Jan 30, 2019

Russian Trial Of Danish Jehovah's Witness Draws To A Close

January 30, 2019

A verdict is expected soon in the trial of a Danish member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a U.S.-based religious denomination that Russia has branded extremist and outlawed.

A statement on the website of the Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia said that final arguments were to continue on January 30 in the trial of Dennis Christensen in the western city of Oryol, where he has been jailed since shortly after his arrest in May 2017.

Prosecutors want the judge to convict Christensen, 46, of organizing the activities of an extremist group and sentence him to 6 1/2 years in prison. The maximum sentence for that crime is 10 years.

The verdict will reportedly be the first to be issued against a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses since Russia's Supreme Court designated the group as extremist two years ago -- a decision that has been criticized by the United States, the European Union, and human rights groups.

Human Rights Watch has said that Christensen, who denies the charge, did nothing wrong and should be released. Russian activists and Christensen, who has lived in Oryol for more than a decade, say the case against him has echoes of the era of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Headquartered in the U.S. state of New York, the Jehovah's Witnesses organization has long been viewed with suspicion by some governments for its members' positions on military service, voting, and government authority in general. The group says it has around 170,000 adherents in Russia.

In its 2017 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the seizure of its property and effectively banned worshipers from the country.

More than 100 criminal cases have been opened against followers in Russia and some of its publications have been listed as banned extremist literature.

Some of the criminal case brought before the Supreme Court by prosecutors hinged on Russian-language Bible translations by the organization.

Freedom of religion is formally guaranteed in Russia but legislation sets out Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as the country's four traditional religions, and smaller denominations such as Baptists, Pentecostalists, Mormons, and others frequently face discrimination.

President Vladimir Putin seemed to suggest the Russian state might review the "extremist" designation when he discussed the issue at a meeting of his advisory human rights council in December.

Putin said that "Jehovah's Witnesses are Christians, too," and that it is "complete nonsense" in some cases to "label representatives of religious communities as members of destructive, even terrorist, organizations."

Putin's spokesman said at the time that the Kremlin would look into the matter, but no further announcements have been made.

Earlier in the trial, Christensen, who denied the charges, said the case evoked the Stalin era.

"I'm afraid that history is now repeating itself," Christiansen told Reuters. "I'm afraid that it's actually like Stalin has come back."


Church of Scientology's Kansas City building adds to growing list of Ideal Orgs

Kansas City’s own Ideal Org
Kansas City Star
JANUARY 28, 2019

If you’ve never heard of an Ideal Org, you don’t know the Church of Scientology.

On the church’s website, portraits of these buildings are captured in dramatic twilight in about 30 U.S. cities and dozens more around the globe, from Dublin, Ireland, to San Francisco; Minneapolis to Perth, Australia. They seem to be mostly located in urban areas, city centers and sometimes, in renovated historic buildings.

Soon, there will be a portrait of Kansas City’s own Ideal Org.

“Gawd no,” wrote Kyla Wilson, publicly posting one of hundreds of opinions on The Star’s Facebook site the morning of Jan. 9. By afternoon, the smaller words “CHURCH OF” already had been fastened to a higher tier of signage, completing the message to curious motorists and Crossroads pedestrians below.

One passerby posted the obvious, if with a hint of chagrin: “The Constitution gives us freedom of religion, so...”

Few recalled that the church had bought the City National Bank building in 2007 for a reported $4 million. And that for 11 years, it sat waiting for its grand rebirth as an “Ideal Organization.”

The church’s main website says new Ideal Orgs are “dedicated each month,” with one in Detroit — with a similar rooftop sign — holding a grand opening in October.

What will it mean for Kansas City and those in the Scientology church here? The answer is unclear.

For the last 16 years, the Church of Scientology has quietly occupied two floors of a low-slung storefront at Main and 39th streets. A neighboring H&R Block outlet commands more attention. A yellow van for hauling “Volunteer Ministers” around the region sits in the parking lot off the church’s back door.

