Dec 31, 2019

Mexican police chief arrested in connection with slaying of 9 women and children with Utah ties

 (Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Family members put flowers on the grave after the funeral for Dawna Langford and two of her children, Trevor and Rogan, in La Mora, Sonora on Thursday Nov. 7, 2019.
The Salt Lake Tribune
December 27, 2019

Authorities in Mexico have arrested a municipal police chief there for his alleged role in the killing of nine women and children in early November, Reuters reported.

The victims were all U.S. citizens who have lived in a fundamentalist Mormon community in the border-area between the U.S. and Mexico for decades. Three mothers and six children were traveling in a caravan of three cars near La Mora, Mexico, when assailants opened fire on the vehicles.

Reuters reports that Fidel Alejandro Villegas, who is the police chief of Janos in the neighboring state of Chihuahua, was arrested for his alleged involvement in the crime. While the news organization says he is suspected of having ties to organized crime, it doesn’t say how he is allegedly linked to the slayings.

Police have said the victims were killed after being swept up in a fight between two feuding drug cartels, and the killings prompted comments from U.S. President Donald Trump, who said the U.S. would help “in cleaning out” the cartels, as well as from those who want polygamy legalized in the U.S.

“If polygamy were legalized,” said Brooke Richey, a 23-year-old Utahn with family living in Mexican Mormon communities, “they probably would come back to the U.S. It just seems like they’re in such a vulnerable place.”

Authorities Raid Russian Jehovah's Witnesses

A sign outside a Russian Jehovah's Witness centre before the 2017 ban.
The Moscow Times
December 31, 2019

Authorities raided homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in northern Russia as part of a criminal probe into extremism against the banned religious organization, investigators said in a statement Monday.

Russia banned the Christian denomination known for door-to-door preaching, close Bible study and rejection of military service and blood transfusions in 2017. Rights groups have condemned the crackdown against the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a violation of religious freedom.

Investigators in the city of Murmansk accused worshippers of “knowingly conducting the activities of the religious organization from April 2017 to the present time.”

The believers “held meetings, personally delivered sermons, distributed religious literature and involved new people in the activities of an extremist organization,” they said in an online statement.

The investigators identified the alleged perpetrators but did not appear to have detained anyone.

“It’s unclear who the case is initiated against,” the U.S.-based Jehovah’s Witnesses organization said on its website.
Two Murmansk-based worshippers were earlier this year indicted as part of a separate extremism case that was launched in 2018.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses group estimates that it has about 170,000 followers in Russia.

The 2017 ban forced almost 400 branches across Russia to shut down and at least 5,000 worshippers to flee the country, Time magazine reported recently.

At least 15 out of 280 Jehovah’s Witnesses on trial have been convicted in Russia. These include Danish citizen Dennis Christensen and Russian nationals Sergei Klimov and Vladimir Alushkin, who are each serving six-year sentences.

Dec 30, 2019

What It's Like to Leave White Nationalism

Austin, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Photo: Mark Peterson/Redux Images
James D. Walsh
New York Magazine
December 20, 2019

A little over a year ago, Austin, 31, decided he wanted out of the Aryan Brotherhood, a gang of white supremacists he’d joined early in his 10-year prison sentence for aggravated robbery. By the time Austin was paroled, the Brotherhood was more important to him than his real family. “Me and my wife could have been out eating, or I could have been at Chuck E. Cheese with my son,” he says, when interviewed as part of New York’s photo-documentary portfolio on white supremacy, “and [the Aryan Brotherhood] would call me because they needed me to run drugs or they needed me to go beat someone up or rob someone. I would just leave them there.”

When Austin went back to prison on a parole violation, he started looking for a way out of the Brotherhood. Founded by white bikers to protect white inmates inside prisons, the Aryan Brotherhood is not bound by racist ideology alone; it is also a criminal syndicate known for manufacturing and running drugs, armed robbery, and murder for hire. The gang’s motto, “Blood in, blood out,” is a deadly oath. When Austin told the Brotherhood he was dropping out, he was told he knew too much. Austin says his “brothers” beat him with metal locks wrapped in socks and stabbed him with ice picks. He was hospitalized and transferred to another prison, where he was attacked again. “I still get messages on Facebook that they can’t wait to see me, sleep with one eye open. It’s just an ongoing thing,” he says. For “formers” like Austin, removing tattoos is a matter of life and death — as long as he wears the tattoos, members of the Brotherhood will target him.

When Austin got out of jail he met TM Garret, a former white supremacist who now helps people who are looking to get out of white-supremacist groups. Garret was a skinhead in his native Germany until 2004. He moved to the United States in 2012, a jarring experience that helped him realize two things: First, leaving a hate group was not enough. “Getting out of a hate group is one thing, and changing is another thing. I was still a racist,” Garret says. Second, the United States was not the “melting pot” of coexistence he’d been promised. “I moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and realized that doesn’t exist.”

