Apr 30, 2023

Second Kenyan pastor accused of mass killing of followers

Ezekiel Odero arrested and more than 100 people evacuated from church, days after discovery of bodies linked to another church

The Guardian
Agence France-Presse in Nairobi
April 27, 2023

One of Kenya’s highest-profile pastors is facing charges over the “mass killing of his followers”, the government has said, just days after the discovery of dozens of bodies linked to another church.

Ezekiel Odero, the head of the New Life Prayer Centre and Church, “has been arrested and is being processed to face criminal charges related to the mass killing of his followers”, the interior minister, Kithure Kindiki, said in a statement.

“The said church has been shut down. The over 100 people who were holed up at the premises have been evacuated and will be required to record statements,” he added.

Odero’s arrest comes on the heels of acontinuing investigation into Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, the cult leader accused of the deaths of 98 people linked to his church.

Police have not linked the two cases, and authorities have not provided further details about the nature of the allegations against Odero or his church.

Odero, dressed in his signature all-white garb and clutching a bible, was transferred from the coastal town of Malindi where his church is headquartered to the regional police headquarters in Mombasa for questioning.

A wealthy televangelist who draws huge crowds – his church south of Malindi can seat 40,000 – Odero claims that “holy” scraps of cloth sold at his mega-rallies can heal sickness.

The government had promised a crackdown on fringe religious denominations after the discovery of dozens of bodies over the past week on a property near Malindi belonging to Nthenge.

The taxi driver turned preacher is accused of urging his followers to starve themselves to death as a path to God in a case that shocked the nation. At least 22 people have been arrested over the saga so far.

More than half the bodies unearthed by investigators were of children, and police fear the death toll could rise as their search widens.

Kindiki had described the case as “the clearest abuse of the constitutionally enshrined human right to freedom of worship”.

But efforts to regulate Kenya’s dizzying array of churches and ministries have failed in the past, despite high-profile incidents of cults and rogue pastors being involved in crime.

Questions have emerged about how Nthenge was able to preach despite attracting police attention six years ago.

He was arrested in 2017 on charges of “radicalisation” after urging families not to send their children to school, saying education was not recognised by the bible.

Nthenge was arrested again last month, according to local media, after two children starved to death in the custody of their parents.

He was released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings (£590) but surrendered to police after a raid on his property in the Shakahola forest uncovered bodies.

Nthenge is due to appear in court on 2 May.

Pastor Paul Mackenzie: What did the starvation cult leader preach?

Peter Mwai, Deka Barrow and Rose Njoroge
BBC News
April 28, 2023

The leader of a Christian cult in Kenya is due to appear in court next week, as the exhumation of bodies found in mass graves on his land continues. At least 90 have been discovered so far.

Pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie has said he closed down his Good News International Church four years ago after nearly two decades of operation.

But the BBC has uncovered hundreds of his sermons still available online, some of which appear to have been recorded after this date.

What picture do they paint of a man whose followers have starved themselves to death?

'Let no-one turn back'

In a passionate, raspy voice, Pastor Mackenzie delivers his sermons to large congregations in thrall to his apocalyptic themes.

"We are about to win the battle… let no-one turn back… the journey is about to be accomplished," reads a banner across the screen.

One series of videos on his church's YouTube channel has the caption: "End Time Kids" and shows groups of young children delivering messages to the camera.

Apocalyptic themes and warnings about impending doom feature heavily in Pastor Mackenzie's sermons

Others culminate in exorcisms in which followers - often women - writhe around on the ground while he "torments" the demonic forces within them.

These YouTube channels have thousands of subscribers and a Facebook page set up by his church links to many of the videos.

It's not clear when the sermons were filmed, but there is reference to an upcoming preaching event by Pastor Mackenzie in Nairobi in January 2020, which contradicts his claim to have ended his preaching activities the previous year.

'Children are crying because they are hungry, let them die'

Former members of the church have claimed that they were forced to fast as part of their adherence to its teachings.

There is no direct evidence in the dozens videos we've seen of Pastor Mackenzie directly ordering people to fast, but there are many references to followers sacrificing what they hold dear, including their lives.

Grieving relatives of the cult victims in the Kenyan coastal town of Kilifi

"There are people who don't even want to preach [about] Jesus. They say their children are crying because they are hungry, let them die. Is there a problem there?"

In an interview with the Kenyan Nation newspaper a few weeks ago, Pastor Mackenzie denied he forced his followers to fast.

"Is there a house maybe or an enclosure or a fence somewhere that has been found [at the farm] where people might have been locked in?" he replied when the reporter asked him about this.

'Education is evil'

Another theme of Pastor Mackenzie's sermons has been the idea that formal education is satanic and used to extort money.

"They know education is evil. But they use it for their own gains" he says in one sermon. "Those who sell uniforms, write books…those who make pens… all kinds of rubbish. They use your money to enrich themselves while you become poor."

In 2017 and again in 2018, he was arrested for encouraging children not to go to school as he claimed education was "not recognised in the Bible".

Pastor Mackenzie has also condemned education for promoting homosexuality through sex education programmes.

"I told people education is evil…. Children are taught gayism and lesbianism,'' he told the Nation newspaper.

Doctors 'serve a different God'

He has also encouraged mothers to avoid seeking medical attention during childbirth and not to vaccinate their children.

In one of the videos, a woman narrates how she helped to deliver a baby through prayer and without the need for a caesarean section, adding that she later received a "prompting" from the holy spirit to warn her neighbour against vaccinating her child.

The pastor then echoes her sentiments that vaccines are not necessary, claiming that doctors "serve a different God".

He also discourages women from plaiting their hair, wearing wigs and wearing ornaments.

Satanic symbols and global conspiracies

Much of Pastor Mackenzie's preaching relates to the fulfilment of Biblical prophecies about Judgement Day.

The church's online content also features posts about the end of the world, impending doom and the supposed dangers of science.

And there are frequent warnings of an omnipotent satanic force that has supposedly infiltrated the highest echelons of power around the world.

The church's online content features a wide range of conspiratorial images and memes

He repeatedly references "New World Order" - a conspiracy theory about a plot by global elites to bring about an authoritarian world government, replacing nation states - falsely claiming the Catholic Church, the UN and the US are behind it.

He is also highly sceptical of modern technology, previously claiming a plan by the Kenyan government to establish a unique identity number for citizens to access government services was the 'mark of the beast'.

Additional reporting by Paul Brown, Shayan Sardarizadeh and Jemimah Herd


Apr 29, 2023

More than 100 died at a religious cult in Kenya. The majority are children, says minister

Pastors arrested after 109 bodies recovered from mass graves at church site


Ayenat Mersie · Thomson Reuters · Posted: Apr 28, 2023 2:09 PM EDT | Last Updated: April 28


Children account for most of the 109 bodies so far recovered in mass graves linked to a cult in Kenya, the interior minister said on Friday, the latest details in a case that has shocked the country and prompted calls for tighter regulation of religious fringe groups.

Followers of the Good News International Church near the coastal town of Malindi reportedly believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves.

"The reports we are getting are that many of the recoveries are of children... Children are the majority, followed by women. Men are fewer," Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki told reporters.

"The preliminary reports we are getting is that some of the victims may not have died of starvation. There were other methods used, including hurting them, just by physical and preliminary observations," Kindiki said.

