Feb 28, 2017

Foundation of Higher Learning 'guru' Imre Vallyon's followers kept in the dark about his past

A group shot of families, including children, attend a retreat at Vallyon's Raglan property. Vallyon denied children visit the retreat near Raglan.
A group shot of families, including children,
attend a retreat at Vallyon's Raglan property.
Vallyon denied children visit the retreat near Raglan.
February 26, 2017

All around the world, Imre Vallyon's devoted followers bring their children to bask in his aura.

But it is in his lush subtropical gardens at Waitetuna Retreat near Raglan, a coastal settlement west of Hamilton, known for its surf culture and natural-living communities, that Vallyon - "The Teacher" - forms the nucleus of the Foundation of Higher Learning, a spiritual group he established 35 years ago.

His followers pay thousands to hear his esoteric teachings at his worldwide retreats - from New Zealand to the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and his native Hungary.

Together, FHL devotees are trying to "bring light into the world," says former follower, Peter*.

If Vallyon's followers cannot receive his teachings in person, they can purchase one of his many books, and recordings. Or he can beam direct into their homes to share his wisdom over the Internet.

Vallyon's vision: a patchwork of east and western philosophies: Yoga, Zen, Sufism, Catholicism, Mysticism and more - has gained thousands of followers around the world.

But what Vallyon does not enlighten his followers about is the time he sexually molested a young New Zealand girl who went to him seeking spiritual advice about a dead relative.

It was whispers of this secret part of Vallyon's past that prompted Peter and his partner to leave the group.

Stuff has agreed not to reveal their identities, as they are still connected to a European chapter and fear Vallyon's followers could cut contact with them.

They were unable to find any details of his convictions and contacted the media after they saw a photo of one of his retreats and noticed young children among the attendees.

Allegations about Vallyon stem back to the 1970s - spanning Hamilton, Auckland and Canada.


A 1998 sentencing report details the sexual abuse carried out by Vallyon on one young girl at one of his "institutions" a decade earlier.

Vallyon was convicted of four representative counts of indecent assault and one count of sexually violating the girl.

​The sentencing report was released by Hamilton District Court Judge David Wilson QC.

Vallyon's encounters with his victim happened in one-on-one spiritual "teaching" sessions. The girl had travelled with her mother, a devoted follower of his, to an "institution" - not named in the report - where Vallyon was the recognised spiritual leader.

Judge R.P. Wolff's sentencing notes record that the child had gone to him alone for spiritual guidance about her dead family member.

"In the guise of assisting her with self discovery or self awareness," Vallyon kissed the girl and lay on top of her on a bed.

During the time the girl remained at the institution, Vallyon indecently touched her, kissed and massaged her sexually, and on one occasion performed oral sex on her, the sentencing notes say.

Vallyon's lawyer produced 80 references from people who said he positively influenced their lives.

That side of Vallyon's character was not revealed to many people he had influenced, Wolff remarked as he sentenced him to three years' imprisonment: "This is something that a lot of people did not see."

The sentencing notes record that Vallyon did not recall the encounters.

However Judge Wolff said a cynic might take the view Vallyon's was: "a selective memory" - noting the guru appeared to remember some offending of a sexual nature in Canada. That crime was not outlined, except to say it was "not too far removed from this time".

The Judge also noted Vallyon had a history of crimes of a similar nature from 1978 - "and no one has been able to assist me with the details as to the extent of that, or really anything too much about that at all".

Vallyon had offered money to his victim, who had not asked for it - and Judge Wolff remarked he could not escape the impression: "in some senses this is an offer to make it all go away".

At the time, Vallyon refused to accept he needed rehabilitation. There was a video that captured the guru expressing views that he did not think it inappropriate to progress young girls from spiritual to sexual teaching, the judge  noted as he sentenced Vallyon to three years' jail.

"You abused the trust of a particular vulnerable young child, possibly with a vulnerable mother as well. In the guise of spiritual advancement you embarked on a course of conduct over weeks involving sexual abuse, and severe sexual abuse… for your own gratification."


Waitetuna Retreat is based in a quiet valley near Raglan, at the end of a long metal road. There are beautiful gardens and native bush with buildings dotted around them, including a dining facility and an office block.

A woman greets us, but says Vallyon is not available without an appointment.

Told that it's important, she gets the guru on the phone. "What's this about?," he asks.

His conviction for child sex offending. "That's ages ago," Vallyon complains.

Eventually he agrees to meet, and we ask the woman if she knows about Vallyon's conviction: "Yes, but it wasn't the truth."

Another older woman who says she's visiting from Hungary looks stunned when told of the offending.

Eventually Vallyon, a stooped elderly man, emerges from a path that leads to his home in the bush above the retreat.

"I don't understand why this is coming up now," he says. "I've been in jail and it's finished and that was the end of it. I haven't heard from [the victim] or anybody ever since then."

He says the accusations against him were "exaggerated".

"There was nothing what we call serious."

So what did he do?

"I kissed her here," he says, pointing to his cheek. "That was it. She had a good lawyer and they made it into a very big case," he continues.

"I am not innocent, I did kiss her. I suppose it was wrong, yes definitely. I pleaded guilty because of my lawyer, he wasn't very good."

Vallyon's lawyer was a Queen's Counsel, John Haigh, who died in 2012.

"At that time it was really difficult to defend anything because there's a kind of a hysteria about it and... the atmosphere at that time was you had to be guilty no matter what. It was hysteria in those days."

Judge Wolff's sentencing notes made express reference to the infamous Centrepoint community, but drew no parallels between the two.

Vallyon strongly denied there had been any other allegations against him.

He said he did not tell his clients about his conviction because it was not relevant.

"It's not of any interest, there's nothing happening in that kind of energy. The teaching is very abstract it's nothing physical, nothing to do with men and women, it's just purely meditation."

He said if children came to the retreat, he did not know about it.

"This is not a children's place. If they come I don't know, I don't see them because I live upstairs, I give my talks and that's it."


At Waitetuna, there is a set of swings, and a trampoline.

In photos of his 2016 European and New Zealand retreats, dozens of children are visible.

Peter,* a longtime practitioner of meditation, had met Vallyon at one of the European retreats. Introduced to Vallyon as a "guru", he had felt warmth in the embrace of the movement.

"During my first year I felt like I was 'coming home'."

Vallyon's website biography explains he was born with cosmic consciousness. He emigrated from Hungary to New Zealand at age 16, in the 1950s, and by 1982 had established FHL, purchasing the Waitetuna land in 1986.

"From a young age," the bio says; "he has had inner revelations that gave him insights into other levels of consciousness, and the deeper dimensions of our human existence."

His followers credit him with predicting the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake two days before it occurred. In that talk, Vallyon explains over an hour the cosmic machinations spurring the earth's turmoil, before his followers intone for 25 minutes, to a rhythmic drumbeat and soaring strings.

Peter says the retreats entailed chanting, meditation and talks by Vallyon, who would travel over from New Zealand in the Europe summertime, attracting hordes of followers.

At first, Peter saw the group as "new age".

He recalls asking why Vallyon, who seemed to him to have a successful degree of fame, had not gone "international".

He grew concerned about what kind of group Vallyon was running - noticing the strange blend of Latin and Sanskrit chants, the "hodgepodge" of religions - and the rumours trickling in about the guru.

When he discussed this with his partner he was told there was talk Vallyon had been jailed before - maybe in New Zealand or Australia.

"It was not exactly clear... what was the exact reason for this, so we decided to ask around to clear this up."

But no one could tell them much more - "except that there was a family that left the group and they accused Imre of indecent behaviour towards their female child".

Peter tried to raise this with other followers - "most are very friendly and loving people that do not intend to harm others" - but was troubled by the responses.

Any rumours about Vallyon were said to be a "past life" or the work of "evil forces" that wanted to destroy the group, Peter claims.

"I quickly started feeling strange about all of this."

One day a former group member visited Peter's partner, hearing they had left the group, and told them the rumours about Vallyon were true.

In early 2016, Peter saw the photos of another retreat in Europe. Young children's faces stuck out at him starkly from the grinning crowd shots.

He could not find any information online or in his own country's records of Vallyon's past.

