The Family International

This page contains links to news and blog articles concerning The Family International, formerly known as the Children of God.   

For books on this group see this page:

For insider information on The Family International from former members visit these two websites:


Secret letter claims Family International leader caused deadliest air crash in history

Who is the Real Anti-Christian: the Atheist or the Fundamentalist Christian?

Family International a.k.a. Children of God: Once dismissed as 'sex cult,' tiny church launches image makeover

Denied an education in The Family International abuse survivor explains how she wrote her first novel

Novelist describes how she survived childhood of abuse and neglect growing up in The Family International, aka, Children of God

Author's debut novel draws on personal experiences growing up in abusive Children of God cult, a.k.a. The Family International

UK survivor confirms mother's fears about abusive cult The Family International that tried to recruit her teen daughter

Folie a deux: the insane prophets of the Seventh-day Adventists and The Family International

KEY WORDS:  David Berg, Karen Zerby, Marie Fontaine, Peter Kelly, The Family International, Children of God, Bible, Christianity, evangelism, fundamentalism, sect, cult,


  1. Rose McGowan: How She Survived and Escaped a Cult,,20522622,00.html

    Rose McGowan's first nine years were anything but traditional. They were spent in the Children of God sect, a group that extolled the virtues of free love and prepared for the second coming of Jesus.

    Although it proved a harrowing experience – she fled with her family, she says, once the cult began advocating child-adult sexual relations – as the setting at first "was really idyllic," remembers the actress, 38, who rose to fame on TV's Charmed and now stars in Conan the Barbarian 3D.

    "I grew up in pastoral settings" – specifically, the Italian countryside, where her parents were members of the local branch of the Children of God. But McGowan, who was born in Florence, knew instinctively that she didn't belong in such a place.

    "I've always been who I am," she says, explaining that while she did believe in God, she wasn't in accord with the hippie lifestyle, and certainly not with their aesthetic or the subservient role of females in the sect.

    Even at her tender age, McGowan rebelled. "I did not want to be like those women. There were basically there to serve the men sexually," she says.

    When her father began to fear that Rose might be molested, she says, "My dad was strong enough to realize that this hippie love had gone south."

    She fled the Children of God with her father and siblings and moved to the U.S. McGowan recalls that "it was not an easy assimilation" into the mainstream way of life. "My brothers and sisters, we thought everyone was boring."

    Many years later, she returned to the small town in Italy with her then-boyfriend, rocker Marilyn Manson. "We created quite a stir," she admits.

    Looking back at her early experiences, McGowan deflects with humor some of the dangers and difficulties she faced. In contrast to the dressed-down hippie look of the cult, she says, "I came out of the womb waving red lipstick."

    Still, the remembrances left quite an impression. While expressing gratitude to her father, who died in 2008, McGowan tears up. Mostly, though, she realizes the experience is all she ever knew and made her who she is.

    "There are people who will read this story and think I had a strange existence," she says. "I think they've had a strange existence!"

    For more on McGowan's time in the cult and photos of her childhood, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

  2. Cult wonder

    By marke, San Francisco Bay Guardian 12/06/2011

    ... [Stevens is] back with the same series character (Vanessa Michael Munroe), the same edgy but brilliant prose, and a plot that takes us into the real — and chillingly autobiographical — world of an abusive apocalyptic cult.

    That's where Stevens grew up: she was born into the Children of God, where nobody was allowed more than a fifth-grade education, adults took sexual advantage of teenagers, young women were forced into prostitution (all in the name of recruiting new members), and adults were almost as frightened to leave as to stay.

    There's a bit of a J.K. Rowling story here: Stevens started writing The Informationist when she arrived in Houston with her then-husband and two kids. With no job skills, just out of the cult, her family was living on minimum-wage jobs, barely scraping by — and after buying a Robert Ludlum book at a garage sale, she decided to write a thriller. "I was really, really just scraping by, it was horrible," she told me in a recent phone interview.

    "Selling The Informationist changed everything." Although the money from the bestseller hasn't fully trickled down to her, "if I want to buy something for the kids, It's actually possible now."

    The Informationist introduced the world to Monroe, who is slight, sexy, and moves back and forth easily between male and female appearance. She kicks serious ass, speaks 22 languages and peddles black market information. Her childhood was harsh; she spent her teens living with a violent gunrunner in Africa, but the wildness and the pain were the only elements of Stevens that made it into the first book.

    Yet Stevens told me she had to write about the cult world at some point. "People keep asking me what my life was like," she said. "So I can tell them — if you want to know what it was like growing up, read this book, that's what it was like."

    The characters, she said, are fictional, "but everything that happens in the book happened to someone."

    The Innocent is set in Buenos Aires. A five-year-old girl named Hannah is snatched and brought into the world of The Chosen, led by a charismatic figure known as The Prophet who refers to the world outside the cult at The Void.

