Nov 24, 2021

CultNEWS101 Articles: 11/24/2021 (Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church, Sex Trafficking, Philippines, Conservatorship)

Kingdom of Jesus Christ Church, Sex Trafficking, Philippines, Conservatorship

SFGate: Philippine church leader charged with child sex trafficking
"The leader of a Philippines-based church was charged with having sex with women and underage girls who faced threats of abuse and "eternal damnation" unless they catered to the self-proclaimed "son of God," federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Apollo Carreon Quiboloy and two of his top administrators are among nine people named in a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury last week and unsealed Thursday. The indictment includes three Los Angeles-based administrators of Quiboloy's church who were charged last year. The new indictment also names a church administrator in Hawaii.

Quiboloy, 71, is head of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ church, founded in 1985. The church claims to have 6 million members in about 200 countries. Its United States headquarters is in the Van Nuys area of Los Angeles.

The church backed the 2016 candidacy of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a close friend of Quiboloy. Duterte used the group's radio and TV program in southern Davao city to express his views on issues way back when he was mayor of the southern port city."

Asian Journal: What Will Happen To Televangelist Apollo Quiboloy's Media Empire? Duterte's Friend And Spiritual Adviser Indicted In The US For Sex Trafficking
"'PASTOR' Apollo Quiboloy, founder and chairman of the mega-church "Kingdom of Jesus Christ" in the Philippines, made headlines again globally on Thursday, November 18, not just because of his outrageous claims about his identity and how he "brands" himself to millions of Filipinos who follow him, but because he has again been implicated in serious crimes.

This time, the man who claimed himself to be the "Owner of the Universe" and "Appointed Son of God," was indicted for a sex trafficking operation that was supported by funds solicited by donors here in the United States.

An indictment is an official accusation stating that a person is being charged with a crime and that a criminal trial will be held. An indictment is the final step in the evidence-gathering process before a person is out on trial for a serious crime.

Quiboloy, a long-time friend and the spiritual adviser of President Rodrigo Duterte, has millions of Filipino followers because of the privilege accorded to him and his media empire. Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), also known by its legal operating name Swara Sug Media Corporation, is the official broadcasting arm of The Kingdom of Jesus Christ mega-church. Duterte granted Swara Sug Media Corporation 25 years extension to operate when he signed the Republic Act. 11422 in 2019."

" ... The point of the cult was to break the girls' wills and to eradicate our identities so that we'd become compliant zombies and do whatever we were told. Cults are about power and control, and much is the same in a conservatorship, such as Britney's — the purpose is to abolish the selfhood of the conservatee, turning them into a puppet of the conservator.

In Britney's testimony, she claimed her dad controlled what she ate and whether she drank coffee. She also couldn't drive. In the cult, our diets were also controlled. The teenage girls were fed last, often only lentils and rice. For years, we weren't allowed to drink caffeine of any type, and surely not coffee. Just as Britney wasn't allowed bodily autonomy, having lithium pills forced down her throat, we also weren't in charge of our bodies."

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.




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The QAnon JFK Cult in Dallas Is Tearing Families Apart

"My sister may be too far gone, but it's not too late to bring awareness to others. Do not fall into this trap."

David Gilbert
November 22, 2021

Katy Garner and her sister grew up in a small town in Arkansas and were always close.

"We both were cheerleaders in school, made pretty good grades, and loved to just hang out with friends and each other. No one has a perfect childhood, but we had each other. We knew that. And that's what made us so close. We even have matching tattoos to remind each other of that," Garner told VICE News.

They both became nurses, and Garner's sister married a doctor and had three children.

Then, around the time of the 2020 presidential election, Garner's sister started looking at some of the conspiracy theories swirling online about how former President Donald Trump lost the vote. Ultimately she found QAnon.

"It took her about three months to become totally obsessed," Garner said. "That's all she would talk about. You could call her and somehow the conversation would turn into how we live in a world with reptilians and how the Clintons are evil baby-eaters."

Then she found Michael Brian Protzman, known to his followers as Negative48, who is the leader of a QAnon offshoot that's been camped out in Dallas for the last three weeks awaiting the return of John F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr.

Garner's sister left her family behind and drove to Dallas about a month ago and has cut off almost all communication with her family.

According to Garner, her sister has so far handed over about $200,000 to the group, and is being forced to drink a hydrogen peroxide solution and take "bio pellets" to ward off COVID-19 and stay healthy. Her phone calls and messages are also being monitored, according to Garner, who believes her sister will never return.

"She left her children for this and doesn't even care. She is missing birthdays and holidays for this. She truly believes this is all real and we are the crazy ones for trying to get her to come home. But she won't," Garner said. "I don't believe she will ever come back from this. We are in mourning."

Garner's sister was one of the hundreds of people who initially traveled to Dallas to see JFK reappear on Nov. 2. However, when that didn't happen, the goalposts shifted, and Protzman convinced dozens of people that if they waited long enough, something else would happen.

Katy says her sister's brief messages to her parents have gone from "be home in a few days" to "I am not coming home, my husband can take care of the kids. I am not leaving until this is over."

While the group initially appeared to be waiting for the reappearance of JFK, over the weekend, the tone of Protzman's comments shifted dramatically. Besides proclaiming that he was God's representative on earth, he also took part in a video chat where participants openly spoke about having to experience death in order to learn the truth.

"Ultimately... we have to experience that physical death... let go... come out on the other side," one of the participants in the video call suggested.

Hours later, the administrator of Protzman's Telegram channel posted a screenshot of a navigation app showing the destination as Waco, Texas, where in 1993 a monthslong law enforcement siege of the Mount Carmel compound belonging to the Branch Davidian religious sect ended with 76 people dead, including 25 children.

The QAnon offshoot cult that has been camped out in Dallas for three weeks has been widely mocked for claiming that John F. Kennedy and his son would suddenly reappear.

But as the weeks have passed, the group's rhetoric has become increasingly extreme, and many cult and extremism experts are concerned about the direction the group has taken.

"The moment when the leaders of a cultic group start talking about the need for physical death to reach utopia is the moment to get the authorities involved," Mike Rothschild, the author of The Storm Is Upon Us, a book about QAnon, tweeted.

Caroline Orr Bueno, a behavioral scientist who researches social media manipulation and far-right extremism, compared the shift in direction of the group's rhetoric to the beliefs expressed by accused murderer Matthew Coleman earlier this year.

"These are basically the exact same spiritual/religious teachings that the guy in California was getting into just before he brutally murdered his two young children," Orr tweeted.

Several extremist researchers who are closely tracking this group's activities told VICE News that they've sent information to the FBI. The agency's Dallas field office didn't immediately respond to VICE News' request for comment about whether they are investigating or monitoring the group.

A spokesperson for the Dallas Police Department told VICE News that "the department has limited contact with the group. At this time there is no significant reason this group should be a cause of concern."

When contacted by VICE News on Sunday, Protzman did not deny the allegations about the threat his group posed to its members. But rather than responding directly to the specific questions sent to him, he lashed out at the media's coverage of his group, mocked mask-wearing, and said the media were the "whores for the 1% globalist pimps."

But for those whose family and friends are under Protzman's spell, concerns about their safety are growing by the day.

"I'm very worried about her safety," one friend of a person inside the group told VICE News, requesting anonymity to speak openly about the situation. "We don't know if she's given him any money, but her husband is about to cancel her cards. She's blowing through money fast."

The woman said her friend's husband was making the decision to cancel the credit cards because he's "worried about how he's gonna pay his mortgage this month."

In an audio chat among members of Protzman's group on Telegram, one man spoke about cashing in his retirement savings in order to fund his stay in Dallas.

As well as soliciting funds from members of the group, Protzman and his core group of supporters continue to solicit donations from the hundreds of thousands of people who follow him online.

