Nov 30, 2016

Why electing Donald Trump was a triumph for the prosperity gospel

The Washington Post
Michael Schulson
November 30, 2016

The election of Donald Trump has lifted fringe ideologies, such as the alt-right, and little-known political figures, such as Trump’s immigration adviser Kris Kobach, to new levels of national prominence.

It has also elevated a group of evangelical Christian leaders and traditions that are often treated as marginal. Specifically, Trump’s victory has been an unlikely triumph for the prosperity gospel, as well as for a handful of prosperity-oriented preachers from the world of African American televangelism.

The president-elect identifies as a Presbyterian. But his rhetoric during the campaign often reflected the language of the prosperity gospel, a diffuse American Christian movement that links faith, positive thinking and material wealth into “the American religion of winning,” as journalist Jeff Sharlet described it this year.

More than once, Trump has cited the influence of minister Norman Vincent Peale, whose concept of positive thinking is a close relative of the prosperity gospel. And like prosperity gospel preachers, Trump made the appeal of his personal fortune central to his pitch.

The prosperity gospel is often associated with ostentatious fundraisers such as Oral Roberts, Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar, the Atlanta megachurch pastor who tried to raise $65 million in 2015 to buy a private plane.

These nondenominational pastors rarely become involved in politics, and they do not wield the same institutional power as the more conventional leaders of major evangelical denominations. Perhaps because it has no single denominational structure, no clear leadership, and a stronger presence among less-educated Americans and people of color, the prosperity movement has often been treated as marginal.

Bradley Koch, a sociologist at Georgia College who has studied the demographics of prosperity gospel traditions, explained that “there is a dearth of data” about the movement, in part because of scholars “historically just not taking the prosperity movement seriously.”

Still, the movement’s influence is significant. Surveys can be unreliable tools for gauging religious beliefs, but, according to Koch, about 5 percent of Americans seem to identify explicitly with the prosperity movement. Far more Americans, though — perhaps close to two-thirds — identify with at least some prosperity gospel teachings, such as the idea that God wants people to succeed financially.

“They might not identify with the prosperity gospel, in the same way people don’t identify as Presbyterian, but they may identify with ideas that are central to these teachings,” Koch said.

“There’s something in the air in American religion that has valorized business success, that has valorized wealth, and that has valorized quote-unquote language of vigor,” said Jonathan Walton, a professor and minister at Harvard and the author of a book about black televangelists and the prosperity gospel. That valorization is there “at the highest levels,” he said. “Not just Pentecostals, not just folks of color. I’m talking about mainstream Presbyterians, Methodists.”

Walton said he was not surprised that more than four-fifths of white evangelicals voted for Trump, a twice-divorced candidate who boasted about committing sexual assault. “I think the same mistake that political theorists and political pollsters made in relationship to Donald Trump’s rise and success is the same mistake scholars of religion have made as it relates to the role of the prosperity gospel in American society,” Walton said. “They underestimated just how much at the center it is, versus it being something that’s marginalized or marginal.”

Trump’s affinity for the language and style of the prosperity gospel is part of a larger end run around traditional evangelical authorities, many of whom see the prosperity gospel as a kind of heresy, and many of whom were hesitant to embrace Trump’s candidacy.

Nowhere is that end run more stark than in Trump’s informal spiritual Cabinet — a small group of pastors who helped him burnish his moral bona fides early in the campaign. The three most central of those pastors — Paula White, Mark Burns and Darrell Scott — all came from the prosperity gospel-infused world of black televangelism. Each spoke at the Republican National Convention, and Burns, in particular, was a high-profile, and often controversial, Trump surrogate during the campaign.

Scott oversees a church and radio ministry in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Burns runs a Christian TV network out of a tiny studio in Easley, S.C. And White, a popular TV preacher, is the pastor of a megachurch in an Orlando suburb.

White is not black, but she got her start under the tutelage of the black megachurch icon T.D. Jakes, had a breakout gig on BET, and continues to preach to largely African American crowds. She and Trump became friends after he saw her on television (“He is a fan of Christian television,” Burns said).

White introduced Scott to Trump in 2011, when Trump asked her to organize a meeting with pastors when he was considering a presidential run. Scott and Trump’s counsel, Michael Cohen, became friends, and they organized a high-profile meeting between Trump and black pastors during the primaries last fall. They also introduced Burns, the South Carolina pastor, to Trump.

In interviews, Scott and Cohen insisted that Trump’s campaign had successfully reached African American voters (he won 8 percent of the African American vote), and Cohen said that, of the 100 black pastors invited to meet with Trump last year, 98 had filled out endorsement cards. Asked for a list of those 98, he refused, berated a reporter for wasting his time with frivolous requests, and then said that a list might be on the website of Trump’s National Diversity Coalition (it is not; in an interview with the National Review, Darrell Scott estimated that only 35 to 50 of the pastors filled out endorsement cards).

Asked what members of his church think of his association with Trump, Scott said that “you always have those who take umbrage to it, who listen to CNN more than they listen to me.”

Rather than win over black Christian voters, Scott and Burns seem more likely to have helped assure white Christians that Trump is neither impious nor a racist, despite his history of racist comments.

In return, they — along with White — have received a national platform. Burns spoke gratefully about how the campaign had raised his profile. Trump “did not have to allow this black preacher from a small town in South Carolina to have those things, he did not have to do that,” he said before recalling, warmly, the day Trump had asked him to speak at the Republican convention.

