on Catoctin Hollow Road, near Thurmont. Both meetings ended with the County Council delaying its decision. Both meetings have mired in a discussion of and testimony on Scientology’s merits, or the effectiveness of Narconon. Whether or not Trout Run is significantly historic is becoming lost in the national controversy Scientology has provoked. Even Senior County Attorney Michael Chomel took a moment to caution council members against making a decision based on the applicant’s beliefs rather than the historicity of the property.

Some council members — Councilman Jerry Donald, primarily — seem to have been looking for any excuse to deny the designation, and in doing so are paving the way to a potential lawsuit the county will easily lose.

Let’s step back a bit here to give some context. The property is owned by Social Betterment Properties International, Scientology’s real estate arm. The historic designation, if approved by the County Council, places Trout Run on the county’s register of historic places, and would allow Betterment to go ahead with renovations.

On Aug. 14, 2013, 11 members of the Frederick County Historic Preservation Commission unanimously agreed the property is historic. Trout Run meets three of the 10 categories the HPC can cite to bestow their recommendation, including being representative of master craftsmanship, exemplifying historic heritage and embodying distinctively historic architectural characteristics. On Aug. 22, 2013, the county’s board of appeals granted with a 5-0 vote a special exception allowing the property to be converted into a group home facility, a designation that requires the historic listing, according to meeting minutes.

Two unanimous votes and no objections from two commissions appointed for their expertise. The support from the HPC’s unanimous vote is particularly convincing evidence, especially if consistent with recommendations that placed the other 10 properties on the register.

What the objecting members of the County Council need to ask themselves as they ponder this decision is, would they be objecting if it weren’t the Church of Scientology making the application? Would the objections be so pointed and vociferous if this were the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs, say, or the Christ-centered ministry of the Frederick Rescue Mission, or even a secular organization?

We don’t believe so.

The public backlash against Scientology is understandable and has been growing as revelations about the traditionally secretive church spread on the Internet. Then came scathing testimony from high-profile former members and, finally, adverse publicity from this year’s release of “Going Clear,” a biting and widely watched HBO documentary.

As broad as is our distaste for Scientology’s dubious practices and as concerned as we are that this tax-exempt organization will have a foothold in the county, we can’t in good conscience dispute its right to seek a historic designation for Trout Run. Neither should the County Council, who must now choose between making the right decision or making the popular decision, one that will please their constituents but land the county in court.


Apr 24, 2015

Wife of Utah polygamist leader files for divorce, describes disturbing, allegedly 'illegal' practices

The Salt Lake Tribune
Apr 24 2015

Polygamy » Charlene Wall Jeffs describes alleged illegal practices in the polygamous community, wants children removed from the FLDS compound.

The legal wife of Lyle Jeffs, the man running the day-to-day operations of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has filed for divorce and wants custody of her minor children, in part because of some practices in the faith that she describes as "illegal."

Documents filed by Charlene Wall Jeffs, 58, discuss life in the FLDS under her husband and his imprisoned brother, Warren Jeffs — from restrictive diets to sexual policies that she refers to as rape.

"Under Lyle's reign as substitute Prophet, the FLDS Church has become even more disturbing than it was under Warren," Charlene Jeffs says in a petition filed in 5th District Juvenile Court in St. George.

The petition asks that two teenage children she has with her husband be removed from Lyle Jeffs' compound in Hildale and placed with her or into protective custody.

The documents in the petition show that Judge Paul Dame did not find the children were in imminent danger and declined a request to remove the youths immediately. A hearing has been scheduled to hear oral arguments.

Attorneys for Charlene and Lyle Jeffs did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

The petition was filed with the court April 10. Child-welfare cases are typically not public in Utah, but the Jeffs petition was fastened to the compound door in an effort to serve Lyle Jeffs and has been circulated among people who have left the FLDS.

Lyle and Charlene Jeffs have been married since August 1983 and have 10 children together, the petition says. The two teenagers discussed in court documents, a 17-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl, appear to be the youngest.

Charlene Jeffs says she has been "excluded" from the teens' lives for about three years.

"Of Lyle's multiple wives, I was never the favorite because I have a mind of my own," Charlene Jeffs wrote in the petition. "Lyle sent me away from the family to repent for the first time in November 2002 because 'I did not know how to properly treat the Priesthood in my life.' "

FLDS leaders are referred to as "the Priesthood."

