Feb 19, 2019

Placards outside Montserrat Monastery expose abuse in Spanish Church

Sabela Ojea


February 19, 2019

MONTSERRAT, Spain (Reuters) - Tourists and worshippers visiting Catalonia’s imposing mountain-side Montserrat Monastery on a sunny Sunday this month appeared to pay little heed to two men with placards demanding that the local abbot be defrocked for covering up sexual abuse.

But the pair, who say they were sexually abused in their youth, are making themselves heard by society in Spain and elsewhere as they pressure the Catholic Church to come clean on such wrongdoing by clergy.

The Vatican is holding an unprecedented meeting of senior bishops from around the world, experts and heads of male and female religious orders on Feb. 21-24 to discuss how to tackle sexual abuse.

Miguel Hurtado, 36, runs an online petition to Spanish authorities to significantly extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse against minors. The petition on website change.org has received over 520,900 signatures since it launched in 2016.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who is facing an early general election in April, said on the petition website that he would study the proposals and act to prevent that kind of crime.

In Spain, historically a fervently Catholic country, activists say thousands of cases had likely been silenced and many could emerge now as the debate opens up.

“For me, the worst part were not the abuses, but the Church covering it up,” Hurtado told Reuters.

He said the abbot of Montserrat, Josep Maria Soler, had for years sought to silence his accusation that monk Andreu Soler sexually molested him 20 years ago when he was a 16-year-old Boy Scout in a group led by the monk.

The monk, who shared the same last name but was not related to the abbot, died in 2008.

Hurtado said his abuser, 50 years his senior, touched his genitals under the pretext of telling him masturbation was wrong, and tried to tongue-kiss him, which left him “petrified, without knowing what to do”.

The monastery said in a statement to the media last month that the abbot had known about Hurtado’s accusations since taking over in 2000 and that it paid 8,600 euros ($9,740) to cover Hurtado’s therapy costs and expenses with lawyers in 2003.

The monastery promised “to act with complete transparency” and asked for “forgiveness for everything where it has not lived up to expectations” adding it had always been guided by a desire to help Hurtado.

The monastery declined to provide any further comment to Reuters on Hurtado’s demands for the abbot to be fired. It also declined a request to interview the abbot.

The abbot told the congregation on Feb. 3, the day of Hurtado’s protest: “We humbly ask the victims for forgiveness, sympathize with their pain and offer them our support. Sexual abuse of minors by the priests are deeply hurtful because they ... betray the confidence deposited in them.”

The monk, who “always maintained a different version of what occurred” was transferred in 2000 “out of precaution”, the monastery said.

Since Hurtado went public with his accusations in January, eight people have denounced the same monk for having sexually abused them years ago, according to Spanish media.


Standing beside Hurtado on Feb. 3 with a sign demanding “Transparency and Responsibility at Montserrat” was Briton Peter Saunders, the founder of the British National Association for People Abused in Childhood. Until 2017, he sat on the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors set up by Pope Francis in 2014.

“The Vatican hopes that we’ll just go away and leave them be, but it isn’t gonna happen,” he said, adding that he doubted the sincerity of the pope’s “zero tolerance” stance toward abusers and cover-ups because he said Francis had sanctioned the reinstatement of various clerics accused of these crimes.

The Church has repeatedly been criticized for its handling of the sexual abuse crisis, which exposed how predator priests were moved from parish to parish instead of being defrocked or turned over to civilian authorities around the world.

Some changes are under way in Spain. On Feb. 12, the regional bishops’ conference that includes Montserrat issued an apology to all victims of abuse. Last November, a senior Spanish bishop, Gil Tamayo, said there is “complicit silence” of the Spanish Church on sex abuse cases.

The government has drafted a bill that would extend the statute of limitations, although not as much as Hurtado proposes. It has not been submitted to parliament.

On Saturday, the Vatican sent what some saw as a warning that it would get tough with bishops who have either committed abuse or covered it up. It expelled former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the priesthood after he was found guilty of sexual crimes against minors and adults.

Hurtado, who is scheduled to meet the Vatican summit’s organizing committee on Wednesday along with 11 other victims, says the Montserrat abbot should have reported his case to the police while the statute of limitations still allowed it, instead of paying what he said was “money for my silence”.
He said he returned the money in 2015, except for 1,400 euros paid in lawyer’s fees, after learning that the abbey published a book praising his abuser in 2007.

The monastery confirmed he returned the money, which it said was donated to charity. It said the abbot had apologized for the book to Hurtado and had promised to remove it from the monastery’s catalog.

Under Spanish law, victims of molestation cases that do not involve rape have five years after they have turned 18 to seek justice. More serious cases can be reported 15-20 years past the age of 18. Hurtado hopes to lift the initial threshold after which the statute of limitations kicks in to 50 from 18 years.

Such an extension would apply to cases similar to that of Teresa Conde, 52 and a philosophy teacher from Salamanca, who says she was raped by a priest 30 years her senior when she was 14. The abuse continued for almost three years.

The 'slave labor' behind Kim Jong Un's new utopiaThe rapist went unpunished then and those who covered up go unpunished now,” says Conde, who opened up to her family about the rapes when she was 42 after a lifetime of psychological trauma. She says she only started really living when the priest died three years ago.
Father Daniel Garcia, a leading 

clergyman at the time in the area where Conde went to school, corroborated her story to Reuters based on a conversation he had with the priest 10 years ago.


Feb 18, 2019

Indian tycoon Malvinder Singh accuses brother, spiritual guru of fraud

The Straits Times 

FEBRUARY 18, 2019

MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) - Former Indian billionaire Malvinder Singh has filed a criminal complaint accusing his younger brother of siphoning funds from their family's holding company and fraudulently diverting them to a renowned spiritual guru, the latest twist in the unravelling of a US$2 billion (S$2.71 billion) empire.

Mr Shivinder Singh allegedly directed the holding company to acquire debt-ridden firms which collectively lent 10 billion rupees (S$190 million) to the family and associates of their guru, Mr Gurinder Singh Dhillon, according to a complaint filed to the Economic Offences Wing of the New Delhi police seen by Bloomberg.

In return, Mr Shivinder Singh was promised that he would succeed the guru as head of one of India's most powerful spiritual sects, according to the document.

The public fight between the former billionaire brothers follows the collapse of one of India's most storied business families that once controlled the nation's top drugmaker and second-largest hospital chain.

The siblings have lost much of their corporate empire to debt, and are still being chased by creditors. Meanwhile, India's stock market regulator and fraud office have open investigations into wrongdoing at companies the brothers used to run.

The filing of a criminal complaint to Indian police by a private individual may not necessarily result in an investigation or charges being filed.

The brothers have declined to comment on the allegations in the criminal complaint. They have previously denied any wrongdoing at their companies.

Mr Dhillon's lawyer and the secretary of his spiritual sect did not immediately respond to text messages seeking comment on behalf of the guru and his family members referenced in the allegations. A representative for the New Delhi police couldn't immediately comment on the complaint.

The criminal complaint alleges that the 43-year-old Shivinder Singh "initiated" as well as "permitted this siphoning and malfeasance of funds entrusted to him with the ulterior motive of gaining ultimate control of the seat of the spiritual head of the Radha Soami Satsang Beas", promised to him by Mr Dhillon.

The spiritual sect, founded almost 130 years ago and based on a commune in north India, boasts four million followers worldwide.

Mr Malvinder Singh, 46, claims the acquisitions of six debt-ridden companies by his brother were misrepresented as beneficial to the family's holding company when, in fact, they had no value. Efforts to write off the guru's debts to these companies are further eroding the value of the holding company, RHC Holding, according to the complaint.


A Bloomberg investigation last year showed that a key reason for the build up in debt that cost the Singhs their empire were loans to the Dhillon family and property firms controlled by the them.

Mr Dhillon has previously declined to comment on the matter, and a representative for the spiritual group has said that since 2011, the guru has stepped back from helping the Singhs with guidance over their businesses due to ill health.

Mr Dhillon, who succeeded the Singhs' maternal grandfather as guru of the powerful sect, became something of a father figure to the brothers after their own died in the late 1990s.

Some followers of the sect, maintained on a sprawling commune along the river Beas in Punjab state, call Mr Dhillon a god in human form. As many as half a million followers at a time sometimes congregate at the commune to hear his teachings on how meditation, vegetarianism and high moral values can help one escape the cycle of death and rebirth.


In his criminal complaint, Mr Malvinder Singh claims Mr Dhillon had threatened him to sign a settlement absolving the guru of any wrongdoing and abstaining from any legal or criminal action against the spiritual leader.

He alleges that Mr Dhillon, through his lawyer, told the tycoon he "would be eliminated by persons from the Radha Soami Satsang Beas", if he did not proceed as demanded, according to the complaint. The elder Singh claims he has recordings of these threats and is "fearful for his life".

Besides Mr Shivinder Singh and Mr Dhillon, the complaint also names as references Mr Dhillon's wife, his two sons, and four alleged associates in the allegations.


The Singh brothers are themselves under investigation for siphoning money from their public companies, including Fortis Healthcare, which is now controlled by IHH Healthcare. 

Much of the Singhs' shareholding has been seized by lenders.
In October, the stock market regulator released preliminary results of its investigation, finding that the brothers had defrauded Fortis of four billion rupees and ordered them to return it. The regulator has said the investigation is ongoing and hasn't indicated when final results will be made public.

A spokesman for the Singh brothers previously declined to comment on the finding and order by the stock market regulator.

