Dec 23, 2023

Jung Myung Seok, founder of the South Korean religious cult JMS, sentenced to 23 years in prison by the district court for raping followers of his church



On December 22 KST, the 12th Criminal Division of the Daejeon District Court sentenced Jung Myung Seok (78), the founder of the Christian religious cult JMS (Jesus Morning Star, also known as Providence), to 23 years in prison for sexually assaulting three of his female followers from 2018 through 2021.

The infamous cult founder, whose heinous sexual crimes against female members of his church once again came to light earlier this year through the Netflix docuseries 'In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal', was once sentenced to 10 years in prison between 2008 and 2018 after being found guilty of sexually abusing and assaulting four female followers from 2001 through 2006. Immediately after being released from 2018, Jung Myung Seok proceeded to commit sexual crimes within his church once again, this time sexually abusing and assaulting three female followers of JMS 23 times between February of 2018 through September of 2021. Two of the victims are known to be former JMS members of foreign nationality. 

Initially, the prosecution demanded a total of 30 years in prison for Jung Myung Seok, claiming, "In February 2009, Jung Myung Seok was sentenced to 10 years in prison for raping female members of his church. After his release from prison in February of 2018, Jung showed no signs of reflection, immediately committing the same crimes again, this time against 3 victims for a period of approximately 3 years."

The prosecution continued, "Jung and his JMS followers brainwashed the victims into thinking that Jung was a messiah, then abused their faith to commit sexual crimes. The victims are currently suffering from severe trauma and wish to see Jung facing harsh punishment." 

Meanwhile, the JMS cult, founded by Jung Myung Seok in 1980, is believed to be a massive cult with several overseas branches. Key leaders of the cult have also attempted to destroy or temper evidence related to Jung Myung Seok's sexual crimes, even going to lengths as to countersue victims for defamation and accusing them of lying and fabricating stories. 

While the possibility of Jung's side appealing the court decision remains open, it's also known that 18 additional victims have reported Jung for sexual assault, and investigations surrounding these cases are still ongoing.


Dec 22, 2023

Alex Batty says he decided to return to UK after argument with his mother

Teenager says he invented a story about walking for four days through mountains in order to protect his mother and grandfather


The Guardian

Mabel Banfield-Nwachi and agency

December 22, 2023    

Alex Batty, the teenager who returned to the UK six years after he disappeared with his mother and grandfather, has revealed he decided to come back for a better future, having realised his mother was “a great person but not a great mum”.

Interviewed for the first time, the 17-year-old said he realised he could no longer live with his “anti-government, anti-vax” mum after an argument.

In an interview with the Sun, the teenager, who is back in the UK more than six years after he disappeared on holiday in Spain with his mother and grandfather, said he had become fed up of his nomadic lifestyle with “no friends and no social life”.

Alex did not return from a pre-arranged trip there when he was 11 and is said to have lived an “alternative” lifestyle abroad before deciding to return home.

He was picked up by Fabien Accidini, a chiropody student, near the French city of Toulouse in the early hours of Wednesday last week after walking 22 miles in two days.

He said he was concerned his mother and grandfather could be arrested on suspicion of child abduction and so he invented a story about walking for four days through the mountains to make it harder for police to find them.

“I’ve been lying to try and protect my mum and grandad but I realise that they’re probably gonna get caught anyway,” he said.

“I pretended I had been on such a long journey for that reason.”

Speaking about his mother, Melanie Batty, in the interview with the paper, he said: “She’s a great person and I love her but she’s just not a great mum.

“I had an argument with my mum and I just thought I’m gonna leave because I can’t live with her.”

The teenager – who is now under the legal guardianship of his grandmother, Susan Caruana, in Oldham, Greater Manchester – said his mother was “anti-government, anti-vax” and her catchphrase was “becoming a slave to the system”.

“I realised it wasn’t a great way to live for my future,” he continued.

“Moving around. No friends, no social life. Working, working, work and not studying. That’s the life I imagined I would be leading if I were to stay with my mum.”

After being looked after by the French authorities, Alex met his step-grandfather at Toulouse airport on Saturday before boarding a flight back to the UK, Greater Manchester police said.

He can now look forward to spending time with family members, friends and others he grew up with in Greater Manchester, where he was living as a young boy before he disappeared and police say is “where he wants to be”.

It is thought Alex had been living with his mother and grandfather – who had taken him on the trip to Spain in September 2017 – in Spain, Morocco and France while he was missing.

Last week, French prosecutors said Melanie Batty, who does not have legal parental guardianship, may be in Finland.

Antoine Leroy told reporters Alex had said he knew his way of life with his mother “had to stop” after she announced an intention to move to Finland.


The Alcott Anarchist Experiment

The failures at Fruitlands showed that anarchist and vegetarian ideals weren’t enough to sustain a community—spiritually or nutritionally.



Katrina Gulliver 

December 15, 2023

There have been various utopian experiments over the last 200 years. From communes to cult compounds and new religions, different groups have tried to create alternative models of society. Bronson and Abigail Alcott (parents of Louisa May Alcott), for example, established such a community, called Fruitlands, in Massachusetts in the 1840s. Together with Bronson’s friend Charles Lane and their families, the Alcotts attempted to live out a vision of agrarian self-sufficiency.

