Mar 31, 2016

Chapter Five: Knocking on the psychic’s door
CNN Wire
MARCH 31, 2016

NEW YORK– Even after all the discoveries we’ve made about the mysterious French psychic Maria Duval, there’s only one way to end this hunt. We need to solve the mystery of the woman herself.

Was she really hired to be the face of this massive mail scheme as we’ve been told? If so, how much money has she gotten from it? Is she even still involved?

We’ve been consumed for months by our search for Duval, who is the face and name of a more than $200 million mail fraud scheme. Led by a shadowy network of international businessmen, the scheme has gone on for decades across the globe and its perpetrators have continued to evade authorities.

We are determined to find this woman.

A call to the town hall of Callas, the small French town where she has been reported to live, provided us with a pivotal breakthrough.

Initially, we weren’t sure if Duval was even a real person, but the woman who answered the phone said she had spoken to Duval that week. Then she gave us two new clues: a phone number and an address.

Convinced that pursuing these new leads would be our best shot of finally getting answers to our questions, we convinced our editors that we needed to go to this 1,900-person town in the South of France.

Before we left, we made one last round of calls to anyone we thought might have information about this elusive woman — this time, with the help of a French-speaking colleague.

The former mayor of Callas, Françoise Barre, had the most information to share. She just happened to have been Duval’s personal secretary for a decade. And she gave us some personal details about the psychic — most of which matched what we had read online.

But there was one key piece of information that we had wrong.

While she said that Duval’s real first name is indeed Maria Carolina, her last name is Gamba (not Gambia like we had seen on Wikipedia and other online postings). This new spelling led us to a whole new trove of information when we searched for it online — including business filings that showed Duval herself had been the sole shareholder of a Swiss firm named Astroforce. This was one of many versions of the international business, which was key to the Duval mailing operations.

These filings revealed that Duval had received nearly $200,000 from the liquidation of this company in 2008 — the first concrete evidence that she had been directly involved (and received money from) the mailing operation. The filings also confirmed that she was born in Milan but is now a French citizen and that she is 78 years old.

Barre confirmed that Duval still lives in Callas, but that she doesn’t see her much anymore, and that she is very private. She also said that Duval no longer gives psychic consultations, and that her health has been deteriorating.

Oddly enough, we had heard about her reclusive nature from one of the psychics with whom we had previously spoken. Medium Patty Payne, from New York, said she had never met Duval but that she had a firm psychic reading on her.

“When I touch base with her energy, I see an older woman who lives a very quiet life,” Payne said. “It’s almost like she just retired into this really quiet life and really wants to be left alone.”

She said that Duval’s likeness has been co-opted by scammers and that she has used up much of her energy trying to clear her name. While a colorful theory, it came from a psychic so we were skeptical at best.

Payne even said she could see the home where Duval is currently holed up: a two-story white building in the middle of the French countryside with a slate roof.

With this vision in our minds, we began our trek to Callas.

Our search begins

After more than a day of traveling and driving through the winding, treacherous roads of southern France, we made it to the small hillside town.

We started our search in the dusty archives of the local newspaper Nice-Matin. There, we found decades-old articles that showed Duval really had been famous for finding missing people — long before a letter was ever sent out in her name.

One article from 1977 had a photo of her as a short-haired brunette who had located a missing man after seeing only his photograph. Another called her a “good witch” and said she had returned to rural Callas — now with her signature blonde hair — in the 90s because of her love of animals. The chatty archivist told us that Duval also used to give horoscopes on various radio shows. He said he believed in her powers but hadn’t heard much about her lately.

So we headed to the center of town to try to find someone who had.

“Dame Jeanne,” the owner of the town’s only wine shop, knew who Duval was right away. “She is the psychic that no one ever sees,” she said in French, noting that she had been in business for many years and had never seen Duval in her store.

One local man at the town’s bar and tobacco shop told us he had seen Duval around town but didn’t know much about her either. And his friend, an older Italian man, said he had installed her swimming pool.

A pot of jelly?

We then stopped in at the tiny town hall, tucked away at the top of a narrow, cobblestone street.

When we asked the lady at the front desk about Duval, she said she had actually worked for her — more than 20 years ago, as an intern.

What kind of psychic has an intern? Yet another bizarre Duval connection.

She wouldn’t go into detail about what she did for Duval, but explained that she worked at her house and had never been aware of any complaints against her.

When we asked about the last time she had seen the psychic, she said Duval had actually come by town hall around the holidays to pick up a pot of jelly.

Thinking she may have lost something in translation, our interpreter asked if she was understanding correctly.

The woman explained that as part of a senior citizen program, every resident over the age of 60 is given a pot of “coulis” (a pureed fruit or vegetable sauce similar to jelly) at the end of the year.

While all these stories put an end to any of our lingering suspicions that Duval was a work of fiction (as many investigators have suspected), they still didn’t answer the questions we had come to resolve.

So we headed to her house.

The gate opens…

After countless wrong turns, driving for miles in the wrong direction, and knocking on the wrong door entirely, we finally made it to the right address.

The property, which ended up being about 10 minutes from the center of town, was nice. (According to the filings we found, the property was valued at around 762,000 euros years ago, though the exact date of the appraisal is unknown). But it wasn’t the sprawling, multimillion dollar villa we expected.

And when we saw the actual house, we couldn’t help but laugh. It was two stories and white and might have even had a slate roof, fitting the description psychic Patty Payne had given us.

It also looked like the house of someone who didn’t want to be disturbed.

We parked across the street and walked over to a massive white concrete wall with a gate that surrounded the property. As we got closer, we noticed signs warning of 24-hour surveillance, and cameras looking down on us — along with two concrete eagles perched atop each side of the gate. Above and below the buzzer were signs saying “Beware of dog” in French, and someone had used a marker to change the word on one sign from “Dog” to “Dogs.”

Uneasy, we pushed the buzzer.

At first, there was silence. So we waited a minute and buzzed again. And again.

Suddenly, the gate began to creep open.

But just as abruptly as it opened, it began to reverse course — closing with a clang amid the sound of angry, barking dogs.

Before the gate closed, we got a quick glimpse of a woman on the other side of it. And it wasn’t Duval.

Talking through the gate, the woman said she worked for Duval and asked us who we were and what we wanted. She confirmed that this was indeed the psychic’s home. But when we told her we were journalists and wanted to speak with her, the woman told us we were out of luck: Maria Duval was in Rome for the week.

As we spoke, a large, brown snout that appeared to belong to a Rottweiler came out from under the spikes of a side gate. The dog looked straight at us with big, dark eyes that made it clear we weren’t welcome there.

The woman told us she couldn’t help us, and to leave a note for Duval in the mailbox near the gate. And as soon as we asked her for her name, her feet silently disappeared from under the gate.

We called after her with no response. She was gone. All that was left was the growling dog.

