Aug 31, 2015

A surprising chart of terrorist threats to America, as ranked by law enforcement

Zack Beauchamp
August 31, 2015

If you asked law enforcement professionals which extremist movements most threaten America, what would you expect them to say? If you expect their most common answer would be Islamic extremists, it turns out you'd be wrong — though not by much.

In a 2014 survey, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) surveyed hundreds of law enforcement personnel at the state and local level, all of whom had training in intelligence gathering or counterterrorism. They were presented with a list of radical groups and asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 4, how much they agreed that this group posed a terrorist threat to the US.

The folks at Dadaviz put together a chart of the results, as well as the results from a 2007 version of the same survey. It shows, on the left, the groups that law enforcement professionals in 2007 most viewed as terrorist threats, with the results from 2014 on the right. One of the interesting changes was for Islamic extremists, which dropped from the No. 1 to No. 2 spot — replaced by the anti-government "sovereign citizen" movement, which climbed up from No. 8:

Note: "Militia" is misspelled as "Malitia." (START/Dadaviz)

One important caveat: The survey was released in July 2014, one month after ISIS swept northern Iraq. It's unlikely the results take into account ISIS's rise since, which means that if the survey were taken today, you might see different results.

But regardless, the findings are striking. It's possible that the Islamic extremism decline was a blip, though it makes sense given the ebbing of the "war on terrorism" after the Bush presidency. But there's no way that increase in concerns about the sovereign citizen movement is random. Clearly, something happened to alarm the law enforcement community.
Who are the sovereign citizens?

To understand what, you need to understand a little about sovereign citizens, as they're not like other anti-government extremists. Sovereign citizens believe in a weird conspiracy theory that says, essentially, that your citizenship is not real. Either the 14th Amendment or the move off the gold standard, depending on which "sovereign" you talk to, stripped Americans of their rights; all so-called citizenship rights accorded today are fake.

Sovereign citizens conclude from this that they are under no obligation to obey any laws enforced by our "illegitimate" government. They are, themselves, sovereign under true American law — and thus cannot be bound by the agents of the impostor state. Usually, their actions are limited to bizarre legal maneuvers: They'll file an overwhelming number of injunctions to avoid paying speeding tickets, file absurd liens against prosecutors' homes, or fabricate driver's licenses from fake Native American tribes.

These tactics, sometimes called "paper terrorism," hardly amount to an al-Qaeda-level threat. But the number of sovereign citizens appears to have swelled since the late 2000s as part of a general rise in anti-government sentiment. Reliable estimates are really difficult, as the movement doesn't have any formal structure, but the Southern Poverty Law Center guesses there are somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 sovereign citizens in the US.

And occasionally, they've been violent. In 2010, a father-son duo named Jerry and Joseph Kane killed two police officers with an AK-47 during a traffic stop, and wounded two others before being killed themselves. According a 2012 Anti-Defamation Leaguereport, there's a "growing tide of sovereign citizen activity and violence across the country ... if the movement's growth is allowed to continue unchecked, further acts of violence are inevitable, putting government officials, law enforcement officers, and private citizens all at risk."

And that, perhaps, is why law enforcement officials are growing so alarmed. Sovereign citizen ideas have been around for decades, but sovereign citizens traditionally aren't violent. An increase in size coupled with high-profile violence would mark a new, and disturbing, direction for the movement — especially since their ideas incline them to target police, prosecutors, and other government agents.

Aug 30, 2015

Are Successful Companies The New Cults?

J. Maureen Henderson
August 31, 2015

An influential leader who inspires devotion and demands unquestioning loyalty. Stringent rules around behavior, dress and “proper” attitude that seem baffling or downright sinister to outsiders. A encroaching capacity to control aspects of adherents’ personal lives ranging from the food they eat to when they procreate. A culture that values ostentatious displays of commitment, even at the expense of the well-being and health of the individual. A propensity for fierce public denials when word of their eyebrow-raising practices leaks out. No, I’m not talking about the allegations against Scientology, or even the qualities we ascribed to religious cults in decades past — I’m describing the modern American corporation and how it operates. From their hiring practices and employee policies to how we dissect and discuss their organizational cultures, the high-achieving companies we hold up as industry leaders have achieved cult status. Literally.

Not every successful corporation has cultish qualities, but there are plenty of examples of these tendencies from companies that are household names. There’s Kraft’s refusal to let employees pack rival companies’ food products in their lunch. There’s Zappos’s whole-hog adoption of holacracy (a faddish new management style where there are no managers) and bold proclamation that those who aren’t on board with this regime should start looking for new jobs ASAP. There’s last year’s brouhaha over Facebook and Apple footing the bill for egg freezing for female employees, so that they could put off child-bearing in favor of career productivity. There’s a now defunct internal Wiki that discussed how to live (somewhat) comfortably on-site at the Googleplex for those who can’t separate themselves from their jobs. And then there’s the recent motherlode, a damning New York Times piece on Amazon’s workplace culture. In shades of Stockholm Syndrome, a former executive quoted in the article describes it as “the greatest place I hate to work.”

Of course, framing corporations as cults isn’t a particularly groundbreaking criticism. Search almost any talked-about company plus the word ‘cult’ and you’ll return results ranging from reasoned think pieces to drive-bys from disgruntled employees. Lululemon has been critiqued for being cult-like for years. Ditto, Walmart. A 2001 piece from The Economist describes the company’s Saturday morning meetings as “part evangelical revival, part Oscars, part Broadway show.” Even Amazon’s culture was being savaged long before the NYT weighed in, with a Seattle Weekly first-person piece that initialy ran in 1998 with the headline How I “escaped” from Amazon.cult.

Why do cult-like companies thrive in our current culture? At their most basic level, just like actual cults, they feed a need for order, acceptance, belonging, self-improvement and structure. With religious affiliation and participation rates on the decline in the US and levels of civic engagement waning, we’re looking for something greater than ourselves to believe in and strong, powerful corporate cultures provide that. With strict standards of conduct and clear success criteria, they give us a way of measuring our effort and, by extension, our worth. We know what makes a “good” employee (or disciple) and can understand what we need to do to be deemed “good,” which is a powerful, validating lure in a time when even the highest achievers among us feel a gnawing sense of inadequacy and self-doubt. The sacrifice entailed to get there might be unpleasant or harrowing, but the reward is often commensurate with the effort to be among the chosen few. As Noam Schieber writes in the NYT about the culture of elite law firms:

“The legal profession, one of the most brutal when it comes to pace and time commitment, illuminates the economic logic of a system where a large initial cohort of workers is gradually culled until only a small fraction are left. This small fraction then has access to the enormous wealth and prestige that survivors in this ultimate reality show are granted.”

And the pay-off isn’t just material. In fact, spending days surrounded by fellow believers, participating in group rituals (the bygone Walmart chant comes to mind) and being given a compelling vision to buy into (even if Gawker is dismissive of it) is incredibly compelling when it comes to satisfying a deep need to for community and purpose.

