Oct 31, 2017

Masked protesters gather outside new Scientology office in Downtown Guelph

 Many protestors are alarmed by the warnings from former Scientology member Leah Remini. Troy Bridgeman for GuelphToday.com
Members from the Facebook group Guelph Stands Against Scientology protested outside church offices on Baker Street Saturday

Troy Bridgeman
October 29, 2017

A small but enthusiastic group of protestors replete with a healthy supply of Guy Fawkes masks and signs gathered outside the new Canadian headquarters of the Church of Scientology Saturday afternoon.

“The purpose of the protest is that we don’t believe it is a religion,” said organizer Frank Malott. “We don’t believe it is a cult. We believe it is a business. We don’t like the way children are being treated. We don’t like the way the Sea Orgs are being treated. We just believe that it is not a religion.”

Malott helped establish the Guelph Stands Against Scientology Facebook group and was one of nearly 30 people that braved the cold and rain Saturday to voice their opposition to the church setting up in Guelph.

“There are 760 in our group right now on the Facebook page,” said Malott. “It was three of us that started the group. One day we realized that Guelph was bringing in the Scientology office and a bunch of us thought, let’s start a group and see what happens.”

Malott and most of the other protestors wore masks or other disguises and carried signs.

“I am just protecting myself from Scientology,” said Malott.

Repeated efforts to talk with people inside the building at 40 Baker St were unanswered and no one from the church’s nearest office in Cambridge has responded to a request for an interview.

In an earlier GuelphToday story, Church of Scientology’s Canadian president Yvette Shank said the building will be used as an administrative building for the Church of Scientology.

“This is the Continental Liaison Office, responsible for the coordination of Church activities across Canada,” said Shank.

Malott said his group has tried to contact Shank to arrange a meeting and get more information about their plans for the Guelph office.

“We don’t know how to contact them,” he said. “They won’t answer our emails. We’ve had people write and send emails.”

One man who was there with his granddaughter said he was a member of Scientology in the 1970s but became disillusioned with the organization and left. He said he had no problems with the church after he left but declined to speak on the record about his experience.

All but one of the protestors refused to speak on the record.

Barbara Mathews said she was there to protest all cult activity in the city.

“I am concerned about their power and control over the vulnerable,” said Mathews. “That is basically my premise and we don’t need a group like this in Guelph."

Malott said that they plan to continue protesting the church’s activities in Guelph.

“We are here to educate the city of Guelph,” he said. “This won’t be the last protest."

"We haven’t really started on the second protest yet, but once this one is over and done with we will move forward to the next protest.”


Armageddon via imaginary planet has been pushed back - yet again - to November

Avi Selk 
Washington Post
October 28, 2017 


“It’s a very biblically significant, numerologically significant number,” David Meade told The Washington Post then. A series of catastrophic events would follow the omen, he claimed, culminating in the appearance of a mysterious planet called Nibiru and the end of “the world as we know it.”

Meade’s claim sold a lot of tabloids and YouTube ads. When Sept. 23 passed with no omens or calamities, Meade revised his very numerologically significant date to Oct. 15, which also came and went uneventfully.

You might think two consecutive misfires would quash the Nibiru theory. Instead, it’s simply transcended its erroneous author.

Meade isn’t even mentioned in the latest batch of tabloid stories, which quote yet another doomsday theorist to warn that the end of all things not on Sept. 23 or Oct. 15 — but now Nov. 19, when Nibiru is supposed to set off cataclysmic earthquakes.

“November 19th will see earthquake Armageddon across huge swaths of the planet,” the Daily Express wrote in representative tones. The paper cited as evidence unnamed “astronomers and seismologists” — and an illegible picture of the Earth, covered like pincushion in quake markers.

Try to pin down the “astronomers and seismologists” who supposedly support this theory, and you end up at PlanetXNews.com, a conspiracy website that Meade sometimes writes for.

The quake-pocalypse theory comes to us courtesy of a different author, Terral Croft. He writes that seismic activity has been increasing around the world as the massive “Black Star” (Nibiru has many names) wheels around the edge of the solar system, upsetting the planets within.

Meade predicted Nibiru would approach Earth, maybe even collide with it. But this latest version of the theory claims Earth will simply line up with the sun and the “black star” on Nov. 19, somehow triggering a “backside-alignment quake event.”

Croft’s article doesn’t say what, exactly will happen then. The tabloids have been happy to fill in the blanks, claiming volcanoes will erupt and tectonic plates would smash into one another.

But like every other Nibiru doomsday theory (which go back to 2003, as Kristine Phillips wrote for The Post) it’s based on an analysis of pure fantasy.

Nibiru, as far as science can tell us, simply doesn’t exist.

“It would be bright. It would be easily visible to the naked eye,” a NASA scientist wrote several years ago. “It would already be perturbing the orbits of Mars and Earth.”

Astronomy aside, Croft’s article cites data from the U.S. Geological Society to argue that earthquakes have been increasing across the eastern United States and Canada as Niburu approaches its calamitous alignment with the sun.

With the USGS couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, the agency’s earthquake catalogue tells a different story. So far, 2017 has seen fewer earthquakes worldwide with a weaker average magnitude than the same period in 2016.

In other words, it doesn’t look much like the end times.

Not that anything, at this point, appears able to stop Nibiru’s imaginary advances.

In fact, the Express had a breaking update on Saturday — a new theory blaming a Vatican coverup for all of Nibiru’s apparent failures to end the world on schedule.


There weren't any witches in Salem in 1693. But there sure are now.

Salem is known for its witch-related tourism

How we see Salem’s witches tells us more about the present than the past.

Tara Isabella Burton

October 30, 2017

SALEM, Massachusetts — It is nightfall in Salem, the week before Halloween. A woman who looks to be in her 70s sits in the bar of the Hawthorne Hotel sporting a novelty witch hat. Her male companion wears a spiderweb tie. Along the lawn at Washington Square, another tourist tugs at her companion’s sleeve as she considers another destination for their week. “But it’s not spooky like this place, right?” she asks.

At Pastime 32, a vintage-inspired craft shop just off Essex Street, a shopkeeper in velvet gives visitors advice about practicing magic. “Witchcraft is more of a lifestyle now than a religion,” she says. She recommends that they read a BuzzFeed article to that effect. “So if a spell works it works.” In the old days, she tells them, you might have had to resort to the formal magic kept in some arcane spell book. But now, she adds brightly, you can just check out Witch Instagram for ideas.

Along the narrow, red brick street in the pedestrianized heart of town, T-shirt stalls alternate with New Age storefronts selling herbs, tinctures, and Tarot cards.

Two girls fixate on the shirts. “Look! I got stoned in Salem.” One pauses for a second. “Get it? Stoned?” She rolls her eyes, and explains to her friend what it means to stone somebody in order to execute them.

These tourists are just some of the million-odd who come to Salem each year. Destination Salem’s Stacia Cooper says these tourists come to visit sites and museums associated with the Salem Witch Trials, where 20 people, mostly women, were executed on suspicion of witchcraft after an outbreak of mass hysteria in 1692 through 1693. Some visitors come for the “spooky” atmosphere. Others come, often with school groups, to learn more about a particularly brutal time in American history. And others still come because they identify as witches or practitioners of magic to pay tribute to a place that, for some, has become a source of spiritual pilgrimage.

The difference in their approach, and the myriad differing narratives around the trials available across town, reveal how powerful — and how diffuse — the story of the Salem Witch Trials really is. Is it a story about the dangers of superstition? About what happens when people let fear take over their lives? About misogyny and men policing women’s identities? The different ways in which Salem’s residents tell and retell the Salem narrative can tell us as much about 20th and 21st century America as they can about New England in 1693.
A range of political and social groups have interpreted Salem differently

For Salem’s 40,000 residents, particularly those who make their living through witch-related tourism, it can be a challenge to balance the historic narrative of the Salem Witch Trials with the powerful mythology that has surrounded it.

Between 1692 and 1693, 19 people were hanged, and one crushed to death, ostensibly for the civil crime of practicing malevolent witchcraft, after an outbreak of mass hysteria. Chances are, none of those 20 people were witches — they all maintained their innocence, with the exception of Tituba, a local enslaved woman, whose confession may have been tortured out of her.

The majority of the Salem Witch Trials didn’t even happen in Salem Town — what is known as Salem today — but in Salem Village, an inland hamlet that was renamed Danvers in 1752. And on top of all this, none of the accused witches were stoned or burned at the stake in Salem, either.

According to Smithsonian’s Danny Lewis, the witch trials were, historically, a taboo subject within Salem; a reminder of a horrific aberration. But in the 20th century, interest in the Salem Witch trials as a pop culture phenomenon was renewed. Much of this began with Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible. A retelling of the trials, the play was a coded indictment of the anti-communist hysteria of the 1940s and 1950s. Miller heavily implied that the accusers and magistrates of Salem were motivated by a combination of fear and greed, including a desire to seize the lands of the accused. The story of Salem, for Miller, was the story of any mass panic — how self-interested human use fear and panic to stoke “witch hunts” for personal gain.