Three of the shell companies the regulator identified as recipients of loans from Fortis that were ultimately routed to the Singhs have also been named by Mr Malvinder Singh as lenders to the Dhillon family and his associates.

The complaint comes after the brothers' mother brokered a truce and convinced Mr Shivinder Singh in September to withdraw a lawsuit against his elder sibling that alleged "oppression and mismanagement".


Feb 17, 2019

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh gets life imprisonment for journalist's murder

Jan 17, 2019

The Dera Sacha Sauda chief and the three others convicted last Friday in the case appeared before the court through video conferencing.

On January 11, special CBI Court judge Jagdeep Singh had convicted the four men for the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati in 2002.

A special CBI court in Panchkula on Thursday sentenced self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and three others to life imprisonment for the murder of a journalist over 16 years ago.

The Dera Sacha Sauda chief and the three others convicted last Friday in the case appeared before the court through video conferencing.

"All four have been sentenced to life imprisonment," CBI counsel H P S Verma said.

On January 11, special CBI Court judge Jagdeep Singh had convicted the four men for the murder of journalist Ram Chander Chhatrapati in 2002.

All the four were convicted under section 302 (murder) and 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.

Ram Rahim appeared through video conferencing from Sunaria jail in Rohtak, where he is already serving a 20-year-sentence in a rape case.

The three others - Nirmal Singh, Kuldeep Singh and Krishan Lal - appeared from Ambala jail.

The journalist was killed in Haryana's Sirsa in October 2002 after his newspaper published an anonymous letter alleging sexual exploitation of women by the godman at the Dera headquarters in the same town.

Ram Rahim was named as the main conspirator in the case.

Chhatrapati's family approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2003, seeking the transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The investigation was later handed over to the CBI which filed the chargesheet in July 2007.

In August 2017, the sect leader was brought to the Panchkula court where the CBI court judge pronounced the verdict in rape case.


Feb 15, 2019

'South Africans like charismatic churches'

Enlightened Christian Gathering Church founder Shepherd Bushiri addresses his followers outside court.
Independent Online
FEBRUARY 12, 2019

The main feature of cult-like charismatic churches is that they thrive on people’s suffering and disillusionment about the state of their lives.

This is according to Professor Maria Frahm-Arp, of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

Frahm-Arp said the preachings by leaders of charismatic cult-like churches promising “people miracles” that they would receive jobs, promotion at work or financial prosperity resonated with South Africans.

“We have an unemployment rate of 42% in this country. People are desperate. That is why they fall for anything without asking many questions.”

She said most people did not want to accept the reality of their lives. “So this message that there is evil and that there is Satan who is making things bad appeals to people. It gives them hope.

“People eat snakes because they believe they are demonstrating how strong their faith is and expect some form of reward, they expect that their life circumstances would change,” she said.

Even educated people easily fell for such messages, she said.

Frahm-Arp added that leaders of such churches won the confidence of people as they were often well-spoken.

“They can articulate themselves very well. The good public speaking coupled with powerful praise and worship gives them credibility. If you speak to many congregants at this churches they would tell you how powerful is the praise and worship, they do it very well.”

She said churches that sought to indoctrinate members in a cult would ensure that they cut ties with their family members and communities .

“It becomes all about church. Most of them stop supporting their families and take everything to church.”

Ordinary church members would not have easy access to the leaders and would be required to pay a certain amount for prayers, she said.

Such cult practices were prevalent in South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria and many other African countries, said Frahm-Arp said.

However,she cautioned that a cult, by its nature, was a complex practice that was not easily identifiable.

“In some churches people twist scripture, some come up with their own version of the Bible. It is very tricky.”

The Saturday Star


Lyndon LaRouche, Cult Figure Who Ran for President 8 Times, Dies at 96

Richard Severo
New York Times
February. 13, 2019

Lyndon LaRouche, the quixotic, apocalyptic leader of a cultlike political organization who ran for president eight times, once from a prison cell, died on Tuesday. He was 96.

His death was announced on the website of his organization, La Rouche/Pac. The statement did not specify a cause or say where he died.

Defining what Mr. LaRouche stood for was no easy task. He began his political career on the far left and ended it on the far right. He said he admired Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and loathed Hitler, the composer Richard Wagner and other anti-Semites, though he himself made anti-Semitic statements.

He was fascinated with physics and mathematics, particularly geometry, but called concerns about climate change "a scientific fraud."

He condemned modern music as a tool of invidious conspiracies — he saw rock as a particularly British one — and found universal organizing principles in the music of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart.

Some called him a case study in paranoia and bigotry, his mild demeanor notwithstanding. One biographer, Dennis King, in "Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism" (1989), maintained that Mr. LaRouche and his followers were a danger to democratic institutions.

Mr. LaRouche denigrated a panoply of ethnic groups and organized religions. He railed against the "Eastern Establishment" and environmentalists, who he said were trying to wipe out the human race. Queen Elizabeth II of England was plotting to have him killed, he said. Jews had surreptitiously founded the Ku Klux Klan, he said. He described Native Americans as "lower beasts."

Even so, Mr. LaRouche was able to develop alliances with farmers, the Nation of Islam, teamsters, abortion opponents and Klan adherents. Acolytes kept Mr. LaRouche's political machine going by peddling his tracts and magazines in airports, and by persuading relatives and friends to donate large sums to help him fight his designated enemies.

He operated through a dizzying array of front groups, among them the National Democratic Policy Committee, through which he received millions of dollars in federal matching money in his recurring presidential campaigns. His forces also sponsored candidates at the state and local levels, including for school board seats.

His movement attracted national attention, especially in 1986, when two LaRouche followers, Mark Fairchild and Janice Hart, unexpectedly won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and secretary of state, respectively, in Illinois.

Adlai E. Stevenson III, the Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois that year, was appalled. He denounced the LaRouche group as "neo-Nazis" and refused to run with Mr. Fairchild and Ms. Hart, organizing a third-party bid instead. He, as well as the LaRouche supporters, lost to James R. Thompson, the Republican incumbent.

Some voters said they had voted for Mr. Fairchild and Ms. Hart because they had been endorsed by Mr. LaRouche's National Democratic Policy Committee, which they thought was affiliated with the mainstream Democratic Party.

Critics of Mr. LaRouche said he had used that committee to deceive people abroad as well. In 1982, he managed to arrange a meeting with President José López Portillo of Mexico, evidently because Mexican officials thought Mr. LaRouche represented the Democratic Party.

"I'm as American as apple pie," Mr. LaRouche once said.

Whatever he was, he received thousands of votes in his campaigns for president. In 1980, he outpolled Gov. Jerry Brown of California by a thousand votes in the Democratic presidential primary in Connecticut. In 1986, the candidates fielded by his National Democratic Policy Committee received 20 to 40 percent of the vote in local elections in California, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Lyndon Hermyle LaRouche Jr. was born on Sept. 8, 1922, in Rochester, N.H., to Lyndon and Jesse (Weir) LaRouche. He grew up in the Quaker tradition. His father was a traveling salesman for the United States Shoe Machinery Corporation, and his mother once ran a Quaker meeting in Boston's Back Bay.

His was not a happy childhood. Boys would pick on him, he said, but he refused to fight them, which only brought more disapprobation.

It got no better after the family moved to Lynn, Mass. He regarded himself there as an outcast and had few friends in high school. He was not an "ugly duckling," he said, "but a nasty duckling."

When World War II began, Mr. LaRouche declared himself a conscientious objector, citing his pacifist Quaker upbringing. But toward the end of the war he enlisted in the Army, despite his mother's objections.

After the war, he enrolled in Northeastern University in Boston but "resigned," he said, because the university was not challenging his superior intellect. He said he had been able to become the century's leading economist without formal college study.

He married Janice Neuberger in the early 1950s and had a son, Daniel, by her in 1956. The marriage failed, and he never talked publicly about his son and his former wife in his later years.

Mr. LaRouche's political roots were Marxist. From 1948 to 1963, he was active in the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyite group.

His own group surfaced during the student unrest at Columbia University in the late 1960s as a faction of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society. It evolved into the National Caucus of Labor Committees, an organization largely made up of young upper-middle-class people who espoused Mr. LaRouche's Marxist views.

He first ran for president in 1976 as the candidate of the left-wing United States Labor Party, now defunct.

By then, though, his politics had already begun moving to the right. And after spending much time in West Germany, he returned with right-wing, anti-Semitic views. Many of his followers made the shift with him.

George Johnson, the author of "Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics" (1983), wrote that Mr. LaRouche had developed a conspiracy theory that stretched back to the beginnings of civilization.

"In the world according to LaRouche," Mr. Johnson wrote, "history is a war between the Platonists (the good guys) and the evil Aristotelians. Anyone who has taken Philosophy 101 can follow the drift: Platonists believe in standards, an absolute truth that can be divined by philosopher kings like Mr. LaRouche. To the Aristotelians everything is relative."

In Mr. LaRouche's view, Mr. Johnson continued, "true Platonists believe that industrialization, technology and classical music should be used to bring wealth and enlightenment to the citizens of the world."

He added: "The Aristotelians are trying to stop them by using not only sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll but also environmentalism and quantum theory. With their bag of brainwashing techniques, they hope to trick civilization into destroying itself, bringing on a new dark ages in which the world's riches will be firmly in the hands of the oligarchs."

Mr. LaRouche's views became the foundation of a political movement. By the mid-1970s, his organization had 37 offices in North America and 26 in Europe and Latin America. A core membership in the United States numbered about 1,000. One follower won 27 percent of the vote in a local election in Seattle. Mr. LaRouche was pulling in enough money nationally to qualify for federal matching funds for his presidential campaigns.