Ultimately, that we look to the business world to fulfill what could be deemed a spiritual need isn’t particularly surprising. As a society, we’ve long romanticized business culture and equated business success to a whole host of virtues, chief among them leadership and fitness for power. Sinclair Lewis was busy brilliantly skewering both our cultural valorization of the businessman and the hollowness of popular religion 90 years ago with works such as Babbitt and Elmer Gantry. Ask an average Trump supporter what they see in him as a candidate (hint: his perceived business acumen frequently tops the list) and you’ll note that very little about how we relate to corporations has changed. Ask a young startup founder about Steve Jobs or Elon Musk and be prepared for a hagiographic ode. In 2015, we’re pledging allegiance to tech companies instead of manufacturers and worshipping CEOs as deities. The cult hysteria of the 60s and 70s may be long past, but our willingness to join exclusive groups with strange customs in search of a sense of belonging, elitism and self-worth is alive and well. We’ve just replaced discussions of the end times with speculation on upcoming IPOs.

Aug 28, 2015

Feds sues Ohio televangelist's buffet for wage violations

August 27, 2015

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio (AP) - The U.S. Department of Labor has sued northeastern Ohio televangelist Ernest Angley and his buffet restaurant claiming violations of minimum wage, overtime and child labor laws.

A statement issued by the Labor Department last week says an investigation found that 239 employees at Cathedral Buffet and Banquet Center in the Akron suburb of Cuyahoga (ky-uh-HOH'-guh) Falls are owed a total of $207,000.

The statement says some workers were treated as volunteers and weren't paid; two teenagers worked in violation of restricted hours for minors; and four employees were paid less than the minimum wage and incorrectly classified as managers to avoid paying them overtime.

The Labor Department's allegations were first detailed in a series of Akron Beacon Journal articles last year.

The restaurant declined to comment.

Aug 27, 2015

Raelian Jews make last attempt to alert Israeli Jews of lost protection

LAS VEGAS, Aug. 27, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- "Today, Raelian Jews are launching a large campaign aimed at informing other Jews of the decision made by Yahweh, leader of the Elohim civilization that created life on Earth, to end the protection they have provided for Israel since its creation," said Leon Mellul, Grand Rabbi of the Raelian Movement's Jewish branch.
Mellul said Yahweh's message was delivered by Mashiah Rael, spiritual leader of the Raelian Movement and representative of the Elohim civilization.
"As conveyed to Mashiah Rael, Yahweh expressed disapproval of the way Jews in Israel are behaving," Mellul said. "He specifically addressed Israeli Jews, and I quote: 'You have betrayed all the exemplary values of Judaism by stealing lands and houses that didn't belong to you and especially by not respecting my most important commandment: Thou shall not kill. You have accumulated nuclear weapons capable of killing millions of people at once and triggering a world war that could destroy all of our creation. Consequently, the protection previously granted to Israel is totally withdrawn as of today (August 6), and I ask that all real Jews leave the land of Palestine as soon as possible."
Adding that Mashiah Rael has repeatedly warned Israeli Jews of the risk they take by failing to respect the commandment of absolute nonviolence, Mellul quoted him.
"Rael has said, 'If not thousands, but just one innocent Palestinian, were to be killed by Israeli authorities, it would still be an unacceptable crime. And it would be committed by those who owe their return to the Holy Land to being the children of the Elohim.'"
"And Rael has also said: 'Being Jewish and taking best advantage of that privilege should suppose an exemplary moral rigor that makes it impossible to betray even one teaching of our creators. The people of Israel have the mission to be the world's role model in this respect. Their excellence forces them to have exceptional behavior; this has always been the message of their creators. If the Israelis were to become a people with four million Gandhis, then the whole planet would follow. This is why Israelis, more than others, must apply the commandment "Thou shall not kill" to the letter.'"
Mellul said Mashiah Rael has previously issued a warning as well:
'If even one innocent Palestinian is killed, all Jews should sincerely apologize instead of closing their eyes by pretending it's a just revenge, or pointing to their own victims of terrorist attacks as evidence that justifies all crimes to come. This endless, vicious circle of committing violence with a clear conscience is pushing humanity toward its defeat.'
"This vicious circle of violence has also pushed our creators' patience to the limit and the Jews of Israel are now on their own to survive in the land of Palestine," Mellul said. "Our heart goes out to all the righteous, loving human beings living there who are doing their best to undo the harm of Israel's militant leadership. These people need to know that Israel is no longer the holy land and that they should join our action to save humanity by leaving Palestine."
To read more about the Raelian Jewish community go to
SOURCE Raelian Movement

Aug 14, 2015

Jehovah’s Witnesses face child sexual-abuse investigation in Australia

A. Odysseus Patrick
Washington Post
August 14, 2015

SYDNEY — The abuse was meticulously catalogued. From 1950 to 2014, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society amassed 5,000 files detailing sexual abuse of Australian children by 1,006 of its members, who believe that only they — the Jehovah's Witnesses — proclaim the truth about God.

Young girls were assaulted by neighbors. Teenagers were raped by their fathers. Victims were forced to pray with their abusers.

When the children reached out for help, the church's obsession with secrecy and hostility to outsiders kicked in. Victims, ordered to keep quiet, were forced to confront their abusers in person. All complaints — which averaged one a month for 65 years — were carefully recorded in sealed files, along with the church's by-the-Bible responses.

In all, 127 church officials were demoted. No one was reported to the authorities. Child abuse was recorded and hidden away.

Now, sordid details from the closed world of the Jehovah's Witnesses are being exposed that could severely tarnish the image of a powerful organization that has 8.2 million members and has mostly avoided scrutiny.

Two years ago, the Australian government established a royal commission — similar to a presidential commission in the United States — to investigate institutionalized child sexual abuse.

Wide powers to investigate

The inquiry's primary target was the Catholic Church, whose record of protecting pedophiles was almost as rampant in Australia as in the United States. To avoid singling out one religion, government officials gave the inquiry wide legal powers to examine any organization that may have covered up abuse. The commission doesn't have the power to find guilt or issue punishment. But a spokesman said it has referred more than 700 matters to authorities and will make recommendations to the government in a final report in 2017.

Of the religious and ­nonreligious groups being investigated, the Jehovah's Witnesses are exceptional, experts say. In a converted office in downtown Sydney, the organization's doctrines and practices are being parsed by lawyers, victims and journalists, providing rare insight into one of the Christian world's most conservative churches.

The church, which was founded in Pennsylvania during the 1870s to promote a 1st-century interpretation of the Bible, has emerged as the least able or willing to deal with sexual abuse within its ranks, said Anne Cossins, an associate law professor at the University of New South Wales and an expert in sex crimes who is a consultant for the inquiry.

"I find their approach to the issue and victims extraordinarily bizarre — almost medieval," she said in an interview.

Unlike the pedophile priests of the Catholic Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses have no paid clergy. Abusers are mostly regular congregants, who are shielded from official prosecution by the church's strict code of moral conduct. Based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, the rules call for separation from other members of society, who are considered spiritually inferior. Leadership in the church and in families is based on a formal hierarchy headed by men.

The church's deep suspicion of outsiders, who are referred to, derogatorily, as "worldly," is the reason sex abuse among Jehovah's Witnesses is rarely reported to authorities, according to Angus Stewart, a South African lawyer who leads the investigation into the church.

"It is a system in which a group of men who are appointed from above, not by the congregation, stand in judgment over their fellow men, women and children on every aspect of their lives," he told the inquiry last week. "There is no meaningful distinction between family and church."

'Be obedient'

In 1988, a 17-year-old girl in the state of Queensland was abused by her father, a prominent member of the local Jehovah's Witness congregation, while her mother and six brothers and sisters were on vacation, according to testimony given to the commission. He gave her alcohol and showed her pornographic movies.