Who was this woman? Was Duval really vacationing in Rome?

We wrote a letter to Duval, and placed it in the small white mailbox. We then spoke to neighbors, including an elderly man who talked with us while hanging out the window. While her neighbors all confirmed she had lived there for many years, they knew very little about her.

We returned to her house the next day. Within a few minutes, the gate opened and a large white van pulled out. We frantically flagged down the driver. He told us that he was Duval’s gardener and that he had also heard she was in Rome.

Digging for clues

With still no word from Duval herself, we turned back to the pile of documents we had brought along on our trip to see if we could find any last clues.

There, we saw one more name listed in a filing related to Duval’s estate that we hadn’t previously noticed: Marie-Francoise Gamba. Thinking this could possibly be a relative of Duval, we called the first phone number we found listed under her name.

While we were expecting another dead end, an elderly-sounding woman picked up the phone and told us she was Duval’s sister.

As our colleague spoke with her in French, we waited anxiously — wishing we could understand what this woman was saying.

And what she told us turned out to be another small breakthrough. She said she talks to her sister almost every day, and when we explained that the U.S. government had filed a lawsuit against Duval (and others) alleging mail fraud, she seemed shocked. After hearing a description of the letters and the money they ask for, she herself called it an “escro” (short for “escroquerie”), a French word for scam.

She had a possible explanation that we hadn’t heard before, though: She said Duval had sold the rights to her name to a Swiss company many years ago, and that her sister didn’t have anything to do with what happened afterward. She also repeated what others had told us, saying Duval’s health had been declining, so she would be surprised if her sister was actually in Rome.

Whether Duval was in Rome or not, it was clear she had no interest in meeting with us. We had spoken with everyone from her gardener to a man we’d been told was her former romantic interest and business manager (though he claimed to have had nothing to do with her). We had gone to her house. We had hand delivered a note to her mailbox. We had left multiple voicemails on her machine. We had even spoken with her sister.

But Duval herself remained a mystery.

The psychic’s son

Feeling defeated, we had one last lead: her son, Antoine Palfroy.

We had already been emailing with Palfroy while we were in France, pleading with him to tell us his mother’s side of the story and explain how she had become the face of such a massive scam. We called several numbers we found online for him, but heard nothing back. And after a couple short emails, he stopped responding altogether.

From our early research, we had discovered that he owned a Masonic bookstore, which sold tarot cards and incense and was located about an hour away in Toulon. But the number was disconnected and neighboring store owners told us it had closed six months ago. We knew it was a long shot, but we decided to drive there anyway.

When we finally got to the little shop, there was a “for sale” sign on the door with a phone number. We called the number expecting a real estate agent, but Palfroy answered instead.

And to our surprise, he suggested we meet in person.

He told us to come to Le Chantilly, a cafe near his bookshop, the day before we were scheduled to leave France.

We didn’t believe he was actually going to meet with us until we saw him walking over to our table with a woman who turned out to be his daughter. While he was skeptical of our motives at first, the conversation ended up lasting for more than an hour. And it could have gone much longer if we hadn’t gotten kicked out by the barista when the café closed.

What he told us was a tale of a woman who made a deal with the devil.

He said that for many years his mother lived a normal life, first as the owner of an industrial cleaning business specializing in pools and saunas, and then as the proprietor of several clothing stores. It was in these stores that she first gave astrological consultations to friends.

He also explained that her psychic name was not an alias as we had suspected. Rather Duval was the name she took from her second marriage.

He said that there is no question his mother is a real psychic, and that she started out intent on helping others — even working with police to find missing people.

But this all came to an end when she sold the rights to her name to Swiss businessmen more than 20 years ago, he said. At first, the business sold astrology charts, he recalled. But as the men behind the operation got greedier, the business model changed and the mass mailings in her name began.

He claimed his mother was very upset about the letters, but there was nothing she could do. When we asked why she has defended the letters in the past, he said she had signed contracts preventing her from disparaging the business in any way.

(We later heard from an “astropsychologist” named Dr. Turi who told us he became trapped in a very similar deal after signing a contract like this with a Canadian marketing company. He says he was horrified by the letters sent out in his name and that he received only a few hundred dollars in royalties. Unlike the story Duval’s son told us though, Turi says he was able to get out after two years when he refused to sign any more contracts. A former official from the marketing company says that the deal ended when the two parties couldn’t reach an agreement on financial compensation, among other terms. But Turi says the letters damaged his reputation — with many people thinking he was a scammer.)

The contracts Duval signed were like something out of The Godfather movies, Palfroy told us. He claimed there would be dire consequences — both legally and financially — if she ever tried to get out. This might be one reason she refused to talk to us.

He said these contracts also required her to make the media appearances we had seen in other countries. “She had to go to Russia and Japan to show people that Maria Duval exists, that it’s not just a name. There’s a physical person,” he said in French.

The contracts banned her from using the name Maria Duval for her own work, he insisted. As a result, he said the royalties and payments she received were what she had to live on.

He acknowledged that she received a lot of money at first (though he wouldn’t say how much, and may not even know himself), but that as the rights to her name passed through so many new hands, the payments slowed. These days, he doesn’t think she receives any royalties.

He said that he is very sad about what has happened and that he hates seeing the way his mother’s name has been used.

“It’s terrible. But differentiate the name from the person,” he said.

And he was adamant that the businessmen behind the scheme have made far more money than his mother.

But he was so worried he could get his mother into hot water, he refused to name the scheme’s ringleaders. Plus, the business has changed hands so many times, that he said at this point his mother’s name has become a runaway train that will continue on in infamy.

A victim herself?

We left the meeting in a daze.

As we boarded our flight back home, we had a new question on our minds: Has the woman at the center of this scam become a victim of it herself?

Her son’s story would explain why even employees of the companies sending out the letters claimed to have only seen glimpses of her. It would explain why the letters were sent in languages Duval has never spoken before (according to her son). It would explain why she has become so elusive and isolated, hiding out in the home she’s owned for decades. And most importantly, it would explain how an elderly psychic could be at the center of one of the world’s longest-running scams.

The whole situation would also be terribly ironic. Many of the people we spoke to while in France were insistent that Duval herself is now extremely sick and old — just like the millions of victims the scam has preyed on over the years.