Garret started working with other formers in 2017, and his Erasing the Hate campaign helps them remove their tattoos, which can be a long, expensive process. Some tattoo artists refuse to work on clients with neo-Nazi tattoos, while others have relationships with the Aryan Brotherhood themselves, making removal a fraught, dangerous process for people living in small rural communities. “Are artists judging me because I have the tattoo, or are they judging me because I want it removed?,” asks Garret. He found a tattoo artist willing to work on formers without judgment and has since helped them remove some 150 tattoos free of charge.

Austin has been gradually removing the swastikas, the SS bolts, a portrait of Hitler, and the word skinhead drawn across his abdomen. “I have more than 50 hours left just on my chest piece,” he says. “Once I get all these tattoos removed, it’ll die out. They’ll slowly just leave me alone.”

Watchtower Documents

Barbara Anderson
Barbara Anderson was a Jehovah’s Witness from 1954 to 1997. But while working as a researcher and writer at their worldwide headquarters from 1982 thru 1992, something went terribly wrong. Barbara uncovered a conflict that would derail her plans, and change her life forever. Her unique story shines a bright light on Watchtower/JW.ORG policies that not only protect sexual predators, but unduly influence members to believe policies and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses are Bible-based and inspired from God. Barbara’s story also includes unprecedented commentary from Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed., psychotherapist, and author Jon Atack. Bonnie and Jon have written extensively about coercive control and report behind the scenes, while Barbara shares her story, of what was happening psychologically in her high-control world. Praise for Barbara Anderson Uncensored – Eyewitness to Deceit:Nothing short of awe-inspiring! Barbara’s valor in the face of an epic David versus Goliath battle to protect children against the policies of an international organization demonstrates how the efforts of one person, who stands up for right, truly can effect change.

– Mariuca Rofick This unique book, about a woman who has changed so many lives, will also give readers a rare peek behind the scenes of how policies and beliefs are formed at the world headquarters for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

– Mark O’Donnell I found myself spellbound reading Barbara’s story, which provides a unique perspective on how things work at Watchtower’s headquarters. Her time spent there as a researcher yielded some real nuggets regarding Watchtower’s history that were previously unknown, and expose how Watchtower white washes its history.

– Lee ElderI highly recommend reading Barbara Anderson’s book. It is a candid narrative of a worldwide religion, one that most people have seen as harmless until now. She also offers a workable plan of action for change. – Joanna Foreman

Barbara Anderson Uncensored: Eyewitness To Deceit

Building Bridges; Leaving and Recovering From Cultic Groups and Relationships

Joseph Kelly and Patrick Ryan
International Cultic Studies Association

Topics discussed include: Assessing a family’s unique situation; understanding why people join and leave groups; considering the nature of psychological manipulation and abuse; being accurate, objective, and up-to-date; looking at ethical issues; learning how to assess you situation; formulating a helping strategy; learning how to communicate more efficiently with your loved one; learning new ways of coping.

I had coffee with a San Francisco Satanist group and this is what I learned

Dan Gentile
December 28, 2019

“Bagel with tomato, avocado, cucumber and onion,” yells the heavily-tattooed barista at the kink café & boutique Wicked Grounds.

Tabitha Slandee shakes her head. “I didn’t ask for onion,” she says to her friends. They tell her not to worry about it and she picks up her food, then places it on the table, a foot away from a black pentagram tablecloth and miniature bronze statue of the goat demon Baphomette.

Then Daniel Walker, one of the group’s founders, rings a bell to call the Satanic Bay Area monthly coffee hour to order.

Turns out Satanists are just like me: they like bagels, act polite to baristas and also … don’t believe Satan exists.

SBA was established in 2015 as an atheistic community organization. All sects and individuals believe different things, but SBA does not believe a muscle-bound devil lurks in a fiery underworld practicing pitchfork tricks and encouraging people to lie and shoplift and murder. They identify with the myth of Satan as a freethinker and rebel, and feel that his image has been distorted by mainstream culture into a catch-all for immoral behavior. But they don’t think he’s real.

Once a month they reserve tables for two hours at Wicked Grounds, which looks more like a college coffee shop than a demonic lair (although they do sell BDSM accessories). Unsurprisingly, nine out of 10 people in attendance wear black (the group counts about 50 members). There’s a fairly even gender split. Many attendees go under pseudonyms for safety (and fun), shifting between monikers in casual conversations.

The meeting serves as a time to socialize and go over a printed agenda of upcoming projects, which range from Christmas cookie decorating parties, Satan’s Little Helpers art supply drives and planning the next Black Mass, where they mark each other’s foreheads with animal blood (or for the squeamish Satanists, red wine).

“It’s like Ash Wednesday, but all the time,” says Brigid Breed, a college student who attends a Christian university incognito.