Then came Bewitched. When the popular, proto-feminist supernatural sitcom filmed a portion of its seventh season here in 1970, the protagonist, Samantha, seemed to uphold this dominant narrative. Samantha, a “real” witch who has magically time-traveled back to 17th-century Salem, uses her powers to prove that the other accused witches were innocent, condemning the prejudices of those who thought otherwise.

But Bewitched also heralded a change in how people saw Salem. It became “Witch City.” Witches were now in fashion, after all — in part because of Bewitched — and Salem’s witch history could be monetized. And Salem could use the money. After centuries as a prosperous shipping port, Salem’s fortunes were in decline. The “Witch Tourism” boom revitalized Salem. (In 2005, in commemoration of that boom, Salem erected a controversial statue of Samantha in the town’s main square, raising more debates about the degree to which “pro-witch” aesthetics had coopted Salem’s legacy).

By the ’70s, after all, feminist and New Age movements alike had reappropriated elements of the Salem narrative as part of a wider interest in women’s spirituality. For many, the so-called witches of Salem were victims of a male conspiracy. The Salem story was the story of earth-centered, “natural” female spirituality dominated by a group of misogynist men who sought to control them. Witchcraft was something to celebrate.

In 1970, witch Laurie Cabot opened Salem’s first New Age shop and several others followed suit. The accused of 1692 may not have been witches, but they were nevertheless celebrated as martyrs: foremothers of a modern movement they themselves would almost certainly have disavowed.

Those two strands of historical narrative — Salem as a site of mass panic, and Salem as witch city — are factually opposed to each other. Kristina Stevick, artistic director of the Cry Innocent project, which lets people experience a mock witch trial, thinks it’s utterly illogical. “A person can’t both be innocent and a martyr. That narrative really puzzles me.”

And both narratives are also at odds with the generic “spookiness” that makes up much of the town’s touristic appeal, particularly in Halloween season. (Of Salem’s 40,000 residents, between 800 and 1,600 identify as witches, with many working in or through the town’s witch shops, or in witch-related tourism industries, such as the city’s myriad magic-themed walking tours.

The economics of Salem witchery is often a sore subject for many. Sources speaking on background spoke of “witch wars” between rival shop proprietors as well as price-fixing of services like Tarot readings, while some sources I contacted for this article would only agree to be interviewed on the condition certain proprietors be excluded from my reporting. (I have not quoted any of them.)
In Salem, accused “witches” are both innocents and martyrs

Yet many of Salem’s tourist attractions try to have it both ways.

Nowhere is that difficult balance more evident than at the Salem Witch Museum, which opened in 1972 — soon after Bewitched put the show on the map. Located in a converted church off Salem Common, the Museum tells the story of the trials through a combination of life-size wax statues, eerie sound effects, and a narrator who seems to have taken his delivery from Vincent Price.

He speculates about the devil “howling in the wind” (there’s a menacing-looking statue of Satan himself), reports Puritan superstitions about witches’ bacchanals, and captures each gory execution of the accused with thoroughly macabre sound effects. He walks us through a grisly narrative that combines kitschy “spookiness” with a somewhat reductionist view of the trials, portraying them purely as the result of ignorant superstition, even as he uses the tropes of magic for dramatic effect. While the narrator reminds us that the mass panic was anything but supernatural, he leaves us with a distinctly Gothic ending, asking us to reflect on who the “real demons are” and “on whose side they are still working today.”

The museum’s second exhibit likewise tells us as much about 1970s New Age feminism as it does about the Salem Witch trials. Dedicated to the history of the witch from the pre-Christian era to the modern day, the museum (and its docents) tell a very clear-cut, if simplistic, narrative. Women, particularly midwives, were once “in touch with” the earth. They worshipped a pre-Christian Goddess. Once Christianity came to power, evil Christian men — “the Church” — were afraid of female power and tried to stamp it out. More wax figures present different visions of the witch: the angelic, beaming midwife, the green-faced crone we recognize from The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West.

A timeline on one wall elides world history: We move swiftly from “Jesus Christ is crucified” to witch panics in 16th-century Scotland, with an implicit link between the two. A final tableau of two modern Wiccans invites us to learn more about this “ancient religion” and speak to its peace-loving practitioners. While the odd mention is made of the fact that Salem’s witches were innocent, a less-careful viewer could easily come away with the idea that the accused of Salem did practice wholesome, nature-based magical traditions and worship a Goddess in secret, and that this is, in fact, a good thing.

Historicity, in this exhibition, seems less important than symbolism, celebrating the witch as a symbol of maligned womanhood. Wicca, far from being an “ancient religion,” only dates back to the 1950s, which the museum never mentions. And although the “green-skinned witch” as a trope only dates back to 1939’s Wizard of Oz, when dyeing Margaret Hamilton’s skin was a novel special effect to capitalize on the then-new use of Technicolor, my docent presents several other options as equally valid. Were witches green-skinned because of their use of herbs, she asks aloud? A witch who visited the exhibition, she tells us, sees the green as important symbolism: It is the bruises left upon her by intolerant Christian men who beat her for her independent thought.

It’s a powerful exhibit, to be sure, but one with an agenda. And it raises questions about more than just what happened in 1692. Rather, it challenges us to think about whether history can or should be rewritten, or reimagined, if the myths it presents to us can inspire positive change. Does a woman’s personal reaction to a figure of a witch — her intuitive feeling that her face is the color of bruises — belong in a museum alongside, say, actual documents of the trials themselves?
For others, Salem is about learning to think historically — and critically — about challenging narratives

Stevick, at least, has her doubts. Her Cry Innocent project is an immersive theatre experience that challenges audience members to participate in a mock witch trial. It is designed to help audiences understand the mentality of the witch trials, ideally without projecting a contemporary narrative upon it. The project plays an exceedingly necessary role in Salem, since, Stevick says, the trials have become a lightning rod for different, often ahistorical, interpretations of what happened in 1693.

She counts off the most popular misconceptions: “That it’s all about land-grabbing, that it’s just about misdirected misogyny [against accused women], that Puritans were just stupid and superstitious, that those who died were the spiritual foremothers of the Wicca movement…”

Stevick says she sympathizes with such interpretations up to a point. But, ultimately, each narrative fails to appreciate the “cocktail of factors” that made Salem a lightning rod for hysteria in the late 17th century. The dangers of foreign invasion, tensions within the community over religious observance, the adversarial relationship between the insular Salem Village and the wealthier Salem Town, tensions over the use of folk magic, and various waves of outbreak of illness all contributed to an incident that was about so much more than mere superstition or mere misogyny or mere anything.

Often, Stevick says, people are reluctant to abandon their preconceived narratives about the trials. She recalls an incident that happened the previous week with a middle school group that had booked a Cry Innocent show.

“They had a reductionist idea of what the witch hunt hysteria was about and thought that this was their opportunity to bring down the magistrate,” Stevick said. Rather than looking through the historical evidence presented during the show, she said, the students derailed the show with unrelated questions and preconceived judgments, making the show “a little bit distressing” for the actors.

She recalls the students’ teacher was taken aback by the complexity with which the Cry Innocent cast wanted to approach the 17th-century Puritan mindset. "She wanted this to be an opportunity for the students to take down the patriarchy, which I could relate to, but it’s not what’s happening here.”

It’s a shame, says Stevick, because ultimately developing a more complex understanding of history is necessary if one is to avoid repeating it. “What I would hope is that a person who has had 45 minutes to flirt with a 17th-century English mindset … would understand why a person might accuse somebody of witchcraft.”

It is that, she says, rather than a preconceived narrative, that has the most power to inspire change.

Only once audience members learn to empathize with people from the past whose attitudes and preconceptions might be different from their own, she says, audience members can ask themselves: “How can I use this newfound imagination … to try and look into my current political situation? … Our country is in a fragile dangerous place [right now] and we need to be extremely careful that a great tragedy doesn’t happen.” She corrects herself. "Another great tragedy."
For contemporary witches, Salem’s magic is still “mysterious”

Among Salem’s practicing witches, the place’s magic transcends its history. Margaret McGilvray, who runs The Witchery, equal parts magic shop and experimental performance art space, says that — despite the innocence of Salem’s original “witches” — she’s always felt a preternatural connection to the place. Visiting the Salem Witch Museum as a child, McGilvray says, she found herself identifying with the accused.

"I came home to my mom and said 'Ma, I think I’m a witch.’” She recognizes that the witches of Salem denied being witches up through their last breaths, but nevertheless finds in Salem a kind of spiritual home; a place where she can connect with and collaborate with like-minded practitioners. Part of it, she acknowledges, is “commercialism” — if you’re a witch, Salem is a great place to make a living — but part of it is more profound.

“There is something just mysterious about Salem as a gut level,” McGilvray says.

And Salem’s draw, for other witches, has transcended its witchy history, becoming as much about the present as the past.