As historian Kathryn R. Falvo explains, the Fruitlands experiment was also an early American example of both anarchism and veganism. To the extent that the Alcotts were anarchist (not a term they would have used), their vision seemed to include a world without property ownership. (Not coincidentally, Bronson Alcott had previously been jailed for resisting taxes.) They wanted to create a harmonious community without property or commerce.

In addition, they (especially the men) wanted to free themselves from a meat diet. One of the intellectual influences on their dietary choices was socialist theorist Charles Fourier, whose views found an audience among other countercultural New Englanders of the era. In this, the Alcotts and Lanes were part of a wave of dietary modernizers, linked to the Protestant revivals of the nineteenth century and a response to industrialization. As with Sylvester Graham and his eponymous cracker and the cereals of John Harvey Kellogg, these movements were about improved health but also temperance and moral uplift.

Vegetarianism had gained some currency in the early nineteenth century (more so in the United Kingdom than the United States) and had visible advocates among social reformers. But members of the Fruitlands commune took it further than many, transitioning to full-on veganism.

“The prescribed diet at Fruitlands thus represented a clean break from the animal world,” writes Falvo. “When reformers referred to a ‘flesh diet,’ they meant the gamut of materials produced by animals.”

The mandate was clear: “No animal substance, neither flesh, butter, cheese, eggs, nor milk, pollute our tables, or corrupt our bodies.” No one at Fruitlands was allowed to “wear animal-derived clothing, use animals for farm work…not even use manure as fertilizer.”

This step toward dietary extremism was more of a response to the commune’s spiritual aims than any concern about the slaughter or consumption of animals.

Like many intellectuals who have attempted such self-sufficiency, the Fruitlanders had failed to anticipate the amount of labor involved in agricultural work.

“We tend to think that vegans eschew meat and dairy out of a respect for animal life,” Falvo writes. “But at Fruitlands, the decision to do so was premised on an utter disregard—or more accurately, downright disgust—with both the literal and metaphorical ‘animal.’”

In order to promote the (potential) purity of humans, it was necessary to degrade the animal, “both in flesh and in concept,” Falvo explains.

Fruitlanders believed, as did many vegetarians at the time, that abstinence from animal flesh would purify the human soul. In their logic, communal adherence to this principle would create perfectly good human beings, separated from all negative influences and able to behave in the most charitable, giving manner.

But the Fruitlanders’ vision of society didn’t free them from their devotion to gender roles. According to Falvo, “Bronson and Charles Lane may have wanted to rid themselves of animal influences. But they certainly found no inconsistencies in treating Abigail like a workhorse.”

Like many intellectuals who have attempted such self-sufficiency, the Fruitlanders had failed to anticipate the amount of labor involved in agricultural work. And in this case, the men seemed happy to abandon the project to go on, for instance, speaking tours, leaving the women (or rather, primarily Abigail, who was at times the only other adult present) to do all the domestic and farm work.

to be willing to join, but few prospective members stuck around once they experienced communal living. Bronson was a stern ruler, resulting in participants leaving or getting kicked out (in one case, for the transgression of eating a small piece of fish at someone’s house). The anarchist vision was not an egalitarian one.

In the end, it transpired that the vegan diet (or at least the diet they managed to scratch together from their poor farming and refusal to buy anything) was nutritionally deficient, leaving Fruitlanders weakened and ill.

As a result of these combined challenges, the commune collapsed, echoing the failure of other utopian experiments. But if nothing else, the Fruitlands history demonstrates the persistent will of idealists to try something new, and their belief that they can recreate the world anew.

Three Tips for Teaching:

Incorporate primary sources: Read an 1888 sermon on Bronson Alcott’s character from the Middlebury College’s Abernethy Collection of American Literature via JSTOR. The collection also contains numerous letters penned by Bronson.

Read about Fruitlands in Louisa May Alcott’s journal (published 1889), courtesy of Brigham Young University’s Italian Travel Literature Collection on JSTOR.

Visit Fruitlands. Take a New England field trip to the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts.

Dec 20, 2023

Hungarian prosecutors charge 11 Church of Scientology members with tax evasion

The church's financial managers have been accused of evading part of its VAT liability

December 12, 2023



Eleven people in the Church of Scientology have been indicted in a tax fraud case in Hungary.

On Monday, the Budapest Prosecutor's Office announced only that members of "a religious association with an international background" had been charged with 600 million forints (€1.56 million) in tax fraud without naming the actual association involved, however, news portal reports named the Church of Scientology as prosecutors' target.

According to a statement by the prosecutor's office, the financial managers of some of the church's organizational units illegally avoided part of the VAT liability incurred in the business-economic activities of the units between 2012 and 2017.

The prosecutor's office said that the income of the church's organizational units was untruthfully classified as a fully or partially tax-exempt donation and recorded as such in their accounts, thus concealing their taxable income from the competent tax authority and failing to meet their VAT obligations.

According to the prosecutor's office, the primary objective of some of the defendants was to generate as much revenue as possible for the department. They deliberately acquiesced in the filing of false tax returns and tax evasion.

They added that the managers, in accordance with their internal policy, sought to obtain the maximum possible revenue for the department and therefore the proceeds from the sale of the courses and related books and media on detoxification, self-analysis, and learning support were treated as donations in order to avoid paying tax.