Charlene Jeffs goes on to write that in the first year of her exile, she was allowed to live in the family home but not to mother her children.

"I could cook and clean but do no more," she wrote. "In the FLDS Church, children belong to the Priesthood and can be transferred to different mothers or different parents all together upon an order from the Priesthood."

In the second year of her exile, Charlene Jeffs said, she was moved to a guest house in Hildale. She returned to the family home after two years of repenting, but has not been allowed to rear her children since then, she wrote. Care for the children has been rotated among her husband's so-called spiritual wives, she wrote.

Other members of Lyle Jeffs' family who have left the FLDS have said Charlene Jeffs was the first of nine wives. One of the spiritual wives is Pauline Barlow, and she is named as a respondent in the custody petition.

Charlene Jeffs said she was ordered to leave her husband's compound Sept. 27, 2014, for being "unrighteous." She has not been allowed to see the teens since then.

Charlene Jeffs asked the judge to remove the children immediately before her husband realized she had no interest in returning to the FLDS.

"The Jeffs family is the FLDS equivalent of the British Royal Family and they have their own FLDS 'secret service' to protect them from the outside world," Charlene Jeffs explained in her petition. "If Lyle had any idea that I have gone 'apostate,' he would make my children disappear to one of the many hidden FLDS communities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico or somewhere new altogether, and I would never find them."

Charlene Jeffs described what she deemed two "illegal practices," including one adopted in recent years referred to as the "seed bearer" doctrine in which men no longer are allowed to have children with their wives. Instead, a group of seed bearers have been chosen.

"It is the husband's responsibility to hold the hands of their wives while the seed bearer 'spreads his seed,' " Charlene Jeffs wrote. "In layman terms, the husband is required to sit in the room while the chosen seed bearer, or a couple of them, rape his wife or wives."

It's not the first description of such a policy. In 2014, two University of Utah researchers published a paper on polygamy that, drawing on interviews, discussed how only 15 worthy men were allowed to procreate. That paper said the husband holds down the wife while one of the 15 men rapes her.

Charlene Jeffs also describes the "Law of Sarah" in which FLDS women perform sex acts on one another to prepare for an encounter with a man in the Priesthood. Charlene Jeffs says a sister wife made advancements on her, but she refused. In her petition, Charlene Jeffs worries her daughter will be made to participate in the practice.

Charlene Jeffs also is concerned about a lack of education for FLDS children and orders from Lyle and Warren Jeffs forbidding certain vegetables, milk and ocean fish. She checked a box on the petition indicating she had made a report to Utah Division of Child and Family Services.

Ashley Sumner, a spokeswoman for DCFS, declined Friday to discuss whether that agency had any involvement, citing a confidentiality policy.

The divorce petition was filed April 17 in a separate case in 3rd District Court in Tooele.

Warren Jeffs, 59, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in Texas for convictions related to taking two girls as child brides. He is still considered the president and prophet of the church and communicates orders through his family. His former followers say Lyle Jeffs, 55, runs the church in his absence.

During the past 15 years, hundreds of people have stopped following Warren and Lyle Jeffs, either after being evicted or because of the edicts the brothers have handed down.

Charlene Jeffs is a half sister of Elissa Wall and Rebecca Musser. Elissa Wall, known as "MJ" when she was a juvenile, was the alleged victim in Warren Jeffs' 2007 trial in St. George in which he was convicted of being an accomplice to rape. The Utah Supreme Court later overturned the conviction.

Musser was a wife to Rulon Jeffs, Lyle and Warren's father. She later testified for the prosecution in the Texas trials where Warren Jeffs and nine other men were convicted of sex crimes or bigamy.


Twitter: @natecarlisle


Apr 22, 2015

Rabbi and two others convicted for torturing husbands in Jewish divorce scam

MaryAnn Spoto
The Star-Ledger
April 22, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. — A jury on Tuesday (April 21) convicted Rabbi Mendel Epstein and two of his three co-defendants in a federal kidnapping conspiracy case that charged them with torturing husbands to force them to agree to religious divorces.

At the same time, the jurors acquitted Epstein’s son, David “Ari” Epstein, of all charges.

Mendel Epstein, a prominent rabbi who specializes in divorce proceedings, was on trial along with his son and two other rabbis, Binyamin Stimler and Jay Goldstein, on conspiracy and kidnapping charges that grew out of a federal undercover sting.