"The first time that he tried to have sex with me, he came naked into my bed at night whilst I was sleeping and touched me all over my body," the woman, who cannot be identified under Australian law, told the inquiry last week. "When I protested I remember him saying to me, 'Shhhh, it's okay. I'm your father. Be obedient to your father.'

"My father touched me and tried to have sex with me on at least four or five different occasions," she continued. "I resisted as much as I could each time, but he was a violent man and prone to snap. I was absolutely petrified of him and tried not to make him angry."

While she was being raped, her father quoted passages from the Bible and referred to verses of Scripture about being more obedient that he had made her put up on her bedroom wall. "You have to be obedient to me," he said during the sexual acts, according to the woman, who is now 44.

After the rest of the family returned from vacation, the father prohibited her from speaking to anybody he thought she might confide in. "If I broke his rules, he flogged me," she said.

When the teenager revealed the assaults to her mother, she learned that several of her sisters had gone through similar ordeals, including one who was 5 years old.

The church has strict rules governing moral behavior. If a Jehovah's Witness becomes aware that another member has committed a serious sin — such as "fornication, adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, apostasy, adultery and similar gross sins," according to the commission — they are advised to tell senior men in their congregation known as elders. The process for handling these complaints is based on notions of justice and procedural fairness devised 2,000 years ago and recorded in the Bible.

The Jehovah's Witnesses set a high bar for the discipline of their own. Church elders need to secure a confession or the testimony of two credible witnesses to the same incident, two witnesses to separate incidents of the same kind, or strong circumstantial evidence testified to by at least two witnesses. The accuser also has to justify his or her allegations to church elders, often in the presence of the alleged perpetrator.

Church officials acknowledge the process can be difficult for victims but say they have no choice but to follow the Bible. "All Scripture is inspired of God," Rodney Spinks, one of the church's top administrators in Australia, told the inquiry. "We, like many Christians, we are not fanatically trying to find references to make life difficult. We are applying Scripture as we read it, in the best way we can, to sensitively integrate with modern society."

Those found guilty are often banned from the church for a number of years, or they are demoted in the church hierarchy.

When the 17-year-old complained to church elders of being raped, two of her father's friends carried out the investigation. "Did you enjoy it?" she said she was asked. When she was forced to repeat the allegations in front of her father, he said, according to her: "You seduced me."

She later filed a police report, left the church and tried to commit suicide. Her father was expelled from the church, convicted of rape and sentenced to three years in jail.

Four years after the abuse, he was allowed to become a Jehovah's Witness again. "I remember that when it was announced to the congregation, all of the brothers crowded around my father, shaking his hand and patting him on the back," his daughter told the inquiry, referring to male members of the church. "Despite many people in the congregation knowing what he had done to me and my sisters, I heard members of the congregation say, 'Welcome back.' "

Aug 10, 2015

Jehovah's Witness Church must change after Royal Commission hearings

August 10, 2015
The Drum
Paul Grundy

The Royal Commission into child abuse has highlighted a number of flawed areas within the Jehovah's Witness Church. It's time for the elders to instigate real change from within, writes former Witness Paul Grundy.

I was raised a Jehovah's Witness and for many years followed the doctrine of the religion.

I believed the teachings of the religion's guiding magazine, Watchtower, and thought I was never going to die. I didn't even expect to finish school before Armageddon - where God would kill the billions of people who were not Jehovah's Witnesses and leave the few million witnesses to live on this planet forever.

According to the teachings of Watchtower:

Only Jehovah's Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the "great crowd", as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.

In my teen years I "pioneered" - meaning I devoted 20 hours a week to preaching - and at 21 I moved to the Bethel Watchtower headquarters, where I spent three-and-a-half years as a volunteer worker.

I personally came to know a number of the people who have recently been called for interview before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Terry O'Brien, the Australian Branch coordinator, was in my pioneer training school in the 1980s. Geoff Jackson, one of the religion's governing body, lived in Tasmania, and his wife's family brought my family into the religion in the early 1970s. Vincent Toole, the Bethel lawyer, was someone I knew well and looked up to.

I still think all three of them are wonderful people and are genuinely doing what they think is God's will and is best for the followers.

But the Royal Commission highlighted a number of areas that are flawed within the religion, particularly around the handling of child abuse victims. These include:
The two-witness rule. A rule within the religion that states officials cannot accept an accusation of child abuse unless there was a second person who also witnessed the abuse - something that rarely happens.
Women's role (or lack of) in the congregation and judicial committee process. As a patriarchal religion, women are to view men as their head. They cannot be part of a judicial committee. In practise this means a young female victim must go into graphic details of her abuse alone in front of three older men.
The expectation that the victim confront the perpetrator as part of the process.
Not making it mandatory for elders to report accusation of abuse. While not being obliged to report accusations may be legally acceptable in some states, the Royal Commission identified that the judicial committee process meant that often elders would uncover actual proof of a crime, even a confession, but still not report it. At this stage, where it had moved from an allegation to proof of a crime, there was a legal obligation to report.
Not reporting allegations to the police. This practise was to protect Jehovah's name, and was due to a general mistrust of people in "the world". According to Watchtower: "While some contact with worldly people is unavoidable - at work, at school, and otherwise - we must be vigilant so as to keep from being sucked back into the death-dealing atmosphere of this world."
Fear of psychologists, based on the belief that they may give advice that is not in line with Watchtower principles.

The Royal Commission also highlighted that because of Jehovah Witnesses' insistence on separation from "worldly" society, they were unwilling to join other organisations in any sort of redress scheme for victims.

Evidence given at the commission also contradicted the claim from those within the religion that child sex abuse was "very rare". The commission heard there were almost 300 cases in the last 10 years, and Toole testified that for the past two years he had received three or four calls a month about new cases. For such a relatively small organisation, that's a huge problem. What's more, this only includes reported cases, and not the many people that no doubt remain silent.

Thankfully, there have been some positive, albeit small, changes in how the religion handles abuse allegations, particularly in the last decade. For example, now two accusations from separate victims can be considered to meet the two witness rule. Also, whilst elders do not actively encourage victims to go to the police, they are advised not to discourage it either. The elders interviewed at the Royal Commission went so far as to say the current policy was to immediately advise going to the police, but it's hard to believe that's happening.

Unfortunately, it was also not always possible to trust what the elders told the Royal Commission, and anyone watching them would have noticed their strenuous efforts to deflect the conversation and answer with irrelevant straw man arguments (although counsel assisting the commission, Angus Stewart, and Justice Peter McClellan were exceptional at keeping the answers on topic).

This approach by the elders may be part of what the teachings refer to as "theocratic or spiritual warfare", where Jehovah's Witnesses may, at least in some cases, be encouraged to withhold information order to protect the name of Jehovah and the organisation. According to their Awake! magazine:

Being truthful does not mean that we are obligated to divulge all information to anyone who asks it of us. Do not give what is holy to dogs, neither throw your pearls before swine, that they may never ... turn around and rip you open, warned Jesus, at Matthew 7:6.

Watchtower magazine goes on to say:

So in time of spiritual warfare it is proper to misdirect the enemy by hiding the truth.

At the Royal Commission, at least one elder said they could not comply with current Australian law where it conflicted with Jehovah's requirements, as given in the Bible. This is a dangerous stance that needs government sanctions where it results in harm to others, as Watchtower policy on child abuse has done. Indeed, Watchtower does not actually strictly follow the Bible, they follow the current interpretation of select Bible passages. Moreover, Watchtower policy has changed constantly over time as the interpretation of the current governing body changed.