So aside from baking and marks of the Beast, what do Satanists actually believe in? Before they begin rattling through agenda items (which are weirdly a bit dry), I poll the group on what Satanism means to them. Collectively they claim there aren’t actually many references to Satan in the Bible at all, and his character takes on a new meaning when viewed with a contemporary lens.

“Satan is the universe’s first revolutionary. The first person to say, I want a change that benefits me, a system that would work better,” says Daniel Walker, one of the group’s founders. “You’re supposed to assume that he is the villain, because it’s based on these bronze age values of a divine all-powerful King that’s the ultimate source of what is good in the world. Any disruptive element has got to be the root of all evil.”

For Harq al-Ada, a Satanist who’s been associated with SBA for two years now and leads group meditations at masses, his practice is about understanding your darker impulses.

“In psychology, there is this aspect of shadow. A darker part of us, more primal. Most of the Abrahamic religions they tell us to get rid of your sins, your flaws, hide those parts of yourself. A Satanist is more like, own it, take it, look at it. It’s owning all parts of yourself, whether they’re dark or bright, easy or difficult.”

This all sounds pretty reasonable to me so far, but it begs the question, why use the S-word when it holds such a divisive connotation? Turns out they have an episode of their podcast “Black Mass Appeal” all about this very topic, but Simon Lasher, a group administrator, gives me the short version.

“Being a Satanist isn’t for everybody, and that’s okay. You do attract a lot of heat,” she says. “We’re not using it to be trolls. It’s not a joke. We’re not just trying to get back at Christians, but it is a powerful symbol that stops you in your tracks and attracts attention. And makes you want to learn more.”

For Brigid Breed, Satanism fits in with broader cultural shifts.

“We all grow up in this society where Abrahamic religions are the cultural context wherever we go. The morality of these religions grew in a time when individualism and rebellion were very much taboo. The ideas that you can be weird and queer and outside the brinks of society, there wasn’t a space for that in a religious context. If you’re a feminist or queer, you’re going to be called a Satanist anyway, so you might as well lean in.”

The Black Masses are where the real leaning in takes place.

“The joke I always make is that it’s like going to church, but more metal,” says Walker.

The group members paint a vivid picture of their gathering. Ceremonies vary based on the date, but there’s core aspects: an altar with animal skulls and giant pentagrams, group meditations, remembrances of people who’ve passed, there’s some kind of reading, and of course, a recitation of the Dark Lord’s prayer, which several group members recite in unison (“Our father, who art in hell. Unhallowed be thy name.”)

I chuckle at the parody of a prayer I heard every Sunday growing up and realize that although SBA clearly isn’t a joke … they really like joking around. Several members collaborated on a comic book skewering reproductive rights hypocrisy and there’s plans to record an old timey Satanic radio play. They’re the type of people who’d be kicked out of youth group for asking questions both stupid and way too smart. They’ve given conventional religious doctrines a lot of thought and come to the conclusion that the dogma is ridiculous, but the stories and rituals still hold the power to bring people together.

“At the end of the mass, there’s a moment of recognition for everyone who’s come here and participated in what’s taken place,” says Walker. Harq al-Ada adds, “basically it’s like any religious ritual. It brings the community together and celebrates a purpose.”

The meeting nears an end, but I don’t feel like I’ve been at a cult meeting or dark séance. Maybe I’d think differently if I’d had blood smeared on my forehead at a Black Mass, but as bizarre as that act sounds, the ritual isn’t that different from Christians drinking sacramental wine during communion to symbolize the blood of Christ.

Overall these Satanists seemed relatively wholesome, and as I listened to them talk about decorating cookies and donating toys, I almost forgot where I was … until at eight o’clock when Walker rang a bell to close the meeting and the group loudly joined their voices together in unison, filling the coffee shop with a single chant of “Hail Satan.”

Dec 23, 2019

Baba Ram Dass, Proponent of LSD and New Age Enlightenment, Dies at 88

Born Richard Alpert, he returned from a trip to India as a bushy-bearded, barefoot, white-robed guru and wrote more than a dozen inspirational books.

Douglas Martin
New York Times
December 23, 2019

Baba Ram Dass, who epitomized the 1960s of legend by popularizing psychedelic drugs with Timothy Leary, a fellow Harvard academic, before finding spiritual inspiration in India, died on Sunday at his home on Maui. He was 88.

The death of Ram Dass, who was born Richard Alpert, was announced on his official Instagram account.

Having returned from India as a bushy-bearded, barefoot, white-robed guru, Ram Dass became a peripatetic lecturer on New Age possibilities and a popular author of more than a dozen inspirational books.

The first of his books, “Be Here Now” (1971), sold more than two million copies, and established him as an exuberant exponent of finding salvation through helping others.

He started a foundation to combat blindness in India and Nepal, supported reforestation in Latin America, and developed health education programs for American Indians in South Dakota.

He was particularly interested in the dying. He started a foundation to help people use death as a journey of spiritual awakening and spoke of establishing a self-help line, “Dial-a-Death,” for this purpose.

