Jan 31, 2024

LDS Church faces third lawsuit over alleged tithing misuse

Derick Fox
January 30, 2024

A lawsuit represents only one side of the story. A full copy of the lawsuit can be found at the bottom of this article.

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is facing another lawsuit over the alleged misuse of member tithings — this time filed in the state of California by a married couple.

This is the latest lawsuit to come from the fallout of whistleblower David Nielson, a former senior portfolio manager with the Church's investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisors. In December 2019, Nielson claimed the Church misused billions of dollars in tithes, including $1.4 billion to fund the City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

The plaintiffs, Gene and Michelle Judson, who have been members of the Church since 1967 and 1971, respectively, echoed Nielson's claims in their lawsuit. The California couple explained in court documents that they believed their tithing was to [be] used for charitable and welfare purposes or to build and maintain temples and support missionary work.

Instead, they claim the Church used their tithes — an estimated $40,000 between 2003 and 2020 — to help fund the construction of the City Creek Center mall in downtown Salt Lake City. The Judsons described themselves in court documents as "not wealthy" and at times living on limited means, but still routinely paid tithing on an annual basis, until recently.

"The misrepresentation made by Defendants through their agents and employees — including the president of the LDS Church and other high-ranking LDS Church leaders who were also members of Defendant LDS Corporation — that tithing funds would not be used to finance City Creek Center or other commercial, for-profit, purposes were false, intentional, and made to induce Plaintiffs and Class Members to pay tithing funds in spite of Defendants having amassed a $100 billion fund," alleges the lawsuit.

ABC4 has reached out to the Church for comment on the newest lawsuit but has not received a reply by the time of publication. In the past, the Church has repeatedly stated that it did not use tithing funds for projects such as the City Creek Center, but rather the interest from investments.

The Judsons are asking to be awarded damages not only for themselves but for class members also affected by the alleged tithing misuse.

This is the second such lawsuit filed against the Church in California and the third lawsuit overall since Nielson made his allegations.

In 2019, James Huntsman, the brother of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., filed for the return of the $5 million he donated before he left the Church. Another lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court of Utah in October 2023 by three Church members claiming to have donated a collective total of $350,000 over the years they say were also misused.

The Church has previously sought to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Huntsman and has so far found limited success. A U.S. District Court dismissed Huntsman's lawsuit in September 2021; however, two years later, that ruling was overturned and the lawsuit was reinstated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Commercialization of Thai Buddhism into a Modern Prosperity Cult

Jan Servaes
January 26, 2024

BANGKOK | 26 January 2024 (IDN) — General and former Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha opened his royalist shirt during a press conference on May 16, 2016 to reveal the dozen amulets on his chest. He explained that these would give him moral support in negotiations with Russian President Putin. Thus, Thailand's then leader claimed that spiritual "resources" blessed by monks with a reputation for magic helped him in international diplomacy.

While wearing 'guardian angels' has always been present in Thai culture, openly showing them off is a recent phenomenon, especially among businessmen and the military.

General Prayuth was not the first. Like many politicians and businessmen before him, the first thing General Prayuth did after overthrowing a democratically elected government on May 22, 2014 was to carry out a "purification ritual" based on animism and spiritualism to ward off all kinds of evil. "Despite its outwardly modern appearance, daily life in Thailand still prominently features pre-Buddhist animist beliefs," noted Amy Sawitta Lefevre for Reuters.

Peter Jackson of the Australian National University, who gives this example in his "Capitalism Magic Thailand. Modernity with enchantment" argues that since around 2000, these practices have not only become more common, but also considered legitimate and mainstream, especially with the public support of the military, the conservative elite and the monarchy. Banks and large companies sponsor the production and distribution of amulets, offering them as promotional gifts.

We have regularly noticed that they are also sold in many Buddhist temples, especially in the north (Lamphun, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai) and northeast (Isarn) of the country.

The popular abbot Phra Kruba In-thon Panya Wutthano, of Wat San Pa Yang Luang in Lamphun, who is mainly consulted as a fortune teller and astrologer, only receives during 'office hours'.
Amulets are offered for prizes from 3 to 100$

The hybridization of Thai Buddhism

Thai social scientist Patchanee Malikhao concludes in "Culture and Communication in Thailand" that from a historical perspective, Thai Buddhism is a hybridization of animism, Theravada Buddhism and Brahmanism. Massive urbanization and an increasingly interconnected world are bringing animism into the 21st century. The second chapter's title in Jackson's book is very appropriate: "Buddhist in Public, Animist in Private life".

As Thailand has gone through four phases of globalization, from the archaic period to proto-globalization, globalization and contemporary globalization, Thai Buddhist beliefs and practices have also adapted accordingly.

Malikhao attempts to answer the following questions:

1) How the Sangha, or Buddhist 'Vatican' of Thailand, has been affected since it became part of the state during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) from 1868 to 1910;

(2) How economic and social development is impacting Thai Buddhism, especially its animist beliefs, cults, Hindu deities, and astrology; and

(3) How Thai mass media and new social media create hypes about Buddhism, animism and the further commercialization of Buddhism.
Cults of Wealth

Peter Jackson takes these questions into his investigation of wealth cults centring on a range of Buddhist, Hindu, Chinese and Thai spirits and deities that have become prominent features of Thailand's religious landscape since the 1980s. Although different in origin, these cults are not isolated examples of ritual innovation, but rather form a richly intersecting symbolic complex that is now central to national religious life, including monastic Buddhism. In the past, people mainly looked to gods, spirits and amulets for protection. But now the main goal is 'prosperity' and 'wealth'.

Drawing from multiple religious and cultural origins, Jackson describes the many similarities between the cults of wealth, their close relationship with cults of amulets and professional 'phi' (spirit) media, and traces how these wealth cults symbolically intersect in a wide range of environments and ritual products.