Troubled, and unable to let it go, Peter turned his mind to the guru's home, isolated isles across the world he had never visited before, and looked for a journalist.


Vallyon's past is almost invisible to whoever wants to know.

He is believed to have seen the District Prisons Board in 2000 then left prison on April 19 of that year.

Its archives are managed by the Department of Corrections - which declined an Official Information Act application to view Vallyon's records - citing privacy.

Without a date and location of court in which the charges are heard, it is difficult to apply to access his archived records.

Unable to find any media coverage of his case,  Stuff requested access to his trial records in February 2016.

Judge Wilson signed off the release of Vallyon's 1998 sentencing report four months later. Access to all the trial notes would have required the newspaper making an application to Vallyon himself.

More charges exist from 1978 - details held by the North Shore District Court. A representative said the files detailing the case would have been destroyed - except for the official charging documents.

After a ten-month delay the court staff said the application for the charging documents had not been passed on when staff-members turned over.

It began processing the request again in December after the newspaper requested it be expedited. However it was not ready by time of print.

Like many historic sex offenders, Vallyon's crimes took place long before the expository power of the internet - which immortalises the crimes of his counterparts convicted today.

His Wikipedia page reveals attempts to edit his history - one edit saying Vallyon had been tried and sentenced for "paedophilia" was made from an IP address located in Switzerland. But it was removed by Wikipedia's editing community, which requires references for such allegations.

Peter felt "betrayed" to learn the "guru" had kept a secret past hidden from his followers, who looked to him guidance to living a pure life.

"Had I known this from the start, I would not have joined this group. My feelings started to grow stronger by seeing that Imre was being worshipped like some kind of god by many, but not all, members of the group. I highly resented that practice."

Vallyon's followers seem "brainwashed" to Peter. "Group members are so convinced that he is an enlightened being that they will not accept the real truth."

"They just all close their eyes."

The FHL is registered in New Zealand as a charity called Temple Light Trust, which, as a religious organisation means it is exempt from paying taxes. Vallyon and his wife are two of its four trustees.

The trust declared an income of $331,957 this past financial year, with $264,323 earned from holding retreats.

*Not his real name

How the FBI Is Hobbled by Religious Illiteracy

 FBI Director James Comey
 FBI Director James Comey
The Bureau has long defended “Judeo-Christianity.” Minority groups have not fared as well.

The Atlantic
February 26, 2017

Historians have looked harshly on the FBI’s legacy in dealing with religious groups. The Bureau famously investigated and threatened Martin Luther King Jr. at the peak of the civil-rights movement. A 1993 standoff with a group called the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, ended with a massive fire, killing more than six dozen men, women, and children. And since the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Bureau has repeatedly been accused of illegally surveilling and harassing Muslim Americans.

The story of the FBI and religion is not a series of isolated mishaps, argues a new book of essays edited by Steven Weitzman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Sylvester A. Johnson, a professor at Northwestern University. Over its 109 years of existence, these historians and their colleagues argue, the Bureau has shaped American religious history through targeted investigations and religiously tinged rhetoric about national security.

At times, the Bureau has operated according to an explicit vision of protecting Christianity, as it did during the tenure of J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI. But in other cases, it has operated with religious ignorance. When the religion scholar Philip Arnold saw the events unfolding in Waco, he thought, “My dissertation suddenly became real.” But the FBI rebuffed his efforts, along with the New Testament scholar James Tabor, to intervene and negotiate. While they believed the violence could have been avoided by taking the Branch Davidians’ theology seriously, the FBI was eager to bring the conflict to a close—which it did, with tragic results.

As religion takes an ever-higher profile in America’s national-security concerns, the FBI will play a crucial role in determining how groups are treated. I spoke with Weitzman about the history of the FBI and religion, and why this history is relevant today. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Emma Green: How did 9/11 change the relationship between the FBI and religious groups?

Stephen Weitzman: What 9/11 changed, to some degree, was the mission of the FBI. Prior to 9/11, its role was investigative: It was trying to stop criminal behavior and arrest criminals. After 9/11, the FBI was charged with preempting crime, or detecting it before it happened, which meant that it needed to engage in new forms of intelligence gathering. That put a new pressure on the FBI and incentivized it to behave in ways that it wouldn’t have behaved in previous decades.

Green: But as the book details, the FBI actually has a long history of investigating Muslim groups, such as the Nation of Islam and the Moorish Temple. What were some of the reasons for its investigations of those groups?

Weitzman: The Moorish Science Temple of America refers to an African American Muslim community that developed in the ’30s and ’40s. One commonality between their situation and the situation of contemporary Muslims is war. Whether you’re talking about World War II, or the war against terrorism, it creates a context in which the FBI seems to get more intrusive in its relationship with religious communities.

The larger context in the ’50s and ’60s is the Cold War. During the Cold War, the federal government came to be suspicious of certain religious groups—not just the Nation of Islam, but Martin Luther King and the movement that he led. These were seen to be, in some cases, dupes of communism. Religion was seen as a pretense by which people who had criminal or traitorous intentions were trying to legitimize what they were doing.

In some corners of contemporary society, there’s a similar suspicion of Islam as some kind of religious pretext or cover for criminal behavior. There’s a continuity in attitude and rhetoric between how the government once treated people suspected of having a collusive relationship with communism and how the government interacts with people suspected of links to terrorism.

Green: The FBI had an interesting relationship with Christian groups. With some clergy and leaders, it had strong alliances, but it also investigated and opposed a number of Christian individuals and organizations. Especially in the Cold War era, how did the FBI’s relationship with Christian groups develop?

Weitzman: A major character in that story is J. Edgar Hoover himself, who was a former Sunday School teacher. He depicted the Cold War as a spiritual struggle. He allied America and democracy with a Judeo-Christian tradition—which was an artificial construction, but he saw it as the foundation of American values.

Communism, on the other hand, was an agent of secularism and atheism. The twist was that communists, who were clever and wily in his imagination, had figured out that they should use religion as a kind of cover for their behavior—it was a way to infiltrate American society. He saw religious leaders on the left as either communists in disguise, or as people who were naively coopted by the communists. On those grounds, he basically sought to discredit people on the religious left.

The way religion has been so closely identified with the right in American society in the last few decades—it didn’t have to go that way. If it hadn’t been for a deliberate effort to discredit people on the religious left by tainting them with the communist association, we might have a more politically diverse religious landscape today in American life.

Green: The book describes a double invisibility for Jews in the struggle between America and communism. The concept of “Judeo-Christianity” is not about real, live Jewish people. It’s about a historical tradition that theoretically ended when Christianity began.

On the other hand, Jews were associated with communism, whether because of latent anti-Semitism, or high-profile figures like the Rosenbergs, or other factors.

How did this precarious position come to be?

Weitzman: The FBI’s relationship to Jews and Judaism kind of mirrored the relationship to Jews and Judaism within Christianity itself. On the one hand, Christianity traces its own origins back to Judaism and sees itself as a fulfillment of the promise of Judaism. On the other hand, it’s premised on a rejection of Judaism, and sees Judaism as something that has been superseded by Christianity.

That comes out in Hoover’s casting of the FBI as a defender of Judaism. Although he loves Judaism, actual Jews are a problem. He couldn’t really acknowledge that there might be an authentic, non-religious, secular Jewish culture—the left-leaning Jewish culture associated with Yiddish and New York. For him, those kinds of Jews weren’t really Jews. And it’s almost as if he had to defend Judaism against that kind of Jew.

Green: The book also highlights religious nationalism, which was actively supported by religious leaders—from anti-communist Catholic clergy working with Hoover to Mormons cheering on the FBI. What was their role, and the FBI’s role, in developing a sense of religiously motivated nationalism?

Weitzman: The FBI has been a major player in shaping the religious landscape of the United States. It did so by lending its support to certain religious leaders, by introducing its own religious rhetoric into the broader culture, and by harassing or delegitimizing religious actors who were deemed to be threatening or subversive in some way.

The religious ideology of a group like the Mormons, who came to embrace the United States as almost a religious virtue—that needs to be understood in the larger context of Mormon history. Mormons were subject to persecution by the federal government in the 19th century, so their attitude toward the government has to be understood as part of a larger struggle for survival.