​The financial impact on the group's members is just one concern that's been shared by members of a splinter group of former Protzman followers, who are now trying to help people to leave him.

In the Telegram channel the splinter group has set up, one woman spoke about her fiancé, who traveled to Dallas initially at the beginning of the month, returned home to Missouri, but returned to Dallas a week later, after Protzman made another prediction.

Now she's worried that her fiancé may be lost to her for good.

"I keep asking him to come home, and he keeps saying something big is going to happen and he doesn't want to miss it," a member of the Dealey Plaza Truthers group wrote. "I have already thought that perhaps my fiancé might be penniless if he stays with this group. I just hope they wake up before losing everything."

Protzman's latest deadline for "something big" to happen is Monday, the 58th anniversary of the assassination of JFK in Dallas. But once that passes without anything happening, Protzman will likely propose another date to keep people from leaving. And while Katy Garner believes her sister cannot be saved, she wants other families to be alert to the warning signs that someone is falling down the same rabbit hole as her sister.

"[Protzman] must be stopped," Garner said. "My sister may be too far gone, but it's not too late to bring awareness to others. Do not fall into this trap. Do not believe what these people say. They are all delusional and brainwashed. And if you notice a family member isolating themselves, speaking of nonsense, say something. Bring them back to reality. We didn't put two and two together. She hid this from us for a year. Don't let what happened to my family happen to yours. Pay attention and hold the ones you love tight."

Nov 22, 2021

Panama - Seven sect members guilty of demons massacre

November 21, 2021

A jury on Friday November 19 found six men and one woman guilty of the murder of seven people in El Terrón, Santa Catalina district, in the Ngäbe Buglé region in January 2020.

The investigations began after a complaint lodged by residents, who alerted the disappearance of several neighbors.

The jury of conscience declared Mario González, Olivia Virola Valdés, Marcelo Medina Valdés, Abner González, Obniel González, Amalio González, and Ariel Ríos guilty of the crimes of femicide and aggravated intentional homicide, while the Oral Trial Court declared them guilty for the crime of deprivation of liberty.

On November 15, Josafat and Abdiel González Valdés, two of the nine defendants, received a sentence of 47 years in prison; the rest had decided to accept the opinion of the jury of conscience (made up of four women and three men).

At the trial, residents of El Terrón were summoned by the prosecution to detail the activities of a sect that recruited, kidnapped, tortured, and murdered people under the pretext of driving out demons.

The Judicial Branch announced that the hearing for the individualization of the sentence was set for November 24 and, December 3, the hearing to read the sentence.

Out-of-state money flows into Clearwater City Council race

Scientology defector Aaron Smith-Levin says his campaign donations from across the U.S. show the nationwide interest in addressing the church’s impact.
Scientology defector Aaron Smith-Levin says his campaign donations from across the U.S. show the nationwide interest in addressing the church’s impact.

Tracey McManus
Tampa Bay Times
November 22, 2021

CLEARWATER — Church of Scientology defector Aaron Smith-Levin and community activist Lina Teixeira are running for Seat 5 on the City Council, but the donations they’ve received so far show just how differently their campaigns are unfolding.

Smith-Levin has slightly outraised his opponent, with $26,844 reported between Sept. 15 and Oct. 31, the first six weeks of election season, according to the most recent treasurer report. But of his 176 donors, 91 percent live outside of Clearwater and are unable to vote for him. Seventy-four percent of Smith-Levin’s donors live outside of Florida.

Teixeira has raised $21,020 with 70 percent of her 49 donors living in Clearwater, according to the most recent treasurer report. All but four of the 16 donors from outside of the city are based in Tampa Bay.

The financial reports underscore how distinct the candidates are in their platforms. Smith-Levin, 41, who walked away from Scientology in 2013 and now runs a foundation to assist people starting over after leaving the church, is running on a platform that the city should advocate for the IRS to review and revoke Scientology’s tax-exempt status.

“To me, my contributions tell me that the entire country wants to see Clearwater stand up to Scientology,” Smith-Levin said.

Teixeira, 52, has said addressing Scientology’s impact on downtown real estate is one of her top priorities, but she is also focused on making the city less reliant on tourism and bringing unity to neighborhoods.

Teixeira, an artist who has run a wine bar and her wearable fashion business downtown, said her contributions reflect the grassroots support she has from residents.

“It’s a testament to my years of service to our community as a volunteer and small business owner,” Teixeira said. “We are running a race focusing on all of the issues that affect Clearwater’s residents, including improving the quality of life, quality jobs and quality transportation systems.”

The Seat 5 incumbent, council member Hoyt Hamilton, will be vacating the seat due to term limits.

Council member David Allbritton, 70, who is running for a second term in Seat 4, has so far raised $18,645 for his reelection campaign. Allbritton has drawn support from mostly Clearwater residents, including business owners, attorneys and well-known figures in the community, such as former Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO Frank Dame and state Sen. Ed Hooper. Like Teixeira, Allbritton received $1,000 from the Florida Leadership Committee, the political committee run by former state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Allbritton has drawn two challengers. Retired data manager Gerry Lee, 74, filed on Oct. 22 to run, and community activist Maranda Douglas, 31, filed paperwork on Nov. 15. Lee and Douglas did not have donations to declare as of the most recent reporting deadline.

The announced candidates for the two at-large seats have until Dec. 17 to officially qualify for the March 15 election by obtaining signatures of 250 registered voters.

The last time a Clearwater election got as much nationwide attention was also when Scientology was a major campaign issue in the city, where the church has its international headquarters.

City Council member Mark Bunker won his five-way race for Seat 2 in March 2020 while running a campaign against alleged fraud and abuse in the church. Seventy percent of his donors were from outside of Florida. The race was also Teixeira’s first bid for office, and she outperformed Bunker in fundraising 3 to 1 with about $56,000. Bunker beat four opponents with 27 percent of vote.

When asked if his few donations from Clearwater residents could be seen as a lack of local support, Smith-Levin said that’s unlikely. He said he has so far knocked on 500 doors and received “a 100 percent positive response rate” to every voter who engaged him in conversation.

“The only support I’m hoping for from Clearwater citizens is a vote,” Smith-Levin said. “I’m not asking Clearwater voters to donate to my campaign because I’m already getting donations from all over the country.”

Teixeira said she’s also engaging with residents in neighborhoods and is “listening to their concerns and what they want for the future of our city.”

In addition to Clearwater residents, Teixeira’s treasurer report reflects more support from business and political circles, like former Mayor Brian Aungst Sr., Republican candidate for the District 13 congressional seat Amanda Makki, and businesses like Shephard’s Beach Resort and Tropical Boat Tours. She also received $1,000 from Latvala’s political committee.

“This is a grassroots campaign that will engage with citizens at the doors, in the community and online,” Teixeira said.

Nov 21, 2021

Documentary - The Strange World of Breatharianism

2020, RELIGION - 51 MIN

Documentary Films

Breatharianism is a type of belief system started by Jasmuheen… that hypothesizes and claims to prove that humans can live without consuming solid foods. She called the process "Living on Light". She became very popular and a lot of her followers found her through her website.

Her beliefs came under massive scrutiny when several of her followers began to die from adapting the lifestyle she promoted. Even while people died, she emphasized her promotion of personal responsibility where she always encouraged her followers to keep in mind their own limitations and the need to make responsible decisions about how far they were willing to take the practice.

It prompted her to be featured on the 60 minutes television program, which essentially meant she gained even more attention and that her practice came under enough scrutiny for her to personally prove that the ideas she promoted in her book would actually work. She even received the Ig Nobel prize, a satirical parody of the true Nobel Prize, which means she joined the likes of L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology and the new age guru Deepak Chopra.