Each cult has its own history, has developed around a certain divine or magical figure, has its own forms of ritual expression and often also has its own shrines and places of prayer and pilgrimage.

Four main categories of wealth cults can be distinguished based on the type of deity or spiritual figure targeted by ritual devotion: cults of Thai kings and other royal personalities; cults of Chinese gods; cults of Hindu gods; and cults of magical monks, both living and dead, from the Thai Theravada tradition. For example, the cult of the Hindu god Ganesh has expanded rapidly since the turn of the century. More and more white-robed lay ascetics called reusi (from the Sanskrit rishi) are now offering spiritual advice for wealth and well-being.

According to Chris Baker in The Bangkok Post, Jackson focuses on four areas:

The first is the worship of gods and historical figures who do not formally belong to Buddhism. For example, in 1956, the Erawan Hotel in Bangkok erected the Brahma Shrine which was converted by worshipers into a second city pillar for the commercial district, and was soon joined by a whole pantheon of Hindu deities in other shopping complexes.

In the 1990s, the equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn became the center of daily worship.

Soon after, the Chinese Mahayana bodhisattva Kuan Im became popular and her image began appearing in Buddhist temples.

Phra Nang Chamathewi is venerated in Chiang Mai, the first queen of the Hariphunchai (Lanna) kingdom from the 7th century.

The second focus is on monks who have acquired a reputation for supernatural expertise as a result of their ascetic lifestyle. Among them were famous monks of the past, contemporary monks with auspicious names such as 'money', 'silver' or 'Phra Multiply' Luang Phor Khoon, a local monk from rural Korat who promised his followers: "I will make you rich."

The third focus is on amulets, often produced by these magical monks. Over the course of the 20th century, they replaced many other items as they were more convenient for modern clothing and lifestyle. They were first popularized among police and military, but then expanded into a mass market.

The fourth focus is on spirit mediums that contact powerful figures from the past or from the divine world to provide advice and assistance.

Jackson suggests that this explosion occurred in part because the authorities overseeing Buddhism became less vigilant in the late 20th century, and because too often sexual and financial scandals damaged the image of monks.
The affinity between Buddhism and capitalism

Moreover, the development of modern economics, consumerism and especially the media has completely changed the environment for all these practices.

As the 21st century begins, these have continued to proliferate and diversify, spreading into and finding new followers in Thailand and in neighboring East and Southeast Asian countries.

The emphasis on improving happiness and acquiring wealth is not an entirely new feature of local Thai religiosity. The various prosperity cults represent a contemporary, commodified expression of long-standing patterns in Theravada devotionalism. Jackson emphasizes that there is "an elective affinity between Buddhism and capitalist expansion" and that "Theravada Buddhism does not preclude a positive appreciation of the pursuit of wealth, nor does it preclude a positive connection between the pursuit of wealth and the pursuit of salvation".

The results of a survey of Thai values among city dwellers and farmers shows that certain superstitious behaviors such as "fortune telling" and "lucky numbers" are practiced more among Bangkokians than among the rural population. No difference was found in terms of education or training level.

"This casts some doubt on the theory that there is a negative correlation between education and supernatural beliefs and behavior. However, it is a dominant value behavior that is characteristic of the Thai. Moreover, it is a well-known fact that some very powerful people in Thailand have their personal well-known fortune teller," said NIDA researcher Suntaree Komin.

In Thailand, these new and increasingly popular variants of rituals now form a symbolic complex in which originally different sects around Indian gods, Chinese gods, and Thai religious and royal figures have coalesced in commercial spaces and media sites to sacralize the market and wealth production. This complex of cults of wealth, amulets and spiritual mediumship, emerging within popular culture, is supported by all levels of Thai society, including those at the top of economic and political power.

New digital media and social networks have quickly become central features of the expanding field of Thai popular rituals and beliefs. Jackson therefore concludes that 'modern enchantment' emerges from the confluence of three processes: the production of occult economies by neoliberal capitalism, the auratizing effects of technologies of mass mediatization, and the performative power of ritual in religious fields where practice/form takes precedence above the doctrine/content.


Peter A, Jackson (2022), Capitalism Magic Thailand. Modernity with Enchantment, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, 381 pp. ISBN: 978-981-4951-09-8. https://bookshop.iseas.edu.sg/publication/7784

Patchanee Malikhao (2017), Culture and Communication in Thailand, Springer, Singapore, 141pp. ISBN:978-981-10-4123-5. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-981-10-4125-9 [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Decline of Buddhism in Thailand. Source: RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, PBS.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.


Silence is Compliance

Here’s the details of Rachael Reign's Surviving Universal UK upcoming protest.

The theme is: Silence is Compliance

  • 13th February 2024 at 12pm
  • UK Charity Commission
  • 102 Petty France, London SW1H 9AJ
  • Nearest Station: St. James’ Park

"Surviving Universal UK will be demanding that the charity commission take urgent action against the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) and launch a statutory Inquiry without undue delay."

Surviving Universal UK is an organization that supports survivors of spiritual and cult abuse. The organization's founder, Rachael Reign, has said that she is helping other survivors of the UCKG evangelical church's practices.

Rachael Reign
Surviving Universal UK

CultNEWS101 Articles: 1/31/2024

QAnon, Rev. Moon's Unification Seminar, Eligio Regalado, Legal

Buzzfeed: People Are Sharing Their Heartbreaking Stories Of Losing Friends And Family To QAnon And The Far Right, And We Don't Talk About This Enough
"The wild thing here, my sister is already a doctor and I will be a doctor in a few years and yet our grandmother takes the advice of a random senior who has no medical knowledge whatsoever over the advice of her own grandchildren who are already working in the field."