Green: The book tracks many of the FBI’s sins, from illegal surveillance to bigoted assumptions about minority groups to unjust arrests. Yet, the FBI’s identity and mission have shifted dramatically in its century of existence. It has often been on the front lines of the scariest events in American history, including war and domestic terrorism.

Is there a sympathetic way to read the FBI’s posture toward religious groups over its history?

Weitzman: Maybe we could present more of a rounded out picture. For example: The FBI today plays a leading role in combatting hate crimes, and a lot of hate crime is targeted at religious communities. We rely on the FBI to protect religious liberty, and that absolutely has to be part of the picture.

I also think it’s fair to point out that a lot of the more unfortunate incidents documented in the book are in the context of war. The FBI is charged with defending national security, and with the war on terrorism, it faces this extra challenge of people expecting it to prevent things from happening. That’s very difficult to do. I personally have a lot of empathy for the FBI in its struggle to balance protecting people’s liberty and defending Americans’ lives.

On the other hand, it is one of the most powerful agencies of the United States. Likely no other organization of the federal government has had a more directly destructive impact on the lives of religious communities than the FBI.

Green: So what are the greatest lessons from this research about some of the things that are happening today?

Weitzman: We’re in a situation where we have anti-Islamic discourse entering the political mainstream in a way that hasn’t been the case in the past. Immigrant communities are subject to a whole new level of suspicion. And the FBI itself has been at the center of a lot of these things.

I’ve been thinking a lot about James Comey, the current director of the FBI. He was a religion-studies major as an undergraduate, and he wrote his senior thesis on the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. I don’t know this to be true, but I see some of the influence of that on what he’s doing now. A year or two ago, he instituted a new practice for FBI recruits: They have to go to the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C., and have to study how the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover mistreated Martin Luther King. He has on his desk a memorandum that authorized the FBI to surveil and harass Martin Luther King. That’s there as a reminder to him of the danger of overreach of the FBI.

What I find encouraging about that is his willingness to study the history of the FBI and digest the lessons, and try to institutionalize that as part of the educational culture of the FBI. If we could just somehow learn from the mistakes we’ve made in the past, there’s a small chance we won’t make those mistakes again.


Who are the Sufis and why does ISIS see them as threatening?

Tomb of Data Ganj Bakhsh in Pakistan
Peter Gottschalk
February 26, 2017

Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University

Disclosure statement

Peter Gottschalk does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

On Feb. 16, 2017, a bomb ripped through a crowd assembled at the tomb of a Sufi saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in southeastern Pakistan. Soon thereafter, the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

In recent times, such attacks have targeted a variety of cherished sites and individuals in Pakistan. These have ranged from the 2010 bombing of the tomb of another Sufi saint, Data Ganj Bakhsh, to the murder of a popular Sufi singer, Amjad Sabri, in 2016.

As a scholar of Muslim and Hindu traditions, I've long appreciated the various and influential roles that Sufis and their tombs play in South Asian communities. From my perspective, the repercussions of such violence go far beyond the scores of bodies strewn around the damaged shrine and the devastated families in one geographical region.

Many Muslims and non-Muslims around the globe celebrate Sufi saints and gather together for worship in their shrines. Such practices, however, do not conform to the Islamic ideologies of intolerant revivalist groups such as the Islamic State.

Here's why they find them threatening.

Who are the Sufis?

The origins of the word "Sufi" come from an Arabic term for wool (suf). It references the unrefined wool clothes long worn by ancient west Asian ascetics and points to a common quality ascribed to Sufis – austerity.

Commonly Muslims viewed this austerity as stemming from a sincere religious devotion that compelled the Sufi into a close, personal relationship with God, modeled on aspects of the Prophet Muhammad's life. This often involved a more inward, contemplative focus than many other forms of Islamic practice.

In some instances, Sufis challenged contemporary norms in order to shock their Muslim neighbors into more religiously intentional lives. For example, an eighth-century female Sufi saint, known popularly as Rabia al-Adawiyya, is said to have walked through her hometown of Basra, in modern-day Iraq, with a lit torch in one hand and a bucket of water in another. When asked why, she replied that she hoped to burn down heaven and douse hell's fire so people would – without concern for reward or punishment – love God.

Others used poetry in order to express their devotion. For example, the famous 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi leader Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī relied upon themes of love and desire to communicate the yearning for a heartfelt relationship with God. Others, such as such as Data Ganj Bakhsh, an 11th-century Sufi, wrote dense philosophical tracts that used complicated theological arguments to explain Sufi concepts to Islamic scholars.

Sufi veneration

Many Sufis are trained in "tariqas" (brotherhoods) in which teachers carefully shape students.

Rumi, for example, founded the famous "Mevlevi" order best known as "whirling dervishes" for their signature performance.

This is a ritual in which practitioners deepen their relationship with God through a twirling dance intended to evoke a religious experience.

Some Sufis – men and, sometimes, women – came to gain such a reputation for their insight and miracles that they were seen to be guides and healers for the community. The miracles associated with them may have been performed in life or after death.

When some of these Sufis died, common folk came to view their tombs as places emanating "baraka," a term connoting "blessing," "power" and "presence." Some devotees considered the baraka as boosting their prayers, while others considered it a miraculous energy that could be absorbed from proximity with the shrine.

For the devotees, the tombs-turned-shrines are places where God gives special attention to prayers. However, some devotees go so far as to pray for the deceased Sufi's personal intercession.
A place of interfaith worship?

So, why do some groups like the so-called Islamic State violently oppose them?

I argue, there are two reasons: First, some Sufis – as illustrated by Rabia, the Sufi from Basra – deliberately flout the Islamic conventions of their peers, which causes many in their communities to condemn their unorthodox views and practices.

Second, many Muslims, not just militants, consider shrine devotion as superstitious and idolatrous. The popularity among Muslims and non-Muslims of tomb veneration alarms many conservative Muslims.

When a Sufi tomb grows in reputation for its miraculous powers, then an increasing number of people begin to frequent it to seek blessings. The tombs often become a gathering place for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and people from other faiths.

Special songs of praise – "qawwali" – are sung at these shrines that express Islamic values using the imagery of love and devotion.

However, Islamist groups such as the Taliban reject shrine worship as well as dancing and singing as un-Islamic (hence their assassination of the world-famous qawwali singer Amjad Sabri). In their view, prayers to Sufis are idolatrous.
Success of Sufi traditions

Sufi traditions reflect a vastly underreported quality about Islamic traditions in general. While some revivalist Muslim movements such as the Wahhabis and other Salafis see only one way of observing Islam, there are others who embrace its diversity.

Many Muslims proudly defend Sufi customs such as shrine devotions because they are so integral to Muslim and non-Muslim communities, not only in South Asia but throughout the world. For many, these sites offer an Islamic expression of what it means to love God.

In fact, historically, in many regions of the world Sufis have been highly successful in adapting Islamic theologies and practices to local customs for non-Muslims. For this reason, Sufi traditions have been credited for the majority of conversions to Islam in South Asia.

It is only with the global expansion of Islamist revivalist groups in the last century that the urge to absolute conformity has become so strong. Even then, a majority of Muslims accept such divergent Islamic practices.

Given the popularity of Sufis, it's no wonder IS objects to such models of Islamic pluralism.


TV Program - CBC, FIFTH ESTATE - The Mennonite Connection - program available online

February 24, 2017

It may seem bizarre to put the words “Mennonites” and “Drugs” in the same sentence, but for years some members of the God-fearing religious community has been smuggling narcotics from Mexico into the United States and Canada.

It started with a patriarch named Abe Harms, who fled Ontario after being busted for marijuana smuggling and set up a drug-running operation in Mexico.

But when his son Enrique took over the family crime business, they graduated to moving massive amounts of cocaine across the border. That caught the eye of American drug investigators. U.S. authorities carried out large-scale undercover operations and drug busts -- and now Enrique is a man on the run.

Bob McKeown investigates the strange and sinister dealings of The Mennonite Connection.


Richmond religious sect rejects 'hate group' label

Sisters Marie Gabrielle, Marie Perpetua and Maria Therese outside the chapel after Mass on Saturday at the St. Benedict Center in Richmond. - See more at: http://www.unionleader.com/Richmond-religious-sect-rejects-hate-group-label#sthash.VZes8LK5.dpuf
New Hampshire Union Leader
February 25. 2017

The head of a New Hampshire religious organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a "hate group" rejects that label and accuses the Alabama-based civil rights group of being "a threat to American liberties."