In 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted the "obedience experiments" at Yale University. The experiments observed the responses of ordinary people asked to send harmful electrical shocks to a stranger. Despite pleadings from the person they were shocking, 65 percent of subjects obeyed commands from a lab-coated authority figure to deliver potentially fatal currents. With Adolf Eichmann's trial airing in living rooms across America, Milgram's Kafkaesque results hit a nerve, and he was accused of being a deceptive, manipulative monster. EXPERIMENTER invites us inside Milgram's whirring mind, beginning with his obedience research and wending a path to uncover how inner obsessions and the times in which he lived shaped a parade of human behavior inquiries. (C) Magnolia

Rating:PG-13 (for thematic material and brief strong language)Genre:Drama
Directed By:Michael Almereyda
Written By:Michael AlmereydaIn

A jab in time Some Western countries have lower vaccination rates than poor parts of Africa. Anti-vaxxers are not the main culprits

International Vaccination

The Economist
March 26, 2016

ERADICATING a disease is the sort of aim that rich countries come up with, and poor ones struggle to reach. But for some diseases, the pattern is reversed. These are the ailments for which vaccinations exist. Many poor countries run highly effective vaccination programmes. But as memories of the toll from infectious diseases fades across the rich world, in some places they are making a comeback.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reckons that vaccines save 2.5m lives a year. Smallpox was eradicated in 1980 with the help of a vaccine; polio should soon follow. In both cases, rich countries led the way. The new pattern looks very different.

The trend is most evident for measles, which is highly contagious. At least 95% of people must be vaccinated to stop its spread (a threshold known as “herd immunity”). Although usually mild, it can lead to pneumonia and cause brain damage or blindness. The countries with the lowest vaccination rates are all very poor, but many developing countries run excellent programmes (see chart). Eritrea, Rwanda and Sri Lanka manage to vaccinate nearly everyone. By contrast several rich countries, including America, Britain, France and Italy, are below herd immunity.

Last year Europe missed the deadline it had set itself in 2010 to eradicate measles, and had almost 4,000 cases. America was declared measles-free in 2000; in 2014 it had hundreds of cases across 27 states and last year saw its first death from the disease in more than a decade. The trends for other vaccine-preventable diseases, such as rubella, which can cause congenital disabilities if a pregnant woman catches it, are alarming, too.

This sorry state of affairs is often blamed on hardline “anti-vaxxers”, parents who refuse all vaccines for their children. They are a motley lot. The Amish in America spurn modern medicine, along with almost everything else invented since the 17th century. Some vegans object to the use of animal-derived products in vaccines’ manufacture. The Protestant Dutch Reformed Church thinks vaccines thwart divine will. Anthroposophy, founded in the 19th century by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian mystic-cum-philosopher, preaches that diseases strengthen children’s physical and mental development.

INTERACTIVE: Explore vaccination coverage and measles cases worldwide from 1980 to 2014

In most countries such refuseniks are only 2-3% of parents. But because they tend to live in clusters, they can be the source of outbreaks. A bigger problem, though, is the growing number of parents who delay vaccination, or pick and choose jabs. Studies from America, Australia and Europe suggest that about a quarter of parents fall into this group, generally because they think that the standard vaccination schedule, which protects against around a dozen diseases, “overloads” children’s immune systems, or that particular vaccines are unsafe. Some believe vaccines interfere with “natural immunity”. Many were shaken by a claim, later debunked, that there was a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

In America, some poor children miss out on vaccines despite a federal programme to provide the jabs free, since they have no regular relationship with a family doctor. Some outbreaks in eastern Europe have started in communities of Roma (gypsies). Members of this poor and ostracised minority are shunned by health workers and often go unvaccinated.

Several governments are trying to raise vaccination rates by making life harder for parents who do not vaccinate their children. A measles outbreak last year that started with an unvaccinated child visiting Disneyland and spread from there to seven states prompted California to make a full vaccination record a condition of entry to state schools. The previous year, in a quarter of schools too few children had been vaccinated against measles to confer herd immunity. A dozen other states are considering similar bills. After a toddler died from measles last year, Germany recently started to oblige parents who do not wish their children to be vaccinated to discuss the decision with a doctor before they can enroll a child in nursery. Australia’s new “no jabs, no pay” law withdraws child benefits from parents who do not vaccinate, unless they have sound medical reasons.

Persuasion, a fine art

There is, however, surprisingly little evidence that tough laws make a big difference to vaccination rates. European countries that are similar in most respects (such as the Nordics) may have similar rates for jabs that are mandatory in one country but not in another—or very different rates despite having the same rules. Rates in some American states where parents can easily opt out are as high as in West Virginia and Mississippi, which have long allowed only medical exemptions.

And strict rules may even harden anti-vaccination attitudes. Australia had previously made exemption conditional on speaking to a doctor or nurse about the benefits of vaccines. The new rules mean fewer chances to change parents’ minds. Research suggests that making it harder to avoid the most important vaccines may make it more likely that people who strongly oppose vaccination in general shun optional ones, says Cornelia Betsch of the University of Erfurt.

More important, say public-health experts, is to boost confidence in the safety of vaccines and trust in the authorities that recommend them—both badly damaged in many European countries by pastpublic-health mis-steps, such as a scandal with contaminated blood supply in France from the late 1990s. The best way to handle a vaccine scare is to express empathy and promptly share the results from investigations of alleged adverse reactions, says Heidi Larson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. British authorities’ dismissive response to the MMR scare failed to reassure worried parents.

One promising new approach is to keep track of the vaccine myths circulating in cyberspace and rebut each one as it appears. This requires tracking information from search engines and following anti-vaccination websites and parents’ forums. On one such forum, worriers say they have scoured government and vaccine-manufacturer websites but feel overwhelmed by information that they regard as inconclusive or contradictory. One mother seeks advice on how to get around California’s “fascist” new rule. Another casts doubt on a study on severe allergic reactions to vaccines: 33 cases from 25m jabs, she says, seems “fishily low”.

Some countries are starting information campaigns that treat such concerns with respect. A parents’ organisation in Bulgaria launched one recently, under the auspices of the ministry of health and the national association of paediatricians. Its website is jargon-free and easier to navigate than unwieldy official hubs. France is launching a national dialogue on vaccines this spring, with a website where citizens can swap gripes, worries and advice.

Although vaccine-hesitant parents often search for answers on the internet, their most trusted sources are doctors and nurses. The WHO recently developed guidelines to help health workers figure out, through a questionnaire, which type of worrier a parent is—and how to alleviate specific concerns. But recent research from several European countries shows that many doctors and nurses are also hesitant about vaccines, for much the same reasons as their patients. In a survey conducted in 2014, 16-43% of French family doctors said they never or only sometimes recommended some of the standard vaccines.

An additional problem is that many adults were not immunised as children and have not caught up since. In the 1970s and 1980s, when the measles vaccine was new, many children did not receive it, or got just one shot, which is now known not to be reliable in conferring immunity. Some countries offer free catch-up jabs to some adults when outbreaks flare up—usually parents with small children and health workers in affected areas.

But such efforts have, on the whole, been too little, too late. The return of easily preventable diseases that had all but disappeared is a shame. A bigger shame would be for governments to continue blaming it all on ignorant parents.

Pine County cult leader accused of rape asks to be extradited from Brazil

Victor Barnard reportedly asked to be sent back from Brazil to face rape charges. 