Mid Hudson News: Rev. Moon's Unification Seminary sells for $14 million
"The Unification Theological Seminary Barrytown campus has reportedly been sold to Bard College for $14 million.

Berkshire Hathaway Home Services/Hudson Valley Properties announced the sale on its website.

The 260-acre property at 30 Seminary Drive in Red Hook was the home of Unification Theological Seminary's Barryville campus founded by the late Korean-born Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who died at age 92 in 2012.

The real estate agency describes the property as comprised of a main seminary building of 118,000 square feet, Massena House at 12,799 SD, Sunnyside Cottage at 3,100 SF, Harvest House at 5,600 SF, Apple Cottage at 1,200 SF, gatehouse at 2,900 SF, and four additional barn and garage structures totally over 8,300 SF.

The property is situated within two zoning districts: Water Conservation and Institutional.

The Institutional District is intended to accommodate the comprehensively planned, land-extensive, campus-type environments of educational, health-related, and other not-for-profit institutional facilities and compatible residential, agricultural, conservation and open space use. Permitted uses include single-family residences (five-acre lots) and agriculture. Other uses, including institutional, are allowed by special permit.

Moon was a controversial religious leader who said that, when he was 16 years old, Jesus appeared to him, anointing him to carry out his unfinished work by becoming a parent to all of humanity."

New York Times: Pastor Charged With Cryptocurrency Fraud Said God Told Him to Do It
"A pastor in Denver who said that God told him to sell cryptocurrency that could not be cashed is facing civil charges, along with his wife, for marketing a digital coin that prosecutors said was "practically worthless" and using the proceeds to support a "lavish lifestyle."

The pastor, Eligio Regalado, and his wife, Kaitlyn Regalado, were charged on Thursday in a civil complaint filed in Denver District Court by the Colorado Attorney General's Office, the Colorado Division of Securities said in a statement. The agency said that the couple created, marketed and sold a cryptocurrency that they called INDXcoin through a cryptocurrency exchange, which they also ran.

Prosecutors said that the couple, who had no experience in cryptocurrency exchanges, marketed the INDXcoin to Christians in Denver, and raised nearly $3.2 million from more than 300 people who bought it from June 2022 to April 2023. Mr. Regalado and his wife then used the money for themselves, the Colorado Division of Securities said."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery



Intervention101.com to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.

CultRecovery101.com assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice.

CultNEWS101.com news, links, resources.





Cults101.org resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.

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

Please forward articles that you think we should add to cultintervention@gmail.com.

Jan 30, 2024

I was born into one of the world's most notorious religious cults, we thought Armageddon was coming

Alice Giddings
January 29, 2024

‘I didn’t have a life plan,’ says Petra Velzeboer, who grew up in the notorious Children of God cult.

‘If you think about growing up, pretty much every three years was some deadline for when the world was going to end or Armageddon was going to show up.’

Public spanking with paddles or belts were commonplace, she claims, as were enforced silence restrictions, periods of isolation, and propositions by older men for ‘free sex’.

The cult, which has since rebranded as The Family International, was all Petra knew for the first 22 years of her life.

The Family International still operates in 70 countries globally, though in a lengthy statement given to Metro.co.uk, the organisation said it ‘disassembled [its] previous organisational structure’ in 2010 and ‘currently functions as a small online network of approximately 1,300 people’.

‘The Family International has had a zero-tolerance policy in place for over three decades for the protection of minors, and is diametrically opposed to the abuse of minors in any form, whether physical, sexual, educational, or emotional,’ it added.

Throughout her childhood, Petra lived in communes spanning Brazil, Belgium, Africa and Russia, under the watchful eye of leader David Berg, whom Petra and her siblings were told to call ‘grandpa’, despite never meeting him before his death when Petra was 13 years old.

‘By the time I was 10 years old, he had pretty much gone from being on the frontline into hiding,’ she says.

‘The narrative for us was he needed to be able to listen to God’s voice, but the reality is police were investigating certain homes and communities and investigating child abuse allegations.’

While David Berg was investigated for these crimes, he was never charged or convicted with any offences before his death.

Berg’s theory, and the foundations of the cult’s birth in 1968, was that ‘a generation protected from the influences of groupthink would be protected from being moulded into society’s view of what life should be and would be able to think for themselves’.

But Petra, now 41, tells Metro.co.uk about the ‘regular indoctrination’ she and her family experienced.

‘Every song had lyrics that had their messaging in it saying “God’s the truth” and we would read letters or words from the cult leader,’ she says.

‘Every bit of propaganda, everything we read, every bit of literature, comic books, music, story books, was influenced by him and was often his narration, his voice, his prophecy and instruction.

‘So by the time you’re saying “oh I don’t know about this” or “this doesn’t feel right”, you already have the counter argument in your brain, because it’s been there from birth.’

As Petra says in her book, Begin With You, she and her family ‘traded one groupthink for another’ and it’s why, as a mental health practitioner today, she can’t stress enough the importance of independent thinking.

In Petra’s memoir she recalls events from life inside the cult, plus the ‘double-life’ she started leading outside of it, both of which left her with complex PTSD.

In her teens and early twenties she lived what she describes as a ‘hedonistic’ lifestyle of excessive drinking and drug use, getting arrested, experiencing extreme sexual violence and attempting to take her own life at 26, after leaving the cult at 22 due to falling pregnant with her first child.

Petra says: ‘What’s interesting is seeing the parallels between cult life and how we survive toxic behaviour. What I see in the corporate world is people doing similar things like giving up their own values in favour of survival and getting paid.’

Falling pregnant with her son gave her the final push she needed to leave.

‘People often ask, “how did you escape?” As if it were a prison or walls or a compound and it’s nothing like that when it’s these sorts of communities. It’s more the prison of your mind,’ she says.

‘You could leave at any time, and they would tell you so, but then in the messaging you would receive daily, it was people who left, God punished, so if bad things happened to them it’s because they weren’t listening, which would make people afraid of leaving’.