Another popular proponent of the practice, Naveena Shine supported Jasmuheen in the aftermath of the public scrutiny that came after the 60 minutes interview. Even though she also had a popular following, she also could not tangibly articulate where Jasmuheen's daily sustenance came from. She also tried to maintain a public live stream to prove that the process could work with self-management.

Despite the opposition, they continued their practice and others with similar belief systems became popular as well. Personalities who became popular based on this system usually advocated some specific form of the practice. It meant people always found it fascinating as it is always with the controversy.

Nov 19, 2021

Jonestown: How Jim Jones Betrayed All His Followers

November 19, 2021

In this series, Newsweek reconstructs the events leading to the Jonestown Massacre as it happened in 1978, day by day.

The buildings of Jonestown burned down long ago; all that remains is an overgrown field. The impoverished Guyanese government has considered turning the site into a travel destination to capitalize on the "dark tourism" trend. One plan calls for rebuilding the pavilion, Jones's cabin, and several cottages and charging visitors two hundred dollars $200 per a night for the thrill of surviving the Jonestown "experience."

Today, few Americans under 40 are familiar with the Jonestown tragedy, but the erroneous phrase "Don't drink the Kool-Aid" has entered the cultural lexicon (despite the fact it was Flavor Aid, not Kool-Aid, used in the massacre). Its reference to gullibility and blind faith is a slap in the face of the Jonestown residents who were forced to die by Jim Jones, including 304 murdered children.

If anything, the people of Jonestown should be remembered as hopeful idealists. They went to Guyana to create a more equitable society. Like many of us, they longed for a better world—one that was free of violence, racism, sexism and classism. They believed in a dream.

How terribly they were betrayed.

Julia Scheeres is an award-winning journalist and author. Her books include Jesus Land and A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown.

Russia's Top Court Bans Prosecuting Jehovah's Witnesses for Group Prayer

Russia's Top Court Bans Prosecuting Jehovah's Witnesses for Group Prayer
Moscow Times
November 17, 2021

Russia’s Supreme Court has banned the criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses for joint worship, potentially putting an end to the law enforcement practice of jailing believers for prayer sessions.

The ruling could also affect the 152 convictions that have not yet entered into force or are being appealed, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia organization said in a statement on its website Tuesday.

Russia outlawed the nonconformist Christian denomination as “extremist” in 2017 and has since subjected thousands of worshippers to police raids, harassment and up to eight years of imprisonment.

Russia’s Supreme Court binds law enforcement authorities to provide concrete evidence for the worshippers’ “criminal intent,” “extremist motives” and “prior collusion” — justifications for criminal prosecution that have been criticized as arbitrary.

The organization said the ruling poses “new challenges” for authorities to open criminal cases, search residences or “detain a person simply because he or she professes the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses or meets with another at a worship service.”

“Investigators will now have to justify the wording often used in indictment papers against Jehovah’s Witnesses,” it said.

The Supreme Court’s plenum ruled that joint prayers among members of banned religious organizations “consisting exclusively in the exercise of their right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, including through individual or joint profession of religion… do not contain elements of extremism.”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia noted that the country’s courts are under the obligation to “consider” the Supreme Court ruling when considering appeals.

The group said it “eagerly anticipates” how the Oct. 28 Supreme Court plenum ruling will affect the release of its members currently held in custody.

In its original 2017 “extremist” ruling, the Russian Supreme Court accused the Jehovah’s Witnesses of “propaganda of exclusivity” and signs of violating public safety.

The Soviet Union had exiled thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses, known for door-to-door preaching and an alternative interpretation of the Bible, to Siberia for anti-communist activities and their refusal to serve in the military.

U.S. Adds Russia To List Of Nations Violating Religious Freedoms

Jehovah's Witnesses sing songs at the beginning of a meeting in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, in 2015, two ... [+] THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY IMAGES
Carlie Porterfield

Forbes Staff
November 17, 2021

The United States has added Russia to an index of countries called out over “egregious violations of religious freedom,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, which could have economic policy consequences for nations listed.


  • Russia was added to the list amid media reports from ABC News, Foreign Policy and local media of police harassing, detaining and seizing property of the country’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, an offshoot of Christianity with roots in the U.S.
  • The domination was banned in Russia in 2017 over being “extremist,” and hundreds of worshippers have been jailed since, according to reports.
  • Authorities in Russia also target Muslim minority groups on the pretense of investigating terrorist threats, Blinken said.
  • Russia joins the list alongside countries noted to be places of “particular concern,” including North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Burma and China, the secretary of state said.
  • Congress is notified when countries are listed and economic measures can be imposed if other policy options do not stop “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom, according to the state department.
  • This summer, the Biden Administration warned American businesses against using materials or services created by Uighurs in Xinjiang, China, where the government set up forced labor camps, warning that it is a violation of sanctions preventing forced labor.

On Wednesday, the Russian Supreme Court ruled to ban criminal prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses for group prayer, which media outlets like the Moscow Times speculate may end police raids over services.

The list is part of the state department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report, which will be delivered to Congress. The U.S. will “continue to press” countries to address their shortcomings and ensure religious freedom, Blinken said Wednesday. Since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, which pushed state atheism, religious practice has made a comeback in Russia. The most-practiced religion in Russia is Russian Orthodoxy, a branch of Christianity that traces its history back to the apostle Andrew, who according to tradition traveled and proselytized across the region north of the Black Sea.

I am a Texas native covering breaking news out of New York City. Previously, I was an editorial assistant at the Forbes London bureau.

Suspension request for former Aum cult withdrawn

Suspension request for former Aum cult withdrawn
November 19, 2021

Japan's public security authorities have withdrawn a request for stricter controls over the group Aleph, formerly known as the Aum Shinrikyo cult. The withdrawal came after the group submitted obligatory reports, although behind schedule.

Aum members carried out deadly sarin gas attacks on Tokyo's subway system in 1995. Aleph is under surveillance in accordance with a law aimed at preventing acts of indiscriminate mass murder. The group is required to report its activities every three months.

The Public Security Intelligence Agency on Friday withdrew its request filed with an external commission of the Justice Ministry.

The request, submitted last month, had asked for tighter restrictions on Aleph after the group failed to submit obligatory reports or respond to the agency's instructions.

Under the restrictions, Aleph was to be banned from using its facilities, soliciting new members and receiving donations for six months.

Aleph eventually submitted its quarterly activity reports for periods from February through last month.

The reports, however, lacked some necessary entries about the group's financial standings and membership descriptions.

As a result, more than 10 agency officials raided the group's facility in Tokyo's Adachi Ward on Friday morning. The venue is among Aleph's largest facilities in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
The group at first resisted opening the facility to the officials, but finally allowed them in.

The agency is also considering giving further instructions to the group. If the group does not follow them, the agency may consider requesting fresh restrictions.

Nov 15, 2021

This uniquely Canadian conspiracy theory group was on the edges of obscurity. Then vaccine mandates came down

This uniquely Canadian conspiracy theory group was on the edges of obscurity. Then vaccine mandates came down
Alex McKeen Vancouver Bureau
Toronto Star
November 14, 2021

VANCOUVER—It's a rainy Sunday and inside a small church on the east side of Vancouver, talk has turned to mutiny.

About 20 unmasked people have trickled into the church's wooden pews for a meeting, eating potluck soup, holding long hugs by way of greeting and chatting about their own version of current affairs.

The cloudy weather has left the space dark inside, with only intermittent bursts of sunshine coming in through colourful stained-glass windows. Artwork of Jesus, dreamcatchers, and circles of hands cover every spare patch of wall.

Topics among those gathered range from the certain — that COVID-19 was planned by the global elite; to the speculative — the fate of microchipped individuals lucky enough to survive their COVID-19 vaccine.

One woman breaks away from her private conversation, looking down to make a comment to no one in particular.

