Jun 29, 2016

Born on a Queens Street, a Battle Over Falun Gong Goes to Court

Born on a Queens Street, a Battle Over Falun Gong Goes to Court

In China, practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have long complained of propaganda campaigns, imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Chinese government.

In Flushing, Queens, which has perhaps the largest Falun Gong following in the United States, members say their adversaries are a handful of spirited Chinese immigrants who tend a small folding table set up every day in front of a Chinese restaurant on a stretch of Main Street that is bustling with Chinese immigrants.

The opposition group distributes materials denouncing Falun Gong as an evil cult, an epithet that the organization incorporates into its name, the Chinese Anti-Cult World Alliance.

Having staked out their turf in Flushing, the two factions have long waged a bitter ideological battle.

Now, a new battle front has opened — in a Brooklyn courthouse.

Members of the Falun Gong have filed a federal lawsuit against the anti-cult group seeking relief from what they call “an ongoing campaign of violent assaults, threats, intimidation and other abuses.”

The lawsuit accuses the alliance of collaborating with the Chinese government by persecuting Falun Gong in the United States and seeking “to purge Flushing of Falun Gong.” The suit, which details more than 20 assaults against, and confrontations with, the plaintiffs, is asking the court for an order that would keep the anti-Falun Gong group away. It also claims that Falun Gong members have been subjected to “mob violence” from the opposition group.

Tom Fini, a lawyer representing the alliance, called the lawsuit baseless and said the plaintiffs’ main complaint against his clients was their labeling Falun Gong a cult. Mr. Fini added that “the plaintiffs are trying to intimidate my clients, punishing them with a federal lawsuit to quash their right to free speech.”

He said the Falun Gong members were suing over “a handful of confrontations that they initiated” and were citing “a few scuffles where there has not been one serious injury or hospital visit.”

Not so, said Terri Marsh, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“That it hasn’t risen to the level of a beheading is beside the point,” Ms. Marsh said, adding that the anti-cult group’s regimen of attacks and intimidation — even if it is yelling and shoving — interferes with her clients’ religious freedom.

She said her clients “are not trying to stop their right to free speech — they really just want the violence to stop.”

The feud in Flushing dates back to 2008, when members of the alliance accused Falun Gong members of disrupting fund-raising efforts on Main Street for victims of a deadly earthquake in China, partly to prevent funds from potentially winding up in the hands of the Chinese government, the opposition group charged.

The anti-cult group’s table soon appeared on Main Street, offering literature criticizing the Falun Gong ideology as extremist and an embarrassment to Chinese immigrants.

Not far from the alliance’s table is a Falun Gong spiritual center with its own sidewalk tables where volunteers distribute fliers protesting their group’s treatment by the Chinese government and describing the ruthless methods it uses to try to eliminate the spiritual practice in China.

To hear Falun Gong members in Flushing tell it, they are meek practitioners who follow a moral philosophy based on truth, tolerance and compassion. They say they are preyed upon by the anti-cult group simply because of their beliefs.

The alliance scoffs at this, saying the Falun Gong members pose as victims while being just as complicit in the altercations.

One of the defendants, Michael Chu, a leader of the anti-cult group, said the confrontations usually involved both groups pointing cameras at each other and sometimes calling the police. He characterized them as typical New York City street arguments — standoffs or scuffles sometimes, but hardly attacks.

“They manufactured these incidents” into political clashes, said Mr. Chu, who runs a travel agency, a neighborhood watch and other community organizations.

Inside his office, he pulled out dozens of signs that he and members typically use in demonstrations against Falun Gong. They criticized the spiritual group for, among other things, according to Mr. Chu, believing in paranormal activity, eschewing modern medicine and distorting Chinese culture.

Mr. Chu’s outspokenness has made him a target. In The Epoch Times, a free daily newspaper that supports the Falun Gong, he has been portrayed as a puppet for the Chinese Communist Party as part of a campaign to expand its influence in the United States.

Ms. Marsh said that Mr. Chu recruited — sometimes using free meals as an incentive — members of his neighborhood watch group to participate in protests against the Falun Gong.

But Mr. Fini called the suit an attempt to “silence my clients’ First Amendment right to express their opinion that many of the beliefs of Falun Gong are irrational and dangerous.”

To better illustrate those beliefs, Mr. Fini said, he wants to call as a witness the Falun Gong’s venerated founder and leader, Li Hongzhi.

Although Falun Gong is known as a system that combines elements of Buddhism, mysticism and traditional exercise regimen, some followers also ascribe to the more unconventional teachings of Mr. Li, including alien visitation, ethnic separation and other beliefs that might clarify “why my clients have the constitutional right to call them a cult,” Mr. Fini said.

