Jul 17, 2021

CultNEWS101 Articles: 7/17-18/2021 (House of Yahweh, Reflections Academy, Troubled Teen Industry, Legal, RA MA Yoga, Biblical Inerrancy, NXIVM)

House of Yahweh, Reflections Academy, Troubled Teen Industry, Legal, RA MA Yoga, Biblical Inerrancy, NXIVM
Leaving The Lies: Speaking Your Truth: Interview with the lovely Amber Chaffin Devine
"Our interview with the lovely Amber Chaffin Devine. Amber shares her story of coming to the House of Yahweh as a young girl. She grew up in a cult where division & submission are the norm. She has struggled to find her voice. We feel honored & blessed to help provide a platform where she feels comfortable enough to speak her truth & share her experiences , good & bad."

Independent Record: State investigating girl's death at therapeutic boarding school
"State officials are investigating the June 25 apparent suicide of a 17-year-old girl at a therapeutic boarding school in northwest Montana.

The girl was found hanging by staff, according to her death certificate. She died at Reflections Academy, a 24-bed therapeutic boarding school for troubled teenage girls aged 13-18 outside Thompson Falls. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which oversees the troubled teen industry in Montana, confirmed in a June 30 email the department is investigating the death.

Meanwhile, recent filings in a civil case against the program alleging sexual assault by staff suggest a criminal investigation may also be underway at Reflections Academy.

The troubled teen industry in Montana has gone through multiple regulatory overhauls in the last two decades, often brought on by a death at a program. The 10 licensed programs are all clustered in northwest Montana, and largely cater to parents who are typically desperate to find effective treatment for children with difficult behavioral health issues after school therapists and private options have all been exhausted. Although the programs are working with an at-risk population, suicides have been rare since Montana established some regulation over the industry 14 years ago."

Vice: Inside the Dubious World of RA MA Yoga, and Its Girl Boss Guru to the Stars
"By leveraging the power of social media and her Hollywood connections, Jagat quickly ascended the ranks of the wellness world, and transformed hype for a fringe yoga practice into a small empire. In addition to hosting numerous workshops and retreats around the world, she launched RA MA TV, a digital library of Kundalini videos, which allowed anyone to virtually attend her classes for just $18 a month. She opened studios in Boulder (now closed), New York and Mallorca, started a label called RA MA Records and a podcast called Reality Riffing, and launched two clothing lines. The RA MA umbrella also includes a business school, non-profit foundation and a feminist group called the Aquarian Women's Leadership Society. According to a pitch deck created by RA MA staff in December of 2019, RA MA claimed to have 150,000 social media followers, 50,000 email subscribers and 500,000 podcast streams. That year, they offered 300 events, four retreats, and a festival.

But in the past year and a half, Jagat's reputation has rapidly transformed. The spiritual leader has been accused by ex-employees and devotees of spiritual abuse, workplace harassment and mismanagement of funds. Most of these grievances were first made public by an Instagram account called @ramawrong; the account's founder told VICE they created it in July of 2020 to provide a safe space for Jagat's alleged victims to share their stories and connect with one another.

VICE spoke with 15 sources who have since left the RA MA community who feel that RA MA is cult, arguing that, for those most devoted, it facilitates a culture of extreme devotion, where practitioners are constantly encouraged to donate increasing amounts of time, energy, labor, and money to the community. Sources allege they were indoctrinated with a sense of spiritual superiority and an "us vs. them" mentality, which created an echo chamber effect that further radicalized and insulated followers. They say that RA MA is operated not only by Jagat, but also by her spiritual teacher and employee, Harijiwan, a convicted felon who spent 18 months in federal prison in 2000 for his involvement in one of Yogi Bhajan's telemarketing schemes. They claim that Jagat regularly consults Harijiwan before making any business decisions and that he holds an elevated position in the company, despite taking a less public role. "When Harijiwan was released from prison, he was a convicted felon in his 40s with no education or work experience. All he had were the lessons he learned as a scammer in Yogi Bhajan's cult," said Rony Corcos, who worked as a videographer for RA MA from 2018 to 2020. According to Corcos, Guru Jagat was the ideal partner in RA MA, as she could act as "the 'modern' face of it. She was perfect because she was young, white, blonde, seemingly secular, and lip syncs to rap videos online."

VICE sent various interview and comment requests to Harijiwan, as well as a list of allegations that appear in this story; he did not respond. When VICE reached out to Jagat for an interview, a member of her staff specifically asked if the piece would be "friendly." After that, Jagat and her team stopped responding to all emails and texts, including a request for comment on a list of allegations in this piece.

@Ramawrong's account founder, who requested anonymity for fear of being doxxed, stalked, and harassed, said that Jagat has gotten away with questionable practices for so long in part due to her fashionable, white feminist facade and withstanding celebrity endorsements—but also because RA MA's transgressions are so multitudinous. "With cults like Nexium, you have one big thing that people can point to, like branding people, and say 'that's wrong,'" they said. "Here, you have all of these little things. That's their superpower."  

In the meantime, Jagat has taken to attacking Yogi Bhajan's alleged rape victims on social media, and has also become increasingly vocal about her controversial belief systems, hosting talks with notorious conspiracy theorists on her podcast, like the holocaust and AIDS denier David Icke, and the Trump loving, QAnon promoter Kerry Cassidy. Jagat has also pivoted towards right-wing audiences by releasing a conspiracy theory themed music video, selling clothing emblazoned with the mantra "cancel cancel culture," and sharing numerous posts which fixate on how little she cares about her "haters, trolls and critics." In her broadcasted conversation with Icke—in which he spouts transphobic rhetoric, claims the Coronavirus is a hoax, the vaccine is a bioweapon, that "racism is ridiculous," and that "identity politics is the work of the cult"—Jagat states her own position, saying: "This spiritual or wellness scene as it stands has been hijacked by the woke agenda."