"We must sound just crazy," she says. "To someone who doesn't know about this stuff yet."

The conversations between those in attendance eventually fall silent, as a large, older man sitting at the front of the church begins to talk. He speaks in a slow, commanding drawl, a man in a cowboy hat standing sentry behind him.

"You might step off the ship of commerce, but did your mind follow you?" the man introduced as maathlaatlaa booms, gesturing to his own head.

"Are you still caught in the world of corporatocracy up here?

"This is our de jure government we're building," he says. "We have invited you to walk beside us."

Some in the pews nod their heads, or let out a murmur of agreement.

Among those gathered here, "stepping off the ship of commerce," refers to leaving society as we know it and being freed from the constraints of Canada's institutions and laws.

Members of this group will also talk about commandeering the "vessel." That vessel is the Canadian government — and they want to take it over.

Welcome to the latest meeting of the Peoples of the Salmon.

While there are only 20 people at the church, this group's online footprint is bigger. A recent petition boasts more than 19,000 signatures.

It's a manifestation of what experts describe as a uniquely Canadian brand of conspiracy-theory-laden, anti-government belief — one that's picked up steam during the pandemic. If you've wondered where Canadians go when their beliefs diverge so strongly from reality that everything — from vaccines, to Canada's own elections — seem like a conspiracy, it's to places such as this.

The general trend worries experts, for both the social harm they say it can do, and the fear that it might, in some rare cases, lead to violence.

Let it be said upfront: this particular group, eating soup in the pews of a darkened church, does not have any obvious or viable path to overthrowing the government. They say they have no plans at all to incite violence — that they fight with the pen, not the sword.

At the Sunday meeting, a woman named Dayna Furst, an erstwhile anti-vaccination organizer who has taken over recruiting for the Peoples of the Salmon group since mid-September, is wrapped in a ceremonial blanket.

It is meant to symbolize the protection of her spirit outside of the corporate world, with a $10 Canadian bill pinned above her heart.

The symbolism is keenly felt in the room. Furst, and many others, cry.

"We need everybody to spread our petition to collect signatures," Furst had told an earlier meeting. "So that we can take over the government."

The origin story of the Peoples of the Salmon could be said to start with one man's grievances with the legal system.

These days, he goes by "popois." In the past, he has been known as David Quinn. The B.C. Supreme Court says he's not allowed to file any more lawsuits by either name.

The founder of the Peoples of the Salmon was declared a "vexatious litigant" by the B.C. court in 2018 for undertaking a series of "pseudolegal" battles over the course of nine years — claiming repeatedly and with no success that the court's jurisdiction did not apply to him and certain neighbours because he, as an Indigenous person, had not consented to participate in the court's rules.

After that, as he explains it, he started thinking of ways to move even further outside the government system.

"We started (the group) two years ago, when we were looking for a name other than a country," he told the Star in an interview.

"So I came up with Peoples of the Salmon, and it's the de jure government west of the Rockies, north of the 49th parallel, and south of the Yukon."

He's describing the geographic area of B.C., but says he is willing to "adopt" any Canadian regardless of where they are located into his imagined regime. In doing so, he says, he can make them "sovereign" — as he claims to be, and untouchable by the legal system. He and the older man present at the church meeting, maathlaatlaa, both refer to themselves as "headsmen" of the group, but it's popois who is the main spokesperson and organizer.

maathlaatlaa is a more enigmatic figure, serving as something of a spiritual adviser inaccessible to members of the group except at the Sunday meetings. On the phone with the Star, he said it wasn't right to think of his role in the group as a "title" or "position" — that's language used in the corporatocracy, he said.

"popois and me, we are flesh, blood and bone. We're not corpses like the corporation," he said.

popois' claims to sovereignty are not true in the eyes of the law, and that's been established by his dozens of failed court petitions and cases.

Yet popois knows that speaking in the language of Indigenous land claims adds an air of legitimacy to his pitch. That, he says, it what differentiates his group from other "sovereigntists."

The name of his group, the Peoples of the Salmon, is based on a theme important to the Coast Salish people in western B.C. and the U.S. Pacific Northwest, referring to the importance of salmon in their cultures.

popois is himself a member of the shíshálh nation in B.C., but the nation has said in previous court filings he does not represent or speak for them. The Star reached out to the current chief of the shíshálh nation but did not hear back.

While the shíshálh, which has been a self-governing nation since 1986, and other First Nations across Canada have a legitimate right to self-determination and governance — rights that in some cases are being negotiated through treaty talks and the court system at present — popois appears to be using the familiar term for a purpose that is detached from those realities. And it's resonating beyond Indigenous circles.

White Canadian anti-government leaders, such as Odessa Orlewicz, who runs a far-right social network with her husband in Vancouver, have previously given little focus to reconciliation efforts in Canada, but have taken up popois' statements with reverence.

"The Indigenous have asked us ... to bring together the non-Indigenous Canadians with the Indigenous Canadians," she said in one of her most-viewed videos last month. "The tyranny above, they want the Indigenous and the white man to be fighting each other right now. Well, those Indigenous and non-Indigenous that are awake know they're trying to do that.

"The Indigenous can't do it without us, and we can't do it without them."

The ideology popois espouses is sometimes called the "sovereigntist" movement, sometimes the "freemen" approach.

It purports that people can prevent laws from applying to them by "withdrawing their consent," and its appeal has motivated groups in Canada and the U.S. to try to get their taxes refunded and gain immunity from criminal law, with no success, since the 1960s. It's also a conspiracy theory at its roots, because it claims the legal system itself is an elaborate ruse, and that people who are "awake" can just opt out.

A prominent Canadian espousing this type of thinking is David Lindsay, a "sovereign citizen" activist who has served jail time for refusing to pay taxes, and more recently has organized anti-vaccine rallies in Kelowna, B.C. He also has given interviews with Paul Fromm, a white nationalist — ties the Star has not made to the Peoples of the Salmon group.

popois is careful to distinguish his group from the "freemen" types. He says others may talk a big game about freemen, but they don't have the same legal mechanisms for achieving it as he does.

popois started to get into this thinking sometime around 2009, the year he filed his first court challenge, which was a lawsuit against police officers who charged him for driving without licence plates.

He's a former fisherman from the shíshálh Nation on B.C.'s sunshine coast — a remote coastal community that, despite being on the mainland of B.C., is only accessible by ferry.

This is worth pausing on, because it points to one of the group leader's early gripes with Canada. popois, who these days lives mostly in Vancouver, was one of many making his livelihood off fishing Pacific salmon, but the population of salmon has been declining since the 1990s, due to a combination of climate change, overfishing and habitat destruction. Like many others, popois places the blame for the decline squarely on the government of Canada, what he calls the "corporation of Canada," for allowing fish farms along the coast, a practice that may interfere with wild fish.

"The corporation has done with the fish farms the same as what they did with the buffalo," he told the Star.

The group only began taking off last summer, when popois posted a flagship petition on its website, claiming that anyone who signed was "withdrawing consent" from the laws of Canada, and submitting instead to a new order run by him.

That caught the notice of some right-wing conspiracy theory influencers, who were already interested in looking for ways to defy government authority on policies such as vaccine mandates.

The petition had little traffic when it was first posted on Sept. 16. But it started gaining steam on Oct. 8, after a B.C. anti-government protester named Pat King posted it with one of his livestreamed videos. The same thing happened about a week later, when another right-wing influencer from Vancouver, Orlewicz, also posted the petition. The petition is still well short of its stated five-million-signature goal, but it claims to have more than 19,000 signatures.

If all those signatures genuinely come from Canadians, it's an alarming indication of how many people are eager to actively oppose Canadian institutions.