By Jennifer Brooks

Star Tribune 

MARCH 28, 2016


Brazilian authorities will extradite accused cult leader Victor Barnard to Minnesota to face charges that he raped young girls in his congregation.

Barnard himself requested the extradition after spending more than a year in a Brazilian prison, his attorney says.

Minneapolis attorney Dave Risk confirmed Monday that the Brazilian Supreme Court has approved Barnard's extradition request on the condition that any prison sentence not exceed 30 years. No extradition date has been set, but Risk said Barnard will likely be returned sometime in the next six months.

"We do believe he is on his way back," Risk said. "He did himself request to be sent back."

Barnard faces 59 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly molesting young girls he called "maidens" in his Pine County congregation.

He left the congregation's isolated community in Finlayson, Minn., in 2010 under a cloud of suspicion for his behavior during his years at the head of the River Road Fellowship. In 2012, two former followers approached the Pine County Sheriff's Office to report that Barnard began a sexual relationship with them when they were 12 and 13 years old and that the abuse continued for years.

American sect leader Victor Arden Barnard sits in a police station after being detained at Pipa beach, in the Northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Barnard is facing 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct related to two young women who said they were abused for nearly a decade at his secluded River Road Fellowship in Minnesota.


Pine County leveled charges against Barnard in 2014, setting off an international manhunt. He was arrested in February 2015 in a Brazilian resort town, where he was sheltering with one of his former maidens — a follower from a wealthy Brazilian family.

Media in Brazil reported in November that Barnard had been hospitalized after an apparent suicide attempt in jail.

Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson, who inherited the Barnard case when he took office in 2014, confirmed that Brazilian authorities have agreed to extradite Barnard, but said he does not yet know the timeframe.

Risk, a partner in the Minneapolis-based Halberg Criminal Defense law firm, said the timing of Barnard's return will depend on Pine County and U.S. authorities.


No Andrew Wakefield, You're Not Being Censored And You Don't Deserve Due Process


“To our dismay, we learned today about the Tribeca Film Festival’s decision to reverse the official selection of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” opened a March 26th statement from the film’s Director Andrew Wakefield and Producer Del Bigtree.

Disgraced former gastroenterologist and researcher Andrew Wakefield, known for a fraudulent 1998 paper linking the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism, directs the movie which aims to “reveal an alarming deception that has contributed to the skyrocketing increase of autism and potentially the most catastrophic epidemic of our lifetime.”

A backlash erupted from the scientific, medical and pro-vaccine communities in the wake of an announcement last week that Tribeca Film Festival, with the support of co-founder Robert De Niro, who has a child with autism, would be screening the film.

“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family,” says a statement from De Niro issued on March 26th. “But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”

Vaccine opponents are crying conspiracy, with Natural News, a website notorious for promoting evidence-scarce scare stories and hawking worthless alternative health products, claiming that Tribeca pulled the film because of “totalitarian censorship demands” and “pharma-funded media science trolls.” The quack site’s co-founder Mike Adams, who is also an AIDS denier and 9/11 truther, writes that vaccine proponents “demand absolute obedience to the fraudulent narrative that vaccines are ‘safe and effective.’”


I won’t mince words. There is no big pharma conspiracy to push vaccines, and the only fraudulent narrative is that of Andrew Wakefield and his supporters. To screen the film at Tribeca would provide a false balance around an issue that doesn’t have two equal points of view. It’s simple, vaccine opponents fail every test of science and logic and their propaganda doesn’t warrant validation. “We were denied due process,” laments the statement from the Vaxxed team.


Due process? Due process clauses in the 5th and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution only apply when government is involved. This isn’t a court of law, and Andrew Wakefield doesn’t deserve such considerations for his anti-vaccine propaganda film. He doesn’t deserve a platform to spread anti-vaccine disinformation, after widespread panic in the wake of his fraudulent paper led to a sharp drop in vaccination rates and thousands of preventable deaths and countingfrom vaccine preventable disease.

In the meantime, there have been a whopping zero cases of autism caused by vaccines.


“We are grateful to the many thousands of people who have already mobilized including doctors, scientists, educators and the autistic community,” the statement continues. The filmmakers appealing to the “autistic community” is offensive; Wakefield and the anti-vaccine community don’t speak for people on the autism spectrum , a group of people with varied personalities, skills and symptoms associated with the disorder.

Zachary Premack, a 28-year-old student residing in Las Vegas, Nevada who was diagnosed with autism at age 13, says, “I’m autistic because of many possible factors, but not vaccines.” He adds, “I think Wakefield is thanking the autistic community because he wants to sound like he supports us, but he’s actually profiting off us.”

Premack explains, “I have struggled with my autism, but everything else about it has been a gift. It has helped me with my creativity and many famous scientists are on the spectrum, so maybe one day if I get my degree, it will help me to think outside the box and make the world a better place.”

“We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth,” gripes the Vaxxed filmmakers’ statement.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t censorship. This is the power of critical thinking at work. This is the power of people, journalists and the scientific community explaining the truth, that vaccines are crucial for public health and that Wakefield’s film is no better than anti-vaccine paranoia propaganda, to Robert DeNiro and Tribeca leadership. Reason, logic and evidence spoke and Robert De Niro listened.

To paint Tribeca’s decision as a conspiracy, as censorship and, laughably, as denial of due process is a sham. Andrew Wakefield has already caused enough death and disease, and he rightfully doesn’t get a respectable platform like Tribeca Film Festival to further spread his destruction. There are plenty of fringe quackery platforms for that.

Kavin Senapathy’s book examining popular food myths, “The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House,” with co-authors Marc Draco and Mark Alsip, is available now. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Mar 30, 2016

The Path Fact-Checked: The Ugly Truth Behind Real-Life Cults

The new Hulu drama premieres on Wednesday.

Vanity Fair
March 30, 2016

When Jessica Goldberg first sat down to create The Path—the hour-long Hulu drama about family members in a fictional cult—she focused first on the core marital couple, played by Aaron Paul and Michelle Monaghan, whose marriage splinters when one spouse begins to question their faith. Her next step was laying the groundwork for the fictional cult, called the Meyerist Movement.

“I started doing a lot of research,” Goldberg told us by phone earlier this week. “I got a group of writers together and we decided the grocery aisle of our religion’s principles. We really culled some things in all different faiths including Eastern religions and a lot of Judeo-Christian stuff. But it’s a hodgepodge.”

One discovery during their research that Goldberg and her writers ended up mining for the series was the fact that, according to her, “Most cults are first generation. . . . They revolve around a very charismatic leader and when that leader dies, the cult’s over. That was something we went into, trying to figure out how you take a religion from a first generation to a second generation.” The series, through a compound leader played by Hugh Dancy, telegraphs that same predicament as the character struggles to keep the movement alive.