In the case, the Budapest Prosecutor's Office charged a total of 11 people — six women and five men — with the crime of "budget fraud causing particularly great financial loss" and other offenses. The prosecutors proposed that they be sentenced to imprisonment and fines and that one of them be banned from working as an accountant. Prosecutors also proposed the confiscation of the church's assets.

The Church of Scientology is not officially classified as a church in Hungary, and has been on the list of organizations posing a risk to national security for years.

Nevada high court upholds sex abuse charges against 'Dances With Wolves' actor Nathan Chasing Horse

AP News


December 19, 2023


LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Nevada Supreme Court has denied Nathan Chasing Horse’s request to toss a sprawling indictment that accuses the former “Dances With Wolves” actor of leading a cult, taking underage wives and sexually abusing Indigenous women and girls for decades.

The court’s decision means prosecutors can proceed with their 18-count criminal case after months of delayed proceedings while Chasing Horse challenged it. The 47-year-old has been in custody since his arrest in January near the North Las Vegas home he is said to have shared with five wives.

Chasing Horse pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include sexual assault of a minor, kidnapping and child abuse.

His lawyers argued that the case should be dismissed because, the former actor said, the sexual encounters were consensual. One of his accusers was younger than 16, the age of consent in Nevada, when the alleged abuse began, authorities said.

Public defender Kristy Holston also argued that the indictment was an overreach by the Clark County district attorney’s office. She said some of the evidence presented to the grand jury, including a definition of grooming, had tainted the state’s case.

Holston didn’t immediately respond to a Tuesday request for comment on the state Supreme Court’s decision.

Chasing Horse is known for his portrayal of Smiles a Lot in the 1990 film “Dances with Wolves.”

Law enforcement authorities say in the decades since starring in the Oscar-winning movie, Chasing Horse built a name for himself among tribes as a self-proclaimed medicine man while traveling around North America to perform healing ceremonies. They say he used his position to gain access to vulnerable girls and women starting in the early 2000s.

The abuse allegations cross multiple U.S. states, including Nevada, where he was living at the time of his arrest, as well as Montana and South Dakota, according to the indictment.

One of the victims identified in the Nevada case was 14 when Chasing Horse told her that the spirits of their ancestors had instructed him to have sex with her, according to court documents and prosecutors.



Yamat covers Nevada and the U.S. Southwest for The Associated Press. She is based in Las Vegas.


Dec 19, 2023

A one-time law allowed Hasidic women to name the men they say abused them

Victims tell Michelle Del Rey the doctor’s abuse spanned across a 15-year period

The Independent

December 18, 2023

“Do you remember him?” Nechie Fischman’s friend asked her in November.

It had been nearly a decade since the 30-year-old former Orthodox Jewish woman last saw the Brooklyn doctor.

Still, she remembered him instantly.

The friend had sent her an Instagram post from a charity looking for plaintiffs to participate in a lawsuit against Dr Robert Goodman. (Dr Goodman denies the allegations in the lawsuit.)

The group would file under the recently expired New York’s Adult Survivors Act, a piece of legislation allowing adult survivors of sexual abuse to file civil claims against their assailants during a one-year lookback window regardless of when the crime occurred.

But for Ms Fischman, there was a lot to consider.

Borough Park’s tight-knit and conservative Orthodox Jewish community would talk. She feared people would think she was problematic for having suffered the alleged abuse and even more so for publicly discussing it so many years later.

“The good people don’t speak up,” Ms Fischman told The Independent.

However, at that point, she said, “I had nothing to lose.”

Two days before the ASA expiration, she joined the lawsuit alongside three other women who formerly belonged to, or are currently part of, the orthodox community, Malky Wigder, Liba Kolp and a ‘Jane Doe’. All of them claim that Dr Goodman sexually assaulted them while they were his patients.

In a statement through his attorney, Dr Goodman said, “I unequivocally deny all the allegations in the complaint.

“I have had tens of thousands of patient interactions over the decades and, in stark contrast to the allegations in the complaint, I have received significant praise from patients throughout my career concerning the quality of the care I provide and for my professionalism,” he said.

Their experiences, according to the complaint, are similar. The women went in for routine examinations and during the visits, they say the doctor groped their breasts.

Two of the women spoke to The Independent and said they want to see the doctor held accountable for his alleged actions, which they say happened across 15 years and deeply impacted the community.

One woman, who is the Jane Doe in the suit against Dr Goodman, asked to remain anonymous because she worries about being ostracised by the orthodox community.

She hasn’t even told her parents about the abuse, she said in court filings.

“In our community, being an unmarried woman who was subjected to sexual contact of any kind, even nonconsensual, is looked down upon and viewed as a source of shame and embarrassment,” reads the lawsuit.

Also, publicising her name could make it very difficult for her to find an orthodox husband, she said.

“As soon as they hear there’s any trauma, sexual abuse, they see it as baggage,” she told The Independent, referring to the community at large. “Nobody wants that. They think it’s a bad thing.”

The ASA gave women from New York’s fiercely private Hasidic communities a chance to speak out about sexual assault in a profound way, with women able to come forward together.

