Sep 27, 2018

Jehovah's Witness trial begins

The Sanders County Ledger
September 27, 2018

The Thompson Falls Jehovah’s Witness congregation, as well as two of the religion’s national corporations, are on trial in Sanders County this week.

Plaintiffs Alexis Nunez and Holly McGowan filed the lawsuit against the Thompson Falls congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, and Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (CCJW) alleging damages when the organizations failed to report sexual abuse to legal authorities.

The trial began Monday with selection of the jury of seven men and two women, plus an alternate juror. Attorney Neil Smith of Dallas, representing the victims, and Joel Taylor, representing Watchtower, CCJW and the Thompson Falls congregation, gave their opening statements before testimony began.

The plaintiffs argue that both the local and national organizations are responsible for damages to the victims in the case, while the defendants maintain that they were exempt from Montana’s mandatory reporting law.

The state’s mandatory reporting law states that if professionals and officials, including clergy, teachers, medical professionals and others, “know or have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is being abused or neglected … they shall report the matter promptly to the department of public health and human services.” In the Jehovah’s Witness faith, elders are considered members of the clergy.

The defense maintains that the organizations were exempt from the law because of an exemption that states, “a member of the clergy or a priest is not required to make a report under this section if the communication is required to be confidential by canon law, church doctrine, or established church practice.”

The defense says that Jehovah’s Witnesses “endeavor to comply with all governmental laws, so long as those laws do not conflict with the Bible.” Watchtower NY and CCJW have a policy that directs congregations to call the organization’s legal department when elders learn of allegations involving child sexual abuse.
Nunez and McGowan testified Tuesday that they were sexually abused by Max Reyes (Nunez’s step-grandfather and McGowan’s stepfather) when they were children. McGowan testified that she first reported the abuse to church elders in 1998. Don Herberger, an elder with the Thompson Falls congregation, testified earlier this week that the abuse was not reported until 2004, when McGowan’s brother came forward with allegations of abuse against Reyes. Nunez came forward in 2015 with allegations of past sexual abuse by Reyes, her step-grandfather.

When the abuse was reported in 2004, Herberger testified on Monday that the elders approached Reyes about the allegations and he admitted to the abuse. Herberger also testified that the elders called the legal department of the national organization and were advised that they were not required by law to report the abuse to local authorities.
While the abuse was not reported to authorities, Herberger testified that Reyes was disfellowshipped from the congregation in 2004, meaning his membership was revoked, but continued to participate in the church. Reyes was re-instated as a member in 2005.

As the trial continues this week, the jury will be asked to determine if money should be awarded to the plaintiffs to compensate them for any damages resulting from the abuse. If so, they will determine a dollar amount and which of the defendants will be responsible for the damages.

Sep 25, 2018

Police 'were monsters who would kill them:' Details emerge in naked kidnapping

A crash in Nisku on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017 that ended with five naked people in police custody began with a kidnapping, RCMP said.Dustin Horutko/Supplied
Chris Purdy
National post
The Canadian Press
September 24, 2018

LEDUC, Alta. — They thought it was Armageddon and wanted to save their neighbours.

They believed police were monsters. They showed super strength after being pepper sprayed and Tasered.

And all but one of them were naked because, with the end of the world, they didn’t have time to get dressed.

A court document has provided more details in a bizarre naked kidnapping case that happened last year south of Edmonton, but some questions remain.

Two women and one man, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban, each pleaded guilty in Leduc provincial court last week to a charge of unlawful confinement. One of the women also pleaded guilty to dangerous driving. Her two teenage daughters were involved in the case, but not charged.

The girls’ father, who was not part of the group, has said the five may have unknowingly drank some hallucinogenic tea. But the agreed statement of facts submitted in court says alcohol and drugs were not factors and there is no mention of tea in the document.

The group, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, had gathered at a home near Leduc on Nov. 2. The mother, who was then 35, had taken her daughters there to visit her 27-year old nephew and his 30-year old wife.

But over the next three days, the court document says they didn’t leave the house and they barely ate. One of the teens recalls watching movies but also hearing screaming and banging and seeing ashes in the air. Some of the five hid in a bedroom or a bathroom.

“They did so because they believed that they were in danger, either from bad or wicked people outside or from demons,” says the document.

It says the group believed that the Great Tribulation had happened and Nov. 6 was Armageddon. So they rushed off to find safety and save a neighbouring family.

“Four who were naked were changing but they had to leave right away because it was unsafe, so they left without clothes,” the document says.

The mother, the only one dressed, drove them all in a BMW SUV but was in such a hurry she went through the garage door. When the vehicle headed to the neighbours’ home, it apparently bent a metal gate.

The neighbours — a man, his adult daughter and her six-week-old son — were forced out of their house and into the snow without shoes, the document says. The woman and her baby were put in the back seat with the teen girls, who were naked under a blanket. The man was put in the trunk and ordered to chant “Jehovah” ten times.

The group also chanted “Jehovah” as the SUV sped down roads and went through a red light on the way to nearby Nisku, says the document.

Because the trunk didn’t latch shut, the man was able to climb out when the vehicle slowed. His daughter, after getting her hand slammed in the door of the SUV, was able to get out with her baby. A passing truck stopped to help the trio and they climbed inside.

The document says the SUV then rammed the truck from behind and the woman and her baby were thrown into the truck’s dash, although they were not injured. The SUV then went into a ditch.

When Mounties arrived, the group continued to chant and refused to get out, at times clinging to the vehicle and each other. One of the teens believed the police “were monsters who would kill them,” says the document.

Officers said the people in the SUV “displayed extreme strength.” Two were unaffected by pepper spray. The three adults were also shot with Tasers between two and four times before they relented, although one then slid under the vehicle and had to be dragged out with a strap.

The neighbours later told police the group seemed “demonized” and “obviously not in their right minds.”

A judge has ordered pre-sentence reports and risk assessments, which could include psychological testing.

The three adult offenders are to return to court for sentencing Dec. 20.

FBI sifts mountain of data in NXIVM's seized computers

FBI and state police take computers and other evidence from the home of NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman which was raided by federal agents on Tuesday, March 27, 2018, in Halfmoon, N.Y.
Government said outside vendor hired to help with data search
Brendan J. Lyons
Albany Times Union
September 24, 2018

ALBANY — The Justice Department has hired an outside vendor to help the FBI sift through a virtual mountain of data contained on computer devices that were seized in March from two Halfmoon residences associated with NXIVM's co-founders, Nancy Salzman and Keith Raniere.

Federal prosecutors estimate the computer devices contain up to 12 terabytes of data, and have noted that a U.S. Circuit Court in Manhattan has characterized one terabyte of data as being the equivalent of "12 library floors' worth of books."

The processing of the devices includes placing attorney-client privileged records into a "firewall database," where they are being reviewed by law enforcement officials not involved in the investigation. Also, some of the computer devices could not be searched "for technical reasons" and have been sent to the FBI's headquarters for analysis, prosecutors said Monday.

The evaluation of the data has been slowed, in part, because some of the computer devices contain a multitude of records that involve approximately 75 attorneys who have done work for Raniere, Salzman and Clare Bronfman, a liquor-fortune heiress and NXIVM's longtime operations director, prosecutors said.

A superseding indictment unsealed July 24 charged Raniere, Salzman, Bronfman and three others involved with the secretive organization of running a criminal enterprise that engaged in crimes including money laundering, extortion and obstruction of justice.

"The superseding indictment charges six defendants in a variety of crimes including a racketeering conspiracy spanning 15 years," prosecutors wrote in a recent filing. "The crimes alleged in the indictment relate to over a dozen separate schemes, including schemes involving sex trafficking, forced labor, document servitude, illegal entry, identity theft, obstruction of justice, money laundering and wire fraud."

A federal judge has scheduled jury selection for the trial to begin on Jan. 7 in Brooklyn. Attorneys in the case have estimated the trial could last up to three months.

The other defendants in the case are television actress Allison Mack, Salzman's daughter Lauren, and Kathy Russell, a longtime bookkeeper for NXIVM.