As the “witch aesthetic” becomes more popularas a cultural signifier — blending ’70s-era New Age spirituality with left-wing activism and, at times, performative rebellion — Salem has become something of a hipster haven. In 2015, Salem’s more eclectic, cluttered-looking witch shops were joined by the sleek, minimalist HausWitch (which itself started as an Instagram), where activist hours are on the schedule alongside Tarot salons and meditation classes. (Destination Salem’s Cooper describes them as the “millennial” witch store).

These witches are attracted to what HausWitch worker Cheryl Rafuse calls the “good vibes” of Salem — a town whose witch traditions have given rise, in turn, to a thriving counterculture, and the creative community that comes with it — as to its history. So often Rafuse says, people visit out of interest in the “Witch City” only to fall in love with the place and joke about moving. “And then they end up moving here a year later.”

Sure, she admits, she gets frustrated by the gimmicky aesthetic of some of the town’s tourist traps. She points to the Stoned in Salem T-shirts as a particularly egregious example.

“There’s a scene [in Salem] that’s a little uncomfortable considering” the grotesque nature of the trials, Rafuse says.

“A lot uncomfortable,” Erica Feldmann, the shop’s owner, cuts in.

Rafuse continues, “the people we draw tend to be pretty woke, good-vibe-y people, or at least looking for something here [that’s] at least not gimmicky. We have that ‘Witch City' vibe that people love … but [when] people try to make light of history” — mocking or joking about those that died — Rafuse and other shop workers actively work to discourage them.

Feldmann adds, “The world needed a place to celebrate the witch, and that ended up being Salem, and that has nothing to do with the witch trials."
Ultimately, Salem’s history might be less important than its symbolism

The “true history" of Salem, in other words, might be almost irrelevant. A combination of economics and mythology have made Salem a location of pilgrimage for those who identify with the accused of 1693, whether they are witches themselves, feminists drawn to the narrative of wrongly accused women, or just ordinary people drawn to the story of those penalized for being a little bit different. Even Stevick acknowledges that even the more ahistorical elements of Salem’s mythology — that it was all about misogyny, say — might be powerful narratives of support for people who need them most.

She recalls an episode years ago, when she was portraying the character of Bridget Bishop — the woman on trial for witchcraft. A student group had come in, and a shy girl in the audience got up to ask a question in defense of Bishop. Stevick can’t remember precisely what the question was, but "I could tell that she was really nervous to speak in public, she was shaking … I remember it being an intense moment — the air was thick.”

A few years later, when the teacher brought in another group, she and Stevick discussed that day. The teacher told Stevick the girl was famously shy, without many friends.

“It turned out that she was pregnant,” Stevick remembers. “[She was] facing this extra level of slut-shaming and all this stuff at school … [the Cry Innocent experience] had given her the extrovertive oomph to get up and say something. And that moment had been a catharsis for her. And that touched me so deeply and made me think: That’s why I love doing this type of theater. That kind of catharsis is okay. Even while it might not be quite the right narrative, I’m okay with people saying, ‘Yeah Bridget! Go Bridget!’ too.”

There is, in all this, a degree of irony. A town once derided for the damaging aftereffects of religion and superstition has now remade itself in the image of its own new myths.

At Salem’s Witch Museum, the narrator tells us — with more than a little derision — that the Puritans were a superstitious people. They made up stories to explain the world around them, narratives that would make the chaos of their existence make sense. But if Salem can teach us anything, not a lot has changed.


The Alleged Melanation Cult That Caused a Really Big Stink in Costa Rica

Wendy Anders
The Costa Rica Star
October 31, 2017
In a video recently uploaded to Facebook, cult leader, Eligio “Nature Boy” Bishop, who has garnered a following of over 42,000 people on Facebook, claims his group of mostly black followers were racially discriminated against by Spirit Airlines who refused to deport the five U.S. citizens last Thursday, October 26, due to their body odor.

According to Bishop, things got really real for the cult known as Melanation, when due to the pungent odors allegedly emitted by their bodies, the group was forced to deplane right before take-off on a flight bound for Miami, Florida, despite the fact they were being deported.

Costa Rican immigration authorities confirmed that 11 individuals belong to Eligio Bishop’s cult were questioned by taxation authorities on October 14 in Cahuita, Limón on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.

When the Melanation group members got a bit rowdy and upset by the questioning, the Costa Rican officials called in the local Cahuita police as well as immigration police. Police then discovered that five had overstayed their visas, and were thus taken to the holding center for foreigners in irregular condition in Hatillo, a southern district of San José (Centro de Aprehensión Temporal para Extranjeros en Condición Irregular – CATECI).

The six other members, among whom was Toronto, Canadian resident, Alex Raposo, were not detained, as their tourist visas were valid. Raposo was interviewed by Canada’s CBC and said they ran into trouble with the police when the car they were using was found to have expired paperwork and license plates.

In the video below, the cult leader can be heard declaring Spirit Airline’s actions as racist based on the fact that none of the black cult members, who who had been living out in the jungle for the last few months, had eaten anything smelly recently.

According to Bishop’s Facebook page, five of the allegedly smelly cult members were finally able to fly out of Costa Rica Friday, October 27. They were transported on American Airlines, said Costa Rican immigration authorities.

Shortly after arriving Florida, they announced on their Facebook page they would be setting up shop in Jamaica, where they hoped to find a more receptive environment in which to practice their beliefs.

In March, Canadian woman, Kayla Reid, who had joined Melanation Costa Rica caused a stir in her small hometown after she was declared missing by her family. Due to intense media pressure and phone calls from her family, the young woman returned home voluntarily.

A post from October 30 on Eligio Bishop’s Facebook page exhorts people to wash their hair, “with pure water only, no shampoo needed … all you need … is proper sunlight living closer to the equator … and fresh mountain river water from the tropics.”

Maybe Spirit did have a basis for their claims, after all?!


Oct 30, 2017

HC slams godman Nithyananda for giving false information

October 30, 2018

The Madras High Court today came down heavily on self-styled godman Nithyananda for giving "false" information to the court and asked why action should not be taken against him.

Justice Mahadevan wondered how could Nithyananda claim he was the 293rd pontiff of the Madurai Adheenam mutt, a 2,500- year-old Saivite mutt here, when the incumbent 292nd pontiff was alive.

"It does not look proper," the court said and asked "why action should not be taken against Nithyananda for giving false information to the court."

The court was hearing a petition from one Jagadalapradhaban who sought a direction to ban Nithyananda from entering the mutt.

The self-sytled godman was attempting to capture Saivite mutts at several places across India, including in Karnataka, the petitioner alleged.

The petitioner submitted that Arunagirinathan was now heading the Mutt as the 292nd head.

Counsel for Nithyananda claimed he had been anointed as the 293rd pontiff and there was no way it could be cancelled.

Nithyananda, who was caught in a sex tape scandal in 2010 and facing rape charges, had said he should be allowed to perform certain rituals as per the mutt tradition and alleged that some "illegal elements" were threatening him and his disciples with dire consequences whenever they visited it.

The court posted the case for hearing on November 13.


Oct 26, 2017

'Dynasty's' Catherine Oxenberg trying to save daughter from cult

Member of Serbia's royal family Princess Jelisaveta Karadjordjevic (L) poses for a picture with her daughter U.S. actress Catherine Oxenberg (C) and grand daughter India (R) at her home in Belgrade's suburb of Zemun June 11, 2004.
Member of Serbia's royal family Princess Jelisaveta Karadjordjevic (L)
 poses for a picture with her daughter U.S. actress
Catherine Oxenberg (C) and grand daughter India (R) at her
 home in Belgrade's suburb
 of Zemun June 11, 2004.
Fox News
October 25, 2017

Catherine Oxenberg is speaking out in hopes of saving her daughter, India, from a cult known for branding women.

The "Dynasty" actress pleaded for the return of her 26-year-old daughter to People Magazine on Wednesday.

Oxenberg explained that in 2011 the mother-daughter duo decided to sign up for a class targeted at helping gain self-esteem called Nxivm.

The official website for the organization describes itself as "the turning point — a remarkable development in scientific and psychodynamic understanding, education and technology that can facilitate this transition so the pattern of humanity's rises and falls can actually be broken and transformed.

"We find ourselves on this Earth with the resources, intellect and creativity that can generate abundance for everyone — or destroy all that we have created. NXIVM represents the change humanity needs in order to alter the course of history."

While Oxenberg found the class to be "weird and creepy," her daughter enjoyed the program.

Oxenberg said her daughter was "the sweetest, most nonconfrontational, easiest child of all my children.” She said India became immersed in the organization quickly and donated the majority of her inheritance to it.

Former member Bonnie Piesse warned Oxenberg, telling her that India was a part of the "secret sisterhood" and that she should do something about it. "You need to save India,” she told Oxenberg.

According to SF Gate, a complaint filed by former member Sarah Edmondson about NXIVM claimed "participants were required to provide some sort of damaging collateral such as a nude photo or a dark revelation from their past, in order to become part of the club."