According to Asher Lovy, the director of ZA’AKAH, an organisation dedicated to raising awareness about sexual abuse in the orthodox community, at least a few dozen lawsuits have been filed by current or former members of the community against their assailants.

Three women are individually suing a different doctor in the Orthodox community who they say sexually assaulted them. In one of those complaints, a woman said that the doctor “would forcibly fondle [her] breasts under her clothes” during each of the four appointments she attended.

One plaintiff is suing the executor of an estate belonging to a man she said sexually assaulted while part of his foster family. The abuse started when she was 15 and occurred again after she turned 18, the complaint states.

Coming forward is difficult for survivors, Mr Lovy said, because community leaders are against survivors reporting assaults and are “fine with enacting consequences against those who do.”

It’s not uncommon for allegations to be handled internally and quietly, he added.

Jane Doe said she saw Dr Goodman twice in 2016, when the alleged abuse occurred. She’s never returned to his office and avoids going down the street in her neighbourhood where it’s located.

She is now fearful of male doctors and feels embarrassment and shame when she thinks about the incident.

In Ms Fischman’s case, she became a patient of Dr Goodman’s for about a year in 2012. She was 20 years old and had just gotten married. The doctor was recommended to her by a friend.

Before her first appointment, she recalled hearing things about him from those around her. People described him as “flirty”, “touchy”, and someone who “liked to hug his patients”.

Even so, she didn’t think twice about the remarks. She considered the behaviour to be normal for a man in his position.

Initially, it was hard to tell if something was wrong, she said.

Orthodox women do not touch men unless they are related or married to them. As a result, she said she had no framework to discern what was and was not ok.

She saw him on a routine basis, sometimes as often as twice a week for treatment regarding her chronic asthma and other medical conditions she suffered from, and found him friendly.

To schedule appointments, the doctor texted Ms Fishman through WhatsApp, court records say.

She alleges their interactions became inappropriate throughout her treatment.

He would hug her, ask about her marriage and compliment her eyes and breasts, she said.

Once, he stated that, “her husband was an idiot for not appreciating her body”, according to court records. The doctor knew that her marriage had become abusive, the complaint reads.

During some appointments, he had her sit on the edge of an examination table with her legs spread open while he stood in between them. He would then place his hand on her inner thigh, she said.

In other instances, he’d grope her breasts under her shirt as he attempted to check her heartbeat, the complaint reads. Ms Fischman noted that the doctor did not use a stethoscope when this allegedly happened.

Though the apparent actions made her uncomfortable, she thought there was something wrong with her for feeling that way. She blamed herself for being ungrateful for a caring doctor.

“Only a bad person in the community gets into this,” she remembers thinking.

Ms Fischman stopped seeing the doctor after getting divorced. At a certain point, she said she decided to take her life back and never made another appointment.

She didn’t report the alleged abuse after it happened because she didn’t want to draw more attention to herself, she said.

She left Brooklyn around 2014 and permanently moved to Florida roughly four years later.

The lawsuit gave her the ability to “speak up in a safer environment” and with other women. Finding out that she wasn’t the only one who suffered the alleged abuse left her shocked, she said.

“If people knew about it, why was it still happening?” asked Ms Fischman.

The Independent called Dr Goodman’s Brooklyn office on Friday and it went to an answering machine, which named him and said the office was closed.

Though she’s no longer part of the orthodox community, Ms Fischman wants its leaders to change how allegations of sexual violence are handled.

Assailants should be held accountable and threats of ostracisation should be eliminated, she said.

“Victims shouldn’t be scared of losing [their] entire family.”


Dec 17, 2023

'They Can't Even Sleep': Parents of Kids Abused in Arunachal's Patanjali School


In response to the outrage, the Arunachal government has issued an order to close down the school.

The Quint DAILY
December 15, 2023

"My son is adamant about not going back to school. He fears he will be beaten up badly again by another teacher there. He told me he wants to go to a different school, "Rosemary Kechi (name changed) tells The Quint.

Rosemary's son is a class 1 student at Acharyakulam, a primary school run by Patanjali Ayurveda in Seijosa in Arunachal Pradesh's Pakke-Kessang district. He is not alone in this plight.

A recent video of children with severe injury marks allegedly inflicted by a teacher from Acharyakulam has caused massive outrage among the people of the state. At least 20 children are reported to have been abused, according to the local police.

Choyang Tenzin (name changed), whose nine-year-old daughter was also allegedly beaten up, tells The Quint that the accused teacher, Sadhvi Devkriti, "assaulted her daughter so badly that she has not been able to move her hand at all."

"It has been over 4-5 days since my daughter was assaulted with a bamboo stick, but she is still not able to move her hands at all. My daughter is so scarred by this incident that she can't even sleep due to nightmares."
Choyang Tenzin

The school, which is located in Goloso village, inside a mega herbal garden owned by self-proclaimed godman Baba Ramdev's Patanjali Ayurveda, was established two years ago. In light of the incident, Patanjali Yogpeeth Trust, which runs the school, terminated Sadhvi Devkriti's services on 10 December.

A case has also been registered against her at the Seijosa police station – and the matter is under investigation, according to Pakke-Kessang Superintendent of Police Tashi Darang.

"On 10 December, we received a complaint from a parent about their child being assaulted by their teacher at Acharyakulam and registered a case. We conducted a medical examination on the child and found that the injuries were not grievous," he added.

