Aug 31, 2017

Call for Papers - International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) 2018 Annual International Conference jointly with Info-Secte/Info-Cult of Montreal

ICSA                    info secte                      
Call for Papers
The global challenge of young people born, raised or recruited into extremist groups, abusive religious organizations, or coercive/exploitative relationships

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
July 5 — July 7, 2018
The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is conducting its 2018 Annual International Conference jointly with Info-Secte/Info-Cult of Montreal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from July 5 – 7, 2018 (preconference workshops on Wednesday July 4, 2018). The conference will address the needs and interests of ICSA’s four main constituencies: former group members, families, helping professionals, and researchers.

ICSA is firmly committed to freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. Consistent with these values, ICSA’s policy with regard to conferences has been to encourage a wide range of viewpoints. Opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICSA's directors, staff, or supporters.

Attendees and speakers at past conferences have been diverse, including academicians, researchers, helping professionals, former and current group members, families, clergy, educators, and others. Individual presenters at ICSA’s annual conference will have up to 45 minutes for paper delivery and audience discussion. Panel organizers have 90 minutes for the panel and audience discussion. It is recommended that no more than three people speak on a panel.

The conference theme is "the global challenge of young people born, raised or recruited into extremist groups, abusive religious organizations, or coercive/exploitative relationships." The conference committee is especially interested in proposals related to the conference theme. However, the committee will consider proposals on all aspects of the cult phenomenon, including victims’ perspectives, psychological and social manipulation, religious fanaticism, terrorism, law enforcement, treatment, prevention, and legal, social, and public-policy aspects of manipulation and victimization.

If you wish to submit a proposal for a paper or panel, complete and submit the Call for Papers form.

Submission Deadline: October 31, 2017. The conference committee will not consider submissions after the deadline date.

David Morgan obituary

David Morgan
David Morgan rose through the ranks to become chairman of M&G

Vesey Crichton
The Guardian
August 29, 2017

My friend David Morgan, who has died aged 83, was an investment banker who rose through the ranks to become chairman of M&G Group. But he was also a man with a spiritual side, and had a long association with Transcendental Meditation as practised by the Indian teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Born in Chatham, Kent, to Horace, a captain in the Royal Navy, and his wife, Kathleen (nee Bellhouse), David was educated at Clifton college in Bristol and University College, Oxford. After early jobs working in foreign exchange at Shell and banking and investment management for Deltec International in London and New York, he became a director of Victor Sassoon’s trading house business, ED Sassoon and Co, in Hong Kong and New York.

He joined M&G in 1972, became a director of its investment management arm in 1973, managing director in 1991, chairman in 1995, and chairman of the whole group in 1997. He could never be described as a highly analytical investor; instead he concentrated on understanding investment themes and stories. That is now an unfashionable approach but at the time it was very successful.

Although David possessed good judgment, colleagues described him as having an almost other-worldly air, an unusual characteristic for someone in the hard-nosed world of investment banking. Perhaps this was partly explained by his association with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom David met while working as a stockbroker for Charles Bradburne & Co in Penang in Malaysia in 1958. The Maharishi was fresh out of India and intent on making his Transcendental Meditation technique available worldwide. David, who by the Maharishi’s account was the first westerner to learn the technique, then arranged for the Maharishi to travel to Hawaii and mainland US – the beginning of a period of activity that saw many millions learn the technique.

David remained a strong supporter and informal adviser to the Maharishi thereafter, often flying out from London for discussions with him at weekends. He was also a director of the Maharishi Global Development Fund.

David is survived by his daughter, Miranda, and son, Dominic, from his marriage to Clare Lacy in 1965, which ended in divorce.

Why so many Indians support men like the recently convicted guru

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh appears in a small village in Nepal following a deadly earthquake there in May 2015
Swati Gupta and Vidhi Doshi 
Washington Post
August 30, 2017

SIRSA, India — The guru sits in jail now, and his town is already showing the bleak signs of departing abundance. New factories have their shutters rolled down, men are complaining of unemployment, military guns are everywhere.

Sirsa, a town in northern India, headquarters of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, is reeling without its spiritual leader, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who was sentenced Monday to 20 years’ imprisonment for raping two female followers.

The conviction came after a decade-long legal battle, during which victims detailed their allegations of being invited into Singh’s underground residence, where they said he watched pornographic films and forced himself on them.

Minutes after the judge pronounced Singh guilty, violence erupted in Sirsa and outside Panchkula court, where Singh’s devotees thronged the streets. A total of 38 people lost their lives, as rioters threw stones and torched vehicles.

Ravinder Saini watched from his roof as a government-run milk factory burned. “For two days the factory was burning. No one came,” Saini said.

The riots have ended, but the townspeople are fearful about their future.

Singh claimed to have more than 60 million followers. Garbed in sequined costumes and gold jewelry, which earned him the nickname “guru of bling,” he produced outlandish music videos. Over the years, Singh’s popularity made Sirsa prosperous.

“From a purely business perspective, his organization was good for me,” said Pradeep Saini, a 25-year-old shopkeeper.

Singh’s is hardly the only outsider sect to have found a foothold in India. In this rapidly industrializing country, “alternative spirituality” persists alongside increasing levels of education and increased economic prosperity, said Ronki Ram, a professor of political science at Panjab University. Sermons from religious teachers are beamed into homes on religious channels, and a number of self-styled “godmen” have amassed fortunes selling branded products.

People buy into religious rhetoric, Ram said, because godmen are often charismatic speakers and make their followers feel part of a fraternity.

“People from all walks of life go and attend,” he said. Establishment religions such as Hinduism, he said, trap lower castes at the bottom of the social pyramid, offering them no way to rise. To them, being part of the “alternative” religious clubs offers “equality, dignity and social justice,” he said. “A poor man goes and finds himself in a room with a minister, and suddenly he feels, ‘Oh God, I’m not alone!’ ”

Inside the compound now sealed off to the public, Singh lived a life of luxury, surrounded by doting followers who attended to his every need. Luxury cars and lavish furniture surrounded him. The complex includes a hotel, an auditorium for sermons and a large meditation hall. His larger-than-life personality attracted rich business executives and politicians who came to seek blessings ahead of new ventures or elections.

To cater to the pious, grocery shelves in the city are stacked high with the guru’s branded products. Movie theaters show films starring Singh, sometimes as a motorcycle-riding superhero. Shops are plastered with photos of the rhinestone-garbed “rock star baba.”

“It has been profitable here,” said Prabhu Ram, who sat under a tree playing cards with friends. “There has been employment for the men in the factories, schools for our children. Even the value of land has appreciated.”

“We think of this place as heaven,” said his friend Parhlad Singh, who works in one of the factories run by the sect, cleaning and packing pulses, the grains common in Indian cooking. “The work is good, their product is good and I am able to run my house on what I earn.”

But now all of that seems in jeopardy.

“Everyone fell silent, and it felt like we had gone numb,” a resident named Satbir Singh said of the moment when the verdict was announced on television. “Our father has gone to jail, but we hope someone keeps the organization running.”

In a village less than a mile away from the Dera sect’s headquarters, a group of farmers sat in a muddy field smoking a hookah pipe. “He provided so much employment. So much development,” said Mahaveer, who uses only his first name. “We all think that the accusation was false.”

Shaking his head, Mahaveer said, “The Sirsa district will fall back now. I feel they should release him. Earlier, this was such a desolate area. Now look at the difference. We have public transport here, two fire engines and a hospital. We have nothing else that we need or want right now. The Dera has given us every facility. We have schools to educate our children. Colleges for them to study as much as they want.”

A number of godmen like Singh have held on to vast numbers of followers despite allegations of criminality. Baba Ramdev, a stomach-flexing yogi who led an anti-corruption campaign, was investigated for tax evasion. Asaram Bapu has been jailed on charges of rape and criminal intimidation. But supporters are willing to overlook crimes, Ram says, because they see their own lives tangibly improving after joining sects.

“It is a social protest for a new identity,” Ram said, noting that holy men are often praised for their vast and wide-reaching social programs. Singh particularly was known for huge blood-donation drives, anti-drug messages and performing mass marriages of sex workers.

“I have been a follower since the beginning,” said Prabhu Ram. The sentence was wrong, and harsh, he said. “They have given hospitals, there are eye camps,” he said. The state government, he added, “would not have made all this progress.”

A young woman of 18 named Pinky refuses to doubt Singh’s moral character. “He did so much good. He never did anything bad,” she said as she washed cooking utensils in a drain alongside the road. “I believe the rape charges are false,” she whispered.