Brother Andre Marie, whose real name is Louis Villarrubia, is the prior of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Richmond. The group considers itself traditional Catholic; however, the Diocese of Manchester does not recognize it.

Brother Andre's group is listed under "radical traditional Catholicism" on the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hate Map" for 2016, released Feb. 15.

It describes the group's religious beliefs to include "anti-Semitism, angry opposition to homosexuality and a desire to convert others to their hard line views."

"We categorically reject" being called a hate group, Brother Andre said Thursday. He contends the law center is the hate group because "they profit from hate." And he said the law center specializes in profiling people or organizations as "bogeymen" to scare its liberal base into donating.

"He can say what he likes," said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Montgomery, Ala., law center. "He's the leading anti-Semite there."

Immaculate Heart and its St. Benedict Center, where the brothers and sisters live, and its Immaculate Heart Media, are all a part of the Richmond complex. Immaculate Heart Media, which prints the material that the Slaves and St. Benedict Center promote, also is listed as a hate group by the law center.

Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary also operates a school for about 35 to 40 students.

The organizations are not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a religious group, according to Thomas Bebbington, director of communications for the Diocese of Manchester. However, the Diocese since 2008 has allowed an ordained priest to say Mass and hear confessions there.

"It's definitely a conundrum," Bebbington said. "On the one hand, the Diocese does not want to give recognition to the group which is in direct conflict with Catholic teachings. On the other hand, do you deny the sacraments to individuals who want to be part of the church?"

The Rev. Georges De Laire, vicar of canonical affairs for the diocese, said Immaculate Heart and the St. Benedict Center operate as separate entities.

The Most Rev. Peter A. Libasci, bishop of Manchester, is committed to the "spiritual welfare of all Catholics and seeks to provide for their spiritual development," De Laire said in explaining why a priest is allowed at the site. It was because of the bishop's concern for the souls of the individuals attending services there that a priest was approved, he said.

Slaves of the Immaculate Heart also has been accused of being Holocaust deniers.

In 2004, a member of the Richmond group, Brother Anthony Mary, whose real name is Douglas Bersaw, was quoted in the Boston Globe blaming Jews for the murder of Christ and denying the Holocaust.

"There's a misperception that Hitler had a position to kill all the Jews," he told the Globe. "It's all a fraud. Six million people ... it didn't occur."

Bersaw once was Richmond's town moderator and served as a Republican member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

The group, Potok said, refers to Jews as "the enemies of God's people." He said it is comprised of Catholics who reject Vatican II, the 1962-65 Ecumenical Council that modernized the church and ended the Latin Mass.

Brother Andre said his group is comprised of Catholics who adhere to traditional faith and celebrate the Mass in Latin. He describes Slaves of the Immaculate Heart as countercultural but committed to Catholicism, worshiping in the traditional way.

He denies they are anti-gay but says homosexual behavior is "objectively immoral." He cited the Bible as describing homosexuality as being wrong.

If homosexuals came to the center, he said the group would "help them overcome a sinful life."

The St. Benedict Center was founded by Father Leonard Edward Feeney, a Jesuit priest who advocated the strict doctrine of no salvation outside the Church. In 1949, Feeney and several other instructors were kicked out of Boston College for preaching their beliefs. Feeney was excommunicated in 1953, after he broke with Rome, but he was restored as a Catholic shortly before his death, Bebbington said.

After his death in 1978, the religious organization split, with the most radical faction moving to Richmond, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.


Faith Freedom Fund

Faith Freedom Fund

Faith Freedom Fund is a coordinated outreach to help those that desire to leave religious cult mind control groups. Based in Rutherford County, North Carolina, we offer assistance for immediate basic needs such as temporary housing, clothing, food, medications and transportation. Additional provisions are made for communication with relatives, friends and authorities.

Survivors of religious cults are cautious and need reassurance in many ways. Our work over the years has been rewarding.

Our support comes from concerned citizens of varied backgrounds filling the needs of financial and volunteer support. Tax-deductible donations are accepted via the address listed here or by clicking the DONATION button above.

Volunteers are needed on an “on call” basis. The work we do knows no set hours. We are servants to those who need help moving to their next place in life.

We appreciate your continued material, financial and prayer support.
Pastor Jonathan Cobb, Rev. Billy Honeycutt, Mr. Eric Ross, Mr. John Huddle


Feb 27, 2017

A Cult Member Turned Expert Explains How Anyone Can Be Brainwashed

Dr. Alexandra Stein was brainwashed by a Marxist-Leninist sect as a young woman. Now she studies them for a living.
Dr. Alexandra Stein was brainwashed by a
Marxist-Leninist sect as a young woman.
Now she studies them for a living.
Kate Leaver
February 25, 2017

When I arrive at Dr. Alexandra Stein's house in North London, she's on the phone. "Your number one job is to stay in contact with them," she says empathically into the receiver, giving advice on how to help someone who is getting sucked into a cult. She takes a lot of these calls from concerned family members because she is, after all she's been through, an authority on cults.

For a decade, Dr Stein was a member of a leftist political cult known as The O. Once she escaped, she wrote a book and a PhD on the topic, and became one of the leading academic experts in the field. She has just published her second book, Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems. On a cold, gray Tuesday, we talk about her experiences, the definition of a cult, and whether the leader of the free world is, in fact, a cult leader.

"People don't think of political groups as cults," Stein tells me, over a mug of hot tea. "But they can be. There are zillions of political cults around the world." She would know. Stein grew up in London to South African parents, and they were heavily political as a family. "Politics was in my bones from a very early age."

When she was 18, Stein moved to America in search of adventures and grassroots activism. She found it—for a time. Then, as she tells it, the Reagan era came and a lot of her comrades disbanded and got on with their lives, leaving her alone with her political passions. She'd just broken up with a boyfriend when she first met members of The O., the fringe Marxist-Leninist cult based in Minneapolis.

They lured her in with the promise of working towards a left-wing revolution and ultimately took over her life. The group isolated her from friends and family, placing her in an approved marriage, telling her to have children as part of her mission, and forcing her to work in a bakery eight hours every day after her full-time position as a computer integrator—both jobs that she had been instructed to do by the group. She lived in "a weird, dark, secret little cult house" and worked feverishly for the cause.

Thanks to her two jobs, Stein was exhausted all the time and lost every major relationship outside the cult. While she couldn't quite work out what baked goods or computing had to do with the coming revolution, she didn't have the mental faculties or the strength to question her way of life.

It wasn't until 1991, after one failed escape attempt, that she finally extricated herself from the cult and started to wonder what the hell had happened to her. It led to a lifelong research mission to understand what had happened—and what continues to happen to people around the world today, "from political cults to yoga cults to ISIS, and everything in between," Stein says.

That's what she's trying to get the world to see with her new book—that no matter what the ideology of a cult, the techniques are the same. Their leaders operate in the same way as both totalitarian leaders and domestic abusers, and to understand that is to protect yourself from their coercion. The social psychology behind these dangerous groups should be taught in schools and universities the world over, she says.

"I have a five-point definition of a cult," Stein tells me. "One: The leader is charismatic and authoritarian. Two: The structure of the group isolates people. The third thing is total ideology, like, 'You only need me and no other belief system has any relevance whatsoever." The fourth thing is the process of brainwashing." The fifth point, she says, is the result: "creating deployable followers who will do what you say regardless of their own self survival interests."

"That's why you get people who will blow themselves up," she concludes. "People don't understand this, but anyone in a cult is not really able to think, or to feel.'

It's like being absorbed into a group of false, sometimes cruel friends. Cults have the illusion of solidarity, but Stein describes them as a perverse group of deeply lonely individuals who have lost the will and the capacity to make decisions on their own. "You can't confide in anyone in a cult," she says. "If you say, 'There seems to be a problem here,' you will be likely to be punished, so there's nowhere to go. You're scared but you've got nobody else left in your life, so you cling to the very people who are causing you that fear."

That's how cults operate: on a cycle of fear and attachment. It's Stockholm Syndrome, only more insidious and confusing because you feel like you made the choice to join when you started out.