The computer and other electronic devices were seized when FBI agents raided Nancy Salzman's Saratoga County residence six months ago. They also seized more than $520,000 in U.S. currency that was stuffed in bags, envelopes and shoeboxes, including one shoebox that held more than $390,000, according to search warrant records unsealed this summer in response to a request by the Times Union.

The records indicated FBI agents who scoured Salzman's Oregon Trail residence in Halfmoon also seized computers, data-storage devices, cameras and mobile phones, and small sums of Mexican and Russian currency.

A second search took place that day at a nearby townhouse on Hale Drive in the Knox Woods subdivision that prosecutors have alleged was used for years as a private sex lair by Keith Raniere. The items seized there included audio-video recording equipment, a box of unidentified white pills, computer storage devices, binders, VHS tapes, and a book titled "History of Torture."

But federal prosecutors, in their letter to the district court on Monday, noted that they are still receiving information from outside sources and indicated it will be challenging to process all of the potential evidence in the next three months.

The seven-count superseding indictment unsealed in July charged the six defendants with crimes that include identity theft, harboring of aliens for financial gain, forced labor, sex trafficking and wire fraud. They have all pleaded not guilty.

The charges allege they took part in recruiting and grooming sexual partners for Raniere and of using "harassment, coercion and abusive litigation to intimidate and attack perceived enemies and critics of Raniere."

The indictment, which describes NXIVM as having been run as a type of pyramid scheme, alleges that the defendants encouraged "associates and others to take expensive NXIVM courses, and incur debt to do so, as a means of exerting control over them and to obtain financial benefits for the members of the enterprise."

NXIVM and its associated business entities took shape in the Capital Region in the late 1990s. Under the direction of Raniere and Salzman, NXIVM's longtime president, the "self-help" organization built a following that included actors as well as the wealthy and politically powerful.

NXIVM has been described by some experts as a cult. Through the years the organization developed a reputation for aggressively pursuing critics and defectors who broke from its ranks, including using litigation to punish critics of Raniere, the organization, or its training methods.

The six defendants have all been described as flight risks by federal authorities; their conditions of release include home detention and electronic monitoring.

Nancy Salzman was revealed as a target in the probe when FBI agents raided her residence as part of their widening investigation of NXIVM's business dealings.

The Korean “Rush Hour of the Gods” and Daesoon Jinrihoe

The Journal of CESNUR

PierLuigi Zoccatelli
Pontifical Salesian University
The Journal of CESNUR

ABSTRACT: This issue (Volume 2, Issue 5 
September—October 2018) of The Journal of CESNUR is devoted to Daesoon Jinrihoe, the largest contemporary new religion in South Korea. New religions in South Korea are among the largest and fastest-growing religious movements in the world, yet they are understudied outside of their home country. Their growth confirms that in our allegedly “secularized” world, new religions continue to be  born, flourish, and expand internationally. The case of Daesoon Jinrihoe is discussed by contributors of this issue in its own merits, without relying on generalizations on Korean new religions. On the other hand, both the Korean and the larger East Asian contexts are considered in all articles.

Introduction: The Korean “Rush Hour of the Gods” and Daesoon Jinrihoe
PierLuigi Zoccatelli

Cultural Identity and New Religions in Korea
Kang Donku

New Religions and Daesoon Jinrihoe in Korea
Yoon Yongbok

Daesoon Jinrihoe: An Introduction
Massimo Introvigne

Personal Lineage as the Main Organizational Principle in Daesoon
Park Sangkyu

Theories of Suffering in East Asian Religions: The Case of Daesoon
Cha Seon-Keun

The Yeoju Headquarters Temple Complex as a Center for Social Welfare
and Humanitarian Aid
Rosita Šorytė

Problems in Researching Korean New Religions: A Case Study of Daesoon
Yoon Yongbok and Massimo Introvigne

‘Just outrageous:’ Maryland psychic cons $341,000 from five clients

Psychic adviser Gina Marks and the sign outside her home in Bethesda, Md. The photo has been altered to remove a phone number. (Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office)
Psychic adviser Gina Marks and the sign outside her home in Bethesda, Md. The photo has been altered to remove a phone number. (Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office)

Dan Morse
Washington Post
September 24, 2018

After dating her for nine years, her boyfriend suddenly broke things off and moved on to someone else. The approaching holiday season only made her feel worse about the breakup.

“I felt very alone and very afraid,” the 26-year-old would later tell police, explaining what drove her to try a psychic. “I was desperately searching for answers.”

She went to “Readings by Natalie,” operating from a home in Bethesda, Md. “I poured out my heart to her,” the woman said.

For $100, Natalie performed a Tarot Card reading followed by a plan to bring the boyfriend back into her new client’s life. “I was on cloud nine,” the client remembered.

Delivering jolts of confidence, backed by what seemed to be a genuine concern for people going through heartache and stress, was the keystone of a $341,000 scam involving five victims in Montgomery County.

The purported psychic — real name, Gina Marie Marks, 45, who has pleaded guilty to five theft schemes — had spoken to her victims about generational curses, black magic and love spells. She coaxed them into bizarre rituals involving candles, clear dyes that turned red when applied to skin, rose petals, magnets and lying atop a massage table with necklaces hung over them to gauge energy levels.

Police say swindler Gina Marie Marks, who professed to be a psychic, convinced victims to buy her designer handbags like the ones she is carrying. (Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office)

The fraud used a classic ruse in fortune-teller scams: Getting clients to believe that cash was crucial to fixing their problems.

Victims were persuaded to withdraw large amounts and place them inside black pillowcases or under mattresses. The “energy” in their bodies would then migrate to the bills, they were told, according to court records. Marks’s next step: convincing her clients to give her the cash so she could place it before an altar at her church to help her break evil curses before the money was returned. The more cash they lent to the altar, she would say as the weeks went by, the more commitment the clients were displaying to what Marks called her “spirit guides.”

Marks also employed up-to-date techniques. Phone “spoofing” enabled her to make calls that appeared to be coming from a different phone number than the one she was using. Using that ruse, prosecutors said, Marks was able to tell a client her ex-boyfriend would call at a precise time — warning the client she was not to answer it — and the client would indeed see the ex’s phone number pop up on her phone screen at the exact predicted time.

“It just seems like that’s the worst of the worst, when you prey on people when they were down,” Circuit Judge John Maloney told Marks at the conclusion of the case on Friday, when he sentenced her to six years in prison. “That is just outrageous.”

Nationwide, consulting with fortune tellers and psychics is fairly common. Nearly 1 in 7 Americans say they have done so, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The danger isn’t $50 palm readings. It’s practitioners who use such offerings to scope out marks and sell them false hope. “One of the hallmarks of these scams is progression,” says Bob Nygaard, a nationwide expert on psychic scams and a private investigator based in Florida.

“It’s not rational,” Nygaard said. “But who is rational when they learn their spouse has been cheating? Who is rational when they’ve just been diagnosed with terminal cancer? And all the scammers need is just one victim a month, or if the victim has money, one a year.”

Doctors, lawyers and business owners have been sucked into the scams, according to Nygaard. When they come to their senses and know the money isn’t coming back, it’s too late. The psychic is gone. Or the victim is too embarrassed to tell anyone.
Victim embarrassment, in the Montgomery County case, was reflected in how prosecutors presented their case at the sentencing hearing. Douglas Wink, Montgomery County’s assistant state’s attorney, referred to the victims only by initials. Several victims watched the hearing, but none wanted to come forward and speak.

The once brokenhearted 26-year-old, who was not in court, earlier had written a statement that said, “while I readily admit that I was gullible at a vulnerable time in my life, being gullible is not a crime.” By contrast, what Marks did to her was a crime, she said.

By 2015, Marks had moved to Bethesda from Florida and into a home on Fernwood Road where she posted a neatly scripted sign out front above a flower bed: “Psychic Reader and Adviser . . . Walk-Ins Welcome.”

In her first meeting with Marks, the 26-year-old was told she and her ex-boyfriend were “twin flames.” The next day, according to court records, Marks told her new client she’d need $1,500 for the work required to reunite the two. She persuaded the woman to light candles, cover her body with dye, bathe in oils and recite prayers.

A short time later, Marks called to ask her to up her financial commitment.

“Her ‘spirit guides’ needed to be convinced that I was serious about reuniting with my ex,” the woman told police.