Mr. Fini said one plaintiff had already admitted in a deposition to sharing Mr. Li’s ideas about extraterrestrial visitors and the existence of different heavens for different races.

“My clients call these beliefs bizarre and dangerous,” Mr. Fini said. “If they follow a leader who teaches about aliens and segregated heavens, my clients get to call those ideas cultlike, bizarre and dangerous. That’s how freedom of speech works.”

But Ms. Marsh said, “These doctrines that he characterizes as bizarre are part of virtually every Eastern religion, including Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism and Taoism, and just because he thinks it’s strange doesn’t mean it’s not a religion.”

Ms. Marsh said Mr. Fini was threatening to depose Mr. Li as a way to intimidate her clients into dropping their case to avoid exposing their leader.

She said her clients considered Mr. Li an enlightened, transcendent figure and that Mr. Fini’s desire to depose him would be “a deliberate form of disrespect geared to harass them and denigrate their religion.”

Deposing Mr. Li could also elicit personal information that could endanger him, said Ms. Marsh, whose request to have the court block the subpoena to have Mr. Li deposed and to seal the case from public record was denied.

Mr. Fini has been unable to find the reclusive Mr. Li, who moved to the United States in the late 1990s and whose whereabouts is unclear.

Ms. Marsh said she did not know the whereabouts of the leader and neither did her clients.

Mr. Li does appear sporadically at Falun Gong events, and the presumption is that he lives in the sprawling Dragon Springs center that Falun Gong operates in upstate New York.

Mr. Fini said his process server was turned away at the gate and told that Mr. Li did not live there.

Ms. Marsh, he said, does not want the Falun Gong leader to be questioned “because the plaintiffs don’t want the truth about his many bizarre teachings to come out.”

A version of this article appears in print on June 29, 2016, on page A20 of the New York edition with the headline: Fought for Years on a Queens Street, a Battle Over Falun Gong Goes to Court




Traditionalist St. Pius X society abandons unification, claims Francis spreading errors


Joshua J. McElwee
June 29, 2016


A traditionalist group of Catholic bishops and priests that has been separated from the wider church for decades appears to have abandoned efforts to reunite with Rome, releasing a statement Wednesday that claims Pope Francis is encouraging the spreading of errors in church teaching.

The Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970 mainly in opposition to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, says now it "does not primarily seek a canonical recognition" from the Vatican for its continuing activities.

The society also says there is a "great and painful confusion that currently reigns in the Church" that "requires the denunciation of errors that have made their way into it and are unfortunately encouraged by a large number of pastors, including the Pope himself."

The statement, released on the society's website, seems to eliminate chances that the group might reunite with Rome. Popes have tried to repair relations over four decades.

Pope Benedict XVI made the most effort to reunite with the group, lifting the excommunications of four of their bishops in 2009. Those efforts ultimately failed when Bishop Bernard Fellay, their current superior general, rejected a doctrinal statement drafted by the Vatican for the group to sign.

Wednesday's statement is made in Fellay's name and comes as the global Catholic church is celebrating the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the founders of the church in Rome.

Fellay says he is making the statement following a June 25-28 meeting of the society's superiors and gives four numbered points based on the premise that the purpose of the group "is chiefly the formation of priests, the essential condition for the renewal of the Church and for the restoration of society."

The statement ends with a paragraph that begins: "The Society of Saint Pius X prays and does penance for the Pope, that he might have the strength to proclaim Catholic faith and morals in their entirety."

The society's statement comes less than three months after Francis met with Fellay for the first time at the Vatican in April.

The pope had earlier indicated a move toward unity between the wider church and the traditionalist society with the opening of the ongoing Jubilee year of mercy last fall.

In a September letter to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, which is organizing the holy year on his behalf, he explained that members of the society would be granted faculties during the year to offer absolution of sins "validly and licitly" to those who approach them for confession.

In a March interview posted on the society’s website, Fellay had before said he thought Francis may consider his group as existing on the "periphery" and thus needing to be accompanied back to the church.

Outside of the faculties granted during the Jubilee year, members of the traditionalist society are considered not to be in full communion with Rome and, in normal circumstances, its priests and bishops cannot exercise Roman Catholic ministry.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter:


Jun 28, 2016

Is Satan Still a Big Deal in 2016?

Is Satan Still a Big Deal in 2016?