    Hannah's father has been searching the world for her, and discovers that the cult is hiding her in Argentina. He convinces Munroe to go in and get her. That involves slipping into the world of the cult herself — and in the process, Stevens shows us a life that very few people have ever experienced. Among the most painful elements: Once Hannah is rescued, she isn't sure she whether she wants to go back.

    Along the way, of course, is vintage Michael Monroe action, including an escape from four armed men in a locked warehouse. (Munroe is better with a knife than most mob thugs.)

    The Innocent, for whatever reason, isn't as raw as The Informationist. There's less blood and less intense violence. And Monroe is developing as a character — the cold face that she showed us last time is mellowing a bit, and in The Innocent, she even kinda, sorta falls in love. Maybe.

    There's always a challenge in continuing-series characters, and writers have struggled with it since the advent of the modern pop-culture novel. Ian Fleming got bored of James Bond after a few books, and you could tell. John D. MacDonald let Travis McGee get old before his time. Robert. B. Parker never let Spenser change much, but he was Spencer, and that was always enough. Lee Child is struggling to keep Jack Reacher from becoming a caricature of himself.

    Stevens is still in the early stages; she told me she's not even sure where Monroe is going next. Which is why, I think, The Innocent works, and the next one will work, too — you really sense that the writer is growing with her protagonist in this, the best thriller series in a long time.

  3. Susan Justice: From Cult Escapee and Subway Busker to Major-Label Artist

    by Dave Steinfeld, Spinner Canada March 20th 2012

    Every musician has a unique story, but Susan Justice's is more interesting than most. The singer-songwriter's parents are members of a religious sect called The Family -- sometimes known as Children of God -- and Susan, the second oldest of 10 kids, was born into this group.

    Her childhood was spent moving from place to place, not only in the States but also Europe and South America. During their travels, Susan and her siblings often performed music on the streets of whatever city they were in. The good news is that she was encouraged to be musical at a young age. The bad news is that she was only allowed to listen to music that was sanctioned by The Family. As she entered adolescence, Susan felt increasingly stifled by the limitations that were imposed on her. "Any time you have this sort of group-think mentality, where it's like 'us vs. them,' it's very dangerous," she explains. "[The Family] is Christian but they think that they're fighting against the established Christianity of the day."

    In 2001, Susan worked up the courage to run away from both her family and The Family. She traveled from Europe to New York, where she began performing music in subway stations with only a guitar. Despite being "kind of homeless," as she put it in her bio, she made both a decent living and some impressive contacts. In 2007, under her given name of Susan Cagle, she released 'The Subway Recordings,' which was compiled from two sets she performed in the stations at Times Square and Grand Central. A year later, she caught the attention of Spin Doctors drummer Aaron Comess. He introduced Susan to manager David Sonenberg who in turn introduced her to veteran producer Toby Gad (Alicia Keys, Fergie, etc.). Together, Susan and Toby crafted her studio debut, 'Eat Dirt,' which arrives March 26 on Capitol Records.

    Despite having such a unique and potentially scary background, Susan comes across as quite personable and grounded, and her music is radio-friendly. "I was such an emo teenager," she says. "I was listening to Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. Those were my favorites [but] I also liked Tracy Chapman. And Whitney, obviously. Her voice and her attitude, I felt, translated beyond race. She wasn't a hip-hop R&B black girl. She just did good music, and that's what I wanted to do."

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    Then there's Bob Dylan, the prototypical singer-songwriter, who inspired one of 'Eat Dirt''s best tracks, 'Born Bob Dylan.' "I had a huge Bob Dylan phase," Justice admits. "I just love people who go against the grain. Dylan has such an intricate and amazing vocabulary, the way he expresses himself."

    As for the title track, which is also the album's first single and video, Susan explains, "I wanted to write something about [how] what doesn't kill you makes you stronger but I didn't wanna use those words. So instead, I said, 'What doesn't kill you makes you sick'/And if you're sick you learn a lesson/And with every lesson, you get wiser/So I figured that it pays to cross the line/And eat a little dirt sometimes.' It's about how, in my case, curiosity is a good thing and curiosity saved the cat. You have to be curious, be the one who goes out and experiences life for yourself if you want to be happy. So many of us have jobs that we hate or [are] trapped in, situations with our families that we hate. And we feel like we have to just take it but we don't. We can do whatever we want. It's not like we're in a physical pen, you know? Although in my case, I was kind of like in a physical pen!" she adds with a laugh.

    And how does Justice feel about religion these days? "I love religion," she says. "I consider myself to be gnostic -- not agnostic but gnostic, gnosis, the teaching of knowledge. I'm fascinated by that. I wish I could study theology just because I've been so close to it. I can see the effects of it. So it's more of an intellectual fulfillment rather than practicing any type of religion. I just want to find the truth in all things."

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  5. Lead Us Not Into Temptation: Inside the Secret World of Cults

    by LUKE MCKENNA, Bullet Magazine CULTURE / SPRING 2012 March 02nd, 2012

    Across the world, millions of everyday people subscribe to the teachings of magnetic cult leaders, many of whom spread the gospels extolling the virtues of incest, child abuse, and rape. Luke McKenna meets some of the victims who eventually escaped-and one cult enthusiast who's just getting started.