Additionally, Edmonson claims that the she was given a "tattoo" that she was told symbolized the elements. However, she later learned it was really the initials of the group's founders.


Scientology director opposes lifting of injunction preventing harassment from former Church member

Zabrina Collins
Tim Healy
October 26 2017

A CHURCH of Scientology (CoS) director told the High Court she fears she will be harassed again and that it will get worse if an injunction preventing a former member from watching and besetting her is lifted.

Zabrina Collins (39) says Peter Griffiths' behaviour towards her had got progressively worse over a number of years until she obtained the injunction in 2014.

Ms Collins, a Dublin city centre-based chiropractor, was opposing an appeal by Mr Griffiths seeking to lift the injunction preventing him intimidating, besetting, assaulting or interfering with her access to buildings.

Mr Griffiths, Cual Gara, Teeling Street, Ballina, Co Mayo, says the injunction is too wide because it also prevents him from engaging in peaceful protest. He has taken part in street protests with a group called "Anonymous" outside CoS offices in Dublin, Cork and Belfast and has featured on numerous internet videos campaigning against the church, the court was told.

Mr Griffiths, and another former CoS member, John McGhee, of Armstrong Grove, Clara, Co Offaly, were last year ordered by the Circuit Court to pay €2,000 and €3,500, respectively, for assault and battery, to Ms Collins and to another current CoS member, Michael O'Donnell, of Cherrywood Lawn, Clondalkin, Dublin.

That case arose out of 27-minute video filmed by Mr Giffiths where he and Mr McGhee followed Ms Collins and Ms O'Donnell as they distributed a CoS-funded booklet called "The Truth about Drugs" to homes and business in north city Dublin on December 20, 2014.

The Circuit Court judge who made the awards to Ms Collins and Mr O'Donnell said the video showed that although Mr Griffiths played a lesser role, as he videoed the incidents, he had consorted with Mr McGhee in harassment and assault.

The video was replayed in the High Court on Thursday for Mr Justice Seamus Noonan when Ms Collins gave evidence opposing the appeal.

Ms Collins said she was involved in the Truth about Drugs campaign because she had a drug problem as a teenager which arose out of her father, Frank Shortt's wrongful conviction for allowing allowing the sale of drugs at his nightclub in Inishowen, Co Donegal. Mr Shortt, who spent three years in prison, was later awarded €4.6m as a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Ms Collins said due to the turmoil and stress created by her father's case, she began taking ecstasy, LSD and speed. However, when he went into prison she decided to stop and went "cold turkey" because she believed "if it wasn't for the drugs industry, he would not be in prison".

She later went on to study at Queens in Belfast before going to Australia where she joined the CoS

She said as the years progressed, incidents involving Mr Griffiths became "more and more volatile" including one where she and her husband were dining in the Epicurian Food Hall in Abbey Street. Mr Griffiths was shouting at them and Mr McGhee was filming the incident which, like many other videos they took, ended up on YouTube.

In another incident, she was with her 11-year-old daughter when Griffiths obstructed their way into the Abbey Street CoS office shouting at them and making remarks which scared her daughter.

Her daughter had as recently as last week asked if she could sleep in her bed with her one night because she (daughter) just had a dream that Mr McGhee was chasing her down a street with a gun, she said.

Mr Griffiths was also involved in protests when she was on promotions of her chiropractor business in shopping centres, she said.

On the day the 27-minute video was shot, she was co-ordinating booklet distribution by 18 CoS volunteers from her chiropractic business in Parnell Street where Mr Griffith was part of a protest.

When one of the volunteers rang her from Capel Street to say he was being followed around by Mr Griffiths and Mr McGhee, she and Mr O'Donnell went to the volunteer where they took some of his booklets and started distributing them themselves.

The video of Ms Collins and Mr O'Donnell being followed was played to the court.

Asked by her counsel Frank Beatty about how she felt about what happened that day, she said she was frightened particularly as Mr McGhee had put his arm around her to try to grab her booklets and hit her in the face in doing so.

"I did not know how far they would go with the pushing and molesting", she said.

The hearing continues.


Oct 25, 2017

Surviving R. Kelly

Jones and R. Kelly on the first night they met, in 2011.
Jones and R. Kelly on the first night they met, in 2011.
Kitti Jones left her home and career for a relationship with the R&B idol. That's when she says the abuse began. Now she's speaking out

Jason Newman
Rolling Stone
October 23, 2017

Kitti Jones had been dreaming of this moment for years.

It was June 2011, and R. Kelly had just performed to a frenetic crowd at the Verizon Theatre outside Dallas, Texas. It had been nearly two decades since the singer's raunchy lyrics and honeyed voice turned him into a R&B superstar and sex symbol. But despite multiple controversies over his alleged sexual relationships with underage girls, his still-dedicated fan base sent his latest album – the throwback soul LP Love Letter ­– to Number Six on the Billboard 200.

Love Letter is relatively tame, coming from the man who once sang, "Girl, I got you so wet, it's like a rainforest/Like Jurassic Park, except I'm your sexasaurus." But like most of his shows, the Dallas concert was raucous, with Kelly launching into boisterous call-and-response theatrics and leaving the stage to embrace screaming fans. When he took off his sparkling button-down shirt and revealed a Dallas Mavericks jersey, the place erupted.

Surprisingly, Jones – a popular DJ for Dallas hip-hop and R&B station 97.9 The Beat – wasn't in the audience. She'd been into Kelly since she was a teen in the early 1990s, when she'd hide in her room with his music to escape her mother's tumultuous romantic relationships. She'd buy every magazine he was in and, upon the release of his 1993 solo debut, 12 Play, took a limo to a third-row seat at her first Kelly show. She'd seen him in concert seven times since. "He was my Brad Pitt," she says.

But even though she was disappointed to miss it, bailing on the concert meant something better: she was at Fat Daddy's, a club in suburban Mansfield, Texas, setting up for the Beat-sponsored after-party. She was finally going to meet the man she'd been captivated by for more than 20 years.

Later that night, the guest of honor arrived. Clad in a crisp white shirt, diamond earrings and tan fedora, he hardly looked his 44 years. As Jones made her way upstairs to the VIP section, she approached R. Kelly (real name Robert Kelly). "I said, 'Oh I'm so upset, because this is one of the first concerts I've ever missed,'" Jones tells Rolling Stone. "And he was like, 'Well you've seen one, you've seen them all.'"

Jones says he then invited her to the next stop on the tour, which took her aback. "I'm thinking, 'I know he's not inviting me.' On the inside, I'm freaking out a little bit," Jones says. "Did he really say that? He was everything that I thought. He was handsome. He represented a powerful man. He just owned the room [and had] all the things that make up that 'Oh my God' factor."

As Jones tells it, when Kelly went to shake her hand after small talk, he gave her a piece of paper with his phone number and told her to text him her number. Jones says that after she texted Kelly from the bathroom, he replied, saying to always call him "daddy" ­– never call him Rob.

Worried that any continued interaction that night would look unprofessional, Jones says she decided to take off. "I was just like, 'I'm outta here,' beeline to my car," she recalls. Around 3 a.m., Jones says Kelly called her to ask where she had gone, following up with a text that read simply, "Sin pic."

The night would begin, according to Jones, a two-year relationship with Kelly rife with alleged physical abuse, sexual coercion, emotional manipulation and a slew of draconian rules that dictated nearly every aspect of her life. Those rules, including what and when to eat, how to dress, when to go to the bathroom and how to perform for the singer sexually, were first described in writer Jim DeRogatis' bombshell BuzzFeed feature on Kelly last July.

But the girls that story focused on met Kelly when they were in their teens; Jones was different. She had a career. A car. An ex-husband. A child. She'd been working in radio for more than five years and was used to being around celebrities. And while Kelly denies the allegations to Rolling Stone, over the course of multiple interviews with Jones and others familiar with her situation, what emerges is a detailed account of her relationship with Kelly and a firsthand look at life in the singer's inner circle.

Kelly's alleged manipulation of women dates back to 1994, when the singer, then 27, married 15-year-old R&B singer Aaliyah. In 1996, Kelly was sued for $10 million by aspiring vocalist Tiffany Hawkins, who claimed that she first began having sex with Kelly at age 15 and "suffered personal injuries and severe emotional harm because she had sex with the singer and he encouraged her to participate in group sex with him and other underage girls." (The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed sum in 1998.) Kelly would eventually settle separate suits brought by two more women who said they'd had sex with him when they were under 18.

In February 2002, DeRogatis, then a reporter and music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, anonymously received a now-infamous 26-minute video and passed it on to the police. The tape allegedly shows Kelly telling a girl to call him "daddy" and urinating in her mouth. The girl's aunt told the paper that the girl had only been 14. "It's crap, and that's how we're going to treat it," Kelly told a Chicago TV station at the time.