'Students Assaulted for Not Chanting Prayer Properly'
Nabam Thomas, president of the All Pakke-Kessang District Students' Union, tells The Quint that at least 20 students were physically abused last week on 7 December.

"While the class 1 students were beaten up for not chanting a prayer properly, students of classes 2 and 3 were assaulted for their apparent lack of proficiency in Sanskrit," he claims.

The Quint has reached out to Acharyakulam regarding these allegations. We will update this story with their responses as and when they revert.

Rosemary's son also told her that he and his classmates were beaten up for not chanting the prayer properly. "When my son came back from school that day [7 December], I noticed bruises all over him. When I asked him what had happened, he told me that his school in-charge had beaten up all his classmates [11 of them] for not chanting the prayer properly. We don't send our children to school so that they can be beaten to a pulp," Rosemary says.

In its inquiry into the incident, the Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (APSCPCR), too, found that the school in-charge, Sadhvi Devkriti (who the students purportedly referred to as 'mataji'), had subjected students from classes 1 to 4 to physical abuse – and threatened them against talking about the incident with their parents.

School To Be Closed Down
In response the outrage, the Arunachal Pradesh government on Thursday, 14 December, issued a notification to close down the school in question in Seijosa.

Undersigned by TR Tapu, Additional Deputy Commissioner, Seijosa, the notification reads that after the incident came to light, he made "a physical visit to the school and made an enquiry about the case on 10 December."

"The case is reported to be true," it adds, further pointing out that the school was being run "without proper affiliation or registration to any of the government boards which is tantamount to violation of Section 18 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009."

"Hence, the school to close down until the matter is brought to a logical conclusion or any other provisions made for running the school under various rules of law," it concludes.

Meanwhile, EastMojo reported that Sadhvi Devkriti had "hastily left Seijosa within 24 hours of a written complaint filed by a concerned parent. Sources also reported that local police assisted her in crossing the Assam-Arunachal border."

The child rights' body has asserted that termination alone is not sufficient and demanded her immediate arrest and appropriate legal action. The panel has consistently recommended thorough background checks for all educational institute employees, both government and private, to prevent child rights violations, it said.

Yaje Nabam, president of Arunachal Pradesh Women's Welfare Society for Pakke-Kessang district, alleges to The Quint, "There has been a rise in such instances in private schools in the state. Kids need to be disciplined, no doubt, but such brutal means cannot be used. So, merely terminating the teacher's services is not sufficient. What if she goes and repeats the same behaviour in another school? We want her to be arrested because such incidents had been happening, but it has only come to light now."

'Mushrooming of Private Schools in Arunachal Pradesh'

APSCPCR member secretary Khoda Rakhi tells The Quint there has been an "unchecked mushrooming of private schools" in the state.

"The education department has to take note of the mushrooming of these private schools and carry out regular inspections at these schools to see if they are being run as per the RTE [Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009] Act. They need to find out about the character antecedent of a new recruit and why they left their previous job, among other details," she says.

"A teacher has to be trained before they are ready to take on a child's responsibility. We have received complaints about teachers being overburdened – and they then take out their stress on children."
Khoda Rakhi, member secretary, APSCPCR

A recent study – Study on Enrolment and Attitudes of Parents towards Private Schools – found that private schools are mushrooming "in the capital complex of Arunachal Pradesh which reflects that its demand is increasing."

The study found that many parents also believed that private schools have more facilities, better teaching staff, and infrastructure than government schools.

Revealed: What led Alex Batty and his mother to a French commune

Tracing the boy’s six-year disappearance takes in conspiracy theories, debt battles and claims of false identity

David Collins, Katie Gatens, Matthew Campbell, Ben Ellery
The Sunday Times
December 16 2023

In a makeshift laboratory in Morocco, Alex Batty, aged eight, punched the air in excitement as a crowd watched a mysterious device switch on 12 lightbulbs without any apparent power source.

The crowd cheered and whistled, among them his mother, Melanie, and grandfather David. They believed they had witnessed a miracle that mainstream science cannot yet explain. The machine, a quantum energy generator (QEG), purports to be based on the theories of Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer and futurist, which some claim can generate endless amounts of energy. This would break the established principles of physics.

It is part of the Batty family’s “off-the-grid” philosophy, based around their beliefs that a homeowner should not have to pay a mortgage, council tax, electricity, gas or water bills, or for a TV licence.

Alex vanished in 2017, aged 11, while on holiday in Malaga, Spain, with Melanie and David. Guardianship via a court order had passed to Melanie’s mother, Susan Caruana, about three years earlier, and she has been searching for Alex since.

Last week the boy, now 17, was discovered by a motorist in France, who spotted him on a road in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, near Toulouse, dehydrated after walking for four days. “My mother is a little crazy,” he said. He was never a prisoner and suffered no physical abuse, according to French prosecutors, apparently choosing to follow his mother’s alternative lifestyle.

Greater Manchester police confirmed on Saturday night that Batty had returned to the UK. “Earlier today Alex met a family member alongside police officers at Toulouse airport before heading back to the UK,” said Assistant Chief Constable Matt Boyle. “We are glad they are able to see each other again after all this time.”