Alarmingly, Stein believes that everyone is susceptible to cult tactics. These groups know how to use your strength of character against you, she says. "It's a very natural human response to say, 'That couldn't happen to me.' The number of people who've kindly listened to my story over the years and then politely turned to me and said, 'How awful this has happened to you, I'm so sorry. It would never happen to me because I'm too independent.' More or less everybody says that."

"I've learned not to get angry about it," she adds. "It's a natural thing to want to distance yourself from something frightening and awful. But we need only go back to Hitler's Germany to see that it can happen to anybody. Anyone can become dissociated to the point where they are not seeing what is happening in front of their eyes."

Shockingly, Stein—who attended the Downing Street demonstrations against Donald Trump earlier this year—also believes that, going on her own criteria, the US president has all the makings of a cult leader. "Is he charismatic and authoritarian? Yes. Is he building a steeply structured authoritarian hierarchy? It does look like he is," she says, pointing to how the Trump family's involvement in the government. "Is Trump's an absolute ideology? Yes! Does he show us this process of isolation, brainwashing and fear? [The Trump administration is] certainly causing fear. And the final one, does he have deployable followers? I think we're going to see it, unless we get rid of him quick."

"I think we're seeing enough; enough to say Trump is operating like a cult leader," she says, before adding tearfully, "I wish it wasn't so."


Melbourne Uni college 'strongly deplores' academic's link to notorious cult The Family

Dr Raynor Johnson has been criticised by his former college for his role in The Family.
Dr Raynor Johnson 
Chris Johnston
The Age
FEBRUARY 27 2017

The University of Melbourne's prestigious Queen's College council has rebuked one of its former leaders for helping set up The Family, saying it "strongly deplores" Dr Raynor Johnson's seminal role in the notorious cult.

Dr Johnson was an eminent British physicist from Leeds who moved to Melbourne and became master of Queen's College in 1934.

But in 1962, aged 61, he met Anne Hamilton-Byrne, a yoga teacher who would soon, with his help, start The Family.

In one of Victoria's darkest child abuse episodes, the cult imprisoned, mistreated and starved 14 children at Lake Eildon until 1987 when they were freed by police.

A further 14 children were housed by Hamilton-Byrne in the Dandenong Ranges. The cult used the drug LSD as a mind control tool on both children and adults.

The children were taken by the cult in scam adoptions from Melbourne hospitals or gifted to Hamilton-Byrne – who proclaimed herself to be Jesus – by adult members of the cult.

"Queen's College regrets the direction that Raynor Johnson's life and thought took during his final two years at the college," the council said in a statement.

"It strongly deplores his association with the sect."

The statement said Dr Johnson gave the cult a "cloak of respectability".

It offered "profound sympathy" to the children physically and mentally harmed through the 1970's and 1980's.

The college's west wing was named the Johnson Wing in 1959 "to honour his long-standing contribution to the college community." The wing is known as "J-Wing."

New Queen's College master Dr Stewart Gill – who recently took over from Professor David Runia – would not commit to re-naming the wing.

But he is prepared to review Johnson's honours at the college.

Former police detective Lex de Man, who headed a police taskforce into The Family, said the wing should be renamed "in the honour of" Dr Sarah Moore, a former cult child who died last year, aged 46.

She was a top medical student at the University of Melbourne.

"Sarah overcame adversity to achieve a medical degree from the very institution where Raynor Johnson held court," he said.

J-Wing was a "blight on the University's very own motto of 'We grow in the esteem of future generations'," he said.

Dr Gill said no university students were lured into the cult while Johnson was the Master of Queens, but he said a new documentary film and book about The Family had brought fresh evidence to light and would play an important role in the college council's decision.

Dr Johnson moved away from physics and into metaphysics as he got older, writing several books on spiritualism.

Anne Hamilton-Byrne introduced herself to him at Queen's College in December, 1962.

He moved to the Dandenong Ranges to a house she found for him which was being sold by Sir John Latham, a former chief justice and deputy prime minister of Australia.

Johnson retired in 1964 and visited the university only three times before his death in 1987.

He took the hallucinogens LSD and psilocybin with cult members including Hamilton-Byrne, who he considered his "master" or spiritual teacher.

He helped recruit cult members through Council of Adult Education lectures throughout Melbourne.

He wrote in his diary that Hamilton-Byrne was "supernaturally beautiful" and a living version of Jesus.

"It is legitimate to regard Johnson as the co-founder, with Mrs Hamilton-Byrne, of the sect," the college statement says.

"The theoretical base of the sect's ideology was based on his theological and philosophical views, subtly appropriated and exploited by Mrs Hamilton-Byrne.

"He also defended it in the media when its secretive activities began to attract adverse attention."

The college now concedes Johnson was "probably aware" of the cult's direct link with the Newhaven psychiatric hospital in Kew, which it used as a reccruiting and LSD facility, and "no doubt" knew of the cult's irregular adoptions.

But he was unaware children were being abused, it says.

Chris Johnston is joint author, with Rosie Jones, of the book "The Family".


Feb 26, 2017

Ex-congregants of religious sect speak about years of ungodly abuse

Los Angeles Times
Associated Press
February 26, 2017

From all over the world, they flocked to this tiny town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many say they found instead: years of terror — waged in the name of the Lord.

Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to "purify" sinners by beating out devils, 43 former members told the Associated Press in separate, exclusive interviews.

Victims of the violence were said to include preteens and toddlers — even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons.

"I saw so many people beaten over the years. Little kids punched in the face, called Satanists," said Katherine Fetachu, 27, who spent nearly 17 years in the church.

Word of Faith also subjected members to a practice called "blasting" — an ear-piercing verbal onslaught often conducted in hours-long sessions meant to cast out devils.

As part of its investigation, the Associated Press reviewed hundreds of pages of law enforcement, court and child welfare documents, along with hours of conversations with Jane Whaley, the evangelical church's controlling leader, secretly recorded by followers.

The Associated Press also spent more than a year tracking down dozens of former disciples who scattered after leaving the church.

Those interviewed — most of them raised in the church — say Word of Faith leaders waged a decades-long coverup to thwart investigations by law enforcement and social services officials, including strong-arming young victims and their parents to lie.

They said members were forbidden to seek outside medical attention for their injuries, which included cuts, sprains and cracked ribs.

Several former followers said some congregants were sexually abused, including minors.

The former members said they were speaking out now because of guilt for not doing more to stop the abuse and because they fear for the safety of the children still in the church, believed to number about 100.

In the past, Whaley has strongly denied that she or other church leaders have ever abused Word of Faith members and contended that any discipline would be protected by the 1st Amendment's freedom of religion tenets. She and church attorney Josh Farmer turned down repeated requests for interviews to discuss the fresh allegations from the dozens of former congregants.

The ex-members said the violence was ever-present: Minors were taken from their parents and placed in ministers' homes, where they were beaten and blasted and sometimes completely cut off from their families for up to a decade.

For several years, males perceived as the worst sinners were kept in a four-room former storage facility in the compound called the Lower Building. They were cut off from their families for up to a year, never knew when they would be released, and endured especially violent, prolonged beatings and blastings, according to more than a dozen of those interviewed.

Teachers in the church's K-12 school encouraged students to beat their classmates for daydreaming, smiling and other behavior that leaders said proved they were possessed by devils, the former followers said.

"It wasn't enough to yell and scream at the devils. You literally had to beat the devils out of people," said Rick Cooper, 61, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent more than 20 years as a congregant and raised nine children in the church.

Word of Faith Fellowship has been scrutinized on numerous occasions by law enforcement, social services agencies and the news media since the early 1990s — all without significant impact, mostly because followers refused to cooperate.

Some former members offered a more doctrinal explanation for their decades of silence: Frequent warnings by Whaley that God would strike them dead if they betrayed her or her church.

Word of Faith Fellowship was founded in 1979 by Whaley, a petite former math teacher, and her husband, Sam, a former used car salesman.

They are listed as co-pastors but all of those interviewed said it is Jane Whaley — a fiery, 77-year-old Christian “charismatic” preacher — who maintains dictatorial control of the flock and also administers some of the beatings herself.