She was asked to withdraw cash from her bank and store it under her mattress next to her ritual items. The money under the mattress eventually totaled $14,800.

The woman said she would ask questions and express doubts about Marks’s techniques. But then a phone call would arrive, on cue, as promised. Or Marks would turn aggressive — telling her that her doubts were angering the spirit guides.

After the victim drained her bank accounts, Marks persuaded her to buy designer handbags on credit and bring them to Marks so she could place them at the altar. All of the cash under the mattress eventually came over to Marks as well, the case showed. None came back. When it was all done, according to the victim and prosecutors, Marks had stolen $22,792.

Other victims fared worse.

A 28-year-old woman, also upset about a lost relationship, surrendered $83,014 to Marks. She was told she and Marks needed to work with the No. 9, which meant bringing in currency in sets of nine, starting with nine $100 bills and nine $50 bills and trailing to nine nickels, according to the victim. The money was placed on Marks’s altar and never seen again, Wink said.

Two others lost $78,758 and $153,400. The smallest loss, $2,655, was by a 26-year-old man who had sought answers for why he felt so depressed. He described to police Marks’s reaction when he questioned the fees.

“She would begin berating me,” the man said. “She would say I was not taking her work seriously and demanding more and more money. I would feel bad and cave to give her more money.”

Marks’s attorney Peter Fayne had said she was prepared to pay nearly $129,500 of the more than $340,000 due in restitution. He asked Maloney, the judge, to spare his client prison time so she could earn more money to pay more restitution.

Marks told Maloney she had never intended to hurt anyone and still cared about the victims. She said her actions could be traced to her childhood.

“When you’re brought up to be a spiritualist, when you’re brought up in these kinds of situations where you go to a candle instead of just letting logic help itself, you get carried away with it,” she said. “And I guess that’s what happened.”

The judge wasn’t so sure.

“I feel like I’m being scammed,” Maloney told her, “and I’m not going to put up with this.”

Sep 24, 2018

Sister says relationship 'broken' after Universal Medicine

Sam McKeith
September 24, 2018

THE sister of a Universal Medicine practitioner became "deeply concerned” for her sibling after noticing "strange” changes in her behaviour, the NSW Supreme Court has been told.

Louise Forman, a witness called at the defamation hearing brought by Universal Medicine founder Serge Benhayon against blogger Esther Rockett, said her relationship with her sister "broke down” after she became involved with the Lismore-based group a decade ago.

Ms Forman, a defence witness, told the four-person jury trial on Monday that her sister became "obsessed about food”, lost a lot of weight and "segregated herself away” after attending Universal Medicine workshops and retreats on the North Coast and in Vietnam.

"It became very hard to spend time with her,” she said.

Ms Forman said her sister spent thousands of dollars on seven years of Universal Medicine study, despite not attaining any recognised qualifications.

"I was concerned that she was spending a lot of money and not gaining a qualification. It didn't make any sense at all.”

Mr Benhayon, a 54-year-old spiritual healer, is suing Ms Rockett, an acupuncturist and one-time Universal Medicine client, for defamation over online claims allegedly painting him as a cult leader and sexual predator.

Ms Rockett is defending the claims at the trial, now in its fourth week, on the basis of truth and honest opinion.

On Monday, Ms Forman also told the court she was "horrified” to find her sister had treated her daughter with a Universal Medicine therapy known as "chakra-puncture”, using needles.

"That's not on for me, I don't believe in it,” Ms Forman said.

She said her sister treated patients suffering from cancer and "aches and pains” and believed a woman's fatal mouth cancer was caused by the woman saying "negative things”.

The court also heard evidence that Ms Forman's sister believed people were reincarnated 2000 times and had said that people who were drowning should not be saved.

"That horrified me, for someone to rationalise life in that way,” Ms Forman told the court.

Ms Forman's sister, Michelle Crowe, called as a witness in response by plaintiff barrister Kieran Smark, SC, told the court that the relationship with her sibling had always had been "up and down”.

"There were quite regular arguments,” she said.

Ms Crowe said she had made diet changes on the advice of a naturopath and denied ever saying that people's lives should not be saved because "that's their fate”.

"I'm very much about helping people,” she told the court.

In cross-examination, she said she did not have the ability to see or feel spirits, but accepted that they were "nine feet tall” and had no feet.

She conceded that her Universal Medicine qualifications were accredited only by the "esoteric practitioners association”, a body linked to the Benhayons.

The trial continues before Justice Julia Lonergan

Sep 23, 2018

A Simple Life

Mennonites living in Belize exist apart from the government, with limited technology and surrounded by farmable land.

Daniel Shank Cruz
Produced by Eve Lyons
New York Times

September, 15, 2018

When Mennonites began moving to Belize in the late 1950s, they did so for the same reason their ancestors have migrated for centuries: to live in line with their religious beliefs, including the separation of church and state, pacifism and sustainability, without interference. That means apart from the government, with limited technology and surrounded by farmable land.

Mennonites, a traditionally sectarian Christian denomination, trace their roots to the Anabaptist wing of the Protestant Reformation. Today they number approximately one million worldwide, with most living in parts of the developing world, including Paraguay, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Those in Belize, called Old Colony Mennonites, descend from the settlers of Chortitza, the earliest Mennonite colony in the Russian Empire. Their ancestors moved from the Netherlands and what is now Poland to present-day Ukraine in the 1780s, then to Canada in the 1870s, Mexico in the 1920s and, a few decades later, Belize.

An agreement with the country’s government checked off certain ideological boxes for them: They were able to negotiate exemptions from military service and given permission to establish private schools where lessons would be taught in their primary language, a Low German dialect called Plautdietsch.

The group left Mexico in the mid-20th century primarily for reasons of faith, but land was also a factor and now affords them some distance from outsiders. Consequently, the Belize Mennonite community has remained largely out of the public eye. But their way of life offers much for those dissatisfied with the realities of a hyper-connected urban existence to ponder.

Mennonites place great value on community and consider family to be a building block of the broader group. Their relationship to God is collective, rather than focused on individual salvation, though they may hope for that too.

The Mennonite belief that Christians should be “in the world but not of it” has fostered a sectarian ethos that prizes self-sufficiency and mutual aid within the group. Older children look after younger children; neighbors help each other fix farm equipment. The goal is to live as cooperatively and as peacefully as possible.

In Belize, Mennonites express themselves through dress and design, too.The plain styles of clothing that they may wear are highly regulated, though more loosely so for men, who often buy their clothing in stores.

Women, on the other hand, make most of their own garments and are expected to wear prayer coverings on their heads whenever they are in public. A generational shift in dress styles has slowly taken place, with bright colorful printed textiles replacing somber solid colors.

Similarly, while Old Colony Mennonites fill their homes with simple, plain furniture with clean lines, aesthetic flourishes like patterned lace curtains or elaborate wallpaper patterns may be incorporated.

The group’s interactions with technology are also influenced by their communitarian ethic. It is often assumed that people who reject technology do so out of fear of its all-consuming nature, but the choice has more to do with skepticism and adherence to principle.

For instance, their rejection of cars for personal use is not because they believe motorized vehicles are inherently bad — they use tractors for farming — but rather their emphasis on the importance of community. If one were to have access to a car, one would be tempted to leave, but the limited travel range of horses and buggies keeps Mennonite settlements close-knit.

Of course, it’s 2018, so some Mennonites use smartphones for business, and sometimes those smartphones end up in the hands of their children. That members of these communities now have infinite access to the outside world in their palms means the Old Colony Mennonites could be on the cusp of a major shift.

Already there have been other signs of modernization, including the increasing number of Mennonites — both men and women — who are employed by outside businesses (factories, for example) rather than have the traditional, hyper-local occupations of farming, carpentry and mechanical work.

For many of them, life is still insular. But whether it remains this uncomplicated has yet to be seen.

Jake Michaels is a photographer in Los Angeles. He is working on two monographs that will be published in the spring. Daniel Shank Cruz is an associate professor of English at Utica College.

Cult Mediation

Cult Mediation

Offers resources designed to help thoughtful families and friends understand and respond to the complexity of a loved one’s cult involvement.