He had also become an entrepreneur, starting three companies, one of which printed newspapers for high schools; together they brought in revenues of $5 million or more a year.

In his efforts to build a worldwide organization, Mr. LaRouche was helped by his wife, Helga Zepp-LaRouche, a native of Germany who had been a journalist there. Information about his survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. LaRouche was at the apex of his power in the mid-1980s, when he moved his headquarters to a large rented estate in Northern Virginia, in Round Hill, outside Leesburg. When neighbors wondered aloud why he had turned the estate into an armed camp, rigged with electronic security and patrolled by men with semiautomatic rifles, Mr. LaRouche went on the attack. He said that the Leesburg Garden Club was "a nest of Soviet fellow travelers."

In 1987, after an F.B.I. investigation, Mr. LaRouche was convicted in Virginia on charges of scheming to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and of deliberately defaulting on more than $30 million in loans from thousands of his supporters. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and sent to a federal penitentiary in Minnesota.

The conviction hurt his movement but did not end it. He was released from prison in 1994, after serving a third of his sentence. He immediately announced that he would run for president in 1996. He ran again in 2000 and 2004. After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Mr. LaRouche warned that the new president was in "grave and imminent danger" of being assassinated by the "British Empire," a familiar target of Mr. LaRouche's.

By 2015 he had long turned against Mr. Obama, calling for his impeachment and accusing him in one instance of orchestrating Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter jet involved in the war in Syria. "Obama organized an act of war, and has thus endangered the United States, as well as all of humanity," Mr. LaRouche wrote.

But he could be bipartisan in his attacks. He accused the Bush family of collaborating with Nazi Germany during World War II, and said that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a product of a neoconservative conspiracy, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, to deceive the American people. That view was expressed in a series of pamphlets, titled "Children of Satan."

But Mr. LaRouche was heartened by the election of President Trump, though he perceived a British conspiratorial hand reaching into the United States to foment efforts to "politically paralyze" the president and bring about his impeachment.

That would be a mistake, he said. As his website declared, "Not since William McKinley has a president been so clear in his intent to return the nation to the economic tradition of Alexander Hamilton, to end the policies of British imperial free trade, and make a full commitment to industry, manufacturing, scientific advancement and world peace."

Dennis Hevesi, who died in 2017, and William McDonald contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 14, 2019 of the New York edition with the headline: Lyndon LaRouche, Who Ran for President Eight Times, Is Dead at 96.


Ex-Jehovah's Witness faces new child sexual abuse charges in Mont-Laurier, Que.

Carolle Poudrier told Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête of alleged sexual contact by Michel Courtemanche, right, over a period of months when she was 11. (Jasmin Simard/Radio-Canada)
Michel Courtemanche, 63, was acquitted of assaulting 1 of alleged victims in 1996

Pasquale Turbide
February 14, 2019

A former Jehovah's Witness from Mont-Laurier, Que., is facing new charges of sexually assaulting two girls in his congregation in the 1980s — 23 years after he was acquitted of the sexual assault and indecent assault of one of the alleged victims in the case.

Michel Courtemanche, 63, is charged with three counts of sexual assault, one count of sexual interference of a minor and one count of indecent assault. He is to appear in court in Mont-Laurier, 240 kilometres northwest of Montreal, on March 18 to enter a plea on those five charges.

It will be the second time Courtemanche will face judicial proceedings in connection with a complaint by the main alleged victim, Pénélope Herbert.

In 2017, Herbert told Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête she was just 11 years old when she began babysitting Courtemanche's children while he was leading a Bible study group.

She recounted to Enquête that her alleged aggressor began by touching her on the chest and the genitals, and the attacks escalated, leading to sexual intercourse by the time she was 14.

"He would drop by to visit my parents and stay for the night," Herbert, who is now 44, recalled, breaking down in tears.

"Those nights, he would come to my room. I am talking about rape, night after night."
Botched police investigation

According to Enquête, Herbert's parents lodged an internal complaint with the congregation about the alleged assaults on their daughter.

The congregation elder, a friend of Courtemanche's, allegedly did not question Herbert to learn the details of her complaint, as required by Jehovah's Witness protocols in such matters.

Disillusioned with how the Jehovah's Witnesses had handled her complaint, Herbert took her allegations to police in 1995.

Courtemanche was charged but acquitted a year later, after what some people later described to Enquête as a botched police investigation in which no witnesses were interviewed.

Courtemanche remained a Jehovah's Witness after his acquittal but was ultimately expelled in 2014, Enquête found out, after two other women filed internal complaints alleging he had assaulted them as minors.
Watch Le silence des anciens, a new report by Enquête (in French only)
Alleged victims meet

Nearly 20 years after Courtemanche's acquittal, Herbert met Carolle Poudrier, who told her she, too, had been sexually assaulted on two different occasions by Courtemanche, some years before the alleged attacks on Herbert.

Poudrier was 11 years old at the time, but she says she still remembers exactly what her alleged assailant told her.

"He crouched next to me and told me, 'You know, you mustn't say anything, because your father, he wouldn't be happy. You are a big girl now, so he wouldn't be happy that you sat on top of me.'"

"I told him, 'I won't say anything to him.'"

Poudrier says she, too, went to the authorities at her Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in Terrebonne, just north of Montreal, in 1983.

It appears that that information was never passed on to leaders of the Mont-Laurier congregation to which Courtemanche and Herbert, then a child, belonged.

After Poudrier and Herbert exchanged the story of their experiences, the grown women went back to the Sûreté du Québec in Mont-Laurier to file complaints in 2017.
Other incidents lead to new charges

Courtemanche cannot by law be charged a second time for alleged crimes that he'd been acquitted of in 1996.

However, when Herbert went back to police and began to go over the chronology of the assaults she says she endured, she remembered two incidents she'd forgotten to tell police about when she first laid a complaint 24 years ago.

"OK, those are two things that we might be able to go with," she says the investigator told her.

Those two incidents — one that happened in Laval and the second, in Montreal — form the basis of the new charges, which were laid after an 18-month investigation by the Sûreté du Québec.

Translated by CBC's Loreen Pindera, from a report by Enquête's Pasquale Turbide


Faith-healing follower sentenced for not reporting sex abuse

National Post
The Associated Press
February 14, 2019

NAMPA, Idaho — An Idaho woman who refused to report her husband’s yearslong sexual abuse of young relatives and instead prayed for “the demon” to leave him was ordered Thursday to spend a year in a prison treatment program.

Judge Christopher Nye said that if Sarah Kester, 51, fails to successfully complete the program, she will serve at least four and up to 10 years in prison, the Idaho Press reported.

Prosecutors say her husband, Lester Kester Jr., molested five children over two decades. He pleaded guilty in October to five felony charges of lewd conduct with a minor in exchange for prosecutors not pursuing charges of possession of child pornography.

The couple is affiliated with the Followers of Christ Church, whose members eschew medical care for themselves and their children in favour of “faith healing” because they believe that prayer and rituals can sufficiently treat even catastrophic illnesses.

The church has a prominent following in parts of southwestern Idaho and Oregon, and the congregation has been accused of allowing dozens of children to die from a lack of basic medical care. Idaho’s child injury law, however, includes a religious exemption that has long allowed church members to act without state intervention.

After Sarah Kester’s July 11 arrest, she said she had known of the abuse for the past 17 years, according to the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office.

“Sarah Kester told detectives that she didn’t report the abuse because it was against her belief system to involve agencies such as law enforcement, child protection services, or counselling services into personal matters,” the agency said in a press release. “Instead, she said she attempted to protect … children through praying for ‘the demon’ to leave Lester and attempting to keep him busy with other tasks.”

Sarah Kester’s defence attorney said at sentencing that her client grew up in an isolated community and experienced her own trauma.

“She did everything that she knew to do to take care of them,” attorney Bethany Harder Haase said.

Sarah Kester cried as she addressed the court.

“I should’ve paid attention to all the rumours going around,” she said. “I feel so devastated. I should’ve got out of marriage right there and then.”

Three of the victims, now in their teens and 20s, also gave statements, saying Sarah Kester called them offensive names and blamed them for her husband’s actions.

The Associated Press isn’t identifying the victims or their relationship to the Kesters.

Sarah Kester entered in October a modified guilty plea, in which she maintained her innocence but acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict her. Lester Kester is set to be sentenced Feb. 26.


The Controversial Guru Who Wants to 'Upgrade Civilization'

By VICE Staff
February 13 2019

To his devout followers, Bentinho Massaro is an inspiration—but his critics have accused him of “cult-like” practices and peddling fringe conspiracy theories.

Bentinho Massaro has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, supporters the spiritual guru gained through his teachings about “self-realization,” “enlightenment,” and the idea of “upgrading civilization.” While some of his ideas are pretty standard, like the importance of silent meditation, others are controversial: He’s said that 9/11 was an inside job, that he can change the weather, and that humans might one day join forces with aliens.

To his devout followers, he’s an inspiration—but his critics have accused him of “cult-like” practices and peddling fringe conspiracy theories during his retreats, which run up to $2,000 a pop. For an inside look at Massaro’s teachings, we went to one of his retreats in the Netherlands, speaking with his colleagues, his followers, and Massaro himself to try to understand exactly what the appeal is—and what he makes of the accusations against him.