When Mr. Leary was dying in 1996 — and wishing to do it “actively and creatively,” as he put it — he called for Ram Dass. Over the years, Ram Dass had alternately been Mr. Leary’s disciple, enemy and, at the end, friend. In a film clip of the two men preparing for Mr. Leary’s death, Ram Dass turns to Leary, hugs him and says, “It’s been a hell of a dance, hasn’t it?”

A year later, Ram Dass suffered a cerebral hemorrhage that left him partly paralyzed, unable to speak and needing a wheelchair. From his home in Maui, Hawaii, he learned to “surf the silence” at first, he said, but over time and painstakingly he reacquired a halting form of speech and was able to lecture on the internet and make tapes.

Richard Alpert was born in Boston on April 6, 1931. His father, George, a lawyer, was a founder of Brandeis University and president of the New Haven Railroad. Richard had a bar mitzvah, but said he had no religious convictions as a youth.

A “spit and polish” son of a corporate executive, as he described himself, he graduated from Tufts University as a psychology major in 1952 and studied for a master’s degree in the subject at Wesleyan, only to flunk the oral exam.

Nevertheless, Mr. Alpert, as he was known then, was accepted as a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford and earned his doctorate, staying on afterward to teach. That was followed by twin appointments, in psychology and education, at Harvard.

He was soon riding high, with an apartment full of exquisite antiques, a Mercedes sedan, an MG spots car, a Triumph motorcycle and his own Cessna airplane.

It was at Harvard where he crossed paths with Mr. Leary, who was lecturing there in clinical psychology. They became drinking buddies. Mr. Alpert admired Mr. Leary’s iconoclasm, telling Tufts University Magazine in 2006 that Mr. Leary was “the only person on the faculty who wasn’t impressed with Harvard.”

Mr. Leary, while working at the University of California, Berkeley, had done research on psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in some species of mushrooms, and he continued the work at Harvard. Psychiatrists were interested in mind-altering drugs as clinical aids because they mimicked schizophrenia, but Mr. Leary wanted to see if they could be beneficial.

He invited some friends — including Mr. Alpert and the poet Allen Ginsberg — to his house in Newton, Mass., on Saturday, March 5, 1961. In his kitchen, he distributed 10-milligram doses of psilocybin.

After taking his, Mr. Alpert recalled, he felt supreme calm, then panic, then exaltation. He believed he had met his own soul. “It was O.K. to be me,” he said he had realized.

The Harvard work led to many articles in newspapers and magazines, but it also provoked criticism. A Harvard dean suggested that psilocybin, LSD and other psychedelic chemicals could cause mental illness.

In May 1963, both Mr. Leary and Mr. Alpert were fired — Mr. Alpert for giving drugs to an undergraduate, and Mr. Leary for abandoning his classes.

In the fall of 1963, after visiting Mexico to sample psychedelic mushrooms, the two men and a group of followers moved to Millbrook, N.Y., finding quarters in a 64-room mansion on a 2,500-acre estate provided by Peggy Hitchcock, an heiress to the Mellon fortune.

Residents took lots of LSD, which did not become illegal for recreational use until 1968. Don Lattin, in his book “The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America” (2010), called the commune “a Disneyland of the Psychedelic Sixties.”

But Mr. Alpert found that after coming down from a high, he was depressed. As his tolerance to LSD increased, the thrill had diminished. And as the drug experience deteriorated, tensions between Mr. Leary and Mr. Alpert rose. One issue was Mr. Alpert’s acknowledged bisexuality.

Mr. Leary accused Mr. Alpert of trying to seduce his 15-year-old son, Jack, whom Mr. Alpert often took care of while Mr. Leary, a single parent, traveled.

“Uncle Dick is evil,” Mr. Leary told Jack, according to Mr. Lattin’s book.

“Oh, come on, Dad,” Jack replied. “Uncle Dick may be a jerk, but he’s not evil.”

Mr. Alpert went to India in 1967 more as a tourist than as a pilgrim. Events led him to a twinkly, old man wrapped in a blanket: Neem Karoli Baba, who was called Maharajji, or great king, by his followers. Maharajji appeared to read Mr. Alpert’s mind by telling him that his mother had recently died of spleen disease — information he had told no one in India, he said.

The experience sparked a spiritual upheaval in Mr. Alpert, who forever after considered Maharajji his guru. It was Maharajji who gave Mr. Alpert the name Ram Dass, or servant of God, and added the prefix, Baba, a term of respect meaning father.

Ram Dass gave Maharajji some LSD, but it had no effect. Ram Dass surmised that the guru’s consciousness had already been so awakened that drugs were powerless to alter it.

In 1968, Maharajji told Ram Dass to return to the United States. When he got off the plane in Boston — barefoot, robed and bearded — his father, he said, told him to get in the car quick “before anyone sees you.” He moved into a cabin on his father’s estate in New Hampshire. Soon, as many as 200 people were showing up to chant with him.