“I’m not sure if I’ll be doing anything for the inauguration,” he said. “I’m praying that I will.”

Michael Schulson is a freelance journalist and an associate editor at Religion Dispatches, where he co-produces a section on science, religion, technology and ethics.

Even after chilling tape detailing sexual abuse is played, defence for three polygamists calls no witnesses

James Oler, Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Gail Blackmore
National Post
Daphne Bramham, Postmedia News
November 29, 2016

CRANBROOK — The trial of three parents from the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C. charged with trafficking their 13- and 15-year-old daughters to U.S. for sexual purposes wraps up next week with final arguments.

The parents — James Oler, Brandon James Blackmore and Emily Gail Blackmore — face up to 10 years in jail if convicted. Despite that, they called no witnesses or evidence to rebut the Crown’s case against them and never objected even when a chilling tape was entered in evidence on Tuesday.

It was an audio recording of Warren Jeffs, the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, instructing one of the victims on how to sexually touch him.

A tiny and frightened voice was barely audible. But Jeffs, then 49, invoking the name of Jesus Christ and telling her where to put her hands and about the “patriarchal grip”.

The voice on the tape was identified as the Blackmores’ 13-year-old daughter by one of her 21 brothers.

Brandon Seth Blackmore was one of two of Blackmore’s children to testify on Tuesday. He told the court that he and his 13-year-old sister (who can’t be identified because of a publication ban) were married in ceremonies on the same day in March 2004 in Colorado City, Az.

Brandon Seth was 21 and told the court he had been instructed by Oler, the FLDS bishop of Bountiful, to go to Colorado City about a week before the weddings took place.

During that week, Brandon Seth said he encountered Oler as well as his father, one of his several mothers, Gail Blackmore, and his 13-year-old sister there.

Brandon Seth said neither he nor his father knew why they had been called to the United States. Brandon Seth said it only became clear on the day that the weddings took place. About five minutes before his marriage, Brandon Seth was told what was about to happen. He only found out who he was marrying when the ceremony began. He had never met her before.

Less than an hour later, his 13-year-old sister was married to Warren Jeffs, the 49-year-old prophet.

Although Oler was at the March ceremonies, he is charged with having taken his 15-year-old daughter from Bountiful in June 2004 to be married.

On Tuesday, another of Brandon James Blackmore’s children testified. She can’t be identified because of a court-ordered publication ban.

She was 16 when she drove across the border with her father and her mother, Susan Steed Blackmore.

Once across, they pulled over and waited for another van to arrive. When it did, she and her parents transferred their bags into it. They were joined in the van by Oler’s 15-year-old daughter as well as two more of Blackmore’s sons. (Blackmore has 21 sons and 15 daughters).

They arrived in Cedar City, Utah around midnight, she said. The following day, the prophet conducted 18 rapid-fire weddings. Among those married that day were Oler’s daughter and Blackmore’s 16-year-old daughter.

Neither Oler nor Gail Blackmore has a lawyer. Neither is expected to make a closing argument when the trial resumes in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday. They have sat passively throughout the past two weeks of trial and for the two weeks of the closed voir dire session – except to occasionally acknowledge their children and other witnesses they know with a small smile.

Brandon James Blackmore does have a lawyer, who indicated he will be making a closing argument.

Putin's Great Patriotic Pseudoscience

academic kooks and conspiracies
Russia has a proud history of scientific inquiry and advancement. Now the Kremlin is investing in academic kooks and conspiracies.

Foreign Policy
NOVEMBER 29, 2016

MOSCOW — The award ceremony had all the trappings of legitimacy: a trendy loft venue not far from the Kremlin; a rapturous, inquisitive, and mostly young audience; and a jury made up of top scientific minds.

The prize at stake, however, was not about whose research had been the most cutting-edge or who had made the greatest contribution to Russian science that year. The jury, instead, was charged with determining who had been most successful in “bringing the light of ignorance to the masses.” Those voting cast their ballots into a tin-foil hat.

In the end, October’s inaugural “honorary member of the pseudoscience academy” award went to Irina Yermakova, a biologist and regular commentator on Russian national television. Yermakova is on the record as believing that men, as a sex, evolved from early hermaphrodite Amazonians. She’s one of Russia’s leading anti-GMO campaigners, claiming that genetically modified foods are actually an American bioweapon aimed at committing genocide against Russia. In handing her the award, Russia’s scientific community was seeking to demonstrate that, even in trying times, it hasn’t lost its sense of humor. The event organizer, Alexander Sokolov, a science journalist and award-winning author, issued a defiant proclamation from the stage: “Let as many people as possible see that science is alive in Russia and that it can defend itself!”

Except there’s growing evidence it can’t.

Science is under assault in the land that has produced some 17 Nobel Prize winners in the sciences. It’s not just that funding has been slashed (though it has) or that the field struggles with corruption and brain drain (though it does). Members of the scientific community say one of the biggest issues they face is the recent embrace of pseudoscientists like Yermakova by the Russian state. The Kremlin has elevated and institutionalized their ideas, often mixing them with a healthy dose of anti-Western rhetoric for good measure.

