Apr 27, 2018

20/20 on ABC NXIVM

BWW News Desk 
April 27, 2018

All eyes were on "Smallville" actress and NXIVM member Allison Mack earlier this week as she emerged from court on a $5 million bond following her arrest on charges of sex trafficking. "20/20" investigates NXIVM, the self-proclaimed professional coaching company, and speaks with former members who have come forward claiming that while they derived some benefit from NXIVM classes, the experience also took a big toll on their lives. The hour reports on Mack, who allegedly tried to recruit other celebrities, including Emma Watson and Kelly Clarkson, via Twitter. "20/20" also details sex-trafficking charges against NXIVM founder Keith Raniere and includes Anchor Elizabeth Vargas' interview with former member Sarah Edmondson. "20/20" airs on Friday, April 27 (10:01 - 11:00 p.m. EDT), on ABC.

Federal prosecutors allege that Mack recruited women to join what they thought was a female mentorship group, but was in fact a secret society within NXIVM "created and led by Keith Raniere." The victims, prosecutors allege, "were then exploited both sexually and for their labor." Mack has pleaded not guilty; Raniere has not yet entered a plea, although his attorneys have said that he is innocent of the charges.

In the interview with Vargas, Edmondson claims that this secret society is manipulative, promoting subservient behavior with slave and master terminology. She also says that she and other women were branded during their initiation into the secret society. Raniere has stated on NXIVM's website that the secret society is not part of NXIVM and he is not associated with it. According to its website, NXIVM claims to "provide the basis and conditions for all people to explore and actualize their potential so that they can come to live purposeful lives." In a complaint she filed with the New York Department of Health, Edmondson says she went to the initiation for the secret society expecting to receive a tattoo and was surprised to learn that she and others were to be branded. She tells Vargas that the branding procedure, in which she and other women took turns holding each other's legs while they received their brands with a cauterizing iron, was "horrific"; and she says she later realized that the brands contained Raniere's initials. Vargas also sits down with Mark Vicente, a member for 12 years, and Toni Natalie, a former girlfriend of Raniere's who knew him before he started NXIVM. "20/20" also reports on another Hollywood actress who is a known NXIVM member, India Oxenberg, daughter of "Dynasty" actress Catherine Oxenberg. Vargas sits down with Catherine, who details her so far unsuccessful efforts to convince her daughter to leave the group. "20/20" also explores NXIVM's litigation tactics against former members and critics.

"20/20" is anchored by Elizabeth Vargas and David Muir. David Sloan is senior executive producer.


Apr 24, 2018

Alarm over appeal of pseudo-therapies in Spain

Experts warn of serious consequences if authorities do not take action to counter the growing popularity of treatments like reiki

An alternative health center. JAAP BUIJS
An alternative health center.Jaap Buijs
JAVIER SALASEl PaisApril 24, 2018

Apparently Spaniards are somewhat confused over the scientific basis of so-called pseudo-therapies, with experts warning of grave consequences. The last Sociological Investigation Center (CIS) survey carried out in February included questions on pseudo-medicine such as homeopathy and reiki for the first time. Despite the lack of concrete proof that pseudo-therapies can be effective, Spanish society appears hazy on what distinguishes conventional medicine from the pseudo variety.

While some expressed skepticism over the effectiveness of pseudo-therapies and explained they wouldn’t resort to them because they didn’t work, more stated that they hadn’t used them either because they were expensive, they didn’t know about them or they hadn’t needed them, suggesting they could resort to them in the future.

Practices like yoga that truly promotes well-being gets confused with reiki which is simply a trick

“The data clearly confirms the confusion,” says Josep Lobera, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Madrid who says of homeopathy, “Most people think it’s a [conventional] medicine because it is sold in pharmacies in its box, with a prospectus and even prescription.”

It turns out a significant number of the medical profession are in favor of alternative therapies –18.4% of pseudo-therapists have the support of healthcare professionals while 14% have been informed about a pseudo-therapy at their health clinic.
According to Elena Campos, president of the Association for the Protection of the Sick from Pseudoscientific Therapies (APETP), “People go to a professional because they believe they are going to help them be cured but you could actually be getting further away from the chance of [the right] treatment. It has highlighted the need to inform the public in general and also train [medical] professionals so that they know what they are up against.”


The Eagle’s guide to Brooklyn’s Nxivm 'sex cult'

It was all happening right under our noses, authorities said

Paul Frangipane
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
April 24, 2018

A cult allegedly recruited slaves to have sex with the shadowy founder of a supposed self-help group — and it was all happening in buildings Brooklynites pass every day. 

There’s 111 Hicks St., a Brooklyn Heights tower, where up to a dozen slaves allegedly stayed for various rituals over the past year, according to Frank Parlato, a former publicist for Nxivm who has turned whistleblower.

There’s a “recruiting” building in East Williamsburg.

And now there’s an apartment in Sunset Park, where the group’s new operator supposedly lives so she can be close to the federal lockup that is currently housing the accused sex cult founder.

“I’m pretty shocked,” Eddie Owens, a lifelong resident of 111 Hicks, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It’s hard to believe that something like that could be going on in this building.”

Authorities say Allison Mack was a recruiter for Nxivm.

It’s hard to believe “something like that” could be happening anywhere. According to authorities, Keith Raniere, 57, ran a secretive cult called “DOS” out of his executive training company, Nxivm, which he founded roughly 20 years ago upstate. 

Federal authorities say that “Smallville” actress Allison Mack (inset) helped recruit sex slaves for Raniere — whose initials would be branded onto the slaves’ pubic areas.

The group came to Brooklyn, according to Parlato, because recruitment dropped after he blew the whistle and Raniere was arrested in March.

“Brooklyn is where they’ll be,” Parlato said. “Brooklyn is where Raniere said.”

111 Hicks St.

Authorities believe that a sex cult was operating inside this Hicks Street building.

Parlato said between four and 12 slaves at any given time have visited the St. George Tower on the corner of Hicks and Pineapple streets, based on information that escaped slaves told him. 

Mack was living in the building when she was arrested on Friday for allegedly serving as a slave master, Parlato said.

“I had no idea,” a building resident told the Brooklyn Eagle. “I’d be interested to get to the bottom of it.” 

258 Johnson St.

Authorities believe that recruitment was done inside this East Williamsburg building.

Parlato also said that Mack recruited potential members at 258 Johnson St. in East Williamsburg.

Among other members, Parlato says Mack used the rented space to gather prospective members, telling them the group’s technology could cure various diseases. 

When slaves were accepted into the group after providing “collateral” that consisted of damaging personal information, they were allegedly groomed to have sex with Raniere, prosecutors allege.

Slaves were also allegedly forced into sleep-deprivation that made them lose their ability to menstruate. 

Mack herself might have been one of those slaves before she rose in the group and became a leader, the New York Post reported.

“She was definitely physically suffering. There’s no question she was sleep deprived,” said actress Samia Shoaib, whom Mack tried to recruit for Nxivm in 2013.

She almost joined the group, which Mack had told her was just a support group for women.

“I wish I could tell you alarm bells went off, but they really didn’t. She was a very sweet girl,” Shoaib told the Post.

Sunset Park

While Raniere is awaiting an unscheduled arraignment at Sunset Park’s Metropolitan Detention Center, alleged member Clare Bronfman moved near the jail to better defend the leader, Parlato said.

Bronfman, the heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, “wants to be near the prison,” Parlato said. “Anything to help Raniere.”

Bronfman is now allegedly running and financing Nxivm, Parlato said.

Mack is scheduled to be in Brooklyn’s federal court Tuesday afternoon fighting for bail. 

Mack and Raniere are charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy. They each face up to life in prison if convicted.

Nxivm released a statement that the group is working with authorities to demonstrate Raniere’s “innocence and true character.”


Apr 21, 2018

Shut Up, Satan: Rome Course Teaches Exorcism, Even by Cellphone

master class on how to yell at the devil, rid Muslims of black magic and purge Satan on your cellphone.
Master class on how to yell at the devil on your cellphone.
New York Times
April 19, 2018

ROME — Andrés Cárdenas sat in the back of the auditorium, opened his folder and took careful notes as a Catholic cardinal with decades of experience casting demons out of possessed bodies gave a master class on how to yell at the devil, rid Muslims of black magic and purge Satan on your cellphone.