Kelly was indicted four months later on multiple child-pornography charges and faced up to 15 years in prison. After finally going to trial in 2008, Kelly was found not guilty on all 14 counts. (Jurors admitted after the trial that they could not verify the identity of the girl, who did not testify, despite more than a dozen witnesses identifying her on the tape. Consequently, they could not definitively say that she was underage.)

As a radio personality in a still-nascent social-media era, Jones – who first became an on-air DJ in 2006 – was a conduit for listeners to comment on Kelly's legal troubles, including his 2008 acquittal. On air, she says, she tried to remain neutral, but she admits that at the time, she thought the singer may have been set up. She continued to be a devout fan. "I still went to his concerts. We played his music [on the radio]," she says. "I didn't know there were other girls that he had paid off."

Jones says the two began speaking regularly via phone and text for two months after their first meeting, before they met again. "I want you to come and see me in Denver," Jones says Kelly told her. "That's my getaway spot." He would cover the airfare, the hotel room, everything – all she had to do was get on a plane and show up.

"I got there before he did because he of course doesn't like to fly, so he's taking the bus," Jones says. She had sent Kelly "racy photos" while he was en route to the hotel and was excited to reunite face-to-face. As she waited in the hotel room for Kelly to arrive, she heard a knock at the door. "He brushed past me," Jones says. "I'm thinking we're going to hug or peck each other. But he plopped down on the couch and pulled out his penis and started pleasuring himself."

Jones was stunned. Should she leave? Say something? Proceed? If this were a "regular guy working at CVS," says Jones, she would've been furious. But the combination of physical attraction and the two months of courteous courtship just made Jones put the incident "in the back of my head."

"I was attracted to him and was just like, 'Well, OK. Fine,'" she says. "Maybe he just has weird ways of getting off." The two had oral sex that weekend, with Kelly, according to Jones, saying things like, "I gotta teach you how to be with me" and "I gotta train you." "He was like a drill sergeant even when he was pleasuring me," Jones says. "He was telling me how to bend my back or move my leg here. I'm like, 'Why is he directing it like this?' It was very uncomfortable."

"But he tried to make me feel special about [the trip]," Jones adds. "Like, 'If I didn't really like you, I wouldn't have done that, and I wouldn't even be wasting my time flying you out, and I respect you.'" Jones and Kelly continued their romance, with Kelly, according to Jones, sending her flowers and gifts at work. "I had been divorced a couple of years at that point and [I was] meeting some bad guys," Jones says. But Kelly made her feel better. "He's not trying to hurry up and have sex. It was an escape for me." She was single, lonely and her son was living in Europe with her ex-husband. Kelly offered the perfect respite.

It was in September 2011, during Jones' first trip to Chicago to visit Kelly at his Trump Tower apartment, that she began noticing odd incidents. After Jones texted Kelly that the driver arrived at the airport on time, Jones alleges Kelly told her not to speak to him and inform the singer if the driver talked to her. It was part of a pattern, Jones later realized, of male figures in Kelly's orbit avoiding interacting with any woman around the singer. Jones recalls stumbling on a stair that night and watching two male employees nearby not flinch. "They knew not to talk to me or help or anything," she says.

Despite the red flags, Jones was starting to fall for Kelly. She says as the singer began to confide in her more about past traumatic events like the deaths of his mother and childhood girlfriend, she began feeling protective of him. If people knew who he really was, thought Jones, they'd be more sympathetic. "Rob kinda makes you feel like you have to defend him," she says. "It's like you and him against the world. If someone brought him up [in conversation], immediately a wall went up."

In November 2011, Jones quit her DJ job, sold her car and moved into the singer's Chicago apartment. "She asked me what I thought about her quitting her job and moving," says Veda Loca, a DJ for The Beat who worked with Jones at the time. "I was like, 'You only live once.' I mean, fuck, it's R. Kelly."

"Soooo enough mushy talk I have a flight out at 2p my new journey has begun!!" Jones tweeted at the time. "By this time, I'm falling in love with the guy," she says now. A few days after Jones moved in, Kelly would release "Shut Up," his first song following throat surgery in July, which doubled as a rebuke to his detractors. "Even before the doctors was done and I could awake/A tsunami of rumors had come to wipe my career away," Kelly sings. "But to everybody that be callin' me, tellin' me what they be sayin' about me/Bringin' me all of this negative shit, y'all the ones I ain't fuckin' with."

According to Jones, Kelly claimed that he would pay her double her salary if she moved to Chicago, but also cautioned her on his close relationship with women. "He said, 'I have friends and I have girls I've raised,'" Jones recalls. "I didn't know what he meant by 'raised' at the time. He said, 'I eventually want you to meet them, but I want to make sure you're mentally ready for that.'"

To Jones, theirs was a mature relationship – and in the beginning, she was under the impression that Kelly was monogamous. "As long as you don't see it or find anything suspicious, you just assume you're the only one until it's right in your face," she says.

Almost instantly upon moving to Chicago, Jones says, Kelly began governing nearly every detail of her life, starting with the requirement that she wear baggy sweatpants whenever she went out and text near-constant updates on her whereabouts. (A source who knew Kelly confirmed the singer's demands on Jones to Rolling Stone.) Jones says she was forced to text either the singer or one of his employees for even the slightest request. (Sample text message: "Daddy, I need to go to the restroom.")

Unlike on earlier weekend visits, Jones says she now had to "stand up and greet daddy" every time he walked in the room. Jones could still travel back to Dallas to see her friends, but was tethered to her phone to supply continuous updates to the singer.

Jones had been living with Kelly for less than a month when she claims the first instance of physical abuse occurred, in November 2011. Jones says that on a return trip to Dallas around Thanksgiving, she saw the video at the heart of his child-pornography trial for the first time and challenged Kelly on the phone about it. "He said, 'Bitch, don't you ever fucking accuse me of something like that,'" Jones says. "He never had spoken to me like that before."

Jones claims Kelly remained enraged when she flew back and met him at the airport. "My heart was just beating through my chest," she says. "He just turned into a monster. I blamed myself 'cause I was like, 'Maybe I shouldn't've said anything.'" As they drove home, Jones says she repeatedly apologized while Kelly kicked her multiple times and delivered a series of open-handed slaps to her face. "I was putting my hand over my face and telling him I was sorry," Jones says. "He would start kicking me, telling me I was a stupid bitch [and] don't ever get in his business." The next day, Jones says, the couple went shopping and neither spoke about the incident.

Shortly after the alleged abuse, Jones considered leaving Kelly but began to think "about how ashamed I was of leaving my career." She was concerned about both exposing the man she loved and having "too much explaining to do." "I didn't want to damage him any further than what people already thought," she says. Jones claims in the first year she lived with Kelly, the singer physically abused her approximately 10 times, with the frequency increasing the following year.

Kelly's career hardly diminished despite his legal troubles. In June 2012, he released Write Me Back, his 11th studio album, which debuted at Number Five. He announced his Single Ladies Tour two months later.

Kelly took Jones on the two-month, cross-country trek, marking a relatively calm period in their relationship. "The abuse was heavy before the tour," she says. "Then when the tour came, he treated me like a princess. I just thought, 'Why would I walk away from this?'"

Each show was a barrage of sexually charged imagery. Kelly would sing about having sex to his own music, don a white leather jacket with the word "SINGLE" adorned in miniature LED lights, judge a mock-stripping contest from a gold-and-white throne and let fans grab his crotch while singing. In St. Louis, he caused two women to fight over a towel he asked them to use to wipe his sweaty face. "I get horny off my own shit sometimes," he told the crowd at one show. "He's eager to shock, confuse and impress in equal parts," Rolling Stone wrote of his Chicago stop. "At times, his show resembles audible pornography."

He even included a live skit involving Jones – one that would have been absurdist, raunchy humor under normal circumstances. In retrospect, the bit takes on a more sinister meaning. After Kelly brings Jones onstage, two men dressed in white lab coats make her sign a waiver and chain her arms inside a white cage. Kelly enters as a white sheet is draped over the cage, obscuring the couple. The cage begins rocking as the band's music intensifies, with Jones and Kelly eventually shown silhouetted. After Kelly simulates oral sex on Jones, the two re-emerge, and a mock-fatigued Jones is led offstage. "'I've never paraded around anybody before,'" Jones says Kelly told her before the tour started. "'I'm gonna make sure people see us together.'"

"People started recognizing it was me on YouTube [and] thought I was living this glamorous, 'I have a butler'-type of life," Jones says. Kelly was particularly excited for his Dallas show, says Jones, to "rub it in the faces" of Jones' former colleagues at The Beat.

Though she still had to text him continuously, she was given more freedom on tour. "He'll have a car service and then take me to the hotel and be like, 'Get room service … Go shopping, spend whatever you want,"' Jones says. "I think he knew leading up to the tour that I was just over it. He knew that I was holding all these secrets that I had learned being in the inner circle and that I could probably be the one to nail him. So him taking me on that tour was like, 'Let me make sure I treat this one a certain way.'"