The Star reached out to the creator of the petition platform, which is run through a plug-in on the website builder WordPress. Steve Davis, the contact for the Australian-based plug-in provider 123host, said the number of signatories listed on the Peoples of the Salmon website should be accurate, unless a person with coding skills has been fudging it on the back end of the website or stuffing the petition with names. Due to the fact the signatures increased at the same time the petition was publicized on right-wing networks, though, that person would have to be fairly sophisticated, fudging the number in concert with the dates the petition was publicized, and not at other times.

The group also has an active Telegram channel with about 150 volunteers, and daily meetings where they plan how to fundraise for "legal fees" associated with their aims. In one recorded meeting viewed by the Star, participants were asked to cough up a $1,000 donation to attend a webinar with "experts" promising to start legal actions to help them retrieve tens of thousands of dollars in taxes.

To those unfamiliar with legal concepts, and who want to believe popois' message, one can see how there's an air of feasibility to his pitch. He relies on two real legal principles, it's just that neither can be used in the way he describes. One is the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, and the other is an obscure American contract law called the Uniform Commercial Code (which he says, wrongly, is legal mechanism for declaring independence from the state of Canada).

The Peoples of the Salmon offers one window into a world in which conspiracy theory groups are increasingly vying for the attention, time and money of Canadians. And in Canada, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that potential audience is larger than you might expect.

A poll done by the firm Léger for Elections Canada in April showed that conspiracy-theory thinking is common among a large minority of the country.

The study, which surveyed 2,500 Canadians, reported 17 per cent said they believed the government was trying to cover up the link between vaccines and autism, and that 30 per cent said they thought new drugs or technologies were being tested on people without their knowledge.

A further 40 per cent of respondents indicated they subscribed to thinking that certain big events have been the product of a "small group who secretly manipulate world events."

What popois knows is that the appeal of his pitch is broadening, as Canadians who strongly oppose vaccination find themselves increasingly on the fringes of society.

"If you don't get your vax and your passport, you're going to be on unemployment," popois told the Star, referring to those individuals who have lost their jobs as a result of vaccine mandates at workplaces. "So all these people: where are they going to go? What are they going to do?"

He said he hopes they will join him and his plan to declare as sovereign citizens any Canadians willing to follow him.

Helmut-Harry Loewen, a researcher of the far-right and retired University of Winnipeg instructor, said that, even if they're not explicit about it, the increasingly inflammatory language employed by sovereigntist groups can be a concern.

The Peoples of the Salmon are explicit about their non-violent intentions. Asked whether he is worried anything he says will be used to justify anyone else's violent intentions, popois says he is not.

"No. The sword that we use is the pen. And this is the first time in history that documents have been so used properly that there is no defence against them," he said. "Our people aren't of that nature. And there aren't enough of us to carry out that kind of threat."

Still, Loewen said anti-government theories can be interpreted by individual actors in the most concerning of ways.

A ready example: the QAnon conspiracy theory, which says the world is run by a pedophile ring, seems to have inspired Corey Hurren to attempt to attack Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2020.

Experts say it's not that people who go down these rabbit holes are just gullible — there's something conspiracy theories and the groups that form around them do for people on a personal level.

In a QAnon chat room or church meeting of the Peoples of the Salmon, there's a lot of validation, a lot of hugging, and therefore a lot of social encouragement to keep following the conspiracy theory, while eschewing other sources of information.

It's easy to see how Canadian anti-vaxxers, pushed further and further to the margins by vaccine mandates but steadfast in their ill-formed beliefs, could find some solace in a group like that.

But wherever groups coalesce around an alternative reality, there is potential for danger, Loewen said.

Think about the January insurrection in the U.S., in which participants expressed seemingly genuine belief that their actions threatening the capitol amounted to patriotism.

"If governments are constructed as an enemy, what does that do? It forms the rhetorical platform for further action," Loewen said. "We saw what happened in the U.S. with the months and months of lies told about the election and how that resulted in the insurrection of Jan. 6."

Alberta legal scholar Donald J. Netolitzky tried to summarize the consequences of groups such as the Peoples of the Salmon broadening their appeal. It's not that they would threaten a country's institution in any of the ways they claim to, he said. But there was a huge social cost to both the legal system, the people who fall prey to these schemes and anyone unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a person whose actions are inspired by them.

One such person was the landlady of a Calgary man named Mario Antonacci. Around 2012, he claimed he was a "freeman-on-the-land" and that his rental property was an "embassy." He threatened her with action by "Territorial Marshals" if she would not pay money to him. Eventually, he was arrested and evicted.

Richard Warman, another legal scholar who has worked with Netolitzky and with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said the fact the anti-vaccine movement is currently mobilized as a result of the pandemic is a potential boon to groups like this.

"The anti-government sovereign citizen movement is an opportunistic infection. If it can find a new host population, like the anti-vaxxers, it will infect them as much as possible," he said. "It will try to use that population that is already susceptible to conspiracy theory messages and introduce them to this overarching conspiracy theory."

Both Loewen and Warman pointed out that where these movements become the most concerning is where they begin to overlap with racist, anti-Semitic and openly hateful neo-Nazi group members. There is no indication that the Peoples of the Salmon group have done this, or made any moves toward violence.

Loewen and Warman warn that a strong anti-government message can be just the thing that brings apparently disparate groups together under one banner, and potentially inspire "lone wolf" types to take violent actions.

That's how, for example, at the London, Ont., campaign event where Canada's prime minister was pelted with gravel, anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists found themselves shouting alongside members of the white nationalist group Canada First.

Bringing these groups together does not mean they will all adopt the thinking of the most extreme among them, but it does open up this possibility, something Loewen calls "far-right mobilization."

popois chooses his words carefully while making what he admits are extraordinary claims. He has a low, calm, slightly raspy voice that could fit a radio announcer.

He spoke once on the phone with the Star, explaining about the group and its background, but saying he didn't think his ideas would be permitted to be printed in the newspaper, because he believes the Canadian state controls such sources of information.

Subsequently, other members of the group contacted by the Star and who initially expressed interest in discussing the Peoples of the Salmon stopped responding. But popois invited the Star to a group meeting, saying that even if his group was portrayed in a negative light, it would just be further evidence of the deep state at work.

popois said he is not trying to dismantle Canada and install himself as the prime minister of a new country. But only because he says he is already the leader of the land. And the word "country" does not apply.

"I am the leader of this government presently," he said in an interview with the Star. "When you consent to myself you're consenting to being under our jurisdiction."

If that sounds far-fetched, he said, it's nothing compared to the way we've all been duped into believing in our legal system, he said. The ideology he is actively recruiting other susceptible Canadians into is one he really seems to believe. And it's based on legal-sounding terminology that dangles the promise of defecting from an unwanted authority — like a country, for instance.

Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen

Women in Argentina claim labor exploitation by Opus Dei

Associated Press
November 12, 2021

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Lucía Giménez still suffers pain in her knees from the years she spent scrubbing floors in the men's bathroom at the Opus Dei residence in Argentina's capital for hours without pay.

Giménez, now 56, joined the conservative Catholic group in her native Paraguay at the age of 14 with the promise she would get an education. But instead of math or history, she was trained in cooking, cleaning and other household chores to serve in Opus Dei residences and retirement homes.

For 18 years she washed clothes, scrubbed bathrooms and attended to the group's needs for 12 hours a day, with breaks only for meals and praying. Despite her hard labor, she says: "I never saw money in my hands."

Giménez and 41 other women have filed a complaint against Opus Dei to the Vatican for alleged labor exploitation, as well as abuse of power and of conscience. The Argentine and Paraguayan citizens worked for the movement in Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay, Italy and Kazakhstan between 1974 and 2015.

Opus Dei — Work of God in Latin — was founded by the Spanish priest Josemaría Escrivá in 1928, and has 90,000 members in 70 countries. The lay group, which was greatly favored by St. John Paul II, who canonized Escrivá in 2002, has a unique status in the church and reports directly to the pope. Most members are laymen and women with secular jobs and families who strive to "sanctify ordinary life." Other members are priests or celibate lay people.