Judge orders Nxivm members back in court over defense fund

Emily Saul
NY Post
February 14, 2019

The six indicted members of upstate sex cult Nxivm have been ordered to appear in court next week, when a judge will kick off his probe into their questionable pooled-together defense fund.

Accused cult leader Keith Raniere will appear in court Tuesday before Brooklyn federal court Judge Nicholas Garaufis.

“Smallville” actress Allison Mack, who along with Raniere is facing sex trafficking and other charges for allegedly running a master-slave sex ring, is due in court Wednesday.

Prosecutors have claimed the irrecoverable trust set up by their codefendant Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman could be used to coerce others, while Bronfman’s attorney Susan Necheles says the structure of the fund makes that impossible.

While the amount in the fund has not been disclosed, Garaufis revealed in January that only 25 percent of the money is left and will likely run out before trial.

Fellow Nxians Kathy Russell and mother-daughter duo Nancy and Lauren Salzman — whose lawyers are also paid by the trust — will appear for their hearings on Thursday and Friday. Russell is facing identify theft charges, while the Salzmans are accused of racketeering.

Opening statements are scheduled for April 29.


Feb 14, 2019

Steiner schools celebrate hundredth anniversary with emphasis on internationalization

Waldor School
Religion Watch
Volume 34 No. 4

While the schools and educational movement inspired by Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) first spread in German-speaking countries and then in other areas of the Western world, they are now present in other cultural surroundings as well. But the success of Steiner’s educational principles at the 100th anniversary of the first school’s founding may also lead to a dilution of the specific Anthroposophical legacy he pioneered, writes Kai Funkschmidt in the EZW Newsletter (January). For a century, Anthroposophy, which considers itself an esoteric “spiritual science,” has met with significant success in developing initiatives that would have a wider impact on society, far beyond the ranks of the Anthroposophical Society and related organizations. One could mention biodynamic farming and Demeter products, Anthroposophic medicine and Weleda products, trends in arts or architecture, as well as the significant role played by Steiner’s impulse in alternative educational fields with the network of Steiner schools (also called Waldorf schools). All are seen as “applied Anthroposophy.”

While the German schools were closed by the Nazi regime, activities resumed after WWII. Today, one percent of all German pupils are enrolled in a Steiner school, with 90,000 children and teenagers enrolled in 245 schools. The global spread of the schools has been striking in recent decades. The first school in America opened as early as 1928 in New York City, but it was only in the second half of the 20th century that the global spread of Steiner’s educational system increased markedly, and even more so in recent decades, with 1,100 schools and 2,000 kindergartens currently established in some 80 countries, according to the movement’s own statistics. Each school is formally independent and the result of a local initiative, with associations playing a coordinating role. However, all schools remain based on the worldview and specific educational instructions provided by Rudolf Steiner. However, Funkschmidt observes that the noticeable presence of the Anthroposophical approach varies from one school to another. From time to time, some Anthroposophical periodicals have been asking for a stronger emphasis on Steiner’s legacy and the Anthroposophical ethos in the schools.

(EZW-Newsletter is a free newsletter in German sent once a month: https://www.ezw-berlin.de/html/103.php; a website has been launched for celebrating the Steiner school anniversary and includes a two-part documentary movie on the schools around the world: https://www.waldorf-100.org/en/)


Evangelical Apocalypse

Dale M. Coulter
First Things
February 14, 2019

It was only a matter of time before journalists dove into an evangelical institution to find skeletons of sexual abuse in locked file cabinets. In the wake of revelations last May surrounding Paige Patterson, the former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Al Mohler warned the Southern Baptist Convention and the evangelical world that judgment had come. He did not know that the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News had already begun an investigation. Now, the articles have begun to appear.

Many writers—Mohler included—have identified a number of problems that created a conducive climate for sexual abuse. The problems can be classified in three ways: open networks, denominational culture, and bad theology.

Many have underscored the Chronicle’s claim that local church autonomy present in Baptist polity has allowed sexual predators to move freely from church to church. Another issue is how easily Baptist ministers are ordained. Since local churches ordain, one has only to secure the endorsement of any church in good standing with the convention, regardless of how small or remote it is.

But the problem extends beyond the Southern Baptist Convention. As one denominational leader pointed out to me, ministers brought up on charges and dismissed from one denomination have simply gone to another for credentials. It’s not just laity who take advantage of evangelicalism's big tent to move around.

These open networks for ministerial movement from one part of evangelicalism to another allow sexual abusers to escape judgment and start over. We don’t need a database of sexual abusers for the Southern Baptist Convention, we need it for evangelicalism as a whole. We need greater cooperation and transparency among evangelical churches and institutions on matters of church discipline so we can close these open networks.

The Chronicle also raised the concern that denominations have begun to function like corporations. Their instinct is to protect the brand rather than the victims. Will evangelicals allow ministers to remain as long as they maintain orthodox beliefs (and thus protect the culture), even when their behavior contradicts the beliefs they assert?

Evangelicals have too often succumbed to victim shaming while simultaneously protecting their leaders. This was the subtext of the Paige Patterson episode—Patterson’s status allowed his behavior to go long unquestioned. Moreover, in light of the culture war, evangelicals sometimes too easily move from viewing a challenge to the authority of a leader as a challenge to the authority of scripture. Evangelicals claim to stand for the truth, but this claim is often narrowed to doctrinal or biblical truth rather than the truth about events unfolding before our eyes.

Bad theology has buttressed a climate of spiritual abuse against sexual assault victims. There is a tendency within evangelical circles to extend forgiveness over and over—even when patterns of sinful behavior have been established. The problem isn’t that they offer the mercy of Christ to persons caught in sinful patterns, but the idea that extending such forgiveness means the person should be allowed to remain in a position of authority. Church discipline should deal with entrenched patterns of behavior. The failure to enact church discipline for grave sin is itself a form of cheap grace, and it flows from an overemphasis on justification by faith alone to the exclusion of the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

Closely related is the “sin is sin” problem. It is an evangelical tendency to level out sins as though there were no difference between lying and sexual abuse, since “before God” all sins are worthy of judgment. At the same time, evangelicalism has allowed the larger culture war to determine what counts as “grave sin.”

These tendencies have created a deep inconsistency within evangelical moral theology. Some behaviors are treated as leprosy while others are treated as “white lies.” This is how cultural norms (“boys will be boys”) erode theological norms and reinforce the culture of protectionism. The impact of debates over female ordination or LGBT persons reveals how deep the inconsistency goes: Hard lines have been taken against homosexuality and the ordination of women while sexual abuse has been allowed to run rampant. Recently, Seth Dunn tweeted that a woman who wants to be a pastor is “just as bad as a sex offender who is hired as a pastor” because he wanted to make a point that the larger culture is out to get Baptists. Russell Moore is absolutely correct that this kind of response is “deadly dangerous” to victims and survivors of sexual abuse. Evangelical moral theology has to begin to differentiate between sinful transgressions on the basis of their destructive force.

Everything that can be shaken is being shaken. Last year Ross Douthat pronounced that a Baptist apocalypse was upon us. We are now in the midst of a great tribulation, and we should not expect a secret rapture to open up an escape route. Instead, we have to face these issues head on. The truth of the gospel is at stake.

Dale M. Coulter is associate professor of historical theology at Regent University


MEK: Who is this Iranian 'cult' backed by the US?

Maryam Rajavi, leader of the MeK in Villepinte, a northern suburb of Paris, Saturday, June 20, 2009. (AP)
TRT World
February 14, 2019

The MEK, an Iranian group that opposes the Iranian government and has committed several terrorist attacks is hugely controversial. But that doesn't stop the US from supporting them.

“Iran should be isolated until Iran changes,” US President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, who claimed to be representing the Iranian group the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (MEK), during a Middle East conference in Warsaw, Poland.

Giuliani’s suggestion for who will lead the democratic government after replacing the current Iranian government is Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the group that was, until recently, listed as a terrorist organisation by the US.

US support of the MEK is controversial not least because of the cult aspects which dominate its practices, but also the group’s violent past which some suspect continues today. 

So, what is the MEK?

The MK is a religious and ‘Marxist’ group aiming to remove the Iranian government. It was founded in 1965 in Iran in opposition to the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and launched bomb attacks against him. The group is responsible for killing Iran’s then-president Mohammad Ali Rajai and Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahovar in 1981 and is suspected of the assassination of six American servicemen.

The group relocated to Iraq after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when Iran proved that the group had lost a power struggle against the government, and found military support and shelter in Camp Hurriya in Baghdad.

When the eight-year Iran-Iraq war broke out in 1980, the MEK fought alongside Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. That led to them being branded traitors by the Iranian government, who executed thousands of political opponents, including MEK supporters, at the end of the war in 1988.

The US State Department added the MEK to its list of terrorist organisations in 1997, and the exact reason why is unknown but the group carried out several terror attacks killing Iranians, Iraqis and Americans in the 70s and 80s. The terrorist label was reversed under the presidency of Barack Obama in 2012 after the group led a multimillion-dollar campaign. A Guardian investigation found that the group flew funds to members of Congress while running a lobbying campaign to erase its past.

When the US illegally invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, the group surrendered to the Americans and began presenting itself as a group advocating democracy.

Until 2012, the group remained in Iraq under US protection, but in fear of Iranian attacks, it was relocated to an unlikely country, Albania, where the group built a massive compound surrounded by barbed wire, high-tech surveillance and armed guards.

Why the US supports the MEK

There is one main reason behind the current US support of the MEK: defeating Iran, the biggest enemy of the US in the Middle East.