    Peter Frouman was only 10 years old when, on December 31, 1985, in a small, run-down house in Corrientes, Argentina, he sat naked among 25 members of the Children of God, waiting to become a man. He watched as a candle and a worn-out green T-shirt, a totem meant to represent truth, were passed from person to person, each of them unclothed and confessing their sins to the group. It was the first time Peter had been invited to take part in the adults-only ritual, his first taste of the sect's twisted take on coming of age. He could barely contain himself.

    Children of God, the apocalyptic sex cult that famously raised Rose McGowan and River Phoenix, is just one of countless high-intensity religious factions hiding in the shadows of conventional society. Rise International, a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping children raised in "restrictive, isolated, or high-demand communities," puts the global population living as part of these groups in the millions. In America alone, there are said to be more than 3,000 functioning cults, ranging from the quaint and quirky to possibly destructive, each with its own rites and rituals to mark transitions from passive observer to active participant, outsider to insider, and youth to adult.

    "The idea was to break me down with nudity and confessions," Frouman, now 36, says of that fateful night in Argentina. When it finally came time for him to wear the T-shirt, which was steeped in sin and reeking of sweat, the young boy admitted to pride and independence-vices, according to COG. "I considered it an honor to be allowed to participate considering I was still 10 years old," Frouman says of a time when he didn't know life any other way. "I have never forgotten this warm moment from my childhood."

    Frouman currently runs, a Wikipedia-like online resource that documents the lives and experiences of former child members of COG, since renamed The Family International, which has had up to 35,000 members pass through colonies in 15 countries. Formed in California in the 1960s, the cult and its deceased founder, David Berg, capitalized on the blossoming hippie movement with its promises of spiritual revolution and sexual freedom. Beneath the group's quiet, communal exterior, however, hid a particularly bawdy brand of evangelical Christianity.

    Alongside entries about Family music and art, xFamily carries graphic descriptions of pedophilia, incest, and violent beatings. Frouman watched while sexual boundaries were abandoned within immediate families. Once members reached the age of consent, considered to be 12 years old until well into the 1980s, they were encouraged to share their bodies with the group, imagining they were having sex with Jesus as they did it. (Males were instructed to visualize themselves as females while engaging with the Lord, since homosexuality was a no-no.) Young women were prostituted, luring outsiders into the group via the bedroom, a practice that became colloquially known as Flirty Fishing or FFing. Christian notions of sexual guilt and repression were bent over and defiled. This was sex for salvation.

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    The Family, whose numbers have sagged dramatically over the past decade, was forced to publicly sanitize its teachings after a series of raids, investigations, and testimonies by escapees exposed the cult's more sordid practices. Most communes have been disbanded and members are now permitted to make decisions for themselves. But these changes came too late for Frouman, who escaped the cult around the time of his 14th birthday, after he'd already endured years of sexual and mental abuse.

    Months after Frouman's New Year's Eve awakening, the boy's virginity was put to a Family vote. It was decided that a 28-year-old mother of five, who was visiting from Brazil, would deflower him. The encounter took place in a darkened room, next to the woman's sleeping children and the boy's own mother. "At the time it seemed fairly normal to me," says Frouman, who had seen kids younger than him with adults older than she was.

    Juliana Buhring, who also grew up in COG, works with Rise International to help children escape similar cults. "All these groups have almost identical dogmas or ways of operating," she says. Charismatic cult leaders are deified, their ideas treated as gospel, while the outside world and nonmembers are portrayed as evil and dangerous. "Cults are naturally secretive, so society at large has no idea," Buhring says. "But there is a very large group of ex-cult kids who all struggle with the same problem: trying to reformulate an identity outside what they believed, or what they felt, or how they thought about things."

    Donna Collins was the first Western child to be born into the Unification Church, an international Christian sect headed by charismatic Korean businessman Sun Myung Moon. A "blessed child," as she was labeled, Collins became a powerful, white poster child for the predominantly Asian religion, which seeks to unite all religions under Moon. They said she'd been born without sin. They said she was perfect.

    Moon, the self-anointed Second Coming of Christ, separated Collins from her family when she was 11 years old, moving her from home to home. Her travels took her to Korea, where she studied the language and UC teachings at the church's Little Angels School. Collins was instructed to devote herself entirely to God, Moon, and the UC. "There weren't a lot of boundaries," says Collins, who, as an 8-year- old girl, doled out relationship advice to followers who would also confess to her intimate details about their sex lives. "They would come and say, 'My marriage isn't working, what do I do?' In one case, I remember telling a man, 'I don't think you'll ever be happy with your wife-she's not a very nice person."

    Collins, who left the church in her early 20s, was always skeptical of the Moonies, as Unificationists are unhappily known to the outside world. "I saw through the church from a very young age, but I also wanted to be a good Moonie, and to be loved and accepted like any other person," she says. "It took me a very long time to leave because I was afraid. It was all I knew."