Kindiki, who called those behind the deaths terrorists, also announced the launch of an air search over the Shakahola forest, where the bodies were found and are being exhumed. He said autopsies on the recovered bodies would start on Monday.

The government would be announcing new measures governing churches next week, he said.

Dozens of bodies have been exhumed from the site of an alleged cult in Kenya. Investigators say the victims were told they would go to heaven if they starved themselves to death.

Pastors arrested

The leader of the Good News International Church, Paul Mackenzie, has been in police custody since April 14. Kenyan media say he is accused of persuading his followers to starve themselves to death.

Mackenzie has made no public comment. Reuters spoke to two lawyers acting for Mackenzie, but both declined to comment on the accusations against him.

On Thursday, a pastor at a separate nearby church, Ezekiel Odero, was arrested. He appeared in court in the coastal city of Mombasa on Friday, but was not charged and was ordered to reappear on Tuesday. He remained in police custody.

A police document presented in court and seen by Reuters said police have established that several deaths were recorded at Odero's New Life Ministry between 2022 and 2023 and that those bodies may have been moved to Shakahola forest.

Police are investigating Odero for crimes including murder, aiding suicide, abduction and child cruelty, the document said.

Kenyan authorities ignored warnings about death cult, says human rights group

Dozens of lives could have been spared if Kenyan authorities had acted sooner to shut down a notorious Christian death cult, Victor Kaudo, executive director of the Malindi Social Justice Centre, tells As It Happens host Nil Köksal.





Apr 28, 2023

The Many Facets of Identity Recovery on Escaping a Cult

The 2023 ICSA Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, will be a hybrid conference (in-person and online), co-sponsored by Info-Cult/Info-Secte.

The conference will take place at Hotel Distil in Louisville, Kentucky, from June 29 - July 1, 2023, with pre-conference workshops on Wednesday, June 28, 2023. 

Peter Blachly

In writing of my own experience thirty-five years after leaving Yogi Bhajan’s cult of the American Sikhs, I have reached the conclusion, to paraphrase a common saying, that “you can take a person out of cult, but it is much harder to take the cult out of a person.” Most cults impact every aspect of a person’s sense of identity and well-being, from appearance to world view, from sense of agency to warped ethical framework, from sense of spiritual superiority to sense of shame, and much more. Recovering from a cult requires reclaiming (or finding for the first time) an authentic sense of identity, free from the distorted norms inflicted by the cult into virtually every aspect of life. So deeply engrained are many of these norms that ex-cult members are often unaware of their source or their continued impacts upon their lives. For example, many eastern spiritual cults promote a belief in past life “karma” as a determinant of current situations, such as social status within the cult, or the rationale for unethical behavior, such as sexual abuse by the cult leader. Because most cults are all-consuming in the beliefs, attitudes, practices, and the lifestyles they promote, former members face enormous challenges to their sense of identity upon leaving, and it often takes many years to come to grips with the lingering influences of the cult.  This presentation will explore in detail some of the many factors that have lasting destructive influence even after a person has physically left a cult, and will offer options for regaining a healthy and authentic sense of identity.

Registration: https://icsahome.networkforgood.com/events/50795-2023-icsa-annual-international-conference

JFK's Assassination and "Doing Your Own Research"

Revelations about secret government programs after Kennedy’s assassination increased the power of conspiracy theories and the fervor of those who set out to expose them.

Livia Gershon
April 20, 2023

It’s become a cliché that conspiracy-minded internet users insist they’ve “done their own research.” As historian Kathryn S. Olmsted writes, that’s something people have been saying since the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, and officials’ response to it, helped to shatter many Americans’ faith in the government.

Olmsted writes that, immediately after the assassination, top leaders suspected some kind of conspiracy. Vice President Lyndon Johnson later said he did not believe Oswald acted alone but feared disaster if foreign actors were discovered to be behind the assassination. He convened the Warren Commission to officially put these worries to rest.

And it kind of worked. Between the assassination and the release of the Warren Report in September 1964, the proportion of the public who suspected a conspiracy dropped from 62 percent to 31 percent. But some people remained deeply suspicious. Olmsted describes ordinary women from around the country taking on the job of solving the case. Shirley Martin of Hominy, Oklahoma, packed up her four kids and a dog, traveled to Dallas, and interviewed more than 50 people, including the priest who gave JFK the last rites. In Beverly Hills, Maggie Fields filled her home with file boxes, scrap books, and charts. Lillian Castellano had a map of the Dallas sewer system mailed to her Los Angeles home so she could see whether another gunman might have hidden in a storm drain.

Around the country, regular people like these developed a network to share their findings. As Castellano wrote to a fellow researcher, “there are thousands of little people like you and I—all not satisfied—all wanting the truth.”

In the decade that followed, Olmsted writes, the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal fueled more skepticism. In 1975, Senator Frank Church led a major inquiry into secret government operations, revealing information about the CIA’s plots against Castro, the FBI’s harassment of Martin Luther King Jr., and other nefarious activity. The Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s lent further credence to conspiracy theorists. If top government officials ignored the law, worked with drug smugglers, and sold arms to terrorists, it seemed there was no limit to what they were capable of.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, it was no big stretch for many Americans to buy into the notion that officials had prior knowledge of—or were even behind—the attacks of September 11, 2001. Like the JFK conspiracy theorists before them, 9-11 truthers conducted their own research and shared their findings. The internet made that easier than ever, just as it facilitated later conspiracies like QAnon.

Olmsted argues that citizen researchers have performed a service to the country, helping to win the release of documents that reveal secrets about our government. Yet they’ve also played a role in shattering the trust that Americans place in the basic workings of democracy.

“The result is a profoundly weakened polity,” she writes, “With fewer citizens voting and more problems left unaddressed for a future generation that is even more cynical about the possibility of reforms.”


Apr 26, 2023

Jehovah's Witness leaders win Supreme Court appeal after woman raped by elder

Supreme Court justices have ruled that the ‘Jehovah’s Witness organisation’ is not ‘vicariously liable’ – and overturned earlier decisions.


Brian Farmer

April 26, 2023

The Jehovah’s Witness organisation has won a Supreme Court appeal after a High Court judge ruled that a rape victim should get damages.

Judges had been told that the woman was raped by a fellow Jehovah’s Witness after going door-to-door evangelising near Cardiff more than 30 years ago.

Her attacker was an elder of the Barry Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, judges heard.

She had sued for damages and claimed that the Jehovah’s Witness organisation was “responsible in law” for the rape.

A High Court judge, who made a damages award, and Court of Appeal judges had ruled in her favour.

But Supreme Court justices on Wednesday ruled against her and concluded that the “Jehovah’s Witness organisation” was not “vicariously liable”.

Trustees of the Barry Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, part of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation, had asked the Supreme Court to consider the case.

The Jehovah’s Witness organisation is not vicariously liable for the rape

Five justices had considered arguments at a Supreme Court hearing in London in February.

They said, in a summary of their ruling, that they had to decide whether Court of Appeal judges “wrongly” found that the Trustees of the Barry Congregation, part of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation, were “vicariously liable” for a rape committed by one of their elders.

Justices said they had unanimously allowed the appeal by the trustees and concluded that the “Jehovah’s Witness organisation is not vicariously liable for the rape”.

