Aug 31, 2018

The Roberts Group Parents Network

Roberts Group Parents Network
MISSION -- Release the members from the control of the Roberts Group and establish two-way communication and an open and loving relationship between members and their families.

We, The Roberts Group Parents Network, are the parents and families of people who have disappeared in the last thirty years. We don't know where they are. We do know they've been lured away from us by a nomadic, bible-based cult, who forsake their families, possessions, and all of society, to wander the streets of our cities and states, witnessing to or proselytizing other unsuspecting young men and women, and recruiting them to their group. If a member or your family or a friend has disappeared, and you don't know where to start looking, or you suspect cult activity, you might find them in...


We will refer to them in this document as the Roberts Group. They live in accordance with the teaching of an authoritarian leader, who determines the members' beliefs and their daily behavior. The leader's interpretation of Bible scripture is the foundation for this cult. It is a highly structured, strictly disciplined group that demands the total time, allegiance, dedication and resources of the members. They see themselves as the only possessors of truth and regard outsiders, parents, and family members as unsaved, unenlightened, unspiritual and hostile to the truth.

This document addresses three main areas: what our sons and daughters were like before they entered the Roberts Group, a general discussion and description of the Roberts Group's lifestyle, and pictures of unidentified persons within the Roberts Group. We will provide additional resources for those of you who recognize any of the unidentified or suspect your son, daughter, brother, sister, or other loved one has entered the Roberts Group.

If you recognize anyone on these pages or if you suspect your loved one is a part of the Roberts Group, we empathize with you. We know the pain you feel and deeply regret that you share our situation. On the other hand, we'd like to welcome you to our fellowship. We've been brought together from all parts of the country by our common loss. Our sorrow is the same. In supporting each other we find new strength to make it through one day at a time and the new hope that we'll be reunited with the loved ones that were taken from our lives.

We hope this website serves several purposes. First and foremost, we hope it will be an aid to the parents and families of the Roberts Group members. Second, we hope to provide the truth and educate and forewarn the public about Jim Roberts and his control. Third, we hope this might be an aid in helping us find our sons and daughters.

Aug 30, 2018


"My name is Alicen Grey, and I’ve survived 18 years of psychological and spiritual abuse by different cults. This channel is where I share what I’ve learned, and encourage others towards questioning and healing."

Can the Satanic Temple survive its "civil war"?

The Satanic Temple unveils its statue of Baphomet, a winged-goat creature, at a rally for the first amendment in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. (AP/Hannah Grabenstein)
What happens when an organization founded on inclusivity and activism partners with an attorney for the alt-right?

AUGUST 28, 2018

When we think of organized Satanism — if we think of it — most of us probably mentally conjure the winged eyebrows of Anton LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan back in 1966. But the headline-maker of note where Satanists are concerned lately is The Satanic Temple, and it seems to be embroiled in a battle for its own soul.

As my co-host Cher Martinetti and I discussed on a recent episode of our podcast about cults and extreme belief, “Cult Faves,” The Satanic Temple (TST for short) is turning into a fascinating case study of a group that attracts the type of joiner who will not go in cultish lock-step with its leaders. When TST was founded in 2012, it set itself up as a nontheistic group with an explicit mission of political activism, and with principles that made it attractive to politically-minded free thinkers.

“The people who do call themselves Satanists do genuinely believe in social justice issues and they are progressive, and maybe sometimes skew a little anarchist,” says Martinetti.

Over its relatively brief history, TST has developed a track record of tongue-in-cheek antics that make its points — and headlines. Take, for instance, their fight against Ten Commandments monuments on state property in Oklahoma and, more recently, Arkansas. TST raised funds to construct a seven-and-a-half-foot tall statue of the winged goat-headed deity Baphomet to make the point that equal religious representation should guarantee it a place on Capitol grounds, as well. (In Oklahoma, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments monument should be removed following a lawsuit by the ACLU, and so TST put Baphomet in storage until its recent appearance.) They’ve also conducted high-profile actions in support of pro-choice causes, including staging a protest in Michigan where baby-themed fetish gear was worn and suing Missouri over its restrictive abortion laws on grounds of infringement on religious freedom.

But TST isn’t without controversy it didn’t intentionally create. Take its ongoing shade war via FAQs with the Church of Satan, which raises a valid point that TST’s branding creates confusion — without being true copyright infringement. They and journalists have uncovered evidence that TST’s initial founding by Malcom Jarry and Lucien Greaves — both pseudonyms — originally involved a parody film, and that the part of Greaves was offered to others before being taken on by a man whose real name is Doug Mesner.

Journalist Anna Merlan, who first covered TST for The Village Voice back in 2014, wrote a bombshell piece for Jezebel earlier this month about the “civil war” roiling the TST community after Greaves’ decision to hire an attorney with ties to alt-right clientele. Attorney Marc Randazza has defended the likes of Alex Jones and the founder of the Daily Stormer, and now TST, as Greaves pursues legal action against Twitter for religious discrimination after his brief suspension from the platform.

The circumstances for the suspension, which involve former teen star Corey Feldman, are quite bizarre. First, Feldman retweeted a person calling for the headquarters of TST to be burned down. When Greaves shared Feldman's retweet and asked people to report the original poster for violating Twitter's rule against threats of violence, Twitter suspended Greaves' account instead and then later reinstated it. TST is now suing Twitter.

The reaction from TST's social justice-fueled chapters to Randazza’s hiring (which Greaves is quick to say is pro bono) has been swift and — apparently to everyone except Greaves — predictable. So far the Los Angeles and Portland chapters have said goodbye to TST over this issue, and the co-head of the New York chapter resigned. There are also allegations that despite its inclusive ideals, TST has not necessarily made itself an inclusive movement — which is a hard reputation to shake when the majority of leadership is composed of white men.

“I just don’t trust it,” says Martinetti in the episode. “I just don’t trust anytime anybody is trying to force everyone into a group mentality without allowing you to ask questions about it. ”

Will TST get its act together or will it continue to fracture? Only time will tell. But if Greaves has told the truth in interviews about not wanting to be a cult leader, then a first step would be to truly listen to the objections of TST’s membership.

Listen to our episode on The Satanic Temple here:


Gwenda Bond is the author of many books, including the Lois Lane and Cirque American series. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky. Find her online at or @gwenda on Twitter.

Raniere files new request for bond

NXIVM leader's lawyers ask to keep secret those who would post his bond
Brendan J. Lyons
Albany Times Union
August 29, 2018

ALBANY — Attorneys for NXIVM founder Keith Raniere have asked a federal judge in Brooklyn to hold a closed-door hearing to reconsider Raniere's request for bail, and to keep secret the names of the individuals who are willing to post his bond.

The unusual application was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn this week, where a criminal case is pending against Raniere and five of his NXIVM associates. The application alleges that the unidentified individuals who would post any bond for Raniere could be endangered if their identities or home addresses are made public.

"Over the last twenty years, people associated with Executive Success Programs (“ESP”) and NXIVM have been the targets of threats, computer-hacking and blatant false statements on websites and other media specifically to damage their reputations, businesses and lives," the application states.