Doshi reported from New Delhi.

Spurned attorneys look for answers in Scientology case

Gilbert Garcia
San Antonio Express-News
August 29, 2017

Why did Marty Rathbun flip?

That was the question that hovered over the legal proceedings in a Bexar County courtroom Tuesday morning.

It’s the question that has gripped Scientology watchers for more than a year, a question that compelled a team of three high-powered local attorneys to file a petition last month against Rathbun, the former second-in-command of the controversial Church of Scientology, and his wife, Monique.

Marty Rathbun spent 27 years in the Church. During that time, he was known for being a hardball operator. For example, Joseph Yanny, a former Scientology lawyer, said in 1988 that Rathbun told him to steal the medical records of a Scientology critic from the Betty Ford Center for blackmail material.

By Rathbun’s own admission, he arranged to tap the phone of actor Tom Cruise’s then-wife, Nicole Kidman (a Scientology skeptic), as part of an effort by Church leader David Miscavige to keep Cruise in the Scientology fold by breaking up the Cruise-Kidman marriage.

Rathbun left the Church in 2004, and after hiding out for a few years, emerged as one of Scientology’s most prominent and caustic critics. In response, Church loyalists camped out next to the Rathbuns’ home in the South Texas coastal town of Ingleside, videotaped their every move and made their lives’ miserable.

The pranks allegedly included the mailing of an adult toy to Monique’s place of employment and the sending of flowers to one of Monique’s female co-workers, with a romantic note made to appear as though it came from Monique.

After moving to Bulverde in 2012 to escape the alleged stalking, the Rathbuns hired attorneys Ray Jeffrey (the former mayor of Bulverde), Elliott Cappuccio and Marc Wiegand to file a harassment lawsuit against the Church. The lawsuit offered not only the possibility of a payout from the Church but also the hope that the elusive Miscavige could be forced to testify.

Then, without warning (and without cause), Monique and Marty fired their lawyers in January 2016. Four months later, the couple dropped its lawsuit against the Church.

Jeffrey, Cappuccio and Wiegand smelled something foul.

They couldn’t help but notice that Marty — after years of harsh attacks against Miscavige and the Church — started softening the tone of his blog in early 2016 and began to redirect his fire at what he called the ASC (Anti-Scientology Cult). They found it strange that in 2015 the Rathbuns, without informing their lawyers, moved back to Ingleside, where they somehow found the means to purchase a home appraised at $264,000.

The wondered what Monique meant when she said, in a motion to dismiss the case, “My husband and I have effectively achieved the primary purpose that the lawsuit was originally intended to serve, by our own independent efforts.”

The Rathbuns’ former attorneys had worked for two-and-a-half years on a contingency basis, meaning they didn’t earn a penny from their efforts. They suspected that Marty and Monique dropped the lawsuit (and their criticisms of Scientology) in exchange for a secret payment from the Church.

So Jeffrey and co. did something that lawyers hate to do: they initiated legal action against a former client. It’s something that Jeffrey says he has never done in 32 years of legal practice.

The attorneys’ petition is a request for an order that will allow them to take depositions from the Rathbuns and comb through the couple’s financial records. It would allow the attorneys to see what kind of case they have before they commit to a lawsuit against the couple.

Jeffrey stood Tuesday in front of District Court Judge Karen Pozza and told her, “Your honor, you didn’t know it when you woke up this morning, but you’re dipping your toe into the world of Scientology-related litigation.”

He added: “It sure looks likely that some sort of a settlement was done behind our backs.”

The Rathbuns’ new attorney, Richard Reynolds, tried to get Pozza to throw out Jeffrey’s 12 exhibits, but the judge admitted all of them. At the end of the hearing, she asked Jeffrey and his co-counsel to narrow the scope of their request and said she would come back with a ruling on Thursday.

It was a low-key hearing on a procedural matter in a near-empty courtroom. But the drama was unmistakable. For decades, the Church of Scientology has been an institution driven by paranoia and the intimidation of anyone who attempts to penetrate its wall of obfuscation.

Jeffrey and co. are trying to knock some bricks out of that wall.

Twitter: @gilgamesh470

I was a neo-Nazi. Then I fell in love with a black woman

Angela King
Angela King

Claire Bates
BBC World Service
August 29, 2017

Angela King had gone to the bar expecting trouble. The neo-Nazi had arrived at the local dive in South Florida with a gang of violent skinheads.

King, 23, sauntered in with a 9mm pistol in the waistband of her jeans. She and her friends wore combat boots and coloured braces, their skin emblazoned with racist iconography.

"I had tattoos all over my body. I had Vikings tattooed on my chest, a swastika on my middle finger and 'Sieg Heil' on the inside of my bottom lip, which was the Hitler salute," King says.

They hated black people and Jews and were also virulently homophobic. Plus, one of them was her boyfriend. So King didn't dare to admit that she was secretly gay.

As the group drank they became louder and more aggressive. A large brawl broke out after a man ordering a drink took exception to King's boyfriend.

"He said something about his tattoo and that was it. It took nothing to get my boyfriend swinging," King says.

King and another woman from her group grabbed the man's companion and beat her up in the bathroom. They fled after hearing the police had been called.

"We drove around all pumped up and started talking about what a race war would be like in the US," she says.

"We talked about how it was OK to hurt people who aren't like us and we decided to go and find a place to rob."

They settled on a convenience store, but farcically it had closed while they argued about who should go in. They eventually targeted an adult video shop, reasoning that pornography "wasn't beneficial to the white race".

"One of the guys went in and pistol-whipped the clerk before stealing money from the register," King says. The clerk was Jewish.

Angela King spoke to Outlook on BBC World Service. Listen to the interview

King, the eldest of three children, had been raised in a strict conservative family in South Florida. She went to an expensive private Baptist school and attended Catholic Church services each week.

But she had a secret that left her confused, angry and resentful.

"From very early on I felt I was abnormal because I was attracted to people of the same sex," King says.

King kept her sexual identity hidden.

"I knew I had to keep it to myself. My mother used to say to me, 'I will never stop loving you... except you better never bring home a black person or a woman."

King started going to public school when she was 10 after her family moved. She struggled with her weight and self-confidence, and was called names by fellow students. When verbal bullying became physical, she finally snapped.

"When I was 13 a girl ripped open my shirt in front of the entire class," she says.

"I was in a training bra and felt completely humiliated. It just blew the lid off the anger and rage I had been holding on to for so long."

King fought back and realised violence and aggression gave her a sense of control that she had never felt before. She soon became established as the school and neighbourhood bully.

Her parents divorced and while she and her sister stayed with their mother, their brother went to live with her father. Desperate to belong, she joined a group of teenagers into punk rock who were starting to flirt with neo-Nazism.

"These younger skinheads were known as 'fresh cuts'," King says.

"I joined them because they accepted my violence and anger without question."

The group pasted racist flyers around neighbourhoods at night and started fights with anyone who disagreed with them.

King assumed she had found the right path, because many of their views reflected the casual racism and prejudice she had heard at home.

King was proud of her new identity and wore it "like a mantle" each day. Despite this, little action was taken at school.

In one earth science lesson she put a swastika flag on a model she had built of a moon base. It was left on display for weeks before anyone noticed.

Although the model was taken down, King still received a B grade for it after her mother argued she had the right to freedom of speech. Her parents didn't object to her beliefs, but warned her she was "too blatant about them."

King began to hang out with older skinheads and joined a violent white extremist group in her teens.

"They told me that Jews had owned the slave ships and had brought black people to America to endanger the white race.

"It sounds ridiculous but when you are uneducated or trying to fit in, you soak up the new reality like a sponge."

King was asked to leave her school when she was 16 and went to work in various fast food restaurants. Her mother eventually kicked her out for causing too much trouble and she slept in cars and on friends' sofas.

It was around this time, in 1998, that King was involved in the robbery of the adult video shop. Soon afterwards she fled to Chicago with her boyfriend who was wanted for another hate crime. However, she was arrested weeks later and taken to the Federal Detention Centre in Miami.

It was the first time she had lived in close quarters with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

"People knew why I was in there and I got dirty looks and comments. I assumed I would spend my time with my back to the wall, fighting," King says.

What King did not expect was the hand of friendship - especially from a black woman.

"I was in the recreation area smoking when a Jamaican woman said to me, 'Hey, do you know how to play cribbage?'" King had no idea what it was and was taught to play.