For instance, the two witness rule has already been changed slightly as I noted before. And there is nothing to stop the religion making further changes, such as allowing women on judicial committees. As Justice McClellan pointed out at the hearings, Watchtower only takes the Bible literally when convenient.

In the end, effecting change within the religion will come down to legal, political and financial pressure: if there is enough pressure on the religion, it will change. And I don't say that frivolously.

Despite thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses going to prison as conscientious objectors over decades, Watchtower has made allowances for witnesses to once again perform civilian duty (as they had been until the Second World War). And despite thousands dying after refusing blood components, the doctrine changed in 2000 to allow the use of donated blood - quite illogically though, since Jehovah's Witnesses are still not allowed to donate blood themselves.

Counsel assisting also made an excellent point at the hearings that Jehovah's Witness was a captive organisation. If a person has issues with the religion, which is often the case with victims of child abuse and the subsequent mishandling by elders, they have the impossible choice of leaving the organisation and losing all family and friends, or having to remain associated with something they don't agree with.

O'Brien tried to downplay this by stating that anyone is free to leave, but it is not that simple. If you leave and are "disfellowshipped" or disassociated, every single one of your family and friends are banned from talking to you under almost any circumstance. You are to be strictly shunned. Even if you are not disfellowshipped, and you fade out to become inactive, you are considered bad association and Jehovah's Witnesses will cut back on dealing with you.

When you have been raised to avoid anyone that is not part of the religion, have been told that anyone that is not a Jehovah's witness will soon be destroyed at Armageddon, and you know your family will most likely disown you, it is an unbearable choice to either leave with no support group or stay with something that you cannot agree with.

I personally struggled with that for more than 10 years, until at 35 I could no longer cope with being part of something that I so strongly disagreed with.
Paul Grundy is a former Jehovah's Witness.

Aug 9, 2015

Falun Gong moves to calm public fears Beijing expresses concern over court ruling

Bangkok Post
August 9, 2015
Achara Ashayagachat

Falun Gong practitioners
Falun Gong practitioners
Falun Gong practitioners in Thailand have moved to allay fears about the group's activities, as China expressed concern over a court ruling in the organisation's favour.

The Supreme Administrative Court last week overturned a Central Administrative Court's ruling preventing Falun Gong being registered as an association. The controversial movement is now able to be legally registered. 

Paitoon Suriyawongpaisan, a 60­year­old Bangkok dentist who has practised Falun Gong for 17 years, said he was glad the association would be able to provide spiritual benefit to Thai people. 

“The association is aimed at providing alternative ways of health care and mental care to people,” said Mr Paitoon, who led the legal campaign. Falun Gong is outlawed in China, which calls the organisation a dangerous cult and a threat to national stability. Activists have long said practitioners have been subjected to human rights abuses. 

Falun Gong is a qigong Chinese spiritual discipline combining slow­moving exercises and meditation with a moral philosophy centred on the three tenets — truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. 

Falun Gong is practised openly in the West and Asian countries including Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Indonesia. 

Mr Paitoon said the presence of Falun Gong in those countries did not hamper economic or business ties between the hosts and China as feared. 

On Wednesday, a day after the court’s ruling, senior Chinese officials from the embassy reportedly had a session with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who oversees national security, about the decision. The embassy was reassured Thai officials would carefully study the details of the order allowing the Falun Gong association's registration. 

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn said yesterday the Chinese embassy has not formally asked to meet Prime Minister Prayut Chan­o­cha for talks over Falun Gong. 

Mr Paitoon was among the three plaintiffs, alongside Panida Wayumhasuwan and Chatchalai Sutthakanat, who have waged a decade­long court battle. 

After the Interior Ministry rejected their request to register the association of “Falun Gong Studies in Thailand” in 2005, they took the case to the Central Administrative Court. On Feb 2, 2006, the court ruled in the Interior Ministry's favour. The three then appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court. 

“Nationwide, there might be less than 100 people practising Falun Gong openly due to the propaganda against us,” said Sunitree Wannagool, a 57­year­old housewife living in Nakhon Pathom. 

She said a dozen people took part in Falun Gong activities every evening in a residential compound in Nakhon Chaisi district. A weekly Sunday morning exercise would soon start at Buddha Monthon. 

Benja Pongprayoon, 56, also from Nakhon Pathom, said she feels relieved now that justice was given to the practitioners. 

“We can proceed confidently and comfortably now as we are recognised legally.” 

The group's activities in China started years before Beijing launched a campaign to “eradicate” it on July 20, 1999. Li Hongzhi introduced it in May 1992 in the capital of China’s northeastern province of Jilin. 

But after about seven years of meteoric growth, with claims of 100 million members, the sect was persecuted and Mr Li was forced into exile in the US. 

Beijing dubbed the sect a “cult of evil” and pressured as many countries as possible to downplay the presence and
significance of Falun Gong disciples.

Religious leader Swami Ji’s escape will be featured on CNN’s ‘The Hunt’

Calily Bien
August 7, 2015

Swami Prakashanand Saraswati
Swami Prakashanand Saraswati
AUSTIN (KXAN) — The U.S. Marshals Office is hoping a high-profile piece on John Walsh’s CNN show The Hunt Sunday will help lead them to Swami Prakashanand Saraswati.


Swami—known to his followers as Swami Ji—was convicted on 20 counts of child molestation in 2011. While the trial was going on, Swami was allowed to remain on bond; but on the first day of the punishment phase, he never showed up and and authorities haven’t seen him since.

In 2007, three young girls of Barsana Dham, an ashram in northern Hays County made an outcry to the Hays County Sheriff’s Office alleging they had been abused in the ashram at the hands of Swami.

The Lone Star Fugitive Task force determined Swami was able to make his way across the border into Mexico and eventually back to his home country of India.

Robert R. Almonte, United States Marshal for the Western District of Texas states, “We would encourage the domestic and international audience of The Hunt to give law enforcement that important tip, make that critical call, and let us put this Swami’s run to an end.”

Karen Jonson was a follower of Saraswati for 15 years before helping the victims bring charges against the Swami. She was interviewed by CNN late last year and hopes the national stage could lead to Saraswati’s capture.

“I’ve watched past episodes of “The Hunt” and they are fabulous. I see they have received tips that helped apprehended some of the people they focus on.”

Although she is happy the victims’ story will be shown to the entire nation, Jonson said she is still skeptical of the chance the Indian Government will cooperate and allow U.S. authorities to return the swami to face his conviction. Marshals have said there has been very little movement or cooperation from Swami Ji’s supporters or the government in his native country.

‘The Hunt’ airs at 8 p.m. CST on CNN.

Hindu Guru Convicted of Child Molestation will be featured in CNN's "The Hunt"

August 7, 2015

Prakashanand Saraswati
Prakashanand Saraswati
The search for a Hindu guru who molested three girls is now focused in India. But exactly where he's living is still a mystery. 

A jury in Hays County convicted 86-year old Prakashanand Saraswati in 2011 on 20-counts of indecency with a child. But on the day a jury sentenced Prakashanand Saraswati also known as Swamiji to 280-years in prison he disappeared.

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"I lived there for 15-years," says Karen Jonson. She moved to the Barsana Dham Ashram in a 1993 and says "for those years, I believed he was God incarnate and everything he did, every action was divine." 