By Robert Dayton

June 27, 2016

In a complete surprise to its authors, Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s, has sold out its first run. The second release by Spectacular Optical—a Canadian small-press publisher named after the ominous store-front from David Cronenberg'sVideodrome—explores the hysteria that percolated in the 1980s over devils hiding behind every door, be it in film, TV, music, and even children's toys! Satan was everywhere! No one was safe!

Luckily their UK Publisher FAB Press has just released a new printing to catch up with the unexpected demand.

We met up with editors Kier-La Janisse and Paul Corupe to talk about the book's success, whether Satan is still relevant in 2016 and what's on the horizon.

VICE: Were you surprised the book sold out so quickly? Or were you surprised that the book was so quickly embraced?
Kier-La Janisse: I was surprised it sold out so quickly only because I usually don't have that kind of luck, not to mention we only sold it in pre-sales through Indiegogo, on our website, and in person at events. And hardly anyone reviewed it—but the good thing about that is that it means the FAB Press edition can still get out there a lot more widely. But in terms of the appeal of the content, I wasn't surprised people responded to it—people are very interested in this stuff and yet seem to have a superficial understanding of how it all played out, what influences were at work, etc. And so the book tries to show how all these different elements combined to create kind of a perfect storm.

What parts of the book still resonate in 2016?
Paul Corupe: Obviously, the popular fascination of the time has died down but most of it still resonates today since so much of it ended in questions, rather than answers. There are still heated corners of the internet who passionately debate this kind of stuff, and current scandals like the Jimmy Savile allegations seem to dredge up the past again and again. Like, if this stuff really happened, then the McMartin preschool case wasn't so far fetched, right? Every time some kid up in court blames a heavy metal or rap song for what they did, the shadow of the panic will rise again

Janisse: As gets mentioned in the book a few times, this kind of a panic resurfaced in the UK in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and in both cases the idea of organized child abuse always somehow gets lumped in with a supernatural conspiracy in a way that undermines the charges. So as far as that significant part of the Satanic Panic that involved sexual abuse cases, those allegations and anxieties have been more visible in the news in recent years, but the pop-cultural artifacts of the 80s relating to fears about heavy metal and dungeons and dragons, those are a part of their time, and so they are of interest to people due to a very distinct aesthetic that people are nostalgic about.

If Trump wins in America would you do a book thirty years down the road about the kinds of moral panics his presidency would inspire?

Corupe: Of course. We don't yet know whether phone apps and self-driving cars are portals to the occult, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.

This fear of the unknown seems ludicrous today yet as a child I would have nightmares about Satan. My brother's Iron Maiden wall hanging scared me. Did either of you have the same fears?
Janisse: I was raised Catholic so I definitely feared Satan and demons and all these things as a kid. And Catholicism is an especially fertile place for these anxieties to fester because Catholic imagery is so violent and grim. And in turn I think Catholicism totally fed my love of horror films—but my love of these films, and of dark music with gruesome theatrics—Alice Cooper was a favourite as a kid—also made me realize that it was possible to engage with these things and not be evil—so when musicians like Ozzy Osbourne were persecuted, or kids who played Dungeons and Dragons were portrayed as being under Satan's spell, I felt it, because I knew that could be me. Luckily I was never denied access to horror films because my parents liked them too, but my mom's anxiety about Satanism came out in other weird ways, usually involving household products we weren't allowed to buy because of Satanic origins (i.e. anything made by Procter & Gamble).

Do you believe in Satan? Is Satan real?
Corupe: With apologies to the Louvin Brothers: No.

With Alison Lang's essay on the Geraldo TV special and Ralph Elawani's essay on Satanic anxiety in Quebec I sense that a large function of this book is to address the power and hypocrisy from such white male authorities as the Catholic church , no?
Corupe: That's certainly a good interpretation of what happened, although we tried to keep our focus on the pop culture aspects of the panic. For me, the book is more about the con artists, conspiracy theorists and mentally unbalanced individuals that had this unprecedented impact on pop culture at the time. I don't personally believe that the panic was really waged by the church and hardline religious types, but more by the supposed born-again Satanic priests who built cults of personality around claims that they committed atrocities before turning to God. It's true that many influential religious organizations hypocritically embraced these figures and accepted their stories as authentic, but it's not terribly surprising because they were being told what they wanted to hear—that those without God were tools of Satan.

Janisse: We just wanted to document things as objectively as possible (while still allowing individual authors their opinions) and as we were working on it, it became a much heavier thing than we anticipated, full of tragedy that was the result of hypocrisy, ignorance and those who took advantage of it. So, yes, that did end up being the overarching theme of the book.