    While the young Collins was struggling with questions about her faith and her leader, he was matching her peers-some as young as 16-for marriage. Unificationists believe that Moon has divine insight into their spiritual compatibility, and so they submit to his decisions with the understanding that they are, quite literally, matches made in heaven. Early on, there was talk of Collins being betrothed to one of Moon's supposedly sacred sons, perhaps in one of the giant ceremonies that join masses of Moonies in a single afternoon. The biggest even in the West, at which Moon blessed 2,075 couples, took place in New York's Madison Square Garden in July 1982; some ceremonies blessed as many as 30,000 couples.)

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    The ritual, which participants consider to be as much a commitment to Moon as it is to each other, is a vital part of growing up in the church. Ahead of the ceremony, couples strike each other with sticks to rid themselves of sin, before vowing to live their lives for others and to create a family that contributes to world peace. A commitment to "sexual purity" precedes a "separation period," where couples are directed to go without sex for 40 days following the ceremony. You can sweep the rose petals off the bed -there's nothing hot about a honey-Moonie.

    Collins observed the dissolution of many Unificationist marriages, but she says some do prosper. Either way, she doesn't fault the followers. She says that unlike their leader, the Unificationists who support Moon's religious and business empire, which was valued at more than $100 million at its peak in the late '90s, are some of the kindest people she has met. "They're very idealistic," she says. "They genuinely want the world to be a better place."

    According to the International Cultic Studies Association, the majority of people who devote themselves to these fringe groups are as well-adjusted as they are educated; most of them come from stable families and have college degrees, a statistic that's not lost on many sects, such as Scientology, whose disciples notoriously target university campuses. The UC even went so far as to make a formal investment in Connecticut's University of Bridgeport in 1992. (The institute regained financial independence in 2003, but a number of Moonies still hold administrative positions there, and followers are urged to attend the school to be educated among their own kind.)

    Leaders want people who are intelligent enough to contribute to the group and, in the future, to win over the minds of others. Curious youths, living away from home and searching for answers in those tender years, are ripe for the plucking. It's Cult Recruitment 101.

    Daniel Maldonado was first introduced to Rael, leader of the Raelian Movement, as a teenager growing up in the grimy housing projects of New York's Upper West Side. The atheistic extraterrestrial sect, which believes that every prophet from Moses to Mohammed was a visitor from a superior alien race called Elohim, first attracted the boy because it filled in so many of the mystic gaps in his Catholic education.

    Raelians argue that Elohim, through science, created life on Earth about 25,000 years ago. The group believes in using similar technology to revolutionize the human existence, including cloning for immortality and the betterment of mankind. The science behind the teachings fit with Maldonado's own rigorous education about the universe, physics, and humanity. "Little by little, it all added up to the Raelian philosophy," he says.

    Elohim officially acknowledged Maldonado, now 21, on a sunny autumn day in New York last year, at an intimate gathering in a gay support center downtown. The date, December 13, was significant: It marked the anniversary of Rael's first encounter with the extraterrestrial race at a volcano in France in 1973. The 4-foot-tall green creatures reportedly told the sportswriter and racecar driver, then named Claude Vorilhon, that he must change his name to Rael and prepare the world for their imminent return. So far he has reached roughly 55,000 people, according to the group's own estimates.

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    Ten Raelians watched as a trained bishop, or "guide," baptized Maldonado and another convert in a ceremony called "the transmission of the cellular plan." At exactly 3pm, when the Elohim were said to have their antennae facing the east coast of the United States, the regional leader dipped his hands into a plastic bowl of water and placed them on the front and back of Maldonado's head, which then became a conductor to beam the boy's unique genetic code to the all-seeing beings above. "Elohim has recognized you," the guide whispered, leaning in for a charged hug from the newest member of the group.

    After the ceremony, the endearing assortment of New Age sensualists and Trekkie types discussed "paradism," their belief that in the near future a new class of clones and robots will perform all labor. According to Raelians, not only will this harmonize society, but it will also leave plenty of time for some of their more hedonistic pursuits, such as the Cosmic Orgasm, a kind of sexual nirvana achieved through meditation and erotic massage, and Go Topless Day, which is exactly what it sounds like. Nothing is taboo, so long as all parties are satisfied-and Raelians strive for universal satisfaction.

    "It wasn't no normal day," Maldonado says of the baptism, which could only happen once he was deemed mature enough to choose the religion for himself, and to sign an Act of Apostasy renouncing all others. "I've been thinking a little different, a little less selfish, like I need to fix things."

    Maldonado's situation is different than most in that his group membership was voluntary. "People who join cults can go home to their families and friends, and live like they did before," says Collins, who was born into the UC. "Those of us who grew up in cults, we had no other life. When I left, there were none of these online support groups. You were out on our own, you would lose the majority of your friends, and the cult would often demonize you."