Ram Dass hit the lecture circuit, his presentation a mix of pithy wisdom and humor, often joined in the same sentence. “Treat everyone you meet like God in drag,” he said in one talk.

Wavy Gravy, the eccentric poet and peace activist, once said, “Ram Dass was the master of the one-liner, the two-liner, the ocean-liner.”

Ram Dass’s biggest public success came in 1971, when the Lama Foundation published “Be Here Now,” originally issuing it as loose pages in a box. It has had more than three dozen printings, with total sales exceeding two million.

Here, in its entirety, is Page 2: “Consciousness = energy = love = awareness = light = wisdom = beauty = truth = purity. It’s all the SAME. Any trip you want to take leads to the SAME place.”

By the 1980s, Ram Dass had a change of mind and image. He shaved off the beard but left a neatly trimmed mustache. He tried to drop his Indian name — he no longer wanted to be a cult figure — but his publisher vetoed the idea. He said that he had never intended to be a guru and that Harvard had been right to throw him out.

He continued to turn out books and recordings, however. He started or helped to start foundations to promote his charities, several to help prisoners, and to spread his message of spiritual equanimity. He made sure his books and tapes were reasonably priced.

The old orthodoxies slipped away. He said he realized that his 400 LSD trips had not been nearly as enlightening as his drugless spiritual epiphanies — although, he said, he continued to take one or two drug trips a year for old time’s sake. He said other religions, including the Judaism that he had rejected as a young man, were as valid as Eastern religions.

In a 1997 interview with the website “Gay Today,” Ram Dass said he had always been primarily homosexual, despite earlier statements that he was bisexual. “I always had a front to go to faculty dinners and things like that,” he said. He said he had had thousands of clandestine homosexual encounters.

In 2010, he received a letter from a man, a stranger, saying that Ram Dass might be the father of the man’s brother. DNA tests proved that Peter Reichard, a 53-year-old banker in North Carolina, was indeed Ram Dass’s son, the offspring of a liaison with a Stanford graduate student.

Marcial Maciel: Mexican founder Legionaries of Christ 'abused 60 minors'

Marcial Maciel, pictured in 2005, founded the Legionaries of Christ in 1941
BBC News
December 22, 2019

At least 60 children were abused by Marcial Maciel, founder of the ultra-conservative Catholic order Legionaries of Christ, an investigation has found.

The report, published by the Roman Catholic group, said 33 priests in the order abused at least 175 minors since it was founded in 1941.

In 2006, Maciel was ordered to retire to a life of penitence after years of allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

He died two years later at the age of 87 without facing his accusers.

"There are probably more cases of abuse than those in the report and the statistics will have to be updated regularly," the report said.

It added that a process of "reparation and reconciliation" had begun with 45 of the victims.
What happened to the accused priests?

According to the report, six of the 33 accused priests died without being tried, one was convicted, and one is currently awaiting trial - and has "already [been] removed from clerical status".

Another 18 are still part of the organisation, but they have been removed from tasks where they interact with the public or with children.

The report added that 14 of the 33 priests were also victims themselves, which it said highlighted the "chains of abuse", where "a victim of a Legionnaire, over time, becomes in turn an aggressor".

Several men publicly accused Maciel before his death of sexually assaulting them while they were in a seminary from the 1940s to the 1960s.

At the time he fiercely denied it, saying in 2002: "I never engaged in the sort of repulsive behaviour these men accuse me of."

2004 - after the initial allegations had been made

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI ordered him to retire as head of the Legionaries of Christ over the allegations, which had been ignored by his predecessor Pope John Paul II when they first emerged.

After Maciel's death in 2008, it was discovered that he had also fathered several children.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis declared that the rule of pontifical secrecy would no longer apply to the sexual abuse of minors.

The Church previously shrouded sexual abuse cases in secrecy, in what it said was an effort to protect the privacy of victims and reputations of the accused.

Restrictions have now been lifted on those who report abuse or say they have been victims.

The measure is designed to improve transparency and the ability of the police and other civil legal authorities to request information from the Church.

How Scientology is playing in a critical Clearwater election

The orange-topped Fort Harrison Hotel, left, and the Flag Building across the street are the Church of Scientology's signature buildings in Clearwater. But, as the city moves forward on a $64 million plan to remake the downtown waterfront, a recent buying spree of downtown properties by companies tied to Scientology is raising questions about the church's intentions. [Times (2006)]
Candidates say the church’s influence is a top concern for many voters. But most campaigns are steering clear of the subject.

Tracey McManus
Tampa Bay Times
December 23, 2019

Published 2 hours ago City Council candidates knock on doors and shake hands at events ahead of the March 17 election, voters are pushing them to confront an issue rarely discussed in public.

“Eight out of 10 times the word Scientology comes up and is frequently the first question asked,” said Seat 2 candidate Michael Mannino. “What are you going to do about Scientology?”