In 2015, the Obama administration, along with the UK, China, Russia and Germany reached a deal with the Iranian government. According to the agreement, Tehran would limit its nuclear programme and the world powers sat at the table would remove economic sanctions on Iran.

The US end of the deal eventually fell through when US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the agreement in May 2018. Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, who long advocated for the removal of the agreement, and Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s lawyer, have been taking to the stage at the MEK’s rallies, where the speakers are reportedly paid $30,000 to $50,000 per event. Despite speaking at the rallies, neither Giuliani or Bolton have ever confirmed receiving payment from the MEK.

For the US, the rebranded version of the group is the best alternative to fight against Iran, and Rajavi has been leading an expensive propaganda campaign through events at which she aims to attract more supporters. The group’s supporters often make appearances in front of buildings where Iranian officials are attending political gatherings outside of Iran. The group advertises itself as the ‘popular opposition’, but the fact is that it is "almost universally despised among Iranians both inside the country and in the diaspora."

Is it a cult?

Despite describing its founding principles as a mixture of Marxism and Islam, the group has practices that are characteristic of neither Islam nor Marxism. For followers of the MEK, applying those practices is a matter of dedication and obligatory as much as working against the Iranian government.

It includes the strict segregation of men and women almost from toddlerhood, compulsory divorce and a ban on having children. The members of the group reportedly attend weekly gatherings where they have to confess and clean any idea they have that could conflict with the rules.

The ideology is justified by the group as being in the state of war. “Soldiers can’t have wives and husbands,” one of the followers of the group was quoted as saying in a New York Times article in 2003.

Human rights groups often denounce the group’s cult practices and reported abuses such as torture, solitary confinement and compulsory divorce.

Source: TRT World


The rise of the star-studded, Instagram-friendly evangelical church

Chris Pratt, Justin Bieber, and the “cool” Christian celebrity.
Chris Pratt, Justin Bieber, and the “cool” Christian celebrity.

Laura Turner
February 6, 2019

It was a Maui street preacher who convinced Chris Pratt, future star of Guardians of the Galaxy and Parks and Recreation, that he needed God. At 19, Pratt had dropped out of community college in his home state of Washington and accepted a friend’s offer to live with him on the Hawaiian island, waiting tables at America’s most picturesque restaurant, Bubba Gump.

“We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours, 15-20 hours per week,” Pratt, now 39, told the Independent in a 2014 interview. “[I]t was a charming time.”

Midway upon his journey of weed-smoking and drinking, Pratt and his friends were approached by an evangelist in a grocery store parking lot.

“This guy came by and was like, ‘What are you doing tonight?’”

The evangelist, who was with a Messianic Jewish organization called Jews for Jesus — people who converted to Christianity from a Jewish background — asked Pratt if he was planning on fornicating that night, or doing drugs and drinking; Pratt, with his trademark goofy charm, we can imagine, responded that he hoped to be doing all three.

“I stopped because Jesus told me to stop and talk to you,” the evangelist said, according to Pratt’s telling of the story. “He said to tell you you’re destined for great things.”

Pratt ditched his friends that night and became a Christian two days later. Now, he regularly attends LA’s Zoe Church, reportedly alongside his faith-minded fiancée Katherine Schwarzenegger.

Pratt, beloved doofus turned hot dad, is part of a growing trend of celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Selena Gomez, Hailey Baldwin, and Kevin Durant, who are vocal about their faith. The churches many of them flock to — Zoe, Hillsong, and Churchome are the prominent examples — may look like they offer something different and more progressive than traditional evangelicalism but are actually quite consistent with evangelical teachings. In an era when religious affiliation is on the decline for young people, these churches can only gain from this proximity to stardom. But how are these “cool” new rising churches different from other churches? What is it about Hillsong and Zoe that attracts this star power?

It used to be that to be an evangelical Christian was to be like Kirk Cameron or Jeff Foxworthy, old and irrelevant and consigned to made-for-TV B-movies. But there is an effort from churches like Zoe and Hillsong underway — probably more unconscious than deliberate — to make Christianity accessible, cool, and interesting to young people. This form of Christianity involves fashion, music, and, of course, celebrity, since modern American evangelicalism has always spread in part by being adjacent to power.

Recent attempts by churches to be more attractive to secular populations have led cool churches to emphasize “relationship” over “religion.” This “seeker sensitive” approach to church has its roots in the megachurch movement of the 1980s and ’90s — churches like Saddleback and Willow Creek — that sought to make church more attractive to nonbelievers by playing songs that weren’t hymns, offering preaching that was relevant to daily life, and designing churches that didn’t look particularly religious, including no crosses or stained-glass windows, no pews, and pastors wearing street clothes instead of collars.

“The Jesus message is not one of religion but of relationship,” Rich Wilkerson Jr., pastor of Miami’s Vous Church and the officiant at Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s wedding, wrote in his book Friend of Sinners.

Carl Lentz, a Hillsong pastor and close friend of Justin Bieber, said, “We don’t use the word ‘religion,’ because it’s hard to get people excited about religion. … Religion has no power. But a relationship with God is a superpower.”

This tonal shift within evangelicalism away from the dour restrictions associated with religion and toward the freedom and dynamism of a relationship has been ushered in by this new breed of Instagram-friendly, celebrity-surrounded pastors. But with the spread of Hillsong in America — it now has campuses in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Connecticut, Los Angeles, Orange Country, and San Francisco — we’re starting to see more and more figures like Lentz in paparazzi photos or Instagram posts with celebrities like Bieber. Some of these pastors are themselves the focus of buzz and reality TV, such as Wilkerson’s short-lived Oxygen series Rich in Faith.

Both Zoe and Hillsong, as well as places like Wilkerson’s Vous Church and Judah Smith’s Churchome, trade on cringeworthy attempts at cultural relevance: Zoe Pastor Chad Veach is fond of saying that the church is pronounced “zo-AY, like, be-yon-SAY. And who can forget “the hat,” a ubiquitous trendy fedora worn by so many Hillsongers that it practically became another character in Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s excellent profile of that church.

These pastors — all straight white men — have become religious versions of influencers, with their hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram. Their social media feeds are heavy on posed selfies and promotional posts urging their followers to buy their friends’ books. It’s sometimes hard to realize they are pastors at all.

But what about the celebrities who are part of this narrative? Do Pratt, Bieber, and Baldwin belong to Bible studies? Are they ushered in and out of services by an entourage? What do they find appealing about being there?

Pratt’s religiosity, for example, seems refreshingly free of the politics of past evangelicalism. He isn’t endorsing political candidates or going on right-wing talk radio. However, part of the implicit narrative of Pratt’s religiosity, I suspect, also has to do with his divorce from actress Anna Faris, and the inherent laxity of biblical sins like divorce. Such a spiritual mulligan would not be afforded to people in gay relationships, which are not mentioned at all in the Bible in the way we understand them today, yet are swiftly condemned.

Meanwhile, Bieber, whose ups and downs have been chronicled endlessly over the past decade, embodies what the author Brennan Manning called “the Ragamuffin Gospel”: the idea that the gospel of Jesus is only good news for those of us who are willing to admit that we are, basically, screw-ups in need of God’s grace.

There is also a lack of institutional memory where many younger celebrities are concerned. Pratt was born the year the Moral Majority was formed; Bieber was born 15 years later. Bieber isn’t old enough to remember the harm these groups did in the name of Christianity, and while Pratt may have been around for some of it, he wasn’t engaged in it — he was raised Lutheran but wasn’t active in his faith until he was 19.

Both men have been part of a faith tradition that wasn’t wedded to politics, so their version of evangelicalism has looked different from the one that grew out of the Reagan years: more personal, less political. More concerned with inclusion and welcoming, less rigid about drawing lines around who’s in and who’s out (or, at least, less explicit about those categories). Church as a gathering place for the cool kids, the kids who might have had too much to drink the night before but know they’re welcome no matter what on Sunday morning. Based on these churches’ websites, attending services looks like a fashion show, putting a new twist on getting dressed in your Sunday best when you might be sitting next to a supermodel.

But beyond the sheen of cool telegraphed on church Instagram feeds, this new generation of pastors — several of whom, like Wilkerson and Smith, are themselves the sons of prominent pastors — preach a gospel that steers clear of partisan politics. “There’s not a strategy or a network,” Wilkerson told Christianity Today in 2015. “It’s just, ‘Let’s befriend people.’ The goal is to be like Jesus, and I think Jesus would show love and grace to anybody in his path.”

The political question is particularly interesting with Pratt, who has talked about his arsenal of guns and publicly shared his appreciation for law enforcement. But for all his seeming conservatism, Pratt walks a very careful line. He has never expressed support for President Trump, and he has talked about wanting to be a “bridge” between left and right. In reality, he is already poised to act as a bridge between evangelicals and Hollywood and, perhaps, introduce the possibility that one can be in both worlds but not of them. Or at least not an asshole.

The attraction to power that has been part of evangelicalism’s 20th-century legacy and the prosperity gospel that has always been part of the Pentecostal tradition, of which Hillsong is a part, were married in the early-21st-century spread of trendy Christianity. The hard power of politics gave way to the soft power of Hollywood, and the easy moralizing of Kirk Cameron’s evangelicalism gave way to the vague welcome of hipster faith.

And while Pratt and Bieber are individuals who likely hold different views than their church’s leadership on many issues, the welcoming patina of places like Hillsong can easily be dented when you scratch the surface.