And beside that door, the words “Public Welcome.”

Taped on a hallway wall, a recent notice alerted church members that “we got okay to brief public on specific strategies that we are about to launch.”

But when a reporter for The Star arrived unannounced at the briefing, spokesman Matt Ward said: “You’re more than public.”

He said the organization was not ready to roll out anything for news media. Then Ward escorted the reporter out of the facility, past maybe a dozen gathering members.

He said the church was too busy finishing the downtown building’s renovation to consider The Star’s requests to tour it.

Last year, Scientology enthusiasts attending local fundraising celebrations numbered at least 50, as suggested in group photos and videos they posted on a “Kansas City Ideal Org” Facebook page.

The site has 377 followers. It shows many dancing, singing, donning costumes and congratulating one another as their individual gifts to the Org climb into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Such moves out of modest office digs and into fetching new buildings have been happening since the early 2000s. But critics such as Tony Ortega speculate that once it opens, the new Ideal Org will likely appear dormant — like some of the church’s other refurbished showcases.

A one-time Kansas Citian and author of the anti-Scientology blog The Underground Bunker, Ortega told The Star: “In a year or two, that place in Kansas City will be dead. Then the financial challenge will be keeping the lights on.”

The charge was echoed by former Scientology architect Paul Burkhart. He told ex-member and actress Leah Remini on a recent episode of her scathing A&E documentary, “Scientology and the Aftermath,” that a few years into an Ideal Org’s operation, most of the buildings stand empty but for the furniture and some staffers.

While Scientology’s website boasts of more than 10,000 locations — worship places, missions and “related organizations and affiliated groups” in 165 countries — its detractors have long smacked down the church’s membership claims.

Still there’s no disputing that the church has appealed to the rich and famous: Hollywood stars Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Elisabeth Moss are among Scientology’s most vocal followers, along with singer-songwriter Beck.

Launched in the 1950s by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and his admirers, Scientology mixes a spiritual brew of technology, metaphysics, the universe, self-worth and emotional wellness. Scientologists practice Hubbard’s brand of so-called Dianetics, which he captured in a best-selling book that has sold millions of copies.

But the organization’s notoriety has largely come from condemning psychiatric medicine and smearing defectors who go public.

The group’s continued push to purchase large urban facilities have raised questions about the church’s motives, including avoiding income and property taxes.

Ortega, formerly with the Village Voice newspaper and co-author of “Battlefield Scientology,” said he was unaware that the church had any meaningful presence in Kansas City while he worked here as a journalist from 2003 to 2005.

“I started writing about Scientology 10 years earlier, including in Los Angeles, and I didn’t write a single story about them in Kansas City because there was nothing to write,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m not sure I even looked them up.”

The new addition to Kansas City’s skyline required city approval, which a division of the Planning and Development Department granted with a permit issued in October.

With rare exceptions, the city allows elevated, illuminated roof signs only on downtown structures, said Joe Rexwinkle of the department’s development management office.

Under Kansas City rules, such new signs can rise no higher than 26 feet above the roof’s tallest parapet (or vertical ledge), stretch no wider than 50 percent of the building’s width and meet weight and design standards allowing the signs “to be supportable by the roof, for safety reasons,” said Rexwinkle.

The Scientology sign, which is unlit for now, makes full use of those margins but still lacks the grandeur of the Crossroads’ iconic Western Auto rooftop sign, which was grandfathered in before size restrictions were worked into codes.

Rexwinkle said signage rules for groups presenting themselves as religious are no different than for other entities with downtown buildings.

With office furniture arriving and interior lights aglow on the upper floors, the future Church of Scientology may include classrooms, a chapel and visitors area lined with informational video screens, if it replicates Ideal Orgs in other communities.

Not long after the sign was raised, contractors threw a white tarp over the letters.