Father Cárdenas, a Colombian priest, wrote vigorously as the 89-year-old instructor, Ernest Simoni, explained that although exorcisms — what he called “a spiritual scientific instrument” — can be practiced on Muslims, “they stayed Muslims after.”

Cardinal Simoni, who is Albanian, also said that fasting sometimes helped the possessed, but that often you had to play hardball with Beelzebub by saying things like “shut up, Satan.”

After jotting it all down, Father Cárdenas, 36, explained he had come to Rome to learn about exorcisms “because it is a gift” he wanted to share with his parishioners back in El Espinal. He was one of 300 Roman Catholics — mostly clerics but also lay men and women furnished with authorization letters from their bishops — to attend the 13th annual, weeklong “Exorcism and Prayer of Liberation” course that organizers hoped would recruit and train armies of potential exorcists to confront spreading demonic forces.

Participants paid about $372 (simultaneous translation was $309 extra) to attend the sessions, which were sponsored by conservative Catholic groups and held at the Pontifical University Regina Apostolorum, run by the conservative Legionaries of Christ religious order.

The would-be exorcists blamed the internet and atheism for what they see as a spike in evil, but the urgency evident in the course also seemed to have something to do with a growing conservative view that the church has gone astray under Pope Francis, and that end times had drawn nigh.

The pope recently had conservative heads spinning when he was quoted, incorrectly according to the Vatican, by an Italian reporter with credibility issues as not believing in hell. “Beyond what is tolerable,” the American cardinal Raymond Burke, a leader of the conservative resistance to Francis, said at the time.

In fact, the pope often speaks about the devil. In this month’s apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad, he wrote that while in biblical times, “epilepsy, for example, could easily be confused with demonic possession,” the faithful should not conclude “that all the cases related in the Gospel had to do with psychological disorders and hence that the devil does not exist or is not at work.”

Father Cárdenas had no doubts about the pope’s belief in the devil. Neither did Cardinal Simoni, who has encountered evil firsthand, surviving decades in prisons and work camps for practicing his faith under the Albanian Communist regime of Enver Hoxha.

During Monday’s keynote address, the cardinal answered the questions of Father Cárdenas’ fellow priests, like one from a French priest who asked him to share his exorcising secrets. “Pray without interruption,” the cardinal said, reminding the audience that “more than anything, chastity” was key.

Asked if he preferred the ancient ritual or the new Vatican norms introduced in 1999, Cardinal Simoni said, “Jesus knows all the languages.”

Another priest asked how to tell the difference between bipolar and possessed personalities. “It’s important to differentiate between psychopathic illnesses, neurasthenia, pathologies,” the cardinal said. “Satan you can recognize.”

“This theme will be tackled on Tuesday afternoon,” interjected Professor Giuseppe Ferrari, an organizer of the course, who runs a socio-religious research group.

At that, Father Cárdenas perused his blue program, illustrated with Raphael’s Transfiguration. On Tuesday, he could listen to an exorcist lecture on “The Prayer of Liberation, a Theological and Pastoral Approach” or “The Auxiliary Exorcist: Skills and Duties.”

On Wednesday, there was “Magical, Esoteric and Occult Links to Some Alternative and Energy-giving Therapies,” followed by Friday’s “The Exorcist: Life, Choices and Mistake.” But he was especially interested in Wednesday’s talk on “Witchcraft in Africa.”

The Vatican has had an uncomfortable relationship with some of its best-known African exorcists. Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, of Zambia, gained notoriety as a healer and exorcist in the 1990s, when he lived in Italy and where he was known as the “witch doctor bishop.” He later married a Korean woman at a group wedding presided over by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and was excommunicated for ordaining four married men as priests.

More recently the Vatican has formally recognized an International Association of Exorcists in 2014, which keeps its 250 or so members updated on the latest best practices in confronting the devil. The death in 2016 of Father Gabriele Amorth, Italy’s most famous demon remover, prompted a new national outcry for recruits.

An exorcism documentary, “Libera Nos,” won a prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2016. The film follows a rotund Sicilian priest in a friar’s frock and wool hat; in one scene, he yanks on the bangs of a woman who grunts at his command that she love her neighbors.

In a separate cellphone conversation in the film with a possessed woman, the priest implores, “I exorcise you, Satan.” He then signs off with, “O.K., talk soon,” and “say hello to your husband for me.”

(“It’s a good way to learn how not to do an exorcism,” Professor Ferrari said.)

In the seminar on Monday, Cardinal Simoni reported dramatic successes. Asked by one priest how he knew if an exorcism had worked, he responded, “Ah, you can see it immediately,” explaining that one possessed person went from jumping up and down and “keeping three or four men busy” to rising with a “joyous smile.”

“Your exorcisms are very effective, it seems,” said Professor Ferrari, who then told the crowd, “We will meet back here after the coffee break.”

The students headed for a long table with snacks and soda while reporters pressed Cardinal Simoni about conducting exorcisms by cellphone, which is technically banned by church law. (He had done them “100, 1,000 times” he said.)

Father Cárdenas waited in the aisle, his cellphone out, hoping to get a picture of himself with the cardinal. But the elderly exorcist shuffled past, leaving the Colombian grumbling, though not demonically.

Turning back to the topic at hand, Father Cárdenas warned that black magic can be transmitted through screens (“American films are also a problem”), that demons enter the body “through the back of the brain,” and that early traumas, like sexual abuse, can make a person vulnerable to homosexuality and the demons who, in grave cases, cause suicidal or violent tendencies and need to be chased away.

A few feet away, The Rev. Joseph Poggemeyer, from Toledo, Ohio, said exorcists needed to confront the evil spread on the internet. He said that every diocese should have an exorcist on hand, but that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and its “confusion” had eroded exorcism expertise and deprived seminarians of instruction in demonology.

“That was simply lost,” he said. “A lot of dioceses in the United States haven’t had exorcists for a very long time.”

Organizers called the priests back in for a lesson on a bishop’s role in exorcism, after which they broke for lunch. While budding exorcists waited in line for pasta behind texting students, or discussed the manifestations of pure evil over yogurt, Mr. Ferrari said he hoped to invite the pope’s preferred exorcist, a Lutheran, to next year’s conference.

Replenished, Father Cárdenas and the others returned to the basement hall for the afternoon session, “Exorcism as a Ministry of Mercy and Consolation Amid the Bewilderment of Contemporary Society.”

It was led by Archbishop Luigi Negri, who made news in 2015, when he was overheard on a train wishing for the death of Pope Francis. The pontiff subsequently replaced him as the leader of the Ferrara archdiocese.

On Monday, Archbishop Negri warned the priests what dark forces they would be up against.

“The actor of this evil — this diabolical and evil entity,” he explained, “is greater than any single man.”

A version of this article appears in print on April 20, 2018, on Page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Amid Fears That Evil Is Winning, Learning To Cast Out il Diavolo.


What are the psychological effects of losing your religion?

psychological effects of losing your religion
Christian Jarrett
BPS Research Digest
April 6, 2018

For many, their religion is a core part of their identity, the meaning they find in life, and their social world. It seems likely that changing this crucial aspect of themselves will have significant psychological consequences. A devout person would probably predict these will be unwelcome – increased emotional distress, isolation and waywardness. A firm atheist, on the other hand, might see the potential positives – perhaps the “deconvert” will grow in open-mindedness and thrive thanks to their newfound free thinking and spiritual freedom.

A new study in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality is among the first to investigate this question systematically and over time. The findings, which are focused on Protestant Christians, paint a complex picture. At least for this group, there is no single pattern of changes associated with losing or changing one’s religious faith, and the predictions of both the devout person and the atheist are, to some extent, accurate.

Harry Hui at the University of Hong Kong and his colleagues asked their Christian Protestant participants, all Chinese, to complete the same set of psychological questionnaires on six separate occasions over a three-year period. These questionnaires measured their personality, values, beliefs and psychological symptoms.