Boyle said officers had yet to obtain a formal statement from Alex. Speaking to the teenager when he feels comfortable would determine whether there was a criminal investigation to pursue, he added. Local agencies would “ensure his wellbeing was looked after and his integration into society was as easy as possible”.

Alex was accompanied on the flight by officials from the British consulate and will return to live with his grandmother in Oldham. He is said to be “in good health” and comes across as a “normal teenager” for his age, according to French prosecutors. His mother’s whereabouts remain unknown.

By speaking to a number of family members and friends of Alex’s mother and grandfather, The Sunday Times has pieced together the family’s journey from living in a mortgaged property in Oldham, Greater Manchester, into a life of fighting against the establishment, the banks and bailiffs, as they became followers of a movement called the One People’s Public Trust.

The group claims to have “legally foreclosed” the system of governments and corporations around the world, meaning that all debt has been erased, including bank debts. Foreclosure is taking back property bought with borrowed money but the One People’s Public Trust argued governments owed the people money because of years of illegal taxation and made financial demands.

Bill-phobic Battys

In 2013 David Batty, who had lost his job due to ill health and gone through a difficult divorce with Susan, Alex’s grandmother, was fighting bailiffs taking possession of his small end-of-terrace house in Oldham. It was the final straw in a difficult number of years.

“He’d been ill and was trying to stop the banks from taking his house,” said a close friend, who helped him out with the legal battle to keep his property and asked not to be named.

Melanie, who was halfway through a law degree and said to be “extremely bright, but quite into conspiracy theories”, was helping her father. Her blond-haired son, Alex, born in 2006, was about seven at the time.

David and Melanie were developing a belief system based around people they were meeting on Facebook, including a sub-community of homeowners fighting eviction. Father and daughter became close to activists from groups who called themselves “Protection from evictions”, and “UK mortgage challengers”. Some supported the idea that residents should not be required to pay mortgages or bills; some used delaying tactics such as paying the mortgage lender £1 a month.

On the day bailiffs were due to arrive, Melanie organised 30 people to come to her father’s home and wait for the bailiffs to arrive, before forming a protective barrier around the house. They succeeded.

“He didn’t like being charged bills,” said David’s close friend. “He lost his home in the end. We told Melanie to appeal the eviction. We said if you want to stop the eviction you should apply to the court to prevent the possession order. But she said, ‘I don’t want to do that because we’re playing their game.’

“That’s what they said. They didn’t want to play ‘the game’ any more. They got fed up with paying council tax, gas, electric, TV licence and mortgage. They decided to go a different way and choose to take Alex down that path.”

It was while mixing with people from the anti-eviction groups from Facebook that they discovered the claims of a free and limitless source of energy. The man making the claims, said to be a divorced father and former IT consultant, invited Melanie and her father to Morocco in 2014 to see the quantum energy generator.

Followers of the flat earth

That year, Melanie took Alex, then aged eight, to live in a commune in Morocco with David. Photographs of them in one of the properties where they lived and socialised show seven people sitting on a sofa around a glass table. There are two candles, a tube of Pringles, a bottle of Baileys, cans of lager and wine and cigarettes. They show David, Melanie and the former IT consultant. Some of the group they were mixing in believed in conspiracy theories such as the Earth being flat.

That year Melanie and David attended a number of quantum energy generator “experiments”, one of which is posted on a YouTube video called QEG Resonance in Morocco, OPC: Aouchtam. The experiment, by the One People Community — a new iteration of the One People’s Public Trust, Aouchtam workshop — claims to have produced 500 watts of power. It purports to have used a starting power source, such as a crank, to power the motor, that spins a rotor in the generator core and apparently caused the lights to switch on. The theory is this could then be unplugged from the motor to leave the power on perpetually; an allegedly “fuel-less” power source.

Melanie then went to live in Bali with a new boyfriend, according to Susan, leaving Alex behind in Morocco in 2014. “I was panic-stricken and I paid for a flight home for him,” Susan said in a 2018 interview.

Alex then began living with his grandmother while his mother remained in Bali. He enrolled into a local school and became settled and happy, according to family members. Susan applied to the courts for guardianship of Alex, which Melanie refused to recognise. It is not clear who Alex’s biological father is. “Melanie never talked about him,” said a friend.

“That would fit with her general view of the courts and banks, which are that they have no authority in her view,” said her friend. In September 2017, Alex, aged 11, flew from Oldham with his mother and David on the pre-agreed trip to Malaga. They never returned.

Living off-grid in the Pyrenees

Melanie, David and Alex are known to have spent several years in Morocco before arriving in about 2020 in France, where they moved around an area of the Pyrenees, below Toulouse, in the southwest of the country.

It was reported on Saturday that, in November, Alex had tried to enrol in a school in Quillan in Aude. He was refused as he did not have sufficient paperwork and was returned to his mother.

Last week, the town was deserted, save for a few local people, who are used to seeing “off-grid” nomadic people at the local market, which takes place on Sundays in the nearby village of Espéraza.

“You’ve got the nomadic people; some of them seem to be permanently stoned but they’re perfectly happy; they do their own thing,” said Michelle Vellenoweth, 64, sipping a coffee in the sun outside the Café de Fleuve.