After three full days of deliberations, jurors rejected all kidnapping charges against the men.

The father of nine, grandfather of 45 and great-grandfather of five, Epstein, 69, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping but not guilty of an attempted kidnapping charge related to an undercover sting. In that sting, FBI agents secretly recorded conversations in which Epstein boastfully claimed that his “team” kidnaps and beats stubborn husbands until they agree to give their wives religious divorces, known as gets.

Goldstein, 60, who was described as the scribe for the divorce decrees, was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping. He was acquitted of one kidnapping charge.

Stimler, 39, who prosecutors said served as a witness for the divorces, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and attempted kidnapping.

The younger Epstein was found not guilty of all charges against him, which included conspiracy to commit kidnapping and two counts of kidnapping. Another count of kidnapping had been dismissed during the trial.

Leaving the courtroom, the elder Epstein said the jury’s verdict perplexed him.

“I don’t understand why I was found guilty in count one when there was no other counts,” he said.

He said he had no doubt about the outcome for his son.

“We knew he was not guilty,” Epstein said. “He wasn’t there.”

Nathan Lewin, the attorney for Stimler, said he plans to appeal.

“Ultimately the word is going to have to come from the Court of Appeals,” he said after court. “The evidence established that Rabbi Stimler was not guilty and I’m shocked by the jury’s verdict.”

Goldstein’s attorney, Aidan O’Connor, said the verdict shows jurors rejected the testimony some of the victims as well as one of the government’s main witnesses, David Wax, who testified against three of the four men. He said their decision most likely came from Epstein’s comments in those secretly recorded conversations that Goldstein would be in charge of collecting the fee for a forced divorce.

“I don’t think what’s here fits into any traditional kidnapping in any way, shape or form,” O’Connor said.

David Epstein’s attorney, Henry Mazurek, called the verdict “bittersweet” because of the acquittal of his client but the conviction of the elder Epstein.

Sentencing is set for July 15. Epstein, Goldstein and Stimler face up to life in prison.

Attorneys for all three men vowed to appeal.

In the eight weeks of testimony before U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson, federal prosecutors offered testimony about the beatings of five men in four separate incidents between 2009 and 2012 as evidence of the conspiracy.

But in determining the kidnapping charges, jurors only were allowed to consider two of those incidents involving two Brooklyn men — the abduction and beating of Israel Markowitz in 2009 in a parking lot in Lakewood, N.J., and the ambush and beating of Yisrael Meir Bryskman in Wax’s Lakewood home in 2010.

Wax contended Epstein arranged the kidnapping, that his son participated in the beating and that Goldstein wrote the official divorce decree. Markowitz claimed David Epstein was the driver of the minivan that approached him before the attack.

And in the end, the jury of six men and six women found none of the defendants guilty in those two kidnappings.

Epstein, Stimler and Goldstein appeared stunned at the verdict. David Epstein sat stone-faced.

The attempted kidnapping offenses were related to the Oct. 9, 2013, arrests of Stimler, Goldstein and six other men as part of a sting at an Edison warehouse. Undercover FBI agents had arranged for them to meet there to ambush a husband — who turned out to be fictional — to force him to agree to a divorce.

Prosecutors charged that the elder Epstein arranged the kidnappings, beatings and torture of husbands who refused to give their wives religious divorces. In some of those cases, they said, Epstein demanded $60,000 to pay members of his alleged “team.”

Defense attorneys had argued their clients were, in part, framed by Wax, a Lakewood rabbi who they said sought to reduce a possible life sentence after admitting to Bryskman’s kidnapping. They also contended identifications of the younger Epstein by Markowitz and another witness were unreliable.

Earlier in the day, defense attorneys asked for a mistrial after discovering that jurors had an incorrect copy of the indictment.

But Wolfson said the incorrect indictment wasn’t an egregious enough error to warrant ending the two-month-long trial without a conclusion.

Instead, she called jurors into her courtroom and told them they were not to consider that statement when weighing the evidence against Epstein or his son. Wolfson also gave the jury a corrected version of the indictment.

Hours later, jurors also asked for the transcript of the testimony of Wax, who incriminated Epstein and his son in Bryskman’s kidnapping.

(MaryAnn Spoto writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.)