She adds: ‘For me and my siblings, we didn’t go to school, we didn’t have an education, we thought the world was going to end imminently, so everything out there was painted as other or evil.

‘It was a big leap in your mind to betray it and for many people they were ostracised by their own parents and support networks and would struggle in a big way once they left that safety net.’

When she left at 22, Petra moved in with her partner in London and cut contact with her family for a while. Transitioning to life outside the cult was difficult, exacerbating her depression and alcohol addiction.

‘You have the shock of “what this isn’t how other people think? My parents lied to me?” and then there’s depression and anger before you get to that acceptance,’ Petra says.

In time, she learnt healthy coping mechanisms to better manage her trauma. Now, as a full-qualified mental health practitioner, Petra wants the people who read her book to understand our ‘wellbeing, focus, plans or tactics can change over time’.

‘What I needed in the early days was to get sober and to learn how to be honest and to understand my feelings and emotions,’ she says. ‘These days, it’s movement and exercise, it’s having good people around me.’

Fostering independent thinking is also vital, she says.

‘I think expression in the right way is key for your mental health,’ says Petra.

‘It can be deeply personal like art which can help you – journaling, writing – all these things can help you go “oh that’s what I think”.

Petra does have some positive memories from the cult and notes that she had ‘adventures’ and enjoyed music in particular with her siblings.

The Family International told Metro.co.uk it has issued ‘official apologies on several occasions to any members or former members who were hurt in any way during their membership, and made the latest of these publicly available.’

Looking to the future, Petra believes that her experience with groupthink and mental health can be translated into other areas of life.

At one keynote event, a young woman said: ‘I’m waking up at 5am, I’m journaling, meditating, exercising, taking cold showers and I’m more anxious than I’ve ever been’.

‘I was thinking “no wonder”,’ says Petra. ‘We all think that we have to “do wellbeing” and achieve it by following all these people that seem to have these perfect Instagram lives and I just think the challenge to ourselves is to, even in this space, learn to think for ourselves, check our influences and then allow that to evolve over time.’

With that in mind, Petra said one of the most important things to do to preserve your mental health is to be ‘radically honest’ and ‘challenge your own bullsh*t’.

‘That doesn’t just mean speaking to a therapist, it could, but it means being radically honest with yourself,’ she says.

‘For example, asking yourself “what do I really want?”. If fear of other people’s opinions didn’t matter, how would I be living my life and I think more people are starting to ask some of these questions in a post pandemic world.’

She also stresses that while it’s important not to ‘minimise trauma’ it’s important not to get stuck there.

‘Trauma, big T little T, it doesn’t matter,’ she says. ‘It’s less about the thing and more about how it’s affecting your body and mind.

‘We don’t want to minimise trauma and mental illness, but we also don’t want to get stuck there, because I’ve been in that stuck place where I was like “well I’ve got depression, if you grew up like me you’d have it to” and I would surround myself with people that would feed that information back to me.

‘No matter what context you’re in, whether it’s a toxic relationship or a work environment that’s affecting your physical or mental health, so many people just say, “well that’s the way the world is”.

‘So I challenge people to begin with themselves and think what is one small thing that is within my control.

‘I used to listen to a one minute guided meditation, that was the only thing in my control. I challenge people to experiment with wellbeing tools and being honest and learning about themselves and what can work for them.’


Four Jehovah's Witnesses sentenced to seven years each in Russia

January 30, 2024

Jan 30 (Reuters) - A Russian court has sentenced four Jehovah's Witnesses to seven years each in prison after finding them guilty of coordinating extremist activities, according to a spokesman for the religious group.

Russia's Supreme Court designated Jehovah's Witnesses as "extremist" in 2017, liquidating and banning the group's nearly 400 chapters across the country. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2022 that the ban was illegal.

Since then raids, interrogations and jailings of adherents have occurred with some regularity in Russia, which counted roughly 175,000 active believers at the time of the ban, according to the group's Russian website.

"Russia continues to shamelessly misemploy its anti-extremist legislation to ban, imprison, and at times beat and torture Jehovah's Witnesses," the spokesman, Jarrod Lopes, told Reuters by email.

Russian officials have previously denied, opens new tab allegations of mistreatment or torture of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Some 790 members of the group have been criminally charged or are under investigation for their faith, with 147 sentenced last year, Lopes said.

"Russia's legal system has become a cathedral of what it hates - extremism," he said.

Religious life in Russia is dominated by the Orthodox Church, which is championed by President Vladimir Putin. Some Orthodox scholars view Jehovah's Witnesses as a "totalitarian sect."


CultNEWS101 Articles: 1/30/2024 (Japan, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, Documentary, Realm of Satan, Cult Murder, Legal, Children of Thunder, Podcasts)

Japan, Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, Documentary, Realm of Satan, Cult Murder, Legal, Children of Thunder, Podcasts

"The government said Friday that it will employ the help of former believers and the children of believers of the Unification Church to enhance consultation for victims of malpractices involving the controversial religious group.

Specifically, former Unification Church believers and children of believers will participate as instructors in the training of consultation staff, to help them understand the feelings of victims.

The government also plans to create a system to allow agencies to share insights gained through consultation services for victims.

For children and young people who often find it difficult to recognize their status as victims or to speak up, the government will use social media to reach out to them.

It will also boost allocations of counselors and social workers at schools, and conduct lessons on human rights by lecturers from the Justice Ministry at junior high and high schools. Such lessons are currently only conducted at elementary schools.

The government plans to provide temporary shelters and employment assistance to children of believers who face difficulties securing incomes and housing. It will also give aid to secure learning opportunities for such people at high schools and universities.

The Unification Church, formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has been accused of soliciting massive donations from followers by fueling their anxieties."