Yermakova, for example, in addition to her TV spots, has appeared as an expert before the Russian parliament, where populist lawmakers use her to back up their case against genetically modified foods. “Russia has been pressured into GMO after its accession to the [World Trade Organization],” majority party member of parliament Yevgeny Fedorov told state channel Rossiya 24 in 2014 in words that echoed Yermakova’s views. “This is political pressure; its goal is to create risks of sterilization” to shrink the Russian population, he said. Russia passed a law in July banning production of genetically modified foods, despite repeated protests by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Other believers in fringe pseudoscience who have been elevated to positions of authority include Mikhail Kovalchuk, a physicist from Vladimir Putin’s inner circle who presides over the Kurchatov Institute, a nuclear energy research institution. Last year (the same day Moscow began its bombing campaign in Syria), Kovalchuk gave a presentation to Russian senators warning that the global elite, overseen by the United States, is developing a special human subspecies — a genetically different caste of laboring “servant people” who eat little, think small, and reproduce only on command. (Buried beneath the wacky conspiracy theory and anti-Western hyperbole was a lobbying pitch for more state funding so that his institute could stay ahead of the curve on groundbreaking research.)

In some cases, these figures have already done real damage. Kovalchuk is one of Putin’s top science advisors, a veteran senior member of his science council who is also the brother of Yuri Kovalchuk, a man the U.S. government has called the “personal banker” to senior Russian officials. Kovalchuk’s connections were expected to make him an eventual shoo-in for Russia’s top academic post as president of the Academy of Sciences. The academy’s membership, which selects both members and leaders in democratic votes, unexpectedly resisted Kovalchuk, however; his bid to become a full member of the academy, a requirement to head it, was rejected in 2008.

This and other moves by the academy to reject Kovalchuk are believed to have led to a backlash in 2013, when the Russian government moved to dismantle the institution: It took away most of the academy’s property, diluted its ranks by combining it with the less rigorous agriculture and medical academies, and curbed its independence, subjecting it to the supervision of a newly created state agency for scientific organizations. The reforms have done “great damage” to the academy, an institution that dates back to the 18th century and serves as the nerve center for a network of Russian scientific institutions, said science journalist Alexander Sergeyev. They’ve buried scientists in paperwork and subjected them to the control of non-scientists. Meanwhile, Kovalchuk’s Kurchatov Institute is becoming increasingly powerful and has assumed control over some of the academy’s research centers.

Believers in, and peddlers of, pseudoscience now occupy positions throughout the Russian government. Anton Vaino, Putin’s virtually unknown chief of staff, who was elevated to the post in August, published academic work in 2012 on the “nooscope,” a baffling mystical instrument that he claims can forecast and control society and the economy by scanning the universe. The Kremlin’s ombudswoman for children, Anna Kuznetsova, appointed in September, reportedly believes in telegony — the archaic theory that a woman’s child bears the traits of all her past sexual partners. “Such people in power is a new trend that shows that the authorities are no longer afraid of people that are overt carriers of pseudoscientific ideas,” Sergeyev said. “On the contrary, the authorities are ready to accept them and to be under their influence.”

The Russian government’s seeming vendetta against legitimate science is no coincidence, critics say. The Kremlin has discovered that pseudoscience fits its present ideological needs.

In September, the academy’s special commission to fight Russian pseudoscience published a report that found that its rise was in part tied to the country’s growing isolation and nationalism. Russians who reject global scientific norms have treated this ideological shift as an opportunity to lobby for government support for their projects. The report concluded that unscientific ideas and projects have thrived in recent years in part by “speculating on pro-regime ideologies.” Kovalchuk, for example, has theorized that Russia could stay ahead of Western science by funding an undefined field he calls “convergent technologies”; another argument, currently popular in Russia, is that established methods for fighting the spread of HIV, such as condom use, are in fact an American tool to weaken Russia. “The pseudo-patriotic rhetoric that surrounds these para-scientific topics allows their lobbyists to rise to a level far higher than their competence,” the academy’s report said.

Meanwhile, the growing link between nationalism and pseudoscience has allowed pseudoscientists to accuse their critics of being unpatriotic Russophobes. Anatole Klyosov, a Russian biochemist who worked in the United States before veering off into genetics, last year opened a Moscow-based “academy” for DNA genealogy, a field he claims to have discovered and upholds as a “patriotic science.” In the 10 books he has published since 2010, Klyosov has advanced outlandish claims, including the idea that the human species originated in the Russian North and that the view that humans derived from Africa is an expression of Western political correctness.

In 2015, a group of scientists from various fields wrote an open letter saying Klyosov’s writing could fuel hatred by “attracting readers whose nationalist and political ambitions are not satisfied with the world’s scientific body of knowledge.” Klyosov responded in his latest book, which he called Lies, Insinuations, and Russophobia in Modern Russian Science, dismissing his critics as members of a “fifth column.”

In addition to creating a climate that supports pseudoscience, the Kremlin seems to be making efforts to cut off legitimate Russian researchers from the outside world, said Sergeyev, who is part of the academy’s pseudoscience-fighting commission. Whispers last year indicated some universities are reviving the Soviet-era requirement that administrators vet scholarly papers before publication while others have imposed a ban on professors giving interviews without first receiving permission.

Russia has a mixed historical legacy when it comes to science policy. Science in the Soviet Union enjoyed relative prestige, especially fields that had applications for the military, space, and nuclear research. Students, beginning from a young age, were encouraged to pursue physics and mathematics in particular (the country’s proud stock of Nobel laureates and Fields medalists attests to the success of those efforts), and universities headhunted promising students to work in secret government labs in relatively comfortable conditions.

But the country has also long been susceptible to the potent combination of political power and pseudoscience. Research on an idea known as the Torsion field theory, for instance — which claimed to be able to explain telekinesis and levitation, among other phenomena — secretly received funding from the Soviet military and the KGB in the 1980s despite rejecting basic principles of physics.