Near the end of the tour, one day after Thanksgiving 2012, Kelly released the third installment of Trapped in the Closet, his bizarre, wildly popular R&B opera. The night before, according to Jones, he and nearly 20 associates enjoyed a holiday feast in New York without her. "I starved on Thanksgiving because the room service [at the hotel] was closed and he made me think he was coming back to get me at 11 o'clock," she says. "He just hopped back in the bed the next day like it was nothing."

R. Kelly + Kitti Jones - Cage Skit

In January 2013, Kelly moved Jones from Trump Tower to his nearby recording studio, which also contained several rooms for living quarters. Jones didn't think anything of it at the time – Kelly was moving personal possessions over to the studio, too – but says that someone close to Kelly has since told her the move was to accommodate another of Kelly's girlfriends. "When I moved some of my things out of there, I wasn't thinking, 'Oh, some other girl is moving in,'" Jones says.

Kelly housed Jones alongside two of his other girlfriends, allegedly demanding that each of them contact Kelly or one of his employees before leaving their room. Despite all three girlfriends living in one location, Jones says the singer at first tried to ensure none of them knew the others were living there. There were no locks on the doors, but cameras monitored every move and Kelly would punish the women for attempting to leave for any reason without permission. (The source who knew Kelly independently confirmed Kelly's rules with his girlfriends to Rolling Stone.) Kelly would frequently take away Jones' phone as punishment – sometimes as long as two months – cutting off her ability to request food or perform basic functions, according to Jones and the other source who knew him.

Two months into living at the studio, Jones says, Kelly began using starvation on her as punishment for not following his orders. Jones says the longest she went without food was two and a half days, though single days without a meal were not uncommon. "Will u send a pizza here to studio I'm alone til 4am no card no money just dropped off with my blanket and the guys aren't replying," Jones texted childhood friend LaToya Howard on May 23rd, 2013, at 12:35 a.m. "I feel dizzy." (Loca, who worked with Jones at The Beat, tells Rolling Stone that she noticed Jones' drastic weight loss after Jones broke up with Kelly and said Jones told her she had sometimes not been allowed to eat.)

Per Kelly's rules, say multiple sources, any sharing of personal info – your hobbies, where you worked, your favorite food – with another woman was not allowed. (The girlfriends all had nicknames, with Jones claiming that none of them knew the others' real names upon meeting.) "We are suppose[d] to tell Rob [if] someone breaks a rule [or tries] to be negative with each other," Jones texted Howard on March 16th, 2013.

"If you disclose your relationship with him [to another woman] – how long you've known him or whatever – you can get beat," Jones claims. "He doesn't want in any way for one girl to feel more like, 'Oh, we're closer than you guys.' Even though we knew deep down we're all living there, we didn't address it."

Any woman living in the studio, she says, was obligated to look down when walking down the hallway or toward the bathroom to avoid looking at other men. "When I was on tour, it was just clear [that] people knew not to be in my path," Jones says. "I don't know what he would think would happen if you're looking at somebody. I think he's looking at it like that's letting a guy know it's OK to speak to you."

"She started sending me text messages like, if there were guys around, she could not look at any of [them]," Howard says. "She had to always have her head down or if they were in a conference room and she was sitting next to Rob, he would have her turn facing him and she had to keep her head down the whole time. If a male would say something funny, she couldn't laugh."

One musician who opened for R. Kelly during this time also noticed Jones' guardedness. "Probably the first week of the tour … we tried to speak to [Kitti] and she just kept walking," he tells Rolling Stone. "He had control over her. She was scared to even have a conversation with anyone else. The last show, she walked up to us and hugged us but you could tell she was looking over her shoulder to make sure nobody was looking."

Todd Muhammad, a longtime friend of Kelly's who has written and produced for the singer, denies that Kelly acted abusively toward women but admits that the singer made it a point to separate his male acquaintances from his girlfriends. "He's very, very private," Muhammad says. "I've never known him to have [a girlfriend] that would have a relationship – even a friendship – with any of his boys. ... He definitely keeps them separated."

Jones says that in March 2013, she was introduced to another one of Kelly's girlfriends. The singer brought the woman in naked and told her to crawl toward Jones and perform oral sex on her. "He told me, 'I raised her. I've trained this bitch. This is my pet,'" she says.

That night would begin a new, darker chapter of Jones' relationship with Kelly, one in which she claims he would force her to have sex with other women. Kelly would frequently fly girls in for sex, says Jones, and order her and his other girlfriends to hook up with them. "You can't say no because you're going to get punished," she says. "You just become numb to what's happening. It's so traumatic the things that he makes you do to other people and to him."

"He videotapes everything that he does, and sometimes he'll just make you watch what he's done to other girls or girls that he had be together," she adds. "He would masturbate to that and then have you give him oral sex while he's watching what he did with somebody else on his iPad."

In one particularly graphic example, Jones claims she witnessed Kelly urinating on two women while she and the women were in the middle of a sex act with the singer. "It was just a game for him," she says. "He just went back and forth [on them] when he was peeing and told [another girlfriend] to clean it up afterwards. That was the worst that I've ever seen."

Jones claims her coerced sexual encounters with women became more frequent as time went on. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, I didn't want to do it and I would tell him I didn't want to do it," Jones claims, adding that she once vomited after performing oral sex on another one of Kelly's girlfriends. "It was the most horrible thing. People look at it and go, 'Oh, you're grown.' No. You have to actually be there to know exactly what it felt like for a person to overpower you and make you feel like there's nothing for you outside of him."

Jones describes this period from March 2013, when she was first forced to have sex with other women, to her departure that September as "six months of hell." She says the punishments – including physical abuse – increased as one of Kelly's other girlfriends fabricated or exaggerated stories to Kelly that made Jones look bad. "I was getting punished for something every week," Jones says. "If I wasn't getting slapped, I wasn't eating or my phone was gone."

Kelly headlined the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago alongside Björk and Belle and Sebastian that July, prompting a new wave of criticism led by DeRogatis. "What does it say when an artist who's been accused of hurting numerous young women is celebrated by IFC, the Independent Film Channel [who aired the latest installment of Trapped in the Closet] and music festivals such as Coachella, Bonnaroo and Pitchfork?" DeRogatis wrote at the time.

In August 2013, after one instance where Kelly had taken her phone, Jones was able to secretly reactivate her Facebook account long enough to send a message to Howard asking her to FedEx an activated phone to the recording studio. "She said, 'Can you send me a phone because Rob took the phone away and threw it out the window?'" Howard says. Knowing that Kelly often slept until midafternoon, Jones says she timed a bathroom visit to surreptitiously grab the FedEx package.

The lowest point for Jones came that same month. By then, "his voice scared me, seeing that he called scared me, hearing a door open and close scared me." Feeling "like trash," Jones sat on a couch, contemplated suicide and plotted her next move. "I just said, 'I'm gonna kill myself and it's gonna be his fault,'" she says. "'I can either kill myself or kill him. What use am I when I walk out of here?'"

In September 2013, Jones told Kelly that she wanted to visit Dallas to take her son, now back from Europe, shopping for school supplies. "I was fed up with just everything," she says. "Fuck what people are gonna think. You need to take your ass home."

She left her possessions in Chicago, flew to Dallas with two suitcases and never returned. "She had to be careful as to what she was packing," Howard says. "Nothing that had heels or club clothing. She just had to have her sweats and T-shirts."

Jones says Kelly didn't outwardly express hard feelings when she left for good, as the two spoke occasionally and amicably following her departure. But Jones was suspicious of Kelly's motives. Was he genuinely OK with the breakup, or intentionally conciliatory for fear of Jones publicizing her accusations against the singer?

Two months later, in November 2013, Kelly went to Dallas for a show and met with Jones, ostensibly to return some items she left in Chicago. Jones says he remained amiable before meeting her, inviting her to his tour bus, she thought, to retrieve her possessions.

But when she got on the bus, Jones alleges Kelly assaulted her. "I walked on the bus and I was like, 'Hey daddy!' And I went to go hug him and he was like, 'Bitch, I'm not giving you shit' and he was just attacking me," says Jones. "I knew he wasn't going to kill me, but it was a lot of force. I was thinking, 'I'm not going to call the police.' I just felt so stupid," she says.

"[He was] instilling the fear back in me," Jones says. "When a person sees that you're not calling the police or the press on them ... it's like, 'Let me make my mark so you'll be afraid.' And it worked." It would be the last in-person contact the two would have.

From the end of 2013 until December 2016, Jones tried to rebuild her life, getting a job financing for car loans. (She has since begun getting back to a career in radio.) She had complicated feelings about Kelly. On one hand, she still felt protective over him, reaching out to see how he was doing after a particularly intense video interview with the Huffington Post – one where, after the interviewer posed a series of questions that he saw as "negative," he walked out. "I was like, oh my God, poor thing," she says. Yet on the other hand, she was perpetually dealing with survivors' guilt and the stress of staying quiet for fear of retribution and shame, all while hoping to put her experience in the past and move on. "I suffered in silence. I lived in fear for the last three and a half years," says Jones. "I haven't been living my life. I've just kind of been existing."