It was the start of an unlikely friendship and King found her racist belief system crumbling as a result. Her friendship circle widened as she was taken under the wing of a wider group of Jamaican women, some of whom had been convicted for carrying drugs into the US.

"I hadn't really known any people of colour before, but here were these women who asked me difficult questions but treated me with compassion," King says.

With their help, she started to take responsibility for her past actions.

During her first year in the detention centre she was tipped off that a newspaper article was coming out about her case. She told one of her new friends how worried she was about the publicity.

"My friend had a job that meant she got out early to help prepare breakfast. The day it came out she stole the paper and hid it so no-one could read it. She, a black woman, did that for me, an ignorant white woman who was inside for a hate crime."

King was sentenced in 1999 to five years and moved to the county jail so she could give evidence against one of her former gang. When she was returned to the detention centre she discovered her circle of friends had been moved on to a prison in Tallahassee.

"Suddenly my support network wasn't there," she says. "I was heartbroken."

Meanwhile some new inmates had joined the detention centre, including another Jamaican woman who took an instant dislike to King.

"People said she had been in violent gangs and was a real badass. One day as I passed, she asked: 'How do you even get to be like that?' I stopped and answered her as fully and honestly as I could."

The two women began to talk and realised although they came from different worlds they had had similar experiences on the streets. Slowly the antagonism faded and they formed a bond. They realised over time that their feelings went beyond friendship.

"We realised we had fallen in love with each other. We were like, 'How on Earth did this happen?'"

"We spent a lot of time together talking and shared a cell for a while. It got quite serious but we had to keep it secret."

For both women it was their first serious gay relationship. King's girlfriend was sent on to the jail in Tallahassee before her. King says it felt "like torture" and they wrote to each other via intermediaries. However, the relationship fizzled out a few months after King was transferred to the same prison.

When King was released in 2001 she was determined not to fall back into old habits. She was also keen to meet other gay people and started by talking to people in chat rooms.

"I was very honest about my past. I found acceptance in the gay community and realised I wasn't alone."

King went to community college to study sociology and psychology. She wanted to understand if her experience of extremism was a common one.

While there she made contact with the local Holocaust Centre, and sat down with a Holocaust survivor in 2004 to share her life story.

"She was very stern, but afterwards she looked me in the eye and said 'I forgive you,'" King says.

She has been doing public speaking for the centre ever since. Then in 2011 she went to an international conference where she met other former extremists.

"I was excited to meet other people who had got involved in violent extremism and then got out. I wasn't alone," King says.

She met two Americans who had founded a blog called Life After Hate, in which they shared their stories. They agreed to work together to create a non-profit organisation to help other people leave the far right community.

King was all too aware of the hurdles people wishing to leave white supremacist groups had to overcome. She had tried to walk away following the Oklahoma bombing in 1995.

"I just remember watching all of this horrific television footage of children being pulled from rubble. Then I found out the bomber Timothy McVeigh shared many of my views," she says.

King was under house arrest at the time but also stopped using her phone. One day she found bullet holes across the front of her apartment block. Her extremist friends hinted they had something to do with it.

"It's not something where you can just say: 'I've changed my mind.' There are serious and oftentimes violent repercussions for trying to walk away from something like that," King says.

Without outside support, King didn't feel able to leave. She now uses that experience to help others.

"People in extremist groups wrap their entire identities around it. Everything in their life has to be changed, from the way they think, to the people they associate with, to dealing with permanent tattoos."

The organisation runs a programme called Exit USA that stages interventions. It also offers mentoring and points people trying to leave to different resources.

A group of around 60 former extremists provide peer support to each other. The recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been particularly difficult to deal with.

"Current events can bring up guilt and shame," King says.

"We are busier than ever and are running on fumes right now."

Life After Hate had its government funding cut back by the Trump administration in June, but King says personal donations from around the world have helped make up the shortfall.

Meanwhile she has reached a better place in her own life. Her relationship with her parents has improved and she believes they now accept the fact she is gay although she says she "doesn't care" if they do.

She has also slowly started to forgive herself for her past mistakes.

"I have a lot of healthy guilt about who I was and the things I did to hurt others and myself. But I know I would not have been able to do this work had I not had those experiences," she says.

King is having her old tattoos lasered - a process that started after she left prison. She is covering the faded racist images with new body art. One phrase that now covers her wrist simply says, "Love is the only solution."

Images are copyright Angela King, unless otherwise stated

Aug 30, 2017

Workers at African aid program linked to alleged cult sue for back pay

Development Aid from People to People in Malawi, or DAPP: A cult-like organization called the Teachers Group
Matt Smith
August 21, 2017

Staff who worked on U.S. foreign aid projects have filed a legal complaint against an African contractor, claiming they were forced to work thousands of hours without pay.

In interviews, the workers described a secret behind the unpaid hours at the contractor, Development Aid from People to People in Malawi, or DAPP: A cult-like organization called the Teachers Group demanded that members attend indoctrination sessions, where they were admonished to pledge their money, time and free will to the orders of the collective.

“They say Teachers Group is your family, and that is the first family I should observe and be together with all my life,” said Andrew Chalamanda, one of the plaintiffs in a complaint filed with Malawi’s Industrial Relations Court.

Chalamanda worked on farm relief and other programs as an employee of DAPP Malawi for six years. He says he is owed 162 days of back pay.

The Teachers Group was founded by Mogens Amdi Petersen in the 1970s in Denmark. It later expanded into Africa and the United States, setting up DAPP and a U.S. affiliate charity, Planet Aid, according to Danish police documents. The network was part of what prosecutors call a global charities fraud scheme. Its alleged leaders, including Petersen, now are wanted by Interpol and were last seen hiding in Mexico.

The DAPP employees behind the legal complaint described U.S.-funded aid projects that were starved of resources and workers whose lives were controlled 365 days a year.

For its investigation published in 2016, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting visited U.S. Department of Agriculture-supported farm sites in southern and central Malawi that Planet Aid had cited as prime examples of successes. Farmers said they had not received the livestock, water pumps, fertilizer, seedlings and other benefits that had been reported to the USDA. Reveal also obtained documents indicating that grant money meant for DAPP projects was routed to organizations outside Malawi controlled by Teachers Group members.

Workers suing for back pay also bolster previous allegations of an illicit scheme to misuse foreign aid funds.

“A lot of the funding … is not used to help the livelihood of poor Malawians. Fifty to 60 percent of the benefits of the Teachers Group are for the owners who are in Mexico,” said Chalamanda, who was among several Malawians who said DAPP took pains to stage foreign aid projects for visiting funders.

Chalamanda’s descriptions echo a 2013 USDA site inspector’s report, which said DAPP projects looked “highly staged.” In 2015, Reveal met a former USDA project manager in Malawi, who detailed how he mocked up farm projects to impress donors.

“It is painful because I have been used; I have been one of the people who have been used to fulfill somebody’s needs to access funds through the organization. I have been the implementer,” Chalamanda said. “They just wanted to use me to stand there so that the owners of the funds would come, and they would see that we were on the ground doing one, two, three things. So I feel bad.”

Kambani Kufandiko, a plaintiff who worked on USDA-funded DAPP projects between 2008 and 2012, said he accumulated 138 unpaid leave days. He said he also oversaw projects that did not benefit from U.S. funds in the way they were supposed to.

“The United States people, I think they should know the Teachers Group has used their money in a way that was not the intended purpose, where they want to help the community, they want to help poor farmers, they want to help Africans. It’s not like that,” Kufandiko said. “They’re helping somebody who is in Mexico building mansions.”

Chalamanda and other plaintiffs said DAPP is controlled by the Teachers Group, a fact borne out by workers’ forced allegiance to the organization’s principle of “common time,” meaning every minute of a member’s activities is dictated by the group.

Weekends and holidays that other Malawian workers might have spent at home with family instead were spent with co-workers and bosses at supposed training sessions.

These meetings actually were Teachers Group indoctrination marathons “used to brainwash the people’s minds,” said Yona Banda, who worked as a manager on USDA farming projects as a DAPP employee. “People are afraid of what will happen tomorrow because they don’t think they can do anything without the Teachers Group. Teachers Group is the mother of DAPP, and workers in DAPP fear that they will suffer if they go out.”

The British government, UNICEF and UNESCO have cut funds to DAPP Malawi since Reveal reported in 2016 that aid programs there were controlled by the Teachers Group.

Planet Aid sued Reveal and two of its reporters in August 2016, alleging a conspiracy to interfere with business relationships. Reveal is contesting the lawsuit and believes it is without merit.

The USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, over more than a decade, has allocated more than $133 million for programs run by DAPP and its Mozambique affiliate. The funds were routed through the Teachers Group-linked U.S. charity Planet Aid, which used DAPP as a subcontractor. But despite probes launched recently by the U.S. Department of Justice and USDA inspector general, the USDA has not reported severing ties.

In the complaint, 22 employees say DAPP owes them more than 3,400 days’ worth of back pay. DAPP, in a response filed with the Industrial Relations Court of Malawi, said the charity does not owe back wages because the workers did not submit leave forms and thus forfeited unused days off. A court spokesman told Reveal that the case is scheduled for September.

Plaintiffs, however, told Reveal that they were not instructed to file leave forms to take time off for holidays and weekends. Instead, DAPP staff say they were instructed in Petersen’s “common time” doctrine.

“Common time demands you to be with members 24 hours per day, 365 days per year,” Chalamanda said.

Petersen set up the Teachers Group in 1970s Denmark, eventually running a government-funded alternative school system. Newspaper reports there described how Petersen’s growing organization controlled many aspects of followers’ lives, determining who they should marry, whether they could have children and where they could live. He told followers that they were on the vanguard of a coming world socialist revolution, which they would achieve by adhering to common time and “common economy,” which meant money they earned went into secret Teachers Group accounts, as previously reported by Reveal.

In 2001, Danish fraud investigators raided the school network’s offices and alleged that Petersen oversaw a global fraud and money-laundering operation. It was disguised behind a network of charities that included DAPP and Planet Aid, according to prosecutors’ documents. Acquitted of embezzlement and tax evasion in a regional Danish court in 2006, Petersen and some of his associates quickly left the country. Prosecutors refiled charges in a higher court, and in 2013, Interpol issued a bulletin for their arrest.

On June 23, 2016, Danish television channel DR3 videotaped Petersen, then 77, walking on the Mexican Baja California coast toward an elaborate polished stone-and-glass compound that serves as a Teachers Group headquarters, according to former DAPP employees who have been to the compound.

Chalamanda recalled the humiliation of years succumbing to the Teachers Group’s control to keep his job. He described a meeting during which members were compelled to make an annual pledge to recommit their lives to the Teachers Group. He said one DAPP worker did not show up to the meeting because she was sick and had been admitted to a hospital. So other members went to fetch her.

“I even said in the meeting, ‘It is not fair to drag somebody from the hospital just to come and agree to this,’ ” Chalamanda said. “They replied that it’s Teachers Group culture, it’s what they believe in. If you’re together, it will work perfectly.”

My life in a religious cult: 'The most dangerous place in the world is the womb of an ungodly woman'

My life in a religious cult: 'The most dangerous place in the world is the womb of an ungodly woman'
After her childhood in a secretive cult founded by her grandfather, New Zealand woman Lilia Tarawa risked hellfire and damnation to escape. In this book extract, she shares a slice of her life at Gloriavale Christian Community

Lilia Tarawa
The Guardian
August 29, 2017

On the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand, a religious cult named Gloriavale Christian Community closed itself off from the rest of the world in 1969.

Founded by the self-styled and self-named Australian religious leader Hopeful Christian – who was convicted and jailed on three charges of indecent sexual assault of a young woman in 1995 – the 500-strong community was run according to a strict and oppressive interpretation of fundamental Christianity.

Women had to cover their heads, show no flesh so as not to tempt sin from the menfolk, do all the domestic work, submit to their husbands and birth as many babies as they could.

Eight years ago, Lilia Tarawa – granddaughter of Hopeful Christian – escaped with her family into what she had always believed to be the evil, wicked world. This is an extract from her memoir about her life in the cult.

“Take out your Bibles.”

Every day began with a Bible reading.

I lifted my desk lid and removed the thick King James Bible that had been issued to me. It was an old book that had been rebound in the community print shop. I stroked the dull-red cover and held the book to my nose. I loved the musty smell of the pages.

“We’re reading from Hebrews 13:17,” Peter pointed to the boy closest to him. “Nathan, read one verse and then you others continue around the room.”

Pages rustled for a brief moment before Nathan began in a clear voice. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves ... ”

The boy beside Nathan picked up the next verse. After each of us had read aloud, Peter finished the chapter. For the rest of class we were taught that to sacrifice one’s self-will and serve the church was the only way to salvation. There was a godly order established in the church – the highest power was God and then Church leaders. Husbands were to submit to the church and wives must submit to their husbands. Children came last and were expected to obey their parents who served the Lord.

“The leaders watch for our souls. If you are obedient to the church you will live long on the Earth and the Lord will bless you,” Peter told us.

He began to pray for our salvation and we clasped our hands and bowed our heads. He thanked God for the wonderful place the leaders had built for us and prayed that we would be saved from the lusts of the world.

We had two more classes after that and I was impatient for them to finish. Today was Friday, PE day, and I couldn’t wait to be out on the field, kicking a soccer ball around.

Peter dismissed us and we tore down to the field, with Jubilant messing around as always and making us laugh at his jokes.

Gloriavale didn’t allow competitive games because it was cause for people to be lifted up in pride. We had to play soccer without keeping score, which I thought was stupid because the whole point of sport was to win. The long dresses were so frustrating to run in but I tackled the football off Jubilant anyway. I didn’t care if my dress flung up, there was no way I was going to let our team lose.

Our teacher for the session was Nathaniel Constant so I knew to be careful not to make him angry because his fuse was extremely short. Grace and I called him “Nathaniel Constantly Annoying” behind his back. We kept our distance from his aggres­sive temper. It didn’t deter Jubilant though. He kept on with the jokes, kicking the ball to the wrong player – anything for a laugh.

Nathaniel yelled at him, then he yelled again. Jubilant cooled it for about five minutes but it wasn’t in his nature to behave even though Nathaniel’s anger was building.

It only took one more smart remark before his temper erupted. “Get out! Leave! Now! Get up to the main building. Go!”

Jubilant grumbled and left the field, but not without throwing a last snide comment. Nathaniel tore after him, caught up and kicked him, then bashed him across the head.

The game halted and the class watched, stunned into silence as Nathaniel kicked our classmate again and then again. He forced him to walk and kept smashing him across the head and kicking him for the entire 30 or so metres to the main building. Jubilant was sobbing and trying to protect himself as he stumbled up the road.

Even though the church taught that it was godly for disobedient children to be beaten, this was so wrong. I was only 11 years old but as I stood there, helpless and watching, my hands to my throat, I knew with every fibre of my being that this was wrong. It was the most shocking thing I’d ever witnessed.

I couldn’t keep playing and neither could the other kids. We were numb from the shock of what had happened. All of us left the soccer field and returned to the classroom. I couldn’t concentrate and after school I found Grace and fumed in disbelief about what had happened.

That evening I poured it all out to Mum. She was furious, both at what Nathaniel had done but also because she couldn’t do anything about it. She was a woman and had little power to intervene in the men’s realm. Both of us waited to see what punishment the men would give Nathaniel. Nothing happened and he continued teaching us. I was disgusted.


The incident fanned my loathing for Gloriavale’s stance on child discipline into a raging furnace. The leaders called it godly, but I thought it was abuse. I couldn’t see how beating a child because you felt angry and full of rage was a demonstration of God’s love.

Some leaders not only encouraged violent beatings but scolded parents who were lenient. This was a church that preached non-violence and was anti-war, yet it saw fit to punish their young for minor errors. The leaders defended their philosophy based on the scripture “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Some men took this literally, using weapons like polystyrene pipe to beat their sons. Certain other members rebelled against the impositions and refused to treat their children badly, and I witnessed loving relationships between many parents and their children.

A wife would, in strict confidence, show me her young children, who had horrific marks on their legs, bottoms and backs where her husband had beaten them. Rage boiled in my chest when I saw those poor children suffering. I vowed to unleash the fury of hell if any husband of mine ever laid a finger on a child of ours in malice.


One quiet morning I was in the high school with my head down studying, as were my 30 other classmates. I was having trouble with a difficult maths problem and bit my lip in deep concentration.

Suddenly a loud noise jolted me out of focus. We looked up from our books, all of us startled. It was Shepherd Fervent bursting into the room.

Fervent was dragging his son Willing by the collar of his shirt and he yanked him to stand before the class. I cringed.

“Children look here!” Fervent commanded.

We didn’t want to look. Willing’s eyes were puffy and red. He’d been crying and he hung his head to the floor.