They have not named the woman – who is referred to as “Mrs B” in the ruling – and said she could not be identified in media reports of the case.

But they have named the man who raped her as Mark Sewell.

He had raped her at his home after they had been out “evangelising together”, justices said.

They said Sewell had been convicted of raping Mrs B – and of indecently assaulting two other people.

“In 2017, Mrs B brought a claim for damages against the worldwide governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Watch Tower and Bible Tract Society of Pennsylvania, and the Trustees of the (Barry) Congregation,” said the justices in the summary of their ruling.

“She claimed that they were responsible in law, or ‘vicariously liable’, for the rape, because of the nature of their relationship with Mr Sewell and because of the connection between that relationship and the commission of the rape.”

A High Court judge had “found them vicariously liable for the rape” and awarded Mrs B £62,000 “general damages”, justices said.

Court of Appeal judges had upheld that decision.

Justices said they had unanimously allowed an appeal by the Barry trustees and concluded that the “Jehovah’s Witness organisation is not vicariously liable for the rape”.

A High Court judge had made a damages award in early 2020, after considering evidence at a High Court trial in London.

Mr Justice Chamberlain heard that a “judicial committee” of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ elders had, in 1991, found the woman’s allegations against Sewell “not proven” at an internal inquiry.

But more than 20 years later Sewell was investigated by police.

Following a trial in 2014 he was convicted of rape and indecent assault and given a 14-year prison sentence.

The woman, who is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness, said she suffered depression as a result of the rape.

She said a “proper” internal inquiry had not been carried out and said leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses were “vicariously liable”.

The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, which is based in New York and is the worldwide governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the trustees of the Barry congregation, the congregation of which the woman was a member, did not accept that they were vicariously liable.

But Mr Justice Chamberlain concluded that her psychiatric injuries were attributable to the rape.

There is no convincing justification for the Jehovah's Witness organisation to bear the cost or risk of the rape committed by Mark Sewell

The five Supreme Court justices – Lord Reed, Lord Hodge, Lord Briggs, Lord Burrows and Lord Stephens – said judges had made “errors” when reaching earlier decisions.

Lord Burrows said, in the Supreme Court ruling, that the rape had not been committed while Sewell was “carrying out any activities as an elder on behalf of the Jehovah’s Witnesses”.

He said that in contrast to some child sex abuse cases, Sewell had not been “exercising control” over Mrs B “because of his position as an elder”.

“The rape was not so closely connected with acts that Mark Sewell was authorised to do that it can fairly and properly be regarded as committed by him while acting in the course of his quasi-employment as an elder,” said Lord Burrows.

“There is no convincing justification for the Jehovah’s Witness organisation to bear the cost or risk of the rape committed by Mark Sewell.

“Clearly the Jehovah’s Witness organisation has deeper pockets than Mark Sewell.

“But that is not a justification for extending vicarious liability beyond its principled boundaries.”

The four other justices said they agreed with Lord Burrows.




Danny Masterson Rape Retrial: Frustrated Judge Puts Defense & Prosecution On Notice That Things Will Be Different This Time - Update

Dominic Patten


Senior Editor, Legal & TV Critic


April 24, 2023

UPDATED, 3:08 PM: “Please don’t ever tell me to hold on,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo snapped at Danny Masterson’s lead lawyer Phillip Cohen in a remarkable moment Monday afternoon over the defense’s opening statements in Masterson’s rape retrial.

With the jury sent out of the courtroom suddenly less than half an hour into Cohen’s remarks, Olmedo made it clear to all in the full courtroom that this trial was not going to be run like the last one last year.

“The court is not going to allow the parties to go into the weeds,” the judge said sternly to both the defense and the prosecution Monday as the same problems that slowed down the previous five-week trial began to emerge. Pledging no sidebars and other occasions that could eat up time in the retrial, Olmedo got to a place today that it took her more than a week to reach in the last trial – – and she made sure the courtroom knew the rules.

Taking Cohen to task as she did many times before in the last trial, Olmedo also bluntly told the defense lawyer, “Mr. Cohen please do not use quotes, do not use previous testimony.” To cut off Cohen’s repeated mentioning of private and protected information of the Jane Does in front of the jury, onlookers and the typing media, the judge said “stop apologizing for using first names — just don’t do it!”

“Opening statement is a preview from the lawyers …that is to be done in good faith,” said Cohen earlier in the afternoon during his own opening statement in his client’s rape retrial. “There are a couple of pieces of testimony that [Assistant D.A. Reinhold Mueller] referred to in good faith that I want to talk to about,” he added, allegedly going off script to take a series of jabs at the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.

“There is no drug charge,” the lawyer said, ripping into the date-rape drug claims that Mueller put front and center in his own opening statement. “Scientology is not a defendant …just Masterson,” he also stated, much as he did in longtime church member Masterson’s previous trial last year.

Unlike the last trial, those drug claims were heavily articulated today by Mueller, who repeatedly noted how the Jane Does, all former Scientologists, complained of being disoriented after sipping a drink made for them by Masterson before the alleged sexual assaults.  

Frequently interrupted by sustained objections from Mueller, Cohen went into an expectations game of what Jane Doe No 1, aka Jen B, will say about the alleged sexual assault more than 20 years ago at Masterson’s Hollywood Hills home. That’s when, just over an hour after a return from a lunch break, a frustrated Olmedo told the jury to leave and gave the assembled lawyers a piece of her judicial mind.

Before that, citing Jen B’s 2004 LAPD report, Cohen put the credibility of now-Superintendent Alexander Schlegel as well as that of other law enforcement up against that of Jane Doe No. 1. Specifically, the lawyer sought to shred the discrepancies between what Jen B told officers about a gun Masterson had in a bedside drawer and what exactly occurred when the defendant took it out after the alleged rape.

Moving at a faster clip than the prosecution did in their opening statement and adopting a far more low-fi approach, Cohen attacked the credibility of Jane Doe No. 4, who is not among the three rape charges that make up this case, and portrayed her as a spurned one-night stand who wanted a relationship with Masterson.

Like the last trial, Cohen used a large slab of his opening statement to undercut the credibility of the Jane Does and who said what when and to whom. Seeking to taint the scene for the prosecution before testimony begins, the tactic certainly proved a welcoming spoiler for the defense last time, and they are clearly betting history will repeat itself.

After the morning recess and before the 90-minute lunch break, Mueller had continued his vivid opening statement, albeit with a bit less fuel than earlier.

Going over the alleged rape of Jane Doe No. 1 in the case, the prosecutor was a more measured than earlier in the morning but still maintained a pinpoint focus on the individual stories of the three Jane Does. Once again, his use of the courtroom video monitor amplified his remarks with photos of the alleged victims, Masterson himself, timelines and venues in question, as well as Scientology officials. This was a stark contrast to the use of much more limited technology in the previous trial, which was minimal and lightly informative at best.

Noting the lack of “human emotion” in the reports prepared by Scientology over Jen B going to the church after the alleged rape by fellow Scientologist Masterson, Mueller again returned to the shadow of the church and its “committee of evidence.” Covering ground travelled heavily in the first trial, the prosecutor also detailed the civil action put in motion by Jen B’s father and the NDA she was told to sign by Scientology officials to receive $400,000 or risk being kicked out of the church.