The darkest example of state support for pseudoscience comes from the period between the 1930s and the 1960s. That was the heyday of a biologist named Trofim Lysenko, who became a darling of Joseph Stalin.

Lysenko was everything the dictator wanted in a scientist: a plain-spoken man from a peasant family, eager to put science to work for the people. Appointed to head the Soviet agricultural academy in 1938, Lysenko went on to set Soviet science and agriculture back decades by promoting baseless ideas, including methods for transforming rye into barley, and insisting that schools reject Mendelian genetics.

What might have been a scientific debate between geneticists and agronomists like Lysenko who rejected natural selection turned into something else entirely with Stalin’s overt support for the latter. The government amplified Lysenko’s slander against his opponents (state media discredited geneticists as “misanthropic fruit fly lovers,” proponents of eugenics and imperialism), and hundreds of Russian scientists who challenged his ideas were sidelined, exiled, or killed. The most famous victim of what came to be called Lysenkoism was Russian ethnobotanist Nikolai Vavilov, who dedicated his life to eradicating famine and created the world’s largest collection of plant seeds in St. Petersburg. Vavilov came to be highly critical of Lysenko’s ideas, however, and as a result was labeled a traitor and died in prison in 1943.

Lysenkoism was summarily discredited, and the taboo on genetics discarded in the 1970s and 1980s, after the departure of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, a Lysenko supporter. Meanwhile, Vavilov’s name now graces several prestigious Russian institutes, including the Institute of General Genetics in Moscow. In recent years, however, Lysenko has crept back into the realm of respectability, riding on the coattails of the rehabilitation of Stalin himself.

In 2014, a book that was at least partially sponsored by a state grant from the Ministry of Communications — titled Two Worlds, Two Ideologies — represented the argument between Lysenko and opponents as one between “patriots” and “national traitors.” Articles praising Lysenko appear regularly today in national newspapers: One 2015 article in the newspaper Kultura erroneously said, “Agricultural methods developed by the academic are still used in the entire world.” It continued: “If one were to analyze facts objectively, one would have to say that Lysenko was without question an extraordinary man.”

“Pseudoscience exists in all countries, but it is like cancerous cells: A healthy organism rejects them and does not let them grow,” said Svetlana Borinskaya, a geneticist who works at the Institute of General Genetics. “A sick organism is not able to react.” There are signs in Russia that the cancer is taking hold: An annual study by the Higher School of Economics, a research university in Moscow, found in 2015 that the number of Russians who felt that science and technology bring more harm than good was 23 percent. The ratio of positive to negative views of science places Russia 30th out of 31 countries in a ranking of how much they value scientific progress; the study called it a “worrying signal.”

“Even educated people are starting to talk about reptilians that have taken over and are plotting in the world government,” Borinskaya said. The influence of such ideas on Russian society has been strong enough that one news website,, has created a special subsection in its science department called “Obscurantism” to expose fake science. “Pseudoscience and obscurantism harm real researchers and harm the public,” said’s science editor, Pavel Kotlyar. “They harm the elderly babushkas who absorb the nonsense about various health gadgets and water filters.”

Russian scientists have begun to fight back. In addition to the pseudoscience academy award and several independent popular science projects, a group of online vigilantes has been exposing widespread fraud in Russian Ph.D. dissertations since 2013 as part of a project called Dissernet. The practice is widespread in the social sciences, Andrei Rostovtsev, one of Dissernet’s founders, told me. The fake dissertations are then defended in corrupt dissertation councils in what amounts to a vast criminal business that has impaired entire fields, particularly economics.

Many of these fraudulent dissertations were produced by people who go on to become parliamentarians, Rostovtsev said. Others serve the Kremlin as politically convenient “experts”: After Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, for instance, Moscow brought out of them, Ivan Andriyevsky, on state television to back up its theory that MH17 had been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. Andriyevsky showed a crudely altered satellite image of a plane to a reporter as evidence. A few days later, Dissernet looked into his dissertation and found that 17 of 26 pages in the work on Russia’s defense industry, for which he received a Ph.D. in economics, had been copy-pasted from other work, with heavy plagiarism on most of the other pages as well.

Rostovtsev describes Dissernet as a symbolic tool for Russia’s legitimate research community to maintain its reputation and build solidarity but doubts it will help hold any Russian officials directly accountable. The same is likely true for the academy’s pseudoscience award, whose trophy shows a sad reptilian creature posing like The Thinker and sitting atop an Egyptian pyramid. A few days after the pseudoscience ceremony, I called the organizer, Sokolov, to ask if Irina Yermakova had yet to collect it. She had not.

What is your Polygamy? | Lance Allred | TEDxSaltLakeCity

Lance Allred

October 7, 2016

Lance Allred, the first deaf player in NBA history, challenges his audience to identify their self-limiting beliefs by sharing how his experience of growing up in a polygamist culture created his own constricting psychological boundaries and how he eventually was able to break free.

Born and raised in a polygamist commune in rural Montana, Lance Allred escaped at the age of 13. He was the first legally deaf player in NBA hHistory, with 80% hearing loss, when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008. A conversation with Lance will challenge your perceptions and invite you to look deeper at the psychological boundaries that shape your reality.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

'If you don't marry who you're told to, you're considered an apostate,' former member tells polygamy trial

National Post
November 29, 2016 

CRANBROOK, B.C. — Rachel Jeffs was in Grade 7 when she refused to comb her hair the way her father decreed. It was a small rebellion, but within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it got her expelled from school for most of that year.

