Dec 7, 2019

Followers of sex convict rabbi Berland held on graft suspicions

Eliezer Berland covers himself with his talit (prayer shawl) at the Magistrate Court in Jerusalem, as he is put on trial for sexual assault charges, on November 17, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Police move thought to be tied to investigation into faulty advice given to cancer patient that led to her death

Times of Israel
December 2, 2019

Six followers of Hasidic rabbi and convicted sex offender Eliezer Berland were reportedly detained Sunday evening over suspicions of fraud and money laundering.

In a series of raids, police searched the suspects’ homes, seizing documents and bringing the men in for questioning, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

There were no details about the suspicions against the six, but it was reportedly tied to an investigation opened into Berland following a report by Channel 13 alleging he told a cancer patient not to accept medical treatment and instead pay him money so that she will live.

Berland commands a cult-like following among the thousands in his offshoot of the Bratslav Hasidic sect and has used his followers’ faith in his righteousness to bilk them out of large sums of money in exchange for mystical and religious rites, including blessings and promises to heal the sick.

After her daughter died as a result of the faulty non-medical advice from Berland, Nurit Ben Moshe filed a police complaint on November 7, with her lawyer arguing that Berland’s conduct constituted manslaughter.

Berland was not arrested as part of the raids, but his house was searched by police, according to the Behadrei Haredim news site.

The investigation into the death was expected to focus on trying to get inside information from Berland’s supporters, a tough task since they are a closed circle and tend to be extremely devoted to their leader. Many of them have taken violent action and threatened those who speak against Berland.

Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he had sexually assaulted several female followers and was for years protected by a fiercely loyal network of cadres around the world.

After evading arrest for three years and slipping through various countries, Berland, 81, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016 on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault, as part of a plea deal that included seven months of time served. He was freed just five months later, in part due to ill health.

Since then, he has resumed his activities as the leader of the Shuvu Bonim community, an offshoot of the Bratslav sect that has been disavowed by the broader Hasidic dynasty.

Despite the backlash against Berland, many of his followers remain faithful to a man that one believer described to Haaretz as “God… incarnated in a human being” and Berland remains, if on the fringe, a part of Haredi society.

After he was released from prison he was visited by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. Earlier this year, a recording surfaced of Litzman, the leader of the Agudat Yisrael party, and fellow member Meir Porush allegedly discussing a political deal with a Berland aide last fall, ahead of the municipal elections in Jerusalem.

In January, Channel 12 news reported that Berland told followers that he could revive people who were officially declared brain dead, if family members pony up some NIS 20,000 ($5,400).

Also in January, a recording of Berland emerged that provided a glimpse of Berland’s attitude toward the donors. In the recording, accompanied by mocking laughter, the rabbi recounted how he had told an English-speaking woman to cough up $18,000. She heard $80,000 and complied, then he asked for more.

In March, it emerged that Berland’s wife, son and grandson were being sued for misappropriating charitable donations for personal use.

Abby Stein went from being an ultra-Orthodox rabbi to a transgender activist. Her new book tells her story

Abby Stein went from being an ultra-Orthodox rabbi
Stein felt a disconnect between her faith and her identity from a very young age

CBC Radio
December 04, 2019


Read Story Transcript

As a young child in an isolated Hasidic Jewish community, transgender activist and writer Abby Stein collected newspaper clippings of organ transplants — "heart, lung, kidney, hands and legs."

"My idea was that I will collect them all, I will go to a doctor and have him do a full body transplant," said Stein, author of Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman.

"Once I realized that that isn't possible, I had to move on to find different ways of trying to deal with my identity — but it was always there," she told The Current's interim host Laura Lynch.

Stein is a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th-century Polish mystic and healer regarded as the founder of Hasidic Judaism.

She grew up in an enclave in New York City speaking no English — only Yiddish and some Hebrew. Men and women were strictly segregated, and Stein had little access to popular culture or the outside world, or even knowledge that transgender people existed.

For most of her life, Stein followed the conventions of her faith: she had a bar mitzvah, entered an arranged marriage and had a son, and became a rabbi.

But her transgender identity always prompted her to question the "blind faith" she saw around her.

Even so, to ask when she realized she was a girl is to ask "the wrong question," she said.

"I was about three years old when I realized that everyone else thinks that I'm a boy."

At the age of nine, she wrote a prayer asking God to let her "wake up as a girl," and promised to be the best wife and have lots of sons when she got older.

The Current

'I am begging you ... I want to be a girl'


Laura Lynch asks Abby Stein to read a prayer she wrote when she was 9, asking God to let her be a girl. 1:42

The prayer was her way of "trying to deal with it." It gave her younger self the "psychological relief of saying it every night and feeling that I'm doing my job, I'm doing all I can do to help myself," she said.