"Satanists are inherently nonconformist, so it's fitting that Realm of Satan—a documentary that premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 21 —upends expectations. Focusing on a collection of diverse international disciples of Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, director Scott Cummings' feature debut is a unique non-fiction affair that provides no background information, little context, and scant dialogue. It also boasts zero fly-on-the-wall material, instead presenting a series of carefully staged portraits of its subjects that aim to convey their lifestyles, personalities, and philosophies. Think of it as an 80-minute art installation in which Satanists are rendered—and deliberately render themselves—performative characters in a diabolical play of their own making.

Whereas Satanists sometimes argue that their religion is merely one about freedom—of thought and desire, and from rules and judgement—Realm of Satan contends that they're far closer to the devil worshipers that movies, books, and TV shows have made them out to be for decades. Since everything in Realm of Satan has been self-consciously orchestrated to highlight these individuals' dark and demonic visions of themselves, there's nothing particularly scary about their appearances, attitudes, or practices, most of which come across as over-the-top affectations.

Nonetheless, Cummings' film does occasionally strike upon a legitimately unnerving sight which suggests that these folks aren't just playing around but, in fact, sincerely want to commune with the abyss. Of those, none are better than an early scene in which a woman, clad in a black-and-red hooded robe that obscures her face and flows over the bales of hay upon which she sits, breastfeeds a baby goat that we've just seen emerge from her mother's womb—a jaw-dropper that's all the more malevolent given that, once the animal stops nursing, the woman coaxes it to continue by gently rubbing its throat."
The California Supreme Court has affirmed the death penalty for a man convicted in a murder spree in Marin and Contra Costa counties.

The case centers on Glenn Taylor Helzer, a self-proclaimed prophet who led a small religious group that called itself "the Children of Thunder." The former Concord resident pleaded guilty in 2005 for his involvement in the 2000 murders of five people, including two victims in Marin County, in order to cover up his extortion plot.

Helzer's brother, Justin, was sentenced to death for participating in the killings after he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He hanged himself in his cell at San Quentin State Prison in 2013.

An associate of the Helzers, Dawn Godman, pleaded guilty for joining the plot and received 38 years to life in prison as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.

Godman believed that Glenn Taylor Helzer, who went by the name Taylor, was a prophet of God, the California Supreme Court said in its 85-page ruling, which was issued Monday.

"She gathered with (the) defendant and Justin to declare war on Satan by openly stating their intent to follow through with what they believed was God's Will," Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero wrote.

Taylor Helzer first plotted to steal money from Ivan and Annette Steinman, an elderly Concord couple who used to be his clients when he was a stockbroker. The Helzer brothers went on to murder the Steinmans at their home.

Taylor Helzer later fatally stabbed his 22-year-old girlfriend, Selina Bishop, daughter of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop, at his residence after using her to deposit money as part of his financial scheme, the ruling said.

Because of concerns he could be identified as Bishop's killer, Taylor Helzer and his brother traveled to western Marin and murdered her mother, Jennifer Villarin, and her companion, James Gamble, at Villarin's apartment in Woodacre.

Authorities found the dismembered remains of three victims in duffel bags and that had been dumped in the Mokelumne River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Taylor Helzer's automatic death penalty appeal began in 2008. His attorney, Jeanne Keevan-Lynch, argued that he did not receive a fair trial because of the conduct of investigators and the trial judge.

Keevan-Lynch claimed that Marin County sheriff's detectives violated Helzer's Fourth Amendment rights by seizing items not listed on their search warrant when they investigated his home.

"We reject defendant's claims and conclude blanket suppression of the evidence is not warranted," Guerrero wrote in the court opinion.

The court was also not persuaded by Keevan-Lynch's argument that her client received an unfair trial because the trial judge excused a potential juror who was unsure if she could put her moral beliefs aside to possibly vote on the death penalty.

The justices also disagreed with the defendant's claims that jurors were unfairly influenced by the prosecution displaying graphic photographs of the murder victims in the trial.

Guerrero noted that the pictures showed evidence that the killers tried to conceal the victims' identities by removing their teeth and tattoos."

This episode is the second time I've done a crossover episode with Rachel Bernstein, host of the fantastic IndoctriNation podcast.

As a therapist, cult expert, and specialist in dealing with folks who suffer from religious trauma syndrome, Rachel is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to dealing with a wide variety of issues caused by cults, fundamentalist religions, and other high-control groups.

If you suffer from RTS, or have come out of a controlling religious or group background, you'll benefit from this discussion. And don't forget to head over to the IndoctriNation podcast platform.

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery



Intervention101.com to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.

CultRecovery101.com assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice.

CultNEWS101.com news, links, resources.





Cults101.org resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.

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

Please forward articles that you think we should add to cultintervention@gmail.com.

Ex-Synanon Members Break Down Cult's Mixed Legacy and What America Can Learn From It

Ex-Synanon Members

Rachel Ulatowski
The Mary Sue
January 29, 2024

Sandra Rogers-Hare and Cassidy Arkin are the mother-daughter duo behind Paramount+’s new docuseries, Born in Synanon. Rather than sensationalize the story of the cult known as Synanon, the series challenges viewers to reflect on what really went wrong in hopes that future communities and countercultures can avoid the same mistakes.

Rogers-Hare was drawn to Synanon as a young activist intrigued by the community and The Game, which seemingly put everyone on equal footing regardless of class or race and went against societal norms. She met her husband through The Game—the group’s signature, harsh form of group therapy—and they eventually decided to devote their lives to Synanon, giving up the majority of their belongings and moving onto Synanon’s property. Their daughter, Arkin, was born and raised in Synanon until age 6.