Of course, her father wasn’t just any FLDS member. Warren Jeffs was the principal of the church’s Alta Academy and, a few years later, became the polygamist sect’s prophet. Jeffs, 60, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting two child “brides.”
Rachel Jeffs was testifying in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday at the trial of three parents from Bountiful, B.C., accused of having taken their daughters, then aged 13 and 15, to the United States to become wives in plural marriages.
Brandon James Blackmore, Emily Gail Blackmore and James Marion Oler each face a maximum of 10 years in prison if they are convicted.
At the time Warren Jeffs married the 13-year-old Blackmore daughter from Bountiful in 2004, he was already being sought by both state police and the FBI for sexually abusing minors. By 2006, he was on the FBI’s most wanted list.
Now 32 and a mother of five, Rachel Jeffs left the FLDS in January 2015. She identified the Blackmore girl in photos. She saw her “almost every day” when they both lived at one of her father’s “places of refuge” in Pringle, South Dakota.
Obedience, she testified, was the first law of heaven and of the church.
“The most important thing was to obey the prophet and your priesthood head,” she said. For girls and women that meant obeying their fathers and husbands; for men, it was the prophet.
At 18, Rachel Jeffs married 25-year-old Richard Steed Allred, who already had two wives.
“My father told me I was supposed to marry Richard, so the next day I married him,” she said. “If you don’t marry who you’re told to, you’re considered an apostate.”
Being an apostate means leaving the community and breaking all contact with family and friends.
Another witness provided another example of blind obedience.
Esther Palmer admitted Monday to having lied to RCMP in 2008. She was a midwife in Bountiful and when RCMP asked whether any girls under 18 had had babies in the previous two years, Palmer said there were none. There was one.
That mother was the 16-year-old American who James Oler had married the same day as Warren Jeffs married the Blackmores’ 13-year-old daughter.
“At the time, I very much believed the religion and what they were telling me,” Palmer told Justice Paul Pearlman. “I was afraid of the consequences if I didn’t go along with covering up for my brother.
“What we’d been taught is that you obeyed God’s laws, not necessarily the laws of the land. I felt I was doing what God wanted me to do … cover up for my brother.”
(Palmer left Bountiful in 2012 when she was declared unworthy. Five of her nine children remained behind, including the daughter who came to court Monday wearing a grey, pioneer-style dress and the braided and swooped hairstyle that his daughter rebelled against nearly two decades ago.)
Palmer’s brother, James Oler, will go to trial next year on one count of polygamy. But he has not been charged with anything related either to his 2004 marriage to the American teen or the subsequent birth of their child while she was still a minor.
Oler raised no objection to his sister’s testimony. He has chosen not to have legal representation and has sat passively throughout the proceedings.
Because neither Oler nor Gail Blackmore has a lawyer, the judge appointed an amicus as a counter-balance to the Crown’s submission. So, it was left to the amicus, Joe Doyle, to object to Palmer’s statement being admitted.
The judge, who is hearing the case without a jury, agreed and ruled that Palmer’s evidence had a “potentially prejudicial effect” on Oler. For that reason, Pearlman said he intended to disregard it.
The trial continues Tuesday when Brandon Seth Blackmore is scheduled to testify. The son of Brandon James and Gail, he was married in Colorado City, Az. on the same day as his 13-year-old sister.

CultNEWS101 Articles: 12/1/2016


"Some of the studies did show that mindfulness meditation or other similar exercises might bring some small benefits to people in comparison with doing nothing, when they are compared with pretty much any general relaxation technique at all, including exercise, muscle relaxation, “listening to spiritual audiotapes” or indeed any control condition that gives equal time and attention to the person, they perform no better, and in many cases, worse."

For more than a year Nicola Benyahia has hidden the truth about her son’s secret life and death.

Sometime in the middle of 2012, a friend of Neil Prakash asked the young Australian if he was religious.

"I'm a Buddhist," said Prakash, "but I believe there is a god, a deity".

"You are not a Buddhist then," replied the friend, "you are confused".

The simple exchange marked the beginning of a journey, literal and spiritual, that took Prakash from Neil Prakash, Buddhist and sometime wannabe rapper, to became Abu Khaled al-Cambodi, dedicated jihadist and top IS recruiter.

There already has been a war of words over this docu-series. The Church of Scientology says Remini, an ex-Scientologist, is a has-been actress who needs to quit “exploiting” her former religion. Remini says she'll stop talking about the Church when it stops “f------ with people's lives.” No compromises here.

"Father Walshe came under fire last year after he testified on behalf of Cardinal George Pell at the sexual abuse royal commission, which was investigating claims then Bishop Pell tried to buy the silence of a victim of notorious paedophile Gerald Ridsdale in 1993.

The appearance prompted a former student priest, John Roach, to reveal he was sexually abused by Father Walshe in 1982."

"In recent years there has been a growing interest in alternative medicines, many of which employ mental or spiritual powers to heal the body. Now research into the biochemistry of placebos is showing that these remedies are not as wacky as they sound and that we are, indeed, capable of curing ourselves."

Learn about the history and social impact of world religions through their scriptures with experts representing several of the world’s religious traditions.