Apr 19, 2015

Rationalist vows to disprove concept of blindfold reading

April 19, 2015

MANGALURU: The Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA), which has been challenging soothsayers to predict poll results before the counting of votes by offering Rs 10 lakh, has now challenged `mid brain' activation enterprises.

FIRA president Narendra Nayak is offering Rs 5 lakh to the organization that can demonstrate a child's ability to read blindfolded. The catch is Nayak will blindfold the kid himself. He said the recent phenomenon of mid-brain activation has nothing to with formal education or prescribed by any authorities.

Certain unscrupulous individuals and enterprises have been taking gullible parents for a ride, claiming that their children can be made geniuses by a technique called mid-brain activation. He said organizations claim that by activating mid-brain, they can see blindfolded, read hundreds of pages in minutes and see objects behind walls.

As a proof, they have been showing children who can see things blindfolded.

"It is very clear that these blindfolds are not properly done and the very technique of seeing through them involves peeking through the gap between the eye and the nose. They also charge heavily for these courses in mid-brain activation," he added.

K S Madhava Rao, a neuro-psychiatrist, said that intelligence was related to cerebral part of the brain, much developed than animals, than anything to do with mid-brain.

Srinivas Bhat, a neurologist from K S Hegde Medical Academy, said that mid-brain cannot be activated to make children read blindfolded.

Nayak noted that in Mangaluru, such an enterprise commenced a few months back, promising to make children geniuses. They invite people for demonstrations and then lure them into enrolling their children to such courses which cost around Rs 25,000.

"We have challenged them to read after we blindfold them, a challenge they are unwilling to accept, because they know that they will be exposed. I had made such an offer to one such person from Bengaluru in which I had promised to get 200 children from government schools admitted to their courses. I was particular that these will be from the socially and economically backward sections of the society so that they could come on par with the more advantaged sections and proposed a donation of Rs 5 lakh for that. The date was fixed for the April 14, but no one from any mid-brain activation shops turned up. One such challenge has been accepted by a person in Kerala and the test has been scheduled for April 19 at Kozhikode," he noted.

Nayak said that the concept of blindfold reading is fraudulent and any child who can see without spectacles can be trained to do so within minutes.


Apr 18, 2015

Cult Leader Will Tell Congress: Fight ISIS by Regime Change in Iran

Ali Gharib
The Nation
April 28, 2015

Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade announced that a controversial Iranian exile opposition figure would be testifying via video uplink at a hearing on the Islamic State, known as ISIS. What does the witness, Maryam Rajavi, a co-leader of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), have to say about the subject at hand?

Rajavi’s written testimony, a copy of which was obtained by The Nation, focuses on an unexpected way of bringing ISIS to heel: by fostering regime change in Iran. “The ultimate solution to this problem” of Islamic extremism, such as ISIS, Rajavi says in the written statement, “is regime change by the Iranian people and Resistance”—a reference to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the MEK’s political wing.

It sounds counter-intuitive—Iran’s aid to the Iraqi government and various Iraqi militias, after all, is widely credited with stopping ISIS’s advances there—but not when you know about the MEK’s tortuous past. Over the years, the MEK has been nothing if not opportunistic; animated by the twisted logic that the enemy of its enemy is its friend, the group seizes whatever political angle is fashionable at the moment to bring them relevance (Congress is happy to oblige). But more to the point, the MEK has always had only one goal: the overthrow of the Iranian regime. For decades, it has tried to shoehorn regional and geopolitical dynamics into its aim, irrespective of any salient connections.

The plan to bring down ISIS by toppling Iran’s government, then, is little more than the latest chapter of group’s 50-year history of monomaniacally trying to install itself atop the Iranian government. Indeed, Rajavi is testifying at Congress with the title of “president-elect” of the NCRI, which hopes to run a transitional government immediately upon the fall of the Islamic Republic.

Founded as an Islamo-Marxist revolutionary group in the 1960s, the MEK spent its early years pursuing its quixotic aims by opposing the Shah’s government with a vengeance: through student organizing, outright terrorism—including against American targets when the United States was allied with the Shah, helping to earn its 1997 American designation as a terror group—and fighting at the vanguard of the Islamic Revolution. By the 1980s, after the leader of the revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini, kicked the group out of Iran, critics were regularly deriding the MEK as a cult of personality—not least because of its continuing “wacky” behavior, as a former congressional aide put it to me for a feature I wrote this winter with Eli Clifton.