Raniere's attorneys contend in their letter to the judge that the individuals who would be willing to post his bond are concerned they would "be subject to reprisal and potentially be the victims of unlawful and criminal conduct."

Raniere's earlier requests to be released on bond were rejected by a federal judge who had agreed with federal prosecutors that Raniere, who prosecutors said has access to vast resources and followers around the world, poses a high risk of flight and a danger to the public.

His renewed request for bond is based on an assertion in the application that if Raniere is released on bond secured by the assets of others, he would be more unlikely to flee.

"The government continues to maintain that there are no conditions it will agree to regarding Mr. Raniere’s release," the application states. "Moreover, the government indicated it will not agree to the sealing of co-signers’ names or the partial courtroom closure referenced herein."

The judge set bond for Raniere's co-defendants — Allison Mack, Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman Clare Bronfman and Kathy Russell — at amounts ranging from $25,000 for Russell, a longtime NXIVM bookkeeper, to $100 million for Bronfman, the Seagram's liquor fortune heiress who has served as NXIVM's operations director.

Raniere's latest bond request notes that while they are requesting that the bond hearing take place behind closed doors, a transcript of the proceeding could be made available with information about the people posting the bond blacked out.

In June, federal prosecutors had opposed Raniere's request to be released on a $10 million bond by unveiling text messages the Justice Department said showed that Raniere was directly involved in recruiting women to be his sex slaves and having them branded with a "monogram" that included his initials.

The prosecutors urged the judge to reject Raniere's request and keep him in custody, noting he had access to private jets and unlimited wealth. They said he also has both male and female devotees who may remain willing to help him escape.

Raniere, 57, whose organization has been described by at least one expert as a cult, was arrested in late March at a luxury beach villa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, along the Pacific Ocean. In Mexico, authorities said, Raniere got rid of his mobile phone and used encrypted email to communicate with his followers. It took authorities nearly two months to locate and arrest him.

Raniere and Mack, a former television actress, were indicted in April and accused of organizing a secret group within NXIVM in which some of its female members said they felt coerced into joining a slave-master club, and were later branded with a design that included the initials of Raniere and Mack, according to the charges. The pair were charged with sex-trafficking and forced labor conspiracy.

On July 25, the criminal case expanded under a superseding indictment that elevated the charges against Raniere and Mack, and added as defendants NXIVM's president, Nancy Salzman, and her daughter Lauren, along with Bronfman and Russell.

The new indictment charged the six defendants with crimes that included identity theft, harboring of aliens for financial gain, forced labor, sex trafficking and wire fraud.

Raniere has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn while the case is pending. His latest application for bail — his trial is scheduled to begin in January — alleges that NXIVM and people involved with it have been subjected to defamatory statements and alleged computer hacking through the years.

The individuals willing to post bond for Raniere, the application states, are "reasonably concerned ... that they and their families will be threatened (and) that they and their families' personal private information may have been among the information hacked ... (and) that they and their families will be the subject of defamatory public statements specifically intended to damage their businesses and reputations."

The application claimed that two bloggers, two journalists — including one who had worked for the Times Union — and others, including former NXIVM devotees, had allegedly hacked into NXIVM's computers or used information from an illegal computer entry. In 2016, a judge in Albany dismissed computer trespassing charges against three people with past ties to NXIVM.

A fourth defendant in that case, former Saratoga County blogger John Tighe, pleaded guilty in 2014 to felony computer trespassing at a time when he was facing unrelated federal child pornography charges.

In September 2015, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed by the NXIVM corporation that accused five people, including the two journalists, of hacking into its computers to obtain confidential information, including client lists and other non-public materials.

For a 'house church' in Beijing, CCTV cameras and eviction

Christian Shepherd
August 30, 2018

The Zion church in Beijing, one of the city's largest unofficial Protestant "house" churches, has operated with relative freedom for years, hosting hundreds of worshippers every weekend in an expansive, specially renovated hall in north Beijing.

But in April, city authorities asked the church to install 24 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in the building for "security", Zion's head pastor, Jin Mingri, told Reuters.

"They wanted to put cameras in the sanctuary where we worship. The church decided this was not appropriate," Jin said over tea in his spacious, book-lined office. "Our services are a sacred time."

When the request was refused, police and state security agents started harassing churchgoers, calling them, visiting them, contacting their workplace and asking them to promise not to go to church, according to statements from the church and interviews with attendees.

China's constitution guarantees religious freedom, but since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, Beijing has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.

China's religious affairs bureau and the public security ministry did not respond to faxed requests for comment.

The Chinese government says greater oversight of religious activities is needed in order to regulate believers and facilitate worship, as well as to prevent foreign forces from influencing China's internal affairs using the guise of religion.


China's Christian believers are split between those who attend unofficial "house" or "underground" churches and those who attend government-sanctioned places of worship.

The unofficial establishments, which range from small living room-gatherings to large, professional operations like Zion, had in recent decades been tolerated by authorities.
They were often able to rent large spaces, though these are rarely identifiable from the outside. The only church exteriors in China adorned with steeples or crosses are officially sanctioned.

In February, new legislation increased oversight of religious education and practice, with harsher punishment for practices not sanctioned by the authorities.

In addition to being asked to install security cameras, some unofficial churches have been asked by police to take detailed lists of attendee IDs and phone numbers, churchgoers and activists say.

Some who push back have been visited by police and asked to switch places of worship to officially sanctioned churches, they added.

The Zion church, which occupies an office building floor that was previously a nightclub, is now being evicted despite previous verbal assurances from its landlord that it could rent the location until 2023, Jin said. The landlord could not be reached for comment.

Jin does not expect to be able to find a landlord that would rent the church another suitable location.


There are roughly 60 million Christians in China, most of them Protestant, with about 10 million Catholics, according to independent estimates.

The Vatican and Beijing are locked in talks to resolve a decades-long dispute over appointing bishops in China that, if resolved, could make underground Catholic churches official, with Holy See-approved bishops.

On July 23, more than 30 of Beijing's hundreds of underground Protestant churches took the rare step of releasing a joint statement complaining of "unceasing interference" and the "assault and obstruction" of regular activities of believers since the new regulations came into effect, according to a copy of the statement seen by Reuters and confirmed by Jin.

"We call on the government to respect history and the current situation of house churches, respect the means and practices of religious work, and respect citizens' basic freedoms and rights to believe," the letter said.

Wang Yu, a prominent rights lawyer who has defended Christians from harassment and was recently baptized at Zion after years of worship there, said she believes the pressure on believers is an attempt to force the church to close.

"The authorities hope numbers will dwindle till it becomes impossible to continue, but in recent months ever-more churchgoers have been attending service," she said.

Wang fears, however, the situation will worsen, given the authorities have started describing the church as a "cult" when pressuring churchgoers. In one of its statements, Zion also says authorities have called the church a cult.

"Being labeled a cult was how it all started for the Falun Gong in 1999," Wang said, referring to the spiritual movement the Communist Party banned that year.