Looking back, she sees the prayer as indicative of what a nine-year-old in the Hasidic community considers the role of women to be, "which is to dress modest, and to help your husband to have a lot of babies."

"Hasidic women don't get options, whatsoever," she said.

But she added that's a problem throughout society at large.

"Women almost everywhere still have to work more to have the opportunities than men do," she said.

"All of these ideas that sound so radical, and not normal, and shouldn't exist in the Hasidic community, also exist in our day-to-day life."
Father 'didn't know transgender existed'

Stein left the Hasidic community in 2012, but did not come out fully as transgender until 2015.

She told many of the people in her life through an online post, but met with her father to talk.

Stein's parents had five daughters before she was born. Throughout her childhood, her father's long-held desire for sons had weighed heavily on her, she told Lynch — despite the fact that Abby ended up with four brothers, born after her.

Up until that morning, he did not know transgender people existed.

She and another rabbi — a family friend — used Kabbalistic teaching to explain the concept, using scripture that says "a man can be in a woman's body, and a woman can be in a man's body."

Her father agreed in principle that transgender people can exist, but that you would need "a holy person … to be able to tell," she said.

"It obviously didn't end the way I would have hoped it would, but it was what it was. I did feel relieved after that."

Stein hasn't spoken to her parents since. She is in touch with two sisters out of her 12 siblings, and 10 to 15 of her first cousins, out of a few hundred.

She says she's found new support among the people she's met since coming out.

"All of my friends, the ones that I made since 2012, have been amazingly supportive, and that is life-saving and life-changing in such a beautiful way," she said.

"I focus on the blessings, I focus on the silver linings in everything. And I think life is a lot better that way."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

China monitoring mobile phones, blocking 'harmful' words like 'Almighty God'

The Chinese government is reportedly monitoring citizens’ mobile phones, blocking any words deemed “sensitive to the state” — such as “Almighty God.” | Pixabay/geralt
Leah MarieAnn Klett,
Christian Post Reporter
December 04, 2019

A former employee of one of China’s largest tech firms has revealed how the Communist regime is manipulating public opinion by monitoring citizens’ mobile phones, blocking any words deemed “sensitive to the state” — such as “Almighty God.”

Mr. Li, a former employee of China Mobile Online Services Company, a subsidiary of China Mobile Limited, the state-owned and largest telecommunications service provider in mainland China, told religious liberty magazine Bitter Winter that there is “simply no privacy in China,” with authorities monitoring social media, calls, and messages on mobile phones.

“If one says anything deemed unfavorable to the CCP, he or she will be punished. Every person is monitored and controlled under the pretext ‘to crack down on harassment,'” Mr. Li said.

Before resigning from his post, Mr. Li worked as a “censor” along with about 500 other employees, monitoring the company users’ phone calls and messages.

The surveillance program, which covers all China Mobile users in the 31 provincial-level administrative units, excluding Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, is programmed to automatically detect anything concerning politics and religious beliefs.

Once “harmful” information is discovered — such as remarks critical of the CCP and unfavorable to the state leaders — company employees are assigned to review it thoroughly, Mr. Li revealed.

“If anyone were not careful enough and missed a piece of sensitive information, this would result in the deduction in monthly salary and year-end bonus,” he recalled. “I usually had to handle more than ten thousand pieces of information every month. It was unavoidable to make mistakes, at least one or two a year.”

Religion-related words and phrases, like “Almighty God” and “Falun Gong,” are among words deemed “sensitive,” along with any mention of revoking membership in the Communist Party or the Communist Youth League.

“Anything deemed unfavorable to the CCP is labeled ‘political,’” Mr. Li explained. “For example, immediate measures will be taken to intercept messages that mention the CCP’s organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners to prevent leaks.”

“If any sensitive words were deducted during phone calls, in MMS, SMS, or messages on social networking sites like WeChat, the system would automatically intercept the information and users’ services would be deactivated instantly, disabling these people to make phone calls or send messages,” Mr. Li continued. “If users want to reactivate the service, they have to go to a China Mobile service center with their ID card and write a statement promising never to share any sensitive information again.”

Comments deemed particularly “inappropriate” can carry harsher penalties, Mr. Li revealed. He shared how, in May, a resident in the southeastern province of Fujian was intercepted on the border, and his passport was destroyed by border guards who told him that he was prohibited from traveling abroad because he had previously made remarks criticizing the CCP and state leaders.

His comments were deemed “insulting to the government” and “disturbing public order.”