Forty-four years after the Church of Scientology established its international spiritual headquarters downtown, its profile is more prominent in this election than any other in recent years.

An activist who spent years speaking against what he calls Scientology fraud and abuse is running for a council seat. A candidate for mayor has family on church staff. And the church is staying silent about its intentions after revelations that companies tied to Scientology have been buying up dozens of downtown retail properties over the last three years.

But ideas on how to address Scientology’s growing stronghold in downtown are still absent from most of the 13 candidates’ public platforms, websites and flyers. Instead, the topic surfaces the way it has for years — in private conversations, with code words and generalities, and in public only at the prompting of a few.

Scientology’s documented history of using smear campaigns and private investigators against critics has made residents and elected officials loathe to say the “S word” publicly, even as they ruminate privately about the church’s presence.

This year, there are signs that might be changing.

“Everybody is afraid. The tactics of Scientology, everything you say and do can be used against you,” said resident Jason Strotheide. “The misunderstanding is if we play nice with them, they are going to play nice with us. That’s not the way it works. I think it’s time for our city leaders to say this is actually a problem and what are we going to do about it.”

Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw did not respond to questions for this story or to a request to interview Scientology leader David Miscavige.

• • •

The meeting at the Main Library on Dec. 3 was the public’s chance to see new renderings of Imagine Clearwater, the $64 million plan to convert the city-owned downtown waterfront into a vibrant park. Assistant City Manager Michael Delk fielded a few questions about parking and noise.

Then business owner Mike Riordon raised a topic that has been largely absent from public discussions on the project going back to 2016.

“I think we’re throwing (away) money and we’re helping the Church of Scientology further their invasion, which has never stopped," Riordon said. "It’s an ongoing thing, it’s never going to stop as long as they can get away with it. So I’m wondering. People running for mayor, council: Why are we doing this?”

In October, the Tampa Bay Times reported that companies tied to Scientology had purchased nearly 100 properties within walking distance of the waterfront since 2017. The church and companies run by parishioners now own most of the retail property within the same boundaries the city hoped would sprout new businesses near a renewed park.

Mark Bunker, the longtime Scientology critic running for council Seat 2, followed Riordon’s concern. “Until we know what Scientology plans to do with their properties, it’s hard to see us sinking $64 million into this when it’s a big gamble,” Bunker said.

A tense exchange followed.

“Let’s keep this to things about the park,” a man in the audience called over Bunker, with several others backing him up.

“How do we go forward without knowing what Scientology is going to do to possibly sabotage it?” Bunker continued.

City Manager Bill Horne then urged Bunker to direct his Scientology questions to elected officials, not city staff who were there to talk about the park’s design.

“Tonight that’s not the topic," Horne said. "Tonight is the park, so don’t expect (Delk) to answer questions that are not appropriate for tonight’s session.”

• • •

At a forum organized by residents on Dec. 7, the first of the election season, candidates had three minutes each to lay out their platforms.

Of the four running for mayor, five for Seat 2 and four for Seat 3, only Bunker brought up Scientology. He described the church as “a bully” that needed to be confronted.

The remaining 12 candidates addressed Scientology only when asked by Aaron Smith-Levin, a former Scientologist now volunteering for Bunker’s campaign.

Even then, some avoided the topic.

“Downtown is important for the city, but it’s not the only part of the city,” said Scott Thomas, a human resources manager running for Seat 3.

Bruce Rector, an attorney running for Seat 2, made an analogy. Sometimes, he said, media coverage of an approaching hurricane ends up doing more damage to local tourism than the storm itself.

• • •

No candidate besides Bunker has addressed Scientology in campaign literature.

But Frank Hibbard, who served as mayor from 2004 to 2012 and is running again for the post, is asking for feedback.

In a survey Hibbard mailed to 22,000 residents and pushed on social media, two of the 25 questions ask residents for their views on the church and downtown. Hibbard said Scientology is by far the top issue brought up by voters this campaign. It wasn’t that way during his runs for mayor in 2004 and 2008.

He has publicly said he will hold Scientology accountable as a corporate entity. But he did not include that in his campaign website or flyers. Hibbard said that’s because, with the heightened concern about Scientology, he wants to keep some of the conversation on issues like the budget, solid waste costs and keeping talented employees.

“Scientology discussions will take care of themselves,” he said. “You can’t escape that discussion.”

In a four-question survey from the Times about Scientology, candidates varied on how they would approach the secretive church.

Asked whether anything should be done to address the stagnation of at least 26 vacant lots and 31 empty storefronts owned by companies tied to Scientology, mayoral candidate Elizabeth Drayer and Seat 2 candidates Mark Bunker and Michael Mannino suggested levying fines. Mayoral candidate Bill Jonson said it would be helpful if property owners communicated their plans, but “such conversations are not required by law or ordinance.”