Since 1984, we have helped people with destructive cults, mind control, brainwashing, parental alienation, estrangement, abusive relationships, gurus, multi-level marketing, violent extremism and other forms of undue influence.

Our approach is based upon our philosophy designed to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.

Sep 21, 2018

Cult View

Cult View is a site by Traci Lynn Anderson -- a former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

The site provides information about cults and help for those who have been impacted.

Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over

Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over
Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over

By Janja Lalich and Karla McLaren
Published by Routledge, 2017 – Available on Amazon

Escaping Utopia is a must read book for everyone concerned about the real nature of human nature. Authors Lalich and McLaren do a brilliant job in revealing the various psycho-social mechanisms by which cults attract, deceive and bind recruits into their ‘families,’ at great personal costs—and how to help them exit.” Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus, Stanford University “This is a unique and valuable book. The authors have taken a much-neglected subject: the fate of children growing up in cults who leave knowing little or nothing of the world outside their cult’s boundaries. The book is largely based on interviews with 65 of these former cult members from a wide variety of different types of cults. But the material is thematically unified by the authors’ profound theoretical understanding of cult dynamics gained through many decades of studying cults from both inside and out. This accessible and nuanced account of a controversial subject will be the standard reference on its subject for many years to come.” -- Benjamin Zablocki, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, Rutgers University

Actor Glenn Close. Humorist Garrison Keillor. Musician Lisa Marie Presley. Actor
Leah Remini. Singer Toni Braxton. The late actor River Phoenix. Each of these
well-known people has more than fame in common; each was born or raised in a cult.

Many of us think of cults as bizarre groups that only strange people inhabit, but in truth, cults are not unusual at all—and the social pressures and controlling
structures that create cults exist (to some degree) in every human relationship
and every human group. Cult behavior is human behavior—and by studying
cults, we can learn remarkably useful things about the world and our place in it.

In Escaping Utopia, Janja Lalich and Karla McLaren (both cult survivors) explore
the life stories of 65 people who were born in or grew up in 39 different cults
spanning more than a dozen countries. This original research explores
fundamental questions about human nature, human development, group
dynamics, abuse and control, and triumphs of the human spirit in the face of
extended suffering.

The lessons we can learn from these cult survivors can inform and protect each
of us—so that cultic groups cannot gain influence over us or our loved ones.

Janja Lalich, Ph.D. is a researcher, author, and educator specializing in self-
sealing systems (cults, terrorist groups, extremist groups), with a focus on
indoctrination and methods of influence and control. She is Professor Emerita of
Sociology at California State University, Chico, and has studied the social
psychology of exploitative groups and relationships for over thirty years.

Karla McLaren, M.Ed. is an award-winning author and social science researcher
who grew up in a New Age healing cult. Her research focuses on emotions, empathy, autism and neurodiversity, social-emotional learning, within-group and
inter-group dynamics, agnotology, and influence techniques.

Sep 20, 2018

The Beatles in India

Vasundhara Rathi
The Hindu
SEPTEMBER 19, 2018

Canadian filmmaker and photographer Paul Saltzman will showcase his photographs of the time the fab four spent in Rishikesh

It was in the year 1968 when the Beatles were spending time away from the limelight, to learn and practice transcendental meditation by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was by pure chance that budding photographer and filmmaker Paul Saltzman stumbled upon the Beatles living in an ashram in Rishikesh, when he’d actually arrived there to mend his broken heart through the medium of meditation.

Speaking to The Hindu , Saltzman recalls, “I stopped thinking of them as The Beatles within 30 seconds of meeting and talking to them. Kind of magically, the Beatles went away and they were just these people I was sitting with. I never even thought of asking for a picture or autographs! For a week, we were buddies. I could’ve taken lots of fun photos, but I asked each of them privately, if they’d mind me taking pictures and they said, “Go right ahead!””

Cultural legacy
After spending 11 days at the ashram, Saltzman went back to Toronto, published a few photographs of the renowned musicians, wrote an article about meditation and put away the pictures in a cardboard box. Thirty years later, it was his daughter, Devyani, a Beatles’ fan, who made him dig up those old prints, which eventually featured in Saltzman’s book, The Beatles In India.

Avid Learning Institute, Consulate General of Canada in Mumbai and ICIA Gallery will be hosting an exhibition of the photographs and a conversation on ‘Beatlemania:Capturing Subcultures through the Lens’ between the filmmaker and photographer and art critic and curator Girish Shahane.
About the talk Shahane said, “It will be about how he came to Rishikesh, his interactions with the Beatles, the life of the photographs after he’d taken them and how India became important in a particular way to the world. The cultural aspect of Indian history became important to the hippie movement and the legacy of that movement in the present time. The major impact of the Beatles on India was through their interest in India, which then became an interest that many of their fans shared. The important thing is what the Beatles did for India in terms of its connection with the rest of the world.”
Documenting culture
Saltzman also said, “We will talk very broadly about the concept of photography documenting subcultures. I didn’t set out to document anything [in 1968]. I was not a photographer. I was starting to be a filmmaker but I was at the very beginning of my career. For me, photography and filmmaking has always been about experiencing what I’m in the middle of. My love of taking pictures and making movies is really about human being as opposed to subcultures. ‘Documenting subcultures’ is what somebody can label it, in retrospect.

Some people do that brilliantly, filmmakers and photographers, who specifically want to do document for a purpose but that’s not my way. My passion is to become more conscious as a photographer and filmmaker, to become more compassionate, to have greater empathy and not just for others, but for myself.”
The Beatles in India will be on exhibition from this evening until September 22 at ICIA Gallery, Kala Ghoda ; this evening attend a talk between Paul Saltzman and Girish Shahane at 6 p.m. at the same venue.

Sep 19, 2018

Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Vienna Forum for Theology and Religious Studies, Volume 16

Vienna University Press

"This volume explores aspects of yoga over a period of about 2500 years. In its first part, it investigates facets of the South Asian and Tibetan traditions of yoga, such as the evolution of posture practice, the relationship between yoga and sex, yoga in the theistic context, the influence of Buddhism on early yoga, and the encounter of Islam with classical yoga. The second part addresses aspects of modern globalised yoga and its historical formation, as for example the emergence of yoga in Viennese occultism, the integration of yoga and nature cure in modern India, the eventisation of yoga in a global setting, and the development of Patañjali’s iconography. In keeping with the current trend in yoga studies, the emphasis of the volume is on the practice of yoga and its theoretical underpinnings."

This is an open access title and available at:!

The editors

  • Karl Baier is Head of the Department of Religious Studies, University of Vienna.
  • Philipp A. Maas is Research Associate at the Institute for Indology and Central Asian Studies, University of Leipzig.
  • Karin Preisendanz holds the Chair of Indology at the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, University of Vienna.

Event: Health and Healing in Minority Religions.

Inform Seminar
Inform Seminar – Saturday 24th November 2018.

This seminar will explore a range of religious models of health and healing, and to what extent these are related to what practitioners actually do with the aim of preventing and curing diseases of the body and the mind. Many minority religions provide their members with a comprehensive worldview in which beliefs and practices concerning health and healing are incorporated in religious beliefs. Perceptions of body, mind and soul, and their relationships are intricately entwined with a supernatural or transcendent realm.

At one end of a spectrum, there are religious traditions that consider the body a temple and who consider maintaining its health through lifestyle and diet a form of worship. At the other end, there are those who consider the body inferior to the spiritual or cognitive realm, and not of primary importance. Then there are those who believe in possession of the body by evil spirits to be a source of illness, and there are those who believe in ‘faith healing’ and associated practices.

Some of these positions will be explored at this seminar, which will include presentations by academics, academic researchers, and members of Christian Science and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Sarah Harvey
Senior Research Officer
020 7848 1132
c/o Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, King’s College London
Virginia Woolf Building, 22 Kingsway, London WC2B 6LE.

Sep 18, 2018

Man enters plea in Gwinnett baby starving death — but still disputes case

Joshua Sharpe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
September 18, 2018

Rather than face trial, a purported Nuwaubian cult member made a plea deal and accepted a life sentence for the 2014 starving death of his 15-month-old daughter.

Calvin Mcintosh, 48, who authorities have said is tied to the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, entered Alford pleas to felony murder and three counts of cruelty to children. The Alford plea allows a defendant to accept punishment for crimes while still maintaining their innocence.