Bieber invited a gay fan who was struggling to find a church to join him at Hillsong, telling her, “If you ever want to come to any of the services, any of them would love to have you.” But the leaders of the church tell a different story. In a 2015 blog post titled “Do I Love Gay People?” Brian Houston, the founder and senior pastor of Hillsong in Australia, wrote, “Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles. Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership. ...”

Many seemingly progressive churches seem so only because they are young. Their theology is actually fairly conservative, but it dresses up in leather leggings and cool hats. When it comes time to dig beneath the surface, what you’ll find isn’t all bad, but it isn’t much more forward-thinking than the churches our parents grew up in. It just looks a little cooler.

Laura Turner is a writer living in San Francisco.


Feb 12, 2019

Jehovah's Witnesses prosecuted for breaking law, not over faith, notes Russia’s top court

February 12, 2019

In August 2017, the Russian Justice Ministry included the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization and its 395 local religious branches to the list of organizations that are outlawed nationwide

MOSCOW, February 12. /TASS/. Jehovah's Witnesses has been outlawed in Russia for violating the law rather than due to motives of religious persecution, Chairman of Russia’s Supreme Court Vyacheslav Lebedev told reporters on Tuesday.

"Indeed, this is portrayed like people being persecuted over their religious practices, in their view. However, this judgement, which was also pronounced by the Supreme Court, is not linked to religious practice. What we’re talking about here is the law and the rules being broken," Lebedev specified.

This case is not related to extremism, he noted. "No one is persecuting anyone for their faith. A decision was made on banning the organization, as the Supreme Court stated in its ruling, due to its activity, which is outlawed," he explained.
When asked if the decision on banning the organization could be reversed, Lebedev stressed that the Supreme Court had already considered this argument.

Jehovah’s Witnesses is an international religious organization that supports offbeat views on the essence of the Christian faith and provides special interpretations of many commonly accepted notions.

In August 2017, the Russian Justice Ministry included the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization and its 395 local religious branches to the list of organizations that are outlawed nationwide. The Russian Supreme Court satisfied the claim of the Justice Ministry to shut down the organization on April 20, 2017.


Feb 9, 2019

Cults, religious sects are not a thing of the past

Sonal Matharu
February 8, 2019

Cults, religious sects, call them what you want, mock them as much as you want, but they are here to stay. The tragic and inglorious end of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, Osho’s Rajneeshpuram, Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo and other such associations across the world by no means implies that cults are a thing of the past.

By the early 1980s, research on cults had branched out to almost all fields. The researchers were trying to understand what led to the boom of these so-called ‘religious sects’ in the 1960s and 70s. From digging the social, financial and emotional background of those who joined cults to accounts of grieving parents, ex-cult members and de-programmers, studies were assessing if cults provided a meaningful alternative to those looking to break free from conventional religions.

In India, the ashrams of Rajneesh — better known as Osho — continue to thrive 28 years after his death. The Peoples Temple, which started as a charitable organisation and ended with mass suicide, continues to be a hot topic as former members relive it in the media through their stories, books, movies and interviews.

In July 2018, the founder and 12 other leaders of Aum Shinrikyo, the Doomsday cult that released Sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995, were executed. But the cult lives on in the form of multiple splinter organisations that recruit close to 200 youth every year, writes Rohan Gunaratna, head of International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Singapore.

Unlike street corners and obscure towns, professional associations, academic institutions and the Internet are the favoured hunting grounds of new-age cults emerging with similar agendas and new names, writes Janja Lalich on her website Cult Research.

A few fundamentals remain unchanged. The cults offer a liberating, revolutionary path to religion, often through spirituality, and project their utopian communes as a haven from a conflicted, troubled and an unequal society. They provide a new perspective with which to view the social world and attract the lonely, anxious, troubled youth who feel trapped in orthodox social constructs.

People join these cults willingly, firmly believing in the idea to which they choose to submit. The feeling that they matter and are devoting their lives to the larger good under a divine, charismatic leader is a promising start.

Once concretised, these sects create a moral panic with its basis in reality, say James Richardson and Massimo Introvigne in their 2001 paper on Journal for the Scientific Study on Religions. They add that a sect is then integrated by providing a common enemy. And to defeat that enemy, the cults have been linked with serious crime and even radicalisation of its members. For instance, Rajneesh’s personal secretary Ma Anand Sheela was charged and sentenced for attempting to kill US government officials, poisoning salad bars in Oregon and attempting to meddle with elections.

Similarly, Aum Shinrikyo used murders and kidnappings against their opponents and made several failed attempts after 1995 by using chemical gasses for attacks in railway stations in Japan.

India’s cults are no stranger to controversy. Gurmeet Ram Rahim, the head of Haryana-based Dera Sacha Sauda, was sentenced to life imprisonment just weeks ago in a 2002 murder case of a journalist, while Asaram Bapu is serving a life sentence for raping a minor girl in 2013.

And late last month, China’s police (ministry of public security) warned its citizens that spiritual courses offered by some Indian religious schools are mired in ‘sexual assault’ cases, after Taiwanese actress Yi Nengjing, aka Annie Yi, promoted a spiritual course offered by south India-based Oneness University.

China in 2017 started a website, China Anti-Cult Network, to spread awareness about preventative measures and policies that China has for tackling cults.

Warnings notwithstanding, cults have sustained over centuries and will thrive with new names, evolving recruiting fields, modified agendas and no dearth of followers. The continuing popularity of movements whose leaders are in jail, bears eloquent testimony to this truth.


Cult-like ‘Quranic school’ exposed in Tunisia

Iman Zayat
Arab Weekly
February 10, 2019

Whether the Regueb institution is a jihadist camp or some sort of a religious cult, we need more than condemnation. We need action.

A fierce debate has taken hold in Tunisia, pitting two rival camps against each other: defenders of human rights and Islamists, both so-called moderates and fundamentalists.

The debate was set in motion by a television programme titled “Four Truths,” presented by Tunisian journalist Hamza Belloumi on the privately owned Elhiwar Ettounsi channel. The episode featured controversial issues that have been in the news, such as illegal poaching by Qatari hunters and widespread corruption within Tunisia’s vehicle inspection services.

The last segment, however, shocked viewers. It detailed an investigative report into a bizarre “Quranic” school in the rural central Tunisian town of Regueb, where dozens of children were being housed and indoctrinated with extremist ideas.

The report — confirmed by an official investigation — said 42 children aged 10-18 and 27 adults between the ages of 18-35 lived at the premises in conditions that were grossly unsafe and unsanitary. There they were taught religious precepts by figures who were unqualified, unlicensed and often abusive.

The horror only begins there. When not being inculcated with extremist ideas, the children were subjected to forced labour on construction and farm sites, reports said. Many were found to have contracted asthma, scabies and lice because of the horrific conditions. At least nine children reportedly suffered sexual abuse at the institution, where they were supposed to be learning about Islam and its spiritual values.

The scandal drew fierce outcry throughout the country, with most assailing the institution and the state for failing to protect the children. However, some Islamists lashed out at Belloumi, accusing him of being a “snitch” by alerting “secular authorities” to the illicit activity.

Amid this war of words, the most important question was left unanswered: Why was the state unable to fulfil its responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our society?

We must obviously condemn and hold to account those who were involved and complicit in running this so-called Quranic school. Even more, there is a need to crack down on all institutions of this nature that may be operating under the radar.

We must also put to rest absurd claims advanced by some Islamists that the institution was nothing more than a legitimate Quranic school and that the journalist was a “snitch” by exposing its abuses.

First, we should note that Quranic schools, or madrasas, as per definition, are outlawed in Tunisia. Only katateeb (traditional schools) legally operate under the supervision of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The difference between these two types of “schools” is night and day. While madrasas teach Islamic theology and religious law, katateeb teach Quranic recitation and certain basic Islamic rituals to children.

Most Tunisians do not understand this distinction, which is why Islamists have tried to frame the institution in Regueb as a “Quranic school.” By doing so, they hope to legitimise it in the minds of Tunisians who naturally respect the Quran and Islam. Ironically, by referring to the school as a “madrasa,” its defenders are effectively conceding that it is, by nature, illegal.

With this clarified, let us examine what was really happening in Regueb. Should this so-called school be characterised as a cult, led by a demented guru, or a jihadist training camp where children and young people were being prepped to conduct terror attacks? Or was it some combination?

The so-called Quranic school, led by self-styled imam Farouk Zribi, bears many of the hallmarks of a cult. It is in a remote area, far from public scrutiny. Its members — many underage — are isolated and indoctrinated with extremist beliefs while being subjected to severe exploitation and abuse. The parents of the children caught up in this nightmare have staunchly defended its leader.

If this is indeed a cult, like the one led by David Koresh in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, how should we rid the country of it and potentially connected institutions? Is there really a difference between Eastern and Western cults?

To combat the problem, Tunisia must enact pointed legislation that prohibits extremist religious centres from operating under the guise of civic associations, as well as work to expose individuals, political parties or financiers that support such activities. Tunisia should work to improve the quality of its education system and counter efforts to infiltrate it by those with an agenda.

However, if the so-called Quranic school in Regueb is not a cult, it can only be described as a jihadist training camp. While this may shock many in Tunisia, it is time we come to terms with the existence of such radical elements, especially after the terror attacks that have taken place since the 2010-11 uprising.

If one of these institutions exists, it is likely there are others. Jihadists almost always operate in coordination, meaning that structures affiliated with the Regueb camp could be lurking throughout the country. Tunisian authorities, therefore, should be vigilant in getting to the bottom of who is behind this institution and whether there are affiliates.