In the first trial, Hollywood lawyer Marty Singer was set to be called as a witness for his role in this portion of the matter; at the time, the pugilistic Singer was even seen seated in the 9th floor halls of the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center waiting to take the stand. Singer’s testimony was delayed again and again by other matters in the case, and the attorney never ended up testifying.

He is not a witness in the retrial.

Seated at the defense table today, the suited Masterson looked at the jury during Mueller’s opening statement and Cohen’s remarks, occasionally moving his facial muscles and stroking his jaw.

After the lunch break, Mueller wrapped his opening statement to tell the jurors of “expert witnesses” who will be testifying about date-rape drug symptoms and forensic psychology, among other topics.

“The four women up here, you’re going to hear what it took for these women to get in court … the limitations the church put on them,” Mueller said, pointing at the composite picture on the video monitor just next to the jurors. “They’re here to seek justice, and I’m confident that each of you will be able to render guilty on all counts.”

The jury in the previous trial were not able to reach that verdict, with the deadlocked case declared a mistrial.

(Update 4:11 PM: The defense’s opening statement ended mere minutes after the court reconvened from its afternoon break. Fast forward about 10 minutes and the first witness was called for the prosecution. Like Masterson’s last trial, the first witness was one of the Jane Does. However, this time it was the actor’s ex-girlfriend Christina B as opposed to Jen B, who was called on October 18 in the previous trial.

With that said, and a very brief delay for an alternate juror to make it back to the courtroom, the former model barely had time to describe first meeting Masterson in the late 1990s before Judge Olmedo called an end to today’s proceedings at 4 PM. Testimony will resume tomorrow at 9 AM.)

PREVIOUSLY, 10:32 AM: “This case is about the forcible rape of three women,” Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said in his opening statement Monday in Danny Masterson’s retrial on multiple rape charges. “The evidence will show they were drugged,” the prosecutor added of the three Jane Does at the heart of the Scientology spotlighting matter.

While employing language similar in scope to what the prosecutor used in his first remarks in the former That 70s Show star’s first trial last year that ended in a mistrial, Mueller strategically shifted tactics this time for a more visceral approach over what he believed happened to Jane Doe No. 1, aka Jen B, and the other women including Jane Doe No. 3, aka Christina B, who dated Masterson for several years, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Jane Doe No. 3 was “drugged and sodomized while unconscious” by “a man she loved,” Mueller said today, laying newly explicit emphasis on the theory that the defendant used date-rape drugs to incapacitate his victims. In the first trial, prosecutors strongly suggested but never truly came out to claim the “relatively famous” Masterson date-raped the Jane Does by dropping something in the fruity drinks he mixed for the women in question.

Addressing the jurors as he spoke in a much stronger voice than last time and with a constant stream of images of the Jane Does on the nearby video monitor, Mueller bluntly told the panel that there would be no “expert” taking the stand to testify whether the women had been slipped something by Masterson. However, Mueller did say that a member of the LAPD toxicology unit will testify how “common date-rape drugs metabolize” and the whether “they are consistent or inconsistent” with the situations all three Jane Does described suddenly feeling not long after Masterson handed them a drink.

With a vigor and a profanity-filled candor that was absent for the most part from the prosecution’s opening statements during the first trial last October, Mueller today laid out a pointed and relatively succinct tale for the jury of a constant pattern of abusive, lewd, entitled and violent behavior by Masterson.

“This was normal,” the Assistant D.A. asserted of the assaults that Christina B allegedly suffered from her then-boyfriend.

If the inclusion of date-rape drugs to the case was a new move, the role of Scientology was not, though even the way the church was introduced tpday was noticeably different.

All three Jane Does in the case are former members of Scientology. Masterson is still a member.

“If you’re a member of the church and you have an issue (like a rape) with another member … you are not permitted to go to law enforcement,” Mueller said of the “church’s internal justice system.” The prosecutor explained that if Christina B, or any church member for that matter, went to the police to report such an alleged crime, she would be declared “a suppressed person” and promptly “excommunicated” from Scientology.

“You pulled it in …it’s your fault,” Mueller told the jurors about how Christina B was admonished by a church ethics officer in which she confided. “You have to give him [Masterson] sex when he wants it,” the Assistant D.A. said the ethics officer told Christina B, who was in a six-year relationship with Masterson, a second-generation Scientologist, and joined the church for him.

Even before today’s proceedings formally kicked off, there was some high Scientology drama in Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo’s courtroom.

Unlike the past trial, former Scientologist Leah Remini was also in attendance today — and that was a problem for the defense. A longtime sharp and critical thorn in church leader David Miscavige’s paw, Remini was served a subpoena by the defense “this morning” by the defense, who wanted the potential witness excluded from the proceedings.

With Remini sitting in the front row surrounded by an entourage, Olmedo denied the request before the jury was brought into the packed courtroom. Hesitant to reveal why it was a possibility the former King of Queens star would be called by the defense, new-ishly hired attorney Shawn Holley would only say Remini was a “percipient witness to certain conversations” — a statement the judge redefined as an impeachment witness, based on elements of Remini’s award-winning docuseries Scientology and the Aftermath.

Remini may also end up being a witness for the prosecution for Jane Doe No. 1, Assistant D.A. Mueller confirmed. The actress took to social media this morning before the jury were in court to announce her presence and her reason for being here:

Things took another tense turn this morning when lead defense lawyer Phillip Cohen sought to have the Jane Does referred to as “accusers,” not victims. Olmedo quickly rejected that suggestion and Cohen’s claim that she previously agreed to such a designation. “In 20 years on the court, I have never said that, I never would,” the judge said as things came to a halt due to some tech-support issues.

On trial now for the same trio of sexual assault charges a jury deadlocked over last fall, Masterson has beefed up his defense team in the interim. Joining the returning Cohen at Masterson’s table is the high-profile Holley, who took a leading role right away today. A veteran of O.J. Simpson’s so-called Dream Team, plus legal battles for seemingly lost causes like Lindsey Lohan, the Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump Holley LLP partner could prove a decisive factor for the defense, especially when it comes to questioning Masterson’s accusers on the stand. It’s an area Cohen often struggled to find a consistent tone for during the last trial.

It is unclear whether the defense will roll the dice and put Masterson on the stand to testify in his own defense. Sticking to a more traditional playbook in such criminal cases, he did not testify in the first trial.

Mueller today also put focus for this jury on Kathleen Jenkins, who was not a part of the first trial. Scheduled to testify as a witness, but not one of the Jane Does, Jenkins alleges that Masterson raped her in 2000 at the wrap party for Dracula 2000 in Toronto. At the time of the alleged incident, assistant prop master Jenkins’ while her husband was just down the hall. Like other rapes cited by the D.A., Jenkins was handed a drink by Masterson and supposedly became light head and confused soon afterwards.

Although Judge Olmedo repeatedly said in the first trial that Scientology was not a defendant in the criminal case, the church, its policies and an alleged cover-up of the alleged rapes were brought up frequently by the D.A.’s office today. As they are expected to do this time round, the Cohen-led defense tried to varying degrees of failure to do everything they could to limit mention of the church.

Based on pretrial rulings in this retrial, Scientology is certain to be a significant thrust of the prosecution’s case.

Add to that, Masterson is also up against a much-delayed 2019 civil case from a number of the Jane Does and others over claims of harassment and more by Masterson and Scientology after the now-plaintiffs went to the LAPD. That case is expected to restart again later this summer.