When Rolling Stone provided to Kelly a detailed list of allegations Jones made against him, Kelly categorically denied them. "Mr. Kelly is aware of the repeated and now evolving claims of [Ms. Jones]," Kelly's representative wrote in a statement. "It is unfortunate that Ms. Jones, after public statements to the contrary, is now attempting to portray a relationship history with Mr. Kelly as anything other than consensual involvement between two adults. As stated previously, Mr. Kelly does not control the decision-making or force the actions of any other human being, including Ms. Jones, by her own admission. Any claim of wrongdoing of any kind or of mistreatment of any woman by him is false, ill-motived and defamatory."

Last December, Timothy and Jonjelyn Savage, the parents of 22-year-old Joycelyn Savage, who is currently living with Kelly and other women, asked Jones for advice on how to get their daughter to leave the singer, the couple confirm to Rolling Stone. (In a video posted on TMZ, Savage claimed that she is living with Kelly of her own free will.) Jones hadn't been keeping up with Kelly's current girlfriends, but initially tried to help the Savages.

"I cried when she showed me photos of her daughter, and then I called [Joycelyn] 'cause I said, 'Maybe this is my moment to help somebody, 'cause I'm sitting here on this information that can stop [him]…. I felt like I had the power to stop him earlier." Jones says she no longer is in communication with the Savages but the conversations spurred her to consider going public with her story.

"I wouldn't wish those memories on anybody," she says. "I used to think about them and well up with tears, but now I'm so angry about the things that I let him get away with. I feel some sense of responsibility with the girls in the house now. I feel guilty because I was quiet for that long. Now I feel like I have a purpose again because I can talk about this, get it behind me and not be ashamed. Now I'm like, 'Bring it on.' I don't fear him at all."

Jones says she is setting up a nonprofit organization called Stop Protecting Your Abuser. "By me being silent, it allowed him to feel untouchable, that he could keep things going as long as he could pay people off and put enough fear and shame in us that you would never speak on it again," she says. "Staying silent absolutely protects your abuser."

Kelly called Jones in May of this year, the last time Jones says the two have communicated in any capacity. "He said, 'If someone came to you right now and asked them how I treated you, you can't fucking say that I didn't treat you good. ... You had a roof over your head. You went shopping. You didn't have to want for shit. So you can never go around and say that I was a monster like other people say that I am,'" Jones says. "I was so scared when he was talking to me. I was like, 'This guy really thinks he did me a favor.' He doesn't look at the sexual stuff as scarring and damaging people."

Kelly's popularity has remained steadfast. From 1993 to 2013, 13 of the singer's 14 studio albums peaked in the top 5 of the Billboard 200, including six that reached Number One. He has sold more than 35 million albums worldwide, and in 2010, Billboard named him the Number One R&B artist of the past 25 years based on chart performance. Jones says she knows many people "already have [their] minds made up" about the singer, but hopes her story will be a cautionary tale to other women.

Jones says she never signed a non-disclosure agreement, but that Kelly wanted her to sign a document that would safeguard him from legal action. She refused. "Rob is about to force me to sign a letter they typed up stating things I never did just to prevent me from ever suing him," Jones texted Howard on May 16th, 2013. "Please save this text … in case I ever need to prove I was forced. He is saying he needs to feel protected if I leave or if he fired me." Jones' lawyer, Shay M. Lawson, tells Rolling Stone that no legal proceedings against Kelly have been filed, but that Jones "is still very much exploring her legal options."

Asked what she hopes people take away from her experience, Jones speaks in a measured yet defiant tone. "I want them to not be so dismissive towards the women that are speaking out," says Jones. "We're not just rolling over out of bed and saying, 'Hmm, let me just make up a story about R. Kelly today. Let me make it sound similar to something that he's already been accused of and put my own remix to it just [because] I want some attention.' [Anyone who has spoken out] has gotten annihilated in the press [and] from fans.

"And then they judge people by how they look: 'She's too old, he wouldn't go for her, this bitch is lying.' Any little thing to justify what he's doing to people," Jones continues, her voice rising. "It pisses me off that people that really did suffer and go through the things that they did and wanted to kill themselves are still ashamed, in hiding, embarrassed and just afraid overall to speak out. The backlash from it will make you feel like [you wish you'd] never talked about it. And all this has been replaying in my head and I'm like, 'Fuck that. I'm not letting this be me.'"


The battle over Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia

Last April, Russia’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, which came as a blow to the freedom of religion. How the European Court of Human Rights rules on the many cases against Russia, will reveal much about the future of the Court’s influence and the rule of law in the country.

James T. Richardson - Analysis

New Eastern Europe
October 25, 2017

On April 20th 2017, Russia’s Supreme Court issued a ruling liquidating the administrative centre of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, as well as all of their 395 local religious organisations. The court ruling also authorises confiscation of all property belonging to the church and directs them to cease all activities. The decision was upheld on July 17th by the appellate chamber of the Supreme Court, and on August 17th the Ministry of Justice added the church to the list of banned extremist organisations.

By virtue of these official actions at the highest levels of the Russian government and its judicial system, the Witnesses have been effectively liquidated and banned throughout Russia. The 175,000 members of Witness congregations are thus subject to criminal charges for practising their faith.

What this means for members of Witness communities in Russia is unclear, but there have already been a number of actions taken by authorities in various parts of the country that have targeted the peaceful efforts of Witnesses to meet and share their faith with others. Moreover, some Russian citizens, emboldened by the official rhetoric, have taken vigilant, often violent, actions against individual Witnesses.

Fighting spiritual opposition

The court decision was based on the Ministry of Justice claim made on March 15th 2017 that the Witnesses are an extremist organisation and should, therefore, be liquidated. This designation has been widely criticised internationally and within Russia by those supportive of individual rights such as religious freedom.

The designation of the Witnesses as extremist is especially ironic given the church’s official opposition to violence. It has long expressed strong support for conscientious objector status, which thanks to Witnesses’ advocacy of alternative modes of serving their countries, has become the norm among many nations. However, the Russian government seems bent on forcing the Witnesses and a few other minority religious organisations to cease activities.

Few observers accept the claim that the Witnesses are an extremist organisation and in any way involved in activities that promote terrorism. This puzzling situation has led to much speculation about the real reasons for government’s change of rhetoric. One prominent suggestion is that the Russian Orthodox Church has encouraged the actions as part of its campaign to deter groups that compete for the allegiance of Russian citizens or are otherwise critical of the dominant denomination.

The second idea is that the Witnesses developed within the United States and that the harassment is part of an anti-American campaign. Finally, according to yet another theory, the campaign against the Witnesses is an attempt to distract the populace from Russia’s real economic and political problems, both at home and abroad.

Whatever the reasons behind the drastic action taken and sanctioned by Russian courts, the effects of the decision place Russia in an almost unique position in the international community of modern nations when it comes to constraining religious freedoms.

Russia and the European Court of Human Rights

The Supreme Court decision and other governmental actions taken against the Witnesses are being contested by both public opinion the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The ECtHR is the judicial arm of the Council of Europe which was formed after the Second World War in an effort to deter violations of human and civil rights. Russia is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which is the governing document for the Council of Europe, and thus is bound by its provisions.

Article 9 of the Convention guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which, according to the Witnesses, Russia regularly violates.

Since 1992, when Russia was accepted as the Council’s member, the country has lost several major cases before the ECtHR, related to suppressing minority faiths. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been very effective advocates of their rights and the rights of others before the ECtHR, having developed a strong winning record, including some victories in cases against Russia.

Currently, the ECtHR considers 32 cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses and Russia. This includes the case of the March 2nd 2016 warning, issued by the Prosecutor General’s office to liquidate the Witnesses’ administrative centre in the country.

The ECtHR is going to consider Russia’s decision to deem Witnesses’ literature and actions extremist as urgent, under Rule 41 of the Convention. Ten other cases concern raids on Witness congregations, out of which four deal with home searches and literature confiscation, and the other involve prosecution for evangelising and ban on religious literature.

How the ECtHR rules on the many cases against Russia, especially those concerning the church delegalisation, and how the Russian government responds to those rulings, will reveal much about the future of the Court’s influence. It will also say a lot about the rule of law and religious freedoms in Russia.

James T. Richardson, JD, PhD, is emeritus foundation professor of sociology and judicial studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. His most recent publications include Regulating Religion: Case Studies from around the Globe (Kluwer, 2004), Saints under Siege: The Texas Raid on the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (with Stuart Wright, New York University Press, 2011), The Sociology of Shari’a: Case Studies from around the World (with Adam Possamai and Bryan Turner, Springer, 2014), and Legal Cases Involving New Religions and Minority Faiths (with Francois Bellanger, Ashgate, 2014). He can be contacted at jtr@unr.edu


Lawsuit: New Jersey Town Illegally Targeted Orthodox Jews

October 24, 2017

MAHWAH, N.J. — New Jersey sued one of its towns Tuesday over two recent ordinances the state says illegally targeted a Jewish community from nearby New York, likening the conduct of town officials to the "1950s-era white flight suburbanites" who sought to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods.