So how do Rajavi and MEK plan to end the threat from ISIS by upending the Iranian regime? That’s not so clear. But it definitely involves ignoring, despite the current clashes, the distinction between Sunni and Shia extremism—including, for example, propagandistic exaggerations like saying that “Shiite militias act more viciously than their Sunni equivalents, such as ISIS”—and pointing out several times that Iran went Islamist before anyone else. That’s about it.

It’s worth noting, however, that the MEK does have some experience in Iraq: after going into exile, its leaders gathered their fighters in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, to take his side in the Iran-Iraq war—earning the enmity of many Iranians. After the war ended, the MEK, led by Maryam Rajavi and her husband Massoud (who hasn’t been seen in public for a dozen years), stuck around and enjoyed Hussein’s largesse, acting, periodically, as mercenaries to crush incipient uprising against the Iraqi strongman—earning, in turn, the enmity of many Iraqis.

After Hussein’s fall in 2003, the American invaders stripped the MEK of its multitude of arms. (Curiously, for a group that claims to have renounced violence in 2001, Rajavi cites in her Congressional testimony the “disarming” of the MEK as a “misguided polic[y]” that helped give rise to Muslim extremism—but not the invasion that toppled their benefactor itself.) The MEK then languished in its camps, coming under periodic attack by a murky combination of the Iraqi army and, reportedly, government-aligned Shia militias. Dozens of MEK adherents were slaughtered.

The period also marked the growth of an ardent pro-MEK lobby in the United States. As Eli Clifton and I detailed in our Intercept piece this winter, a multimillion-dollar campaign kicked into gear to remove the MEK from the US State Department’s terrorist list. Once that hurdle was cleared, the MEK—despite its cult-like practices—began to accumulate more mainstream power in Congress, where super-hawkishness against Iran is guaranteed to attract powerful bedfellows, including large amounts of pro-Israel donor money and more modest cash from MEK supporters themselves.

Meanwhile, the massacres of the MEK’s ex-fighters at its Iraqi desert bases fueled the group’s hatred of the Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki, which had failed to protect them. Just as the MEK had grown close to Hussein because he was an arch-enemy of the Iranian regime, the group likewise reviled Maliki’s government, and vice-versa, for its closeness to the Iranians—the Islamic Republic had hosted and fostered Maliki’s movement in exile before the 2003 war, and supported his Shia government after its rise to power in Iraq.

When ISIS began to rip apart what was still then Maliki’s Iraq, the MEK’s prevailing logic seemed to again fall back on the enemy of its enemy. Perhaps chastened by their own labeling by the US as a terrorist organization, the group seldom uses the word “terrorism” in conjunction with ISIS. Instead, MEK propaganda refers to ISIS as “extremists,” in some instances. At other times, the language is more ambiguous: Last June, when ISIS took the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, one MEK website gave a triumphalist account of the conquest, referring to ISIS as “revolutionary forces.”

Historical revisionism of the ISIS assault started almost immediately. “These forces have taken over the Badoush prison and they had hundreds of prisoners that had been proclaimed to be terrorists and they freed them,” read a Persian-language post on the website Mojahedin.org. HRW, however, collected survivor testimonies from the prison takeover that told a different story: “After seizing Badoush Prison near Mosul, the gunmen from Islamic State, also known as ISIS, separated the Sunni from the Shia inmates,” an HRW release said, “then forced the Shia men to kneel along the edge of a nearby ravine and shot them with assault rifles and automatic weapons.”

Herein lies the MEK contradiction behind its early positions. On the one hand, ISIS, like the MEK, is militantly opposed to Iranian influence in the region. But Rajavi needs to gin up support in Washington. So she poses herself in opposition to ISIS, claiming the best strategy for fighting the marauding Sunni terrorists is to… overthrow the first regime in the region to commit blood, money and heavy weaponry to the fight against ISIS.

As ISIS became the world’s most famous terrorist group, the MEK eased its whitewash and adopted the stances Rajavi will bring to Congress on Thursday: namely, that ISIS is an extremist group—whose model and inspiration is Iran, however nonsensical that point is. That Congress would invite these ex-terrorists—Rajavi’s past prevents her from getting a visa, the reason for her video testimony—speaks ill of their commitment to shaping serious policy on either ISIS or Iran. Rajavi’s participation proved such an embarrassment that a distinguished diplomat, Ambassador Robert Ford, and another witness withdrew from the hearing rather than speak alongside her on the dais—just as the top UN official for human rights in Iran withdrew from a program last year in Canadian parliament where Rajavi was set to appear.