Asked how they view Scientology, Drayer said, “Felonies committed by Scientologists or anyone else should be prosecuted, including conspiracy, fraud, stalking, harassment and human trafficking.” Seat 2 candidate Lina Teixeira called the church “a large and well-financed institution that should bear its share of responsibility to revitalize all of Clearwater.”

Seat 3 candidate Bud Elias said “we shouldn’t just let the church go unabated in changing the entire downtown footprint without safeguards.”

All candidates responded to the survey except mayoral candidate Morton Myers.

Myers is a business owner who said he is running for mayor to prevent three city-owned waterfront properties from being sold or leased to developers for Imagine Clearwater. But his background brings an unprecedented element to the race.

While he said he is not a member of the church, he was raised by dedicated Scientologists. Today his father and two brothers are in the Sea Org, the church’s military-style workforce.

“I don’t find myself as an ally," he said in a recent interview, “but I don’t think I’d be looked at as an enemy.”

• • •

Political discussions in Clearwater did not always avoid Scientology.

In 1977, two years after the church bought the Fort Harrison Hotel as its base, the FBI raided Scientology’s Washington D.C. and Los Angeles offices. Among the documents seized, federal agents found internal memos outlining years of efforts by Scientology to infiltrate Clearwater government and civic offices and smear enemies.

Then-mayor Gabe Cazares had raised the alarm from Scientology’s first days in the city. He stated in 1979 that “Clearwater is the first city to be occupied ... by a master plan by a destructive cult.”

During the campaign in 1980, then-City Commissioner Richard Tenney and a challenger for his seat proposed using eminent domain to reclaim the Fort Harrison from Scientology.

In those early years, the public had a quizzical fear of an entity they didn’t much understand, said Denis deVlaming, a Clearwater lawyer who has represented clients in litigation against the church. But decades of watching “how ruthless Scientology can be as far as investigating their critics" created a reluctance to speak out, he said.

Recent events could be changing that, he said, if not with the candidates, then for many voters.

"The public are throwing their hands up asking, and it’s causing some to be very ill-eased because you can’t show prejudice,” deVlaming said. “But in the back of their minds, they know the public is just afraid of losing their town and they want somebody that’s going to fight for their town.”


Pinellas County Commission, Scientology and Clearwater Reporter

Dec 15, 2019

40th Anniversary SPECIAL Early Bird Registration Fee ICSA International Conference Montréal 2020.

​"​In celebration of the 40th anniversaries of ICSA (founded in 1979) and Info-Cult (founded in 1980), the conference committee is offering a special early bird registration rate of $125 USD per person ($65 for full-time students) to the first 80 people (40 + 40 years!) who register.

This offer expires December 31, 2019. This rate is open to nonmembers and members.​"​

Who are Black Hebrew Israelites?

Jack Jenkins
Religion News Service
December 13, 2019

(RNS) — On Tuesday (Dec. 10), two individuals opened fire on a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey. The violent attack — which occurred shortly after the assailants allegedly killed a police officer in a nearby cemetery — ultimately left three bystanders dead and three people wounded, including two police officers.

Law enforcement authorities later announced they are treating the incident as a case of domestic terrorism and said the suspects — both of whom were killed in a shootout with police — were “fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs.”

Officials also noted that one of the suspects had posted anti-Semitic comments online and had ties with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, a category that includes organizations labeled as hate groups and members who have voiced beliefs widely seen as anti-Semitic.

But just who are the Black Hebrew Israelites, and where did they come from?

According to Judith Weisenfeld, religion professor at Princeton University, the short answer is: It depends.

“There’s no such thing as ‘the’ Black Hebrew Israelites,” Weisenfeld, author of New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity During the Great Migration, told Religion News Service. “There are lots of different theological and political orientations within that broader umbrella.”

The movement, which typically does not associate itself with mainstream Judaism, has a long history in the U.S. and has exhibited a variety of permutations. At the most basic level, members are loosely bound together by a common claim that they are affiliated with the Twelve Tribes of Israel mentioned in the Bible.

But within that community, there is much diversity. Weisenfeld pointed to at least two different strains of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement that have evolved over time. The first developed during a period that stretched from the late 19th century and into the 1920s, when a group of black worshippers emerged who believed that slavery and bondage had “forced a Christian and Negro identity on them” that was false.

“They were saying that ‘the Negro’ is a product of enslavement and an invention of white people, and Christianity is not ours,” she said. “So some people in this period turn to the Bible and say, ‘There it is: we were actually of the lost tribes (of Israel).’”

These groups tended to reject racial categories ascribed to them in the United States. Some wrote in alternative racial identities — including “Hebrew” — on draft cards during World War II.

Communities associated with this iteration of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement — or at least connected to it — still exist, including Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago, Illinois. That congregation is led by Rabbi Capers Funnye, who is Michelle Obama’s cousin and has been called “Obama’s Rabbi.” A prominent figure in the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, the Forward once touted him as someone who could potentially move the movement “closer to the center of mainstream Jewish life.”