Over 600 participants provided complete data and, of these, 188 stopped describing themselves as Christian at some point through the study. Just over 82 per cent switched to describing themselves as non-believers, a few re-identified as Catholic, Buddhist or Taoist, and the remainder changed their self-label to “other”.

Hui’s team were most interested in any psychological changes that were different in kind or magnitude between those who lost or changed their religious identity and those that kept it (they ensured both groups were matched for gender and age and student status – a majority of both groups were students).

Perhaps surprisingly, there were no clear differences in personality change between the continuously religious and those that lost or altered their religious identity (for some reason the sample as a whole showed some decline in extraversion and agreeableness over time, but this was no different for the two groups). In terms of values and beliefs, the religious exiters increased more in “fate control” (believing that fate governs what happens in life, but that it is also possible to intervene in this process); and not surprisingly, they also showed a sharper decline in religiosity.

The most striking difference between the groups was that those who lost their Christian Protestant identity showed much greater variation in their mental well-being over time. About half of the “de-converts” showed a reduction in depression and anxiety compared with the consistently religious group, and about half showed a greater increase in depression and anxiety, although within these broad strokes were further variations in their precise emotional “trajectory”. The de-converts as a whole also showed a greater improvement in their sleep than the consistently faithful.

A key factor seemed to be the de-converts’ personality and psychological state prior to losing their religion. If they were more extraverted and had adequate psychological resources, losing their faith seemed to be an opportunity for growth and even greater psychological resilience. In contrast, those who were neurotic and more mentally and physically vulnerable prior to losing their faith were more likely to experience greater psychological distress after becoming a non-believer (or in a small minority of cases, a believer in a different faith).

“Any theory asserting that all faith exiters change in the same way should be viewed with suspicion,” the researchers said. “Religious disengagement does not reduce anxiety for all faith exiters; however a reduction does occur for some people.” This contrasts with research on converts to Christianity, which suggested a more straightforward picture in which most people showed improvements in psychological symptoms. “The process of faith exit should not be regarded as psychologically similar to or merely a reversal of religious conversion,” the researchers said.

The data also allowed the researchers to look for psychological differences at the start of the study among those who subsequently lost their faith as compared with those who stayed in the same religion. Those participants who exited their religion were more likely to start out scoring lower on emotional stability, to be less trusting of others, and they tended to place less value on conformity, tradition and benevolence, and more value on self-direction, hedonism and the pursuit of power.

It will be up to future research to see if these findings replicate with people exiting other religions in other cultures. The researchers added that “future research with a longer time frame should address questions such as how long the change in psychological symptoms would last and whether they are only transitory for some people.”

—Psychological changes during faith exit: A three-year prospective study

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest


Falun Gong: Two decades after a deadly ban in China, adherents still face pressure in Australia

PHOTO: In Melbourne's CBD, a handful of Falun Gong practitioners tend a folding table full of campaign pamphlets.
In Melbourne's CBD, a handful of Falun Gong practitioners
 tend a folding table full of campaign pamphlets. 
Vicky Xiuzhong Xu and Bang Xiao
ABC Online
April 21, 2018

"Heaven will destroy the Chinese Communist Party" and "stop organ harvesting in China" read the slogans — for years, practitioners of Falun Gong have campaigned on the streets of Australia.

Key points:
  • Falun Gong said the ongoing suppression has claimed 3000 lives.
  • Former Chinese diplomat said he used to spy on Falun Gong practitioners.
  • Former immigration officer said many pose as practitioners to seek asylum.

Holding banners with damning accusations and chasing after passers-by, members of Falun Gong seem almost hysterical, with a propagandistic style similar to that of the Chinese Communist Party.

Few have the time or patience to stop and listen, members say, while many immigrants and tourists from mainland China continued to be angered by their presence.

Falun Gong — a spiritual exercise outlawed in almost China two decades ago — is also known as Falun Dafa and it seeks to combine the Chinese "qigong", a slow-moving exercise popular in the 1990s, with Taoist moral teachings.

Followers describe the practice as a form of meditation for self-improvement, rather than a religion, yet they cling to Falun Gong's spiritual teachings about the universe, meditate in groups, and read scriptures written by their spiritual leader.
Falun Gong banned as an 'evil cult'

Yin Li, 53, was one of the tens of millions of followers in China who were attracted by Falun Gong's promises of spiritual cleansing and better health.

Coming from China's eastern Shandong Province, Ms Li told the ABC she first heard about the practice in 1998, and after only a month of practicing, claims Falun Gong cured all of her chronic illnesses from insomnia to migraines to epilepsy.

In April 1999, some 10,000 Falun Gong members staged a protest in Beijing outside the headquarters of the ruling Communist Party to complain about defamatory reports about the group in the state media.

The Chinese Government responded by saying Falun Gong had "created disturbance and jeopardised social stability", and the movement was banned nationwide soon afterwards as an "evil cult".

Angered by the "misunderstanding", Ms Li said she travelled to Beijing in October hoping to "demand justice" along with four fellow devotees — they planned another sit-in, but the trip was cut short when police showed up at their hotel.
'Brainwashing centres' to renounce Falun Gong

Ms Li told the ABC she was written off as a leader of the protest, and as a result, claims she was constantly tortured and harassed by the Chinese police in the next 17 years.

"Once in 2000, I was in police custody for meeting other followers, and when I was released, I found the doors and windows of my stationery shop all covered with faeces."

She added that a few months later local police smashed the windows of her shop front and poured gasoline over it.
"They were much worse than thugs, but that's the Chinese police for you," Ms Li said.

From 1999 to 2016, Ms Li says she was detained by police six times, had her home searched twice, and was sent to "brainwashing centres" where she was forced to renounce the practice.

"I was blessed. Unlike many other Falun Gong practitioners in China, I was beaten by the police a couple of times, but never spent any time in jail," Ms Li says.

"This was because Master Li knows that I'm a persistent devotee and protects me," she added, referring to Li Hongzhi, the spiritual guru who first started teaching Falun Gong in north-eastern China in 1992 before moving to the United States ahead of the group's ban.
Organ harvesting: is that really happening?

According to Falun Gong itself, the ongoing suppression has led to the imprisonment of tens of thousands of practitioners, and claimed some 3,000 lives — but the claims of horror don't stop there.

In 2006, a controversial Canadian report brought the world's attention for the first time to a horrific allegation: that the Chinese Government was secretly harvesting organs of Falun Gong followers.

The report said the Chinese regime was performing some 60,000 to 100,000 transplants per year — about six times the official total of about 10,000 — and that this means that there are unacknowledged organ sources in China, the primary one being imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners.

Acknowledging widespread scepticism towards the report, one of the authors of the original report, David Matas, a prominent human rights lawyer, told the ABC that "there is new evidence every day".

But Benjamin Penny, an expert of religious and spiritual movements in China and a professor at Australian National University, told the ABC that he does not think organ harvesting is an ongoing practice.

"Certainly, we know that many practitioners are in prison. That's well known and there's no controversy about that," Dr Penny said.

"But organ harvesting is an entirely different question. Organ harvesting is a claim that was not initially made by Falun Gong itself but by a Japanese journalist who heard about it."

"My view on it is that I have not seen evidence which convinces me that is true. But I've not seen any evidence that convinces me that it's not true."
"I would say that the case about organ harvesting is not proven and I don't think it will ever be proven. Because if it did ever happen, it probably stopped happening some years ago. I don't think it's going on now."

To date Falun Gong practitioners have done everything they can with the evidence available to try prove their claims of organ harvesting.

But under the opaque Chinese information laws, "there is no way they can improve their credibility … unless the Chinese Government one day in the future makes all of the archives available," Dr Penny added.

However, Wendy Roger, a professor in clinical ethics at Macquarie University, disagrees and maintains that there is in fact credible evidence that Chinese prisoners of conscience are murdered on demand for their organs.

"The Chinese Government's propaganda war to deny organ harvesting has been successful," she told the ABC.

"This creates a challenge for communication because many transplant professionals, government officials, and journalists etc start with the view [that Falun Gong is an evil cult]."