Modules in this series include:

Christianity Through Its Scriptures
Buddhism Through Its Scriptures
Islam Through Its Scriptures
Hinduism Through Its Scriptures
Judaism Through Its Scriptures
Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures

"Toronto resident Jason Pippin, 39, has been helping de-radicalize extremists but is now being deported from Canada over his past at a training camp in Pakistan."

News, Intervention, Recovery resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics. to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement. assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice. news, links, resources.
Cults101 Bookstore (500 books/videos)

Selection of articles for CultNEWS101 does not mean that Patrick Ryan or Joseph Kelly agree with the content. We provide information from many points of view in order to promote dialogue.

Please forward articles that you think we should add to


How Leah Remini is trying to expose Scientology secrets in her new docuseries

The Washington Post
By Emily Yahr
November 30, 2106

It’s rare to see a former Scientologist speak out against the Church of Scientology, let alone produce a documentary series that threatens to expose its secrets.

Yet that’s what happened Tuesday night on the premiere of A&E’s “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” Remini, the actress best known for hit CBS sitcom “King of Queens,” has been an outspoken critic of Scientology since 2013, when she split with the church after 35 years as a devout member. As an executive producer of this eight-episode series, Remini plans to “delve deep into shocking stories of abuse, heartbreak and harassment experienced by those who have left the church and spoken publicly about their experiences.” The premiere features an ex-Scientology official who says the church tore her family apart.

In a long letter, the Church of Scientology said the series is “doomed to be a cheap reality TV show by a has-been actress now a decade removed from the peak of her career.” It also says that Remini is an “obnoxious, spiteful ex-Scientologist” who is bitter that she was expelled from the church. Between nearly every act break, A&E airs a disclaimer that the church disputes many of the statements made in the program:

(Image from A&E)

Even though high-ranking Scientology officials say that the church — a multibillion-dollar organization — will go as far as possible to silence its critics and enemies, Remini says she is not intimidated.

“I want to give a voice to these stories, enough that people will be incensed by it to put some pressure on this organization to stop abusing people,” Remini says, adding that she hopes viewers think “someone needs to do something about this cult” and demand answers. “And so I’m hoping that by doing the show, we effect some kind of change.”

In the premiere, Remini says she got deeply involved in Scientology when she was a teenager. She credited Scientology for giving her the confidence to make it in Hollywood, and she was eager to spread the word about her church, one that preached self-knowledge and spiritual fulfillment. As she became a celebrity, Remini became a prominent “opinion leader” in the church, donating millions of dollars.

But, Remini explains, things changed when she attended the glitzy wedding of Tom Cruise (a Scientology superstar) and Katie Holmes in 2006 and noticed that leader David Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, was not in attendance. When she started asking questions, the top Scientology clergy members were very upset.

That is when Remini says she started looking up Scientology stories online and was increasingly horrified of allegations of physical and sexual abuse within the church. At first, she had a hard time imagining that she could leave. “Nobody in my family wanted to leave. Nobody wanted it to be true,” Remini says. “I didn’t want to find that what I had done my whole life was a lie.” Then, she says that, as she asked more questions, she and her family were called in for interrogations and that she was accused of committing crimes. Eventually, she publicly split with the church in 2013 and filed a missing-person report for Shelly Miscavige, who reportedly has not made a public appearance in six years.

In November 2015, Remini released a book called “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology.” Soon, people started reaching out to her, asking whether she could help them with family members still in the church. One person was former Scientology executive Amy Scobee, who wanted to tell her story, along with her mother, Bonny, also a former Scientology member. Remini sent a camera crew to capture Amy and Bonny’s account on video. After seeing their story, she decided to develop a show.

Later, viewers see Remini alongside Mike Rinder (a former Scientology official who also spoke out in HBO’s documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”) going to visit Scobee. Rinder left the church, but his two children are still in Scientology; they no longer speak to him. Remini notes that the church’s biggest weapon is “disconnection,” when you have to cut off contact with someone who is critical of the church. “If I can prevent families being torn apart because of the practices of Scientology … it’s worth making it known and preventing that,” Rinder says.

When they reach Scobee’s house, they sit together as she explains that she used to be in charge of recruiting celebrities for Scientology. The show flashes pictures of famous members, from Cruise to Kirstie Alley to John Travolta. As a member of the church for 27 years, Scobee was first introduced to it by her mother, Bonny.

Scobee says that when she started working at the church at age 14, she had a boss who was 35 and married. He asked her to stay late one night, and they had sex. Scobee alleges that the organization knew about it but refused to tell the police, and said they would handle it internally. Rinder added that the church indoctrinates people to believe that the justice system is corrupt. “This was statutory rape,” Scobee says. “I was too afraid to tell anyone about it.”

Remini calls it a “heartbreaking, disgusting story that makes me want to break his legs,” while Rinder says that although there is nothing they can do legally because of the statute of limitations, they can expose it.

The rest of the episode spotlights Scobee talking about her time in the church, as she left home at age 16 to join the Sea Org, the highest Scientology level. Scobee says that Scientology considers family a “distraction,” and people were encouraged to write letters home only so that family members did not file missing-person reports. As she was promoted higher, she got to sit in on meetings with Miscavige and alleges she saw him physically abusing other members.

Scobee says she tried rationalizing the behavior until she could not anymore. When she became defiant, she says, she was sent to Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), where Scientology sends members who act out and was forced to do manual labor. Eventually, she escaped with her husband, but she was deemed an enemy of the church, otherwise known as a “Suppressive Person” (SP). Active Scientology members are not allowed to communicate with SPs, so for a long time, Scobee could not talk to her mother, Bonny, who was still a member.