The complaint alleges the women, often minors at the time, labored under "manifestly illegal conditions" that included working without pay for 12 hours-plus without breaks except for food or prayer, no registration in the Social Security system and other violations of basic rights.

The women are demanding financial reparations from Opus Dei and that it acknowledges the abuses and apologizes to them, as well as the punishment of those responsible.

"I was sick of the pain in my knees, of getting down on my knees to do the showers," Giménez told The Associated Press. "They don't give you time to think, to criticize and say that you don't like it. You have to endure because you have to surrender totally to God."

In a statement to the AP, Opus Dei said it had not been notified of the complaint to the Vatican but has been in contact with the women's legal representatives to "listen to the problems and find a solution."

The women in the complaint have one thing in common: humble origins. They were recruited and separated from their families between the ages of 12 and 16. In some cases, like Gimenez's, they were taken to Opus Dei centers in another country, circumventing immigration controls.

They claim that Opus Dei priests and other members exercised "coercion of conscience" on the women to pressure them to serve and to frighten them with spiritual evils if they didn't comply with the supposed will of God. They also controlled their relations with the outside world.

Most of the women asked to leave as the physical and psychological demands became intolerable. But when they finally did, they were left without money. Many also said they needed psychological treatment after leaving Opus Dei.

"The hierarchy (of Opus Dei) is aware of these practices," said Sebastián Sal, the women's lawyer. "It is an internal policy of Opus Dei. The search for these women is conducted the same way throughout the world. ... It is something institutional."

The women's complaint, filed in September with the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also points to dozens of priests affiliated with Opus Dei for their alleged "intervention, participation and knowledge in the denounced events."

The allegations in the complaint are similar to those made by members of another conservative Catholic organization also favored by St. John Paul II, the Legion of Christ. The Legion recruited young women to become consecrated members of its lay branch, Regnum Christi, to work in Legion-run schools and other projects.

Those women alleged spiritual and psychological abuse, of being separated from family and being told their discomfort was "God's will" and that abandoning their vocation would be tantamount to abandoning God.

Pope Francis has been cracking down on 20th-century religious movements after several religious orders and lay groups were accused of sexual and other abuses by their leaders. Opus Dei has so far avoided much of the recent controversy, though there have been cases of individual priests accused of misconduct.

"We do not have any official notification from the Vatican about the existence of a complaint of this type," Josefina Madariaga, director of Opus Dei's press office in Argentina, told the AP. She said the women's lawyer informed the group last year of their complaints about the lack of contributions to Argentina's social security system.

"If there is a traumatic experience or one that has left them with a wound, we want to honestly listen to them, understand what happened and from there correct what has to be corrected," she said.

She added that all the people currently "working on site are paid," adding that some 80 women currently work for Opus Dei in Argentina.

However, she said, "in the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, 90′s, society as a whole dealt with these issues in a more informal or family way. ... Opus Dei has made the necessary changes and modifications to accompany the law in force today."

Beatriz Delgado, who worked for Opus Dei for 23 years in Argentina and Uruguay, said she was told "that I had to give my salary to the director and that everyone gave it. ... It was part of giving to God."

"They convince you with the vocation, with 'God calls you, God asks this of you, you cannot fail God.' ... They hooked me with that," she said.

So far, the Vatican has not ruled on the complaint and it's not clear if it will. A Vatican spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for information.

If there is no response, the women's legal representatives say they will initiate criminal proceedings for "human trafficking, reduction to servitude, awareness control and illegitimate deprivation of liberty" against Opus Dei in Argentina and other countries the women worked in.

Argentine law sanctions human trafficking with prison sentences of four to 15 years. The statute of limitations is 12 years after the alleged crime ceases.

"They say, 'we are going to help poor people,' but it's a lie; they don't help, they keep (the money) for themselves," Giménez said. "It is very important to achieve some justice."

Nov 14, 2021

Charismatic prophets show few signs of recanting after failed prophecies

Charismatic prophets show few signs of recanting after failed prophecies
Religion Watch
Volume 36 No. 12

Charismatic prophets show few signs of recanting after failed prophecies

Leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), who prophesized that Donald Trump would be reelected, show few signs of recanting their predictions, according to scholars assessing the movement at a recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, which RW attended. This is even as a formalization of the movement seems likely, with more denomination- like networks emerging. The NAR, a coalition of charismatic megachurches, church networks, and evangelists teaching that the biblical prophetic and apostolic offices are being restored, attracted worldwide attention for its prophecies about the Trump presidency starting in 2016—and ending in 2020, when its reelection predictions were met by Trump’s defeat at the polls. Stuart Wright of Lamar University has been compiling a growing database of 49 of the movement’s prophets and found that 70 percent still say the election was stolen and that Trump should be president, with some prophets even claiming that Trump was declared president in heaven. Meanwhile, 10 percent have remained silent on the matter, at least for now, while seven percent have stated that their prophecies were wrong and have apologized to their followers, most notably Jeremiah Johnson and Chris Valentin.

Wright argues that there is a strong “party line” among prophets and pressure to maintain the validity of their prophecies. As reported in a paper by Damon Berry, any reassessment of the prophetic ministry that might be discerned came in the issuing of a “prophetic standards statement” last spring that sought to establish protocols for making prophecies. In another paper, J. Gordon Melton of Baylor University reported that there are now 220 apostolic networks that often function like denominations. He said that new NAR prophecies emerge daily and are “vague enough that what constitutes fulfillment or failure is difficult if not downright impossible to discern.” But the Trump prophecies were clearer and more definite, making them more difficult to recant or re-interpret, which suggests why very few prophets have announced that they are wrong and have apologized.

The Cult That Believes in Jesus and Follows a 'Jewish Way of Life'

A visit to a café run by members of the Twelve Tribes movement, nestled in the pastoral hills of New York State
A visit to a café run by members of the Twelve Tribes movement, nestled in the pastoral hills of New York State, offers a rare glimpse of one of the more conservative religious groups in the United States.

Tzach Yoked
Nov. 13, 2021

It’s Sunday around noon, in the town of Coxsackie in New York State’s Greene County. Old, dilapidated stone buildings line deserted streets. Planks of wood have been hammered into the window frames of abandoned houses to prevent looting. Piles of garbage overflow onto street corners. Here and there young couples can be seen sitting on the steps in front of their homes, holding glasses of beer, gazing at the few cars that pass by. Most of the storefronts are empty, the shops they once housed now out business. Outside a domestic-items store that remains open, a dour-looking elderly proprietor sits on a low wooden chair, waiting for customers who don’t come. About 10,000 people live in Coxsackie, but an unsettling aura of a ghost town pervades the streets.

The name Coxsackie, believed to derive from the Algonquin Indian language, reflects the rich history of the region. A two-hour drive from Manhattan, with the Hudson River to its east, bucolic hills to the west – and caught between them a locale characterized most by its shabbiness. The exception is one local establishment, which throbs with life, even as it tells the story of one of the most insular communities in the United States.

The Yellow Deli is a charming place located in a brick building on the town’s main street. The décor is over-the-top yellow; flowers are everywhere. I buy a coffee; the manager draws a flower on the bill he hands me. A jovial, optimistic atmosphere reigns in the deli, which gives one the impression of straddling the seamline between a hipster coffee house and a gathering place for flower children. Only there are no hipsters here, and no flower children either.

The Yellow Deli is actually one of a chain of cafés owned by Twelve Tribes, a religious movement or dangerous cult, depending on the eye of the beholder. There are Yellow Deli branches across the United States, from California to the New York Island, not to mention Europe and even Australia and Argentina. The staff are all members of the group and all the raw ingredients used in preparing the food comes from farms owned by the movement and worked by its members.