“Most of the Pyrenees is like this; there’s lots of remote spaces and forest. A lot of people go and they live off-grid but it tends to be a lot of people going with their families rather than in groups.”

The Batty family would survive by moving from place to place, eating vegetables grown in allotments while Melanie sold solar panels. David is reported to have died about six months ago, with his friend saying he had not been on social media for some time.

However, in a bizarre twist, neighbours at the last property where Alex was known to have been living claimed David was still alive. At the gite in La Bastide, in Aude, they said he was using the name “Peter”.

“Peter is not dead,” said one neighbour. “I saw him a week ago, maybe ten days. He was mowing the grass in front of the gîte. I know this because my mum’s dog loves him. Peter was a nice person. He was very shy. He would speak with me. I tried to speak to him in English but he was evasive.” He added that “Peter” had been working at the gîte as a handyman.

Returning to Britain

On December 14, Alex, apparently unaware the authorities, including Greater Manchester police, had been searching for him for the past six years, decided to leave his mother who wanted to move to Finland and see the Northern Lights.

He left his commune, which the French authorities are still trying to locate, and walked for four days in the remote countryside, heading towards Toulouse, where he believed he would be able to find help. On a stretch of deserted road, a motorist, Fabien Accidini, 26, a student and delivery driver from Marseilles, spotted Alex and stopped.

“I was in between the two villages, Camon and Chalabre, when I saw Alex,” he said. “It was a dark road with no street lights and very isolated. I’ve seen some people walking by the road at night but they’re never alone … It’s never just one person and such an isolated location. Where Alex was walking was about 20 minutes’ drive from a village.

“The first time I saw him, I think I thought that he was young because of the skateboard and the backpack and his body in general. Then when I passed him again and stopped I could see immediately that he was young.

“It was raining heavily, so he was quite wet. He was wearing normal everyday clothes, not very dirty: a white sweatshirt and black backpack.” Alex told Accidini his name was Zach.

Then he revealed his real name. “He told me his mother had ‘kidnapped’ him and taken him to Morocco,” Accidini said.

“Then he told me about his journey through Spain and France. He had ‘escaped’ his mother when he left, he hadn’t just left her. I don’t know if she willingly let him go. He didn’t seem to want to talk about it and I didn’t press it. I didn’t want to bother him. He said she was a bit crazy.”

Dec 16, 2023

High court refuses to drop charges against accused cult leader


Katelyn Newberg 
Las Vegas Review-Journal
December 15, 2023

The Nevada Supreme Court has rejected a bid to dismiss charges against an alleged cult leader accused of preying on the Native American community and sexually assaulting two women.

Justices Patricia Lee and Ron Parraguirre issued an order on Thursday denying Chasing Horse’s petition to dismiss an indictment charging him with six counts of sexual assault, 10 counts of sexual assault against a minor, kidnapping of a minor and lewdness. The justices declined to rule on the merits of the petition’s arguments, instead deciding not to exercise their jurisdiction over the matter.

“We are not satisfied that petitioner has demonstrated that entertaining the writ is warranted,” the justices wrote in Thursday’s two-page order.

Justice Douglas Herndon dissented from the opinion, writing that he would chose to rule on the merits of the petition.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the petition last month, when Chief Deputy Public Defender Kristy Holston argued that the indictment should be dismissed because prosecutors failed to present exculpatory evidence and improperly gave instructions to a grand jury.

Holston had argued that prosecutors presented an instruction to the grand jury that included the definition of grooming, although prior cases called for expert testimony to define the term. She said the instruction was “prejudicial” and led to the jury finding probable cause for Chasing Horse to be indicted.

During the hearing, Herndon said that he felt it was “indefensible” that the instruction was given.

Chasing Horse was arrested Jan. 31 after law enforcement raided his North Las Vegas home where he lived with up to six women he viewed as wives. Two women in Clark County told police they met Chasing Horse as girls at Native American ceremonies, and that they were raped by him when they were teenagers.

One of the women said had lived with Chasing Horse as his wife and that he first assaulted her when she was 14. She said Chasing Horse groomed her and told her she had to have sex with him so that he could heal her mother’s cancer.

Chasing Horse, who is also known for playing Smiles a Lot in the 1990 Kevin Costner film “Dancer With Wolves,” is accused of committing crimes across the United States and Canada while operating a cult known as The Circle.

Chief Deputy District Attorney William Rowles argued last month that the issues being raised by Chasing Horse’s defense should be decided by a jury.

Chasing Horse also faces federal charges of sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography. Warrants charging him with sexual assault were issued earlier this year by the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana and by Canadian authorities.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at or 702-383-0240.

Dec 14, 2023

'Spiritual' or 'religious' - what's in a name?

A new Pew Research Center survey investigates what Americans mean when they describe themselves as ‘spiritual,’ ‘religious,’ both or neither


Deseret News

Kelsey Dallas 

December 7, 2023

What do Americans mean when they say that they’re spiritual?

It may seem like a straightforward question, but there’s definitely not a straightforward answer, according to a new report on spirituality from Pew Research Center.

The survey found that among the 70% of U.S. adults who can be considered spiritual in some way, certain beliefs about souls, spirits and science are generally held in common.

But members of the group have conflicting ideas about spiritual practices like meditation and varying relationships with religious institutions and ideas.