Judge Melodie Conner sentenced Mcintosh to life in prison, with the chance of parole, plus 30 years of probation. “Life” is 30 years in Georgia, meaning that he can seek parole after serving that time.

Charges of starving and false imprisonment of the baby’s mother, Iasia Sweeting, were dropped as part of the plea agreement. Prosecutor Rich Vandever said Sweeting agreed to the terms.

“We had solid evidence to prove those counts,” Vandever told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of the charges related to Sweeting. She weighed only 59 pounds at age 21 when she was rescued from a Gwinnett County hotel in Peachtree Corners.

Sweeting’s family has said she was abducted by Mcintosh in 2010 in DeKalb County though he wasn’t charged, and Mcintosh’s attorney disputes the claim. Sweeting, a former DeKalb School of the Arts student who couldn’t speak or walk after her rescue, has made a remarkable recovery and is looking forward to attending college. She couldn’t immediately be reached for comment after the hearing. 

Her mother Elvis Morgan was conflicted after the pleas.
“I don’t know how to feel right now,” she told the AJC. 

The pleas mark a major step, but not the end of the case. Mcintosh’s daughter, Najlaa, who is also accused of murder in the death of baby Alcenti for allegedly denying food to her, three other children and Sweeting at her father’s order because of some “misbehavior.” No trial date has been set for Najlaa Ncintosh.

The murder case began on Nov. 11, 2014, when Calvin Mcintosh went to a Sandy Springs hospital with the baby and told staff she wasn’t breathing. It was too late to save her, and a nurse said the child looked like a skeleton.

None of Sweeting’s family had ever met the baby; they’d been searching for Sweeting for four years.

Hospital staff notified Gwinnett police, who soon raided Room 310 at the Extended Stay America on Jimmy Carter Boulevard, where the group had been living. They found Sweeting in dire need of medical attention and the other three children malnourished. Police said two of the children were the product of incest between the Mcintoshs, the other was another child Sweeting had with Mcintosh.

In the room, officers also discovered literature about the beliefs of the Nuwaubian group, which authorities have long called a black supremacist cult. The group once had a secretive Egyptian-themed compound in Putnam County until the leader, Dwight York, went to prison for child molestation.

Defense attorney Walt Britt said the Alford plea doesn’t mean Mcintosh is admitting guilt and he pointed out that he had planned to keep the state from bringing up anything about the Nuwaubians.

“Mr. McIntosh, at his plea and sentencing, disputed the state’s case, but determined it was in his best interest to enter a plea,” Britt told the AJC. “I am very sorry the death of the baby...and all injuries and problems that the other children suffered.”

Sep 17, 2018

Mormon fighting to end youth interviews ousted from faith



September 16, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Mormon man who led a campaign criticizing the church’s practice of allowing closed-door, one-on-one interviews of youth by lay leaders that sometimes included sexual questions has been kicked out of the faith following a disciplinary hearing.

Sam Young read a verdict letter for the first time Sunday that had been delivered to him following last week’s hearing with local church leaders in Houston.

Young and his supporters say the interviews where youth are asked if they’re following the law of chastity led to inappropriate conversations and shaming.

Young called his excommunication “a supreme disappointment” and was emotional at a news conference attended by about 100 of his supporters.

“The whistleblower has been kicked out,” he said. “But they have no power to excommunicate me from the cause of protecting children and protecting the healing of my friends. For our children’s sake, this whistleblower is not going to stop roaring.”

Young, 65, recently finished a 23-day hunger strike in Salt Lake City near church headquarters to bring attention to his cause. In March, he organized a protest march of about 1,000 people who walked to church headquarters.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t comment on disciplinary hearings to respect people’s privacy.

While not a lifelong ban, excommunication is a rare move that amounts to the harshest punishment available for a church member.

Young becomes the third high-profile Mormon who led protests about church policy to be excommunicated in recent years.

Kate Kelly, founder of a group pushing for women to be allowed in the religion’s lay clergy, was excommunicated in 2014. John Dehlin, who runs a podcast that allows doubting Mormons to tell their stories, was kicked out in 2015.

In his summons to the disciplinary hearing, church leaders told Young he was facing excommunication because he encouraged others to vote against church leaders and because he organized more than one public action that expressed opposition.

The youth interviews usually happen twice a year starting at 12. One of the questions asked by men who are called bishops deals with sexual activity: “Do you live the law of chastity?”

Young and the Mormons and non-Mormons who back his campaign say the question is unnecessary and inappropriate.

The church changed its policy earlier this year to allow children to bring a parent or adult with them. Parents were only allowed in a hallway or adjacent room under old rules. Youth can still go in alone if they choose.

In June, the faith, for the first time, posted the list of questions lay leaders are supposed to ask during the interviews.

Mormon leaders say the interviews are an important way for bishops to get to know youth better and determine their religious habits and obedience to God.

Young’s ouster means he’ll be leaving a religion he’s been a member of his entire life. Mormons usually have tight-knit connections with other people in their congregations, bonds forged by spending worship and social time together.

Excommunicated Mormons and those not in good standing can’t go inside temples where members are married and other ordinances such as baptisms for dead relatives are performed

Paedophile cult leader Warren Jeffs tore this town apart. Now his victims are putting it back together

Former members of a polygamous Utah cult struggle with their own #MeToo reckoning.

New Statesman
September 17, 2018

Cottonwood Park, the largest public gathering place in Hildale, Utah, nestles in the midst of a surreally gorgeous landscape. Rugged cliffs and stunning canyons dramatically rear and stretch in the distance, framed against a crystal blue sky. Newcomers to the area never fail to remark on the vista, to which the people who see it every day simply nod with pride. There’s something about the land here, the locals say; something that calls them back when they leave.

The park is crowded this afternoon. The smell of fresh turf fills the air, which is whipped into a chilling wind by early spring, despite the sun. Residents of Hildale and its sister town across the state line, Colorado City (the two towns are collectively known as Short Creek) have worked all day to replace the barren, dusty ground with a thick layer of grass and soil, but only about a quarter of the park has been completed. There’s still plenty of work to be done.

Leona Bateman, a trim, feisty-looking woman in her 50s wearing skilfully applied make-up and a bright dress with cut-outs that reveal her shoulders, floats from one picnic table to the next, greeting those seated by name. “Hey, how’s your daughter? I heard she had an accident, is she okay? Good, glad to hear it. See you at the meeting this week!”

She makes her way to a large table set up with sandwiches in plastic boxes and bottles of water. Another woman, Anne (whose name has been changed at her request) and her daughter, a pretty girl in her early twenties, are handing out snacks. Even though there’s supposed to be a barbecue for the entire town later this evening, laying turf is hungry work.

“Hi Leona, good to see you,” Anne greets her. The two women exchange brief hugs and chat for a few minutes.

“Has Donia made an appearance yet?” Leona asks.
“Not yet,” Anne answers. “I’m sure she’ll be along eventually. It’s part of her duties now.”
Named for the ancient, gnarled trees that twist their way up to the sky, Cottonwood Park has gone to seed over the past few decades. For many years, the land was in the hands of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints or FLDS, an extremist polygamous sect of Mormonism that until recently had a stranglehold on all of Short Creek.

The FLDS is most notorious for the reign of its former prophet Warren Jeffs, who took leadership of the cult in 2002 after the death of his father Rulon, the previous prophet. By the end of his tyrannical rule, Jeffs had taken 80 wives, each of whom had an average of 10 children. In 2011, he began serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting girls as young as 12, sometimes tying them up in a large domed structure specially constructed for the purpose, and raping them in front of his other wives and favourite followers. Jeffs called these gatherings “Witnessings.”

In Jeffs’ day, almost every property in Short Creek was set up with feeds for security cameras. They all went back to a room full of TV screens in his house, where he could monitor the intimate lives of his followers to make sure they weren’t disobeying the rules of his invasive, unthinkably restrictive ideology. While Jeffs was prophet, members of the FLDS weren’t allowed to use the word “fun,” because he considered it too unrestrained. They had to say “enjoyable.” Outsiders were always to be shunned, but Jeffs forbade the townspeople even from socialising among themselves. As Leona puts it, “we knew each other, but we didn’t really know each other.”