“The censorship criteria have been constantly updated in recent years, resulting in more heavy censorship and fewer loopholes,” Mr. Li added.

Anther employee of an internet censorship company told Bitter Winter that jokes and satirical remarks or videos about the government and its leaders have to be deleted immediately. A minor oversight by the employee results in harsh punishment, the employee said.

The Chinese government’s censorship of online activity is well documented.

Any references to Winnie the Pooh have been banned from China’s social media platforms, including Weibo and WeChat. Additionally, sharing information about the fictional teddy bear has been deemed illegal ever since President Xi Jinping was compared to it in 2013.

Last year, China banned online retailers from selling the Bible in efforts to control the country’s growing religious scene.

This week, footage circulated on social media of a man handcuffed to a metal chair being interrogated by the Chinese police for criticizing the traffic police on social media. The man, called Luhua, is forced to confess to “badmouthing” police on various social media platforms. He then apologizes for his comments.

On December 1, the Chinese government rolled out plans requiring all-new smartphone owners to register with facial recognition scans, Radio Free Asia reported.

The measure was described by the ministry of industry and information as a way to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace.” However, the new rule makes Chinese mobile phone and internet users easier to track, reflecting the central government’s increasing crackdown on the rights of private citizens, rights activists warn.

"In China, the government can ask us to surrender any privacy without any conditions or limitations," Pan Lu, a former high school teacher in the eastern province of Jiangsu, said. "This is exactly like [the slogan] 'Big Brother is Watching You' in the novel '1984' [by George Orwell]."

CultNEWS101 Articles: 12/7-8/2019

Nithyananda, Jehovah's Witnesses, Legal, Exorcism, Proud Boys, Neo-nazi, Gaslighting

"Republic TV has accessed inside details of the Gujarat police probe in the Nithyananda case. As per the sources, when the police had raided the Ahmedabad ashram, they had found out that at least two of these minors aged 8 to 10 years old had been crying and talking to the ashram officials pleading them to be sent back to their houses. However, they had been kept forcefully. While there were 39 people in the ashram, only half of them were adults. 63 items including many iPads were recovered and the forensic laboratory officials have been asked to find out about the correspondence between the ashram officials. As proxy servers were used by the allegedly kidnapped girls to post videos, their location is being ascertained.

One girl located in Ecuador
Several former devotees have shared the horror of what they have witnessed. Sources reveal that the children were locked in a room and told to beat each other. On one occasion, the children were told to beat to death a dog to teach them 'detachment'. Not only that, the police has reportedly come to the conclusion that such activities were going on in the locked classrooms of DPS school as well. According to the sources, one of the girls has been located in Ecuador. They have reportedly contacted their father via video calls. Furthermore, the police has learnt that the apartment used for illegally confining children is owned by a Vadodara based businessman. He allegedly had no clue about all this.  

Gujarat HC sets deadline
Janardana Sharma and his wife approached the Gujarat High Court on Monday stating that their two elder daughters, Lopamudra Janardhana Sharma (21) and Nandita (18) who were studying in Nithyananda's Yogini Sarvagyapeetham institution had refused to accompany them to their home. Their younger minor-aged daughters, who have been rescued by the couple, were allegedly kidnapped and kept in illegal confinement for more than two weeks. Subsequently, the Gujarat HC set a deadline of November 26 to present the two victims before the court."

The Californian: 'It took a while but we did it': Christie Piña's family gets justice for brutal rape, murder

"For almost 30 years, loved ones of Christie Sue Piña have awaited justice for the 14-year-old's rape and murder even as her killer hid in Mexico while raising a family there.

On Wednesday, Arsenio Pacheco Leyva, 57, was sentenced to life in prison for Christie's brutal death as her loved ones watched — and voiced their anguish and anger.

"I sincerely hope you live a long life rotting behind bars. I hope the misery eats you from the inside," Robert Michael "Mikey" Piña, Christie's younger brother, told Leyva at the hearing. "I'll see you in hell you monster."  

Leyva previously pleaded guilty to allegations he kidnapped Christie, raped and sodomized her and then stabbed her 23 times with a screwdriver.

Farmworkers found her body Feb. 8, 1990, in a Castroville artichoke field near the Leyva family bakery on Merritt Street several days after she disappeared. Authorities suspected Leyva but didn't have enough evidence to arrest him at the time.

He would later flee to Mexico, settle down and start a family after he was also accused of the attempted kidnapping of Jane Doe, then 13, in 1993.

Judge Carrie Panetta sentenced Leyva to life-in-prison Wednesday, noting that Christie's loved ones had packed three benches in Monterey County Superior Court.

She also ordered him to serve seven years and four months, to be carried out before the life-in-prison sentence, in the assault and attempted kidnapping of Jane Doe.