Fervent puffed out his chest and threw back his shoulders. His balding head caught the light from the window and he smoothed down the sides of his oily hair. “The Bible says, ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord’,” he shouted. His other hand held a limp leather strap. “Proverbs says, ‘Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die’.”

I couldn’t stop looking at the strap because it made me sick to the stomach. Fervent was going to make an example of Willing?

How could he do that to a boy of 13?

“What do you have to say, son?” Fervent poked his son.

Willing stared at the ground and mumbled an apology for being disobedient to his father. I felt a sliver of hope. Maybe the apology was enough to clear him?

Fervent spat a lecture of how godly parents beat their children to submission.

Then he turned to his son.

I screwed my eyes shut, thinking Fervent was going to strap Willing’s hand, but my stomach dropped with horror at his next words.

“Pull down your pants. Bend over.”

In that moment I wanted nothing more than to kill Fervent. To my eyes he was scum of the earth. Willing looked shocked, but obeyed his father.

Fervent took a wide stance and drew the strap back over his head. Without warning the belt flashed down and bit into Willing’s flesh. He moaned and whimpered with pain. Fervent didn’t stop. With all his strength he whipped the poor boy again, and again, and again.

Bile rose in my throat and I turned away from the appalling scene. Fervent was a pig and no man of God. My knuckles turned white and I gripped the desk in fury. How dare that man – a leader – treat a child this way?

I shut my eyes to block out the horror and covered my ears. I couldn’t watch even though I knew I risked punishment for showing disagreement. The whole time I prayed, “Please God, let it stop. Please make it stop.”

When the beating ended I still couldn’t look up. My heart knew it was disrespectful to gawk at Willing’s exposed flesh. At the very least, I’d offer the boy some respect in his shame.

I stared at the pencil groove on the edge of my desk, and my eyes burned with unshed tears. Fervent left his humiliated son standing at the front of the room. The room was deathly silent. When the overseeing teacher gave him a curt nod, Willing stumbled to his desk and buried his sobs in his hands. The class ended and I stumbled to the lockers in a daze.

From that moment I had nothing but love and compassion for Willing. I was popular and loved at school because I was a gifted student of high-status birth so I did my best to include him in my social circles.

An exclusive group of us would meet in the evenings to play basketball or soccer. We were the misfits and the ones who thought outside the box. Willing hung out with us and I developed something of a crush on him which I dared not tell anyone for fear of punishment.

The rules, though, didn’t change my feelings. What I believed was that all children deserved love.


Babies were a big part of life in Gloriavale. Birth control and abor­tion were strictly forbidden and we were proud of how we didn’t murder children in the womb like so many people in the world.

Grandad was very fond of bragging that we had the biggest families in New Zealand. He liked to show visitors a photo he’d taken of all the children who were number three or more in birth order, saying, “None of these children would be here if their parents practised birth control and didn’t have a faith in God.”

A favourite sermon of his was to preach about how lucky we were to have been conceived by Christian parents. He’d say, “Guess where the most dangerous place in the world is? It’s not on the road in cars. It’s not flying through the air in planes. It’s in the womb of an ungodly woman.”

My grandmother bore 16 children to Grandad Hopeful before her death and I grew up surrounded by cousins’ babies. Grandad Hopeful would say, “Children are an inheritance of the Lord. The fruit of the womb is His reward.”

Mum taught me to knit all sorts of babywear – cardigans, booties, hats; I always knitted a matching set for each of Aunt Patie’s babies. Some of the women could knit a whole garment in just a few hours.

Childbirth was highly celebrated and parents were expected to prepare their children for the practicalities of having a large family. Boys and girls aged 10 and older would often attend their mother’s births to assist and learn about the procedure.

We birthed our children at home. There was no need to visit a medical institution for something that was a purely natural part of life. God had promised us that women who continued in holiness and faith would be saved in childbearing. But if there were problems with a birth then a birthing mother would be taken to Greymouth hospital.

The district midwife made regular visits to pregnant women and attended the births to ensure nothing went wrong.

The first baby I ever saw born was my Aunt Patie’s second son when I was 10. When he came out he had the umbilical cord wrapped round his neck, he was blue and wasn’t breathing. He was fine once the midwife got him breathing. Afterwards she asked me if I was OK, but to me this was normal because I’d never seen a baby born before, so I was blissfully unaware of how severe the situation was.

I was there to observe and help with my mother’s next four births: Asher, Judah, Serena and Melodie. Because I was now the oldest girl I learned all the child-rearing skills too. I bathed my younger siblings, changed nappies, helped with potty training and when the babies cried in the night I would climb out of bed to attend to them to relieve my exhausted mother. I watched the women help each other breastfeed, if one mother had an abundance of milk she would suckle the child whose mother didn’t have a good supply.

Women were allowed about two weeks off after giving birth but then they were straight back into the workforce. I always wondered how some of the ladies did it. They would birth during the night and the next morning be at the meal table to present the child to the community. The husband would make a big announcement: “The Lord has blessed us with a new baby boy and his name is Courageous.” Everyone would clap and cheer.

When Patie had her fourth child, complications arose after she’d gone into labour. Her waters had broken, she was fully dilated but the baby wasn’t coming. I was rubbing her back, giving her sips of juice and bathing her face with a cool cloth. The midwife decided she needed urgent medical help but we were so far away from any hospital with no time to wait for an ambulance. We would have to transport Patie ourselves.

The boys brought round one of the stripped-out vans, threw down a mattress, blankets and pillows and we helped Patie lie down. I sat by her head and held her hands as her body was being wracked by gigantic contractions. About 20 minutes into the journey we went over a sharp bump. Patie groaned and gasped out, “Something’s moved. I can feel the baby coming. Right now!”

I shouted, “Stop the van!”

Patie was clenching my hand, almost breaking it. I ignored the pain of it and repeated over and over, “It’s OK. Just breathe through it. Go with the pain.”

She was bearing down. The back doors of the van flung open, I scrambled out, the midwife climbed in and a few minutes later my tiny, screaming cousin Submissive was born. The midwife handed her to me after her mother had a cuddle. I cradled her squawking body in my arms. “Welcome, little girl. You’re going to be so loved.”

This is an edited extract from Daughter of Gloriavale: My life in a religious cult by Lilia Tarawa (Allen & Unwin)

Sect leader in abuse case refusing to eat, officials say

 Deborah Green of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps
 Deborah Green
National post
The Associated Press
August 30, 2017

GRANTS, N.M. — Officials say a leader of a New Mexico paramilitary religious sect facing child sexual abuse charges is refusing to eat.

Court documents filed this week say Deborah Green of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps has not eaten any food or drank water for at least three days.

A motion filed in the 13th Judicial District Court in Cibola County sought to send Green to a hospital for emergency services. The motion was granted, but Green’s medical condition is not known.

Green recently was indicted on various charges including kidnapping and criminal sexual penetration of a child.

Her indictment came after authorities raided her group’s secluded compound in western New Mexico in connection with a child abuse and child sexual abuse investigation.

The sect was founded in Sacramento, California.

Judge orders Jehovah's Witness to release molestation files

Complaints of molestations to leaders of Jehovah’s Kingdom Hall in Linda Vista accomplished nothing, according to court documents.
Eighteen years of horror in Linda Vista

Dorian Hargrove
San Diego Reader
August 30, 2017

The mission of Jehovah’s Witnesses is to spread belief in the Bible in hopes of rescuing folks before the world ends.

Jehovah’s Witnesses’ attorneys seem to have another mission: do anything to keep internal documents revealing the names of alleged child molesters, and the congregations they attended, from seeing the light of day.

The second directive is unfolding in two San Diego courtrooms. Attorneys for José Lopez and Osbaldo Padron — both alleged victims of molestation by an elder from the Linda Vista congregation named Gonzalo Campos — say Jehovah’s Witnesses’ governing body, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, refuses to turn over documents. This is despite the fact that two San Diego County Superior Court judges have imposed millions of dollars in sanctions for similar conduct.

In a June 17, 2017, email, Lopez’s attorney Devin Storey accuses the Watchtower of withholding documents that his client needs to “establish Watchtower’s practice of protecting molesters from prosecution.”

The struggle for documents is not isolated to San Diego courtrooms but is playing out in several countries. Watchtower’s policies of requiring more than one eyewitness to the abuse before launching an investigation; of forcing the abused, often young children, to confront their abuser; and of prohibiting members from contacting law enforcement with complaints of sexual abuse have created what one former member and outspoken critic of the Watchtower Tract Society, William Bowen, calls a “pedophile’s paradise.”