Jacob Dorman, professor at University of Nevada, Reno, and author of "Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions,” argues for even further nuance, insisting this wing of the movement can be delineated into two separate “waves.” But both he and Weisenfeld agree that a new iteration emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.

“(These groups) rejected the term ‘Jew’ and emphasized the illegitimacy of white Jews as part of a style that was militant, black nationalist, macho, and patriarchal, frequently focused (on) emigration, whether to rural communities in the South, or, in one case, to Liberia and then Dimona, Israel,” Dorman told RNS in an email.

He added that these groups are often characterized by a preference for “confrontational” street preaching and have produced “messianic leaders and, on occasion, criminal conspiracies.”

The beliefs and practices have caused divisions within the broader Black Hebrew Israelite community.

“The older groups tend to disagree with both the content and the style of the newer groups,” Dorman said. “There is also fighting and factionalism amongst third wave Israelite groups. These movements are very schismatic.”

Funnye told RNS in January that he objects to some of these groups even using the term Hebrew Israelites and criticized some of their street preaching practices.

“I can assure you that we have nothing to do with this group whatsoever, in any way, shape, form or fashion,” he said at the time.

This more recent wave has also caught the eye of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. The SPLC has labeled 144 Black Hebrew Israelite organizations — but by no means all — as hate groups on its website. It cites evidence of what experts call “a rising extremist sector within the movement” due to the “antisemitic and racist beliefs” of some Black Hebrew Israelite groups.

Dorman argued for a nuanced understanding of the groups, saying SPLC’s approach is “highly problematic from a scholarly perspective, as it takes public statements at face value.”

Even so, Black Hebrew Israelites have drawn national attention in recent years for wading into national political discourse. A group affiliated with the movement was seen hurling insults at a group of Covington Catholic students in January 2019 for wearing hats emblazoned with President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Meanwhile, Michael Symonette, a man often seen at Trump rallies waving a “Blacks for Trump” sign, is reportedly also connected to the movement, according to The Forward. His own views appear to deviate from any of the main Black Hebrew Israelite strains: He sees Ashkenazi Jews as “blessed people,” Sephardic Jews as “false Jews” who “hate the blessed people,” and Black and white people as the “real Hebrews.”

The exact nature of the connection between the Jersey City gunman and the Black Hebrew Israelites remains unclear, although the SPLC noted that “anti-law enforcement sentiment is not a core tenet of the Black Hebrew Israelite ideology.”

Dec 12, 2019

Philly-area Black Hebrew Israelites leader speaks out about Jersey City Shooting

Here’s what they had to say about the attack on Jersey City kosher supermarket.

Becca Glasser-Baker
December 12, 2019

Earlier this week, there was a deadly attack on a Jersey City kosher supermarket. Multiple outlets have reported that one of the two assailants involved in shooting appeared to be linked to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.

The New York Times reported that David N. Anderson, 47, was allegedly involved in a Black Hebrew Israelite movement. It is not clear what his involvement and status was within the group.

It is also not clear if the other assailant Francine Graham, 50, was also involved.

CNN reported that followers of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement are black people who believe they are true descendants of the biblical Jews.

The Black Hebrew Israelite movement is labeled a hate group and has a strong presence in the Philly area. It was reported that they have been active in Philly for over three decades. interviewed the leader of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, Yahanna. There are a sect of the movement and condemned the shooting. It was reported that the organization’s chapters in Philly and elsewhere are nonviolent, despite their rhetoric.

Commanding General Yahanna of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, spoke to about the incident. He told them that he does not know Anderson. Yahanna’s real name is John Lightbourne, and he claimed that if Anderson was affiliated with the group, he would have “learned the opposite” of violence.

Yahanna added, “They just assume we’re going to be street thugs and criminals. We pull brothers out of prison and off the street and turn their lives around, have them open a Bible.” He believes his movement is a scapegoat and, “Hebrew Israelites are the most unviolent people out of the entire black community... They don’t go to jail, don’t sell drugs, they don’t go out shooting people. ... We are totally against that kind of activity. It doesn’t help us one bit to go out and shoot somebody.”

It was reported that Yahanna’s group is not connected to mainstream Judaism.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal did not confirm Anderson’s link to the group and told outlets that the situation is still under investigation.

This is not the first time that the group has been under fire. Earlier this year, Black Hebrew Israelites went viral after a video of high school student, Nick Sandmann, mocking a Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, surfaced.

A longer version of the video showed the Black Hebrew Israelites using profanity and mocking a group of teens; although the teens did also seem to be taunting the group.

Dec 7, 2019

Followers of sex convict rabbi Berland held on graft suspicions

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

Times of Israel
December 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBC Radio
December 04, 2019


Read Story Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Current

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CultNEWS101 Articles: 12/7-8/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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