She has scores of strict rules to control congregants' lives, including whether they can marry or have children. At the top of the list: No one can complain about her or question her authority. Failure to comply often triggers a humiliating rebuke from the pulpit or, worse, physical punishment, according to most of those interviewed.

Under Jane Whaley's leadership, Word of Faith grew from a handful of followers to a 750-member sect, concentrated in a 35-acre complex protected by tight security and a thick line of trees.

The group also has nearly 2,000 members in churches in Brazil and Ghana, and affiliations in other countries.

Those attending the church's twice-a-year international Bible seminars were encouraged to move to Spindale, a community of 4,300 midway between Charlotte and Asheville. It wasn't until they sold their homes and settled in North Carolina that the church's "dark side" gradually emerged, former members said.

By then — isolated from their families and friends, and believing Whaley was a prophet — they were afraid to leave or speak out, they said.

Given what they characterize as Whaley's record for retribution against those she sees as traitors, the former members said they hope there is strength and protection in speaking out in numbers.

"For most of my life, I lived in fear. I'm not scared anymore," said John Cooper, one of Rick Cooper's sons.

Still, many former church members say the memories — and the nightmares — never seem to fade, and they live in fear for their family members still inside.

Danielle Cordes, now 22, said she has deep psychological scars from spending more than three-quarters of her life in Whaley's world.

Three years ago, the last time she tried to visit her parents' house, her father slammed the door in her face without saying a word. To this day, whenever she calls, family members hang up.

"I need my family and they're gone," she said.

Said Rick Cooper: "You're cut off from everyone in the world. The church — and Jane — is the only thing you know. You believe she's a prophet — she has a pipeline to God. So you stand by while she rips your family apart. I'm not sure how you ever get over that."


Feb 24, 2017

Why is the Church of Scientology hounding Irish language speakers?

The Translations Unit of the controversial Church of Scientology is contacting US- and Canada-based Irish speakers via email.The Translations Unit of the controversial Church of Scientology is contacting US- and Canada-based Irish speakers via email.
Church of Scientology
Frances Mulraney
Irish Central
February 24, 2017

The Church of Scientology is once again hounding Irish speakers to assist in the translation of their educational material, contacting Irish teachers and groups in the US and Canada in the hopes of finding a translation team.

An email from the Translations Unit of the Church of Scientology in Copenhagen, Denmark has been received by individual teachers, Irish staff at New York University, members of the Irish language book club in New York and by Irish teachers taking part in the Irish Canadian University Foundation (ICUF).

“We are currently engaged in a translation project of large volume consisting of some 5.5 million words. The work includes books, lectures, courses, promotional material, humanitarian campaign brochures, and more,” the email reads.

“We have gotten started with a number of very fine, qualified Irish (Gaelic) translators and the project is rolling ahead. I am looking for more translators to expand the team.”

John Prendergast from Co. Kerry is currently teaching Irish in Nova Scotia as part of the ICUF Irish Language program, which each year appoints Irish teachers to partner universities in Canada to promote the language within the school and within the surrounding area.

He had not heard of the previous efforts of the Church to translate their work into Irish until he received the call looking for translators. So he was surprised when he learned of the link to the controversial religion, questioning at first whether it could have been a joke.

After some research, Prendergast decided the request was genuine and agreed to help with their translation work. He said he didn’t believe the translation project was a bad thing and that as part of a multicultural society, he felt he should have respect for as many beliefs and spiritualities as he could and, so, he did not criticize or refuse it.

This is not the first attempt by the Church of Scientology to translate their material into Irish. In 2015 the Church’s founder L. Ron Hubbard's drug rehabilitation program Narconon was believed to be behind an attempt to contact Irish translators via the translation service called ProZ.com, acting under the guise of a charity organization.

Once translators started on the work, however, they became suspicious over lines such as,  “The drug scene is planetwide and swimming in blood and human misery … And children of drug-taking mothers are born as druggies.”

After a translator working on the project posted this line into popular Irish language Facebook group “Gaeilge Amháin,” it was found to be was found to be the work of Narconon, a company that works to publicize Hubbard's opinions regarding the use of drugs.

The Church of Scientology has only one location in Ireland, on Dublin’s Abbey Street, although members are believed to be located throughout the country. Despite its attempts to claim charitable, tax-free status in Ireland, the Church of Scientology has yet to be officially recognized in the country as a religion, though it is free to promote Scientology beliefs.

IrishCentral has contacted the Translations Unit of the Church of Scientology regarding the translating project and the number of Irish language translators who have signed up but have received no further information as of yet.


Pinoy Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia face deportation

Philippine Daily Inquirer
February 24, 2017

BAGUIO CITY—Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) in the Philippines have asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to intercede on behalf of Filipinos who face arrest or deportation in Russia for belonging to their faith.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of the Philippines, the legal and corporate arm of JW, made the appeal when it met DFA officials this week on behalf of more than 8,000 Filipino Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.

Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are affected by a warning issued by the Russian prosecutor general about what it described as the JW’s “extremist activities.”

The law, enforced in 2002, bars “public and religious associations or any other organizations, or of mass media, or natural persons [from undertaking activities]… aimed at the forcible change of the foundations of the constitutional system and the violation of the integrity of the Russian Federation.”

The prohibition covers religious activities that impart “propaganda of the exclusiveness, superiority or deficiency of individuals on the basis of their attitude to religion, social, racial, national, religious or linguistic identity.”

The warning was directed at the Administration Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, following the seizure and liquidation of pocket groups of JW congregations recently. The center serves as JW’s national headquarters in Russia.

Dean Jacek, spokesperson of JW in the Philippines, said they filed a formal protest against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

He said the rule may be used to “freeze the Watch Tower Society’s assets” and confiscate office properties and all Kingdom Halls in Russia.

Russia recently banned JW publications, including Bibles, which do not incite to violence, he said.

“We are not engaged in any extremist activity. We simply want to freely carry out our worship and our Bible education work peacefully,” he said. —GOBLETH MOULIC


Opinion Don’t imprison ISIS kids, deprogram them

Judit Neurink
Judit Neurink
Judit Neurink
February 23, 2017


Now that the battle of Mosul is gearing up again, western states are alarmed about children who might return home from ISIS territory, or will be sent to commit suicide attacks in the West.

During the years of ISIS’ rule, many local people in Iraq and Syria were indoctrinated into following the group and fighting their battle.

Amongst them are many young boys who were schooled into the ISIS brand of Islam, and trained in gun use and warfare, from as young as six years old.

The problems these Cubs of the Caliphate will cause, has been discussed before, but now that mounting losses and desperation are forcing ISIS to actually use them, the issue needs all our attention.

Some of the boys are Yezidis, who were captured when ISIS took over their towns and villages in the Sinjar province over two years ago, and were then put through ISIS’ indoctrination program.

Boys who had managed to escape told me how they daily would have to watch videos of executions, were trained to wear a suicide belt, and how some of their former friends seemed to have adopted their captor’s religion and behavior with vigor.

Recently, ISIS posted photos and videos of two Yezidi teenagers on their way to commit their suicide attacks, talking between them how ‘they left the darkness of their faith for the light of Islam’.

They showed the extent of their indoctrination, repeating slogans, boasting how they had made the right choices.

We don’t know if they did actually commit the attacks, but it is clear that of all suicide bombers the group uses, at least a third (and probably more) are under eighteen.

Videos of foreign ISIS fighters instructing their own children to get ready for the jihad, have shown us the danger these youths may pose too, as they have never learned anything but the ISIS doctrine.

But local kids also pose a threat to their communities, having been sent to the ISIS schools and training camps, been prepared for the battle and promised the paradise.

What to do with them; how to prevent them from obliging their peers in ISIS?

Indoctrination needs to be fought through deprogramming, and not by imprisoning; just remember how Al Qaida was able to recruit and grow inside the prisons where its members were kept, and not in the least in those of the Americans in Iraq.

Yet some teenagers who were with ISIS are now being held together in a youth prison in Duhok — as far as I know without being subject to any de-radicalization program.

What we need is creativity, and humanity.

A policeman who recently returned to work in Mosul, told me how he and his colleagues decided to take care of a fifteen-year-old he had to question about his ties to ISIS.