I have arrived at this establishment because I believe this may be the only crack through which it’s possible to get an in-person glimpse of the life of the Twelve Tribes, a movement that oscillates between Judaism and Christianity, between capitalism painted in shades of glaring yellow and severe ascetism, between cheerful community spirit and violent internal practices.

Farm to table

Twelve Tribes has no church building, no council of sages or regular prayer meetings – only a thriving chain of 21 eateries and farms. The menus are based entirely on local farm produce: a variety of sandwiches, salads, soups, omelets and a range of desserts. It’s all produced here, it’s all fresh and organic, direct from a nearby farm to your table.

They also bake their own bread. Dozens of loaves of sourdough in different shapes lie in straw baskets, and a cordial waiter boasts that they also grind the flour themselves. “It’s not regular flour,” he emphasizes, pointing to a loaf. “It’s quality spelt flour.”

Like all the branches, the one in Coxsackie is open six days a week. Saturday is the one day the cafe is closed; its website wishes clients “Shabbat Shalom.”

Open gallery view

This is in a town where you’re unlikely to find even one Jewish family, still less a synagogue or any signs of Judaism. Twelve Tribes followers believe in Jesus but in certain outward ways, follow a Jewish way of life: They rest on Saturday, fast on Yom Kippur, blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and refrain from celebrating Christian holidays, even Christmas.

“The holiday the children like best is Sukkot,” says one staffer. An amiable man in his 50s, he has a soft tone of voice and an unchanging, broad smile. Sporting a well-trimmed beard, he is wearing a long, checked, button-down shirt and a blue, knitted skullcap hides his small man-bun. Outwardly, he looks like a cross between a Bratslaver Hasid and a kibbutznik. A quick glance at the other people working here reveals, however, that this style is not a matter of personal taste.

Googling the Twelve Tribes website, I get an immediate explanation. “Our men have beards because men were created with facial hair,” the site states under FAQ. “It is normal and natural for a man to have a beard. Besides, it is not fitting for a priest to crop his hair or to grow long, effeminate locks. In ancient Israel both unbound hair and a shaved head were public signs of mourning or some uncleanness… Priests are concerned about pleasing their Creator rather than chasing after fashions or calling attention to themselves.”

The women, too, are not super-stylish in their fashion sense: They wear baggy pants and long-sleeved shirts that are several sizes too large for them. And, in fact, the answer to the very next FAQ is, “Our women wear the clothes they do because of their desire to be modest.”

Twelve Tribes followers believe in Jesus but in certain outward ways, follow a Jewish way of life: They rest on Saturday, fast on Yom Kippur, blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and refrain from celebrating Christian holidays.

Meanwhile, the head cook notices that I’ve been perusing the menu for some time. “You have nothing to worry about, our meat is clean,” he asserts, after I have identified myself as an Israeli. “There’s no way you’ll find pork or any other non-kosher meat here.” Another employee relates that the workers here don’t have televisions in their homes. After my experience with members of the movement who declined to speak to me, I am careful not to ask too many questions. Here, too, the website helps out: “We see human relationships as the central focus of our lives; we are learning on a daily basis to be friends and pay attention to each other’s real needs. TV would be a distraction and would be detrimental to learning, loving, and being ‘normal.’”

After some time, I manage to strike up a conversation with one of the workers, who tells me about the community’s approach to the Sabbath. “We try to observe Shabbat to the best of our ability. We definitely do not work and do not use the heavy equipment on the farms. We do not cook on Shabbat and we make sure to prepare all the meals before the Sabbath starts. On the other hand, if needed we turn on the electricity, and if there is no alternative, we also drive, but in general we try not to.”

The café is packed, and the 30 or so clients don’t give any sign of being troubled by the fact that the chain not only supports a messianic movement but is also a platform for missionary activity. On a table near the door are informational materials that are meant to attract the attention of visitors. I read that there must be something beyond the necessity to work at a job we hate only in order to pay for our children’s preschool while we are at work, and all of it so that one day we will end up in a Florida nursing home and wonder why we are alive.

Twelve Tribes’ recipe for the good life includes working the land and raising livestock, following a Jewish lifeastyle, collective ownership of property, home-schooling, avoiding the internet, singing in a choir and a love of children. The group has its own interpretation of that last item, in the spirit of the verse from Proverbs, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son.” Indeed, they also declare openly on the website, “We love our children and consider them precious and wonderful. Because we love them, we do spank them. We teach them to listen to what their parents say and to obey their parents and teachers. When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage. Desiring to be good parents, we do not hit our children in anger, nor with our hand or fist.”

But reality turns out to be grimmer than what one might imagine when one thinks of educational “spanking.” People who have left the movement have testified that children are not allowed to play, to own toys, to whistle or to read fantasy books. Some related that any quip or nonsensical act by a child could lead to corporal punishment, because youngsters are expected to work alongside adults and to behave like them. “I was beaten with a stick from neck to toe,” a woman who left stated about her Twelve Tribes childhood. “I was covered with bruises.”

Open gallery view

Fertile ground

It all began in the 1970s, when many young Americans began to snap out of their dreams of world peace, of free love and sex, and of the habitual use of psychedelic drugs. It was a period, for some, of a renewed search for an alternative lifestyle, a time of transition that constituted fertile ground for the growth of movements and cults. Twelve Tribes was founded by Elbert Eugene Spriggs, a Tennessee teacher who sought to forge a new religious order whose lifestyle would be based on the early years of Christianity. He opened the first branch of The Yellow Deli in 1973, and the chain expanded from year to year until it grew morphed into an international phenomenon.

[ ... ]

Sinasta Colucci wrote a book about his life in the movement, where he says that “new members are required to turn over all their property to the group. If you have a house, a car, money, you are required to turn over all of that. In addition, members are required to work long hours, six days a week, and to sever previous ties with relatives and friends. Anyone who changes their mind and wants to leave, is left with nothing.”

“The whole method is based on cutting members off from everything that happens around them,” Patrick O’Reilly, a psychiatrist and expert on cults from the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, tells Haaretz. “When someone joins they get all the support they could wish, but immediately afterward the emotional manipulation begins that renders them helpless. If you leave you will lose everything – and go to hell.”

According to Prof. O’Reilly, Twelve Tribes is “a dangerous cult with clear characteristics of racism and antisemitism. They blame the Jews for the murder of Jesus and view the Jewish people today as bearing responsibility for Jesus’ murder. I grew up in a Catholic family, and no one ever taught me that. They also believe that Black people are destined to serve the white residents of the United States. They justify slavery, condemn Martin Luther King, Jr., and admire the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. But the biggest problem is the physical punishment of young children. I am talking about physical punishment which begins as early as the age of 2, and often young children not even 10 years old work on the farms from morning to night.”

In general today, says cults researcher Arthur Goldberg, “Messianic Judaism is gathering momentum, with hundreds of thousands of members around the world.”

And when it comes to pious Christians who seek to add Jewish elements to their religious identity, inasmuch as Jesus was himself a Jew, “We are talking about a broader phenomenon, particularly among American evangelicals,” says Goldberg, “20 percent of whom believe in the fusion of a Jewish way of life and [live in] the anticipation of the resurrection of Jesus the savior. And even among all these streams, Twelve Tribes is a notably extreme case.”

Daddy's Girl Cult Discussion

October 22, 2021

Nov 11, 2021

Second and Multigenerational Adult Former Cult Member Recovery Series

International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA)
November 10, 2021

It's Hard to put Into Words:" Understanding my Experience with Spiritual Abuse Presented by Ashlen Hilliard

1:00 - 2:00 pm EST, Sunday, November 7th, 2021

About this presentation:
Spiritual abuse may present itself in many different ways, and have lasting impacts. This talk will focus on how unhealthy Christian churches may cultivate an environment for spiritual abuse to thrive, the role controlling theology can play in creating a high-pressure environment, and conclude with questions you can raise about a group to help evaluate spiritual abuse, the potential for it, or if high-control scenarios already exist. Understanding my experience was essential for my recovery to begin! The context for this discussion will pull from reflections of being a born and raised former member of a fundamentalist Christian sect.