Even though the Meyerist Movement is inspired by a grab bag of religious practices and cult beliefs, viewers (like this one) might tune into the series because of their intrigue about cult mentality. To parse The Path’s accuracies and fictional liberties about cults, we reached out to Steven Hassan—former member of the Unification Church, founder of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, and author of Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults.

Although Hassan admitted that he was skeptical of the drama upon seeing the trailer (and having seen other television and film projects perpetuate common misconceptions about cults in the past), the Cambridge College alum revealed that, after seeing the first episode of the series, he was impressed by its accuracy and was interested in continuing the series. But first, he answered some of our burning questions.

Vanity Fair: Do cult members really recruit disaster survivors, like the Meyerist members are shown doing with tornado survivors in the opening shot?

Steven Hassan: The closest thing to anything like that is the Twelve Tribes—a pseudo-Christian communal cult that used to recruit kids at rock and metal concerts. They would go to rock shows in a bus and put a Red Cross flag on the outside of it and offer help for people who were having bad [acid] trips. They would recruit people that way, which was really devious and praying on the weak. But they wouldn’t drive them off to their upstate location [like they do on the show].

In my experience, cults that have been around for a while, and are larger, are much more sensitive to how they are perceived and do not do things that might make them look bad like prey on survivors of a national disaster. But [The Path’s writers] may have also read about Scientologists helping after 9/11 and going down to Haiti, which, in my opinion, is more for P.R. and getting wealthy donors to help than for recruiting members.

Do cults typically target survivors of recent trauma as recruits?

There are so many different types of cults that go after different populations, but in general cults really want to recruit smart, talented, intact people who can have trust funds, and who have skills, and who have education, because then they’re going to be more effective for the organization. They don’t want people with serious emotional, psychological drug dependencies because it’s going to take a lot of time and energy away from their activities elsewhere.

The public is woefully unprepared to understand the methodologies of destructive cults and how slick they are and how sophisticated they are. In particular, the cult I’ve been studying the most in the last year is ISIS and just how sophisticated they are on the Internet in using Hollywood imagery and video-game imagery and movie imagery, etcetera.

How destructive of a cult would you say the Meyerists are?

What is portrayed on the show makes it look totally benign. There are no breaking sessions [in which cult members destroy distinct personalities in their quest to brainwash members]. There’s no one making them turn over trust funds or stop talking to family members. [Aaron Paul’s character] was sneaking to the library and sneaking a call to the disbeliever. He felt like he couldn’t even tell his wife about his crisis of faith, so that indicates mind control. But it’s not like the group is trying to take over the world. It’s not like the leader is sodomizing little boys like Sathya Sai Baba [is accused of doing].

Can cult members actually have an Ayahuasca-aided vision as surreal as a dead family member telling them to be suspicious of their religion (as Aaron Paul’s character does)?

I’ve worked with some people who have had some bad experiences with Peruvian Ayahuasca cults. Do they have life-changing realizations? That is true. They have ceremonies were they take Ayahuasca and trip their brains out all night. Is it possible that his dead brother, on a subconscious level, is saying, “You should get the hell out of there”? Yes. That actually is plausible to me. It happens to my clients where they have “spiritual experiences” of this nature.

Aaron Paul’s character has to sneak out to use a computer to Google search his faith. How many cults discourage the use of the Internet?

A lot of the older cults that have been around for a really long time, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, and even the Mormons, are having a really hard time with young people growing up in the age of the Internet, because they’ve been basically telling lies to their followers about their history, and now people can easily find out what’s true and not true, and look at their own literature and copies of their own literature. It’s causing massive defections, which is very interesting for me.

Are vows an integral part of the movement for members?

In the cult I was in, members were bowing their heads to the floor Sunday morning at five A.M. reciting a pledge, a prayer service, to devote their heart and mind and soul to God and the group and to give their life to the fatherland in Korea. Vows are very common, both written and verbal.

Are members typically divided in ranks based on their knowledge levels?

This notion that there are different levels of knowledge is very important because, from my understanding, the legitimate groups tell you up front who they are and what they believe and want from you before they ask for a commitment, whereas the illegitimate cults kind of string you along and tell you that, when you are ready, they will tell you more. They make you jump through a million hoops before they share their secret knowledge.

Would a de facto cult leader like Hugh Dancy's feel morally inclined to rebuff the sexual advances of a new recruit?

I don’t know how much this character is supposed to be a lieutenant versus an actual cult leader, but if he is supposed to be a lieutenant and a true believer and part of the teaching is non-sexuality until you’re married, which it appears to be, then hemight say no to a bare-breasted woman, but not likely. When people ask me what drives people who are leading cults, I talk about power, money, and sex—money is not always number two but power is always number one.

You mention destructive cults—are there non-destructive cults?

If you think of a continuum, which is an arrow going to the left and an arrow going to the right, and the arrow going to the left is healthy, ethical influence, the arrow going to the right is destructive influence. The healthy influence respects people’s individuality and creativity, their conscience, and their free will. People can choose to follow or choose to leave, and there are no big threats around leaving. For example, people are in the Boy Scouts or they are in the Kiwanis Clubs.

The point is, are you free to leave? Are you free to join? Are you free to read whatever you want to read? Can you talk to former members? If the group is like, “Sure, talk to whoever you want to talk to,” they’re more likely to be on the left side of the continuum, and they may be a cult, but they’re not a mind-control cult, or a destructive cult, which, in my definition, is an authoritarian, pyramid-structured group, or relationship even.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

From ‘Exodus’ to ‘God’s Not Dead 2’: The new wave of religious movies, explained

Stephanie Merry
The Washington Post
March 30, 2016

If there were a family tree for modern religious movies, the forefather would be Mel Gibson's 2004 phenomenon "The Passion of the Christ." Made for $30 million, the R-rated drama went on to gross more than $600 million worldwide. Then it spawned a huge brood of descendants, including the recent release "Miracles From Heaven" and "God's Not Dead 2," which comes out Friday.

Hollywood observers tend to group these movies together as part of a faith-based trend that earned 2014 the nickname "the Year of the Bible Film." But, like any family, the offspring aren't all alike. In fact, the movies tend to fall into a handful of different camps. Some are most interested in spreading the Gospel, while others seem preoccupied with raking in returns. Here's a look at how the groups break down.

Attempted proselytizers

Examples: "God's Not Dead," "War Room"

If actor Kevin Sorbo or "Growing Pains" star Kirk Cameron is involved, you're most likely watching a movie with the explicit goal of evangelizing. That objective is more important than production values or plot, which explains why these movies fare so poorly with critics.

Not that bad reviews are stopping ticket buyers. Just look at "War Room," a ham-fisted 2015 movie about a caddish jerk and thief who almost loses everything before he's saved by prayer. The drama made $68 million on a budget of $3 million. That's a similar return on investment to "God's Not Dead," which came out the year before and starred Sorbo as a philosophy professor who forces his students to renounce God but gets a religious reawakening instead.