He kept the boy with him, and spoke with him a couple of hours daily about the kid’s convictions and ideas for his future life.

The boy was allowed to go home, on the condition he would go to school and show good results, and would report back regularly to the police office.

This police team was doing something extra-ordinary, out of caring for a boy that they knew would only turn more radical in jail.

They tried to give him a chance to change back into a normal boy who would be able to live with his family in his community – even though they knew the chances were slim, they preferred it to sending him to jail.

We know that that many more teenage boys will be found and captured, and that there is no policeman like my friend for every one of them.

Even though the dilemma was clear, we are not prepared: there are no special institutions in Iraq to attempt to cure their radical views.

De-radicalisation is not an easy concept, as was seen for instance in Saudi Arabia, where a special program for Al Qaida convicts showed that some of the recipients of the de-radicalisation were still to end up in the top of Al Qaida.

In the West, some countries have developed programs to try and win back the minds and souls of those indoctrinated by radicals and sects.

What makes it extra hard is that those who are indoctrinated, usually are not interested in life, as they have already lost it, as experts have told me.

The fact that they deem their lives so painful and worthless that they do not want to continue makes them extremely dangerous, for they can be used as robots to kill, as long as they get killed themselves too.

If putting them in jail is dangerous and leaving them out is also, there is only one possibility left for boys involved, even if that is not fool-proof either.

Give these kids a chance and treat them for what they are: kids that have been pressed into believing something that is killing them, and who need help to deprogram their brains into wanting to live again.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.

Japanese cult also used VX; survivor recounts how it felt

The Associated Press
February 24, 2017

A Japanese religious cult that carried out a deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways in 1995 also experimented with the VX nerve agent suspected in the killing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half brother in Malaysia.

Months before killing about a dozen commuters and severely injuring dozens more in Tokyo with sarin, another kind of nerve gas, in March 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo cult tried VX on at least three victims, killing one whom cult members believed was a police informant.

In their trial, cult members said they practiced using syringes to spray the deadly chemical on people's necks as they pretended to be out jogging. The suspected police informant spent 10 days in a coma before dying.

One of the people attacked with VX by the cult, Hiroyuki Nagaoka, told Japanese public broadcaster NHK on Friday that news of Kim Jong Nam's murder reminded him of his own experience.

He was walking on the sidewalk in his neighborhood in Tokyo in January 1995 when a member of the cult sprayed the nerve agent on the back of his neck. Most of it was blocked by his jacket collar.

"I had no idea what happened at that time," he said. He was attacked because he was a vocal opponent of the cult.

He finished walking home but about half an hour later realized everything seemed to be oddly dark — an effect of the toxin causing his pupils to shrink. He started feeling hot inside and, sweating profusely, took off his clothes.

His wife later told him that he got down on all fours like an animal, twisting and scratching his neck and chest, before rolling onto his back in pain and losing consciousness.

He was rushed to a hospital for emergency treatment, and was unconscious for several days.

"I was saved by the collar of the jacket I was wearing," he told NHK after officials in Malaysia said they suspected VX in the Kuala Lumpur killing.

According to court documents, two trained chemists who had joined the cult developed VX in a customized lab in the summer of 1994. They initially wanted to produce 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) but succeeded in making only about 70 grams (2.5 ounces).

They had an antidote but it's not clear from the court documents if any of the cultists got sick from VX exposure.

More than 20 years after the attack, Nagaoka still has numbness on the right side of his body and uses an oxygen tube inserted in his nostrils to assist his breathing.

Nagaoka said when he saw Kim Jong Nam in an airport surveillance video walking unassisted for a while but gradually seeming to slow down, he thought it must be VX.

He also said Kim might have been sweating heavily like he did, citing wet spots on Kim's shirt when he was shown slumped in a chair.


Associated Press writer Eric Talmadge contributed to this report.

Woman opens up about abuse she endured at hands of paedophile leader 'Little Pebble' after being trapped in a religious doomsday cult for a decade

Claire Ashman pictured with her ex-husband and children around a table at William Kamm's religious doomsday cult before she escaped
Claire Ashman pictured with her ex-husband
and children around a table at William Kamm's
religious doomsday cult before she escaped
Belinda Clear
Daily Mail Australia
February 24, 2017

A woman who became stuck in an extremely religious doomsday cult run by a notorious paedophile has revealed how she and her eight children escaped and how she struggled with normality.

Claire Ashman became a member of William 'Little Pebble' Kamm's cult based in Nowra on the New South Wales south coast in 1997 after her then husband became obsessed with the cult leader's way of life.

'My ex-husband wanted to move to the country and to become self-sufficient, I did not want this but came from a very religious family where I learnt the husband was the head of the house,' she told Daily Mail Australia.

'He went to meet Kamm and came back insisting we move from Melbourne to Nowra to join his organisation.'

Kamm told his followers he spoke with the Virgin Mary and she had chosen him to repopulate the earth after the apocalypse.

This message appealed to Ms Ashman's now ex-husband so he sold the family home and forced his wife and children to move to the leader's property.

'Ultimately my ex-husband wanted to be living in a where everybody held the same beliefs and we all did the same thing every day.'

The forced move into the hands of the paedophile preacher was not Ms Ashman's first dealing with religious cults – her parents brought her up in a very strict religious sect known as The Society of St Pius X.

'The sect started with good intentions but ended up as an open cult,' she said.

Her upbringing was very sheltered. From the age of seven she was home schooled on her parent's property 20kms from Ballarat in Victoria.

'We had very little interaction with the outside world.

'The only people who came to the house were members of the church – and we left the house once a week to go to mass in Melbourne.'

Ms Ashman met her first husband at home – he had come to stay with the family to help with home schooling Ms Ashman and her children.

When Ms Ashman was 18 she married the then 31 year old and moved to Melbourne.

'I married because I was lost, insecure and directionless. When he talked about it I thought it would be a good idea because he would look after me.'

For eight years the couple lived out of reach of the religious sect which had dictated Ms Ashman's childhood. But then they moved to Kamm's cult.

'As soon as I saw that place I hated it – I knew something wasn't right,' she said.

'He had set up his cult on a 40 acre caravan park – he kept the licence so he was allowed to have so many people living there at once.

'It was surrounded by barbed wire – my husband and I lived in a house next door with our children. It was surrounded by barbed wire fences as well. We were told it was to protect us from the outside world.'

Ms Ashman had to wear religious garb during her time at the notorious cult – which reminded her of the strict dress-code she had been forced to follow for the first 18 years of her life.

'I had to be covered from my neck to below my knees and have sleeves to my elbows,' she said.

Kamm disguised himself as a religious man put on god's earth to do work for the Virgin Mary.

But Ms Ashman who was brought up under the religious law noticed Kamm didn't have to abide by the same strict rules as everyone else in the cult.

'There was no sex before marriage, no dancing or drinking to entice men,' she said.

'Yet Kamm was having sex with up to 10 women at any time that I know of – including his wife and girls as young as 16.

'I think some of the parents were proud to offer their daughters as princesses for Kamm. I think they were looking for the glory for themselves.'

Ms Ashman couldn't think of anything worse than Kamm's eyes being set upon one of her eight children.

She argued discrepancies in the rules to Kamm in a series of letters and was seen as a 'trouble maker' by many in the cult.

'From that time on I was ostracised.

'My husband didn't want to leave – and while I was told by Kamm that I could leave whenever I wanted he also said if I was hit by a bus or struck down with cancer that it would be god's punishment.'

So the mother of eight kept her children close and continued to live under the paedophile's rule.

'We were made to go to mass three times a day and it went for an hour each time – the women were on rosters and had to prepare everything,' she said.

'When we weren't doing that we were expected to do things like the gardening.

'Kamm didn't like it when we spent too much time at home. If we were at home we had to be stockpiling clothes or learning skills which could help us in the apocalypse.'

The apocalypse was first supposed to occur with Halley's comet in 1986, another big event was the turn of the century – every time the world failed to end Kamm had an excuse.

'He would tell his followers that we had been spared by the mercy of god and that enough people had prayed at the right time to stop the apocalypse from happening.

'We were told each time that god was testing our faith,' she said.

Ms Ashman left the cult before her eldest daughter turned 16. But she didn't realise Kamm had been grooming girls before they turned 16 until he was charged with having sex with someone underage.