The lawsuit against Mahwah and its township council seeks to block the ordinances and the return of more than $3.4 million in state grants the town has received from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The state contends Mahwah violated New Jersey's Green Acres Act by banning out-of-state residents from its parks. The state notes that land acquired under the law cannot be restricted on the basis of religion or residency.

One of the measures cited in the suit limits the use of a public park to state residents. The second effectively bans the building of an eruv, a religious boundary created by placing white plastic piping on utility poles.

"In addition to being on the wrong side of history, the conduct of Mahwah's township council is legally wrong, and we intend to hold them accountable for it," Attorney General Christopher Porrino said.

"To think that there are local governments here in New Jersey, in 2017, making laws on the basis of some archaic, fear-driven and discriminatory mindset, is deeply disappointing and shocking to many, but it is exactly what we are alleging in this case," Porrino said. "Of course, in this case we allege the target of the small-minded bias is not African-Americans, but Orthodox Jews. Nonetheless, the hateful message is the same."

The park ban was created in July after residents complained about overcrowding at parks and their use by Orthodox Jewish families from New York. Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli raised concerns at the time that the ban was illegal, and Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal advised police not to enforce it.

The Bergen Rockland Eruv Association and two New York residents filed a federal lawsuit in August alleging the town was violating their constitutional and civil rights with is ban on their religious boundary.

Some Orthodox Jews consider the boundary necessary to allow them to do such activities as carrying keys and pushing strollers on the Sabbath. Mahwah officials, though, said the markers violate local laws that prohibit signs on trees, rocks and utility poles.

Bill Laforet, Mahwah's independent mayor, said he had "repeatedly warned" council members about the consequences they and the town could face and reminded them of the police chief's concern. He said he also voiced concern about the "severe potential financial penalties" taxpayers could face.

Laforet said he's "sorrowed by the loss of reputation for Mahwah," which he described as a diverse, tolerant and welcoming community.

He puts much of the blame on City Council President Rob Hermansen. "His race-baiting bantering has now bitten him back," Laforet said.

Hermansen said the prosecutor's office and the attorney general's office both rejected requests to help town officials create laws that would be neutral and could be enforced.

"It's astonishing to know that we told them what we were looking to do and they rebuked us, and we're now being sued over this," he said.

Hermansen said the ordinance was written by the township attorney, not the council, and under those circumstances "we deem it to be good law when we receive it."

He also disputed Laforet's remarks about him and how the measures were handled, saying "the mayor has an issue with telling the truth." He also said he was "getting tired of the mayor slandering me and my family. His attacks need to stop."

A town spokeswoman said Mahwah would not be commenting on the suit on the advice of its attorney.

Hermansen, who has condemned anti-Semitic comments people have made about the Jewish community in some online postings, has said the ban was not created to be discriminatory. He noted that Mahwah residents began complaining this year about vehicles from New York occupying parking lots at Winters Pond, a recreational area across from the town's train station.

The ordinance, he has said, was intended to curb the number of people from outside Mahwah using parks, not to target Jews.

"We had incidents where Mahwah families could not use the parks," he said last month, so the council wanted to find a way to "put Mahwah residents first."


Oct 24, 2017

Bahais mark 200th birthday of their messenger, whose focus on equality resonates today

Julie Zauzmer 
Washington Post
October 20, 2017

Rachell Martinez, 15, pointing in center, plays a game with her Bahai youth group at the Rita Bright Community Center. (Julie Zauzmer/The Washington Post)

The Bahai faith is one of the youngest world religions — on Sunday, it will celebrate the birthday of its messenger, Baha’u’llah, who was born just 200 years ago. But to the kids bouncing off the purple-painted walls on 14th Street, that’s ancient history.

“My name is Baha’u’llah Junior!” Menkem Sium calls out jokingly. “My dad is 200 years old!”

Baha’u’llah, who was born in Tehran in 1817, might not recognize the religion based on his teachings today, in its vibrant form in the District. Fourteen youth groups teach crafts and games and vocabulary to about 120 teenagers, including the enthusiastic Sium. About 190 younger children participate in 20 Bahai children’s classes. All over the city, Bahai devotees and other curious adults gather in private homes and a stately 16th Street NW worship center, each night of the week, for 35 different regular study circles and 45 devotional meetings.

On Sunday, local followers of the faith will congregate for an extravaganza of artistic performances in English and Spanish, and plenty of food, to celebrate the 200th birthday of the visionary leader behind it all. Their celebration will focus on racial unity: one of Baha’u’llah’s foremost goals, which remains elusive and just as relevant today.

Baha’u’llah was born two years before a man who eventually came to call himself the Bab. The Bab announced in 1844, at age 25, that he had come to proclaim the arrival of the next great messenger, a man who would follow in the tradition of earlier religious messengers — Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Krishna, and so on. Hundreds of people became followers of the Bab, before he was executed for his beliefs in 1850.

Thirteen years later, Baha’u’llah revealed himself: He was the messenger whom the Bab had promised. He too was imprisoned and harassed for much of the next 40 years, while he wrote the works that became the basis of the Bahai faith. The religion places a heavy emphasis on equality, and Baha’u’llah’s writings taught about harmony among men and women, people of all races, science and religion, and all forms of faith.

Today, gorgeous Bahai temples stand on each continent but Antarctica, as architectural icons in places from Cambodia to Uganda to the suburbs of Chicago. Bahai communities — some still persecuted in the Middle East, many thriving in tolerant nations — gather for worship in almost every country. And here in Columbia Heights, a raucous group of teenagers is learning to pray.

“Oh Lord,” Anais Basora, 11, reads aloud. “Confer thy bounty. …”

Navid Shahidinejad, the leader of this Bahai youth group meeting at the Rita Bright Community Center, prods Basora, “Do you know what ‘bounty’ means?”

Basora isn’t Bahai. Most of the teenagers in the “junior youth empowerment” groups run by Bahai believers in the District are not members of the faith, based on the Bahai tenet of treating equally people of all religions.

“When I look at the revelation of Baha’u’llah and its purpose to unify mankind, I find that this revelation is for everybody, and all are welcome to participate,” said Maryam Esmaeili, a leader in the District’s Bahai community. She runs her own youth group using the same Bahai curriculum at a second location in Columbia Heights; this week, she helped out in Shahidinejad’s group as well. “Universal participation is absolutely necessary to build a better world. It’s not in the hands of only Bahais.”

Esmaeili and Shahidinejad said the intent of opening these youth groups to nonbelievers isn’t to convert the teenagers; after all, their faith preaches that all religions are equal. That being said, they encourage children and parents who are interested in Bahai practices to learn more outside the youth group. The Bahai focus on racial equality is often what interests parents, who sometimes start learning the prayers with their kids and check out events at the 16th Street center.

The religion is too small for the Pew Research Center or other polling groups to have gathered much data on it, but the Bahai International Community says there are more than 5 million adherents worldwide and about 340 in the District, with additional Bahai communities in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. On Sunday, the community will host its major celebration of Baha’u’llah’s 200th birthday at Woodrow Wilson High School.

Abdul Hill, the athletics manager at the Rita Bright Community Center, said he likes having the Bahai youth group there since it introduces the children to another culture and since the education on how to pray helps them deepen their own faith, whatever their religion might be. “A lot of them don’t go to church,” Hill said. “Something like this is very big for them, just having that structure as a human being on Earth.”

On Thursday night, after the teenagers practiced memorizing a prayer drawn from Baha’u’llah’s writings and played an energetic name game, they sat down in a circle to think up ideas for their next service project, a core part of the Bahai curriculum.

The kids have decided that they want to visit children with cancer. Shahidinejad mostly lets them think through their ideas on their own.

“I know that they like the jello and the pudding,” Sium, 13, says. One teen suggests that they bring video games to the patients, and Basora suggests bringing teddy bears. “I’ve got a bunch,” she says, then she thinks better of it. “No, I’m not giving them.”

One of the adults suggests writing cards, and Basora says, “No, that’s for the vegetarians.”

There’s a rare moment of silence. All the kids stare at her for a moment, then figure out what she meant: veterans. Good-natured giggles ripple around the circle.

This process is central to the curriculum, which focuses on social justice. “The revelation of Baha’u’llah, which talks about the oneness of mankind, is so grand in itself,” Esmaeili said. “That is where this idea of unity becomes more possible: just being able to support youth and middle-schoolers in developing an understanding of their twofold moral purpose, that they have qualities that can be used to serve others.”

Esmaeili, who grew up in a Bahai home in El Salvador, said she often meets people who are surprised to learn about the Bahai community running so many programs for people of all ages in the District and many other American cities. One of the first assignments in the adult-study circles is to visit a friend and share a prayer with him or her, she said.

“Sometimes that sounds very odd, in a city like D.C., that people are actually doing this,” she said. But the kids in the youth group don’t seem to find it odd at all.