Do films on Satan still hold up due to their primal power or are they just plain silly?
Janisse: Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen have not lost their power. That's partially the primal urge to believe these stories due to centuries of being hammered over the head with them, but it's also indicative of expert filmmaking. A great filmmaker should be able to imbue a film with that power regardless of whether or not the audience are even familiar with Catholicism. Take a movie like The Believers or Angel Heart—I would guess a big part of their audience were not familiar with the practices of Voodoo or Santeria—but the idea of a religion you are not a part of and don't understand is probably even freakier to most people than something that uses traditional devil imagery as depicted in the Christian bible. Anyways, the classics I mentioned are not part of the Satanic Panic era—many of the films of that era remain thoroughly enjoyable—Trick or Treator The Gate for instance—but are definitely campy and silly.

Are we seeing a return to the occult in cinema with movies like The Witch, Kill Listand the heavily Judeo-Christian The Conjuring ? Why do you think that is? Before that, there seemed to be a period where the monster was Matthew Lillard or that Michael Myers simply had a bad childhood.
Corupe: Yes, House of The Devil (2009) seemed to kick off a wave of new Satanic thrillers over the last decade. I can't really say why we've seen a resurgence, but perhaps it has something to do with the increased polarity of political viewpoints in the United States, and groups like the Westboro Baptist Church gaining media attention. To many, religion can still be an all-consuming and scary thing.

Janisse: Agreed—we are in a time of religious extremism, so it makes sense that religion has become a popular poison in horror films again, and I suppose Satanism and other types of marginal occult religions are easier to demonize without having to engage directly in a political discussion.

What's the most Satanic Canadian film and why?
Corupe: There are two French-Canadian films that fit the bill perfectly. The Possession of Virginia (1972) and The Pyx (1973) are about Satanic cults, and both end with black masses. These films were made in the wake of similar Hollywood horror, but also play into Quebec's close relationship with the Catholic church that started to unravel in the 1970s. But The Gate (1988) is probably the best Satanic Panic-inspired film to come out of Canada, since it involves kids playing metal records backwards and opening up a portal to hell in their backyard.

Janisse: The Devil and Daniel Mouse! It's just the greatest Canadian film, period.

Have you ever called 976-EVIL?
Corupe: No way—there's not much scarier than a huge phone bill.

What's your favourite, made-up, ludicrous 'fact' that was perpetuated in that era?
Corupe: There's all kinds of facts that get passed around in TV specials and Christian videos of the time, from baby sacrifices to the Smurfs getting kids acclimatized to death to Satanists consulting on horror movies. But I particularly like Jack Chick's comic bookSpellbound, which says that all rock songs (including Christian rock) are essentially evil magic spells that are made by combining ancient druidic melodies with lyrics written by witches. Then, the master tape is blessed by "Satan's top demon" at a ceremony under a full moon before it is put into the hands of impressionable teenagers. Seems plausible.

Why did Satanic Panic end?
Corupe: Nothing concrete ever came of all the accusations. The McMartin trial fizzled out, the West Memphis 3 case began and rock musicians began to actively rally behind their cause. Some of the concerns about heavy metal and D&D faded as those particular pastimes started to fade in popularity to make way for other teenage preoccupations in the '90s. It was kind of like all the stars aligned in the 1980s for the panic to happen, but by the 1990s the case that the devil controlled popular culture started to unravel a bit. Of course, there are still people who believe this, though.

Kid Power, the first book by your company Spectacular Optical was about child empowerment in film. This book seems to be more about the scary puberty years where one would flirt with evil. What will the third book be?
Corupe: Our next book is going to cover Christmas horror in film and TV. There's never been a comprehensive look at this phenomenon, and we hope to look at everything from Santa slashers to holiday ghost stories to the recent resurgence of Krampus.



Jun 26, 2016

Polygamous leader Lyle Jeffs has a network of hiding spots he's used before

The Salt Lake Tribune
June 26, 2016

The FLDS call each of the secret locations a “house of hiding.”

Rachel Jeffs didn't even know where she was living. Somewhere in Idaho is all she knew. She never learned the address.

She didn't have a reason to learn it. She and the other women there were not allowed to leave, Jeffs said, or even to go outside during daylight.

"We could go outside at night on the deck and stuff, but not during the day," Jeffs said. "And we were supposed to sew — everybody — and stay in the house and clean and make meals."

Jeffs was living in what the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints calls a "house of hiding." Her caretaker there, she said in an interview Wednesday, was her uncle — Lyle Jeffs. Former FLDS followers suspect he is now living in such a house — somewhere.