    At first, Collins relied on a handful of friends she met while attending an independent college. It wasn't until she married outside of the church, in a Methodist ceremony to a man she loved, that the fallen Moonie truly found herself. It was the first step toward creating her very own stable family. "And there was no beating the sins out of each other," she says, laughing.

    Buhring, of COG, spent her formative years away from her parents, surrounded by sex. After a childhood of enduring the worst kinds of adult encounters, she discovered what it really meant to be a grown-up in the simple splendor of outside life: opening a bank account, renting an apartment, savoring a warm cup of coffee alone in a cafe, free from the regimented schedule of the cult that stole her innocence. "I felt this incredible sense of maturity and freedom," Buhring says of the first year following her willful excommunication. "It's like being blind your whole life, and suddenly you see. At first you don't understand what it is you are seeing, but as you start to understand, the beauty of it all becomes overwhelming. You can sit for hours and just smile, taking it all in. That, I think, was my coming of age. That's when I finally became an adult."

  9. To hell and back: a cult escapee's new challenge

    How do you face up to a past full of unimaginable horror? If you’re Juliana Buhring, survivor of one of the world’s most notorious cults, you get on your bike

    By Cole Moreton, The Telegraph UK July 10, 2012

    You can hit me with anything and I can handle it,” says Juliana Buhring, as a matter of fact. Hiding behind wraparound sunglasses, as we sit at a roadside café table in Naples, she says it as if it bores her. Maybe it does. This is a woman who has lived in many countries, sometimes on the run. Aged just 31, she has already endured horrors that have broken others. Yet here she is, drinking café macchiato and wanting more danger.

    “People say, ‘You must be damaged by what has happened to you.’ I think I’m much stronger, much tougher, much more able to cope with life than the average person.” She looks away, briefly. “We’ll soon find out if that’s true, won’t we?” The truth is that surviving is not enough for Juliana, however hard it has been.

    Neither her suffering nor her strength is obvious at first.She is a feisty-looking young woman with a swirling crop of black hair and a long tattoo down her spine, revealed by a backless T-shirt. She is the daughter of an Englishman but her accent is almost American, giving a clue to her upbringing. But it is only when she takes off the shades that you see the depths of experience, and defiance, in her eyes.

    She rarely tells people this, but Juliana was born into a cult. It was one of the most notorious of modern times: the Family of Love, or Children of God as they had been. She spent her childhood in secure compounds behind high walls, in communes whose members shared everything they had, including their bodies.

    Children were sexualised from an early age and ordered to practise free love, not just with each other, but also with the adults. She was separated from her parents, terrorised and beaten. But she broke free, at last, and with her sisters wrote a book, Not Without My Sister, that helped bring down the cult. It’s a powerful, inspirational story. Just to have got this far – running an English language school in a vibrant Italian city – is an extraordinary achievement. But Juliana needs more. “I would like to see what I am capable of, mentally and physically. I would like to push myself to the limits. I seem to thrive on pain. Call me a masochist. I have been through experiences that some people wouldn’t survive, but I know I’m capable of going further. I want to see how far.”

    To this end, she is about to begin an epic journey, attempting to become the first woman to cycle around the world alone. Every day she takes the white bike she calls Pegasus on to the road out of Naples and cycles north, up towards Rome, completing a circuit of 125 miles in heat that is, more often than not, fierce.

    On July 14 she will set off for real, heading east through Portugal, Spain and France before catching a plane to Boston and crossing the United States. This is a serious attempt at setting a first female record, according to the strict rules. “I’ve got to pedal 29,000 kilometres [18,000 miles] in the same direction, on the same bicycle, getting signatures at the places I pass,” she says. “I’m aiming to cycle 200k or so a day, and do it in 140 days or less. Get home in time for Christmas.”

    She laughs, but she’s not taking this lightly. For the past year, Juliana has been training under the supervision of an Italian sports scientist who prepares professional riders. The actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta, best known for the 1994 film Il Postino, has become her patron, helping attract sponsorship, although as I write this there is a last-minute crisis, with one of the sponsors having pulled out. More money is urgently needed, but Juliana is unrelenting.

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    “Adversity only strengthens my determination. Sink or swim, right?” She’ll be travelling light, looking for places to stay along the way.

    Her friend Antonio will act as logistics manager from Naples but she will be on her own in a succession of strange lands, with little protection. “I might take a Taser. But I’ll probably end up using it more on crazy dogs than humans.”

    Why is she doing this? “Why not?” The deeper answer lies in the story of her life so far. Juliana’s father was the son of a British Army officer. Educated at a public school in Cheltenham, he went to drama school in Kent before dropping out. “My father was a military brat who met the Children of God in London, through a girlfriend,” says Juliana. The cult gave him a means of expression, as a talented actor, and he became well known within it. He adored the leader, David Berg.”