Eventually, Bonny became depressed and suicidal without contact with her daughter and decided to leave the church so that they could reunite. “So there, Scientology, don’t you ever break up another family, you bastards,” Bonny says. She turns to the camera. “I know you can’t say ‘bastards,’ but they deserve it.” (Bonny, who had Stage 4 cancer at the time of the interview, died a couple weeks after she filmed the footage.)

Meanwhile, the church of Scientology says there is no evidence for anything Rinder says he witnessed, and it calls Scobee a “pathological liar” who was expelled from the church after “failures to do her job, repeated sexual transgressions and refusals to change her ways.” Although the church will dispute Remini and her show participants every step of the way, Remini is going full-steam ahead with the next seven episodes.

“The church will get exposed,” Remini says. “And I’m not going to stop.”

Activist who bared breasts at Montreal Grand Prix tells her trial she was 'resisting the patriarchy'

National PostGraeme Hamilton
November 30, 2016

MONTREAL — As tourists ogled sports cars along Montreal’s Crescent Street in the lead-up to the 2015 Grand Prix auto race, Neda Topaloski removed her shirt to reveal the slogan “Slavery is not a choice” written across her bare chest.

“Montreal is not a brothel,” the Femen activist yelled repeatedly, draping herself over a red Alfa Romeo race car to bring attention to what sex trade workers said was a doubling in demand during the annual race.

Topaloski and her fellow activists believe baring their breasts in protest is a form of free expression, but on Wednesday she went on trial on charges of disturbing the peace and mischief. It is the first criminal trial against Femen members in Canada.

The charges stem from her Grand Prix action on June 4, 2015. She had also been accused of committing several indecent acts, but prosecutor Gabrielle Delisle told the court she was withdrawing those charges. She declined to elaborate on the reason.

In an interview before the trial began in Montreal municipal court, Topaloski called the Grand Prix “a gold mine for pimps and escort agencies.” Last year Quebec human rights groups launched an awareness campaign to coincide with the race using the slogan, “Buying sex is not a sport.” They estimate demand for prostitution doubles or triples each year around the event.

Topaloski, a 30-year-old Montreal waitress, said it makes no sense that she would be arrested for baring her breasts at a Grand Prix event where scantily clad models are brought in to market cars and drinks.

“It’s kind of a perverse way to see our expression, as something that troubles the peace, when in fact it does not trouble the peace. It troubles sexist ideas,” she said. “Our message has to be loud to be heard, to get across.”

Topaloski’s lawyer, Véronique Robert, began with a motion to have the charges thrown out on the grounds the arrest was illegal. Videos entered as evidence show Topaloski being manhandled by private security guards and dragged by her feet across the pavement.

Topaloski testified she was in pain as her bare breasts were scraped along the asphalt. She ended up with scrapes and bruises all over her body, she said. Her lawyer argued that the manner in which she was detained by security guards was a violation of her rights that would never be tolerated if it were done by a police officer.

Asked by Delisle why she resisted being removed from the race car, Topaloski said Femen members do not like to be gagged. “We want to convey the image of strong women resisting the patriarchy,” she said.

Louis Bordeleau, who was supervising the Alfa Romeo the day of the protest and is the brother of the car’s owner, testified that Topaloski’s actions left the vehicle with cracks in its fibreglass body and a broken side mirror. An affidavit submitted to the court put the value of the damage at $2,546.

In a video of the incident, Bordeleau can be heard saying, “The car’s worth more than she is.” He told the court it was an “unfortunate,” adrenalin-fuelled comment made after he realized the car had been damaged.

Femen began in Ukraine in 2008 as a statement against the objectification of women by the sex industry. It has a small presence in Canada, with fewer than 10 members, Topaloski said.

It was not Topaloski’s first arrest, nor her last. She has taken part in Femen protests at Quebec’s National Assembly and on Parliament Hill. On Nov. 8, Topaloski staged a topless protest against Donald Trump inside the New York City polling station where he was set to vote. She was issued a summons for an election violation of promoting a candidate at the polls.

7 accusations from ' Leah Remini: Scientology,' including statutory rape, physical abuse

Erin Jensen
November 30, 2016

Though she's known for bringing laughs with comedic performances in The King of Queens and Old School, Leah Remini's latest project deals with very serious subject matter.

In a new  A&E docu-series which she executive produced, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, Remini interviews former members of the Church of Scientology about their experiences as followers and their lives after leaving the religion.

Remini faced a backlash since publicly parting ways with the organization in 2013, and she hopes to send a message to the church with her series. "You’re not gonna continue to lie to people and abuse people and take their money and their lives," she says in the show.  "If I can stop one, then I’m gonna do it.”

Here are seven major allegations from Tuesday's premiere episod

1. Statutory rape went unreported to the police
Amy Scobee, who said she was in charge of Celebrity Centres, didn’t go to high school and became a member at 14. She alleged that she was taken advantage of by her boss, who was 35 at the time.

“He was married,” she said, “and he had me stay back when everybody else left, and basically we had sex. This was statutory rape, and I was too afraid to tell anyone about it.”
Scobee said her boss told his wife about the incident and the couple told the Church, but the Church did not inform Scobee's parents or police. Scobee also said that, because of the practices of the religion, she absorbed the blame.
“And they indoctrinated in me that if anything serious goes on, it’s handled internally,” she shared. “It happened to me, so therefore I must’ve done something that caused it.”