The house of hiding network was one reason federal prosecutors asked Lyle be kept in jail pending his trial in October on two counts related to food stamp fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart released Lyle from jail earlier this month. Jeffs became a federal fugitive on June 19 when he ditched his GPS ankle monitor. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.

"He's got people that will buy him a house in a heartbeat," said Matt Jeffs, one of Lyle's sons.

Interviews and court documents describe the Houses of hiding as being what the name implies, though law enforcement has located some of them over the years. Court papers mention investigators finding such houses in Las Vegas, San Angelo, Texas, and one described as a "remote timbered wilderness area... 25 mountain miles from the nearest small settlement."

Court documents also have described what appears to be a House of hiding near Custer, S.D., not far from where the FLDS has a compound. The rental home outside of Pocatello, Idaho, where authorities
found nine FLDS boys living in 2014 under the supervision of a caretaker later convicted of misdemeanor counts of child abuse, also has been described by former followers as a house of hiding.

Lyle's older brother, FLDS President Warren Jeffs, created the House of hiding network about 2004, according to interviews, when he was running from civil lawsuits and investigators. That's about the time the FLDS was purchasing ranches in Eldorado, Texas, and Pringle, S.D, and a small compound in Mancos, Colo.

Those properties were called "lands of refuge." The most devout and worthy members of the faith were moved there. The Houses of hiding were meant for a slightly lesser group for whom there was not yet enough lodging to move to the ranches or who needed to improve their standing first. The Texas, South Dakota and Colorado properties soon were discovered by law enforcement and journalists. The houses of hiding remained secret. They were either rented or purchased by men or businesses loyal to Warren in places that were rural or at least had high fences.

Some of people on the ranches were moved to houses of hiding by 2006, Rachel said, when the search for Warren, who is her father, intensified and he needed to hide people who could testify against him. That included, Rachel said, the sons and daughters he molested.

"Really, they are the evidence against him," Rachel said, "and that's why he so carefully keeps us afraid of the law."

Prosecutors have said one of the people who helped manage the houses of hiding was Nephi Steed Allred, who is one of Lyle's co-defendants in the food stamp fraud case. A brief from prosecutors says Allred helped move Warren's family, created business names to register the properties and "facilitated telephone management with people in the houses of hiding...."

Lyle started moving his family to houses of hiding in and near Las Vegas in 2006, said Matt, after hopping aboard an ATV and driving away from FBI agents trying to serve him with a subpoena. Matt was 13 at the time.

For a couple weeks, Matt lived in a house on Rainbow Boulevard where the FLDS built a clinic on the top floor. Some of Matt's siblings were born there. Then Matt and other members of Lyle's family moved to a home in Mount Charleston, Nev.

The home had a 13-car garage with a boxing ring, Matt said. The FLDS tore down the ring and converted the garage into bedrooms for the boys. Bunk beds were erected in the massive master bedroom where the girls slept, he said. Milk cows were put in the back yard. Eventually, Matt said, about 100 people lived there. They were either Lyle's family or families whose husbands and fathers had been evicted from the FLDS.

"It was normal life to me," Matt said.

There was a third house in Henderson, Nev., Matt said, with an indoor swimming pool. It was strictly used for baptisms, he said.

Lyle, Matt said, lived in yet another house — in Boulder, Nev. His sons and then-nine wives took turns visiting him there. Lyle assigned men to be caretakers to watch over the other homes and deliver food and other supplies to them.

Matt said everyone was told they were hiding from law enforcement and from private investigators Sam Brower, who went on to write the book about the FLDS called "Prophet's Prey," and Andrew Chatwin. To stay ahead of them, the FLDS frequently moved the houses of hiding and the people living there. About 2008, Matt and other Jeffs were moved to houses of hiding in Colorado.

That was the one place Matt says he encountered law enforcement. The occupants were burning logs in the yard. Neighbors must have seen the smoke and called the fire department, Matt said.

One person was designated to stay and talk to the police and firefighters, Matt said. Everyone else did as they were trained to do. They ran into the house, locked all the doors and windows and stayed out of sight. The responders left without ever checking in the house, Matt said.

Matt had uncles and cousins living in houses nearby. At one point, Matt said, Lyle told him that everyone with the last name Jeffs had been moved out of the FLDS' traditional home in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., collectively called Short Creek.

The family trickled back to Short Creek following Texas authorities' 2008 raid on the ranch near Eldorado. Matt said legal fees were piling up and the FLDS couldn't afford to ship people and food to so many far-flung places. But not all the houses of hiding were abandoned.

Rachel said she was told in 2012 that she needed to repent. She wasn't told why. She was forced to leave her five children with her husband's family and she was sent to the house of hiding in Idaho. Lyle had temporarily been removed as the Bishop of Short Creek and sent to Idaho, too.