A former devotee of the man convicted of molesting children, "Almost the minute I learned the truth about the organization I thought I have to write about this primarily to warn other people because my deepest wish was that somebody would had warned me," says Jonson. 

Sex, Lies and Two Hindu Gurus
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Her book, Sex, Lies and Two Hindu Gurus details her experience in the ashram including a sexual encounter she says she had with Sarawswati and how he found his victims.

She says "In a way parents were offering their children to him whether it be directly or just by being quiet and not saying anything." 

Saraswati is now believed to be in India, he left despite paying a 1-million dollar cash bond. 

"I have laid awake thinking about that day and what we would have done differently," says Former Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe. 

Tibbe still thinks about how he slipped away and says "at the time I never would have dreamed that he would have taken flight like he did." But getting him extradited from India to the United States won't be easy. 

Supervisor Deputy U.S. Marshal Hector Gomez says "ultimately the decision to extradite rests on the government of India and their judicial system." While U.S. Marshals have leads on where he may be hiding they still need more information. 

"Saraswati owes a debt to the people of Texas and of course that debt is going to be outstanding until he his brought back to Texas to serve that time," says Gomez. 

As for Jonson years after she left the ashram, she is still healing and angry at the man she once worshipped. 

She says "I just think he's a horrible scum bag child molester, pedophile, just one of the worst types of people. The temple changed its name four years ago in an effort to distance itself from Sarawswati. 

Saraswati will be featured on CNN's "The Hunt" on Sunday August 9th. 

How Reliable Are Polls About Religion? Princeton Professor Tries To Find Out

Religion News Service
Cathy Lynn Grossman
August 7, 2015

Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith
“Fewer and better surveys is a reasonable way to go,” charges Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University.

(RNS) The uses — and abuses — of public opinion polling made headlines this week after Fox News claimed it relied on surveys to select 10 of 17 Republican presidential candidates for its prime-time nationally televised debate Thursday (August 6).

Pundits howled and poll jargon flooded the media.

But political polling isn’t the only arena where scholars and the public have become  “fed up, frustrated and angry” at surveys that one leading sociologist claimed are of “dubious value or validity.”

Faith in religion surveys can be shaken too, said Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University.

He charges that the image of U.S. religion created by pollsters is too often inaccurate, shallow and misleading. A steady parade of surveys on faith and values misses the depth and nuance of American religious life while making puffed-up claims for credibility even as the rate of response falls to record low levels.

These poll findings are often misused by the media and misunderstood by the public, Wuthnow writes in his new book, “Inventing American Religion: Polls, Surveys, and the Tenuous Quest for a Nation’s Faith.”

Major pollsters and top experts on religion surveys agree — to a degree — as they study advance copies of the book (in stores Sept. 1). The first chapter appears in the conservative religion journal First Things.

Religion pollsters bow to Wuthnow’s standing in their field and they share some of his concerns. But, they added, their surveys are transparently executed and methodologically sound, and they offer revealing glimpses on how Americans see themselves.

”Polls and surveys are blurry portraits of reality but without them we would be nearly blind,” said Mark Gray, senior researcher for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which focuses on Catholic data.

Gray said the polling community is already giving serious attention to concerns Wuthnow raises. But to trash polling as we now know it “would set us back to the early 20th century when we just had anecdotes about some people’s religious behavior,” Gray said.

Alan Cooperman, director of religion research for the Pew Research Center, said pollsters “are not responsible for everything the public does — or should — know. And we don’t pretend we are the only or best way.”

But the effort is worthwhile, he said: When ancient rabbis examined a passage in the Book of Deuteronomy about the first census, Cooperman said, they concluded, “We count things that we care about.”

Much of the concern shared by Wuthnow and pollsters is about response rates: The percentage of people called on who agree to participate in a poll has slid to 10 percent or less. This raises questions about whether the participants represent a valid cross section of public opinion.

Wuthnow’s book cites as an example a major survey on Jews in America conducted by Pew Research in 2013. Pew went to great cost and four months of effort to elevate the response rate from 9 percent to 16 percent. Wuthnow scoffs: Was that “truly the best a commercial polling agency could do?”

His answer to the problem of pumping up the numbers? Pollsters should save their money.

“Fewer and better surveys is a reasonable way to go,” he said.

What are the chances of that?

“Pretty low!” said Wuthnow, laughing. “Maybe they can’t get much better and we may be at a point where not much more can be done except for them to be as transparent as possible in their press releases about the rate of response and the margins of error.”

Alan Cooperman of Pew Research Center speaks during the 2013 Religion Newswriters Association Conference.
 (Margin of error — the minimum and maximum percentage points that sampling error could introduce in poll findings — was a leading reason pundits objected to Fox News’ candidate debate selection process. Given the margin of error, typically plus or minus 3 percentage points in national polls, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was invited to the prime-time debate, was statistically tied with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has been relegated to the second-tier candidates’ dinner-and-drive-time debate.)

Cooperman nonetheless bit back at Wuthnow’s criticisms of religion survey response rates.

Response rate is not a reliable indicator of survey quality, based on three major studies Pew has conducted, Cooperman said.

The studies looked at whether the respondents in low-response surveys were different or similar to participants in government surveys with very high response rates and with the General Social Survey, conducted biennially by the National Opinion Research Center.

They turned out to be “very similar,” said Cooperman.

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, shares Wuthnow’s concern that the public is skeptical of poll results when anyone with a Twitter log-on or a Facebook feed can “poll” his or her followers and tap into “everyone who already agrees with them.”  

The Barna Group is unique among mainstream pollsters for using a complex set of theological measures to categorize respondents rather than letting people loosely label themselves as “evangelical” or “Christian” or “born-again.”

Wuthnow said the Barna Group’s attention to nuance is rare. He worries about quantifying faith.

“It gives an aura of precision to say that Pew and Gallup show 90 percent of Americans believe in God, but the numbers say nothing about what people believe about God or how they experience God in their lives.”

Wuthnow would like to see pollsters turn to more open-ended questions and focus groups where people can push back against the pollster’s language and define their own terms for their religious life. Indeed, he thinks that exposure to decades of pollsters’ questions and media-touted findings have shaped the vocabulary of how people respond.

His prime example: Asking people if they are evangelical or born-again as a single category of identification. This has trained the public to think, incorrectly, that these very different theological terms are one and the same, said Wuthnow.

That makes the answers actually meaningless in religious terms even if they are useful politically as a pointer to “who is more likely to vote Republican,” he said. 

“I would like to think that polling has that much cultural power but there are all kinds of forces at play behind the ways people respond. More diverse lifestyles, diverse families, diverse cultures are at play than when the white nuclear family was the cultural framework,” said Jones.

It’s an open question how much all the introspection among pollsters and academics will lead to changes that satisfy Wuthnow. Ultimately, in his view, religion isn’t encapsulated in sound bites.

“It’s all about stories and narratives and the imagination,” he said, paraphrasing the late Catholic priest and sociologist Andrew Greeley. “We don’t get at these with surveys.”

So, Wuthnow offered advice to consumers of religion data: “If you read somewhere that Harry Potter is more popular than Jesus, be amused, but don’t take it seriously.”

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The Religious Roots of Domestic Terror

The Daily Beast
Stuart Wexler
August 7, 2015

From Charleston to Chattanooga to Lafayette, a series of mass murders has reignited debates over the nature of terrorism and how it is covered by the media—over whether these are terrorist acts to begin with, and—the latest wrinkle—whether or not they might be acts of religious terrorism.