"Then they want to talk to a witness, but it is very difficult to find first hand witnesses, as Chinese whistleblowers would face immense danger, to themselves and their families."
'So many spies': Living in Australia under watchful eyes

Ms Li told the ABC that she is grateful that she now lives in Australia and no longer has to fear having her organs taken, but she says that even in Australia she can still feel the Chinese Communist Party's far-reaching power.

"There are dubious people who snap photos of me when I campaign for Falun Gong out on the street," she said.

We found Ms Li via her fellow practitioners who were campaigning in the Melbourne CBD earlier this week, who at first suspected us to be spies sent by the Chinese government.
"There are just so many spies out there nowadays," a 63-year-old campaigner from China's Sichuan province who called herself "Lanxin" told us.

Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat in Sydney who defected in 2005, said one of his duties back at the Sydney Chinese consulate was to monitor the activities of Falun Gong adherents in Australia.

Mr Chen says he was asked to spy on Falun Gong practitioners and put their names on a list, which would later be used by Chinese authorities to track down and put pressure on the practitioners' families in China.

"One of the most important teachings of Falun Gong is the principle of truthfulness — so when a practitioner is pressed to answer if he or she follows Falun Gong, knowing that admitting will be incriminating, the person would still say yes or just remain silent," Mr Chen said.

Mr Chen said his job also included conversing with high profile practitioners and persuading them to abandon their Falun Gong beliefs.

"It was obvious that many practitioners were just normal people. They didn't deserve to be blacklisted or punished for their beliefs, nor did their families."
Asylum seekers pose as Falun Gong practitioners

Australia has accepted many Falun Gong practitioners who sought protection here.

Fan Huiqiang, the president of Falun Dafa Association of Australia's Victoria Branch, says there are hundreds of Falun Gong adherents in Australia's main cities.
"...There are many who try to seek asylum [using Falun Gong's name]. They make up stories and forge documents to deceive the court," Mr Fan said.

Patricia Cruise, who worked as an immigration officer, previously told the ABC that she had processed many cases where individuals posed as persecuted Falun Gong practitioners with the help of dubious migration agents.

"The migration agent might have a sort of pro-forma where specific details pertaining to the applicant are inserted, a sort of generic statement of claims," she said.

"I have seen statements where particulars have clearly been inserted — you can tell by the change of font or excessive spacing between the words.
"So clearly some statements have been used more than once — just a simple bit of word processing," Ms Cruise added.

To help their bogus claims, many of the Chinese nationals reportedly turn up at Falun Gong meetings or demonstrations.

"This is a headache for us, but it is not Falun Gong's responsibility that people are doing this," Mr Fan said.

The Department of Home Affairs told the ABC that they do not have relevant data available, and the Chinese embassy in Australia did not respond to interview requests.

*Ms Li is currently in the process of seeking asylum in Australia, and the ABC was unable to independently verify claims held by her.


Waco: Branch Davidian memorial service draws about 100

Branch Davidian memorial service
John Carroll
Apr 19, 2018

WACO, Texas (KWTX) About 100 surviving Branch Davidians and supporters gathered Thursday at the Helen Marie Taylor Museum in downtown Waco for a three-hour service marking the 25th anniversary of the deadly fire that ended the 51-day standoff at Mt. Carmel that started after the Feb. 28, 1993 shootout that left four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians dead.

One by one, the names were read out of the 86 people who died after the compound burst into flames as federal agents pumped tear gas into the building on April 19, 1993.

"Don't let them fade from you, go back to those times when you can gain power and strength from those things," said Dr. Philip Arnold, a religious consultant who offered his help to the FBI during negotiations, but whose assistance was refused.

Sheila Martin lost her husband and four of her children in the fire,

"We still feel such a pain because of what has happened. The fact that they died, as they say the names and they say they died but you're remembering a horrible fire and that they could not get out,” she said.

David Thibodeau was one of nine Branch Davidians who escaped from the burning building, but he lost his wife in the fire.

"The thing that bothers me the most is that you're still saying publicly, A&E and some other documentaries, that it was a mass suicide and people killed themselves. That's simply not true, this was a mass homicide,” he said.

He later wrote a book that served as the basis for a miniseries on the standoff that aired on the Paramount network.

Clive Doyle, perhaps the most visible of the surviving Branch Davidians during the 25th anniversary year, said the outcome could have been different.

"All they had to do was hand the warrant through the door and things would have ended peacefully, but we all know how it ended."


Apr 20, 2018

Court orders Raniere to pay $444,000 in legal fees

In this courtroom sketch Keith Raniere
In this courtroom sketch Keith Raniere
Brendan J. Lyons
Albany Times Union
April 19, 2018

ALBANY — A federal appeals court in Texas has ordered NXIVM founder Keith Raniere to pay more than $444,000 in attorneys' fees to AT&T and Microsoft in a case in which he claimed the companies had marketed teleconferencing services using technology from patents that he owned.

A federal judge threw out the case last year and ordered Raniere to pay the two companies' legal fees after finding that Raniere offered no evidence that he owned the patents and allegedly gave contradictory and misleading testimony.

The patents were assigned to a company in Spokane, Wash. — Global Technologies, Inc. — and listed Raniere and three others as the inventors, records show. The patents detailed technology to allow teleconferencing over standard telephone lines while users could exchange data and other electronic information without interruption.

The federal judge said that Raniere failed to produce any written documentation or other credible evidence that he had an interest in GTI that would allow him to transfer the patents to himself, as he claimed had been done.

"Raniere also testified that his ex-girlfriend held her shares in the corporation in trust for him, based on a side letter executed between these parties, but he did not have possession of that letter nor did he know where the letter could be," the appellate court said in its decision this week. "The district court found that Raniere’s testimony surrounding the alleged transfer contradicted Raniere’s earlier representation that the shares had already been transferred to him and was 'wholly incredible and untruthful.'"

The district court judge who threw out the case said that "an award of fees is the least severe sanction adequate to deter similar conduct by (Raniere) in the future and to preserve the integrity of the court.”

The court awarded $300,295 to AT&T and $143,719 to Microsoft in attorney fees and costs.

The appellate decision was handed down as Raniere remains in the custody of U.S. marshals in an unrelated criminal case in which he is charged with sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor.

Raniere has been incarcerated without bond since he was deported from Mexico on March 25 and taken into custody by federal law enforcement officials in Texas. He is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn; a hearing in his case is scheduled to take place April 27.

It's unclear if Raniere has financial assets to pay the penalty in the civil case. The Justice Department said that for the past 18 months Raniere had been using a credit card and bank account in the name of a former NXIVM associate and girlfriend, Pamela Cafritz, who died in November 2016.

Federal prosecutors said the bank account has about $8 million, but have not said whether they would move to seize the account.


Allison Mack, 'Smallville' actor, arrested in connection with alleged sex cult

Allison Mack attends Day 3 of Wizard World Chicago Comic Con on August 11, 2013 in Rosemont, Illinois.
Allison Mack
Chris Jancelewicz
Global News
April 20, 2018

Mack, who played Chloe on the superhero show, is due to appear in federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Friday. She was arrested by the FBI, but as of this writing it’s unclear what charges she faces.

It’s expected that they’ll be related to recruitment of women into the group, and potentially aiding in organizing Nxivm (pronounced “Nexium”).

The Emmy-winning actor was last seen chasing after the police vehicle containing Raniere, who was arrested in Mexico at the end of March for sex trafficking and forced labour and was extradited to the U.S. to face trial. The actor is widely known as one of Raniere’s top confidantes.

Authorities have long alleged Raniere led the secretive clan of female followers — including some Hollywood celebrities — and brainwashed them into “sex slaves.” He then allegedly branded them with his initials in their pelvic regions and coerced them into having sex with him.

According to the filed complaint, Raniere (who was known in the group as “The Vanguard”) oversaw the functioning of Nxivm, which operated under an archaic system: women were told the best way to advance was to become a “slave” watched over by “masters.”

They were expected to have sex with their “master” and do any and all menial chores they were ordered to. They weren’t to tell anybody about the arrangement, and they risked public humiliation if they ever revealed details to any party.

Raniere, 57, posted an open letter to the Nxivm website, ruing “the picture being painted in the media” about his group and denying any accusations levied against him.