"When I went there, it was really just a bunch of my father's family — wives, girls and some of his sons," Rachel said. "And Lyle was in charge of all of us."

While the women sewed, the men and boys worked in a wood shop on the property, Rachel said. Lyle would bring groceries, lead scripture lessons in the morning and evening and tell the people there what they needed to do to become worthy again, Rachel said.

She was there a few weeks before being allowed to return to Short Creek. Later, Rachel said, she and her children went to a house of hiding near Pikes Peak in Colorado. There, the FLDS had a camera and motion sensor facing the road. Every time a car approached, an alarm sounded in the house. Someone would look at a monitor to see if the car was one of the few neighbors or police.

In both the Idaho and Colorado homes, one person had a cell phone. The occupants in the houses of hiding were only allowed to call a few numbers and could not discuss with the caller where they were.

Rachel assumes Lyle is with one or two other people living in some house of hiding that only a few in his circle know of. Soon a driver will move him to another house in a vehicle owned by a third person.

"It's very much thought out how to hide people," Rachel said.




Emma Gingerich left her Amish community in search of a better life

Emma Gingerich left her Amish community in search of a better life

New Zealand Herald

By Olivia Lambert

Saturday Jun 25, 2016


Emma Gingerich grew up with no electricity or hot water.

She didn't know what a car was until she reached her teens and was too afraid to flick on a light switch.

Ms Gingerich lived in Eagleville, Missouri, in one of the most conservative Amish communities in the world.

She belonged to the Swartzentruber Amish, a group that speaks mainly German and Ms Gingerich said they were the least modern and most uneducated Amish people on the planet.

They are referred to as dirt rollers because they only take a bath on Saturday and Ms Gingerich said sometimes it wasn't even that often.

When she was about 15, Ms Gingerich realised she was missing something in her life.

Nobody could answer her questions about Amish life, about why they wore long dresses and bonnets and did everything by hand.

She couldn't understand why they did not have flowing water or electricity and she never had fun with her friends.

When she turned 18, Ms Gingerich decided it was time to flee the community.

Only one of her 13 siblings knew what she was planning.

It was a bold move, it was not that common for Amish people to escape and she has now been rejected by her family.

Ms Gingerich didn't even pack a bag the day she left and she didn't say goodbye to her parents, she just scribbled them a note.

"I'm not happy here, don't worry about me," it said.

She walked out the door with nothing but the clothes on her back and a piece of paper in her hand.

She walked 6km to the next town and used a phone to call a number written on the piece of paper.

A woman answered. Ms Gingerich had never met her before but got her details from her father's friend.

She confided in the friend and said she wanted to leave and after threatening to tell her parents, he eventually decided to keep quiet and gave Ms Gingerich the number.

The woman who was a complete stranger to Ms Gingerich drove an hour to pick the Amish girl up from the town and took her home.

For a couple of weeks Ms Gingerich stayed with her family but ended up settling in Texas.

It has now been 10 years since Ms Gingerich escaped the Amish and she's barely spoken to her parents or visited her old village.

She's learning how to live a modern life and even wrote a book, Runaway Amish Girl: The Great Escape, about what unfolded when she left the community.

"It's difficult to plan where to go and you wonder how you're going to get money and start your life," Ms Gingerich told news.com.au.

"People in Texas gave me an apartment to stay at and I worked at a place where they built houses and sold them. I basically cleaned houses right before people moved into them.

"While I was doing that I got my birth certificate and social security number - it took me a while to get that stuff together so I could go to school.

"I didn't have a high school education so I had to get that first and then I got into college."

Ms Gingerich is studying a business degree.

Despite leaving the Amish, it wasn't easy making a new life for herself and Ms Gingerich spiralled into depression.

"It was a culture shock and it was also the fact my family rejected me and I had a really hard time getting over it," she said.

"It caused a lot of stress in my life just thinking about how I'm not there with my family but when I'm there I'm not happy.

"Some things happened after I left ... I was attacked by a man.

"Getting over that stuff took a toll on my life and I went through a period of depression for several years."

Ms Gingerich has left her Amish life behind, but said she still likes to go barefoot.

She used to run through the fields without shoes back in Eagleville and that's the only part of the Amish lifestyle she wishes to continue.

While Ms Gingerich doesn't have much interaction with her parents, she sometimes speaks to her siblings, but they are too scared to ask her questions.

"They still think it's wrong what I'm doing," she said.

She hasn't gone to visit her family in a long time and says she doesn't feel welcome, but Ms Gingerich hopes some day her family will accept her again.