Overview of series:
This series is specifically for second and multi-generational adult former cult members, however, this is going to be the first program for S/MGAs that is open to all. In the past, ICSA workshops for this population have been limited to those who were themselves born or raised in cults. But we see the increasing need for those outside of this population to learn about the unique recovery issues relevant to S/MGAs.

Presenter Bio:
Ashlen Hilliard is the Director of Events for the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA). Before ICSA, she worked as a case manager in Salt Lake City, Utah that helped individuals leaving polygamy out west. Ashlen relocated to Portland, Oregon in 2020 where she is involved in local Spiritual Abuse Forum for Education (SAFE) Meetups for survivors of cultic and spiritual abuse. Ashlen facilitates support groups and meetings online for former members of cultic groups.

Her current focuses with ICSA are event organization and former member outreach. Ashlen has also presented at multiple ICSA conferences, and continues moderating online conference and webinar programs. She has been interviewed on cults on NPR One Podcast Series with FGCU and The Tennessee Holler. She has published an article in ICSA Today 10.2 / 2019 on, The Genesis, Text, and Implications of Utah House Bill 214: Office for Victims of Crime Amendments.

She is currently pursuing her Masters in the Psychology of Coercive Control through the University of Salford.

Nov 10, 2021

Sex rituals and fine wines: Inside alleged Cali cult the Fellowship of Friends

Sara Stewart
NY Post
November 9, 2021

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The male leader of a quasi-religious group is alleged to have been sexually exploiting his followers. When confronted with this behavior, he responds that he’s a higher-evolved “Conscious Being” and thus, “a law unto himself.”

In a story that echoes the trial of NXIVM founder Keith Raniere, the new six-part Spotify podcast “Revelations” explores a California doomsday cult called the Fellowship of Friends. Jennings Brown, a Brooklyn-based investigative reporter, spent three years researching the group, visiting their Yuba County compound, Apollo, several times and speaking with ex-members who describe greed, hypocrisy and cruelty hidden beneath a veneer of intellectual and cultural refinement, spiced up with semi-regular predictions about the end of the world. Despite repeated allegations of abuse within the organization, it’s still up and running.

But the Fellowship of Friends wasn’t always known as a dangerous cult. For a time, the organization was primarily renowned as a maker of world-class natural wine. Their Renaissance brand has been raved about as “special, age-worthy, one-of-a-kind wines, at the very top tier of what California can produce.”

But the business is shuttered now, and the group likely to encounter more scrutiny after Brown’s podcast, which includes interviews with seven male ex-members claiming sexual abuse by the cult’s leader, Robert Earl Burton. “They told me about these sex rituals where [the leader] would attempt to have sex with 100 followers in a day,” Brown told The Post. “He called them love fests.”

Burton, born in 1939, is a former Arkansas school teacher who reinvented himself in the 1970s as a California guru. He studied the teachings of a self-help movement called the Fourth Way, founded by Russian philosopher George Gurdjieff, who taught practices he claimed would bring about heightened self-awareness. Burton adapted the methods, preaching that one should immerse oneself in the finer things in life, abolish negative thinking and live in harmony with dictates given to Burton by his “44 angels.”

He claimed these angels, a who’s who of historical greats including Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri and Benjamin Franklin, gave him instructions on how his followers should live. Every so often, his angels predicted apocalypse. So Burton instructed followers to fund his ever-expanding “Galleria,” a collection of largely Western European artwork he claimed would one day rekindle civilization. (Conveniently, the building doubled as his house.) In 1996, the Fellowship’s collection of antique Chinese furniture sold for $11.2 million at a Christie’s auction.

In the early days, during the 1970s, Burton’s demands were bizarre: Athletic activity, humor, eyeglasses, mixed-breed pets and using the word “I” were all verboten. Women, deemed spiritually inferior, allegedly were forbidden from getting pregnant.

“One of the most horrifying things I heard was the rule about abortions,” says Brown, who speaks to four ex-members in the podcast about Burton’s alleged dictate that any member who got pregnant had to terminate.

Bottles from Renaissance Wines
Renaissance wines
Renaissance Wine via Facebook
“I very much got the sense that women were second or third-class citizens. I think a lot of them came because their husbands or boyfriends were interested in spiritual awakening.”

Among his interviewees is a male ex-member, “Nathan,” who claims Burton insisted Nathan’s wife end her pregnancy. Says the man: “When my wife became pregnant, he [Burton] said that the child should be aborted. His explanation was that the child would be born too soon to be included on the ark. And being the fool that I was, I accepted the explanation. It wasn’t my best act here on Earth. My wife didn’t agree to it. It was kind of against her will.”

Despite condemning homosexuality, Burton was allegedly preying on young, attractive male followers, always targeting straight men.
Meanwhile, despite condemning homosexuality, Burton was allegedly preying on young, attractive male followers, always targeting straight men. Many ex-members speak to Brown in the podcast about the alleged abuse, some of them giving firsthand accounts of being victimized and others who knew what was going on, including a woman who was Burton’s housekeeper for years.

The Fellowship did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment. In the podcast, Brown confronts Greg Holman, president of the Fellowship, about the sexual exploitation allegations. Holman responds that he doesn’t think they’re true but that any member is welcome to come to him — as long as they’re “loaded for bear” with facts and evidence, he adds. 

In 1996, a lawsuit was filed by former member Troy Buzbee, who alleged Burton sexually exploited him when he was 17. According to Brown’s reporting, in the mid-1990s, Burton sexually assaulted Troy’s father, Richard Buzbee. Says Brown in the podcast, “Richard then told friends and family about the abuse and found many others who alleged similar experiences — including, to his horror, his own son. Richard included this in a letter he sent out to other Fellowship members to warn them. He wrote: ‘The greatest shock came from my son Troy, who told me that Robert had been actively pursuing him for sex from the time he entered the school — at age seventeen.’ “

The suit was settled out of court. And in 2005, Brown reports, US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigated a tip that the Fellowship was bringing non-US citizens into the country and paying for their religious visas, intending for the recruits to be in sexual servitude to Burton. In 2012, Brown learned from federal documents obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request, the Drug Enforcement Administration, along with ICE, raided the Apollo compound, calling it a search for evidence of drug production.

But nothing came of it. Holman tells Brown in the podcast, “I turn around and look at [a DEA agent] and say, ‘Can you honestly tell me you thought the Fellowship was a part of a national drug distribution ring?’ But he looked and he smiled and said, ‘No, but we thought it was a good opportunity to take a look at you.’“
As the Fellowship became aware it was under scrutiny, it started recruiting farther afield, says Brown. “The men in [Burton’s] inner circle came in from Eastern Europe,” he says. “In the fourth episode, I interviewed a couple of these men, one from Russia and one from Romania.”

Brown also talks to former Chief Financial Officer Charles Randall, who claims the Fellowship was designated a religion only to avoid an IRS audit. “We made up the religion to cover the fact that it was otherwise Robert doing whatever the hell he wanted,” says Randall, who left the Fellowship in 1994, noting he was disillusioned by claims of sexual coercion.

There is at least one main difference between the Fellowship and NXIVM, though: This group is still in operation, with Brown estimating its worldwide membership to be 1,500 and around 500 at the California headquarters. “Robert is still very active,” Brown says. “Even though he’s getting up there in age, I saw no reason to think his alleged coercive behavior has stopped.”