2. Scientologists take judicial matters into their own hands
In response to Scobee’s confession, Mike Rinder, who says he was the international spokesman for Scientology for 20 years, alleged that the church breeds distrust of the judicial system.

“You’re also indoctrinated in Scientology to believe that the justice system is corrupt,” he said, “that it doesn’t do anything to ever resolve the problem. That Scientology is where the answers lie, to even a child molester.”

3. Leader David Miscavige is physically abusive
Scobee described the Church's leader as “a very angry man." She said, "If you said something that didn’t please him he would go off on you. If you were a man he would likely hit you, punch you, knock you down, choke you.”

4. Letters are written to families so members won’t be reported missing
Scobee said Scientologists are taught that “the church is first, and family is a distraction.” She said congregants write to family members so they won't be reported as missing.

“They're called ‘good roads fair weather’ letters,” she said, “so that they don’t file missing persons reports on you or go to the media because they haven’t heard from their children, or something like that.”

5. Scobee was ordered to swarm Tom Cruise with Scientologists
“We went to extremes to make celebrities happy,” Scobee said, “and it was mainly Tom Cruise.” She said it was her job “to surround Tom Cruise with Scientologists on staff.”

“I had to hire an executive housekeeper, a maid, a cook,” she said. “They wanted him to only be in Scientology 100%.” Scobee said she witnessed members of The Sea Organization, described on the religion's website as "composed of the singularly most dedicated Scientologists — individuals who have committed their lives to the volunteer service of their religion" cleaning his house and folding his laundry. .

6. Security guards keep members from fleeing
After growing defiant, Scobee was sent to Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF) in 2003, which she described as a place “for Sea Org members who get in big trouble.”
“You run everywhere you go,” she said. “You do hard manual labor. You call everybody 'sir.' You have no communication in and no communication out within that group.”

Scobee escaped RPF with her husband, Mat, after he stood up to a security guard. “I said, ‘Unless you want to shoot me in the (expletive) head, we’re out of here.’”

7. Members are relentless when encouraging disconnection
Remini called disconnection the Church’s “biggest weapon.” The process, defined in the series as cutting off “all contact with someone critical of the Church of Scientology,” can keep families apart. Once Scobee was free, she aimed to connect with her mom, Bonny Elliott, who was still an active Scientologist, before other members would encourage disconnection.

While she was visiting her mom, Scobee said an ethics officer paid Elliott a visit, so Scobee hid in another room.

“What he was telling me,” Elliott said, “was that my daughter was evil and everything she touched was poison, and that she’d done so much damage to the church and that I should have nothing to do with her.” Though Elliott initially chose the Church, she and her daughter were able to make up before she died.

Excerpts of letters from the Church were shared throughout the episode, refuting the claims made by Scobee and Rinder. The church called Scobee “a pathological liar.” Of Rinder it said, "The real story is that evidence has never been produced because it doesn’t exist. What does exist are the sworn statements of people with first-hand knowledge of the alleged encounters, all of whom unambiguously refute the manufactured tales of Mike Rinder.”

Nov 29, 2016

CultNEWS101 Articles: 11/30/2016


"Ramdev delivered a discourse on yoga to hundreds of people present in the temple. He also urged to stop the sacrifice of animals at the temple and instead sacrifice the ego from one's mind and body."

The city will develop education tools and best practices for intervention of radicalized individuals. It will train experts and monitor social networks and patterns of criminal activities.

"If the deal fructifies, Patanjali's products will be sold by Amazon through its e-commerce portal in nine countries, including the US, UK and Japan, Hindustan Times
​ ​
report said."

"A South African pastor spraying his congregation with a pesticide called Doom during a 'healing session' has sparked a wave of outrage on the social media. This self-proclaimed prophet, Lethebo Rabalago, heads a church called Mount of Zion General Assembly in Limpopo province. A member of his congregation had an eye infection and he used the insecticide in an attempt to heal her."

"Where, oh where, has Lyle Jeffs gone? He’s the brother of Warren Jeffs, the autocratic guru of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who is serving a life term in federal prison for sexually assaulting his “child brides.”"

"Only about 64 percent of those raised Mormon continued to adhere to the faith when they entered adulthood, according to the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Survey. That is six percent less than the numbers in 2007. 
And for those who stay, only about 25-percent of the young, single members are actually active in the faith."

Their communication course was a leader for helping with loss for a reason. It is a very simple course improving one’s focus, patience, and ability to face and communicate with people. Those were the exact tools my personal crisis demanded. Later when I partook in auditing, Scientology’s version of psychotherapy, I had many cathartic or transcending experiences. After I left Scientology, I came to realize [their method] was really a mechanized, directed version of already existing Rogerian person-centered therapy. The “direction” additive speeds the process and adds predictability and certainty. However, it comes at an ultimately self-defeating cost. That mechanization and direction interjects the pollution of control into the process. Before too long one learns to accept control, and because of that fact, over time, he ultimately becomes owned by Scientology. If you read from Rogers’ work, it is chock full of warnings that the worst possible thing one could do with such trust-based counseling is to enter in conditions or control of any sort.


“What was your name? Who were your parents? Were you in Osaka? Switzerland?”
"Part of the problem with growing up in something so secluded as a cult is that our pasts are so unbelievable we need a witness for our own memory. And so we seek out those who remember."

"In a major setback to self- styled religious guru Asaram Bapu, the Supreme Court on Monday refused to grant him relief in connection with two rape cases that had been registered against him."

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