Today’s proceedings followed a week of jury selection, motions and other housekeeping. The retrial is expected to last more than a month.

The prosecution’s opening statement is anticipated to concluded after the court’s regular morning break, with the defense set to beginning their opening statement later today.

First arrested in 2020 over incidents that occurred between 2001 and 2003 in his Hollywood Hills house, Masterson faces up to 45 years in state prison if found guilty on all three rape counts, as he did in the first trial. The actor, who was quickly fired from the Netflix comedy The Ranch at the end of 2017 as assault claims became known and has been excluded from the That 90s Show revival, always has said sex with the Jane Does had been consensual.

Expected to be in court every day, as he was in the five-week first trial, Masterson has been free on $3.3 million bail the past three years. As in the previous trial, Monday saw Masterson’s wife Bijou Phillips in the courtroom, along with others in the family like sister-in-law Mackenzie Phillips, friends and defense consultants.




Apr 25, 2023

Kenya cult deaths hits 90 as authorities expand operation


April 25, 2023

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The death toll at a ranch in coastal Kenya that is owned by a pastor who is accused of leading a religious cult and ordering his followers to starve themselves reached 90 on Tuesday, as the country’s interior minister announced an expanded operation at the site.

The new figure came after police exhumed 17 more bodies. The total number of those rescued while starving at the ranch now stands at 34.

The Kenya Red Cross Society’s latest figure on the number of missing is 213.

Pastor Paul Makenzi, who heads the Good News International Church, is accused of luring his followers to the ranch near the town of Malindi. He allegedly told them to fast to death in order to meet Jesus before burying them in shallow graves spread across his land. He was arrested after police raided the property earlier this month, and he remains in police custody.

Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said that the security team will “upscale search and rescue missions to save as many lives as possible.”

“The entire 800-acre (320-hectare) parcel of land that is part of the Shakahola ranch is hereby declared a disturbed area and an operation zone,” Kindiki said while visiting the area.

The minister said there would be a turning point on how the country handles threats caused by religious extremism and was looking into another suspected cult in the same Kilifi county.

“We have cast the net wider to another religious organization here in Kilifi. We have opened a formal inquiry on this religious group and we are getting crucial leads that perhaps what was being done by Makenzi is a tip of the iceberg,” Kindiki said.

The teams digging at the site have been finding decomposed bodies buried in mass and single graves marked with a cross.

Those believed to be living in mudwalled houses inside the ranch have been fleeing from rescue teams, and mostly those who can’t walk or talk have been rescued so far.

The Mombasa-based Muslims for Human Rights Group called on the government “to consider the option of using aerial surveillance by use of helicopters to rescue more people and make the process quicker.”

The autopsies on the bodies are set to begin on Thursday with local media reporting that government morgues in Kilifi are filled to capacity.

These are Kenya’s worst recorded cult deaths.

The broadcast regulator, Kenya Film and Classification Board, sounded the alarm in 2017 on radicalization-like content by Makenzi on television. The board’s former chairperson, Ezekiel Mutua, told local media that the content was taken off air at the time and law enforcement agencies were notified.

The pastor had been arrested twice before — in 2019 and in March of this year — in relation to the deaths of children. Each time, he was released on bond, and both cases are still proceeding through the court system.

The interior minister likened the cult deaths to one run by U.S. preacher Jim Jones, whose 900 followers took poison in a mass suicide in 1978.

Other cult activities that ended up in mass deaths include Uganda’s Kanungu cult massacre that killed 700 followers in 2000.



Chung Moo Quan — Part 1: “Kult Fu Fighting”

Was I In A Cult?: Chung Moo Quan — Part 1: “Kult Fu Fighting” 

It’s the 1970s and Kung Fu is all the rage. So when 16-year-old Russell Johnson looks to channel his (inner) rage, he signs up for a local class to learn how to become a peaceful warrior.

Only what he doesn’t know is that what he signed up for would one day almost cost him his life.


Occult Beliefs and the Far Right: The Case of the Order of Nine Angles

'This article investigates the esoteric beliefs of the Order of Nine Angles (ONA) as one way of making sense of its politics. By analyzing the ONA’s primary texts and archival data from the Information Network Focus on Religious Movements (Inform) we propose that, based on some recurring themes in the way the ONA is presented, it can be analyzed usefully as a new religious movement (NRM) with millenarian tendencies. At the same time, the aura of elitism, cool and danger-seeking that characterizes the larger Far Right milieu influences the selective appropriation of the ONA’s symbols and publications amongst violent neo-Nazis.'

Read full article: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1057610X.2023.2195065

Apr 23, 2023

First of its kind: University of Melbourne and Cheetah House partner to provide affordable access to Australian and New Zealander meditators in distress.

Although frequently touted as a universal cure-all for modern society's afflictions, meditation can result in unwanted side effects if practiced without appropriate caution. One estimate suggests that as many as 30-50% of people experience a meditation-related adverse event. The most common experiences are anxiety, depression, and difficulties concentrating, but in some cases, the experiences can be as extreme as becoming suicidal, having a psychotic episode, or feeling a strong disconnection to one’s sense of who they are (i.e., dissociation or depersonalisation). 

Australian and New Zealand meditators who have experienced such difficulties have often struggled to find appropriate support. In a ground-breaking collaboration, the Contemplative Studies Centre (CSC) at The University of Melbourne has joined forces with Cheetah House to introduce a pioneering subsidy program aimed at assisting individuals experiencing difficulties in their meditation practice. Under this scheme, eligible meditators in Australia and New Zealand can access significant services provided by Cheetah House at a highly reduced cost until 30 June 2024.* 

One Australian early user of the program commented “This is the best news I’ve heard in years…Cheetah House saved my life. I survived by making Skype calls from Australia to USA for years. Increasing awareness around this issue in Australia is one more critical step on my journey to recovery.”

The initiative is an important step towards promoting safe and effective contemplative practices and providing appropriate support to meditators who may experience adverse reactions.

"We are delighted to partner with Cheetah House in subsidising selected services for meditators in distress in the first initiative of its kind in Australia and New Zealand. We know that people are suffering without access to trauma-informed support, and we believe that our collaboration will enhance the accessibility and quality of meditation support services, such that we can minimise the harms and optimise the benefits of meditation" said A/Prof Nicholas Van Dam, Director of the Contemplative Studies Centre.

The subsidy scheme will enable Australian and New Zealand meditators in distress to access selected services provided by Cheetah House at a reduced cost. The services include private consultations, group support, and education, among others, and are designed to address the various challenges that meditators may encounter. 

"Through our partnership with the CSC, we are thrilled to offer subsidised services to meditators in need. Cheetah House’s mission of providing support and education is well-aligned with the CSC's dedication to promoting authentic contemplative practices. By joining forces, we can expand our reach globally and offer invaluable support to those Australians and New Zealanders navigating the challenges of meditation," expressed Dr Willoughby Britton, Director of Cheetah House.

Cheetah House provides support to those experiencing meditation-related difficulties, trains meditation providers in understanding and treating meditation adverse effects in a person-centred way and empowers people to make informed decisions about the role of meditation in their lives. In a world where claims about meditation are often overhyped, Cheetah House aims to provide a balanced, realistic, and informed perspective about the risks associated with meditation through the dissemination of research-based information.