Jeffs manipulated his followers with a variety of mind-control techniques, including the threat of separation from their families. When a member of his flock was disobedient, he or she would be expelled from the community to “repent from afar.” Male FLDS members on repentance missions were required to send the lion’s share of any profit they accrued through their work back to Jeffs in order to earn their way back onto “the ladder of trust” and be reunited with their families. In fact, almost all the money anyone in Short Creek made went straight to Jeffs, who pooled their resources into a sizeable fortune that he distributed as he pleased.
Jeffs was arrested in August 2006, after having been on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for months. In 2007, he was convicted in Utah of two counts of accomplice to rape and began serving a sentence of 10 years to life, which was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court in 2010 due to incorrect jury instructions. Jeffs was then extradited to Texas, where he was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of minors in connection with a raid by Texas law enforcement on an FLDS ranch there and sentenced to life in prison.

Since Jeffs’ imprisonment, the FLDS has lost a great deal of control over Short Creek. Some people remained in the cult, which has splintered into smaller groups since the departure of its prophet. They can still be seen around town, walking hurriedly past apostates with their eyes cast down; the women dressed modestly in long skirts and prairie blouses. But law enforcement has been keeping a close eye on lingering remnants of the group, and last year, Donia Jessop, another former member of the FLDS, was elected the first female mayor of Hildale – a move that scandalized the remainder of Jeffs’ congregation.

The past two years have seen the town rapidly transform from an inaccessible place of walled properties and suspicious glares, where the formerly FLDS-controlled local police force quickly drove out any outsiders brave enough to invade its streets. Since Jeffs was arrested, many members of the cult have decided to leave its restrictive lifestyle and begin their lives anew. People who were expelled from the FLDS and sometimes shunned for years by their families have returned with a drive to help Short Creek rejoin America in the 21st century. They’ve become involved with local government, started community outreach programs and opened businesses – including a brand-new microbrewery, Hildale’s very first alcohol-serving establishment, brazenly situated right next to the most popular casual food joint in town.

Despite the fact that the women of Short Creek have known nothing but polygamy for most of their lives, they’ve driven many of the changes in the area. Until recently, these women were trained to live only as appendages of the men who married and often abused them. Given the violent, paedophilic proclivities of Short Creek’s former prophet, the stain of misogyny, incest, and sexual violence has hung like a noxious mist over the twin towns for years. That stain has only recently begun to recede, in large part due to the efforts of women who already face plenty of challenges adapting to the unfamiliar environment of life outside the FLDS community. Despite the uncertainty of entering a world they were raised to fear as the gateway to hell, they must continue tending to their large families even as they try to heal themselves and their town from a life without choices.

In a community where a man’s worth was partly measured by how many wives he had, Leona’s husband Craig Bateman was always an oddity. Leona was his only wife for 35 years. He sometimes jokes that he never took another wife because he had his hands full with this one, and it’s easy to see why.

Like almost everyone in Short Creek, Leona was born into a plural marriage. Her mother was a second wife, married to Leona’s father when she was 15 years old. Leona was one of 32 children raised in her house.

Leona’s family taught her what all Short Creek families used to teach their daughters: that her only mission in life was to care for her husband and bear as many children as possible. Despite a childhood that denied her the assertive streak she’s now growing into, Leona speaks of her time growing up with a fondness shared by many long-time residents of the towns. Though the community has been under the control of polygamous Mormons since the 1930s, Leona says things were different before Warren Jeffs became prophet in 2002.

Short Creek was always a deeply religious place, but when Leona was a child, she says, people socialised often and supported each other through hard times. No one in town was ready for the calculated process of isolation and mind control that Warren Jeffs began to implement when he took power. Perhaps that’s how he managed to execute it so well.

Over breakfast at the Merry Wives Café in Hildale, a sweet little diner with lace curtains on the windows, Leona explains how Warren consolidated his power over their lives. Two tables of FLDS women in their familiar modest garments, accompanied by a flock of extremely blonde children, are seated nearby. Leona keeps her voice lowered as she speaks, so they won’t hear what she’s saying.

According to Leona, before Warren came, there had already been a fair amount of domestic abuse in Short Creek, as there often is in patriarchal, religious rural communities. She says that was how he won the townspeople over at first – with his morality, forbidding corporal punishment of children and wives.

“It was common for the women to get beat before Warren,” Leona says. “It was common for the kids to get beat. When he came, he banned that, and he said if anyone hits their families again, they're going to get kicked out. For the first time ever, women had a little tiny bit of power over their husbands.” But the women of Short Creek would soon find out that some punishments could be even worse in their own way than being beaten.

“After a while, if you didn’t obey your husband, then he would go tell Warren Jeffs,” Leona explains. “Warren would say, ‘take her kids from her, and move her to the trailer court, or put her in complete isolation from the family. Ban her from the church.’ What they would do is mind manipulation, which is far worse than a spanking or a beating. I know many women who got their babies taken from them … just by applying social pressure, he got complete control.”

Leona pauses, checking again to see if the FLDS women at the other tables are listening. They’re not, so she discreetly gestures at them as she continues.

“There’s no leader out here right now so they don’t want to give up their faith cause they’ll feel wicked or destroyed,” Leona whispers about the families. “We call it ‘process.’ It took three years for me to even believe that the news wasn’t lying about Warren. I just thought they just made all that up. So, they’re in process. You'll see them all over town wearing dresses.”

An estimated 10,000 active FLDS members still live in and around Short Creek, but the group appears to have splintered since Jeffs’ imprisonment – its leadership contested by competing candidates for the prophethood. At least, that’s how the FLDS presents itself, now that law enforcement is monitoring them so closely. There are rumours that a young man named Rulon Johnson might be consolidating some power as a leader, but despite his crimes, Jeffs is still seen as God’s incarnation on earth by many people in the cult. According to Leona, there’s a ceremony that current members of the FLDS have taken to performing. They have to build a small room out of wood they chopped themselves and sit inside it for hours, so they will know how their prophet suffers in his jail cell.

Jeffs still appears to be leading the group as much as he can from prison, refusing to relinquish his control over those citizens of Short Creek who are still too frightened to go out into “The World,” as they call it, with capital letters. His followers are still waiting for the “Millennium”, Mormonism’s apocalyptic vision of what will happen when the world ends.

According to believers, when the Millennium comes, God will judge the righteous and those who pass the test will live for a thousand years in peace and glory, while those who fail will be cast into eternal suffering. That was one of the ways Jeffs frightened the townspeople into submission. If his followers disobeyed, they were convinced they would be damned to hellfire for eternity, while those who were compliant were admitted into something called the “United Order”, an elite group they were taught to see as the direct pathway to heaven.
But even though Jeffs is now behind bars, people who have left the FLDS say the damage he did remains etched into their lives. When Leona was 40 years old, her brother Johnny committed suicide after being cast out by Warren. Leona deeply regrets the way her family treated him when he was expelled, but their fear of being infected with what they were taught to see as her brother’s disobedience to God’s will was too intense for them.

“He called home for help,” Leona says. “He called probably ten or 20 family members and we just told him no or hung up on him. They eventually found him in a hotel room. He hung himself and he had been there for ten days … To this day we don't even know what happened. We didn’t even go to his funeral.”

Leona’s brother wasn’t the only loved one she lost to the trauma of a life under Jeffs. Two years ago, her son Randy also committed suicide. He had been expelled from the group in 2000 and got into drugs after he was barred from his community and shunned by his family. Although Leona and her family reconnected with Randy when they decided to leave the FLDS in 2012, the damage to his psyche had already been done. They only got to spend a couple of years with him before he killed himself.

In the aftermath of Randy’s death, Craig and Leona divorced. “Craig went into a depression and said he could not have a family or deserve one,” says Leona. The couple spent seven months apart, but are now back together. “I have no idea where it's going to go,” she says. “We're still struggling but we haven't given up on each other.”

Suicide is common among ex-members of the FLDS, as well as drug abuse and maladaptive sexual behaviour. Many people who were never allowed to make a personal decision have fallen into one addiction or another since leaving the cult and entering a world full of dangerous choices – a problem that troubles those who want to improve the lives of people in Short Creek.