The new regulations have increased government pressure on the churches to "sinicize" - to be culturally Chinese and submit to oversight from the Communist Party - but many have resisted, saying this would be a fundamental betrayal of their faith.

"House churches believe that our spiritual needs and the content of our faith is ruled over by God," Pastor Jin said.

"What we need is the freedom to believe. Without this, it is not real faith."

Aug 29, 2018

Buddhist Monk Held for Alleged Sexual Abuse of 15 Boys at Bihar Meditation Centre

The monk ran an institution called "Prasanna Jyoti Buddhist School and Meditation Centre" at Mastipur village in Bodh Gaya where the 15 children were studying.

August 29, 2018

Gaya: A Buddhist monk was on Wednesday taken into custody at the international pilgrim town Bodh Gaya near here for alleged sexual abuse of 15 children from Assam who were studying at a school-cum-meditation centre run by him, police said.

Superintendent of Police (City), Gaya, Anil Kumar said the monk was being interrogated by Town Deputy SP Rajkumar Shah.

The monk ran an institution called "Prasanna Jyoti Buddhist School and Meditation Centre" at Mastipur village in Bodh Gaya where the 15 children – all hailing from Karbi Anglong district in Assam – were studying.

The police had received information that the boys were being sexually exploited by the monk.

"The children are being questioned by the SHO of Mahila Thana. They will be produced before a magistrate tomorrow and their statements recorded under the relevant CrPC section. They will also be taken for medical tests based on the results of which a case may be lodged against the monk."

Alfred Ford to fund Rs 2,000 crore Disneyland-themed park in Mayapur
August 14, 2018

This tourism hub will accommodate 1.5 lakh people at a time. Thanks to ISKCON's participation, a special attraction of the hub will be called Krishnaland.

A massive theme park on the lines of Disneyland, is being planned in Kolkata’s Mayapur, outside the famous ISKCON temple premises. Ford has agreed to back the project, with an investment of Rs 2000 crore, and will collaborate with the state government to translate the vision into a reality. The goal is to set up a tourism hub boasting of international standards.

As reported by The Times of India, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, during her visit to Mayapur in February, personally made a request to the religious order to start the project at the earliest. During her visit she also met Alfred Ford, the scion of the Ford family and an initiated devotee of Iskcon.

The tourism hub of Mayapur will be special, as the place is also epicentre of traditional Bengal handlooms and handicrafts, by the virtue of its location. The complete map of the project is readied by ISKCON and awaiting the CM’s nod. A meeting was held between ISKCON officials and tourism department officials on Tuesday for clearance of the project.

This tourism hub will accommodate 1.5 lakh people at a time. Thanks to ISKCON's participation, a special attraction of the hub will be called Krishnaland. For this, Alfred Ford is getting experts from across the theme parks of the world.

This project aims at promoting Bengal handlooms and handicrafts from Nadia and Murshidabad. This hub will be a marketplace for the artisans. Also, all the devotees will have an Indian traditional dress code- saree for women and dhoti for men to be woven by handloom weavers of Shantipur and Fulia.

Tears of the Silenced: An Amish True Crime Memoir of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Brutal Betrayal, and Ultimate Survival

"A true crime memoir: When Misty was six years old her family started to live and dress like the Amish. Misty and her sister were kept as slaves on a mountain ranch where they were subjected to almost complete isolation, sexual abuse and extreme physical violence. Their step-father kept a loaded rifle by the door at all times to make sure the young girls were too terrified to try to escape. They also knew that no rescue would ever come because only a couple of people even knew they existed and did not know them well enough to care."

"Amish Sexual abuse: When Misty reached her teens, her parents feared she and her sister would escape and took them to an Amish community where they were adopted and became baptized members. Misty was devastated to once again find herself in a world of fear, animal cruelty and sexual abuse. Going to the police was severely frowned upon. A few years later, Misty was sexually assaulted by the bishop. As Misty recalls, "Amish sexual abusers are only shunned by the church for six weeks, a punishment that never seems to work." 

"After I was assaulted by the bishop I knew I had to get help and one freezing morning in early March I made a dash for a tiny police station in rural Minnesota. After reporting the bishop I left the Amish and found myself plummeted into the strange modern world with only a second-grade education and no ID or social security card. To all abuse survivors out there, please be encouraged, the cycle of abuse can be broken. Today, I am a nursing student working towards my master's degree and a child abuse awareness activist. This is my story."



AN EX-MEMBER of the Amish community has opened up about why she left the religious group


Misty Griffin currently happily resides in Pasadena, California with her husband, however she had an incredibly difficult childhood.

She told Barcroft TV: "When I was 4 years old, my mother met a coal miner in Arizona. He was also a wanted child molester, and we started living with him. He was very strict. He and my mother were extremely abusive.

"When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my step father got the idea that we should start dressing Amish and we started dressing in Amish clothes. Gradually by the time I was 10 years old we were dressing in full Amish attire.

"My sister and I were isolated. We were kept away from the rest of the world. We weren’t allowed to talk to each other or to anyone else. We were beaten several times a day and when I was 11 years old, we moved to a mountain ranch in the northwest.

"The ranch was six and a half miles out of town and my sister and I were basically held prisoners there until I was 19 years old. When I was almost 19 years old I tried to escape the ranch and that’s when my stepfather got the idea to send us to an Amish community.”

The Amish are a traditional subgroup of Christianity, they are known for simple living, plain dress and a reluctance to adopt modern day traditions or technologies have strict rules - something Misty soon discovered after integrating with her new community.

She said: “When I got to the Amish community I realised that there was a lot more to being Amish than what you can learn from the outside. You can copy them but you can never fully be Amish without actually being in the Amish and learning all the rules.

“When I went to the community, I learned that there’s basically a rule for every single aspect of your life. Like the width of the hem on your dress, to the length of the dress, to your underwear. For me the Amish way of life was something I had basically only known my whole life. I had grown up on a farm, getting up every morning at 5 o’clock taking care of the farm.”

Unfortunately Misty did not escape abuse by moving to the Amish, and was molested by the bishop of the community.

She said: “When you are in the Amish, you are told that you go to hell for leaving the Amish. So, it takes a lot for an Amish person to finally get in their head that they should leave the Amish.

"In my case, I left the because I knew of several sexual abuse cases that were going on in the Amish and they were not reported to the police. And the perpetrators were allowed to just live among the church like regular people, they had full access to their victims over and over again.

“After I went to the police, the bishop tried to silence me and told me to retract my story from the police. And that is when I just realised there’s something very, very wrong with this church and what they are telling me, I longer believed in it at that point.

"I kind of made the decision in a swift second. I remember the bishop told me to be quite and to behave myself. And I just like reached up. I took my head covering off. I threw it on the ground and I stomped on it. And I told them I am leaving."