The MEK’s story is a tragic one of sustained failure, of being massacred and massacring, of being abused and abusing its own people, of terrorizing and being terrorized, and of a constantly morphing politics consistent only in its oddness and toxicity. That story needs to be heard, but as a cautionary tale, not as expert advice. Instead, Congress is asking one of the groups most hated in Iraq and Iran what to do about those countries’ woes. What could go wrong?


Apr 4, 2015

Scientology affiliates plan recovery center at historic retreat

Scientology affiliates plan recovery center at historic retreat


Frederick News Post

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Owners of the storied Trout Run property are seeking a county historical designation so they can convert the Thurmont retreat into a substance abuse center affiliated with the Church of Scientology.


The 40-acre camp whose stream was once fished by President Herbert Hoover was sold in 2013 to a Los Angeles-based property holdings group. The property’s new owners are looking to renovate the rustic Catoctin Mountain lodges for the opening of a drug treatment center run by the Narconon program.


The controversial recovery program grew from rehabilitation methods developed by the Church of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Narconon treatments include nutritional supplements, exercise and time spent in saunas. While there are no staff on-site yet, Narconon Eastern U.S. Executive Director Yvonne Rodgers said, they plan to open the “residential drug rehabilitation center” later this year.


But the project’s viability hinges on whether local officials agree to add Trout Run to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places. The request for this historic designation is set to come before the County Council for a public hearing on Tuesday.


Social Betterment Properties International, the current owner of Trout Run and real estate arm of the Church of Scientology, has already started working with the county on renovation plans, said Denis Superczynski, a county principal planner.



The group has submitted plans to convert the retreat into a rehabilitation center that has space for 12 live-in patients — referred to as “students” in the proposal. The center would feature five other beds for medical treatment and withdrawal and would accommodate eight staff living on-site and eight staff living off-site.

Patient programs would last for about six weeks, according to the plans.


The saunas used by Narconon are meant to purge the body of toxins that build up when someone abuses drugs, according to the organization’s website.


“When a person combines proper nutrition with moderate daily exercise and time spent sweating in a sauna, the body begins to flush out these residues, mostly through the sweat,” the site states. “As the residues are eliminated, thinking clears, attitude improves and most people say that their physical cravings are diminished or gone entirely.”


Rodgers said Narconon wants to address the recent growth in the abuse of heroin and other opiates in Frederick County.


“Our goal is to begin to help reduce these figures,” she wrote in an email. “So far we have received a warm reception from those we have spoken to about our plans, as apparently there is a need for more treatment facilities in the area.”



Mountain Manor Treatment Centers, in Emmitsburg, is the only inpatient facility for drug addiction in the county, said Jacque Burrier, co-founder of Project Hope in Thurmont. Burrier started the volunteer-run organization in 2013 to help drug addicts find a path to recovery. She said she’s heard about the plans for the Narconon location.


“I did look into it, just to see if it was something that we would recommend for our patients,” she said.


But based on what she’s seen in her research about their treatment methods, Burrier said she is not likely to refer Project Hope patients there.


The Narconon program has been the target of a variety of lawsuits, including several filed in Oklahoma after three patients’ deaths at a Narconon facility, according to The Oklahoman. Other legal complaints claim the program misrepresents its success rates and serves as a recruiting tool for the Church of Scientology.


Superczynski said Social Betterment Properties has been working for a few years to lay the groundwork for Trout Run’s transformation into a Narconon center.


Zoning restrictions that blanket Trout Run currently make it impossible to open the drug treatment facility at the Catoctin Hollow Road property. However, establishing a group home is permissible if the property is listed on the county’s historic register, Superczynski said.


The Frederick County Historic Preservation Commission has already given its approval for putting Trout Run on the list, Superczynski said. The Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals has also given the all-clear for the treatment center plan provided that property owners secure the historic designation, he added.


County Council members could vote on adding Trout Run to the register after their public hearing on Tuesday, although they could opt to defer the decision if they need more information.