“Over the past months, there have been extensive independent investigations performed, by highly qualified individuals, and they have firmly concluded that there is no merit to the allegations that we are abusing, coercing or harming individuals,” it read in part. “These allegations are most disturbing to me as non-violence is one of my most important values.”

The complaint said that many victims participated in videotaped ceremonies where they were branded in their pelvic area with a symbol featuring Raniere’s initials.

“During the branding ceremonies, slaves were required to be fully naked, and the master would order one slave to film while the other held down the slave being branded,” the complaint says.

Investigators said Raniere preferred exceptionally thin women, so “slaves” had to stick to very low-calorie diets and document every food they ate. As punishment for not following orders, women were forced to attend classes where they were “forced to wear fake cow udders over their breasts while people called them derogatory names,” or threatened with being put in cages, court papers say.

Raniere left the U.S. in late 2017 after The New York Times published the accounts of numerous women who defected from Nxivm. Federal investigators began to interview people with supposed connections to the group after the NYT article, and court papers allege that Raniere did everything to cover his tracks, including using encrypted emails and getting rid of his phone.

Raniere and Nxivm have been the subject of criticism for years, dating back to at least 2012 when the Times Union of Albany published a series of articles examining the organization and allegations that it was like a cult.

Other rumoured celebrity members include former Battlestar Galactica star Nicki Clyne and Canadian actor Kristen Kreuk. Clyne has not commented publicly on her involvement, while Kreuk did confirm her affiliation with Nxivm in the past, though she emphasized that she had “minimal contact” with the group after she left it five years ago.

This is a developing story…


Apr 18, 2018

Exorcism - how does it work and why is it on the rise?

It’s not always about demons
It’s not always about demons
Helen Hall - Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University
The Conversation
April 17, 2018

Disclosure statement
Helen Hall is affiliated with Church of England

Nottingham Trent University provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.

Exorcism is again in the news, as the Vatican announces a new training course will be held to meet increased demand for deliverance ministry. So what does this actually mean, and should it be a cause for reassurance or concern? Newspaper headlines about a “rise in possessions” may bring to mind horrific scenes from The Exorcist, but sensationalism doesn’t help public understanding of a serious and complex reality.

Broadly speaking, exorcism signifies freeing a place, person or even object from some form of negative spiritual influence. Beliefs and rituals which could appropriately be labelled exorcism are found in almost all cultures and faith traditions, but in the West are encountered most frequently within Christian or Islamic settings.

It is important to emphasise that within both Muslim and Christian circles, however, there is a wide spectrum of opinion about exorcism and its place in the 21st century. For instance, there are theological voices within Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism which would deny the existence of demonic entities altogether – but institutionally, these churches do accept the possibility of human possession and provide for specialist ministry in such cases.

The reality within these churches is very different from the picture presented by Hollywood. These matters are only dealt with by specially trained priests and always with the minimum of publicity.
How it works

A key element of the training is to help priests discern whether the cause of the problem relates to mental health or emotional issues, rather than anything supernatural, and to support the person in seeking appropriate help. Indeed, exorcism rites should never be carried out without medical assessment by a suitably qualified doctor.

Consequently, providing a training course for deliverance ministers should not be straightforwardly translated as an endorsement of the idea that there has been a perceived sudden increase in demonic activity. What it really means is that the Church is experiencing a growing number of people coming and seeking help because they feel themselves to be suffering from spiritual evil.

The causes of this increased demand are a matter of debate, but there are voices expressing reasonable concerns that a growing recourse to exorcism rituals may lead to vulnerable people being harmed. After all, not all religious organisations have structures or controls to safeguard participants.

For Anglicans and Roman Catholics, tight regulation is in place – because exorcism is an exceptional practice which involves people who will always be fragile, and may often be ill. When carried out, the rite will involve spoken prayers, readings from scripture and sometimes the gentle laying on of hands. Authorised exorcism will never include any violent contact, touching in intimate areas or interaction which could be interpreted as having sexual connotations. The term “deliverance ministry” is preferred to “exorcism”, and it is seen as part of the Church’s broader ministry of healing.

In contrast, within some other traditions, for instance some forms of Pentecostalism and Charismatic Evangelicalism, exorcism is seen as routine and many members of the community receive it without worry or stigma – almost akin to purifying rituals. Those undergoing them are not necessarily at risk, but there is always the danger they could be.

In a liberal, democratic society, the state does not seek to make value judgements in relation to the religious choices of citizens. Without good reason, there is no justification for limiting the freedom of individuals to express their faith as they see fit. It would be difficult to argue for secular regulation of exorcism across the board.

But equally, it would be irresponsible to ignore the challenges which some exorcism practices can present. There have been a number of tragic cases of people, children as well as adults, dying as a result of exorcism rituals in the UK and elsewhere. There is also ample evidence of people who feel that they were subjected to rituals to which they did not properly consent, or were kept from accessing medical treatment or other forms of support for some time, prolonging their suffering and the distress to those around them.
The law

In some respects, the law in England and Wales is clear. Where children are concerned, child abuse is child abuse, regardless of the motivation behind it. If a child is suffering, or at risk from harm which is sufficiently serious, then public authorities need to act – and they are required to do so.

Where adults are concerned the picture is much more complicated. Some faith groups practice exorcism rites which involve a degree of violence – the understanding is frequently that the evil spirit is occupying the body, and so by making the body an uncomfortable place to be, it can be driven out.

This is especially dangerous, because pleas to stop can be interpreted as coming from the demon rather than the sufferer. Here, consent – even if given – will probably not avail a defendant if the victim suffers actual bodily harm (anything more than “transient or trifling” injury).

In many Western countries, exorcists have considerable freedom. And there is still clearly demand for them. But this is an ancient ritual which must very much stay on the right side of the modern law.


EVENT: Understanding Religious Abuse and Recovery Conference

April 21, 2018 at 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Littleton, CO

Hampton Inn & Suites Denver Littleton, 7611 Shaffer Pkwy, Littleton, CO 80127, USA


Apr 16, 2018

Wild Wild Country’s Ma Anand Sheela Went From Cult Leader to Criminal to Meme

The Netflix documentary’s “bad bitch” is a balm to people tired of going high when they go low.

APRIL 16, 2018

The first time Ma Anand Sheela came up in a conversation, a friend sheepishly confessed to nursing a crush on the cult leader. Sheela, as she’s mostly called in the Netflix doc series Wild Wild Country, though she goes by Sheela Birnstiel today, has no trouble attracting adorers. A recent Breitbart article risibly headlined “Leftists Are Celebrating the Perpetrator of the Largest Bioterror Attack in American History Because She’s a Woman” misunderstands (or deliberately misrepresents) the clearly tongue-in-cheek social media adulation of the now 68-year-old elder care manager. A more accurate headline would read, “Leftists Are Celebrating a Trump-like, Sociopathic Con Woman Because She’s a Woman”—and that celebration is completely understandable.

Wild Wild Country tells a shocking, and shockingly forgotten, tale: the six-year rise and fall of a town of 7,000 in the Oregonian near-wild. Incorporated in 1982 and intended as a city upon a hill heralding the teachings of the Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the village of Rajneeshpuram seems to have been largely controlled by Sheela, the COO to the ailing and voluntarily silent Bhagwan’s CEO. There’s a lot to complain about in the six-part series, particularly its wooly (if immersive) storytelling and its elision of race and gender in a recounting of events that most certainly could not have taken place without Orientalist fetishization and a tolerance, if not respect, for female leadership. (After watching the series twice, I still have no idea what the sannyasins, or Rajneesh’s followers, believed.) But Wild Wild Country’s directors, brothers Maclain and Chapman Way, present Sheela in the most intriguing manner possible: between antihero and villain, and surprisingly likable in spite of—or perhaps because of—her obnoxious, inflammatory, and ultimately horrifying belligerence. As she’s presented in Wild Wild Country, Sheela is a fascinating, larger-than-life figure, but she’s probably garnering as much “devotion” as she is because pop culture is largely devoid of female characters as complicated as she is, especially women of color. Rooting for her is not unlike rooting for Walter White in Breaking Bad: You know you’re not supposed to, but she’s just so defiant and competent, dammit.