Last year, a Royal Commission in Australia found that Jehovah’s Witnesses had hidden more than a thousand reports of child abuse from that country’s law enforcement. In the United States, during the past five years, the Watchtower has paid out numerous settlements to people who claimed they’d suffered child abuse at the hands of church elders. To date, seven San Diego residents have sued the Watchtower Tract Society regarding sexual abuse of minors.
Watchtower resistance

In 2015, Superior Court judge Joan Lewis awarded Lopez $13.5 million after Watchtower repeatedly failed to turn over documents and provide access to witnesses. The Watchtower appealed the decision. A state appellate court ruled that the judge did not give the Watchtower enough opportunity to turn over the documents. Appellate court judges remanded the case back to the trial court, providing the church another chance to turn over the requested documents.

In a separate case, but one following a similar pattern, San Diego Superior Court judge Richard Strauss imposed a $4000-per-day penalty against the Watchtower for failing to turn over documents in a case filed by Padron, another one of Campos’s alleged victims. Watchtower’s attorneys, as they did in the Lopez case, filed an appeal.

Attorney Storey from the Zalkin Law Firm, says the Watchtower is back to its old tricks in the Lopez case, once again producing heavily redacted documents and failing to produce others despite orders from a court-appointed mediator. Meanwhile, Storey and lead attorney Irwin Zalkin are preparing for yet another appellate court hearing wherein the Watchtower hopes to nullify the $4000-a-day fine given in the Padron case.
Fled to Mexico

Gonzalo Campos, 54, became a Jehovah’s Witness in 1979 after moving to San Diego from Mexico. He was baptized in 1980 while attending the congregation in Linda Vista. Six months following his baptism, church elders promoted Campos to “publisher,” a member who visits homes with hopes of spreading church doctrine, also the first step in becoming an elder.

But according to accusations against him, Campos and his mother were staying at a member family’s home in 1982. Campos shared a bedroom with a young boy. In the middle of the night, the boy felt somebody pulling down his pajama pants and felt wetness on his buttocks. He opened his eyes and Campos was kneeling next to his bed. The boy punched Campos and then grabbed a baseball bat. The boy’s mother kicked Campos and his mother out of her house. Days later she lodged a complaint with church elders Justino Diaz and Carlos Ramirez at the Linda Vista congregation. The elders did not punish Campos. Instead he remained a publisher and was allowed to teach Bible classes to children.

It was not the last time Campos is alleged to have sexually assaulted a child and received protection from church elders. Eight now claim that Campos molested them. The alleged molestations happened between 1982 and 1999. Elders have been accused of refusing to report the molestation to law enforcement.

During those nearly two decades, Campos is said to have meticulously groomed his victims and their parents. Accusers say he convinced parents to let their children accompany him on gardening jobs, ostensibly as a chance for the children to learn hard work and receive instruction on church dogma.

Once at the job site, accusers say, Campos would often let the kids swim in his clients’ pools. Once the work was done and the kids finished swimming, Campos would force the kids into the shower. While showering Campos would touch them and eventually sodomize them.

In exchange for their silence, several witnesses have testified, Campos would buy them Hershey’s chocolate bars, McDonald’s Happy Meals, and toys such as Transformers and Matchbox cars. In one case, the alleged victim says Campos repeatedly assaulted him over a five-year span and paid him money to keep quiet.

All the while, church leaders at the Linda Vista congregation continued to promote Campos, eventually to the position of elder, a person responsible for arranging and speaking at meetings.

By 1993, parents began to discover what had happened to their children. One mother found out after finding a note her teenage son had written to a girlfriend. She contacted the elders at the Linda Vista congregation to report Campos.

Days later, elder Roberto Rivera called the mother back. “But he say something to the fact that [Campos] was an elder now and not to do anything,” testified the woman during a December 2013 deposition. “That if I will speak or keep moving things around to find out stuff, that they will say something that I did in the past.”

Rivera’s response was not unusual. Since the late 1970s, according to senior Watchtower official Allen Shuster, who provided testimony in March 2012, church policy required two elders to meet with the accused molester to see if he or she was willing to admit guilt. If the accused denied guilt, in search of what they considered credible evidence, elders needed a witness to the abuse. If no such witness came forward, they would dismiss the allegation. And even if the accused molester admitted to the act, Watchtower’s policy was to keep the incident confidential and not report it to law enforcement. If a witness was present and the accused admitted guilt, the body of elders would expel the person from the church.

But new complaints about Campos continued to surface. In 1995, church elders expelled him from the congregation.

The expulsion, however, was not permanent.

In December1999, Linda Vista elder Eduardo Chavez contacted Watchtower headquarters informing them of Campos’s abuse and that they were ready to accept him back into the congregation.

“In our meeting with him he said he was very repentant for what he did,” Chavez wrote to Watchtower headquarters in New York. “He stated that he wanted to return to Jehovah. He is willing to face the victims and ask their forgiveness. He now wants to obey Jehovah. Before, when he would speak to people on the platform he would not meditate on what he was doing. Although he needed to confess, he felt shameful and had fear of mankind. He would deceive himself thinking that he could continue serving as an elder. Now he realized that he could not change without help. Ever since his expulsion he has not abused anyone. He has read articles of the publications regarding his sin. He says he does not see or read pornographic information. He stated that ever since expulsion he has worked on having a relationship with Jehovah and the expulsion has served to strengthen him spiritually. He does not miss meetings, and he even takes notes of the program. He also said that he is willing to continue accepting Jehovah’s discipline.”

Elders welcomed Campos back into the congregation in 2000.

In 2006, according to a letter the Reader has obtained, elders were considering promoting Campos to conduct field service. The elders at Linda Vista, however, ultimately decided against the promotion. Reads the letter, “Due to the fact that victims and mothers of victims are still grieving this abuse, we have decided as a body at this time to allow for more time to pass by until we consider [Campos] for minor privileges in the congregation.”

Then, in 2009, five of his accusers learned of Campos’s return. They hired attorney Irwin Zalkin. Campos fled to Mexico shortly thereafter. In September 2011 he appeared in Tijuana to testify under oath in a 2010 civil suit brought by five of his victims. During his testimony, Campos admitted to touching and in many cases anally penetrating the boys on numerous occasions. The following is an excerpt between attorney Devin Storey and Campos:

“I touched him in his private parts,” Campos testified.

Attorney Storey: “ Did you touch his penis?”

Campos: Yes.

Storey: “Did you penetrate him?

Campos: “Yes. Yes.”

Storey: “How many times?”

Campos: “More than once. I don’t know.”

Campos then admitted to molesting the other children as well.

In 2012, the Watchtower settled the case brought by Campos’s five victims for an undisclosed amount. Later that year José Lopez, followed by Osbaldo Padron, also filed suits. But unlike in previous cases, Watchtower attorneys seem unwilling to enter into similar settlement talks.

“I can’t explain what their logic is or their legal strategy,” said lead attorney Zalkin during an August 14 phone interview. “The fact that they once again appear willing to reargue the same issues and fight releasing documents that judges have ordered them to turn over is beyond me. All we can do is wait for the hearings and let this play out in the courtroom.”

Barbara Anderson, a former Witness who worked at Watchtower’s headquarters, left the church when she discovered reports that the church tried to hide allegations of sex abuse by elders and high-ranking officials. Anderson runs the website Watchtower Documents.

“In the past, to protect the religion’s reputation, rather than protect children, by not adopting a policy or rule for all Jehovah’s Witnesses to report all allegations of child abuse to the authorities, they endangered the welfare of children.”

But Anderson says the church is implementing change. “In view of the public notoriety and scrutiny of this issue, Jehovah’s Witnesses have asserted that they have in place excellent child protection policies without admitting that they endangered the welfare of children because of their religious viewpoint.

“Of course, no matter what regulations are adopted, there never will be a 100 percent guarantee that molestation of a Witness child by a Jehovah’s Witnesses molester will not happen. However, reporting a molester to the police will help to prevent a second or third child from being molested.”

Attorney Zalkin and Watchtower’s attorneys will appear on September 15 at a hearing to discuss a motion from the Watchtower to seal documents from the public. Zalkin says the appellate court should hear the appeal of the $4000-a-day sanctions sometime next year.

Here's why people hate Joel Osteen

Kate Bowler 
August 29, 2017

Twitter is loathing Houston’s megawatt-smile, mega-pastor Joel Osteen right now. What gives?

The question over whether Osteen’s 38,000-member Lakewood Church has sufficiently aided in the disaster relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Harvey has, once again, made America’s prince of the prosperity gospel into an object of social media contempt.