In letters to the court, Leyva's mother and brother described him as a devout Jehovah's Witness, a loving son, sibling, husband and father who helped others after growing up with an abusive father. They asked for clemency.

Panetta, however, sided with Deputy District Attorney Lana Nassoura.

"As Ms. Nassoura stated, Mr. Leyva is a predator," Panetta said.

Nine-year-old boy dies 'in sect exorcism using whips to drive away demons'

"Members of the Disciples of Jesus Christ sect prayed by his body for two days after he died from the ordeal, seeking to "resurrect" him.

Both parents are among a number of sect members detained on suspicion of murder over the horrific case.

The child's mother was held in neighbouring Belarus and Russia is seeking her extradition, according to reports.

Dr Alexander Neveev, an expert on religious cults in Russia, said: "In this sect it was believed that sinfulness should be beaten out of children."

"A recent data dump from the now-defunct neo-Nazi forum Iron March has led to the identification of hundreds of users engaging with extremist groups around the world.

Among them are approximately 88 Canadians who span provinces, age groups, and religious affiliations.

Iron March was founded in 2011 by Russian nationalist Alexander "Slavros" Mukhitdinov and was considered the birthplace of several modern fascist far-right neo-Nazi movements.

The website -- which contained explicit calls for terrorism, death and genocide of minorities -- shut down abruptly in late 2017 after several members and groups were tied to deadly violence around the world.

Unknown to most, these groups live in communities throughout the country and experts say some of the most violent have a long history in Canada. Here is a look at some of the key groups related to the Iron March leak:

One of the most pervasive groups to emerge from Iron March is Atomwaffen Division (AWD). Founded in Texas in 2015, #Atomwaffen is defined as "a series of terror cells that work toward civilizational collapse" by racism watchdog the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC). Its members are described as believing in the use of violence or terrorism to accelerate what they see as inevitable social collapse.

The group has been tied to more than three murders in the U.S. and has been operating in Canada since 2016, according to Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN)."
National Domestic Violence Hotline: A Deeper Look Into Gaslighting
"... Gaslighting is when your emotions, words, and experiences are twisted and used against you, causing you to question your reality. This can be a very effective form of emotional abuse, 
because once an abusive partner has broken down your ability to trust your own perspective, you may be more vulnerable to the effects of abuse, making it more difficult to leave the abusive relationship."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement. assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice. news, links, resources. resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.

Selection of articles for CultNEWS101 does not mean that we agree with the content. We provide information from many points of view in order to promote dialogue..

Dec 6, 2019

NXIVM prosecutor renews bid to see Seagram's heiress' documents

Clare Bronfman, left, and sister Sara Bronfman discuss the schedule of events for the Dalai Lama's upcoming visit to Albany at a news conference Tuesday morning March 17, 2009, at the Times Union Center.
U.S. Attorney's office argues Clare Bronfman's emails should no longer be shielded from disclosure because NXIVM is defunct

Robert Gavin
Albany Times Union
December 5, 2019

NEW YORK – Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn say privileged documents in the email account of Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman should no longer be shrouded in secrecy because NXIVM’s own lawyers and a judge have declared the cult-like organization defunct.

On April 4, U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera Scanlon denied the prosecution’s request to have access to the documents, ruling that NXIVM was not defunct and could still assert attorney-client and work-product privileges to shield the documents from disclosure. Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis upheld the decision.

But now that lawyers connected to NXIVM say the company is no longer in operation, the U.S. Attorney's office is arguing the prior protections should no longer apply.

NXIVM leader Keith Raniere, 59, known as "Vanguard," was convicted in June of all racketeering, sex trafficking and forced labor charges following a two-month federal trial in Brooklyn. His five co-defendants, including Bronfman, NXIVM’s director of operations, pleaded to various criminal charges before Raniere, formerly of Halfmoon, went to trial. Raniere faces a possible life sentence in January.

On Nov. 22, Assisant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar asked Garaufis, who presided over the trial, to reconsider his affirmation of Scanlon’s ruling.

The prosecutor said in the months since Scanlon issued her April 4 decision, “attorneys for NXIVM have filed sworn declarations stating that NXIVM is no longer in operation and that they are unable to contact any representative of NXIVM,” according to her court filing.

Hajjar highlighted an Aug. 26 decision by U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden, who ordered NXIVM to pay more than $1.3 million to Intefor, an investigative firm NXIVM hired in 2004 to dig up dirt on Rick Ross, head of the Cult Education Institute. NXIVM sued Ross the previous year.

In the decision, Hayden stated that “NXIVM is no longer in operation.”