Wild Wild Country is told in chronological order, ping-ponging between stunning archival footage and contemporary talking-head interviews. But its narrative propulsion stems from the escalation in violence and rhetoric that Sheela uses to fight for Rajneeshpuram’s existence. When the people of nearby Antelope, Oregon (pop.: 40), band together with local, state, and eventually federal officials to inhibit the sannyasins’ power and influence, Sheela completes her transformation into a lioness. One part of the Breitbart headline, at least, seems to be true: According to a cooperating witness, Sheela allegedly orchestrated the poisonings of salad bars in 10 restaurants in 1984, affecting more than 700 people, either as a threat against a hostile homegrown community or a dry run for a more serious contagion on Election Day. Later, she pleaded guilty to setting a county office ablaze, assaulting a judge, and the attempted murder of another acolyte whom Bhagwan seemed to prefer to her. To maintain political power over the county, she bussed in 6,000 homeless people from across the country—and when they got too rowdy, she sedated them by tainting their beer with Haldol. It was rumored that she had her loyalists contaminate Antelope’s water supply (the Rajneeshi commune had its own) by liquidating bacteria-ridden beaver corpses and pouring the juices into the reservoir. When Sheela finally fled Rajneeshpuram, Bhagwan accused her of absconding with tens of millions of dollars—and of being “a perfect bitch.” One official went further, calling her “pure evil.”

Sheela hardly kept her aggression hidden. Some of the series’ most guiltily thrilling scenes are the irresistible sound bites with which she gifts the media. Dubbing her enemies in the Oregon government—many of whom blanch at the newcomers’ “free love” and their naked rejection of Christianity—“bigots” and “fascists,” she likens them to “Hitler’s troops … waiting to massacre the Allies.” (In return, a townsperson says of her, “That woman is the closest thing to Hitler that I’ve ever seen in my life. … The only thing she don’t have yet is the ovens.”) “They touch any of our people,” she threatens in the ’80s, “[and] I will have 15 of their heads.” Her slightly stilted English has made her “tough titties” response to the angry Antelopers a meme. Sheela also boasts that the sannyasins are “the only people who enjoy sex fully,” a reflection of the hyperbolic and embarrassingly myopic way that most of the (white, boomer) sannyasins talk about their time in Rajneeshpuram. “I did a Sheela,” regrets a former disciple, meaning she went in front of the news cameras and said something completely and unnecessarily incendiary.

How much of what Sheela said in the media did she actually mean? Wild Wild Country is full of unreliable and highly skewed narrators, and one of its most suggestive (if frustrating) aspects is that we never know who’s telling the truth. Sheela “doing a Sheela” for the audience at home is certainly at least part performance: Her appearances on TV made Rajneeshi book sales soar, and her spikiness—“you are full of shit,” she tells an opponent on Nightline—probably got her invited back. The sannyasins knew she was putting on a show, at least in part, but her outraged adversaries (and the people she actually hurt) never knew how seriously to take her threats. After all, she’d tried to have more than a few of them killed.

Wild Wild Country is a revealing snapshot of a post-Jonestown era, when alternative beliefs were immediately deemed suspicious and possibly fatal. Other facets are eye-openingly timely. In many ways, its second and third chapters feel like a mirror image of today’s ideological battles. On the left are highly educated, well-traveled, sexually experimental, probably wealthy young people who embrace an Indian guru as their spiritual leader. On the right are rural, xenophobic, communism-fearing, less affluent older people whose Christian values are offended by the orgies and public nudity that the sannyasins practiced openly. Both lay claim to the territory: The Antelopers call it their hometown; the Rajneeshis bought and developed the land. Part of what makes the doc so effective is that, more than three decades later, hardly anybody on either flank will give their opponents an inch or admit the validity of the other side’s feelings. It’s a painful portrait of America, and a painfully recognizable one.

It’s more than likely that Sheela has become a social media star among “leftists” not just because she speaks with the pithy, unswerving certainty of a meme, but because she represents the change that was happening to America, and is happening still. Though she’s technically second in command, she proves her “boss bitch” status by running a huge organization and building a city out of nothing. (In her typically bombastic tone, Sheela says of Rajneeshpuram, “They should have offered us a Nobel Prize.”) Later, she plans her escape from Bhagwan, an older man she met at age 16 who later sexually shames her by attributing her crimes to erotic jealousy, as the guru never slept with her. Sheela’s also not entirely wrong when she calls outanti-Rajneeshi prejudice and the Antelopers’ “Mayflower mentality,” as if white Oregonians hadn’t taken their land from someone else. Details that would mitigate the framing of Sheela as a “progressive” rebel are omitted from the film. There’s no mention of her second marriage (to a fellow sannyasin), which could have deflated the sexual tension between Sheela and Bhagwan. Similarly omitted is Sheela’s enormous privilege in being paroled just 29 months after being handed three 20-year sentences (to be served simultaneously)—then having the gall to complain that the American legal system is unfair. Her self-pitying statement captures in a nutshell the sannyasins’ callous self-absorption and seeming disregard for larger injustices.

So why can’t I look away from Sheela? Watching her gave me new insight into Trump’s attraction to his base: The over-the-top offensiveness is part of the charm. The actual Sheela lives in Switzerland today and quite plausibly gives not one whit about where she falls in the identitarian camps of America in 2018. But her social media–anointed drafting into the #Resistance makes sense, since her anger at “bigots” and “fascists” coincides with the left’s contemporary language. Her certitude and zeal also parallel the crudity of political discourse on both sides in the Trump era. After seeing that “we go high when they go low” doesn’t work, many liberals have been craving a honey badger of their own. That she’s seen in the current day in a neat gray bob, gold-rimmed glasses, and a grandmotherly shawl adds to her political appeal: We’re reasonable, everyday people until given a reason to Hulk out.

Better still, Sheela, like Trump, knows how to harness deception and exaggeration as weapons of destabilization. An extravagant threat is a win-win proposition. If your opponents take you at your word, they’re chumps. And if they think you’re a clown, they won’t be prepared for what comes next. The result is an ontological crisis, in which your enemies start questioning what America might look like, what reality can contain. After experiencing the terror of that crisis, it’s natural to want the other side to feel it too. But the only solace to be taken from the tale of Rajneeshpuram is the same reason we can “celebrate” Sheela today: She didn’t succeed. 


Apr 15, 2018

University of Queensland launches investigation after researchers promote Universal Medicine 'cult'

Josh Robertson
April 15, 2018

Researchers who promoted an alleged cult and showcased its bizarre healing claims in published studies have embroiled one of Australia's top universities in an academic misconduct probe.

Key points:

*UQ faculty members promote unproven treatments linked to alleged cult
*International journals considering pulling research
*University launches conflict-of-interest investigation

The University of Queensland (UQ) and two international medical journals are investigating alleged ethical violations in research around Universal Medicine, an organisation based in Lismore in New South Wales, which touts the healing power of "esoteric breast massage" and other unproven treatments.

An ABC investigation can reveal three members of UQ's faculty of medicine have publicly advocated for the controversial group.

Founded by Serge Benhayon — a former bankrupt tennis coach with no medical qualifications who claims to be the reincarnation of Leonardo Da Vinci — UM is a multi-million-dollar enterprise with 700 mostly women followers in 15 countries.

It is linked to Mr Benhayon's Way of the Livingness religion, with UM followers urged to follow his strict lifestyle instructions from diet and sleep to sex.

Mr Benhayon's acolytes include Christoph Schnelle, a UQ faculty of medicine researcher who was the lead author of three articles on UM health practices.

He and eight co-authors are now under scrutiny for an alleged failure to declare their roles in what has been described as "a dangerous cult" by eminent medical educator John Dwyer from the University of New South Wales.

The ABC has obtained video of four of the researchers publicly advocating UM practices, including two doctors.

Two more researchers are presenters at the Benhayon-founded College of Universal Medicine.

The others are a naturopath and a psychologist who practice at UM's Brisbane clinic, and a director of its UK-based charity.

'Unbelievable conflict of interest'

Professor John Dwyer, a former head of immunology at Yale University in the US, said the researchers had "an unbelievable conflict of interest" as "apostles for Universal Medicine, heavily involved in the organisation and the teachings of the group".