John Barlow, a 27-year-old former Marine who left the FLDS when his father was expelled in 2001, is one of the once-shunned community members who have recently returned to the area. He now works as the town city manager and Mayor Donia Jessop’s right-hand man, hoping to reshape its politics. On a cliff overlooking a sweeping view of the town, framed by those extraordinary rust-coloured canyons, Barlow explains that the self-destructive behaviour displayed by many former FLDS members is rooted in many years of a life without autonomy.

“I call it a rule-based morality system, where you don’t really think about the cause and effect of things,” Barlow says. “You just know that there are things that are right and things that are wrong. So when you’re presented with a choice, you just ask yourself, ‘is that on the list of things that are allowed or is it on the list of things that isn’t?’ As soon as that list disappears, some people throw out everything on it and end up in trouble … and redefining relationships for polygamist families, redefining relationships for young adults, is extremely difficult, because all their models of how to interact with the opposite sex have not been very positive.”

As for Leona, she is frank that the town is still struggling to shed the sexually abusive, misogynist mentality that permeated its way of life for so long, and some extremely troubling aspects remain a challenge for those who want change. On a drive through Short Creek and a neighbouring town still under the control of another polygamous Mormon sect called Centennial Park, Leona gestures at one of the houses, a drab little structure with an unkempt yard.

“Everyone here is related and some bad things still go on,” she says bluntly. “The man who lives there has been sleeping with all of his daughters since they turned 12. He felt like it was his job to teach them about sex. Lots of people who have never been able to date, you know, they get into that stuff.”

Bateman drives past a large building with strangely modern architecture that looks abandoned, “That was the old FLDS meeting house,” she says. “They’ve closed it now.” But not everyone seems to have accepted its retirement. Two FLDS women carrying brooms are out front, lovingly sweeping tumbleweeds from around the shuttered building, their long skirts dragging in the dust.
Craig was the one who pushed Leona to leave in 2012. He had begun to seriously question FLDS ideology, and is now a committed atheist who can’t bear any talk of spirituality. At the time they left, Craig owned a construction company with over 80 employees. Despite the fact that he only had one wife, the Bateman family had been quite comfortable with their financial and social standing in the community, so Leona was reluctant to leave at first, not knowing how they would fare out in The World.

But in the years since, the couple and their 12 children appear to have adjusted well to the freedom of life outside the FLDS. On a Saturday night at the newly opened microbrewery, called The Edge of the World, what seems like the entire town is crammed in. A young female server with green hair, piercings and tattoos takes orders as more and more people join. The atmosphere is indistinguishable from any similar bar in any other part of America, with no indication that most of the brewery’s customers have only recently been able to consume any alcohol at all.

Leona and Craig are enjoying the evening with their daughter Andrea, a 28-year-old mother of three with green hair almost matching that of the waitress, who is a friend of hers. At one point, Craig gestures at a table across the room, where a man in his late middle ages is laughing over a beer.

“See that guy?” he whispers. “Warren appointed him to be our enforcer. He used to turn us in for any little thing and we’d get in so much trouble. Now here he is, having drinks with all of us. It’s really strange.”

Life without the FLDS may have its moments of strangeness, but Leona is managing to cope with her own adjustments by assisting others in the community through their transitions. In 2013, she started a group called Creekers to help former members of the cult assimilate back into society. She also set up a weekly meeting of former FLDS women she playfully calls the Girlfriend Club, where they process their trauma by supporting and sharing their experiences with one another. And last summer, Leona held a “Brave Woman Camp” for female members of the group who have survived sexual abuse.

“We had 12 rape cases come out of that camp,” Leona says matter-of-factly. “When you’re going through transition and leaving a cult, and you’re used to [having] no power, and you have no education, you’re very vulnerable. A few of the cases that came out were happening in the church, because stuff like that still happened and just was secret. The more I do this work, the more I realize how needed it really is.”

But Leona also has to continue raising her children while she organises services for the community. The youngest of her kids, Paris, is still 10 years old, and running a household with Leona’s perfectionism can’t be easy work. The Bateman home, an enormous stone mansion with architectural details reminiscent of a medieval castle, is well arranged and pristinely tidy. Photos of their children are everywhere; including a few of Randy, memorialised as a young man with all-American good looks and a wide, joyful grin.
In her tastefully decorated living room, Leona gleefully shows off a photo of her on her wedding day. In it, her hair is tied up severely. She’s wearing a white lace dress with long sleeves and a collar so high it looks like it’s choking her. A young Craig modestly stands by her side, barely touching her.

“I look a little different now, right?” Leona laughs, posing next to the photo. Today, she’s wearing a zebra-striped jacket over a black top with gold studs spangled around the collar. “You know, I was always taught to try my hardest to be the best at anything I was supposed to do,” Leona says. “And for years, I was supposed to be the perfect, obedient wife.”

She gives a sheepish little smile. “I tried as hard as I could, but I wasn’t very good at it.”

The house in which Jeffs used to live with a rotating number of his 80 wives and their children now seems to stand as a symbol of Short Creek’s transformation. Recent transplants to town, Jena and Glyn Jones, just turned the building into a “Dream Center”, one of similar properties across the United States run by a Christian charity. The charity uses the properties they acquire to offer housing, counselling and addiction recovery services to disadvantaged populations.
Brielle Decker, Jeffs’ 65th wife, was able to purchase Jeffs’ former residence at a discounted price in 2017 and donated it to the Jones’ enterprise, which is entirely donor-funded.

At a potluck held by the Dream Center every Thursday, it’s warm and noisy in the imposingly designed, enormous house, which has the words “PRAY AND OBEY” ominously set into a brick wall on the outside of the building. Inside, small crowds of children scamper around as their parents line up at a buffet table to be served from a variety of potluck-style dishes. Laughter and easy chatter fill the rooms, which are strangely large for what appears to be a residential property. It’s clearly a place where a large number of people were meant to live, work and eat – but not play. The playing is new.

Despite the Dream Center’s sordid history, the women of Short Creek desperately need the services it provides. The disintegration of the FLDS and its polygamous lifestyle has created a large population of husbandless women with huge broods of children and no education or work experience. And many of the women who have left the FLDS are struggling to cope with the kind of trauma that never really leaves them.
At the potluck, Anne and her daughter chat with Leona over dessert. They’re all grateful for the Dream Center and the services it provides, but have mild concerns about the personal histories of the Dream Center volunteers, as well as the fact that it’s a religious Christian charity. The Joneses say they take care not to proselytise, but given the town’s history, any organised spirituality makes some Short Creekers nervous. “After what people have been through here, they’re leery of religion,” says Anne. “We’re leery of everything, basically, because we don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into. Look what we got ourselves into in the first place, and how did we do that?” She laughs.

Growing up in the FLDS, Anne didn’t share Leona’s relative good fortune. Born with a cleft lip, she was relentlessly bullied as a child, even by her adult bus driver.

Compounding Anne’s childhood troubles, when she was 19 years old, she fell in love with and married a man with a last name that was decidedly unhelpful in the hierarchical, dynastic society of the FLDS. Certain families were more respected than others in the community, and Anne’s wasn’t one of them. In hindsight, though, she says that may have spared her daughters unwelcome attention from Jeffs and his favourite male followers.

“I’m glad that we were shunned a little bit because it kept us out of that circle,” Anne says. “Our girls were just not quite as good as everybody else’s to them.”
Like Leona, Anne describes the time before Warren Jeffs became prophet as much happier than it would become. Her stepfather, whom she speaks of with deep love and grief, was a rare bright spot in her difficult childhood. He was one of the community cooks, a friendly man supposedly beloved by many people in town. But sixteen years ago, she woke up one day to discover that her stepfather had disappeared. Warren had sent him away to “repent from afar,” with no explanation whatsoever for Anne and her family. For a long time, they didn’t even know what sin he was supposed to have committed.

“He was gone for five years,” Anne says. “Then we got word that he had passed away. [Jeffs and the leadership] called all of his kids in together and told us that he had been judged by God and was on the right hand of God and was glorified in the Heavens.”