Book: America’s Secret Jihad: Thew Hidden History of Religious Terrorism in the United States
America’s Secret Jihad
In many ways the controversy has become part of a culture war. Those on the Left argue that an implicitly racist media too often dismisses mass violence by white men as the byproduct of mental derangement; Islam is seen an acceptable predicate for terrorism, but not white supremacy. Those on the Right argue that liberals, especially those in the Obama administration, are too quick to sugarcoat acts of Islamic terrorism as mere extremism devoid of religious impulse—jeopardizing security in the name of political correctness.

But if Americans want to understand and possibly even prevent domestic terrorism in the future, then they may have to abandon neat labels and presuppositions and start to deal in nuance.

The very act of defining terrorism is nuanced, something academics and national security experts have acknowledged for decades. The U.S. State Department (which once designated Nelson Mandela as a terrorist), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United Nations all offer different criteria for who or what qualifies as a terrorist.

But almost every definition of terrorism includes at least two elements:

  1. an intention to strike at civilians or non-combatants; and
  2. the hope that the violence will serve as a symbolic act and/or advance some political or ideological outcome preferred by the perpetrator. The compulsion to label any act of mass violence as terrorism is counterproductive as it may create an overreaction to what is a one-off, if shocking and tragic, event. 
John Houser, the man who murdered the moviegoers in Louisiana, appears, more and more, to be an actual deranged lunatic rather than a terrorist. His actions did not surprise those who knew him in part because law enforcement officials in Arizona already institutionalized Houser for serious mental disorders in the past, pathologies that manifested in previous acts of violence. His chosen venue and shooting victims do not evidence a political objective. Yes, his acts may have been shaped in the context of white supremacy. But he is not Dylann Roof.

Roof’s choices of targets—African-American congregants at the First AME church in Charleston, South Carolina—were logically consistent with his racist motivations. Many see Roof as part of a long tradition of white nationalist terrorism in America, symbolized by the Confederate flag he proudly advertised in his photographs. Hundreds of African-Americans fell victim to violence perpetrated by men, terrorists in white robes, brandishing that same flag.

Roof, in this interpretation, is a secular terrorist, different from Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the man who murdered five soldiers in Chattanooga after apparently becoming a self-radicalized Salafi jihadist. As Bruce Hoffman, one of America’s leading terrorism experts, observed, religious terrorists are more willing than secular terrorists to engage in mass, indiscriminate violence to make a point, and are far more difficult to satiate through a political settlement because they want profound, long-term and radical changes in the world. The Irish Republican Army all but gave up violence as part of the Good Friday Agreement with England in 1998—no such outcome seems likely with ISIS or al Qaeda.

But the differences between Roof and Abdulazeez may be less pronounced than people realize. To understand this, one must harken back to another racist who proudly brandished the Confederate flag as the material for a homemade vest. A firebrand agitator, Charles “Connie” Lynch literally wore the flag on his chest as he traveled to almost every flashpoint in the civil rights era, riling crowds into a frenzy against the prospects of racial integration. He toured the country in a pink Cadillac with his friend, Jesse Benjamin “J.B.” Stoner, a white supremacist lawyer who defended Lynch, time and time again, against charges of incitement.

Together, the men formed what Klan expert Patty Sims called a “two-man riot squad.” Sims described their escapades in her book The Klan:

Lynch once told a Baltimore rally crowd: “I represent God, the white race and constitutional government, and everyone who doesn’t like that can go straight to hell. I’m not inciting you to riot—I’m inciting you to victory!” His audience responded by chanting, “Kill the n-----s! Kill! Kill!” After the rally, stirred-up white youths headed for the city’s slums, attacking blacks with fists and bottles. At another rally in Berea, Kentucky, Lynch’s di­atribe was followed by two fatal shootings. Again, in Anniston, Alabama, he goaded his audience: “If it takes killing to get the Negroes out of the white man’s streets and to protect our con­stitutional rights, I say, ‘Yes, kill them!’” A carload of men left the rally and gunned down a black man on a stretch of highway.

But Stoner and Lynch were more than just neo-Confederates. They were religious zealots whose agendas went beyond simply preserving the so-called “Southern Way of Life.” Both men followed what scholars now call the Christian Identity Movement, a post-World War II theology that recast the Genesis creation story in racist and anti-Semitic terms.

Based on an Anglo-centric religious ideology dating back to 19th century England, Christian Identity’s seminarians argued, from their headquarters at The Church of Jesus Christ Christian in Los Angeles, California, that Jews came from an evil bloodline—born from a relationship between Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The literal spawn of Satan, “imposter” Jews manipulated people of color (sub-human descendants of the “Beasts of the Field” per Identity theology) in a centuries long cosmic conspiracy against the true chosen people—white Europeans, the authentic seed-line of Adam and Eve. Like other ordained ministers in the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, the Reverend Connie Lynch believed that the apocalypse prophesied in the Book of Revelations would take the form of a holy race war, with Jesus joining white Europeans as they vanquished the anti-Christ Jews and their sub-human allies.

Through their agitation and by sponsoring provocative acts of violence from the late ’50s onward, Lynch and Stoner hoped to foment that race war by polarizing the races against each other. This idiosyncratic and apocalyptic interpretation of the Bible fell so far outside of the mainstream of conventional Christianity that it failed to find adherents or widespread acceptance even within the Ku Klux Klan. A Tennessee KKK group once even expelled Stoner for advocating violence against Jews. With this in mind, men like Lynch and Stoner concealed their race-war agenda even as they harnessed southern nationalism to advance their wider goals. Nearly every leading member of the seemingly secular and innocent-sounding National States Rights Party, co-founded by Stoner, privately devoted himself to Christian Identity and to the prospects of a race war.

If such ideas sound familiar, it is because they closely parallel the warped vision of Dylann Roof who justified his mass slaughter with the goal of igniting a race war. Roof does not appear to be religiously motivated, but he was immersed in a white supremacist milieu fundamentally reshaped by Christian Identity beliefs since the ’60s.

Misunderstood as simple neo-Confederate racists, Christian Identity extremists became leading members of some of the most notorious and violent KKK groups in the country. Appropriation became the modus operandi for Christian Identity zealots for the next two decades—religious fanatics would assume leadership roles in groups that shared their secular objectives while seeking opportunities to exploit said groups in the service of their apocalyptic aims.

Despite its outward political front, the California attorney general called the National States Rights Party the “most active and dangerous” racist organization in his state and U.S. Senator Kenneth Keating attributed at least 16 bombings to the group by 1960.

Identity ministers even influenced new and supposedly rival white supremacist religions, such as racialist Norse neo-paganism (sometimes called Odinism.) James Warner, an NSRP member and Christian Identity leader, provided Else Christensen (called the “Grandmother of racist Odinism” by scholar Mattias Gardell) with the materials she used to start her group in 1969. Not surprisingly Christensen’s neo-paganism is fanatically anti-Semitic and racist and predicts an impending race war. But Christensen earned official recognition for her religion in Florida, and began a prison outreach and ministry, by employing the same tactics embraced by Lynch and Stoner. “You have to go through the back door,” she told Gardell of her covert and militant agenda, “you have to sway with the wind.”