That isn't to say that all such movies do well. For every "Fireproof" (faith saves a man's marriage), a 2008 film that made 67 times more money than it cost to make, there are a few bombs like 2014's "A Long Way Off" (a modern-day prodigal-son parable), which pulled in just $30,000 at the box office despite an endorsement from Fox News host Sean Hannity.

The religious-ish blockbusters

Examples: "Noah," "Exodus: Gods and Kings," "Left Behind"

Sure, the titles sound like something from Sunday school, but the stories aren't too concerned with biblical accuracy. The approach (so far) doesn't delight the devout or the secular crowd.

Ridley Scott directed "Exodus" (2014), which starred Christian Bale as Moses and never had a hope of making back its $140 million budget. It pulled in $60 million domestically after terrible reviews. "Noah" (2014), directed by Darren Aronofsky, fared slightly better. The biblical epic with Russell Crowe as the ark builder brought in $101 million domestically on a budget of $125 million. It was supposed to be a success for Aronofsky, in his first foray into mainstream moviemaking after a series of art-house accomplishments.

That success didn't quite happen. Maybe it was because the director told the New Yorker that "Noah" was "the least Biblical Biblical film ever made." And it really did feel that way. The disaster movie seemed like a pretty typical action drama, but one that the studio probably greenlighted to lure the faithful by using nothing more than a biblical title.

Sorbo thinks Hollywood learned its lesson about using self-described atheists, such as Scott.

"You don't get atheist directors to direct movies that deal with the Bible," he told Fox News. "It's ridiculous — at least get an agnostic!"

The starrier, subtler crossover attempts

Examples: "Miracles From Heaven," "Heaven Is for Real," "90 Minutes in Heaven," "Captive"

Because so many faith-based movies tend to inelegantly pontificate, the genre can be a non-starter for some. But what if a faith-based movie had a little more star power and a little less sermonizing? That's the balance some studios are trying to find. And it's working.

"Miracles From Heaven" stars Jennifer Garner as the mother of a sick girl who's suddenly cured. The movie has made $34 million, on a budget of $13 million, since its March 16 opening, and the turnout may be thanks to a slightly less religion-centric approach.

Director Patricia Riggen told the Associated Press, "I wanted to make the movie have a wide appeal and be able to be seen and enjoyed by people of any faith or no faith at all."

Like "Heaven Is for Real" (2014), which starred Greg Kinnear as the father of a boy who meets his dead relatives during a near-death experience, the movie succeeds as a sappy, optimistic tear-jerker with or without the God element.

The formula isn't foolproof, though, which explains the lackluster returns of another near-death trip to paradise, "90 Minutes in Heaven" (2015), starring Kate Bosworth and Hayden Christensen, and "Captive" (2015), with David Oyelowo and Kate Mara as an escaped convict and the woman he holds hostage.

The art-house approach

Examples: "Calvary," "Last Days in the Desert"

"Calvary" (2014) follows a priest who, during confession, is told he has seven days before he'll be murdered. The movie contained violence, strong language and drug use, among other sins, but it also captured the complexities of religion in a nuanced and meaningful way. Is that why the small-budget film made $17 million at the box office? Or was it the humdinger of a plot?

These movies tend to approach religion with a light touch, but that doesn't make them any less faith-driven. The priest in "Calvary," played by Brendan Gleeson, was more pious and less self-important than any character Cameron has played. (That is, when Gleeson's character wasn't drinking.)

(Stephanie Merry/The Washington Post)

Next up is the May release of "Last Days in the Desert," starring Ewan McGregor as Jesus — and the Devil. The movie has gotten solid reviews since its debut during the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, and the just-released trailer looks a little trippy. It also has serious film credentials, with cinematography by Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki. That said, director Rodrigo García is hardly a Bible beater.

"Some people who have seen the movie ask me, 'Does the movie say that Jesus is the Son of God, or is not the Son of God?' " he told the Atlantic magazine last year. "And I say, you know what? I don't care. Jesus — the historical Jesus, the faith Jesus, and the literary Jesus, because Jesus is also a character of fiction — they're all interesting to me. They all face an incredibly huge human conundrum."

Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies and pop culture for the Post.

Sexual relations between cult leaders and followers to be considered assault

Sexual relations between cult leaders and followers to be considered assault


Jerusalem Post Israel News


The Knesset passed a law Wednesday that would have sexual relations between a religious leader and a follower be considered assault, even if they were consensual.


"In recent years," the law's explanatory portion states, "there have been men and women who suffered from violence in cults let by people who present themselves as religious leaders of people with special spiritual powers. Sometimes these people take advantage of their authority to sexually harm women and men who become part of these cults.


The law, proposed by MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), would consider the relationship between a guru or cult leader and a follower, during or soon after the leader provided guidance, to be one of authority over the follower.


Rosin said she was glad to change the law and raise awareness about the issue.


"We will continue fighting against sexual violence," she vowed. "We believe in the justice of our way and are acting to stop this plague."


The law passed in a third (final) reading with 28 in favor and none opposed.



Mar 29, 2016

Boston Archdiocese settles with 7 alleged victims of clergy abuse

Wayne Rogers said he was targeted as an altar boy by James Braley.

Brian MacQuarrie
Boston Globe
MARCH 28, 2016

The Archdiocese of Boston has agreed to settlements involving cash and counseling with seven people who say they were sexually abused by priests, including one case that stretches back to the 1930s, according to the attorney for the alleged victims.

Two other settlements with religious orders have been reached in cases involving priests who allegedly abused victims while they worked in the archdiocese, according to the attorney, Mitchell Garabedian.

Another, separate settlement with the Carmelite Order involved a brother who had been accused of abuse in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles before being assigned to a chapel at the Northshore Mall in Peabody.

In all, the 10 settlements paid $778,500 and involved allegations of sexual abuse in every decade from the 1930s through the 1980s, Garabedian said. The attorney said he also reached agreements in six other cases across the country, including four in New Jersey.

The agreements carried no admission of liability.

The settlements are the latest reminders of the breadth of the crisis that rocked the archdiocese after the Globe reported in 2002 that abuse had occurred over decades, and that church officials transferred abusive priests to other parishes and routinely hid cases from the public and parishioners.

The Globe’s investigation into the abuse was chronicled in the movie “Spotlight” and earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize in 2003.

Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said the church “is committed to addressing cases of clergy abuse in a compassionate and just manner. As a matter of practice, we generally do not comment on individual settlements with survivors.”

Abuse claims have been settled in batches since the crisis became public. Garabedian, who has settled more than 1,000 claims, said the latest cases show that more victims are becoming emboldened to pursue claims they had tried to forget or bury.

“They could not come forward until their coping mechanism allowed them to,” he said.