With his yachts and jets and endlessly-smiling mouth offering promises of “Your Best Life Now” (that’s the name of his best-selling book), Osteen was already a subject of contempt among Americans, in general.

But in the past few days he has been lambasted as being, at best, sluggish in providing emergency aid to those suffering from the disaster and, at worst, a hypocrite who cares more about people’s wealth than welfare. In fairness, the city of Houston has more megachurches than any other metropolitan area in the country, with dozens of big-church celebrities to thrust into the spotlight at a time like this. So what is it about America’s grinning preacher that everyone hates so much?

I’ve been studying the American prosperity gospel for more than a decade, and I have come to the stunning conclusion that Joel Osteen seems to be a pretty nice guy. He is the cheery advertisement for the 606,000-square-foot Lakewood Church and, with the gorgeous Victoria by his side, tours the country in packed-out arenas to bring “A Night of Hope” — a religion-lite, inspirational speech set to music. And, for those who don’t mind waiting a few minutes after the service, he will shake your hand and tolerate your comment about how his hair looks even better in real life. It does.

But there are three main reasons long after this controversy passes, Joel Osteen will still be the preacher America loves to hate — and perhaps for Christians more than others.

Number 1. Joel Osteen represents the Christian 1 percent. From aerial views of his jaw-dropping mansion to the cut of his navy suits, he always looks like a man with a good reason to be smiling. He is a wealthy man who unapologetically preaches that God has blessed him, with the added bonus that God can bless anyone else, too. The promise of the prosperity gospel is that it has found a formula that guarantees that God always blesses the righteous with health, wealth and happiness. For that reason, churchgoers love to see their preachers thrive as living embodiments of their own message. But the inequality that makes Osteen an inspiration is also what makes him an uncomfortable representation of the deep chasms in the land of opportunity between the haves and the have-nots. When the floodwaters rise, no one wants to see him float by on his yacht, as evidenced by the Christian satire website the Babylon Bee’s shot Tuesday at Osteen: “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now.’ ”

Number 2. There is a lingering controversy around prosperity megachurches and their charitable giving. When a church that places enormous theological weight on tithes and offerings is not a leader in charitable giving, the most obvious question is about who is the primary beneficiary of the prosperity gospel? The everyman or the man at the front?

Number 3. For many Christians, in particular, the prosperity gospel has an unpopular answer to the problem of evil in the world. Its central claim — “Everyone can be prosperous!”—contains its own conundrum. How do you explain the persistence of suffering? It might be easier to say to someone undergoing a divorce that there is something redemptive about the lessons they learned, but what about a child with cancer? This week, the prosperity gospel came face-to-face with its own theological limits. It was unable to answer the lingering questions around what theologians call “natural evil.” There is a natural curiosity about how someone like Osteen will react in the face of indiscriminate disaster. Is God separating the sheep from the goats? Will only the houses of the ungodly be flooded? The prosperity gospel has not every found a robust way to address tragedy when their own theology touts that “Everything Happens for a Reason.”

The good news is that the prosperity gospel, as a movement, is still young. It still has time to be ready when the next natural disaster strikes and people want to be assured that their religious giants are offering more than their thoughts and prayers.

Kate Bowler is the author of “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.” She teaches North American Christianity at Duke Divinity School. She is @katecbowler.

Aug 28, 2017

Probe spreads to land owned by paramilitary sect

James Green, co-leader of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps. Adron Gardner/Gallup Independent via AP
James Green, co-leader of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps.
Russell Contreras
The Associated Press
August 25, 2017

GRANTS — Leaders of a paramilitary religious sect rocked by child sexual abuse allegations say they were merely a small, poor group living in a secluded ranching area in New Mexico while constantly being persecuted by people who didn’t understand their reading of the Bible.

But authorities say the trustees of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps own thousands of acres of land and benefited from a wealthy high-ranking member who aided them in avoiding law enforcement agencies by hiding children throughout their vast holdings.

Those holdings and regular deceptions by leaders, authorities said, made it difficult for the small Cibola County Sheriff’s Office to investigate allegations of child abuse that former members say went back years.

Speaking before a judge on Friday, Cibola County Undersheriff Michael Munk gave a glimpse into his department’s two-year investigation of a militant sect former members say treated followers like slaves and often physically beat children who had no records of being born. That investigation led to the Sunday raid of the group’s Fence Lake compound and the arrest of four members.

And while former members say the group was able to keep abuse quiet by training children not to talk to police, Munk said the sect also evaded law enforcement by moving and operating in seclusion. “They change their names. They change their locations,” Munk said.

Cibola County Magistrate Judge Larry Diaz on Friday refused to lower bond for two of the group’s two leaders, who face child sexual abuse charges. His decision came after deputies on Wednesday arrested four other sect members who authorities say were trying to flee in two vans full of children and around $1,000 in cash. The four adults were charged with failing to register the births of their 11 children.

The children were taken into custody and are being interviewed by an FBI forensic expert, Munk said.

Diaz said he still believed that co-leader Deborah Green and high-ranking leader Peter Green of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training were flight risks, and he wasn’t comfortable with lowering their bond or changing the conditions of their release.

“The chain of events [is] getting more serious,” Diaz said. “Personally, I think it’s pretty horrifying.”

Both are being held on $500,000 cash surety bond in connection with child sexual abuse charges stemming from the Sunday raid of their secluded compound in Western New Mexico.

Court records previously had mistakenly listed that Peter Green was being held on $5 million.

He’s also known as Mike Brandon and faces 100 counts of sexual penetration of a child after being accused of raping a girl at least four times a week from the time she was 7, according to court documents. Authorities say it’s Peter Green who comes from a wealthy family and helped buy land where the group hid children when they came under suspicion at times.

Deborah Green, whom some members call “mom” or “general,” appeared frail and walked slowly around the courtroom on Friday. A public defense attorney said she was suffering from a number of illnesses, including the effects of malaria. As she tried to speak to members who came to court, sheriff’s deputies immediately stopped her.

“She didn’t appear to need any assistance when we took her into custody on Sunday,” Munk said.

James Green, Deborah’s husband and the group’s co-leader, has angrily denied his group had been involved in any child sexual abuse and called the charges “all fake.”

But during a long interview with KOB-TV in Albuquerque on Thursday, he acknowledged that the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps taught children living at a secluded compound to avoid speaking with law enforcement because members have experienced “tons of persecution” over the years in California, Oregon and New Mexico.

He said “hundreds of kids” had safely passed through the group’s compound in New Mexico.

The Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps, founded in Sacramento, Calif., describes itself as a group that is “revolutionary for Jesus” and provides a free spiritual “ammo pack” to anyone who submits a written request. Photos of members show them in military-style clothing and on missions in Africa.

Its website is laced with anti-Semitic language and anti-gay tirades about same-sex marriage.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the sect as a hate group.

Authorities eye immigration status of children found at sect

Dan, Fran Keller to get $3.4 million in 'satanic day care' case

Fran Keller
Fran Keller
Chuck Lindell
American-Statesman Staff
August 22, 2017

Dan and Fran Keller, who spent more than 21 years in prison after they were accused of sexually abusing children during supposed satanic rituals at their South Austin day care facility, will receive $3.4 million from a state fund for those wrongly convicted of crimes.

Shortly after receiving the news Tuesday, an ecstatic Fran Keller said they will no longer have to live on the brink of destitution, unable to find jobs at their ages and with their convictions, even if overturned by the state’s highest criminal court.

“This means we don’t have to worry about pinching pennies on Social Security, and late bills. It means we will actually be free. We can start living — and no more nightmares,” said Fran Keller, 67.

Their to-do list includes buying a house, vehicle, health insurance and better hearing aids for Dan Keller, 75.

The Kellers’ lawyer, Keith Hampton, said the couple will collect two checks totaling $3.44 million Wednesday at the state comptroller’s office, which administers the compensation fund.

“They’re happy, and I’m happy for them,” said Hampton, who worked for no charge in getting the Kellers released and declared innocent.

The Kellers received news of the payments as they stood outside the Williamson County Jail on Tuesday in support of Greg Kelley, who was to be released on bond.

Kelley, serving a 25-year sentence on a child sexual assault charge, has maintained his innocence and also is being represented by Hampton, who phoned the Kellers with news of the state payments while he was inside the jail arranging Kelley’s release.

The state’s wrongful conviction compensation fund pays $80,000 for each year in prison, plus a matching annuity that provides annual payments of 5 percent interest as long as the recipient is alive and isn’t convicted of a felony.