When someone leaves an Amish community, they are shunned by the rest of the community - and you are left on your own to discover the modern world.
Misty said: “For one thing, not many Amish leave, I think they have a 98% retention rate a very-very few people leave the Amish cause for one thing leaving the Amish is extremely hard. When I left the Amish I felt that I was being Teleported from 1600s into the 21st century, so that is one reason that very few leave.

“You are basically almost going to a different planet, nothing that I knew or nothing that I had learned seemed helpful in the outside world. The very first day I was in the outside world everything was so foreign and so different from what I knew. I remember that the television hurt my eyes, the lights hurt my eyes. When somebody left the room I turned the lights off and I was sitting on the couch in the dark.

"The Amish believed that the outside world is evil. Basically everybody in it is going to help. You are taught if you are not Amish or if you ever left the Amish you would go to hell. Once you are a baptised member and then leave the Amish there is no absolutely no hope for you. The Amish believe that the outside world is evil and something that should be avoided at all costs."

The Amish community do not consider themselves citizens of the United States of America, and lack passports or social security numbers.

Fortunately a distant relative of Misty helped her integrate herself into the 21st century.

She said: "I had no idea where to start but thankfully my stepdad's sister took me under her wing and we actually went to the congressmen to get something signed so that I could get a passport, that was my first form of identification, and we went to the social security office and I got my social security card.
“There were so many things I didn’t know, like how to use deodorant. I remember the hair dryer scared me to death so the first time I picked up the hair dryer to try to dry my hair with it, it was so loud and I dropped into the sink and I didn’t use it again for a week or two."

Misty believes that many abuse cases go unnoticed as society represent the Amish as law abiding citizens.

She said: “The Amish are sort of idealised in American culture as the perfect way to live and I am really surprised that in 2018 people would think that in a country where we have had the women’s marches, the civil rights march, the women’s right to vote, we are like a democratic society with freedom for everybody, and I am very surprised that they would embrace a culture that is so oppressive.

"Actually it’s quite shocking but Amish tourism Industry is actually a 1.9 billion dollar yearly business. The revenue from this is huge. And I believe that a lot of the people that come against me are actually the people that work in this industry. If the Amish were not the great people that everybody makes them out to be, like the Christian Amish novels make them to be the Amish tourism business would suffer greatly.”

After leaving the Amish community, Misty met her husband - who has been the main person to help her adapt to modern life.

She said: "He introduced me to, basically everything like, how to work on computers. Basically, anything I needed help with. Especially with technology or education or any of that. My husband has been there to help me with. So he’s been My main support.

Misty’s sister is still in an Amish community, and despite being shunned, she hopes to visit her.

She said: ": So my sister is in Amish community in the mid-west and it’s been 12 years since I have seen her. I would just like stay for he day and just visit my sister, but it would be very, very hard to go back."

In 2015 Misty decided to write her memoir, Tears of the Silenced to raise awareness about child abuse and the importance of reporting suspected child abuse.

She said: "I later learned that there were several people in the town below us That suspected that my sister and I were being abused but they never reported it and they later apologized to me and I also wrote my memoire to raise awareness about sexual abuse among the Amish but I want to stress that it is not only among the Amish, it is among very strict religions that entrap their victims.

Shortly after releasing her book, Misty was inundated with emails from abuse victims, including those of the same bishop that abused her.

She said: "So the book started selling in England then it started selling in the United States and then it sold approximately 100,0000 copies and I put my e-mail in the back of the kindle version of the book and all of a sudden I started getting all of these e-mails from all around the world.

"After I had written my memoir, I was contacted on Good Reads and it was the Bishop’s oldest daughter and she told me that her and her sister had reported their father to the police and that he has being investigated. At that time the detective that was assigned to the case was reading my memoir actually, and he figured out that the bishop was the bishop from the book he was reading. And that’s how the children got in contact with me through Good Reads.

"And today the Bishop is in prison. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for child molestation.”

In between helping abuse victims, Misty is currently studying for her nursing degree, and has learnt to make peace with her past.
She said: "Today life is probably better I ever expected. I had the chance to help a lot of people and that makes me very happy, gives me something to look forward to.”

An updater edition of Misty’s book Tears of the Silenced is available for pre-order on Amazon.


Religious Exemptions to Medical Care of Sick Children - Fall 2017
CHILD USA conducts evidence-based legal, medical, and social science research to identify laws and policies affecting child protection. With these facts, CHILD USA shines a light on the better pathways to truly protect all children from abuse and neglect.

What We Do
Children’s Healthcare is a Legal Duty. Sexual abuse and the maltreatment of children have an all too frequent impact on Children’s health. These acts often occur in secret, behind closed doors, but have public consequences. Victims, their families, and the public pay a high price even decades after the violence ends. CHILD USA cuts through the shame and the secrecy to gather and analyze the data behind abuse and neglect.

CHILD USA conducts research, compiles evidence, promotes ideas, and proposes the most effective policies to prevent childhood abuse and neglect. CHILD USA draws on the combined expertise of the nation’s leading medical and legal academics to reach evidence-based solutions to persistent and widespread child abuse and neglect. All child victims deserve justice, and CHILD USA aims to find the path for them.

Current Laws for Child Protection
CHILD USA is tracking four types of laws that are putting children at risk so that we can study and improve those laws to prevent abuse and neglect:

Statutes of Limitation for Child Sex Abuse
  • Age of Majority, Consent, and Marriage
  • Religious Liberty Statutes
  • Medical Neglect Laws 
  • We are investigating the states with inadequate legal protection against child sex abuse, physical abuse, and neglect.

Orthodox Jewish organizations reach $14.25 million settlement with victims of voyeur-rabbi Barry Freundel

Rabbi Barry Freundel leaves D.C. Superior Court on Feb. 19, 2015, in Washington. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)
Michelle Boorstein and Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post
August 28, 2018

Victims of a prominent Orthodox rabbi who spied for years on women in a ritual bath in Washington, D.C., have reached a $14.25 million settlement with four Jewish organizations, the rabbi’s former synagogue announced Tuesday.

The settlement, which must be approved by a judge, could close a legal chapter in the scandal that rocked the Orthodox Jewish community regionally and nationally, because of the prominence of Bernard “Barry” Freundel and victims’ allegations that national Orthodox rabbinical bodies could have done more. The Jewish groups named in the lawsuit were: Kesher Israel Congregation, the National Capital Mikvah, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Beth Din of the United States of America. Freundel was also named in the suit.

Freundel placed a hidden camera in the changing room of a mikvah, a ritual bath Jews use for various purposes, including as part of the conversion process. Many of the victims were conversion students of Freundel, who had a reputation as one of the most stringent and impeccable rabbis for conversion in the modern Orthodox movement, a more liberal segment of Orthodox Judaism.

In 2015, Freundel was sentenced to six and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to videotaping 52 women without their knowledge. The scandal also left the Orthodox community reeling over converts’ allegations that they are often treated disrespectfully in the community — which they said allowed Freundel to exploit his power over them.