    Her father married an English woman and fellow cult member in 1974 and they had three children but were then ordered to separate by the leader who, Juliana says, wanted to monopolise his friendship. The Children of God leaders were from the US, which explains Juliana’s strange accent, but the members came from all over the world. Her father then married a German woman and they had four children together, including Juliana, who was born in 1981 in a Children of God commune in Greece. But, once again, Juliana’s father was told he had to leave his wife.

    “The doctrine was called ‘One Wife’. It said everyone was married to each other in Christ, as one big family,” says Juliana, who was in turn separated from her mother at the age of three. “I remember the day vividly. I heard the car start up and ran downstairs to see it backing out of the drive with my mother, my brother and my sister inside. I thought they had forgotten me, so I was shouting, ‘Wait! I’m coming.’ My mother was crying. She waved, and blew me a kiss. My half-sister Celeste, who was with me, pulled me back and said, ‘No, they just have to go somewhere for a while.’ I was never told they were leaving me. They just never came back.”

    David Berg believed the children of his followers could be made a pure generation. “We were shipped off to military-style training camps, to break our spirits. That could involve having to wear masking tape across the mouth for a month, or being kept in isolation and fed only soup. They would get you to dig ditches and fill them up again. And of course, very hard beatings.”

    The physical abuse was relentless, for those who rebelled. “The beating room was a bathroom that had been soundproofed so that nobody could hear you scream. Or they would strip you naked and beat you in front of everyone.” Some broke. She didn’t. “All it did was teach the children to have an iron will. If you could take everything they dished out, they couldn’t break you.”

    The Children of God had become infamous during the Seventies for “Flirty Fishing”, in which women were encouraged to have sex with men in order to recruit them. The “Law of Love” proclaimed that everything you did in love was fine in the eyes of God. By default, that included adultery, incest and sex between adults and children.

    “They encouraged sexual behaviour in the youngest of us,” Juliana explains. “Aged two or three, they would pair us up, give us some baby lotion and send us off to the beds for what they called date naps. We’d seen the adults doing it all over the place so we knew what it involved – at least in theory – so we’d get on top of each other and go, ‘Ooh! Ah!’ We didn’t think anything of it.”

    As they grew, the children began having sex with each other, and with adults. “People were joining because they knew they had that liberty and that is when serious abuse started for the children,” she says. By eight years old, some would have to go on dates with adult men and if one cried “I don’t want to!” the women would pray with her, then send her along.

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    Just as she was coming into puberty in the early Nineties, there were a series of raids on Family compounds in different countries. “That was when the leaders officially stated that they no longer sanctioned children having sex with adults. They told us, ‘We have to stop this, not because we think it’s wrong, but because the Systemites, the government, will take our children away if we don’t.’ ”

    The abuse had created a generation of highly sexualised children, who were suddenly told to stop having sex. “Most of us teenagers did not believe a word of the cult dogma by then, but when you’re young the fear of the unknown keeps you inside. You would have to leave with no money, no education, no credentials, nothing.”

    Their names were changed or never registered, and sometimes children were moved around in secret to evade the authorities or aggrieved relatives. They were taught to be dependent on their leaders. “A lot of the physical and sexual abuse stopped after the raids. However, the psychological abuse was very strong. Everything bad that happened was down to you. Everything good was from the group, or from God. By the time I was an adolescent, I was very angry, full of self-hatred and convinced that it must all be my fault.”

    Juliana did not break free until the age of 23, by which time she was living in Uganda and effectively mothering her father’s youngest children. (He has 15 with seven women.) “I stayed that long because I did not want to leave my little brothers and sisters.” Then came a scandal that rocked the Family: Davidito, the adopted son of the founder, shot his nanny and then himself. He had made a video explaining that this was revenge for the abuse inflicted upon him and on behalf of all those who had suffered the same.

    “His mother said he had been taken by demons and was better off dead. I got so mad. I said to our leaders, ‘Why are you trying to pretend that none of this happened? It happened to me, it happened to all of us.’ I couldn’t take one day more of that b-------. So I packed my bags and walked out.” That meant leaving her siblings behind. “I remember crying all night, feeling I had abandoned them. But I knew I could help them more from the outside.” First, she had to learn to live independently. “When you first leave you experience a euphoria like being released from prison. Before you realise you’re screwed.”

    Juliana came to England to join two of her half-sisters, Kristina and Celeste, who had already started new lives. One is now a chef in Nottingham, the other works with children as a “play therapist” in Bristol. Together they began work on a book. “It was therapy at first. I needed to discover who I was and work out what had happened to me. First, there was rage. You realise that your parents have screwed you over, big time, then that they’ve been screwed over by the group leaders. The fault really lies at the head.”

    To help herself understand what had happened, she studied psychology and philosophy through the Open University. “I know who I am. I’m a fighter. I worked out my own neuroses. I know I find it difficult to make relationships with people on a deeper level, because after seeing the extremes of human emotion and behaviour, the things most people talk about seem so banal. But I have learnt in the last few years to form human attachments. I’m very choosy, of course, but I stay close to them.”