Ms Gingerich said in her book being Amish was like getting two feet of snow.

"It looks very pretty when you are in your warm house looking out at it, but if you really need to go out in it, it's not so pretty anymore."



UFO Religion Celebrates 'Swastika Rehabilitation Day'

UFO Religion Celebrates ‘Swastika Rehabilitation Day’


The Jewish Press

By: JNi.Media

June 26th, 2016


The Raelian movement on Shabbat, June 25, held a worldwide “Swastika Rehabilitation Day,” including flying banners over US cities, to inform people about the ancient, peaceful meaning of the swastika, and to protest attempts to link it with the Nazi atrocities.

“New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) introduced a bill to ban public displays of swastikas,” said Raelian official Thomas Kaenzig, who heads the ProSwastika Alliance. “That would infringe upon the freedoms of speech and religion guaranteed by the US Constitution.”

As you probably already know, for many Americans who are not Nazis the swastika is a sacred symbol, despite its unfortunate association with Hitler. Raelians deplore the Nazi crimes, and say Hitler unfairly besmirched a revered symbol that had existed for thousands of years.

The Raelian Movement teaches that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of extraterrestrial beings, whom they call the Elohim (where did they get that one no one knows). Members of this species appeared human when having personal contacts with the descendants of the humans that they made. They previously misinformed early humanity that they were angels, cherubim, or gods.

Raelians believe that Buddha and Jesus, among others, were messengers of the Elohim. The founder of Raelism, Claude Vorilhon, now known as Rael, received the final message of the Elohim and his movement’s purpose is to inform the world about Elohim and that if humans become aware and peaceful enough, they wish to be welcomed by them.

Raelian ethics include striving for world peace, sharing, democracy, nonviolence and ample intimate relations, which is why the Raelian Church has attracted some of its priests and bishops from other religions.

The Raelians use the swastika as a symbol of peace, which has kept them from being allowed into Israel, where they wished to establish an embassy for extraterrestrials. The movement also uses the swastika embedded on a Star of David. Starting around 1991, this symbol was often replaced by a variant star and swirl symbol as a public relations move, particularly to avoid provoking Jews and Israelis.

“It’s a cherished symbol not only by Raelians, for whom it represents infinity in time, but by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains,” Kaenzig explained. “Banning a religious symbol is like banning a religion. It affronts both the members of that religion and a supposedly free society in general.”

“Previously, the swastika had only positive connotations of good luck and well-being,” Kaenzig said. “Continuing to associate it with Nazis gives them credit for it, probably the last thing their victims would have wanted. Would Senator Kaminsky also ban the Christian cross? Remember, tens of millions were murdered under that symbol in the Americas, Africa and Europe, and the Klu Klux Klan also used it.”

Kaenzig said the swastika was a Jewish symbol too, for a very long time. “It’s on old synagogues, like that in Verona, Italy, and in many Israeli sites, including the Second Temple, one of the holiest places for Jews,” he pointed out. “Nobody has asked that those symbols be removed, so why is displaying swastikas more of an issue in New York? Education is the solution, not banning. That’s what Swastika Rehabilitation Day is all about.”

The presence of swastikas in synagogue relief works in Israel is rare, and dates back to the end of the second temple era, when it was used as part of geometrical, rather than religiously inspired designs. The ancient synagogue at Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) bears one such symbol. There are many more swastikas spray-painted on synagogues by anti-Semites than inside synagogues as decoration.

According to Kaenzig, “Shapeways, a 3D printing company, is refusing to print any design incorporating a swastika… We’re asking all Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Raelians to boycott Shapeways services for banning this symbol so dear to us all.”

Shapeways is a Dutch-founded, New York-based 3D printing marketplace and service, startup company. Their users design and upload 3D printable files, and Shapeways prints the objects for them. Now they’ll be boycotted for refusing to make swastikas… It don’t sound like this dog is going to run far…


About the Author: JNi.Media provides editors and publishers with high quality Jewish-focused content for their publications.



Jun 25, 2016

Judge sanctions Jehovah's Witnesses

Judge sanctions Jehovah's Witnesses


Imposes $4000-a-day penalty for not producing documents in sex-abuse case


A San Diego Superior Court judge has ordered the Church of Jehovah's Witnesses, also known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, to pay $4000 a day for every day that it fails to produce documents requested in a civil lawsuit brought by former parishioner, Osbaldo Padron, who claims a church elder sexually abused him when he was seven years old.