According to a news release Tuesday from Kesher Israel, the Georgetown synagogue that Freundel led, a class-action lawsuit had sought $100 million. Class members include over 150 women who were confirmed to have been videotaped, as well as an undetermined number of other women who disrobed or partially disrobed in the mikvah between July 1, 2005 and Oct. 14, 2014, but were not confirmed as having been videotaped. The release said some of the Jewish organizations had sought to dismiss the cases, arguing that they had “no prior knowledge of Freundel’s illegal actions” and were not at fault, and that after the Jewish groups sought to dismiss the case, the victims entered into settlement discussions.

The settlement sum is to be paid by the insurance company for the defendants, Travelers Companies, Inc.

Alexandra Harwin, a partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp, which represents the class action, said the victims were “very happy” with the settlement. “One of the things that is very appealing to the class members is that payments are easy to access and don’t require an intrusive inquiry,” she said. “What this settlement does is provide substantial and prompt recovery for class members instead of the delays and risks of protracted litigation.”

In addition, Harwin said, the defendants’ insurance policy would not have covered the $100 million they had sought.

In a statement Tuesday, Kesher’s president, Andrew Cooper, said, “Although Kesher is confident that it would have been found without fault if the case were litigated to final judgment, Kesher believes that resolving the case at this time is in its best interests, as well as the best interests of the Kesher community and Freundel’s victims. The settlement would enable the parties to avoid the further burdens of litigation, and would allow Kesher to continue its focus on serving the needs of the Jewish community in Washington, D.C., without the distraction of the lawsuits.”

Kesher noted in the release that it was the one who brought to light Freundel’s crimes. A woman cleaning the mikvah discovered the camera in 2014.

In the settlement, different classes of victims will get different payments. The women who federal prosecutors confirmed had been videotaped would receive $25,000 each and some would be eligible for a supplemental amount in addition to that.

Women who took off their clothes in the mikvah “one or more times” between 2005 and 2014 “and suffered actual emotional distress after learning of Freundel’s videotaping” but who had not been confirmed as having been videotaped would receive $2,500.

Freundel’s lawyer, Jeffrey Harris, said Tuesday that he was glad the three-year-old suit is near completion. “It’s been a long negotiation. I’m glad this is finally going to put this matter to rest,” he said.

A hearing is scheduled in D.C. Superior Court on Sept. 7, when Judge Brian Holeman, who is overseeing the lawsuit, will decide whether the settlement is fair and equitable.

Harris said Freundel remains housed in the D.C. jail and is expected to be released in 2020.

An earlier version of this story misreported the settlement amount as $14.5 million. This version has been corrected.

Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.

to the moon and back:a childhood under the influence

to the moon and back: a childhood under the influence
to the moon and back:
a childhood under the influence

Coming September 18, 2018

Lisa Kohn’s memoir of being raised in and torn between two conflicting worlds. There was the world she longed for and lived in on weekends – her mother’s world, which was the fanatical, puritanical cult of the Moonies – and the world she was forced to live in during the week – her father’s world, which was based in sex, drugs, and the squalor of life in New York City’s East Village in the 1970’s.

More Information

Book signing events around the country:

  • 9/20 7 pm Wayne PA – Main Point Books
  • 9/22 2 pm Woodstock NY – The Golden Notebook
  • 9/29 2 pm Westfield NJ – The Town Book Store
  • 10/4 7 pm Minneapolis MN – Moon Palace
  • 10/13 2pm Port Washington NY – Dolphin Books
  • 10/20 2 pm Ann Arbor MI – Crazy Wisdom
  • 10/21 1 pm Shaker Heights OH – Loganberry Books
  • 10/23 6 pm Takoma, Washington DC – Busboys and Poets (Takoma store)
  • 10/27 2 pm Charlotte NC – Park Road Books
  • 10/30 7 pm – Amherst MA – Amherst Books
  • 11/1 6:30 pm Westborough MA – Tatnuck Book

Amish Heritage Foundation

The Amish Heritage Foundation Mission

" ... The mission of The Amish Heritage Foundation is to help people of Amish origin transition into compassionate, active members and leaders of the global community, guided by enlightenment principles.

The first step in this process is to reclaim our Amish narrative and engage our silenced issues.

Our mandate is to establish a new generation of Amish leaders who speak on issues of discrimination, marginalization, educational deprivation, collusion of church and state to keep us imprisoned, exploitation by academia and the media, and predatory manipulation by fundamentalist Christianity."

Who We Are

"We are the first––and so far, only––organization in our 300+ year history that advocates for our fellow Amish without a religious price tag, promotes compassionate secular values and nonsectarian harmony, and empowers those who leave the Church.

No other nonsectarian institution exists, or has ever existed before this, that assists people inside and outside the Amish Church and makes the transition smoother for those who’ve already left."

Amish who left church launch nonprofit to 'reclaim our story'

The Amish Heritage Foundation’s inaugural conference, “Disrupting History: Reclaiming Our Amish Story” will take place Sept. 28-29 at Franklin & Marshall College.
August 28, 2018

Torah Bontrager says she was about 13 when she read about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

The story of the former slave turned abolitionist electrified her. The oldest child of a strict Amish family in the Midwest, Bontrager recalls being constantly scolded and beaten, leaving her feeling trapped and miserable.

She vowed to make a getaway herself, and someday to find a way to help other Amish left behind.

At age 15, she slipped away in the dead of night, beginning a sometimes harrowing odyssey that is depicted in her memoir, “An Amish Girl in Manhattan.”

It eventually led her to Columbia University, where she earned a philosophy degree.

Now 37 and living in New York City, Bontrager earlier this year created the Amish Heritage Foundation, a milestone in fulfilling her childhood vow.

It is registered as a nonprofit, and a board has been formed; its application for tax-exempt status is pending.

Working with Bontrager is Elam Zook, a Lancaster County man who left the Amish church and serves as the foundation’s director for the development of Amish literature.

Bontrager and Zook describe the foundation’s mission as “reclaiming our Amish story.”

They aim to lower the barriers between the Amish and the outside world, and to bring the voices of formerly compliant Amish like themselves into discussions of the culture. Those voices, they say, have been marginalized and ignored until now.

On Sept. 28 and 29, the foundation will hold its inaugural conference in the Lisa Bonchek Adams Auditorium at Franklin & Marshall College. The college is a co-sponsor; F&M anthropology professor Michael Billig is among the speakers.

The lineup, Bontrager said, is “stellar,” with nationally recognized names in law, religion, entrepreneurship and human rights.

The Plain truth

According to Bontrager and Zook, scholars and the media have perpetuated a “myth” of Amish society as largely idyllic and harmonious.

“Everybody’s vested in this myth,” Zook said, even the Amish themselves.

Bontrager readily acknowledges Amish life has its pluses: reverence for hard work done well, self-reliance, a commitment not only to family and community but to welcoming strangers and helping the needy.

But there is far more dysfunction in Amish life than is generally acknowledged, she and Zook say.

Wisconsin v. Yoder, the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed the Amish to forgo compulsory education after eighth grade, was a crucial wrong turn, Zook said.

It froze Amish culture in time and created “an embrace of ignorance,” he said: “It’s what sealed our fate.”