Another Australian adopter of the scheme shared that "For four years I have had debilitating symptoms of post meditation adverse effects for which I could not find any local meditation practitioners nor psychologists that could assist. Eventually I found Cheetah House in the USA that had a scientifically researched codification of my symptoms and has provided me and many other worldwide with remote support, education and treatment. Over the last year I have improved significantly and now have the hope to recover. Upon hearing about the partnership between Cheetah House and University of Melbourne a deep sense of gratitude filled me for both the Australian support but more importantly that adverse meditation effects are getting the needed attention in Australia to prevent it from happening to others and provide future treatment"

The Contemplative Studies Centre (CSC) works with interdisciplinary collaborators across the University of Melbourne, in the broader community and worldwide to develop, deliver, support and promote innovative and authentic contemplative practices through their three programs of engagement, education, and practice, underpinned by a strong foundation of research. In line with this focus, the CSC has established the subsidy scheme to facilitate access for Australian and New Zealand meditators to the world-leading services provided by Cheetah House.

CSC is contributing US$21,000 to this scheme which will run through to 30 June 2024.

*For information on how to access the CSC subsidy scheme and important terms and conditions, visit: Cheetahhouse.org/um-disclaimer

Cheetah House is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. EIN: 45-4494069

Apr 22, 2023

Ex-members of extremist Mormon sect plead for help to find missing children

The leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints issued a ‘revelation’ that has parents worried.
MacKenzie Ryan
The Guardian
April 21, 2023

“This is child trafficking. This is kidnapping,” said Lorraine Jessop.

Several former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the polygamist sect led by Warren Jeffs, are calling on law enforcement and prosecutors to help them find their missing children, some of whom have not been seen for years.

In a press conference in Cedar City, Utah, on Monday, the parents and their advocates say a growing number of children living with one parent who had left the church have gone missing recently. They believe their children are receiving help from current FLDS members to return to the close-knit settlements.

Jessop, one of the parents who spoke at Tuesday’s news conference, said three of her children disappeared in the dead of night this winter, and they have not been seen since. She said her children were under extreme pressure to return to the FLDS, despite her being their only living custodial parent. She knows of five other children who are missing and may be in an FLDS settlement, she said.

Jessop described finding grocery bags, walkie-talkies and bandages hidden for her children, tools she suspects were left there in order to help them run away.

Advocates say the children are deeply indoctrinated and under extreme pressure to return to the FLDS, believing their eternal salvation is at risk if they don’t. They say the driving force behind the uptick in disappearances is an August 2022 “revelation”, allegedly given by Jeffs but communicated through his son, Helaman, that calls on current members and cast-out parents to bring all FLDS children back into the church in order for them to be “translated”, a fundamentalist Mormon term for resurrection after death, within five years.

The order has parents and advocates deeply concerned. “Will this be another Jim Jones and everyone will drink the Kool-Aid?” said Tonia Tewell, executive director at Holding Out Help, a nonprofit that teaches self-sufficiency to current and former polygamists.

The Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints is a religious organization with approximately 10,000 members who practice plural marriage in settlements primarily along the Colorado-Arizona border. Historically, members have been required to follow the edicts of the group’s prophet, or leader.

Warren Jeffs, the FLDS leader, has arranged marriages, including between adult men and female minors, as part of the group’s polygamist practices, according to Utah and Texas officials. He was arrested in 2006 and later found guilty of rape by an accomplice and child sexual assault. He is now serving a life sentence.

Before his arrest, Jeffs held the community in a tight grip, said Tewell. “In general, Warren Jeffs had full control over everybody in his community down to what they eat,” she said. FLDS members aren’t permitted phones and toys. Few read newspapers. Even the food rations come from an FLDS-controlled storehouse, she said. Tewell said she’s met kids who left the compound-type environment who thought Jeffs was the president of the United States.

There’s a long history in the community of children being separated from their parents, said Roger Hoole, an attorney representing five parents whose children are missing.

There’s a custom in the sect to send away people to “repent” at a distance, which means they are supposed to go away and not have any contact, particularly with their kids, as a test to see if they are obedient, Hoole explained. Sometimes these parents never get invited back into the fold. “There are FLDS parents all over the country who were sent away, trying to be obedient and demonstrate loyalty, while their children are being raised by FLDS caretakers,” he said, calling the practice dangerous. Once children are unaccounted for, he said, they are at risk of being trafficked – the boys for labor, the girls for underage marriage.

“What’s different now,” Hoole said, “is that some of the parents have decided that they need to get out of it and think they need to get their children out of the FLDS. “When one parent wants the kids in, and when one wants the kids out, there’s conflict.”

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Custody disputes between parents, one of whom still belongs to the FLDS and the other who has left, are becoming increasingly common since Jeffs has been imprisoned, Hoole said.

In recent years, it’s become unclear how mentally fit Jeffs is, CBS News reported, and how far his influence extends outside prison. And in the last couple of years, there hasn’t been a strong leader in the FLDS, Tewell said, leading some people to have “one foot in the world and one foot in the community”.

The parents and their advocates do not believe that their children would have been able to run away without support. Sarah Johnson, another mother who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference, said her son Salome would never have been able to run away alone. FLDS children are raised in such a sheltered situation that they don’t have people to run to, Johnson said.

Salome disappeared two years ago, amid a custody battle between Johnson and Salome’s father, Rulon Jessop. Jessop, an active FLDS member, was supposed to deliver their son into her permanent custody when he went missing from his father’s home, Johnson said. Jessop has said in court he has looked for his son, but has not seen him since then.

Hoole said the context of the sect makes action by the courts particularly difficult. Though courts are well-suited to provide rules when parents cannot get along, they assume parents will go to court and cooperate. However, in his cases, the FLDS parents are religiously prohibited from compromising with non-believing parents, who are referred to as apostates. “As a result, kids are running away,” he said.

The revelation, Hoole said, has made the disappearances extra concerning: “That’s different from anything in the past.”

The FLDS and Warren Jeffs could not be reached for comment.


Kenyan police mark out site of suspected cult graves

April 21, 2023

NAIROBI, April 21 (Reuters) - Kenyan police have begun marking out the locations of more than a dozen suspected graves in the east of the country thought to contain the remains of followers of a Christian cult who believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves to death, two witnesses said.

On Thursday, homicide detectives marked out patches of bare earth with sticks and yellow tape in Shakahola forest in Kilifi county, near the location where police rescued 15 members of the Good News International Church last week, according to footage broadcast by Citizen TV.

The leader of the church, Paul Mackenzie, was arrested following a tip-off that also suggested the existence of shallow graves belonging to at least 31 of Mackenzie's followers.

Police said the 15 rescued worshippers had been told to starve themselves to death so they could meet their creator. Four of them died before they reached hospital.

Matthew Shipeta from Haki Africa, a human rights group, said he had seen at least 15 shallow graves in the forest.

"Today, we will just identify where the shallow graves are located, as we wait for direction from the government pathologist who will authorise the exhumation of the bodies," he told Citizen TV.

Helen Mikali, the manager of a children's home who was also helping investigators, said she had visited several nearby villages where parents and children had disappeared.

"Personally I have visited about 18 children's graves," Mikali told Citizen TV. She did not say how she knew the graves contained the remains of children.