Not everyone of this religious mindset remained coy. By the ’80s, a cell of religious terrorists known as The Order launched an operation in the Pacific Northwest that included robbery, forgery and, infamously, the assassination of Jewish radio host Alan Berg in 1984.

With a martyred leader (Robert Matthews) dead after an armed confrontation with law enforcement, the surviving members did not hide their neo-Pagan and Christian Identity affiliations. In prison some became folk heroes in the white supremacist community. One key member, David Lane, a neo-pagan, provided the slogan for racists of all stripes: the so-called 14 words (We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children). As with Lane’s other lasting contribution to supremacist culture, a call-to arms listing 88 precepts to “benefit and preserve” the white race, supremacists across the country adorn their bodies with the tattooed numbers 14 and 88, some unaware of their religious pedigree.

Dylann Roof can be seen in pictures with those same numbers scrawled in the sand on the beach. But media attention has focused exclusively on pictures of Roof with Confederate and Rhodesian flags—secular symbols of hate, symbols that religious terrorists, like Connie Lynch, embraced as they manipulated men like Roof.

It is here that one finds disturbing parallels between Roof and Abdulazeez, or more precisely, between Christian Identity extremism and radical Salafi jihadism. If recent reports hold true, Abdulazeez self-radicalized after studying the sermons and videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric whose message has inspired several jihadi terrorists. Before an American drone strike killed al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011, before investigators linked him to the 9/11 attacks, many observers viewed the Virginia-based Imam as a moderate. At one point Pentagon officials invited him to a luncheon in 2002 and, according to investigative reporter Catherine Herridge, he may even have been a source for law enforcement agencies. If he passed as some sort of double agent, it is because, as scholar Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens observes, Awlaki was able to hide his agenda, especially from his fellow Muslims. Meleagrou-Hitchens argues that al-Awlaki always embraced Salafism, a fundamentalist and ultra-orthodox interpretation of Islam with relatively few followers. Even fewer Salafis (groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS) favor violent, offensive jihad against the West and secular Arab governments. For this reason, like Lynch and Stoner before him, al-Awlaki “avoided making any clear statements” about his religious goals according to Meleagrou-Hitchens because, as one cleric told the scholar, “it would alienate and put off a large number of ordinary Muslims.”

Besides its dogmatic fidelity to practicing Islam the way it was practiced during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, religious scholars highlight several features of this radical strain of Islam that deviate from even conservative norms. Salafi jihadists embrace suicide/martyrdom operations (all but unknown save for the last 50 years of Islam’s 1,400 year history); they are also willing to excommunicate and punish as apostates even devout Muslims (as well as Jews and Christians) who do not share their orthodox leanings; and Salafi extremists are also pro-active in trying to foment an apocalyptic holy war.

The third feature, the willingness to use provocative violence to instigate the Battle of Armageddon, is an obvious point of comparison with Christian Identity zealots. But the second defining aspect of Salafi jihadism may represent a more salient similarity: both Identity and Salafi radicals justify their violence by placing large swaths of people outside of the orbit of their religious moral codes. One does not have to “love thy neighbor” or even his enemy if the Other is either sub-human or demonic. But such ideas are foreign and even offensive to the vast majority of even dogmatic Christians and Muslims.

A full appreciation of these recent events thus confounds the conventional understanding of terrorism, especially religious terrorism. Together, the Charleston and Chattanooga shootings show that no religion is exempt from perversion by extremists, but that such perversion is often about finding ways tonot apply religious norms and standards to large swaths of humanity. There is not that much distance between Charleston and Chattanooga.

Stuart Wexler is considered one of the top investigative researchers in domestic terrorism and radical religious activities. His most recent book is America’s Secret Jihad: Thew Hidden History of Religious Terrorism in the United States, on-sale August 2015 from Counterpoint Press.

Beijing irked by Thailand's decision on Falun Gong

August 7, 2015

Group 'is an evil cult that disturbesocal order,' says embassy official

CHINA strongly opposes Thailand's decision to allow registration of a Falun Gong association and has already protested to the Thai government, a Chinese Embassy official said yesterday.

"Falun Gong is an evil cult that disturbs social order and basic human rights in China and elsewhere," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Falun Gong is outlawed and its teachings are considered a social threat in China, the embassy official said.

"In many cases, they are also against Buddhism," he said.

Beijing and the Chinese Embassy here have communicated with the Thai government about its concern over the ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court that they say in effect may legalise the Falun Gong cult in Thailand, the Chinese official said.

The Supreme Administrative Court has allowed registration of a Falun Gong association in Thailand, reversing a ruling by the lower administrative court that rejected a petition by three practitioners of the Chinese spiritual cult that is outlawed in China.

The court, in its verdict issued on June 2, said the petitioners have the legal right to set up the Falun Gong Study Association in Thailand.

The three petitioners - Paitoon Suriyawongpaisan, Panida Wayumhasuwan and Chatchalai Sutthakanat - complained to the Administrative Court after their application to register the non-profit association was rejected in 2005 by the Bangkok Metropolitan's association registrar, which cited possible souring of ties with China.

Before going to court, the petitioners appealed to the interior minister, who reaffirmed the decision by the registrar.

The authorities were concerned that the Chinese authorities might interpret registration of the association as Thailand's recognition of it.

In 2006, the Administrative Court rejected the complaint filed by the three petitioners against the Bangkok registrar and interior minister, prompting them to appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court.

The court said the concern that registration of the foundation might affect Thai-Chinese ties was premature, as the acts of concern were not committed by those involved with the Thai foundation.

The court said the registrar could revoke the registration of the foundation in the future if it was found to have broken the law or regulations.

In its ruling obtained by The Nation on Wednesday night, the Supreme Administrative Court also cited the Chinese constitution, which guarantees the religious freedom and right of assembly of its citizens.

The court overturned the lower court's ruling and ordered the revocation of the Bangkok registrar's decision not to register the foundation and the interior minister's decision to dismiss the petitioners' appeal.

Falun Gong is also known as Falun Dafa, which means "dharma wheel practice". There are an estimated tens of millions of Falun Gong practitioners in China and hundreds of thousands in more than 70 countries outside China.

Five women accused of witchcraft lynched by India mob

August 8, 2015

Villagers in a rural part of eastern India have killed five women whom they accused of practising witchcraft, police have said.

Belief in witchcraft and the occult remains widespread in some parts of India
Police in eastern Jharkhand state said on Saturday that a group of assailants dragged the women out of their huts and beat them to death at around midnight on Friday in their village, some 30km from state capital, Ranchi.

"A group (of villagers) dragged the women out and beat them to death with sticks, accusing them of practising witchcraft," Ranchi deputy police chief Arun Kumar Singh told AFP news agency by phone.

At least 21 villagers have been arrested over the killings of the women, who were mostly aged between 45 and 50."Aishwarya Devi named four other women. Some of the villagers beat those five women to death. So far, we have arrested 21 people in the case," said Singh.

In yet another barbaric incident related to superstition in the tribal state, the villages alleged that those five women had killed a boy through their black magic.

"A boy died in the village a week ago. Allegation was leveled against a woman that she killed the boy through witchcraft," Singh said.

Belief in witchcraft widespread

Belief in witchcraft and the occult remains widespread in some parts of India.

In some cases women are stripped naked as punishment, burnt alive or driven from their homes and killed.

Some states including Jharkhand have introduced special laws to try to curb crimes against people accused of witchcraft.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das condemned the latest killings in a statement on Saturday, urging society to "ponder over it".