Bontrager and Zook say the Amish are taught not to question church leaders or biblical authority.

At minimum, that limits Amish young people’s opportunities for personal growth and informed choice — a direct betrayal of the premise of adult baptism, Zook said.

The two also say it has provided cover for widespread physical, emotional and sexual abuse of women and children.

Bontrager says she herself was assaulted both as a child and later by ex-Amish relatives.

“It’s rampant,” she said, but incidents are usually hushed up and victims are pressured to forgive their attackers.

Occasionally a case goes public. In 2004, Mary Byler went to legal authorities after years of rape by her brothers. They pleaded guilty, but her community condemned her action and excommunicated her.

Byler is on the foundation’s board; an interview with her will be featured at the conference.

While individual cases of abuse are well-documented, opinions regarding its prevalence in Amish communities vary considerably. Even in mainstream society, gathering accurate data on abuse is difficult; for the Amish, no reliable statistics are available.

Steve Nolt, senior scholar at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, said the center plans to have a faculty member attend the conference.

He declined to comment on the foundation’s views of Amish scholarship, saying: “The conference will hopefully provide some new insights and fresh perspectives, which are always welcome.”

Outreach and assistance

Going forward, the foundation plans to roll out a broad range of social services for ex-Amish seeking to build new lives: counseling, health services, education, entrepreneurship programs and more.

The goal would be to base services near Amish communities in the Lancaster area and elsewhere.

Resources will be available to people who leave the Amish, and to those who choose to remain, Bontrager said.

In contrast to evangelical Christian organizations that seek converts among the Amish, the foundation’s orientation is firmly secular, grounded in enlightenment principles of rationality and humanism, Bontrager and Zook said.

Bontrager said she is speaking with potential donors and hopes to have the foundation operating on a multimillion-dollar budget in a few years.

“The need is that great,” she said.

Aug 28, 2018

For some Catholics, it is demons that taunt priests with sexual desire

Pennsylvania grand jury accused Cardinal Wuerl of helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop. AP Photo/Kevin Wolf
Elizabeth McAlister (Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University)
The Conversation
August 23, 2018
Disclosure statement: Elizabeth McAlister received a grant from the Social Science Research Council's Project on New Directions in the Study of Prayer to study Aggressive Forms of Prayer in 2013 .
Partners: Wesleyan University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

A Pennsylvania grand jury recently released a report on the systematic ways Catholic priests aided and abetted one another to sexually abuse children for 70 years.

It reveals once again how the strict patriarchal hierarchy of the Catholic Church gives rise to conspiracies of silence and allows for routine cover-up of crimes. Cover-ups are also encouraged by clericalism – the belief that ordained priests are inherently superior and closer to God than the laity. This much has been demonstrated by countless observers.

But there is another, lesser-known factor contributing to the abuse, that I want to point out as a scholar of spiritual warfare in some forms of Christianity. This factor lies in the realm of belief: In some strands of Catholic thought, when priests abuse children, it is because they have been tempted by demons, and succumbed.

History of demon beliefs

The Catholic Church invites priests to view sexuality as a battle in the war between good and evil. Spiritual warfare is one name for this view of the world and it has a long history in Catholic teachings.

The idea of demons has been around since antiquity – in the Mediterranean world, the Middle East and elsewhere. In Christianity, preoccupation with demons reached its peak in the Middle Ages. Demons were explicitly defined by the church in 1215 under Pope Innocent III.

Theologians worked to identify classes and ranks of demons who operated under the authority of the devil himself. Demons were seen as fallen angels who disobeyed God and worked to subvert God and goodness.

Demons are malevolent beings who lord over specific domains of sin. Christians are called to battle evil, including evil that comes by way of the demonic. The more pious one is, the more intense will be the attacks from the demons.

After the Second Vatican Council of 1964, demons faded out of focus and exorcisms were rare. But my research shows that the spiritual warfare world view is on the rise in the Catholic Church. This is despite the fact that demons and exorcisms are largely viewed by most American Catholics as remnants of a medieval past.

The return of demons and exorcisms

In 1999, Pope John Paul II brought back a focus on the formal rites of exorcism – the official ritual that priests use to rid a person from demonic affliction or possession. The pope later recommended that every diocese in the Catholic world appoint and train an exorcist.

The Catholic Church in the United States took up the call and in 2012 founded the Pope Leo XII Institute in Illinois to support “the spiritual formation of priests to bring the light of Christ to dispel evil.” To this day it serves as a “school for exorcism and deliverance” of the laity from demons.

The institute offers workshops for clergy such as “Angels and Demons, Natures and Attributes.”

Under this belief system, in the battle for souls, demons can establish relationships with people who open the door to them through sin and disobedience to God. If someone masturbates, for example, which is a mortal sin, they are opening the door wider to demons of more serious sexual perversion.

Such demons include figures mentioned in the Bible such as Baal, the ancient Phoenician sun God, and his consort Ashtoreth, now viewed as a force of sexual immorality and perversion. Jezebel, the ninth-century B.C. Phoenician princess, lives into the modern era as a demonic personality who encourages illicit sexual acts, violence and rape.

Devil and role-play in one church

Writing for Commonweal, an American Catholic journal, one ex-seminarian described a formation, or training, workshop sponsored by his seminary. He described how participants were given nametags with the names of demons on them and asked to play the role of demons to tempt one another. He explained how they would choose one person and “hiss and curse” to entice him to “watch pornography” and “masturbate.”

The point, of course, was to train the participants how to choose chastity and to stand strong against sexual desire.

To be clear, this is only one documented instance. However, I would argue that it points to the Church’s current preoccupation with evil spirits and the need for priests to ritually remove that evil.

It is sobering that one seminary should choose to offer those training for a life of service and celibacy, a role-play of hissing demon impersonators, as a way to govern their conduct.

Medieval practices in today’s church?

Ascribing sexual desire to demonic temptation takes away the blame from the perpetrators. It puts the cause, the consequences, and questions of accountability into an invisible world populated by angels and demons, sin and repentance.

Suggesting that the offending priests were afflicted by demons is a version of “the devil made me do it.”

There is a second heartbreak. Many of the abused report feeling guilty, as if they had sinned themselves. I have heard from my own research participants that because sinning opens the door to more demons and more sin, then some abuse survivors think of themselves as being in relationships with personal demons and more vulnerable to demonic attack.

As investigations continue into the institutional factors allowing for this horrific abuse, it may also be pertinent to look into some of the intellectual and theological elements at the heart of the Catholic tradition.

For some branches of the Church, this includes the medieval world of demons.

NSFW Photos: Oglers With Cameras Outnumber Participants At 'Go Topless' Parade

Raelian Movement
August 27, 2018

The 11th Annual Go Topless Parade wound its way through part of Manhattan yesterday afternoon, with approximately 30 participants attracting hundreds of spectators—most of them men who seemed intent on photographing every inch of exposed flesh. As you can see here, a couple of photographers even staked out a position on top of a Subway sandwich shop awning for a top-down view of the toplessness.