It’s hard to judge Rogers-Hare and her husband for joining Synanon because, at one point, it seemed to have found the key to creating a utopia. It was a fully racially integrated community, which was unusual in the ’60s and ’70s. It offered drug rehab at a time when resources for people with an addiction were rare. There was no violence, everyone shared everything, and there was at least an illusion of a truly equal society. However, by the time Arkin was 6, it had devolved into a cult. Synanon’s founder, Chuck Dederich, turned to alcoholism, bringing violence and forced partner swaps, abortions, and vasectomies to a once peaceful community.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Arkin and Rogers-Hare to dig deeper into their perspective on Synanon.

What really happened to Synanon?

It’s impossible to discuss what happened to Synanon without discussing Dederich. Born in Synanon expresses a sentiment that Synanon was a utopia until one person, Dederich, destroyed everything. Both Arkin and Rogers-Hare agree that Dederich was one of the critical components of Synanon’s fall. Rogers-Hare revealed that even members of Synanon were uncertain about whether they would survive past their founder.

She explained, “We studied the Mennonites and a number of utopian groups, and what we understood was that very few survived past the founder. Very few survive. We expected to survive past the founder, but I moved in when I was in my 20s, so I had no concept that he would die … I certainly didn’t expect him to go to become an alcoholic again and to systematically destroy it. None of us had that on our radar.”

Despite hoping to survive and be the exception, Rogers-Hare admitted, “We knew that things could change.” Arkin also emphasized Dederich’s role in Synanon’s downfall. Although Synanon is now often labeled one of the most dangerous cults in America, Arkin doesn’t see it that way. The danger wasn’t necessarily in the cult or group of people—the danger was in Dederich.

She stated,

Well, I think that Syanon was not a dangerous cult. I think in many ways, the danger is one person. What happens when one person has power, and you’re so close to that person that you’re unaware of how the society or the community is devolving and becoming something other. Because the majority of the people who moved into Synanon and were a part of Synanon were literally taking their lives, changing their lives, knowing that they themselves were creating and investing in this community to do good for others. So, we were all, in many ways, kind of like walking down this blind road, not understanding how bad things were going to be… And that really is your takeaway with Born in Synanon, is one person went AWOL and everything was lost.

Was Synanon ever a utopia?

At the same time, when examining Synanon deeply, one will find societal flaws. These flaws may not have ended Synanon, but they show that the community wasn’t always what it seemed. For example, former Synanon members like Arkin and Carina Ray have expressed that they never experienced significant racism or segregation in Synanon, but Akrin and Rogers-Hare were careful to emphasize that though there may not have been racism, there certainly was classism.

Arkin explained, “We were very diverse, and it wasn’t a thought of, oh, my God, we have black and white people together, and we’re all hanging out. We have character disorders and prison inmates, and we have philanthropists. And that was never the thing because we were very much about being integrated and a community that really cherished each other for who they were.”

But Synanon was never quite an equal society despite, as Rogers-Hare described, its members “pontificating” about not having discrimination. Rogers-Hare pointed to Isabel Wilkerson’s thesis in Caste: “Discrimination rests in a power relationship rather than in ethnicity.” Just because Synanon “purportedly did not have racial discrimination” didn’t mean there wasn’t discrimination.

Arkin’s mother explained:

“We discovered as we were going through the interviews and putting this together, oh, my gosh. There was sort of some status cast, some status discrimination based on where you were. Like, if you gave $50,000 to Synanon. I didn’t catch on at the time, but you were treated better than if you just came in indigent … some people were treated differently, and it seemed to be based on their position in the power structure… based partly on competence and then partly on how much could you offer.”

Similarly, The Game has a mixed legacy in Synanon. Some declare it a form of attack therapy or brainwashing tactic, though, at the time, it seemed to be the key to nonviolent communication. Arkin described The Games as “one of the most fascinating aspects of Syanon” and believes “it was a vehicle for change.” As for the brainwashing, well, that was kind of the point. She said, “The brainwashing aspect is what we all wanted. If you think about coming in from a culture that really never accepted you and or you were just always fighting to have a place in America. So, when I say brainwashing, it was more about taking all of those qualities, those negative aspects of the American culture that didn’t work within my world, and wiping your slate clean.”

Rogers-Hare added, “To be specific, however, sometimes the game was brainwashing, so-called getting somebody’s mind right. ‘We want you to understand this or that.’ Sometimes, it was directive. ‘We want you to show up to work on time. We want you to do this or that.'”

However, there was a therapeutic aspect to it. Rogers-Hare played the game for “14 years straight,” morphing into less of a game and more of a conversation between people with “shared knowledge” and “shared understanding.” Still, this is just one example of the many dimensions of The Game. Of course, the fact that children played The Game drew what Rogers-Hare called “valid” criticism. Even the most defining aspects of Synanon, like The Game, were as convoluted as “American politics.”

What can America learn from Synanon?

Sometimes, it feels like the most significant takeaway in Born in Synanon is that we can’t have a utopia because even the communities that start with the best intentions can’t survive their leaders and the power corruption. However, despite having lived through Synanon, both Arkin and Rogers-Hare believe a utopia, like the one Synanon was supposed to be, could hypothetically work. Arkin emphasized the importance of learning from Synanon’s fall to understand what we can do better. She stated:

“I think America can be a great utopia. But it all starts with authenticity and truth and honesty, even in what you’re doing. Your ability to be able to see beyond just the cult and to ask the questions about what was it? Why did it fail? Like understanding the wound and how that started so that you can understand how you can create this great utopia. We can do something and create this utopia, even in America, if we just understand our history, our roots, our power, and how we can do something within a community and call people out on it.”

Rogers-Hare admits that the chances of a true utopia surviving are “very low.” At the same time, though, she thinks a utopia “absolutely” could still happen. She explained, “Look what’s going on in America with the two Americas. Can we save our democracy? I think we can. Is it likely that we’re going to have real damage that carries over some generations? Yeah, but I think we could. And I think knowing that you’re trying, that the number of people are trying to is motivating and exciting.”