Last month police arrested and later released Mackenzie in connection with the deaths of two boys in Magarini, also in Kilifi county. In an affidavit dated March 23 police said the parents of the two boys had starved them and then suffocated them on the advice of Mackenzie.

Reporting by Hereward Holland; Editing by Hugh Lawson



Religion Dispatches
APRIL 21, 2023

When a mass shooting happens, and the perpetrator has left a manifesto or text that could give insight into his motive, worldview and state of mind, one of the first go-to rules for the media is: do not circulate the content. Don’t reproduce it uncritically or at all; don’t skim it and publish your take without waiting for the analysis of experts in the field.

And yet, so many German media outlets broke all of those rules last month when a 29-year-old former Jehovah’s Witness entered a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in Hamburg and shot and killed 8 people, including himself. Journalists quickly found a book he had written which was then readily available on Amazon, and which he had advertised on the day of the murders on his LinkedIn page.

In this age of clickbait, headlines like “crazy Devil manifesto” made the rounds quickly, with some non-specialists in the field of right-wing Christian violence weighing in quickly, seemingly having only skimmed the book, but offering hot-takes nonetheless.

Mass shootings do happen in Germany, though they’re rare compared to the US. Still, last year, a man opened fire in a lecture at Heidelberg University—and it wasn’t the only mass shooting in recent German history:

“In 2020, the nation saw two high-profile shootings, one that killed six people and another that took nine lives. In the most recent shooting involving a site of worship, a far-right extremist attempted to force his way into a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur in 2019. After failing to gain entry, he shot two people to death nearby.”

Media interest in the phenomenon usually spikes immediately following a mass shooting, before quickly moving on to the next shiny object. This has happened in the Hamburg case as well—but careful analysis of a mass shooter’s manifesto takes time and should be left to experts, as Kathleen Belew, professor and expert on White supremacist terror and violence at Northwestern University, warned after the Buffalo shooting in the US:

“For whoever needs this today: ‘manifesto’ is a genre of writing and does not connote credibility, quality, etc. A bad novel is still a novel. A manifesto is a document that seeks to make a political case via ideological explanation, often for an act of violence. (1) In events like the Buffalo shooting, the manifesto is critically important to experts in determining motive, connection with other acts of violence, and context. (2) However, the manifesto in this case (as in many acts of white power violence) is designed to radicalize others. SO PLEASE DON’T POST/SHARE IT. (3) The people who spend their lives thinking about this rhetoric have the manifesto and are dealing with decoding it.”

And yet, many German media outlets did just that in the wake of the Hamburg shooting, trying to satisfy the demands of a perpetual, 24/7 news cycle—even though analysis, particularly in cases of right-wing violence, can be slow and requires care. Psychologist and expert on conspiracy ideologies Pia Lamberty warns RD when asked about the difficulties of reporting on mass shootings:

“Analyzing the motivation for mass shootings or terrorist attacks is complex and takes time. A superficial analysis of the manifesto is not enough. However, social interest often wanes very quickly, which is why in-depth analyses no longer receive media attention. But many questions can only be answered after some time, some never: What role did ideology play in the act, what was the relationship between mental illness and ideology for the act itself.”

And what can be gained from analyzing the manifesto of a mass shooter? While there are different genres of shooters’ declarations, they give some insight into the perpetrator’s worldview and influences, enabling experts to identify patterns of thought and ideology, an important step in finding a sociological answer to the question of the motivation behind the outburst of deadly violence.

I took the time to read the several hundred pages-long book written by the Hamburg shooter, and will offer a meta-analysis instead of direct quotes or anything that would circulate even portions of the manuscript. The book reads like a mixture of free-association Bible exegesis and the scribblings of an excited freshman fired up after an introductory lecture on theology and eschatology.

The text seeks to explain God’s nature and the way the world works using diagrams, wildly convoluted interpretations of Bible verses, and a half-baked theory about the “hierarchy” of God, Jesus, angels and Satan. Apart from revealing the world’s gears and the hidden secrets of God and Jesus, the manifesto praises Trump, DeSantis and Putin as those doing God’s work, and sees God’s will in Trump’s nominations to the Supreme Court.

While it’s important not to stigmatize mental illness even further, the book does give the impression of someone in crisis. Coherence is not to be expected, but the lack of coherence can give trained professionals an indication of the murderer’s state of mind. Ultimately the shooter’s sanity is something for trained psychologists to assess, though mental illness can’t be blamed for the adoption of a far-right worldview. It can, however, play a role in sending someone further down the right-wing rabbit hole.

Because of the shooter’s background as a Jehovah’s Witness, questions have arisen as to whether and how his worldview has been influenced by their theology and beliefs. One can indeed detect some echoes in the book, particularly in his patriarchal perspective and his fervent belief in idealized, traditional gender roles.

Dawn Ying, who grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness in the US and has since left the denomination, explained to RD how, in her experience, strict patriarchal hierarchy was an elemental part of JW community life:

“It’s honestly very, very similar to any other fundamentalist/conservative Christian group. Pain in childbirth is our punishment for Eve’s sin. Women are the weaker vessel. Women in abusive marriages are taught that it’s likely their fault for not being submissive enough or meeting the man’s needs. While women are allowed to work outside the home, in cases where the husband earns enough money, women are often encouraged to give up their jobs so they can ‘pioneer,’ and spend most of their time out in ‘field service’ going door to door and ‘witnessing’ to others.

There are NEVER to be any women in leadership positions. Women cannot even carry the microphones in the Kingdom Hall, or help with the sound system (I wanted to be a microphone carrier when I was little and was crushed when told girls couldn’t do that)… Growing up, it was taught and understood that married women did not hold control over their own bodies… Women are ‘lesser’—and that belief and feeling permeates everything the JW’s teach and believe and do.”

Religion scholar Bradley Onishi agrees, noting, “There are theological echoes there with Jesus and God being distinct and sometimes in disagreement, that rings of JW beliefs.”

The motives for mass shootings aren’t always clear—often they’re complex and muddled. However, certain characteristics can be found in most mass shootings. The Hamburg shooter shares a common trait with others: his misogyny runs deep throughout the manifesto, including his firm belief in patriarchal hierarchy. These beliefs are not exclusively confined to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course—the misogynist narratives the Hamburg shooter uses are staples in far-right, violent spaces, like the frame that bemoans the alleged moral decay of modern womankind.

The Hamburg shooter, like many adherents of far-right beliefs, derives the legitimacy for his contempt for women from God. According to him, men are spiritually and hierarchically superior to women, while it’s the job of women to bear children and to obey men. This strict patriarchal orientation and traditionalist gender hierarchy can also be found among Jehovah’s Witnesses, just like among classic complementarians and other right-wing Christian and theologically conservative denominations.

Many of his claims are also in accordance with a number of broader right-wing Christian beliefs: he condemns abortion as murder, rails against sex work and is explicitly anti-LGBTQ. At times the shooter’s beliefs contain other distant echoes of the theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses—in the rejection of the Trinity or End Times beliefs—but other times his theology diverges sharply from Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as his belief that Hitler got the idea of a “1000-year Reich” from Jesus, and that, therefore, the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany was in accordance with divine will. (Jehovah’s Witnesses were in fact persecuted and sent to concentration camps in Nazi Germany.)