Among the latest settlements is one that stretches back more than seven decades. A 90-year-old man who was near death pursued a claim in June 2014 involving the Rev. James MacGuinness, a priest who allegedly abused him from 1938 to 1940 in the rectory of St. John Church in Roxbury.

“It was as though he was waiting to report the abuse as the final chapter of his life,” Garabedian said. The man died two months after a settlement was reached in December 2014.

Three priests involved in the recent claims — the Rev. James Braley, the Rev. Joseph Byrne, and the Rev. Martin Walsh — are listed under “unsubstantiated cases” on anarchdiocesan website devoted to sex abuse by clergy. Braley has been barred from public ministry, according to the archdiocesan website, and Byrne and Walsh are deceased.

According to the website, the “unsubstantiated” list is composed of priests who faced public accusations that “were found unsubstantiated by the Review Board after a preliminary investigation or who were acquitted of publicized allegations after a canonical process. The decision was made to restrict the ministry of certain of these priests for other reasons.”

The Review Board, which includes a wide range of lay members plus one archdiocesan cleric, advises the cardinal on sexual-abuse complaints and child protection.

Neither Braley nor Walsh is listed under any of five other categories that the archdiocese uses to track allegations of abuse, including whether a priest has been found guilty of abuse by the church or civil authorities.

A Florida man who pursued the claim against Braley said he was abused in the mid-1970s at St. Peter Church in Cambridge. Walsh, who died in 2007, had been posted in Waltham at Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted when he abused a 13-year-old in 1975, Garabedian said.

Byrne, who died in 2014, is named on the website under a category for deceased priests for whom criminal or canonical proceedings had not been completed. Byrne served at St. Matthew Church in Dorchester when he abused a 10-year-old in 1969, Garabedian said.

Another priest whose case was settled, the deceased Rev. Richard Butler, is not listed on the website — either as unsubstantiated or in any of the other categories. That settlement involved a claim from 1967 and 1968, when Butler served at Blessed Sacrament Church in Cambridge, Garabedian said.

Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman, said the church is working diligently to prevent abuse.

“The policies and practices of the archdiocese include working with law-enforcement agencies and community professionals to report and investigate instances of sexual abuse, annually screening approximately 60,000 clergy, employees and volunteers, and implementing effective prevention training programs,” Donilon said.

“The archdiocese continues to reach out to those who have been harmed by the tragic reality of clergy sexual abuse in order to provide pastoral help and counseling services to survivors and their families.”

However, a Waltham-based watchdog group that tracks clergy sexual abuse criticized the archdiocese for not publicizing the settlements despite its pledge for greater transparency.

Garabedian called the settlements an acknowledgment of abuse, although the archdiocese stressed that they are not an admission of guilt.

“To a survivor, a settlement represents that the archdiocese has admitted that a claim is valid, has substance, and is credible,” Garabedian said. “A settlement helps a survivor try to rid himself or herself of the unnecessary guilt and shame felt as a result of being sexually abused.”

Garabedian also criticized the archdiocese’s decision not to list allegations of abuse involving priests in religious orders. Because those priests are not on the archdiocesan roster, Garabedian said, the Boston hierarchy’s attitude is “that’s not our problem.”

Wayne Rogers, a 54-year-old from Micco, Fla., who pursued the claim against Braley, said that as a troubled child in Cambridge looking for direction, he was encouraged by friends to become an altar boy at St. Peter’s. There, he said, he was targeted by Braley, then a young priest.

Braley’s attention soon turned to sexual contact, including oral sex, and continued into the boy’s early teens, Rogers said in an interview. Some of the abuse occurred in Braley’s room at St. Peter’s rectory, where the priest would take the boy up three flights of stairs past the rooms of other priests, Rogers said.

“It’s a black scar across your soul that you never think you’ll be able to talk about or get rid of,” he said. “I’m what the predator was looking for, and I didn’t have a clue.”

After the physical abuse ended, Braley and Rogers remained in contact for more than decade, Rogers said. During that time, often in meetings at Cape Cod hotels and homes, Braley would ask for specific details of Rogers’s sexual encounters with women, Rogers recalled.

“There was mind-control stuff, bonding over the secret stuff, blackmail stuff,” he said.

At the beginning, Braley seemed to be a caring, parental figure in Rogers’s wildly dysfunctional world.

“I had no direction,” Rogers said. “Here was my mother beating me half to death every day. I was doomed from the beginning, and then here was Braley. I don’t know how they do it where they take your mind and do this to you.”

Rogers said he kept the abuse to himself until several years ago, when he began to speak with other survivors. Now, Rogers — a military veteran who once was homeless — said he is an ordained minister.

The archdiocese’s response to his claim was disappointing, Rogers said.

“What upset me the most through this process was going to the ivory towers of the legal defense people in Boston, and no one from the church ever showing up. No apology. No admitting guilt,” Rogers said.

Garabedian said that the latest settlements have taken longer to complete — about two years, on average — than earlier agreements involving sexual abuse.

“The church’s attitude can be summed up in a nutshell: How can we disprove this case, and not how can we look at it objectively,” he said.

The settlements also include alleged victims of former archdiocesan priests who had been accused in previous, separate cases, including Richard Coughlin, a now-defrocked cleric who served in Stoneham and Lynn from 1953 to 1965.

After Coughlin was transferred to Southern California, claims against him there resulted in more than $3 million in settlements.

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached

Patriarch of Arlington’s Love Israel Family Ranch dies at 75

Julie Muhlstein
Herald Writer
March 29, 2016

Love Israel plays the flute at his home in Bothell in October 2006.
Love Israel 
BOTHELL — Love Israel was a patriarch and spiritual leader. From the religious community he founded in 1968 on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill, he brought his counterculture commune to Snohomish County in the 1980s. In its heyday, the Love Israel Family Ranch near Arlington was home to more than 100 followers.

Born Paul Erdmann, Love Israel died Feb. 1 at his home in Bothell. He was 75.

“He was surrounded by people he loved and who loved him,” said Serious Israel, a follower from the community’s early days. Love Israel had suffered from cancer, Serious said.

“The last few weeks here, it was a really beautiful scene with a lot of people coming to see him,” Serious Israel said.

Love Israel is survived by his wife, Honesty Israel, and by his children: Kevin Clayton, Kim Metaxa, Life Israel, Compassion Israel, Clean Israel, Perfection Israel, More Israel, Bernadette Israel Carter, Luke Israel, Lovely Laban, Justice Israel, and many grandchildren. He also is survived by his brother, Steve Erdmann, and sisters Mary Shipp and Ellen “Dee Dee” Girt, all of Oregon. He was preceded in death by his brother, Peter Erdmann, and daughter, Tiffany Fackrell.