Arkin adds that the key to progress is digging into our histories. It’s “understanding the scars, the wounds, where our parents are from, the rivers that cross through our towns” and learning from them. Born in Synanon isn’t just supposed to be another warning about cults but is meant to stir conversation on building a better society without falling into the same pitfalls that Synanon did.


Jan 29, 2024

Three millennial women explore what it means to identify as a witch in today's world.

AIRS: Sunday January 28, 2024 at 8:00 PM on CBC

Available on CBC Gemn documentary Channel

Three millennial women explore what it means to identify as a witch in today’s world and set out to discover if the rituals, lore, and sacred places of their ancestors can help them channel their gifts, confront their obstacles, and claim their power.

Ayo has been building an international career with the hip-hop-inflected soul music she creates as Witch Prophet. Raised in a religious family from East Africa, she was drawn to the occult as a teen, but the Jamaican guru who later helped her harness her dreams and impulses has disappeared. In New Orleans, Queen Erzulie, founder of a mystery school for Black Witches of the diaspora, tells Witch Prophet she is carrying a weight that is blocking her from moving to the next level.

Andra, a baby when her family fled Romania, was raised with her grandmother’s stories and the belief that the land is alive and that spirits surround her. Women have traditionally known that power is about sharing gifts with each other and building communities, but she feels that her own practice has hit a crossroads. She returns to Romania and her ancestral home, which holds deep memories, and visits a famously haunted forest to reconnect with her magic and sing to the spirits.

Laura has been a solitary witch since coming out as a queer woman, but now an energy shift pushes her to seek a community or a coven and develop her practice. An older witch suggests that she start by finding out when her ancestors arrived in Canada and the folk practices of that time. Laura learns that her ninth great-grandmother was Mary Towne who was tried as a witch and hung in Salem in 1692. Her world cracked open, Laura takes part in a past life regression session that offers provocative images, which lead her to Scotland and deeper questions.

After their encounters with new information, places, and communities, Witch Prophet, Andra, and Laura pause to take part in traditional rituals that honour their ancestors as they set course on new paths of knowledge-seeking and healing.


Open Letter Regarding The Shakahola Incident

NOTE: What follows is an open letter written by Dave and Cherry Mckay to the Kenyan Senate Ad-Hoc Committee that was tasked with reporting on the Shakahola Massacre Incident and who have called for an investigation with a view to have all foreign Jesus Christians expelled and barred from Kenya, based solely on a paragraph containing outright lies and distortions about the Jesus Christians.

Dave and Cherry Mckay sent the open letter to many Kenyan media outlets as well as to Kenyan government bodies and members of the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee, though virtually all of the official government email addresses (ending in "@parliament.go.ke") for the Committee members bounced back as being non-existent email addresses, even though they appear on the Senate's official web page (www.parliament.go.ke).


From Dave and Cherry Mckay,

I have just been made aware of a report from your committee, which makes reference to me and my wife. I was surprised to discover that highly esteemed leaders like yourselves appear to have allowed yourselves to be drawn into quoting an anonymous source who has made false and extremely defamatory statements about us and the community which we founded, without offering any evidence for their claims.

Your committee report makes reference to "information availed to the committee." Please, can someone identify the source of that information? Neither I, nor my wife, nor any other member of our community was contacted by any member of your committee to verify any of the so-called "information" that you have anonymously received, and which you have used as your basis for asking that we (and any foreigner who supports anything that we teach) be deported and/or barred from entry to Kenya.

Your report repeatedly refers to our Christian community as a cult. On page 111, you define a cult as "A system of belief directed towards a particular figure or object, for example, a self-appointed leader, prophet or someone with lofty titles." Ironically, one of the basic teachings of our community is that we should not use any titles at all, as taught by Jesus, including titles like Mister, Doctor, or Reverend. You will find no title other than "Brother" or "Sister" used by members of our community for me or for anyone else, including yourselves. Furthermore, far from glorifying a human leader, we have a rotating leadership, so that at any one time, the general public does not even KNOW who is our leader. My wife and I are only founders of the community. We retired many years ago as leaders.

The object of our belief and worship is Jesus Christ alone. If worship of Jesus is enough to define a group as a cult, then it is quite likely that every church in Kenya would fit your definition.

The report states that our teachings "include forsaking all private ownership." This much is correct. Voluntary poverty and a communal lifestyle have been part of many Catholic orders, as well as some Protestant movements over the centuries. And, like with ourselves, such beliefs have been practiced without any hint of criminal activity.

But your report further states that we teach "relocating to an isolated communal place where members serve one master". Our goal, wherever we have travelled, has been to seek out highly populated places, where we can interact with people in promoting the teachings of Jesus. The one Master whom we seek to serve and promote is God, as revealed through his Son, Jesus. This Jesus Christian teaching is repeated over and over in our videos and literature. The committee will not find a record anywhere that we teach otherwise.

In relation to Paul Mackenzie, the Report says that "foreign links were largely established through virtual links and social media." (Paragraph 128) Once again, no evidence is given for this. I have never had any contact with Paul Mackenzie, not in person, not through email, nor via phone, zoom, or social media. Once again, the committee has not provided any evidence to support this claim.

The Committee rightly makes reference to a sermon delivered by a friend of mine, in 2019, at a meeting organised by Paul Mackenzie. That sermon can be viewed in its entirety, as it was filmed by followers of Mackenzie and displayed on their website.

I would urge members of the public, representatives of the media, and government officials who have read the Senate Report, to view that sermon, as it is the only piece of evidence available on which to base judgment of any influence Jesus Christians may have had on followers of Paul Mackenzie.