Organizer Nadia Salois said she had "mixed feelings" about the unabashed male gaze that stalked the parade from the sidelines. "It's really great to have people to be there and encourage us and be there for us and support us," Salois told Gothamist. "On the other hand, as you can see, there's many males taking pictures, so this is one of the reasons why we do this. Because one day—the more we do it—one day it will become something natural... Hopefully one day it will be normal for women to walk topless and there won't be any pictures like today."

It is legal for women to go topless in New York State, following a 1992 state supreme court ruling that upheld that right for non-commercial purposes. Salois said the Topless Parade, which coincided with Women's Equality Day, is intended to "empower women, and give a platform for women to express their rights."

It's unclear if this message got through to many of the men photographing the event with zoom lenses. But topless participant Amy Martinez seemed unfazed by the number of male photographers swarming the parade route, which sent from Columbus Circle to Bryant Park.

"That's just society," Martinez said. "I don't blame them but I think to get more aware and see, we're just walking around. We're not sexualizing our breasts. It's hot out. Don't want to have a shirt on. So, why not? As long as they keep their hands away and don't comment on them, it's fine. It would work the same way if females were sexualizing a male. It's not right but I'm not doing it for them."

Photographer Alix Piorun, however, said she was "thoroughly creeped out" by the number of men aggressively photographing the parade. "I started crying and almost left," Piorun told us. "I am definitely not an emotional person nor do I have any trauma surrounding this, but it was just really sad, weird and creepy that all of these men were rushing forward to take photos of these topless women as if they'd never seen breasts before. To be fair, I'm sure many of them probably haven't seen real ones in a while, but the internet exists and it's easier than ever before, I don't understand why there was such a huge fanfare."

Still, Piorun said, it was "an empowering event." Participant Jessie Mayfield concurred, saying, "There's probably more people who came here to see us than people who actually marching which is okay for me because it's about getting a message out. We want lots of people to come and be able to see."

Go Topless spokesperson Rachel Jesse has previously claimed that there is a connection between Go Topless and the Raelian movement, which posits that aliens created life on Earth. "Spiritual leader ​Maitreya Rael, who inspired the creation of​ GoTopless and founded the Raelian Movement, says there must be absolute equality between men and women to ensure the preservation of society," Jesse said. "Centuries of gender inequality and exclusive male rule created major planetary imbalances that could prove fatal to society. It's time for change!" She added that enforcement of equal topless rights is a crucial aspect of gender equality.

Additional reporting by Tess Riski.

B.C. Appeal Court overturns acquittal in child removal case against convicted polygamist

Lisa Silver, University of Calgary
Ian Burns
The Lawyer's Daily
August 27, 2018


R. v. Oler 2018 BCCA 323

R. v. Libman [1985] 2 S.C.R. 178

R. v. Blackmore 2017 BCSC 192

The British Columbia Court of Appeal has overturned the acquittal of a convicted polygamist on charges of removing a child from Canada, saying the trial judge erred in his conclusions that the actus reus of the offence could only be made if the respondent was in Canada during the commission of the offence.

The offence in question occurred in 2004, when James Oler was the bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) in Bountiful, B.C. Warren Jeffs is the so-called “prophet” of the FLDS church and resides in the United States. According to the court documents, Jeffs told Oler to bring his 15-year-old daughter, identified only as C.E.O., to Nevada in order to enter into a “celestial marriage” with a member of the church. In 2005, Oler was charged, along with two other accused in a related case, with removing a child from Canada, in violation of s. 273.3 of the Criminal Code.

At trial, Justice Paul Pearlman of the B.C. Supreme Court ruled the Crown had not proved the actus reus of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt, saying there were gaps in evidence relating to the location of Oler and C.E.O. during the time in question. He said the “paucity of evidence” was capable of supporting an alternative conclusion that Oler did nothing in Canada for the purpose of removing C.E.O. from the country (R. v. Blackmore 2017 BCSC 192).

“I conclude that the Crown has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt an essential element of the offence [that he acted in Canada] against James Oler,” he wrote, acquitting him of the charge.

However, the Crown appealed, arguing the “territorial view” in the judge’s decision was wrong in law. Oler’s amicus curiae, Joseph M. Doyle, contended the law did require that Oler act while in Canada.

Justice Mary Saunders, who wrote the unanimous opinion of the court, sided with the Crown, ruling the law did not require Oler to be in Canada when committing the actus reus of the offence in order to be convicted.

“The offence rebuts the presumption against extraterritorial application of the criminal law in light of Canada’s legitimate interest in redressing crime perpetrated against children ordinarily resident here,” she wrote. “Further, the actus reus of doing ‘anything’ is of the widest possible scope and no restrictions should be placed upon it which Parliament did not include.”

Justice Saunders noted the Supreme Court’s decision in R. v. Libman [1985] 2 S.C.R. 178, which held “all that is necessary to make an offence subject to the jurisdiction of our courts is that a significant portion of the activities constituting that offence took place in Canada.” She added the “question before us is whether a person may commit an offence contrary to s. 273.3 when he or she is not within Canada during the events in issue.”

“In my view, the answer is clearly yes,” she read. “Section 273.3 rebuts the presumption against the extraterritorial application of the criminal law because it easily meets the necessary condition in Libman that there is the real and substantial link between the offence charged and Canada.”

The court ordered a new trial, but did not accept the Crown’s request to enter a conviction in place of the acquittal. Justice Saunders was joined by Justices Lauri Ann Fenlon and Susan Griffin in her decision, which was released Aug. 21 (R. v. Oler 2018 BCCA 323).

Alisia Adams of the B.C. Prosecution Service declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but did note the Court of Appeal’s decision in this case was separate from the case against Oler on charges of polygamy, for which he was convicted at the end of June.

“I can advise that, other than the retrial ordered for Mr. Oler, there are no outstanding criminal charges relating to polygamy in Bountiful,” she said.

Lisa Silver, an assistant professor of criminal law at the University of Calgary, said she could “spend a week to try and figure out if the [Court of Appeal] covered everything,” but added the decision seemed to be consistent with precedence on child abduction cases and, from a statutory interpretation point of view, with the objectives of s. 273.3 which is to stop people from taking someone from Canada to arrange these “celestial marriages.”

“Libman has really broadened the perspective of jurisdiction when it relates to an accused person committing offences outside of Canada,” she said. “The B.C. Court of Appeal said this particular offence under s. 273.3 is actually all about removing somebody outside the jurisdiction, so it makes sense under a statutory interpretation that it includes an accused who may be outside of Canada on the basis of Libman and the substantial link.”

Silver noted discussion in the decision regarding whether the case against Oler should be sent back for a new trial or whether the court was just going to enter a conviction, as requested by the Crown.

“The court is right that there’s a pretty high standard to entering a conviction after an acquittal, but they do do it,” she said. “But here I think the feeling is that the accused really led with this jurisdictional argument, but now that that’s gone, you have to give him the ability to test the whole case against him.”