But according to sources, Jagat is one of many leaders in the yoga world who have manipulated and exploited the minds of their loyal followers under the guise of improving "wellness" and facilitating "healing." Eight women told VICE they discovered Jagat's teachings during a moment of transition, uncertainty, or vulnerability in their lives, when they were attempting to recover from trauma, improve their mental health, or make sense of the world. Sources described feeling disarmed by Jagat's feminist discourse and fashionable social media persona, which they claim she uses to mask her mal-intent. They say Jagat has used her position of influence to indoctrinate audiences with harmful ideologies that advance her own agenda, and that her recent turn to facilitating the spread of right-wing propaganda could even have potentially violent consequences.

Before adopting her spiritual name, which means "bringer of light to the universe" in Sanskrit, Guru Jagat was Katie Griggs, a woman born in Fort Collins, Colorado and raised in the D.C. suburbs, who always dreamt of becoming a rock star. "She always wanted to be famous," said Corcos. "And the spiritual world is a great place for people who want to be adored, but didn't 'make it' elsewhere."

]After a bout of time in the Osho cult and brief but intense Ashtanga phase, Griggs eventually found fame in the subculture of Kundalini. Soon after discovering the practice in 2000, she began teaching. In the press and in her classes, she represented herself as an "heir" to Yogi Bhajan and suggested that she moved to Los Angeles and started teaching at Yoga West at his urging. "She spoke about how Yogi Bhajan was her mentor and told her she needed to become an equivalent teacher," said Jaclyn Gelb, a certified Kundalini instructor and previous devotee of Griggs, who stopped practicing in 2020. But in a Business of Fashion article published in January of this year, Griggs renounced her origin story, claiming she and Bhajan never met. "I was under the false pretense that she was summoned by the master," Gelb said.

The legacy of the Kundalini master Yogi Bhajan has been fraught with controversy for decades. Before his death in 2004, Bhajan founded the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation, which includes Yogi Tea (Bhajan's portrait is on every box), Akal Security (a private security firm which has earned over $1 billion in federal contracts since its formation in 1980), and 3HO (his own religious community called the Happy Healthy Holy Organization). But he also oversaw numerous criminal operations, and fabricated Kundalini's "ancient" lineage. In January of 2020, Bhajan's legacy was fully shattered by a posthumous Me Too moment, spawned by the publication of Pamela Dyson's memoir, Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage, in which she accuses Bhajan of rape, battery, and imprisonment.

Griggs, who markets herself as an intersectional feminist, sparked outrage by coming to Bhajan's defense. On February 22 of that year, she Instagrammed a clip from a 55 minute propaganda film narrated by Harijiwan, and directed by his wife, Mandev, that attacks Dyson. Over the next six months, dozens more allegations against Bhajan came to the fore in a private Facebook group called Beyond the Cage, where he was accused of a laundry list of abuses that include rape and child abuse. To investigate the allegations, 3HO hired An Olive Branch, an organization that specializes in helping spiritual communities respond to ethical misconduct. In August of 2020, they released a 72 page report that concluded the abuse "more likely than not" occurred."

" ... I first encountered the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as an undergraduate at Biola University. The evangelical school's faith statement affirms that "the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts."

Now, as a New Testament scholar teaching courses at a university in the Bible Belt, I frequently interact with students familiar with – if not committed to – the doctrine of inerrancy.

Why the doctrine of inerrancy matters

The Bible itself does not claim to be inerrant. Perhaps the closest the Bible comes to claiming to be without error is in a New Testament letter known as 2 Timothy 3:16. In this letter, the apostle Paul states that "all scripture is inspired and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." In other words, the Bible is God's authoritative instruction for the church.

Biblical scholars are quick to point out that "all scripture" here does not likely refer to both the Old and New Testaments, and that the apostle Paul likely did not even write 2 Timothy. This verse, however, remains central to those who see the Bible as without error.

The doctrine of inerrancy is more post-biblical, even modern. And it has been particularly influential among U.S. evangelicals, who often appeal to the doctrine of inerrancy in arguments against gender equality, social justice, critical race theory and other causes thought to violate God's infallible word.

The doctrine of inerrancy took shape during the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. A statement crafted in 1978 by hundreds of evangelical leaders remains its fullest articulation. Known as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the statement was a response to emerging "liberal" or nonliteral interpretations of the Bible. According to the statement, the Bible speaks with "infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches."

In short, the Bible is the final authority.

As Southern Baptists and other American evangelicals attempt to articulate biblical positions on issues such as social justice, abortion, gender and sexuality, one thing remains certain: Even a Bible thought to be without errors still has to be interpreted."

Even from federal prison, Clare Bronfman is still footing the legal bill for NXIVM leader Keith Raniere.

A new filing in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn revealed that the deep-pocketed Seagrams' liquor fortune heiress and longtime NXIVM operations director was paying for Raniere's newest attorneys, Marc Fernich and Jeffrey H. Lichtman. Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York asked Raniere to waive a potential conflict in bringing the lawyers on board.

"The government has been advised that the legal fees for Mr. Lichtman and Mr. Fernich, who represent Raniere in connection with proceedings related to restitution before the court as well as his pending appeal, are being paid by the defendant Clare Bronfman," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar said in a memo to Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis dated Monday.

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