Ultimately, whether the Regueb institution is a jihadist camp or some sort of a religious cult, we need more than condemnation. We need action. We need to actively work to protect children from such dangerous environments and provide care and rehabilitation to those rescued from them.

If Belloumi is, as some Islamists say, “a snitch to the secular authorities,” we should all join him in exposing the radical threats facing our country.

As a journalist, Belloumi simply did his job: He investigated and reported on the dire situation in Regueb in a professional and ethical manner. He and his partners at “Four Truths” deserve credit for daring to speak out about what others have long feared to.


Feb 7, 2019

Accused NXIVM sex cult leader Keith Raniere's bail denied for third time

In this courtroom sketch Keith Raniere, second from right, leader of the secretive group NXIVM, attends a court hearing Friday, April 13, 2018, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
American Media Inc.
February 6, 2019

Accused NXIVM sex cult leader Keith Raniere has been denied bail for a third time by a federal court judge, RadarOnline.com reports.

According to new court documents obtained by Radar, the judge overseeing Raniere’s racketeering and sex trafficking case vehemently ruled that he does not deserve to immediately get out of prison, despite the fact that the facility has been lacking heat and hot water.

As Radar reported, Raniere’s attorneys filed paperwork last week claiming the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y, where he is housed, was lacking electricity, heat and had noxious fumes due to a fire.

“The living circumstances that Raniere has described are tragic, inhumane, and greatly disturb the court. At the court’s February 5 2019 hearing, MDC representatives reported that, as of that morning, conditions at the facility had returned to their usual standard and the problems that Raniere identified are no longer as acute,” Judge Nicholas Garaufis wrote to Raniere’s lawyers on Feb. 5.

Due to the remedy at the prison, the judge continued that “the court does not believe they require Raniere’s release under the Due Process Clause.”

Plus, the judge said he’s also denying Raniere’s request because he’s still a flight risk.

“The court has twice found that Raniere is a flight risk. The court’s view has not changed. Raniere remains a flight risk for the reasons that the court has previously articulated,” the document stated.

As Radar readers know, Raniere requested to be released from prison on bail twice in 2018. Both requests were previously denied by the judge.

Raniere is joined by Smallville actress Allison Mack, Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman, former NXIVM employees Kathy Russell and mother-daughter duo Lauren and Nancy Salzman in the NXIVM case. The defendants face charges of racketeering, wire fraud conspiracy, sex trafficking and identity theft.

The judge explained that the only difference in Raniere’s third request for bail as compared to his previous two is that it included “an additional surety who will post (US)$300,000.”

Still, the judge claimed, “This one medication does not lead the court to alter its conclusion.”

Raniere’s denial comes on the heels of the judge confirming he is running out of money to pay his legal fees.


A Modern History of Satanic Panic in South Carolina

Photo illustration by Scott Suchy
Dustin Waters
Charleston City Paper
February 06, 2019

Note: This story is also available in audio form. Just search for Charleston City Paper in your podcast app and take a listen. More info here. Enjoy!

Equal parts lurid and absurd, Diana Vaughan's story quickly spread across 1890s Europe. She had, many claimed, given herself over to Satan during her time in Charleston. The Holy City. What better place for the devil to wed?

Two years had passed since Diana allegedly escaped from a secret Satanic temple on the coast of South Carolina, finding safety in the confines of a French cloister. Forced to remain hidden lest she be silenced by assassins, Diana's memoirs were the talk of France. Going on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies and gaining favor among the Catholic Church's top officials, the confessions of this former Luciferian high priestess-turned nun detailed the alleged unholy rituals carried out among an all-controlling sect of Freemasons headquartered in Charleston's so-called "Infernal Vatican."

With Diana's celebrity beginning to wane, April 19, 1897 was to be the day of her grand public unveiling. Before an anxious crowd of clergymen, masons, and reporters, it was finally time for Diana to face the world. But she never appeared. Instead, what was revealed that day was an uglier, more honest look at the dangerous lies we spread about God, the devil, and man.
Diana Married the Devil

Reports of Diana Vaughan communing with the devil reached the pages of her hometown paper just before the Christmas of 1896. It was around this time that Louisville's Courier Journal shared Diana's curious story of redemption. Other stateside publications were soon to follow.

Born March 1, 1864, Diana was said to be descended from a powerful alchemist who pledged himself to the devil by beheading an archbishop. In exchange for this ritual sacrifice, Satan added 33 years to the alchemist's life and told him how to make gold. The alchemist then moved to America where he married the demonic bride that had been promised to him, thus tainting the Vaughan family bloodline for generations to come.

Raised in a Luciferian household, Diana later relocated from Louisville to Charleston, the rumored headquarters of a secret Masonic sect called the Palladians and their Satanic temple. Concealed at the center of a great maze, the Palladian chapel contained the "Sanctum Regnum" where a monstrous statue of Baphomet stood. It was here that Diana's first of many alleged meetings with the Devil occurred.

Meditating alone before the grimacing statue, Diana was startled as fire leapt out into the room, gushing up along the walls to surround her in flame. This display was quickly followed by seven claps of thunder in quick succession. Five spirits appeared, then vanished, and there sat before Diana on a throne of diamonds was Lucifer.

Diana was said to have prepared herself for this dark master "by a sort of fasting." In spite of being described, rather tastefully, as a young woman "whom a careful education rendered difficult," Diana was satisfied beyond her expectations.

"His male beauty, on this unforgettable day, is unspeakable," she wrote of her first meeting with Lucifer.

Oddly enough, the initial version of Diana's story that appeared in her hometown paper after her escape from Charleston was later corroborated by a purported acquaintance, who claimed that there were roughly 500,000 Palladians in America.

By that time, Catholic periodicals had already thrown their complete support behind Diana's tale of redemption — a bride of Satan, who through the grace of God found salvation in the Church.

Although not all were so ready to accept the titillating confessions of a former bride of Satan, Diana had gained enough true believers to make headlines around the world and convince those in and out of power that a Masonic cult in Charleston held regular meetings with Lucifer every Friday at 3 p.m.

But, in what came as a shock to many and perhaps a relief to others, her story was all a lie.
The Taxil Hoax

April 19, 1897: As an eager crowd gathered in the grand hall of the Geographical Society of Paris to meet the woman who once belonged to Charleston's most elite Satanic sect, they were instead met by a giddy Frenchman who wrote under the name Leo Taxil. Diana Vaughan, he explained with pride, had been his creation all along.

Taxil, once notorious for his writings that mocked the Church, had inexplicably converted to Catholicism 12 years earlier. Since that time, he had taken up writing and publishing popular exposes on the alleged Satanic practices of the Freemasons, drawing Charleston into one of the most elaborate hoaxes ever perpetrated.

Taxil was reportedly raised in a religious family, but was disowned by his father after joining the Freemasons only to be ousted from his lodge.

After Pope Leo XIII condemned Freemasons in 1884, Taxil concocted a plan to gain the trust of the Church and publish increasingly outlandish claims against the Masons in order to reveal the Vatican's bias. But Taxil knew the task would be more than a simple leap of faith.

The gifted con man spent weeks reviewing reports of missing persons in newspapers before deciding upon a victim of sorts. In a tearful confession, he admitted to murdering a man who had recently vanished. Now, Taxil told the priest, he was willing to give himself over to God for salvation.

After two years, Taxil was received in Rome, even claiming he was granted a 45-minute audience with the Pope.

When it came to Diana Vaughan, Taxil hired a woman from an American typewriter company to transcribe his words, carry on correspondence with clergymen, and sit for an illustration to run alongside Diana's memoirs. For her troubles, she received 150 francs a month.

Charleston would come to serve as the headquarters of Taxil's fictitious sect of Satanic Freemasons due to the city's real-life setting as the birthplace of the Mother Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. When the local Catholic bishop made an attempt to assure the Vatican that Diana Vaughan's writings were untrue, Taxil simply claimed that the bishop himself was a Freemason — in league with the devil.

Although many had seen through Taxil's ploy, enough of the public and members of the Church had bought into his lies to leave a lasting resentment. In the end, Taxil gleefully accepted the nature of his crimes as he looked to end his epic charade once and for all. But he had created a lie so detailed and vivid, so attractive to those hungry to explain their lot in life, that it would long outlive its author.

Following his confession, multiple women claiming to be the real Diana Vaughan had surfaced, each accusing the others of fraud.

A Nov. 3, 1901 Baltimore Sun article on Taxil's declining health shares some of the conman's thoughts on the hoax: "They accepted my fables as gospel truth, and the more I lied for the purpose of showing that I lied, the more convinced became they that I was the paragon of veracity ... Then it dawned upon me that there was lots of money in being a Munchhausen of the right kind, and for 12 years I gave it to them hot and strong, but never too hot."

Taxil is said to have died in relative obscurity in 1907 as the editor of a small food journal. While he had disavowed the stories of influential Luciferians headquartered in South Carolina, the tales still percolate on the edges of modern discourse.

Taxil's allegations regarding devil worship and secret societies controlling global events remain popular themes among right-wing conspiracies, anti-semitic propaganda, and would go on to help fuel the era of Satanic panic in America that was to come.
Fear in the Upstate

In March of 1973, around four years after her father had first published the Satanic Bible, Karla LaVey arrived at Wofford College in Spartanburg. Leaning back in a chair onstage before an auditorium of onlookers, wearing knee-high go-go boots and a miniskirt, Karla is thin and tall with long, dark hair and a large pendant dangling from her neck.