"[They] have let the university down badly in their fervour for promoting the benefits of Universal Medicine's approach to treatments, which have no basis in science, couldn't possibly be effective, and really represent a pre-scientific approach to how the body works and interacts with God and the universe," Professor Dwyer said.

A second public advocate of UM within UQ's faculty of medicine is an associate lecturer, Dr Amelia Stephens.

The Clayfield-based GP is listed in a research team with Mr Schnelle to conduct future clinical trials of UM back pain treatments.

They are running a public appeal to raise $40,000 for proposed trials in Australia and the United Kingdom.

However, one of the studies last year said "the lack of high-quality evidence" for the effectiveness of the UM treatment meant it was not possible to conduct the trials in Australian hospitals.

The researchers plan to run trials in two hospitals in Vietnam, where the group last month held a retreat.

Professor Dwyer said it was "fascinating just to see the range of individuals who can be attracted to cults and this sort of thinking and obviously this can affect a number of registered health professionals".

He said they were registered on a "promise to practise evidence-based medicine" and "to desert that and promote this cultish behaviour is highly reprehensible".

UM denies it is a cult, saying online that "interestingly, professionals from the health industry represent a disproportionately higher element of [its] student body".

'Wishy-washy' penalties imposed

Health authorities have reprimanded some UM-linked doctors, including another former UQ associate, medical lecturer Sam Kim, and allied health professionals "but they've been very wish-washy type penalties," Professor Dwyer said.

"These people are in a position of giving undeserved credibility to the nonsense that's coming out of Universal Medicine," he said.

He said there was "absolutely no evidence" to back the so-called "esoteric" techniques devised by Mr Benhayon, "which he claims can help people with a myriad of different conditions".

"To put yourself in the hands of this group is to really risk your health and wellbeing," Professor Dwyer said.

Mr Schnelle was also named in a court case as a financial planner to a terminally ill UM follower who gave $1.4 million to Mr Benhayon.

Her children unsuccessfully challenged her will.

Journal looks at withdrawing academic articles

The Canadian-based Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) is considering the extreme step of withdrawing the UM-related articles from publication.

JMIR's editorial director told UQ's office of research integrity on March 6 that "the omission of this conflict of interest, which appears to be highly significant in this case, is a clear violation of our policies".

"There was clearly some conflict of interest which should have been declared but wasn't," the editorial director said on March 9.

The editor pressed for an update on the UQ investigation on March 22.

"We feel that if the paper should be retracted it should be done soon and we would preferably like to have the backing of UQ if we take that action," he wrote.

UK-based BioMed Central is also investigating an article it ran where seven of the researchers stated they were "insiders in that they attend Universal Medicine events" but did not receive "any funding, reimbursement, instruction or direction of any kind from Universal Medicine or its affiliates".

UQ ethics committees approved the studies but researchers must fully disclose conflicts of interest.

VIDEOUniversal Medicine Lennox Head Retreat 2015 - Celebration Night

UQ confirms investigation into alleged 'conflicts of interest'

UQ pro vice-chancellor of research Professor Mark Blows confirmed the university was investigating alleged "undeclared conflicts of interest by some researchers".

He said the university was "recognised as a research institution of international standing that takes research integrity extremely seriously".

"When investigations into allegations of errors or research misconduct are substantiated, the university notifies relevant academic journals, funding agencies and issues public statements as appropriate," Professor Blows said.

Mr Schnelle denied a request for an interview, while Mr Benhayon, Dr Stephens and the other researchers did not respond to requests for comment by the ABC.


Bhagwan and me: Ireland not immune to draw of controversial Indian guru

Ireland is not immune to the draw of ­ controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree ­Rajneesh. John ­Meagher speaks to Irish ­devotees of the ­flamboyant spiritual leader who owned a fleet of Rolls-Royces, tried to build a city in Oregon and is the ­subject of a major TV ­documentary.

Irish Independent News
April 15 2018

It was March 18, 1986 and RTÉ's cameras were among the journalists and curious onlookers outside Jurys Hotel, Limerick, to witness the departure of a mysterious guest. The Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, had been holed up in the hotel for the previous 11 days - he and his eight-strong entourage had booked out an entire floor - and now he was departing.

The mystic with the ankle-length white robe and the flowing grey beard cut a serene figure as the journalists swooped in with their microphones. He put the palms of his hands together as if in prayer and gave short, polite and bland answers to their questions.

The 54-year-old was a source of considerable intrigue at the time. His followers - the orange and maroon-clad Rajneeshees, or Sannyasins as they were often known - had created a veritable city in the Oregon wilderness that had outraged conservative America and troubled those who worried that it was another cult in the same vein as the one Jim Jones had led in Guyana and resulted in the mass suicide of 918 people in 1978.

And the Rajneeshees had spectacularly fallen out with local residents. De facto leader of the giant commune, Ma Anand Sheela - who was also Bhagwan's personal secretary - was given a 20-year jail sentence for such crimes as deliberately food poisoning a large chunk of the population in order to skew election results in Wasco County and for plotting to assassinate US federal prosecutor Charles Turner.

Bhagwan, himself, was forced to flee the US. He was subsequently expelled from Greece and was refused access to Britain. He wound up in Ireland after his plane had stopped to refuel at Shannon airport and he was granted a short-stay visa. American authorities had sought his expulsion but Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald would not accede to their pleas.

But it appears that Bhagwan - who had a vast fleet of Rolls-Royce cars, a private jet and enjoyed other trappings of unimaginable luxury - simply tired of Ireland and of a hotel that he didn't stir from once, and he couldn't wait to fly out to warmer climes. He eventually ended up back in Pune, in India, where his ashram - spiritual monastery - is still going strong more than 30 years later.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh - or Osho, as he later wished to be called - died in 1990 and memory of the controversy surrounding his followers faded. But an absorbing new Netflix six-part documentary, Wild Wild Country, shines a light on this most contentious of figures and of the anything-goes commune-city, Rajneeshpuram, that existed in Oregon between 1981 and 1985.

Fact stranger than fiction

Several of those who played key roles in the organisation are interviewed in the documentary, including Sheela, who served just 29 months of her sentence. It's a story that truly lives up to the fact-being-stranger-than-fiction cliché.

Jacques Piraprez Nutan, a Belgium-born Irish citizen, lives in Kinvara, Co Galway, and turned 70 a fortnight ago. He remains an Osho devotee.

"His teachings changed my life forever when I was first exposed to them in the early 1970s," he says, "and my life has been so much better than it might have been thanks to him."

Nutan - a professional photographer since the late 1960s - had been working as an art college lecturer in Dublin when he was first introduced to Bhagwan by a tarot card reader. "It completely opened my eyes," he says. "It was an awakening for me when I realised that you really could follow a different way of life where you could shake off the limitations of the every day and really get to know yourself.

"It's very hard for me to describe it, but when you learn to meditate like that it stays with you for life. It's like one day you can't ride a bike, and then one day you can and that never changes."

He moved to India shortly after reading the Bhagwan's book The Silent Explosion and found that he got plenty of access to the guru. "I worked as a photographer for him for some time," he says. "There was something very special about him - he had a presence that was unlike anyone else I ever met."

Nutan enjoyed life at the ashram and fully embraced Bhagwan's unusual teachings, including dynamic mediation - which features, arrestingly, in Wild Wild Country and is as much about making rapid movement and primal sounds as it is about silence.

After eight years, he left India and returned to Ireland. "I felt a sense of bliss when I was at the ashram and it never left me," he insists. "Many of his teachings were focused on the modern mind and self-improvement in the course of your normal work. It's something that I cherish every day and I feel better for it."

Nutan is aware that the Netflix series may give viewers a very negative perception on Bhagwan and the Rajneeshees, but he hopes that people will sense that much good has come of it, too. "People ask about his wealth, but I don't care," he says. "It's just a distraction.

"But Sheela," he adds. "I couldn't stand her when I knew her in Pune and she was a very difficult person to get on with." It was, he adds, her way or no way.