The covering presumably will be pulled off for the 1928 structure’s grand re-opening, a date for which has not been announced. The occasion is expected to be a glitzy gala featuring leader David Miscavige and other Scientologists.

When the 18th and Grand site opens, it “will house the new Church of Scientology of Kansas City” and will service parishioners in Missouri, Kansas and nearby states, Ward said in an email. “It is similar to hundreds of churches that exist around the world …

“We look forward to working in the community with our social betterment programs (drug education, human rights initiative and literacy programs) and providing a central location for all our parishioners.”


Jan 29, 2019

Upcoming Workshop​ 03/24/2019

Upcoming Workshop​ 

March 24, 2019

10 - 4:30

533 West Howard Avenue,
Decatur, GA, 30030,
United States

"Toxic Faith" is a workshop for former members of small or large destructive groups, even one-on-one guru-relationships. Any totalist environment really, where absolute obedience was expected and pressure and coercion was used to make members believe in something. 

Faith is a beautiful thing. I am not addressing what groups believe in. Instead I will try to explain the mechanisms that all destructive groups have in common, giving you tools to better understand how it can become toxic.

The location is the beautiful Gathered and Grounded studio at:

533 West Howard Avenue,
Decatur, GA, 30030,
United States

There is a restaurant right next door, and a few more within walking distance. Coffee and cookies will be provided during breaks.

If you have any questions, write me at katharina@cult-kids.com. 

Cancellation policy: 100% refund two weeks prior to event, 50% refund one week prior to the event.

Cost: $85*     Limit: 20 people

*Sometimes there's a little fund to help with the workshop cost, please write to inquire.

10 am - 12 pm

The "only" Truth
Coercion in Groups
Narcissistic Leaders 
1 pm- 4:30 pm

Saving the World & Pressure
Authoritarian Upbringing
Boundaries and Identity
Feelings and Fears
Recovery and Autonomy

Jan 26, 2019

Accused Nxivm sex-cult leader asks to be freed on $1M bond

Emily Saul
NY Post
January 25, 2019

The head of the alleged sex cult Nxivm hopes the third time’s the charm.

Keith Raniere has just made his third pitch to be sprung from the Metropolitan Detention Center, where he’s been held since his April 2018 arraignment, given that his trial date has been repeatedly pushed back by prosecutorial delays.

His request blasts the government for again postponing his trial and insinuates that prosecutors are purposefully dragging their feet to keep him locked up.

“Raniere could not help but notice how adept the Government was at keeping innocent people in prison by simply refusing to try them and by using its own failure to produce discovery as an excuse,” writes defense lawyer Marc Agnifilo in the new filing.

Brooklyn federal court Judge Nicholas Garaufis has previously refused to release Raniere, dubbing him a flight risk.

This time, Agnifilo suggests his client be released on $1 million bond secured by five properties, and a redacted amount of cash. The package also says Raniere would be subject to full home confinement, electronic monitoring, daily check-ins with pretrial services, no internet access and other conditions — including moving to a spot near the courthouse once the trial starts.

Raniere, “Smallville” TV actress Allison Mack, Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman and others are facing various charges, including racketeering conspiracy, for their role in Nxivm.

Raniere and Mack are also facing sex-trafficking conspiracy charges for allegedly running a secret master-slave group inside Nxivm, where the women were branded and supposedly instructed to have sex with Raniere.

Garaufis has yet to rule on the motion.

Opening statements are currently scheduled for April 29.


Jan 24, 2019

Brooklyn judge finds ‘issues’ with Nxivm defense fund

 Emily Saul

NY Post

January 23, 2019

A Brooklyn federal judge is hauling the members of upstate sex cult Nxivm into court — saying he’s found some “issues” with a defense fund that prosecutors claim was set up by Seagrams heiress Clare Bronfman to help her cronies at the upcoming trial.

Prosecutors have said Bronfman set up the irrevocable trust to keep her fellow cultists in line as they head to trial by paying for top-notch defense attorneys.