Here is a link to a video which we Jesus Christians have produced in response to the committee report, in which we include excerpts from that sermon:

JCs & Senate Report

What you will not find in that sermon is the outrageous claim that the ad hoc Senate committee made in its report, i.e. that my friend "urged followers [of Mackenzie] to abandon earthly possessions and follow Paul Mackenzie to the 'promised land', which was later located in Malindi." Where did that come from?

What happened in the Shakahola Forest appears to have been the result of greed on the part of Paul Mackenzie, and fear on the part of his followers. Our representative specifically preached against both of those evils at the televised meeting in Nairobi in 2019. You can view that in the video link above as well.

Information available to the committee strongly suggests that members of Paul Mackenzie's church used violence and coercion to bring about the deaths of hundreds of people in the Shakahola Forest. In direct contrast to that, our Jesus Christian community is pacifist, with strong Quaker connections. It staggers belief that the atrocities in Shakahola can be related in any way to what we believe or to what our representative preached in that sermon.

Reckless use of terms like extremism and radicalisation, to imply that genuine and sincere Christians like ourselves, are promoting violence and terrorism hints at religious villification. The Senate Committee on the Proliferation of Religion in Kenya should do everything in its power to track down the source of these lies about ourselves, and to see that the individual or individuals responsible for spreading them are brought to justice. The video link above actually names the source in Kenya, although we believe that he received his information from someone in Australia.

Any action to locate and prosecute the source of these lies is consistent with articles 27, 32, 33, and 37 of the Kenyan Constitution, which "ensure that every person is entitled to equal protection and benefit of the law and that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their religion."

If you (the committee members) are not prepared to retract what has been said about me, my wife, and other Jesus Christians in the report, and to take action to identify the defamatory source, then I am asking the public and the media to ask the hard questions that need to be asked about the source of these lies.


Dave and Cherry Mckay,
for Jesus Christians


CultNEWS101 Articles: 1/29/2024 (The Abuse, Child Abuse, Canada, Southern Baptist, Cameron Black)

The Abuse, Child Abuse, Canada, Southern Baptist, Cameron Black

"Robert Corfield, a man who abused a boy in Canada in a secretive Christian Church in the 1980s, has spoken publicly about what happened for the first time.

He was confronted by the BBC as part of a wider look into claims of child sexual abuse spanning decades within the Church, known as The Truth.

His name is one of more than 700 given by people to a hotline set up to report sexual abuse within the Church.

The sect says it addresses all abuse allegations.

The Church, which has no official name but is often referred to as The Truth or The Way, is believed to have up to 100,000 members worldwide, with the majority in North America.

The potential scale of the abuse has been captured through a hotline - set-up last year by two women who say they were also sexually abused by a Church leader when they were children. People have phoned in claiming they too were abused, with testimonies stretching back decades through to present day.

The highly secretive and insular nature of the Church has helped abuse to thrive, say former and current insiders who spoke to the BBC. It has many unwritten rules, including that followers must marry within the group and keep mixing with outsiders to a minimum.

The Church was founded in Ireland by a Scottish evangelist in 1897 and is built around ministers spreading New Testament teachings through word-of-mouth.

One of its hallmarks is that ministers give up their possessions and must be taken in by Church members as they travel around, spreading the gospel. This makes children living in the homes they visit vulnerable to abuse, the insiders said.

Warning: This article contains details some readers may find upsetting

Former Church member Michael Havet, 54, told the BBC he was abused by Robert Corfield in the 1980s, from the age of 12.

"People called me 'Bob's little companion' - I just felt dirty and still do," says Mr Havet, speaking from his home in Ottawa.

After abusing him, Mr Havet says Mr Corfield would force him to kneel beside him and pray.

"I had to work hard to get past that and find my prayer life again," he says.

When confronted about the child abuse allegations by the BBC, Mr Corfield admitted that they had taken place for about six years in the 1980s.

"I have to acknowledge that's true," he said."

"Revelations about the decadeslong abuse by a prominent SBC leader have led to fears that the denomination's sex-abuse reforms are doomed to fail."

"Gene Besen, a lawyer for the SBC, called Pressler, 93, a "monster" and "a dangerous predator" who leveraged his "power and false piety" to sexually abuse young men even as he was building his reputation as a conservative reformer."
"'Based on what I've been through, I should be in prison or dead,' Cameron Black '25 said.

Born into a cult led by his father, who proclaimed himself to be God, Black's early life in Sedona, Ariz. was anything but ordinary. This familial cult consisted of nine people and operated under unconventional religious and sexual practices, deeply entangled in manipulation and abuse, Black said.

"Don't try to make sense of it because it doesn't make sense," he said as he explained the cult's philosophy. "It's like my father combined the Bible, sci-fi books and 'The Matrix' into one big ball of crazy."

Describing his childhood, Black recounts harrowing experiences of physical and psychological torture at the hands of his father.

"Starting at 7 years old, for a few years, I would wake up at 2 a.m. to my father standing over me with a 45 caliber pistol or his machete, and he would 'fake' kill me," Black said.

Black's childhood was a continuous battle for survival. His father's abuse included being left outside naked in below freezing temperatures for hours, forced to exclusively eat smoothies made up of food from the trash and being routinely drowned starting at age 4.

During periods of forced starvation and isolation, Black would escape into other worlds through books. He would reread scenes where food was described in vivid detail, imagining himself eating the meals and becoming full.

"I didn't know any different, but I knew something was wrong," Black said."

News, Education, Intervention, Recovery



Intervention101.com to help families and friends understand and effectively respond to the complexity of a loved one's cult involvement.

CultRecovery101.com assists group members and their families make the sometimes difficult transition from coercion to renewed individual choice.

CultNEWS101.com news, links, resources.





Cults101.org resources about cults, cultic groups, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.

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

Please forward articles that you think we should add to cultintervention@gmail.com.