In her motion to Garaufis, Hajjar included paperwork showing that a former NXIVM attorney, Robert Crockett, withdrew as a lawyer for NXIVM earlier this fall along with an associate, Chase Tajim. Neither said they had recent contact with any present NXIVM members.

“The Crockett Firm does not expect to receive any instructions or direction because, as noted by this Court, ‘NXIVM is no longer in operation,’” a sworn statement said.

Garaufis referred Hajjar's motion to Scanlon. On Nov. 26, Scanlon ruled that anyone opposing the government's effort to seek the documents in Bronfman's email may file so by Dec. 11.

In June, following Raniere’s conviction, Boston-based NXIVM attorney Michael Sullivan told the Times Union NXIVM remained "an entity, a legal entity.”

NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and awaits sentencing, has agreed to forfeit more than $515,000 seized during an FBI raid as well as of NXIVM-linked properties in the Knox Woods townhouse development in Halfmoon neighborhood where Raniere and almost two dozen NXIVM members lived.

CultNEWS101 Articles: 12/5/2019

Neo-Nazi, Muslim Uighur, Bikram Yoga, Scientology, Legal
"The youngest person to be convicted of planning a terrorist attack in the UK identified potential targets in his hometown, began drafting a "guerrilla warfare" manual and tried to obtain a chemical used in terrorist bombings. But the case also focused on the radicalisation process itself, hearing the 16-year-old's preparations for an attack involved a deliberate effort to dehumanise himself and become like the "living dead".

The teenager chronicled his regression in a journal, writing "at one point or another I can look back and see if I was any different." Aged 14, he noted: "I wasn't always a fascist, my red pilling process was slower than most", adding that less than two years earlier he advocated "punk rock ideals and Marxism".

The trial heard much about his ideology: an amalgam of neo-Nazism, Satanism and misanthropy, allied to the belief that a collapse of civilisation should be "accelerated" through acts of violence and criminality."

"Leaked documents detail for the first time China's systematic brainwashing of hundreds of thousands of Muslims in a network of high-security prison camps.

The Chinese government has consistently claimed the camps in the far western Xinjiang region offer voluntary education and training.

But official documents, seen by BBC Panorama, show how inmates are locked up, indoctrinated and punished.

China's UK ambassador dismissed the documents as fake news.

The leak was made to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) , which has worked with 17 media partners, including BBC Panorama and The Guardian newspaper in the UK.

The investigation has found new evidence which undermines Beijing's claim that the detention camps, which have been built across Xinjiang in the past three years, are for voluntary re-education purposes to counter extremism.

About a million people - mostly from the Muslim Uighur community - are thought to have been detained without trial."

" ... Bikram Choudhury reportedly made time to watch Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator. Publicist Richard Hillgrove, who was retained to represent Bikram, told the L.A. Times that his client had indeed watched the Netflix film. Here's how Hillgrove shared Bikram's feelings on it:

Bikram Choudhury totally refutes all the allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment presented in the film and is deeply upset by the continued character assassination. Bikram believes that the concerted effort by money-motivated lawyers to proactively send letters to a database of all his clients, offering people free legal representation and the promise of $1 million insurance policy pay-outs is the primary motivation for this reputational catastrophe. Bikram believes the Netflix film is nothing more than a repetition of old material."

"The Church of Scientology is attempting to distance leader David Miscavige from a harassment lawsuit stemming from actor Danny Masterson's sexual assault scandal.

In California court documents obtained by, three witnesses filed declarations on November 18, 2019 to say that the Chairman of the Board could not be served in the lawsuit, and therefore should not be a defendant.

Specifically, they argued that Celebrity Centre (CC) — a Scientology church that caters to celebrities — was not run by or managed by Miscavige, so he should not have been served at the location.

According to the filing, the receptionist of Celebrity Centre, Lewis Miranda, claimed that the man who attempted to serve Miscavige with papers did not specify who he was delivering them to, or where the documents were meant to be served.

"The Man insisted that he had to deliver the papers at 6331 Hollywood Boulevard. He then placed several documents on the security desk in front of me and left the building," Miranda wrote. "During the conversation on October 10, 2019, the Man never mentioned Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International or Religious Technology Center or indicated that he was delivering anything for Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International or Religious Technology Center."

Miranda continued: "During the conversation on October 10, 2019, the Man never mentioned David Miscavige or Daniel Masterson or indicated that he was delivering anything for Mr. Miscavige or Mr. Masterson."

The second declaration came from a security officer and secretary at Celebrity Centre, Margaret Marmolejo, who also identified herself as the 'designated Custodian of Records for CC.'"

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement. assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice. news, links, resources. resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.