His children were relieved to hear that their patriarch had redeemed himself in the eyes of the Lord. But the next day at the community meeting, Jeffs had a surprise for them. Instead of repeating his praise from the night before, he told the congregation that Anne’s stepfather had been cast down to hell. According to Jeffs, he sent her stepfather away to repent because he had discovered that one of the man’s wives, who worked as a midwife, let a severely deformed, premature baby die without intervening to save it. Anne’s stepfather had supposedly been excommunicated because he failed to report his wife for her sin.

Given the fact that almost everyone in Short Creek is related, birth defects are highly common due to inbreeding. Anne says the baby in question was about a pound and a half at birth and “didn’t have all its parts.” Absent intensive medical care in a hospital, there was scarcely any chance the child would have lived. But Jeffs said it was a sin to let it die, which is why he sent Anne’s stepfather away. In reality, though, Anne says her stepfather, always popular among the congregation, had started to question Warren a little too loudly for the prophet’s liking. So he cast him out. That day at the meeting, Jeffs made it clear that even her stepfather’s death hadn’t erased his dishonor among the community.

“He would have given the clothes he was wearing to somebody,” Anne says of her stepfather, with tears in her voice. “He loved everybody.”
When her stepfather was banished, Anne started to have serious doubts about Jeffs’ leadership of the community. Other painful aspects of his rule began to anxiously eat away at her mind too. For example, Jeffs had instructed Anne’s husband not to sleep with her anymore after she had to have a hysterectomy. Her husband had taken her biological sister as a second wife when Anne was 32 years old and watching the man she loved being intimate with her sister-wife instead of her was incredibly difficult.

After Jeffs went to prison, Anne’s husband left the FLDS. He asked her to come with him, but she stayed at first, believing she would have “blood on her skirts” if she took her family out of the community and exposed them to The World. Five years later, Anne finally decided it was time to get out of Short Creek. She and her children snuck out of the house in the middle of the night with as many of their things as they could carry. According to Anne’s daughter, her siblings were protesting as they left, fearing eternal damnation.

“They said, ‘Mom, you’re taking us to hell!’” her daughter recounts. “I was like, ‘Mom, let’s go, let’s go!’”
That night, Anne’s husband picked them up in his car and they drove off into the unknown. But Anne’s sister-wife and her children refused to leave the FLDS. They are still in the cult, and Anne worries for them. She’s currently looking at renting an apartment with her husband and they’re thinking of getting a room ready for her if she decides to leave the FLDS. Anne says their plural marriage was difficult at times, but she misses her sister and would welcome her back.

Circumstances for the family have improved now, but things were quite difficult for them when they first left. According to Anne’s daughter, they had to stay in shabby hotels for months and had periods of near-homelessness. But at least her mother and father stayed together. Though they’re still faced with the difficulty of navigating their marriage now that it’s just the two of them, the couple seems to have found strength and support in each other.

Anne giggles when asked about the most outrageous thing she’s done since leaving the FLDS. “I got drunk for the first time at Leona’s event,” she confesses. “I was sick for three days. I’ve been going through a lot of emotional stuff for the last four months. One of the girls says to me, ‘I want you to tell me what’s going on.’ Then I started crying and I told her. And she said, ‘Let’s go dance it off.’ And I just let it go. My husband was there and he said, ‘are you sure? Okay, I support you one hundred per cent.’ … Afterwards, I said to him, ‘Don’t ever let me get drunk again!’”

Anne will need her husband’s support now more than ever, as she struggles to process some extremely disturbing memories that have resurfaced since she left the FLDS. For most of her life, Anne says she believed the man who raped her when she was five years old was a black orderly at the hospital she was taken to after it happened. She had to have surgery on her lip in the aftermath of the sexual assault, and she confused the memory of the unfamiliar man who took her out of the ambulance with the man who had raped her.

That belief persisted until last year, when Anne attended one of Leona’s Girlfriend Club meetings and the group was given handouts to read, describing the testimony of a young girl who had just left the FLDS. “She was eight years old,” Anne says of the girl’s story. “Someone would come pick her up her up, blindfold her, put a hood over her head, take her into this room and tell her to undress. Then they’d call her by a number. She was number six. They’d take her in another room and there was Warren Jeffs. I read that and totally freaked out.”

“I remembered that it was Warren who raped me,” she continues quietly. “It was at his father's home and he would've been 19 years old at the time … One of the things that helped me remember was that after I was raped, I remembered hearing these words. This girl said that Warren told her, ‘If you tell anybody you'll burn in hell. You'll actually burn.’ That’s what he said to me. ‘If you tell anybody, you’ll burn in hell. Burn in fire.’”

Though Anne is doing her best to recover from her experiences, such complex trauma is extraordinarily difficult to heal from. Shelli Mecham, a clinical social worker based in Salt Lake City who counsels people leaving polygamist groups, says there are a number of challenges for mental health professionals when treating former members of the FLDS. “When you’ve been sexually molested or raped as a child, and you don’t have any foundation to begin with, it feels like kind of the norm,” says Mecham. “So it’s back to reforming a normal foundation, and that is difficult to work with … but I think that often the bigger piece is attachment trauma, where families are removed, and children are removed…The void of a real connection to a caregiver – that’s a harder one to wrap my hands around.”

Anne is seeing her own therapist now to process the trauma of her childhood, and services provided by Leona and the Dream Center are assisting her with adjusting to a new life. Raising her youngest children in a world she was raised to think of as hazardous and full of misery has proven especially challenging. Her daughter, for instance, is having trouble finding a decent boyfriend among the men in town, and Anne worries for her.

But Anne’s pride in her children is immediately noticeable. She says her kids were a major driving force that motivated she and her husband to return to Short Creek after having left for three years. At the potluck dinner, Anne lovingly puts her hand on her daughter’s arm.
“My kids had a big part in us deciding to move back,” Anne says. “They were like, ‘you know what? Let's go back to the Creek, because where we are in our lives right now, we can tell other people it's okay to walk away.’ They felt like that they were ready to tell their other brothers and sisters, or their cousins, or whoever they meet that we are still us. We haven't changed just because we left the religion.”

She surveys the bustling room of families who weren’t allowed to socialise with each other just a few years ago, now enjoying a friendly meal together in what was once the home of the man she believes raped her as a child, and smiles. “It’s just lifesaving – to be free of that and be able to make our choices,” Anne says. “They could be good or bad choices, but at least they’re ours.”

Many of these newfound choices have been difficult for some men in Short Creek to swallow. For example, most of them would have laughed at the idea of a female mayor while the FLDS was in charge, but they hadn’t counted on Donia Jessop moving back to town.

Donia and her husband Joe left the cult in 2012, the same year as Leona. According to Donia, she didn’t have the same experience growing up as many other female FLDS members. She came from a family of strong women, as did her husband, which helped with the fact that Donia never seemed to manage being an obedient FLDS wife. An imposing woman with a charming smile and a visible dominant streak, she always seems to command whichever room she walks into.

Those traits never seemed to sit well with many men in the community when she was in the cult. “I knew all the rules,” Donia explains at a bustling gas station and diner she owns and oversees while working as mayor. She pauses the conversation periodically to shout instructions at her daughter, who is manning the register. “If we were going to see the leaders or be in church or anything like that, I would never stand in front of Joe. When we would go to shake hands in church, then Joe would be first and then me and the kids … and a lot of the men would only shake his hand and not mine.”
But Donia found her way to some authority even when she was forbidden to be a leader. Under Jeffs’ reign, female members of the FLDS were only allowed to socialise with each other for very specific purposes. One of those purposes was the Mormon Relief Society, of which Donia was president. She regularly oversaw a hundred or so other women as they sewed clothes by hand for less fortunate people who couldn’t afford them. Despite her gender, Donia somehow still managed to position herself at the centre of the community.

But nonetheless, she was relieved when Joe said he wanted to leave the cult. After the couple became apostates, though, Donia was devastated by the way her former neighbours and friends treated them. Shunned by the rest of Short Creek, which was still under the control of the FLDS, she became lonely and depressed. So she pushed Joe to move to Santa Clara, about 50 miles away, in order to start a new life. But in 2015, just before they were getting ready to buy a house in Santa Clara, Joe abruptly announced that he wanted to move back to Hildale. Despite her misgivings, they packed up again and returned to their hometown.