Doyle of Johnson Doyle Sugarman & Ferguson, who was Oler’s amicus curiae throughout the appeal, did not respond to requests for an interview.

Suspect In Slaying Related To Brother Julius Cult Pleads Not Guilty

Rudy Hannon, 72, left, pleaded not guilty to murder charges in Paul Sweetman’s death. Sorek Minery, 42, of Burlington, right, is also charged with murder and felony murder. New Britain police (New Britain police)
David Owens
Hartford Courant
August 28, 2018

One of the men charged with murder in the 2004 slaying of the self-proclaimed “chief apostle” of an infamous religious cult led by Brother Julius Schacknow on Monday waived a preliminary hearing and pleaded not guilty.

Rudy Hannon, 72, is charged in the killing of Paul Sweetman, who was the No. 2 in the cult known as “the Work,” which was active in central Connecticut from the 1970s through the 1990s.

Schacknow parlayed his claim of divinity into a multimillion dollar business and real estate empire that crumbled in the late 1980s. He also was accused of sexually abusing female members of the cult, including those who were under the age of consent. Although no criminal charges were ever filed, Schacknow paid a civil court settlement. Schacknow called himself the ”sinful messiah,” telling followers he had to sin to know what it was like.

Sorek Minery, 42, of Burlington is also charged with murder and felony murder in the death of Sweetman, who was 70 when he was killed.

Defendants who face the possibility of life in prison are entitled to a probable cause hearing, where the state must present enough evidence to convince a judge that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the crime. It is not unusual for defendants to waive the hearing.

According to the warrants for their arrest, both men worked together in killing Sweetman, but each has pointed the finger at the other in statements to New Britain detectives. Sweetman had been reported missing by Joanne Sweetman, who purportedly was his wife, on July 24, 2004. She reported having last seen her husband on July 21, 2004.

Joanne Sweetman was also a top cult leader and was known to members as the “holy spirit.”

According to the warrant and people familiar with the investigation, Paul Sweetman was killed at the behest of Joanne Sweetman in what was a struggle for control of the cult after Schacknow’s death in 1996. Joanne Sweetman, who was previously married to Schacknow, died in April 2011.

Minery, of Burlington, told New Britain police that in the months leading up to Sweetman’s murder, he and Hannon were members of Brother Julius’ cult. Minery said Hannon worked for months to convince him that Sweetman “needed to be killed because he was hurting his wife, Joanne Sweetman and that God would have wanted them to kill Sweetman,” the warrant reads.

During those conversations, Minery told police, he and Hannon decided the “murder should not involve a gun or knife because it was too messy,” according to the warrant.

Minery said he respected Joanne Sweetman and “looked up to her as a high religious figure” and that “because of this, he began believing Rudy Hannon and believed Paul Sweetman needed to die.”

Minery told police he arrived at his business, Blue Ridge Construction in Plainville and discovered Hannon standing over Sweetman’s body. Minery said Hannon, who had a key to the shop, asked for his help in disposing of the body.

They stripped Sweetman down to his underwear then loaded him into a freezer. Three to four days later, Minery told police, he returned to his shop to dismember the body.

“Minery stated that he used an electric saw and dismembered the body while it was still in the freezer,” the warrant reads. “Minery stated he remembers cutting off the head easily and cutting off both legs.”

He then put the body parts in garbage bags and placed them back in the freezer, he told police. He said he buried the head and legs in a shallow grave on land near the New Britain reservoir, and buried the torso and arms beneath the shed of his New Britain home, then poured concrete over them.

The case may not have been solved had an animal not dug up one of Sweetman’s legs and left it on Shuttle Meadow Country Club property. That got New Britain police involved in the case. In 2016 detectives matched the leg to Paul Sweetman after obtaining a DNA sample from his son, Kenneth Sweetman.

Hannon told a different tale. Initially, he told police he delivered Sweetman to Minery’s shop and that Minery killed him. He claimed he thought Minery was only going to beat Sweetman, but admitted he helped put the body in the freezer.

Hannon, in an interview with New Britain police at the Nevada prison where he was serving a violation of probation sentence, eventually admitted that he watched Minery severely beat Sweetman until Sweetman vomited a large amount of blood, then fell back flat on the floor and folded his arms across his chest.

Report on PA Jehovah's Witnesses Protest

August 25-26, 2018

Herbalife distributors claim in $1B suit events were a sham

August 21, 2018

MIAMI (AP) - Patricia and Jeff Rodgers figured they did everything right to get rich beyond their wildest dreams selling Herbalife health and personal care products. They attended all of the "Circle of Success" events, brought in new recruits, met their quotas on buying Herbalife goods to sell and even set up a storefront shop.

But they didn't get rich. Instead, Patricia Rodgers estimates the couple lost over $100,000, including about $20,000 spent on attending Herbalife events. Now, the couple and others are suing the multi-level marketing company that sells its products through a network of distributors who recruit more distributors. The potential class-action case could involve more than 100,000 plaintiffs and might mean as much as $1 billion in damages.

"We did everything they told us to do. We attended every event. We traveled and we spent money. And we didn't get successful like they said we would," Rodgers said in an interview at the couple's home in Hallandale Beach, Florida. "You get involved in it, it's almost like a cult mentality."

Los Angeles-based Herbalife, a publicly traded company with 2017 net sales of $4.4 billion, has long been embroiled in litigation and regulatory actions over its business practices, which have been compared by some to a pyramid scheme. A spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, although Herbalife attorneys are seeking to get the lawsuit dismissed or moved from Florida to a California court.
Herbalife lawyers say in court papers the distributors now suing the company in Miami were not specific in how company statements influenced them into making bad decisions.

"Plaintiffs' failure to specify how they were misled by these alleged misrepresentations is fatal" to many key claims, the lawyers wrote.

To become a distributor, a person must be recruited by an existing distributor, according to the company's website. The new recruit also must purchase a "Herbalife Nutrition International Business Pack" explaining how the business works and how to become a sponsor. The new distributor buys Herbalife products at a discount and sells them, often part-time, in hopes making a profit.

In 2016, the company settled a Federal Trade Commission case for $200 million. It centered on Herbalife's business model being based on recruitment of distributors rather than actual sales of its products, such as protein shakes, vitamins and skin care items. One year earlier, another lawsuit by Herbalife distributors ended in a $17.5 million settlement.

In the FTC case, the agency said in a statement that "only a small minority of distributors have made anything near what the company promises" through promotional materials showing how they lived in expensive homes, drove luxury cars and took exotic vacations.

"A large majority of distributors made little or no money and a substantial percentage lost money," the FTC said.

The case in Miami federal court is different, said plaintiffs' attorney Etan Mark. It targets the system of high-energy events known as "Circle of Success" that distributors are cajoled into attending all over the country at their own expense. They are touted as the supposed key to learning how to become wealthy - all the while signing up more people to become distributors in what's called the "downline."

A common company refrain was: "If you go to all of the events, you qualify for everything - you will get rich," according to the lawsuit. Another was: "These crucial events provide you with the skills you need to take it to the next level," court documents show.