'I wasn't in the cult when police charged him. But he told members that it was god testing his faith and he wouldn't go to jail.'

This denial echoed her ex-husband's views on the paedophile leader years before when Ms Ashman had brought up her issues with Kamm's sexual behaviours.

'My husband told me Kamm had permission from the Virgin Mary, that what he was doing was okay.'

In 2006 Ms Ashman escaped from the cult. She admitted she had 'no experience in the outside world and had to play catch up alongside her children'.

The family who now live in Brisbane have thrived since leaving both religious organisations behind. Ms Ashman remarried after discovering 'real love' and is working hard to tell her story – so other vulnerable people don't get trapped like she did.

'Cults prey on people's vulnerabilities. You don't just join a cult – you join a group of people with the same ideas, or the same hobbies.

'If someone in your life is at a vulnerable point you should ask them if you can help – or wrap them in a warm hug so they don't look to these places for comfort.'

Ms Ashman believes there to be about 3000 cults currently operating in Australia. Some from isolated properties where people all live together and others in situations where the families live alone and only communicate with other group members, like in her childhood.

'If I had grown up in a normal childhood and if I was allowed to go to school and watch television or read the paper – if I was taught about the world I wouldn't have become trapped by Kamm.

'But I wasn't, I was socially naïve and I didn't have the skills I needed to survive in the world.'

Kamm was jailed for nine years in 2005 – and continues to run a website devoted to his ideas and teachings.


Falun Gong, banned in China, finds a loud protest voice in the U.S. through Shen Yun dance troupe

Shen Yun Performing Arts, a touring dance troupe founded in New York by practitioners of Falun Gong
Shen Yun Performing Arts, a touring dance
 troupe founded in New York by practitioners
of Falun Gong
Jessica Gelt
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
February 24, 2017

The cavernous Long Beach Terrace Theater echoes with classical Chinese music as more than a dozen dancers expertly manipulate colorful fans that sweep like wind and snap like fire. In precise formation they coalesce into a river of dance inspired by Chinese history, legend, myth and literature.

The performers are serious and determined. The only direction they receive comes from a calm woman dressed in black, standing near the theater's center. She speaks in Mandarin – her words few, her manner direct.

It's rehearsal time for Shen Yun Performing Arts, a touring dance troupe founded in New York by practitioners of Falun Gong, the spiritual practice banned by the Chinese Communist Party in 1999.

The party calls it a cult; Falun Gong says the Chinese government is trying to eradicate thousands of years of culture and tradition and that its repression of Shen Yun shows an intolerance of freedom of expression and religion. Indisputably, the dance company – marking its 10th anniversary – has become a cultural phenomenon.

A single company has grown to four troupes that perform each year in more than 100 cities in 30-plus countries, including shows Tuesday and Wednesday at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk.

"The show is 5,000 years of culture in one night," said Felipe Sena, a creative director for a fragrance company who caught a performance at Lincoln Center in New York in March. "The colors are amazing, the message is very lyrical and clear."

Many people go to the performances unaware of the political undertones to the shows, even though one or two dances deal directly with Falun Gong's clash with the Chinese Communist Party.

Nonetheless, it's safe to say that the bright costumes and spinning dancers are meant to convey a message.

"The Falun Gong has a very well organized, managed and elaborate program of public relations, and Shen Yun is part of that," said James Tong, a UCLA professor, expert in Chinese politics and author of a book about the Communist Party and Falun Gong. When audiences see Shen Yun, "people want to know more about the Falun Gong."

Falun Gong was founded by spiritual leader Li Hongzhi in 1992. By the late 1990s, it claimed an estimated 70 million followers inside China. It emphasizes the traditions of Buddhism, meditation and tai chi, and at its inception it enjoyed a close relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.

But when the government began to crack down on groups promoting qigong, an ancient Chinese practice of holistic medicine that espouses breathing techniques to promote good health, the Falun Gong was among those targeted.

The group responded by staging brazen protests. At one point 20,000 followers surrounded party headquarters in Beijing. After that, the government deemed the practice of Falun Gong illegal. Practitioners have accused the government of persecution, repression and brutalization. Shen Yun represents an artistic response in this struggle.

The dance troupe is just one part of a cultural program promoted by Falun Gong that includes international music, martial arts, Chinese cooking and Chinese fashion competitions as well as special summer and winter camps for children, Tong said. He's uncertain if these programs are meant to be political tools, but he believes they have that effect because they cultivate positive relationships with local communities and governments.

The Falun Gong organization is notoriously reclusive and declined a request for an interview, but the group's mission is stated on the Shen Yun website: "For 5,000 years divine culture flourished in the land of China. Humanity's treasure was nearly lost, but through breathtaking music and dance, Shen Yun is bringing back this glorious culture."

Inside China, "traditional Chinese spiritual practice has been very demonized," said Shen Yun promoter Wen Chen, who left China after college. "We were taught that Buddhism was stupid, so a lot of Chinese students came to the U.S. and realized they were brainwashed. In the United States they saw something authentic. They were able to read freely and speak freely and they started to appreciate traditional Chinese practices and spiritual guidance."

Chen acknowledged, however, that most of Shen Yun's audience members aren't arriving for spiritual guidance. They simply delight in the dancers, singers and musicians as well as the myths and legends that are told through vigorously acrobatic dance routines. The elaborate costumes and props don't hurt either, nor do the digital effects projected on a wall behind the stage.

That, however, doesn't prevent the core message of "truthfulness, compassion and tolerance" from affecting the audience, Chen said.

The website for the Chinese Embassy in the United States has a different point of view: " 'Shen Yun' is not a cultural performance at all but a political tool of 'Falun Gong' to preach cult messages, spread anti-China propaganda, increase its own influence and raise fund. It blasphemizes and distorts the Chinese culture, and deceives, fools and poisons the audience."

Falun Gong has been regarded by some as more personality cult than religion because Li is known as "Master Li," and his instructions and sayings are recorded as sacred scripture. Although it has no management body, Falun Gong has an estimated 80 million to 100 million followers worldwide.

Shen Yun emcee Jared Madsen discovered Falun Gong while attending high school and college in China in the 1990s, before it was banned. When he heard about Shen Yun in 2006, he immediately applied and has been touring with the show ever since. His role is to come onstage between dances with a fellow emcee and tell the story or legend about to be danced. Madsen speaks in English, while his counterpart speaks in Mandarin.

In Madsen's opinion, Shen Yun has not suffered from its association with Falun Gong, and he doesn't think audience members walk away feeling the show was about politics.

"The only resistance we've seen has been from the Chinese Communist Party Consulate," he said. "In the beginning they would call the theaters and tell them not to let Shen Yun perform."

That tactic was never effective in America, Madsen said.

Today the dance troupe can barely book enough shows to satisfy public demand in some locations. One year, Chen said, the Southern California wait list for tickets was hundreds of people long. That year Chen sacrificed her personal tickets for the cause.

Such devotion is not rare among those who work with Shen Yun, whose financial success is partly because of volunteers. Chen, for example, works as a biologist for Caltech but dedicates her nights and weekends for six months out of the year to book Shen Yun shows throughout Southern California. When she started nearly 10 years ago, the volunteer base was nearly 100 strong, though she said those ranks have dwindled significantly now that Shen Yun can sustain itself largely on word of mouth.

Dancers, singers and musicians do get paid; according to the nonprofit organization's most recent federal filing, about $4.5 million of its $7.1 million in expenses for 2014 went toward wages. (Compensation to all officers and board members added up to less than $100,000.) The group reported revenue of $18.1 million in 2014, and net assets totaled more than $38 million.

The group said all proceeds from the performance go back to Shen Yun to pay the show's artists and to support the operation of Fei Tian Academy of the Arts in New York, which acts as a feeder school to Shen Yun. Falun Gong does not receive income from the shows, a Shen Yun representative said.

For some of the performers, Shen Yun is more than a job. It's a new way of life.

"I left home when I was 13," said Shen Yun principal dancer Angelia Wang, who is 22 and has been with the company since 2007, when she enrolled in Fei Tian Academy. "I didn't see my parents for seven years. I would get persecuted if I came back. I had no idea when I left. I was really clueless."