    Not Without My Sister was published in 2007 and became a bestseller. Other former children of the cult, encouraged to act by the Davidito saga, produced documentaries about what they had been through. “The leaders couldn’t deny any of it,” says Juliana.

    The sisters set up a charity called Safe Passage Foundation, which helps those struggling to escape their cult upbringing. “There are thousands of children in that position, but nobody speaks for them. We help them become functioning citizens.”

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  12. continued from previous comment:

    The Family International, as it now is, went through what it calls a “reboot” in 2010. This involved a move away from communal living and strict rules. The leaders apologised for past actions and a spokeswoman said: “Any previous writings that contain sexually explicit applications have been removed from circulation.” Juliana believes the changes are sincere. “Now if you’re part of The Family International you’re just part of a loosely based Christian group. All of the kids are getting educated and living normally.”

    When she first left, the members of her family still in the group turned against her and said she was possessed by a demon. She was not allowed to see her younger siblings, despite having raised them. “They heard horrible things about me. I saw that in their faces when I was eventually allowed to see them a few years later.” This is the only time in our conversation when emotion breaks her voice. “They are slowly coming around to me.”

    Her father still lives in Africa. “Dad pretends like nothing ever happened. He’s never talked about it.” She reflects for a moment, then says: “He never took care of me as a kid, never cared about me as an adult and I don’t have any emotional ties to him at all. I only care about my siblings. They now have a great life and will grow up to be who they want to be. All the negative things that came out of the book are compensated by that.” What does she mean? “The stigma. Being cut off from my family. Old friends hating me. The cult slandering my name, saying I did it for the fame and the money. There wasn’t much money. Who wants that kind of fame? The media just went off on all the sex and missed the point.”

    She found it difficult to get work as a result. “Any potential employer could Google my name and see ‘Juliana’ come up with ‘sex cult’.” A teaching job in Naples was a chance to get away. “I wanted to live somewhere where nobody knew me.” Now she runs her own school, in partnership with Antonio. And there, you might think, the story ends. But no.

    “A friend of mine used to say that the greatest characters are forged in fire,” Juliana says. “So I intend to go through fire.” The friend’s name was Hendri, and she met him in Africa just after leaving the cult. They were due to meet up again in late 2010, but he was killed by a crocodile on a river expedition in the Congo. Grieving for him, and inspired by his daring, she came up with the idea of cycling the world.

    There are other reasons. She wants people to notice the Safe Passage Foundation, to remove society’s stigma about ex-cult children, and to prove that, no matter how horrific your past, “You can still do great things.” She’s restless again, after a lifetime of moving on.

    Maybe she is addicted to pain, or wants a distraction from it. But isn’t she scared? “I was hit by a truck when I was training, right at the beginning. Honestly, in that moment I thought, ‘What’s the worse thing that can happen? I die.’ ”

    There is a terrible bleakness about Juliana sometimes, as if she has been so hurt she no longer cares about living. But then, with a flash in her eyes, the fighter returns. “I have one fear in life, which is that my life passes and I have achieved nothing.” Surely she has achieved plenty already? “I don’t see it that way.”

    For details of Juliana’s record attempt see

  13. Did the Moonies really brainwash millions? Time to dispel a myth

    Eileen Barker, The Guardian UK September 4, 2012

    The death of Sun Myung Moon has brought back to mind the panic that swept through the west in the 1970s and 80s. Moon was just about the last surviving charismatic leader of the "cults" that, it was widely declared, threatened to undermine our civilisation by brainwashing our youth and turning them into zombies prepared to do anything – including mass suicide and murder.

    Apart from Moon and his Unification Church, there was David Berg and his Children of God, who became renowned for their practice of "flirty fishing"; Prabhupada and his International Society for Krishna Consciousness devotees, who could be seen dancing and chanting on the streets; Bhagwan Rajneesh, later called Osho, and his sannyasins; and L Ron Hubbard's Church of Scientology – and literally hundreds of other men and women selling their spiritual wares in San Francisco, New York, Montreal, Paris, Tokyo and London.

    Exactly what it was that was on offer varied enormously. But the general public was largely unaware of the differences, informed as it was by sensationalist media themselves fanned by a burgeoning number of so-called "anti-cult groups", which had started as gatherings of concerned relatives but developed into powerful lobbying groups that accumulated all the worrying stories about any one movement (and there were undoubtedly several to gather), and then generalised these into a conventional wisdom about "what all cults do" – forgetting that all these activities could just as easily be found in the traditional religions. Not, of course, that this would make deceptive practices, sexual exploitation or child abuse any less culpable.

    But why were intelligent, well-educated young people joining the movements in droves? One answer was heard more than any other. Our youth had not chosen to convert to a new religion; they had been brainwashed into leaving their universities, abandoning promising careers, and severing ties with their families in order to live in secluded communities, working long hours for their "puppet masters" and, in the case of those who came to be called "Moonies", getting married by a Korean messiah in a mass wedding along with thousands of other couples to someone they had never met before and might not even speak English. Clearly, it was claimed, these were the victims of well nigh irresistible and irreversible mind-control techniques.