County staff has recommended granting the historic label to the Trout Run site, which was developed in the early 20th century, during a period when President Hoover was seeking a fishing retreat. Hoover’s aide, who bought the property in 1929, even stocked the stream with trout and built a cabin in preparation for the commander in chief’s visits, according to the county’s staff report.


Hoover ended up staying at Trout Run only a handful of times, and the president’s aide eventually sold the property. But D.C.’s rich and powerful, President Dwight D. Eisenhower among them, continued to find refuge at the rustic camp over the decades.


The site also served as a mock Camp David for the television series “The West Wing.”


Today, 14 buildings designed in the rustic style stand in the densely forested camp, crisscrossed by native stone and paved walkways, according to the county’s staff report.


Because property owners will be renovating old structures and not building new ones, the project will not have to come before the Frederick County Planning Commission, Superczynski said. If the historic designation is granted, certain changes would have to pass muster with the county’s preservation commission, he added.

In addition, the facility has not yet secured a state license to provide substance abuse treatment.


A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that Trout Run’s owners requested licensing information from the state agency about a year ago. However, DHMH hasn’t since heard from the group or received a completed license application, the spokesman indicated.


Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP. Follow Sylvia Carignan on Twitter: @SylviaCarignan.




Apr 3, 2015

UNC junior says members of his church attacked him for

UNC junior says members of his church attacked him for

Fenner, a junior anthropology major at UNC, said his homosexuality is what spurred the January 2013 attack inside the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, N.C.

“I don’t like to be defined just as the gay kid,” he said. “I’ve told everyone that I don’t want to make it about me being gay. This is the only thing I can do to stand up and say, ‘I know what’s going on there.’”

Word of Faith Fellowship, a Protestant church just three hours from Chapel Hill in Rutherford County, has built a following since it was established in 1979. It has been the subject of lawsuits and investigations by local authorities and the State Bureau of Investigation for its unusual practices, though the church has been cleared in each instance.

Fenner had lived in Rutherford County all his life but joined Word of Faith with his mom and brother at 16.

Fenner gave The Daily Tar Heel the following account of what occurred on Jan. 27, 2013, when he was 20 years old.

He was in the sanctuary after a service at Word of Faith when Brooke Covington, a high-ranking minister; her adopted daughter Sarah Anderson; and Anderson’s husband approached him and led him to a corner of the large room, where they all sat down.

Fenner, who had been living in Covington’s home, knew they loved him even though he’s gay. He didn’t know what they wanted, but he wasn’t afraid. Not yet.

Anderson told Fenner the spirit of God came to her and said he had done something — “some big sin, or whatever,” he recalled thinking.

“I didn’t know what she wanted me to say,” he recalled. “I mean, I obviously knew it was something to do with the whole gay thing because that’s what they were constantly on me about.”

He looked around, his slim, 5-foot-9-inch frame sinking further into his seat. He looked down. He locked eyes with all three. He didn’t know what to tell them.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t think of anything,” he replied, seeing rage fill Anderson’s eyes as he spoke. She wasn’t much older than he was, and Fenner thought of her as a sister.

“You’re a liar!” she screamed as she slapped him across the face. “You’re disgusting!”

Fenner realized then that things were out of hand. He plied them with made-up explanations — he’d had a dream about a man, unclean thoughts, an inappropriate hug. Anything to make it stop.

Then they began to “blast” him. Blasting, high-pitched screaming, is the form of prayer the Word of Faith employs to drive out devils. The practice was the subject of a 1995 investigation by “Inside Edition” and has been associated with the church ever since.

About 15 members of the congregation gathered to help blast the “homosexual demons” away, and with the screaming came blows.

Fenner remembers being pushed out of his chair and dragged around by his arm. He remembers Covington driving one of her rings into his chest and calling him a pervert. He remembers losing his vision as Anderson choked him. He remembers the betrayal he felt as he was struck in the chest, neck, arms and stomach by at least five people he’d gone to church with for more than two years.

“Matthew, I’m tired of this homosexual stuff. You’re either going to get it out of you, or I’m going to beat it out of you,” Covington told him. “You’re going to sit here for the next two days if you have to.”

He remembers fearing for his life.

“In the middle of all this, I’m sitting there thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to die. I’m going to die. I’m going to die,’” Fenner recalled.

The attack continued for two hours before his attackers tired and he was taken home.