“His whole message was always about positivity,” said Lovely Israel Laban. She lived at the ranch until her mother left when she was 4. She attended Arlington High School and now runs a cosmetic dermatology company in Oregon and California.

“His message about love and forgiveness was very powerful,” she added.

Girt said hundreds of people attended her brother’s funeral Feb. 20 at Seattle Unity Church. “Love was a gentleman,” said Shipp, his other sister.

Their brother was born in Germany but the family moved here when they were children, Shipp said. “He grew up in Seattle,” she said. Girt said their father was Roman Catholic, but after their parents divorced religion didn’t play a big role in their lives.

It wasn’t until adulthood that Erdmann, once a TV salesman who also worked in mortgage banking, “had a life change, his belief system changed,” Shipp said.

He changed his name, too, and at a house on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill he founded the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon.

“He had a vision. He saw that we were all one,” said Confidence Israel, another longtime member now living near in Eastern Washington’s Stevens County.

Confidence Israel joined the commune about a year after its start. “There was a strong belief in Christianity,” he said, and followers have three key principles: “Love is the answer, now is the time, and we are all one.”

Members took the surname Israel “right out of the Bible,” Confidence said. Serious Israel said first names were discerned by Love Israel and others who witnessed individual virtues. That tradition continued for the next generation.

The Love Israel Family has existed for decades, but its history has been troubled by divisions, financial difficulties and land use regulations. In the early days, some parents even hired “deprogrammers” to remove their children from what they saw as a cult, Serious Israel said.

In 1984, the Seattle property was lost in a settlement with a former follower, Daniel Gruener.

The group battled Snohomish County in the 1990s over its yurts and other structures, many built without permits. And in 2004, a year after the Israel family filed for bankruptcy, the 300-acre ranch near Arlington was sold for $4.2 million to the Union for Reform Judaism. The Jewish denomination today runs Camp Kalsman on the bucolic site.

About 30 people associated with the Love Israel Family live in northeast Washington, where the group runs China Bend Winery.

While in the Arlington area, the Love Israel Family became a vibrant part of the community. For more than a dozen years it hosted a summer Garlic Festival, with food and live music. The Israel Family owned The Bistro, a fine-dining restaurant in Arlington, and had a construction business. Israel Family children played sports for Arlington schools.

By 2005, the Love Family had two homes in Bothell. Today, Serious Israel said, many members of the next generation live in that area.

“While we were all young, it lasted quite a good while,” Confidence Israel said. When members began having children, differences in values arose. “The winds of change blew us in different directions, like a dandelion getting blown and all the seeds flying,” he said. “Love tried to keep it all together. Overall, he was a good man, a compassionate man. But in some ways, he was blind to a lot of things.”

Serious Israel said that while members took the name Israel, they also heeded a kind of anagram: “Love Is Real.”

“We patched together our own culture,” he said.

At one point, the group had places in Seattle, Arlington, Eastern Washington, Alaska and Hawaii. “We don’t really have a communal land base anymore,” Serious Israel said. Rather than a church or a cult, he sees the Love Israel Family as “a small tribe.”

“We have our family tree and our relationships to one another,” he said. “Our kids grew up with a lot of aunts and uncles.”

On Sunday, they held a big Easter gathering.

“The sun came out and we felt very blessed to see all our young families,” Serious Israel said. “Our children don’t all share the same religious beliefs their elders had, but the principles are still the glue.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-0339-3460;

On Clover Road

San Francisco Playhouse

The Strand / Rueff Theater (Upstairs)
Written by Steven Dietz
Directed by Susi Damilano

“Children are made of glass. Children shatter.”

Maybe their parents do too.

On Clover Road could have been a straight-ahead story about cults we’ve seen so many times before: parent searches for runaway child, finds them in remote location under the spell of a spiritual leader, proceeds to rescue them, and then attempts the arduous task of de-programming. Yes, Steven Dietz’s thriller gives us those basic elements — and they’re intriguing enough in their own right. But this play turns convention on its head, several times over. The twists come increasingly fast, and causes us to not only re-think proceeding scenes, but to question belief systems in general. What election year?

San Francisco’s re-born Strand Theater played host to the San Francisco edition, and last leg, of the rolling world premiere. Upstairs in the 1,500 square foot “Rueff” space (which offers gorgeous views of City Hall… when the windows aren’t blacked out for a show), San Francisco Playhouse unveiled the new show to a full house.

Director (and SF Playhouse co-founder) Susi Damilano noted that the play was part of the “Sandbox Series.” Started seven years ago, the program aims to discover new playwrights, and bring otherwise underexposed works to the stage (Glickman award-winning alumn Ideation is now playing New York to raves). It seems to be the perfect partnership. After all, the vision for Carey Perloff’s Strand — aka Market Street’s Red Box — reclamation was to revitalize the arts along Central Market, and to also reinvigorate the scene with newer, non-traditional, perhaps edgier material. Later, departing out the back of the Strand into the balmy San Francisco evening I couldn’t help, but feel this play, the Sandbox Series, and the Strand as essential components to the next chapter of live theater, to the next few decades, to ones where Millennials and Gen Zers will bring their very connected, very mobile lives into buildings wherever they go.

And on this evening, that building would be an old, abandoned motel on… Clover Road. Flea ridden, unkempt, decrepit and the kind of place where a single, barely standing lamp seems to begrudge its duty. Its here that private investigator Stine (Michael Storm) meets the desperate mother (Sally Dana). Her daughter, “the girl” (Rachel Goldberg) has fallen prey to “the farm” and hasn’t been home in four years. Stine professes to know how to execute a rescue, and has seemingly dealt with cults many times before — kind of how The Wolf knew how to expertly clean a crime scene in Quentin Tarentino’s Pulp Fiction.

On Clover Road - San Francisco Playhouse

Kate (Sally Dana), tied up by cult leader Harris McLain (Adam Elder) begs The Girl (Nancy Kimball) for help.

On Clover Road - The Strand Theater San Francisco

Kate Hunter (Sally Dana) tries to jog The Girl (Rachel Goldberg)’s memory with a game of cat’s cradle.

To go much further into the story, however, would be to reveal too much of the unexpected and entertaining twists and turns. The magic in the script is that it keeps us guessing, and, several times by my count, swiftly pulls the proverbial rug beneath us. By the time the (somewhat awkwardly paced) ending rolls around, we think we know where this thing is headed. Cult leader Harris, as they say: once a salesman, always a salesman. And if a mother-daughter can’t bring themselves to express with words, perhaps a childhood game would.

On Clover Road is a fun 80-minute ride. While some of the pacing is at times uneven, and the ending might have been too obvious, especially after all the interesting pretext, it’s exactly the kind of play that deserves to see the light of day. And we can thank San Francisco Playhouse’s Sandbox Series and the wonderful new Strand Theater for that. That post-show champagne tasted especially sweet on what feels like the beginning of a new era of theater in San Francisco.