In a June 23 ruling, expected to be made final today, judge Richard Strauss admonished the church for willfully ignoring a court order to produce all documents associated with a 1997 Body of Elders letter that church leaders sent to parishes around the world in a quest to learn about sexual abuse of children by church leaders.

Over the course of the past year, the Watchtower Society and its lawyers have fought hard to keep the letter confidential, claiming that turning over the documents would infringe on the privacy of those mentioned in the letter that were not associated with the case.

In March 2015, the church turned over a heavily redacted version of the letter. Opposing attorneys called the redactions excessive, rendering the document illegible. Judge Strauss then assigned a discovery referee to sit with the two sides. But having a referee involved didn't solve matters. Repeatedly, the Watchtower Society has stated that it will not comply with the order.

"By the time of the hearing on the motion for sanctions, it will have been over a year since the initial order and almost three months since the [referee's recommendation] was adopted," reads Strauss's ruling. "In the period since...Watchtower has shown no effort or willingness to comply with the discovery order.

"Based upon the history in this case and Watchtower's statements...the court finds that Watchtower's failure to comply is willful...Watchtower clearly has control over the documents it has already produced and could revise the redactions with regard to those documents. This is obviously and clearly within the scope of Watchtower's powers which it chooses not to exercise. Continuing to repeat its prior unsuccessful arguments in opposition to the discovery order further illustrates Watchtower's obstinacy in compliance."

In 2014 a San Diego Superior Court judge awarded 37-year-old José Lopez $13.5 million for damages as a result of sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of longtime church member Gonzalo Campos. In that case the judge found that church headquarters was aware of sexual abuse by church leaders and had tried to cover up the abuse. The church is in the process of appealing the decision.

The case was one of several against Campos.

Padron filed his lawsuit in 2013. In his lawsuit, Padron claims that the church was aware of Campos's abuse, dating as far back as 1982 when his 12-year-old roommate accused the then-18-year-old Campos of trying to have sex with him. The abuse, claims Padron and others, continued; and, during that time church leaders at the Playa Pacific Spanish Congregation in Linda Vista continued to give Campos more of a leadership role in the congregation.

From 1987 to 1994, Campos was accused of numerous assaults. In 1994 a parent of one of Campos's alleged victims wrote a letter to the congregation and church headquarters requesting an investigation. The letter did little. That same year was when the abuse began for Padron. According to his 2013 complaint, Campos molested Padron on numerous occasions from 1994 to 1995.

Two years later, the church sent their Body of Elders letter to congregations worldwide. The contents of the letter have never been made public, and it is unclear whether Campos was one of the members accused of sexually assaulting children.

Now, with Strauss's ruling, it appears that the church may be forced to change its tack. A civil trial is scheduled for August 19.

Padron's attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.



Jun 24, 2016

Wife of alleged cult leader Victor Barnard files for divorce

Wife of alleged cult leader Victor Barnard files for divorce


JUN 24 2016


Tom Lyden


(KMSP) - Victor Barnard may finally be back in Minnesota, but now his wife wants out. As Barnard was making his first court appearance in Pine County on Monday, looking gaunt and haggard from his year long ordeal in Brazil, 1,700 miles away in Bellingham, Washington, his wife Stephanie Barnard was filing for divorce.

The two have been married for 30 years, raising 4 children, who are now grown. The two met in their early 20s in Ohio, when both belonged a religious group, called The Way, that some have also compared to a cult.

In the divorce papers, Stephanie claims, "this marriage is irretrievably broken." She says they've been separated since November 2010 "when they moved into separate residences." That would make it shortly after they left Minnesota, along with other followers, as the River Road Fellowship was collapsing from within.

Barnard had admitted to extramarital affairs with several married women in his congregation. His alleged sexual abuse of young girls in the group, his “maidens,” was still a secret, although people had their suspicions.

Jess Schweiss was one of those maidens, who says Barnard preached he was Christ in the flesh, and began having sex with her when she was just 12 years old. Stephenie never appeared to be jealous.

“He said this was his way to teach me love,” Schweiss said. “He wanted to show me love.”

Why Stephanie Barnard is divorcing Victor now is unclear, but prosecutors said there were signs Victor Barnard was "liquidating his assets." In the divorce petition, it says Victor and Stephanie will each retain property already in their own name.

Barnard’s attorney, Marsh Halberg, says it is really a formality -- that there are no assets to fight over. He anticipates the divorce will be amicable. and says Barnard has yet to be served with the divorce papers in jail.

If the divorce is final before the case goes to trial, it offers up a very interesting dynamic. Both sides could call Stephanie as a witness and she can testify about facts in the case, but could not testify about communications within their 30 year marriage.