Judge Nicholas Garaufis held an initial hearing on the issue last month, where he ruled that documentation related to everyone contributing to the trust must be turned over.

The Wednesday order from Garaufis was brief, simply stating that all defendants must attend “to address issues [the court] has identified in its review of the Trust’s indenture and the declaration that Defendants submitted.”

Those documents were not publicly filed.

Garaufis also noted he intends to schedule further investigative hearings on the finances at a later date.

Bronfman is charged with racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit identity theft for allegedly aiding cult leader Keith Raniere to run his self-help group — which prosecutors claim contained a secret inner circle of masters and slaves.

Raniere and onetime “Smallville” actress Allison Mack are facing charges of sex trafficking related to the secret group, where the slaves allegedly were instructed to have sex with Raniere.
The trial is scheduled for April 29.


Jan 23, 2019

Exclusive Brethren ‘cult’ sues over publication of sermons

Billy Kenber, Investigations Reporter
The Times
January 23 2019

A fundamentalist Christian sect is using charitable funds to sue a retired Scottish academic for more than £100,000 after he published short extracts of its leader’s teachings online.

The legal action against Ian McKay, a former lecturer at Glasgow University, has been taken by the Exclusive Brethren, which previously promised to show restraint in taking legal action when it struck a controversial deal to protect its charitable status.

The Exclusive Brethren, described by critics as a cult, has about 17,000 British members who follow a doctrine of separation that does not allow them to eat or drink with outsiders. Members attend Brethren schools, work at Brethren-run businesses and are encouraged to make donations to the group’s Australian leader, Bruce Hales.

Read More:

Jan 22, 2019

You've seen the posters around town; here are 5 things you need to know about Shen Yun

Manuel Mendoza
Dallas Morning News
January 22, 2019

You've no doubt seen the posters for Shen Yun Performing Arts that blanket each city where the music and dance troupe travels. Its elaborately designed shows are advertised as a celebration of traditional Chinese culture. But there's more to the upstate New York ensemble than flashy costumes and choreography: It's a wing of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement banned by the Chinese government.

As Shen Yun enters its final week of performances in North Texas, here are five things you need to know about the group:

1.     It operates out of the 427-acre Falun Gong retreat in Deerpark, N.Y., according to a report by Britain's Guardiannewspaper. Six separate troupes totaling hundreds of performers train there for tours that will take them to 43 states and 14 countries this year. In North Texas alone, Shen Yun opened its annual run with six shows earlier this month at Richardson's Eisemann Center before moving to Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth for two dates. Its whopping 16-show stand at Winspear Opera House wraps Jan. 27.

2.     Falun Gong was founded inside China in 1992 by Li Hongzhi during a boom in meditative practices. According to the Los Angeles Times, it initially had the support of the communist Chinese government. But as its followers reached the tens of millions late in the decade, the government began cracking down on groups promoting the new spirituality. Protests and clashes followed. The socially conservative Hongzhi, who has preached against homosexuality and sex outside of marriage, emigrated to the U.S.

3.     Shen Yun was established in 2006. In the ensuing years, as its connection to Falun Gong has become more public, the secretive group has acknowledged the link though it still declines interviews and access to its shows by photographers.

4.     The productions contain references to Falun Gong and its Chinese oppressors. In a Toronto show described by Guardianreporter Nicholas Hune-Brown, young students were depicted reading Falun Gong books and being attacked by thugs wearing tunics with hammer-and-sickle symbols.

5.     Shen Yun likes to publicize the names of celebrities attending its shows, sometimes collecting testimonials. "It was an extraordinary experience for us and the children," actress Cate Blanchett is quoted as saying after a 2012 performance. "The level of skill, but also the power of the archetypes and the narratives were startling."