Age 22, a self-proclaimed witch and member of the Church of Satan, LaVey was invited to Wofford as a part of the spring semester emphasis on "Man's Religious Experience in the 20th Century." She explains that the Church of Satan, despite popular belief, does not practice human sacrifices. LaVey is repeatedly interrupted by members of the audience rushing the stage with Bibles in hand.

Undeterred, LaVey tells the crowd that her father founded the Church of Satan as a result of the tragedies he witnessed as a police photographer in California, saying, "'He thought that if these acts were the will of God, then God must be a pretty thoughtless guy,'" according to the Greenville News.

Later that year, fear of Satanic sacrifices would become an all too real fear in Upstate South Carolina as a Greenville teenager faced trial for first degree murder in Florida. David O. Hester, age 17, was ordered to stand trial on Oct. 15, 1973, for the death of Michael Ross Cochran.

Four days in, the supposed leader of "The Devil's Children," a small cult in Daytona Beach, was sentenced to life in prison. Hester claimed he was high. Doctors called him an anti-social "schizoid." Another member of the group described Hester as a "warlock."

By the start of the '80s, fears began to spread of subliminal Satanic messages hidden in popular songs. In newspaper columns, Billy Graham linked drug use to the devil. Everywhere people looked, there was the devil — ready to spoil your child's mind.

"It sort of started in '80 or '81, really, because you had that whole thing with kids going missing. That was when you had the first milk carton kids. There was this idea that people were after your children," says author Grady Hendrix, explaining his own experience with the rise of Satanic panic in the Charleston area. Satanic Panic, a screenplay by Hendrix, finished filming last year.

But Hendrix feels his most recent novel, We Sold Our Souls, best encompasses his thoughts on these unkillable Satanic conspiracies.

"This idea about what has value, it really felt like the equivalent of the 15th century or 16th century Christian world view of a world where physical events are shaped by invisible forces," Hendrix explains.

Hendrix recalls teachers at Porter-Gaud warning students of LSD-soaked Halloween treats and local hospitals scanning for candy stuffed with AIDS-infected needles, razor blades, and broken glass — rumors that became even more absurd when Hendrix realized that they weren't going away.

"Police officers believed them and took them seriously. Judges took them seriously. Juries took them seriously. Newspaper editors took them seriously. It felt like everyone had sort of lost their minds."

By October of 1985, police in Upstate South Carolina were preparing to shift into high alert for Halloween night. Devil worship was suspected among teens near Gaffney.

In August, local police inspected an abandoned building to find "666" and inverted crosses scrawled across the walls. Reports also described a desk covered in candles and several small nooses, which according to one officer "might have been large enough for an animal's neck."

"From time to time we have this talk spring up about devil worship and some teenagers participating in it, but we don't have anything concrete at this particular time," the chief of police told the Gaffney Ledger in 1985.

On the eve of Halloween, Gaffney police and agencies in surrounding counties were out in full force to prevent any mishaps. Local police asked that citizens leave their firearms at home.
This is How Rumors Spread

Hardy Childers, the man behind the blog Esoteric Columbia, was browsing online auctions last fall when he happened upon a strange relic from South Carolina's past. On his website, Childers likes to highlight the stranger and little-known parts of the once "Famously Hot" city's history. And for good reason.

"It may stem from a friendly competition with Charleston. I feel like there's lots of strange stories that have been compiled about Charleston, and they're easy to find. Not so much about Columbia," Childers explains.

That's why when he came across a mud-colored class manual from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy with "Satanism" printed across the cover, he knew he had found something special. With no competing bids, the book was his for $10, plus shipping and handling.

Plucked from the summer of 1987, the manual features the cramped handwriting of its original owner alongside an illustrated glossary of demons and Satanic imagery.

By the start of 1987, fears of Satanists had grown into a nationwide panic. In the first few days of the new year, news began to spread that the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy would join around half a dozen other states with formal seminars on policing Satanic cults. Authorities had identified eight sites around the state where Satanic ceremonies were suspected to have been held, from Caesars Head to Hanahan.

According to interviews at the time, Paul Banner, the senior criminology instructor at the Criminal Justice Academy who led the course on Satanism, claimed to receive around 30 calls a week from law agencies asking to participate in the training — although they admitted to not having had any actual experience with Satanists. Banner also made it clear that he was aware of no evidence that Satanic cults in South Carolina were involved in child abuse or pornography. Other officers and news outlets were willing to move forward with these rumors regardless.

In March 1987, shortly after a Friday the 13th hoax gripped the Columbia area, the body of a Columbia girl was found wrapped in a minister's robe. Inside the garage of the 23-year-old man charged in her murder, police found a similar robe, as well as what was described as a makeshift altar covered in animal blood, according to an April 18, 1987 article in The State newspaper that was included in the Criminal Justice Academy's manual on Satanism.

Illegal activities among Satanists, according to the manual, included trespassing, vandalism and arson, animal mutilation, kidnapping, rape, child abuse, and murder. Officers were instructed to keep an open line of communication with animal control officers to monitor for sacrifices. The profile of your average Satanist was an intelligent, creative, underachieving man from a middle or upper-middle class family, with low self-esteem, difficulty relating to peers, and feelings of alienation from their family's religion. They could also be interested in role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons or heavy metal music.

In its initial year, the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy's in-house class on Satanism drew 74 students, with the seven classes offered by the academy's field training program attracted 359 officers around the state.
A Cold Comfort

By 1989, alleged Satanic symbols were said to have been spray-painted on any available surface along I-26. In June, Greenwood police consulted a "nationally recognized expert in Satanism" regarding graffiti that had appeared around town including skulls, emblems, and the phrase "I would rather be the devil, than go creeping to the cross." It turned out to be a lyric from a song by a Northern Irish post-punk band.

Despite the expert's dismissal of the message as nothing serious, a photo of the graffiti was prominently featured in a special section of Greenwood's Index-Journal solely focused on the threat of Satanists.

Also around this time, a Pickens County detective was lecturing local school counselors on so-called "breeders," women who give birth to an infant for the sole purpose of being used in a sacrifice. Meanwhile, a Lexington County detective would find his way to Orangeburg to lead a seminar on the difficulties of tracking Satanic activity. Almost two years later, this same detective was still on the instructional circuit, informing a McCormick crowd that Satanism is a statewide problem worse than drug addiction.

By the early '90s, former Catholic priest, turned tell-all novelist Malachi Martin revived the old claims that Charleston was the center of Satanic activity around the world. As author Grady Hendrix explains, "He had a whole thing where during the 1963 enthronement of Pope Paul VI, he claimed it was, of course, the enthronement of a Satanic Pope."

In his works of alleged fact and thinly-veiled fiction, Martin wrote that a corresponding Satanic ritual complete with a human sacrifice was held in Charleston as the ceremony was piped into the Vatican via speakerphone, granting Satan control over the Church moving forward.

So there it was. A century had passed since Leo Taxil convinced much of Europe that Charleston was the center of Satanic activity. Then, by the 1990s, another man claiming to have inside knowledge presents another Holy City conspiracy with the devil at its core.

Today, in the age of Pizzagate, the Deep State, and endless QAnon conspiracies, it's hard to dismiss the appeal of a well-told lie backed by a compelling villain. The main difference now is that your aunt can sign into Facebook and spread whatever unsubstantiated conspiracy happens to float across her feed.

"The idea of a global conspiracy that secretly runs the world is an old one and a really appealing one. Sort of the Satanic panic version of that, that there is a Satanic conspiracy running the world and we can't do anything about it, it's very appealing in the sense that you have no chance," says Hendrix.

So the concept of a conspiracy theorist has become universal. It's anyone with an internet connection. Everyone's connected and the world is too complicated to understand. Instead of doing the hard work to make sense of things, here's a story with a clear narrative. Even if there isn't a good guy, there sure as hell is a villain.

"It makes you feel good because look at the other people. They're a bunch of pedophiles and drug addicts, and they eat human blood and they're disgusting and they have no souls. They're awful," says Hendrix. "On the one hand, it's tremendously comforting. On the other, it's disempowering and weakening."

So what about the so-called bad guys? What about the Satanists?

I decided to forward a copy of the Criminal Justice Academy's manual of Satanism to the official Church of Satan to hear their response. What I received was a lengthy written response from the church's high priest, Magus Peter Gilmore.

"This sort of literature was common during 'The Satanic Panic,' when evangelical Christians as well the media looking for shock value stories promoted the false idea that there were 'satanic cults' acting as a society-wide conspiracy to incite drug use, sacrifice or mutilate animals, and breed babies for ritual murder that were disposed of in 'portable crematoria,'" Gilmore wrote.

It's worth noting that the official Church of Satan does not worship the devil. They don't believe in any higher power — God, Satan, or otherwise — instead mainly focusing on personal responsibility, individualism, and a sort of self-worship. Magus Gilmore appeared on many talk shows during the years of the Satanic panic. He acknowledges that "some disturbed youths imitated what was portrayed in the media" regarding Satanic activity, but these so-called "Geraldo Satanists" were separate from the actual church's true beliefs and practices.

Describing the Justice Academy manual on Satanism as "hate literature" masquerading as fact, Gilmore compares it to a 1487 book, the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches) which he says was meant to serve the exact same purpose, offering a means to interrogate and persecute thousands of Europeans.

"So, while this type of material isn't new, it is an unfortunate trend that has recurred again and again," says Gilmore. "It allows those in authority to persecute powerless people and enrich themselves in the process, cementing their belief system as the one maintaining power and thus 'truth.' Our species is often quite appalling, isn't it?"