Pew’s report adds weight to what scholars like Nancy Ammerman, professor emerita of sociology of religion at Boston University, have been saying for at least 15 years: Americans’ relationship to spirituality, as well as religion, is far more complex than it at first appears.

“Spirituality is a word that has as much to do with people’s sense of identity and with their political positions as it does with any kind of sort of identifiable experience or something that you can easily point to,” Ammerman said.

From religious to spiritual

For much of U.S. history, describing yourself as “religious” was about as uncontroversial as calling yourself “American.” A large majority of adults, as well as children, belonged to a faith group and attended worship services regularly.

But in recent decades, the term “religious” has experienced a subtle and then increasingly more significant fall from grace, said Ammerman, who served as an adviser to Pew on the new report. A growing group of Americans is dropping out of organized religion, and even those who remain active can be uncomfortable with the term.

“More and more Americans are rejecting the label,” she said.

This trend is driven by a number of factors, according to Ammerman, like a presumed link between religion and conservative politics and the fact that relatively few young people today were raised in religious homes.

“In the past, being identified as religious was one of the ways people placed themselves among good citizens. It was a way they signaled to others that they were nice people, that they were moral,” she said. Now, some worry that using the label will actually hurt their social standing by making them seem strange or judgmental.

But discomfort with the term “religious” hasn’t quieted Americans’ interest in having an easy way to make themselves look good. That’s where the term “spiritual” comes in, Ammerman said.

“You have to have a way to describe yourself that says to the world, ‘I’m not a bad person. I’m a person with some depth, with some morality.’ Spirituality has come to be the label that people choose,” she said.

In other words, Ammerman believes that a notable share of Americans who call themselves “spiritual” are engaged in a branding exercise. They’re not behaving much differently than “religious” adults in the past, other than the fact that they’re not using the “religious” label.

Pew’s new report includes evidence to back up Ammerman’s conclusion. For one thing, researchers found that Americans often cite religious concepts like God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit when asked to explain what “spiritual” means to them.

“Fully 27% give descriptions tied to organized religion,” Pew reported.

The survey identified a large overlap between religiosity and spirituality. Most of the 70% of U.S. adults who think of themselves as spiritual or describe spirituality as important to them also say they’re religious or that religion is important.

“There is enough overlap between what people mean by ‘spirituality’ and what they have in mind by ‘religion’ that nearly half of U.S. adults indicate they are both religious and spiritual,” Pew reported.

Pew’s survey on American spirituality was conducted from July 31 to Aug. 6 among 11,201 U.S. adults.

In general, Pew found that there’s not a clear dividing line between spirituality and religion. The 22% of Americans who fall into the category of spiritual but not religious have much in common with those who are spiritual and religious.

“They’re not as different as we often think they are,” Ammerman said.

For example, similarly large shares of the spiritual but not religious and the religious and spiritual believe that people have a soul or spirit, that there is something spiritual beyond the natural world and that unseen spiritual forces exist.

“On many questions, ‘spiritual but not religious’ Americans ... are no more spiritual, on average, than U.S. adults who are both religious and spiritual,” Pew reported.

Still there are some key differences, such as that the spiritual but not religious are much less likely than others to believe in the God of the Bible. But members of this category do often believe in a higher power or spiritual force, Pew found.

The survey also showed that the spiritual but not religious are less likely to attend worship services regularly and more likely to hold negative views of organized religion, which fits with what Ammerman has uncovered in her own research.

The spiritual but not religious category “holds together primarily in its negative self-identification as not being religious rather than with a positive set of practices and beliefs around being spiritual,” she said.

What do religious groups do with this info?

Pew’s new report and the broader realm of spirituality research holds good news and bad news for religious leaders, according to Ammerman.

The good news is that a large share of Americans believe in or at least remain interested in religious concepts like God, the afterlife and miracles. The bad news is that it’s unclear how to get someone who identifies as spiritual but not religious to come to church.

“That’s the $64,000 question for religious leaders across the board,” Ammerman said.

Some religious individuals and organizations are responding to recent trends by creating low pressure opportunities for people to explore their religious inclinations.

For example, the “He Gets Us” ad campaign invites people to learn more about Jesus even if they’re currently uninterested in joining a faith group.

“What we’re trying to do is be that bridge so that people can take a first step, whether that’s a reintroduction to the Jesus of the Bible and becoming a follower of Jesus or some self-reflection for Christians who would like to change and become more like Jesus,” said a spokesperson for the “He Gets Us” movement to the Deseret News earlier this year.

This year, the Radiant Foundation released a report along with Gallup highlighting links between spirituality and mental health, and it also has created an app called Skylight to make it easy for young people, in particular, to integrate spiritual practices — like meditation — into their daily routines.

A better understanding

Pew’s in-depth report could deepen understanding of how Americans’ relationship to religion and spirituality is evolving. Ammerman described it as a “major step forward” in terms of understanding recent trends.

It “will lay a foundation for Pew to be able to track trends more accurately in the future,” she said.

Becka A. Alper, a senior researcher at Pew who served as the primary researcher on this report, confirmed that Pew plans to field its spirituality questions again in the future, although she said the timing of that future research is not yet known.

“The idea is that, from here on out, we can occasionally ask how these beliefs and practices and experiences are changing over time,” she said.