Jan 21, 2019

How a Dysfunctional Family Functions Like a Cult Published  

By Jose Fernández Aguado
ICSA Today

Note: This article is based on a paper presented at ICSA’s Annual Conference in Bordeaux, France in 2017.  Vol 9 No 3 2018
In my clinical practice, I often see how dysfunctional families cause pain to their members, and it is my opinion that the cult perspective can help explain certain aspects of what these families go through. (Many families may be dysfunctional in ways that have nothing to do with cultic dynamics. Those are not the focus of this paper.)
I start with a working definition of a dysfunctional family and note some broad areas of relationship between dysfunctional families and cults. Then, using three concepts from family systems theory (Minuchin, 1981; Satir, 1976)—boundaries, rules, and roles—I suggest similarities between how a dysfunctional family weakens its members and the harmful effect of a cultic group on its members.
In this article, I do not intend to deal with the relationship between persons being part of dysfunctional families and the degree of risk of their being recruited by a cult. Dysfunctional families may make their members more vulnerable to cult recruitment, but professionals acknowledge that even people belonging to healthy families can be deceived into cultic involvement; no one is free of the risk of recruitment. Rather, I focus on how families in which there is psychological abuse or inadequate relationships are similar to cults.

Jan 17, 2019

China alerts citizens against Indian spiritual courses, ‘cults’

The alert was issued by the ministry of public security (MPS), China’s police, after a Taiwanese actress promoted a spiritual course offered by a south India-based organisation.

Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
January 17, 2019

China has warned its citizens to stay alert about spiritual courses offered by Indian religious schools, warning that some of them are mired in “sexual assault” cases and urged its citizens to stay off “suspected religious cults”.

The alert was issued by the ministry of public security (MPS), China’s police, after a Taiwanese actress promoted a spiritual course offered by a south India-based organisation. It triggered a debate across the country’s social media whether the celebrity was actually promoting a “religious cult”.

“Yi Nengjing, or Annie Yi, an actress from the island of Taiwan, posted on Sina Weibo on Monday promoting lessons of Amma and Bhagavan, creators of the Oneness University based in Chittoor, India,” the tabloid, Global Times said in a report.

Following the “heated discussions” on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, the MPS and the China Anti-Cult Association (CACA) “forwarded the post and warned the public that some spiritual schools are mired in sexual assault cases”.

The actress subsequently deleted her post.

“The CACA referred to a case of a so-called Indian religious master named Singh who was reportedly arrested for imprisoning and raping nearly 200 female believers in December 2017,” the report added.

The report was possibly referring to the case of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, who is serving a 20-year sentence for raping two of his woman followers.

Quoting anonymous experts, the report said the teachings and courses offered by the south Indian organisation fell within the definition of “cult”.

“The Beijing-based expert also noted that its courses are a mix of Buddhism and Christianity, which is similar to the doctrine of the South Korean Unification Church, which the State Council, China’s cabinet, considers a cult,” it said.

The Supreme People’s Court of China defines a cult as an illegal organisation that uses religion or ‘qigong’, a kind of healing practice that involves breathing exercises, as a means to deceive and ultimately control its members.

“Cult leaders whose activities result in especially serious consequences, such as the death of three or more people, can be fined and imprisoned for at least seven years,” the SixthTone website said in a report.

“Chinese authorities have long been wary of religious sects. The 19th-century Taiping Rebellion, a violent uprising led by a man claiming to be the younger brother of Jesus, lasted for 14 years and resulted in the deaths of over 20 million people,” the Foreign Policy magazine website said in an earlier report.

In 2017, according to the official news agency Xinhua, China opened a website named China Anti-Cult Network, aiming to promote the preventative measures and policies that China has for combatting cults, offer an interpretation of the anti-cult law and related information.

“The website also has a section where the public can report criminal offences related to cults. It provides psychological guidance for the victims of cults and their families, and assistance in the search for missing relatives. An online pledge called ‘Say No to Cults’ calls for the public to sign their names to show they oppose and resist cults,” the report added.