"In the age of knowledge, this incident is sorrowful".

The province accounted for 54 out of 160 barbaric cases where women were condemned to be witches and killed in 2013 and a total of 400 women have been murdered since 2001 in the state.

The National Crime Records Bureau has recorded 2,097 such killings between 2000 and 2012 in India.

Meet New York City's Devotees to the Cult of the Holy Death

Village Voice
Ana M. Rodriguez
August 7, 2015

de los Muertos is not the only fiesta celebrating the death. On the second Saturday of each August, hundreds of devotees to Santa Muerte or Holy Death, a feminine skeleton figure dressed as a saint, get together in Jamaica, Queens to venerate what group organizer Arely Gonzalez calls her "bony lady."

Although this Mexican folk saint is not approved by the Catholic church, it has grown in popularity in New York City where many devotees have found in her love and acceptance.

Satanic Panic Strikes After Gory Florida Murders

Daily Beast
Jay Michaelson
August 6, 2015

There’s only thin evidence that a triple-homicide with slit throats was related to witchcraft, but police and the media are acting like the devil has landed.

Three throats were slit in Pensacola, Florida, under a full moon. Was it witchcraft?

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan thinks so, and the press conference he gave, calmly and methodically, has now made the rounds on the Internet, where the response has been anything but calm. Witchcraft!

When you look at the evidence has been released, however—bearing in mind that there may be more that the ongoing investigation has not yet made public—it seems quite scant. What is evident is the resemblance to the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, during which dozens of cases of “Satanism” were investigated, countless sensational news programs were created—and yet hardly any Satanic crimes actually took place.

What the sheriff’s department has made known is this: Three people, 77-year-old Voncile Smith and her two adult children—one of whom worked for the Department of Homeland Security—were savagely murdered in Smith’s home on Friday. The DHS worker, 47-year-old Richard Thomas Smith, was shot in the head. But the other two victims were beaten to death with a hammer, and then had their throats cut.

Moreover, the sheriff’s department says, the three bodies were arranged in a specific way—and the killing took place around the time of the “blue moon.” And the person of interest in the killing apparently has ties to Wicca.

In sum, “initial research has led us to believe it was a ritualistic killing,” Morgan said. “The method of the murder—blunt force trauma, slit throats, positioning of bodies—and our person of interest has some ties to a faith or religion that is indicative of that. The time of the death on Tuesday also coincides with what’s referred to as a blue moon, which occurs every three years.”

Well, wait a minute. First, the blue moon was Friday, not Tuesday. If this were a ritualistic murder, the specific time would matter. There’s no “around the time of” in nature-based religions.

Second, this pattern actually has nothing to do with contemporary paganism. Dr. Gwendolyn Reece, whose research at American University focuses on the phenomenon, told the BBC that “if [the sheriff’s department] had done even a modicum of research it would be clear this had nothing to do with paganism.”

In fact, ritual murder is fundamentally incompatible with Wicca (which Morgan mentioned specifically). In fact, the leader of Pensacola’s actual Wiccan coven, one E.J. OakLore, told the New York Daily News that “The Wiccan faith forbids murder as strongly as or more strongly than the Christian faith. The fundamentals of our religion forbid the harming of any person, being or living thing, creature in any way shape or form.”

Nor has ritual murder actually been documented as a practice of self-identified Satanists. The most sinister act Florida’s Satanists have done lately is install a hilarious Satanic holiday display in the state capitol.

So all that’s left is forced entry, the method of killing, and the arrangement of bodies.

And, of course, innuendo. Morgan noted that the Smiths were a “very reclusive” family; neighbors said they had never met them. But who knows the reason for that? If not meeting your neighbors were a sign of witchcraft, most of Manhattan would be casting spells.

And then there’s the person of interest, with his ties to Wicca—which, for all we know, may be just be a few Google searches. Again, there may be much more we don’t know, but this surely isn’t much.

What this case does resemble, though, is the hysteria around “Satanism” in the 1980s and ’90s, an episode now known as “Satanic Panic.”

Gen-Xers may not remember this phenomenon, and Millennials weren’t alive for it. But for 20 years, American law enforcement was bizarrely obsessed with cults and Satanism. Check out this video from 1994, which purports to describe “Satanic occultism” for police officers.

There were several extremely high-profile cases during this period. First, in Southern California, the directors of the McMartin Pre-School were charged with 52 counts of child molestation, all based on alleged Satanic rituals. They were found not guilty, but only after being convicted in the media and creating mass hysteria.

And then there were the “West Memphis Three,” three teenagers convicted of murdering three young boys in Arkansas on May 5, 1993. One of them—developmentally disabled, and with the cognitive ability of a 10-year-old—confessed, implicated the two others, and said it was a Satanic rite. Subsequent DNA evidence exonerated the West Memphis Three and implicated one victim’s stepfather. They were released in 2011.

Not surprisingly, the Satanic dragnet caught far more than actual Satanists. Santeria, which practices animal sacrifice, was effectively banned from many cities. New Religious Movements (“cults”) became seen as omnipresent threats to impressionable youth. (I remember being forced to attend several anti-cult “warning” sessions at school.) Even Dungeons & Dragons was grounds for suspicion.

But most of all, the Satanic Panic was about rock ’n’ roll, and the countercultures of which it was a part.

Peter Bebergal, whose new book Season of the Witch explores Satanic and occult imagery in rock music, told The Daily Beast that in the 1970s, “From comic books to music to movies-of-the-week, Satan was everywhere.” Album covers, The Exorcist, Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, heavy metal—“there seemed to be a pop culture obsession with all things witchcraft and demonic.”

But whatever Satanic themes were present in pop culture, they were hugely exaggerated by Christian conservatives.

“Certain Evangelicals had already seen the devil lurking as far back as Elvis’s gyrating hips, but in the 1970s,” Bebergal said, “we were at the beginning of a cultural war, and the devil was used to represent youthful and artistic rebellion, as well as symbol for what was seen as the decadence and corruption of youthful minds.”

Part (culturally) real and part fantastic, the Satanic Panic reached fever pitch in the 1980s. Tipper Gore wanted to label records with “O” for Occult, for instance, but the Panic’s real hold was on law enforcement.

“There was the hysteria about satanic ritual abuse,” Bebergal said, “shifting our fear of ‘communists everywhere’ to a cabal of secret Satan worshippers, any of whom could be your child’s teachers, the friendly postman, or your next door neighbor… Be sure to watch out for that long-haired kid with the Venom t-shirt who plays D&D.”

Another fascinating element of the Satanic Panic was that it was also, in part, a Sex Panic. Its rise coincided with the increased interest in, and prosecution of, child-sex offenses, a class of crime that, if anything, was under-prosecuted prior to the 1970s. (Most sex crimes take place in the home, making them “private” in nature.) Day-care workers were disproportionate targets of Satanism accusations, the McMillans included. Books containing “remembered”’ episodes of Satanic ritual abuse—Michelle Remembers was the most popular—began to proliferate.

It’s not hard to see this aspect of the Satanic Panic, too, as a conservative response to cultural change: sexual liberation, rock music, and shifts in public morality.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly what social conservatives are saying today, perhaps exchanging hip-hop for rock music.

It’s too early to know the full extent of the evidence in this particular case. But it’s not too soon to notice that we’ve been down this road before. Who knows—maybe this really is a “ritualistic killing,” but it sure looks like another Satanic Panic.