“People always ask me, ‘Why didn’t you just get up and leave?’ You can’t do that,” he said. “I’m fast. I’m a fast runner. I could’ve gotten up and tried to run, but there’s people standing outside of the door, and there’s like a quarter-mile driveway. I would’ve gotten caught then.

“But also, where am I going to go from there?”

Fenner had spent the last three years alienated from his friends and extended family who weren’t part of the church. But two days after the attack, at 2 a.m., he ran away from Word of Faith for good, moving in with his aunt and grandmother in Rutherfordton.

Joshua Farmer, the lawyer representing the five defendants from Word of Faith, said they are innocent of the charges. A statement on Word of Faith’s website said they consider Fenner’s allegations part of a plot to destroy the church.

“The church is not a cult, and we love everyone,” said Farmer, a member of Word of Faith, in an email.

The other members of the church involved in the incident deferred all comment to Farmer.

Fenner’s allegations are just one example of more than 2,000 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence reported in 2013, according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. The report stated 32 percent of survivors reported experiencing hostile attitudes from police that year.

The day after the attack, Fenner said he told a police officer what happened but said he held off on filing an official report because he was so overwhelmed.

When he decided to press charges, he said he was told by the sheriff and district attorney that the crimes were misdemeanors and he should go to the magistrate. But he said the magistrate, who deals with minor offenses and holds preliminary hearings for more serious ones, told him they were felonies and he must go through law enforcement.

“I tried doing something for a year and a half, and I kept getting the runaround,” he said. “I kept pushing and pushing, and they were finally like, ‘You know what, we’ll let you go before a grand jury, and we’ll see what they want to do, misdemeanors or felonies.’”

He said after he gave his account in November, seven members of the church — including his mother and brother — testified against him at a special session called by Judge Thomas Davis in December, where five people were indicted for both felonies and misdemeanors.

Adam Bartley, Brooke Covington, Justin Covington, Robert Walker Jr. and Anderson are all charged with felony second-degree kidnapping and misdemeanor simple assault. Anderson was charged with a second felony for strangulation.

In January, newly elected district attorney Ted Bell chose to re-indict all five on the same charges due to questions he had about December’s special session.

“We were especially concerned about the judge and others making inquiries as to what was discussed, and we were afraid that would cause some problems,” Bell told the Forest City Daily Courier. “We wanted clean indictments.”

It is unknown whether the judge will be the same, though Davis is the only superior court judge in Rutherford County.

Fenner said Bell told him the defendants’ attorney had filed a motion to change the location in which the case will be heard and that the motion would be heard in July. No one from the district’s attorney office would comment on the case.

When Fenner’s family joined Word of Faith Fellowship, he said his mom wanted the church to help “cure” his homosexuality.

“She was at a low place in her life,” Fenner’s aunt, Melanie Lynn Rape, said of her sister’s decision to join Word of Faith. “There’s not very many people that actually live in this county and were raised here that go to that church.”

A majority of the church’s members come from the prison system where Word of Faith has a ministry, said Nancy Burnette, who advocates for victims who have left the church. She said they give them lives they might not be able to have otherwise — with steady jobs, nice cars and security — which assures their loyalty.

UNC student Bronwyn Fadem, a friend of Fenner’s who also grew up in Rutherford County, said most people in the area think Word of Faith is a crazy cult.

“They’re not Christians. They’re not practicing Jesus’s love,” she said.

Upon joining, Fenner surrendered all his possessions, as was required, and adapted to a new lifestyle. Listening to music, dancing, watching TV, reading anything but the Bible and nonfiction, spending time with people outside the church — Fenner said none of these were allowed.

Fenner said they were very accepting in the beginning, but when they began to attend regularly, church members criticized how he dressed and talked and carried himself.

“Ninety percent of the people I’ve spoken with are male and at some point have been accused of being gay and punished because of that,” Burnette said. “Because of the way they wore their hair — oh, that’s a homosexual demon. Because of the way they rolled their pants up — oh, that’s a homosexual demon. Anything can be a homosexual demon. Homosexuality is a fixation that they have there.”

Fenner, who wants to go to medical school, said his experience makes him want to fight for justice — not for him but for the people still in the church, including his mother and brother.

“This has nothing to do with me. I’m a very forgiving person, but I also realize that these people have gone a very long time without having to face repercussions for their actions,” he said, alluding to others he said he witnessed being mistreated or heard stories about. “They’ve got to stop. You can’t use religion to permit abusing someone.”