The Keller case made national news after three children accused them in 1991 of leading ghastly satanic rituals that supposedly included desecrated graves, videotaped orgies, dismembered babies and tortured pets. No evidence of such activities was discovered at their in-home day care facility, and the case against them collapsed about two decades later when the only physical evidence of abuse was acknowledged as a mistake by the examining physician.

Freed on signature bonds in 2013, the Kellers launched an effort to clear their names.

Hampton argued that the Kellers were the victims of “satanic panic” — a belief that swept the nation in the early 1990s that a national network of secretive cults was preying upon day care children for sex and other horrors.

The Kellers also were harmed, he argued, by the combined efforts of inept therapists, gullible police and an investigation that spiraled out of control, producing a suspect list of 26 ritual abusers, including many of the Kellers’ neighbors and a respected Austin police captain.

Children who reported no problems at the day care were ignored, and leading psychologists and criminology professors provided affidavits saying improper interview techniques and subtle encouragement by therapists produced believable-but-false memories in the children who accused the Kellers of abuse.

Taped interviews of a Keller accuser, a 3-year-old girl, made at the Travis County sheriff’s office have since been used in lectures by a top specialist in assessing and treating crime victims to illustrate common interviewing mistakes.

Travis County prosecutors, however, had pushed back, arguing that the Kellers failed to produce sufficient proof of innocence, such as an ironclad alibi or DNA evidence.

In 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals split the difference, overturning the Kellers’ convictions but declining to declare the couple innocent.

The couple’s circumstances changed in June, when Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore filed court documents that dropped all charges and declared the Kellers “actually innocent” under the law. After an extensive review, it was clear that the Kellers’ innocence claim should be supported in the interest of justice, Moore said at the time.

Now adults, several of the children who accused the Kellers opposed the move, according to Moore and family members.

Authorities eye immigration status of children found at sect

National Post
The Associated Press
August 21, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Authorities investigating a paramilitary Christian sect for child sexual abuse say they looking into whether the New Mexico group brought children into the country illegally. Former group members say leaders kept them and the children living at sect’s compound in “slavery.”

Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace told The Associated Press Tuesday that investigators found numerous children during a Sunday raid of the armed Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps in remote Fence Lake.

Exactly where the children came from is unknown because the sect apparently kept members from reporting births to state officials, Mace said. A former sect member says the group illegally brought at least one child to the United States from one of its foreign missions, which according to its website were operated in Africa, India and the Philippines.

“The children were trained not to talk to law enforcement or to hide from law enforcement,” Mace said.

During the raid, authorities arrested three sect members in connection with a child abuse and child sex abuse investigation. A former group member was arrested in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Sect co-leader Deborah Green was arrested on charges that included failure to report the birth to child abuse and sexual penetration of a minor.

Peter Green, also known as Mike Brandon, faces 100 counts of criminal sexual penetration of a child on suspicion of raping a girl “at least four times a week” from the time she was 7, according to court documents.

Joshua Green, the son of sect founders Deborah and James Green, was charged with failure to report a birth.

Stacey Miller faces one count each of intentional abuse of a child age 12 to 18, bribery of a witness and not reporting a birth.

The group in a statement called the allegations “totally false.”

“We don’t know who all the accusers are, but the accusations are just re-runs of old lies that have been investigated and shown to be malicious attacks against a legitimate ministry,” the statement said.

The raid followed a two-year investigation of the sect by the Cibola County Sheriff’s Office in connection with the 2014 death of Miller’s 12-year-old son, Enoch Miller.

Mace said deputies surprised the sect’s Fence Lake compound during church services to ensure they arrested all group members at once. He said authorities were worried that armed group members would try to block the arrests.

The sheriff said deputies found weapons and silencers that they turned over to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Former group adherents said they were relieved to learn of the arrests. They said sect leaders had physically abused adult members and children and forced them to work in slave-like conditions.

“It was slavery,” said 50-year-old Julie Gudino, 50, a sect member from 1984-2004. “(Deborah Green) told me, ‘God was angry at you,’ and she made me pull weeds, move rocks and do all kinds of physical work for punishment.”

Gudino said Green kept her 8-year-old son and threatened him harm if she didn’t complete her chores and later learned that sect members had physically abused the boy.

“They hit him over the head with a board,” she said. “It gave him a gash.”

Former follower Maura Alana Schmierer said she was forced to live in a shed with no toilet and with little food. She eventually escaped and successfully sued the sect in California before leaders relocated to New Mexico.

“I’m so glad (Deborah) Green is in jail where she belongs,” said Carla Dechant Behr, whose brother Chris Dechant was a sect member who died at the compound in 2013. “All they have done is break up families and cause pain.”

The organization describes itself as “aggressive and revolutionary for Jesus” and offers a free spiritual “ammo pack” to anyone who writes.

Photos on the group’s website show members in military-style clothing and on missions in Africa. The site is laced with anti-Semitic language and anti-gay tirades about same-sex marriage, prompting the Southern Poverty Law Center to list the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps as a hate group.


Associated Press writer Morgan Lee contributed to this report from Santa Fe, New Mexico

Indian guru's rape conviction triggers deadly riots

Ram Rahim Singh, seen in a May file photo, was convicted of raping two followers, prompting the violent protest.
Ram Rahim Singh
The rape case against Ram Rahim Singh dates back to 2002

CBC News
The Associated Press
August 25, 2017

Mobs set fire to government buildings and attacked police and TV journalists in the town of Panchkula in Haryana state, smashing the windshields of news vans and breaking broadcast equipment.

Police initially used tear gas and water cannons and then fired bullets in the air in an attempt to control the surging mobs as people vandalized bus stations and government vehicles.

"The situation is tense. There has been arson and burning," Rajiv Mehrishi, the federal home secretary, said late Friday.

He said more than 1,000 of the guru's supporters had been detained in Panchkula on charges of arson and destruction of public property.

The special court announced the guilty verdict on Friday after hearing closing arguments in the 15-year-old case against the guru, who calls himself Saint Dr. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan.

The guru, who had denied the charges of raping the two women at his ashram in 2002, was flown by helicopter to a jail in the nearby town of Rohtak because district officials feared they would be overrun by his supporters. His sentencing is to be held Aug. 28, prosecutor H.P.S. Verma said.

Tens of thousands of followers had camped overnight awaiting the verdict.

Internet services shut down

Violence also broke out elsewhere in Haryana and the neighbouring state of Punjab, as well as in the capital, New Delhi, police said. Railway stations in the towns of Malout and Balluana were ablaze, and two coaches of an empty train parked in New Delhi's Anand Vihar station were set on fire.

A curfew was imposed in at least four districts of Punjab, said Amrinder Singh, the state's chief minister.

A spokesperson for the guru's sect, Dera Sacha Sauda, urged his supporters to remain calm.

"I just want to request everyone to maintain peace at the moment," said Dilawar Insan. "We will explore what legal options are available to us."

The sect claims to have about 50 million followers and campaigns for vegetarianism and against drug addiction. It has also taken up social causes such as organizing the weddings of poor couples.

Such sects have huge followings in India. It's not unusual for their leaders to have small, heavily armed private militias protecting them.

Angry mobs also attacked police in the town of Sirsa, where the guru's ashram is located, local police said.

When the guru left his ashram early Friday for the hearing, he was accompanied by a convoy of more than 180 vehicles, Singh, the Punjab chief minister, said.

Police erected heavy metal barricades topped with barbed wire along main roads in the town, a quiet residential suburb of Chandigarh, the joint capital of Haryana and Punjab states.

Authorities ordered internet and cellphone services shut down across both Haryana and Punjab as a security precaution.

Train services were cancelled in the area, leading to railway delays across north India. Schools and colleges were also closed.

The case was tried in a special court run by India's top investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Such cases against religious leaders have prompted violence in the past.

Clashes in 2007 between Dera Sacha Sauda followers and members of the Sikh faith left at least three people dead in north India.

In 2014, six people were killed when followers of another religious leader, guru Rampal, fought pitched battles with police who were attempting to arrest him after he repeatedly failed to appear in court in connection with a murder trial.

In a televised appeal on Thursday, Ram Rahim Singh asked his supporters not to resort to violence, but some said they would not tolerate a verdict that went against their leader.

"I consider guru-ji to be only next to God," farmer Malkit Singh said as he squatted on the ground in a park, saying Ram Rahim Singh had cured him of a 10-year addiction to drugs.

"There is a God above," he said. "Our guru-ji follows the path of truth."