While a lot of his manifesto reads like the unique ramblings of a distressed mind, there is another trait the Hamburg shooter shares with other far-right mass shooters: antisemitism. In his manifesto he spreads the classic Christian antisemitic myth that Jews were guilty of the murder of God—also known as deicide. He then moves on to claim that this was intentional on the part of Jesus as his brutal execution was necessary to save humanity. Another deeply antisemitic conspiracy myth he spreads (which I will not reproduce in detail here) portrays Russia as an instrument of God and Ukraine as the subject of God’s punishment.

The interpretation of wars as a sign of approaching End Times is common in Christian fundamentalist circles, which are often conspiracy-believing, and is also found in far-right online spaces. But the Hamburg shooter believed that humanity was already living in the “1000-year Reich,” at whose end he saw not an apocalypse, but the perfection of humankind. Ben Lorber, senior research analyst at Political Research Associates* explains how this ties together various right-wing themes, like antisemitism, glorification of violence, hyper-nationalism and apocalypticism:

“Other far-right themes shine through in his writing. Claims that war has a ‘purifying effect,’ adoration of God as ‘a power being through and through,’ and admiration of ancient Spartan warriors, finds echoes in far-right [social media] ideologues like Bronze Age Pervert. The writer’s belief that God works to restore strong national borders and sovereignty, and opposes processes of globalization for the chaos, lawlessness and assorted sin they supposedly bring, is another hallmark of a nationalist worldview, while his exaltation of male patriarchal dominance and vilification of LGBTQ people dovetails smoothly with far-right traditionalism on the rise the world over.

His attempts to label Hitler as the ‘human executive of Jesus Christ,’ with Nazified Berlin as the ‘center of the new 1,000-year Reich under Jesus Christ,’ offers yet another clue that his apocalyptic worldview cashes out in the direction of ultranationalism. His statement that the ‘persecution of the Jews during the Nazi era was an act of heaven’ points, of course, to a deeply antisemitic worldview, even if the rampant antisemitic conspiracism that motivated many mass shooters is not present in this manifesto.”

Lorber further deciphers how belief in End Times theology can go hand in hand with conspiracist thinking to justify violence, and why the the Hamburg shooter is yet another example of this:

“To the apocalyptic religious conspiracist, every political event is interpreted through the lens of paranoid conspiracy, and every detail of human history is retroactively summoned as proof that the divine hand is at work behind the scenes, and the End Times are right around the corner. This charges the violent acts of the conspiracist with an urgent fervor—the stakes could not be higher, so any moral consideration is tossed out the window in light of the messianic certainty.

The writer’s attempts to decipher the precise dates and contours of the End Times by applying Bible prophecy to political events of the modern era such as World Wars, the establishment of the United Nations and the State of Israel, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the COVID-19 pandemic is, of course, a hallmark of apocalyptic Christian conspiratorial thinking. Like other far-right actors, it’s easy to see how this narrative could justify the violence he committed.”

The Hamburg shooter’s god is a brutal and cruel one, and while he seems to grapple with this in the beginning, at the end of the book he has come to terms with it. He doesn’t include open Islamophobia in the manifesto, or the classic “White genocide” or “great replacement” conspiracy theories that we’ve come to expect from far-right shooters’ manifestos, yet his writing shows, once again, that the ways in which far-right ideologies influence mass shooters are manifold.

There doesn’t appear to be any direct connection between the manifesto and the people he targeted during his murderous rampage, but the founding director of the Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab (PERIL) at the American University, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, reminds us that:

“So many mass shooters (many of whom leave no manifestos at all) are steeped in propaganda or conspiracy theories online or have signs they traffic in antisemitic and racist (Highland Park shooter) or deeply misogynistic (Uvalde shooter) content online, but those online engagements don’t appear linked to the actual targets they choose (parade-goers, elementary school).”

Lorber agrees that the absence of “great replacement” and “White genocide” rhetoric should not be seen as a sign that this manifesto is somehow less nefarious in its violent fantasies than others, but rather as a sign that violent far-right actors often subscribe to a mixture of ideologies and narratives that don’t necessarily require coherence:

“While some far-right mass shooters subscribe to explicitly White nationalist views on racial supremacy and conspiracy theories concerning the ‘great replacement’ of Whites through non-White immigration, this isn’t always the case. Some shooters subscribe, rather, to male supremacist and ‘incel’ ideologies; some to Christian apocalypticism and Manichean narratives of an immanent war between good and evil; some combine all of these; and still others profess a heterogeneous mixture of ideologies and narratives.

In our era of online radicalization, mass shooters may sample from these and other ideologies, all sourced from the far reaches of conspiracism. Antisemitism is typically in the mix for many mass shooters, as ‘the Jews’ offer a convenient foil, representing an immensely powerful, diabolical foe that stands behind the problems the shooter deems in need of correction in the world.”

And while the shooter’s relationship with his former denomination, which he had since left, has still to be examined when it comes to motive, the Hamburg shooter’s book already provides extraordinary insight both into his worldview and state of mind at the time of the massacres. Two assessments for the Hamburg police, one (inexplicably) by an expert on Islamist terrorism, and the other by a psychiatrist, have since stated, according to media reports, that:

“the Hamburg shooter could have acted out of religious motives when committing the crime. … In the book, [he] wrote several times that all known religious groups withheld the actual truth from the faithful.”

The psychiatrist mentions the possibility that the Hamburg shooter had a narcissistic personality disorder, but was likely of sound mind when he committed the murders. Both come, however, to the truly puzzling conclusion, that the Hamburg shooter was not far-right politically, because the manifesto was missing “racism.”

According to their view, while some of his statements could be read as “anti-democratic,” this does not, they believe, amount to a “right wing world view”—a rather disturbing conclusion given the evidence discussed. The Hamburg police might consider another assessment from an expert in Christian terrorism, since the misogyny, right-wing political positions, rampant anti-semitism, reverence for far-right political figures including Hitler, conspiracism, violent fantasies and patriarchal religious beliefs were clearly not enough for them to see the Hamburg shooter as a far-right actor.

This is another addition to the list of horrific failures of the Hamburg police who, despite anonymous warnings that the suspect was not only in possession of a licensed weapon, but also seemed mentally unstable and had written a book espousing a disturbing right-wing worldview, still failed to step in to strip him of his weapon. Police visited his home and questioned him, but failed to find the book online—even though he was advertising it boisterously on his website. It is an indictment of the OSINT capabilities of the Hamburg police—the lack of which very likely cost eight people their lives.

The Hamburg shooter’s manifesto, which belongs to a growing body of texts written by mass shooters, shows the complexity of how individual perpetrators can draw influence from varying corners of far-right ideologies. His writing, a reflection of his hate-filled worldview displays staples of a far-right mindset—conspiracist thinking, deep misogyny, antisemitism, and the belief in a violent, vengeful god who reigns with an iron fist and destroys his enemies.

The book’s theology might be convoluted and nonsensical; the work of a hateful, possibly disturbed mind, but his praise of far-right figures like Trump, Putin and DeSantis is no coincidence. The echoes of the Hamburg shooter’s worldview can be found in far-right online and media spaces around the world—building the groundwork, the imagined legitimacy for horrendous acts such as this, slowly poisoning the very fabric of the society they seek to destroy.

*Political Research Associates is the publisher of Religion Dispatches, though RD maintains editorial independence.