Nutan puts Review in touch with a Dublin man, who did not wish to use his Irish name but wished to go by his Indian name, Gopal.

Gopal bristles at the word 'cult'. "That's people from the outside who don't know what they're talking about," he says. "How would I define it? It's mystical and spiritual, but it's not a religion."

Like Nutan, he became interested in Bhagwan in the early 1970s. "The Ireland of the time was a very repressive place. There seemed to be no therapists then, nobody talking about the mind. There was ignorance, too. So, when I went to India then, it felt like a completely different world." Gopal talks about recalibrating, rethinking everything he had known in life. His wife and young children moved, too - the family home was sold much to the concern of both sets of parents - but he says they had no regrets. The marriage ended before the move to Oregon.

The 'free love' that was common to Rajneesh disciples at the time put paid to the notion of monogamy. "It's not as much fun as you might imagine being sexually free," Gopal says, drily.

At the time of the Oregon venture, Rajneesh devotees were being talked of in the media as a "sex cult" and Wild Wild Country certainly gives the sense that promiscuity was the order of the day. But the Dubliner says Bhagwan did not consider sex as something to be repressed as is so common in mainstream religion.

He points Review to a Rolling Stone interview with one of the documentary's participants, Sunny Massad, and says his quote on the guru and sex is significant.

"When you watch the hundreds of lectures that Osho gave, sex plays a very small part," according to Massad. "His main message about that was that repressing sex does not make you a more spiritual person, as is so often depicted in traditional religions."

But questions remain over whether such an open attitude to sex broke the law. In his book, My Life in Orange, Tim Guest - who had been raised in Sannyasin communes in England and India - wrote about how very young children were used in sexual initiations for older men and how lonely children often resorted to a promiscuous sexuality later in life.

Guest, who died in 2010 aged 34, won widespread critical acclaim for a memoir that suggested that for some children at least, their parents' quest for enlightenment was nothing short of misery for them.

Factor in some of Bhagwan's outrageous views on euthanasia for disabled children - "the child should be put to eternal sleep" - and genetic selection, and it's easy to understand why his pronouncements remain repulsive for some.

And yet, it's hard to deny that for many people around the world, the guru's legacy lives on indelibly in their lives. Helen Quinn came to Osho long after he had died - or as his followers put it, "left his body". A friend had introduced her to a breathing technique he had pioneered and it led her on a journey to uncover more of his work. She says the experience was transformative.

"I had been on anti-depressant medication," she says. "But when I found Osho and his meditations, I didn't need drugs any more." Last year, Quinn - who uses the name Anand, meaning 'bliss' - established Osho Ireland and she regularly leads dynamic mediation sessions from a hall rented in Dublin city centre.

She says she would like to follow such a mediation at home, but as stages two and three of the five-part session require participants to shout freely and recite "Hoo!" while jumping on the spot, she admits it is not easy to practice when living in close proximity to neighbours.

The mediation is rigorous and she says that when she undertook it for 21 consecutive days at the Pune ashram two years ago, she dropped a dress size without changing her diet.

Quinn has found Wild Wild Country to be "eye-opening" and while agreeing that much of what is reported is disturbing, "people may see just how positive Osho's message is for many".

Already, since it was first shown on Netflix, she has noticed an increase in the numbers of people coming to the mediation sessions or simply making enquiries. "There's a curiosity out there," she adds, "and it might encourage people to ask the big questions of themselves - 'what am I doing here?' and 'can I live a more fulfilling life'?"

She believes that it is not necessary to live in a commune or spend months at an ashram in order to live a better, more centred life. "It's taking it into the every day that's important," she says. And she believes she has managed to adhere to some of Osho's teachings while also pursuing the demanding profession of being a business advisory consultant.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was born in a small village in the former British India in 1931. He spent his formative years being brought up by his grandparents and he attributed much of his future philosophies to his grandmother, who allowed him to enjoy an early childhood free of boundaries.

Freer acceptance of sex

He was admired for a searing intellect while at university at Jabalpur - first as a student and later as a lecturer. Throughout the 1960s, he espoused the idea of individual personal development, and he would shock Hindu leaders when he called for a freer acceptance of sex. His lectures on the subject were later collected in a book, From Sex to Superconsciousness.

His popularity spread outside of India at around the time that another, older guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was attracting an international following including, famously, the Beatles.

He established his ashram in Pune in 1974 and it continues to attract thousands of 'pilgrims' today even if it is described by Gopal as a sanitised version of what it once was.

Back in 1978, when he and his wife moved permanently from Ireland to the ashram, each had to pay $5,000 for the privilege - the price of a new luxury car at the time.

And Rajneesh certainly liked expensive cars. Estimates vary wildly, but it's thought he owned at least 100 Rolls-Royce vehicles - and when Rajneeshpuram was being constructed, a runway was hewn out of the Oregon mountains to accommodate his private jet.

His ostentatious wealth does not seem to have bothered his followers, and many who met him were besotted by him - none more so than Sheela Silverman, the future Ma Anand Sheela. But Bhagwan would have harsh words for her and her actions when his American dream died.

In 1989, back in Pune, and newly excited by Zen Buddhism, he changed his name to Osho and requested that all Bhagwan logos and merchandise be changed to reflect his new identity. He was ill in the final years of his life and died in January 1990, aged 58.

But Osho lives on, not least in rural Munster where the Dubliner who had lived through the Oregon experience now resides. "He touched so many lives," he says. "I remember going to the hotel that he was in that time in Limerick, and not getting to see him, but being in that building and just feeling his presence there. It was quite extraordinary."


Leader of secretive group ordered by judge to stay in jail

Associated Press
Apr 13, 2018

NEW YORK (AP) - The leader of a secretive group accused of coercing female followers into having sex and getting branded with his initials faced a federal judge, who ordered him to remain behind bars weeks after his arrest in Mexico.

Keith Raniere responded "Yes, your honor" when Judge Steven L. Tiscione on Friday asked whether he understood the charges the FBI filed against him - sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy.

The 57-year-old Raniere, who sold himself as a self-improvement guru to the stars, was brought to the United States from Mexico on March 26. He did not enter a plea during the Brooklyn federal court hearing. His attorney did not request bail.

Raniere's ex-girlfriend said she finally felt "free."

"I'm feeling safe for the first time in years," said the ex-girlfriend, Barbara Bouchey, who left him in 2009 and said she was "stalked" by members of his group, NXIVM, pronounced like Nexium.

She said that seeing him for the first time in nine years as he walked quietly into the courtroom wearing a pale green jumpsuit she "felt a lot of grief, like a death, because I deeply loved this man."

"This man was brilliant and could have done a lot of good, if it weren't for his dark side," Bouchey said.

Raniere's lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said his client is innocent.

"The facts will show that Raniere didn't compel or pressure anyone to do anything and that everyone was acting in accordance with his or her free will at every instant," he said.

A core group of disciples was drawn to Raniere, including actresses, wealthy heiresses and a son of a former president of Mexico.

In March, federal authorities raided an upstate New York residence near Albany where NXIVM was headquartered. The organization also ran programs in Mexico.

Raniere's followers included Clare and Sara Bronfman, heiresses to the Seagram liquor fortune, and Emiliano Salinas Occelli, son of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who with a business partner controlled the Raniere-linked Executive Success Programs in Mexico.

On Thursday, they cut all ties to their onetime leader.

"With this decision, we end our activities and collaboration with the brand ESP Mexico from today onward, as well as our professional and economic relationship with the United States' NXIVM and its related entities," they wrote in Spanish on their website.

Another of his followers was television actress Allison Mack, who starred in The CW network's "Smallville."

Catherine Oxenberg, who once starred on "Dynasty," has a connection to the group that began when she attended a meeting with her daughter several years ago. The mother has said she was turned off by it but her daughter remained a devotee.

Founded in 1998, NXIVM promoted Raniere's teachings as a kind of mystical, executive coaching designed to help people get the most out of life. Enrollees in its Executive Success Programs paid handsomely for his advice, but the organization also drew criticism from people who likened it to a cult.

Last year, the accusations took a new twist, with women who were part of a NXIVM subgroup coming forward to say that they had been physically branded near their pelvises with a surgical tool against their will.