    With hindsight, some of our views of these cults need correcting. Although the colourful devotees and sannyasins and the persistent Unificationists were highly visible in public places, people were not joining in anything like the numbers that were being alleged. While estimates of the number of Unificationists in Britain topped a million, there were in fact fewer than 150 in 1976.

    It is true that thousands attended one or other of the residential weekends where the "brainwashing" was said to occur, but 90% did not join as a result. Of those who did, the majority left within a couple of years. Much as the movements tried to persuade people to join their ranks, and much as they would have like to have had greater persuasive powers, they demonstrably did not have access to the irresistible or irreversible techniques they were reputedly wielding.

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  14. continued from previous comment...

    But things have changed. It is not that there are not still thousands of new religious movements to be found around the world – there are. Inform, the government-funded organisation that provides information on minority religions, has on its files over a thousand new religions that are currently active in the UK. But most people would be hard pushed to name more than a handful of these. Why?

    First, since 9/11, the public is now more concerned about Islamic terrorism than about cults. Second, although young (and older) people are still wanting answers to all sorts of questions about God, spirituality, the state of the world and their relations with others, they are less likely to turn to a new religion for their answers.

    Next, the movements themselves have changed quite radically. Those that caught the public's attention during the latter half of the past century (and are now well into a second- or even third-generation membership that is no longer so concerned with recruitment but, more frequently, with getting on in the outside world).

    Then the new ones that have since emerged tend to be more spiritual and far less institutionalised than the earlier movements. The Children of God no longer "flirty fish" [but see my comments at the end of the blog article above]; the vast majority of Krishna devotees are people of Asian origin who have found a place to carry out their traditional worship.

    Most Unificationists now live with their families and work independently of the movement. Those second-generation members that have stayed in the movement (although the majority have left) are likely to be married to someone their parents suggested, often with quite a bit of input from their children.

    Scientology is, perhaps, one of the few "bogey cults" that remains in the public eye, due partly to the number of high-level members who have recently left, and, no doubt, to the high-profile antics of Tom Cruise. Perhaps The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's acclaimed new film on the origins of Scientology, will provide us with some further understanding of "the cult experience".

  15. NOTE: I can confirm from personal experience, and with the benefit of fully informed, educated hindsight, that all of the worries and concerns regarding the rights and welfare of the children in Children of God communes in the time period discussed in this article was completely valid. The cult is now known as The Family International. You can read more about their history of systemic child abuse at the link provided above in the Related Articles section.


    Children snatched from their homes in dramatic raids on the Children of God sect in 1990s trials

    by Elissa Hunt, Herald Sun Australia March 04, 2013

    BEFORE dawn one May morning in 1992, children at properties run by controversial sect Children of God were taken from their parents in dramatic raids across two states.

    The operation involved the removal of 56 children in Victoria and 65 in New South Wales amid claims they were at risk of psychological abuse.

    The Victorian children spent six days in state care before the courts reunited them with their distraught parents, finding no evidence they were in danger.

    The Children of God sect, which became known as the Family of Love, had gained notoriety in the 1970s over claims of child sexual abuse and a practice known as “flirty fishing”, where female devotees were encouraged to lure new members with sex .

    Children of God was formed by US pastor David Berg, who called himself Moses David, in 1968.

    By the 1980s, the group’s leaders in the USA had renounced many of its former practices and declared there would be no more “flirty fishing”.

    But questions had remained over sect literature, with claims it promoted sexual activity involving children.

    Secrecy and negative publicity involving overseas branches of Children of God served to fuel the controversy surrounding the religious group in Australia.

    In Victoria and NSW, authorities claimed concerns had been raised about the welfare of children in the sect two weeks before the 1992 raids.

    They were initially looking for one child that they had a warrant for, but after entering the properties decided to remove all children over the age of 2.

    Child protection services sought court orders to keep the children, aged up to 15, from the group.

    The Victorian children had been taken from properties at Glenlyon, near Daylesford, and Panton Hill, near Eltham. The NSW children were taken from Glenhaven, Kellyville and Cherrybrook in Sydney’s north-west.

    One of the children, aged 15 at the time, would later tell a court, “I could not understand why any of these people were there, or what conceivable reason they could have had for thinking they should take me or any other children away.

    "I have never been abused, either physically, emotionally or spiritually. In particular I was not isolated as a child and I was not brainwashed."

    Yet the landmark legal tug-of-war that followed the raids would last more than seven years, and cost millions.

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  16. In Victoria, the first court ruling was by a children’s’ court magistrate who temporarily placed the children in the care of Community Services Victoria.

    "We commenced this initially because we had strong concerns about the welfare of these children whilst living in the Children of God cult communes," CSV director-general John Paterson told the Herald Sun after the raids.

    The families, who home-schooled their children, insisted they were simply a fundamentalist Christian community spreading the word across the globe.

    In the initial proceeding, the children’s court magistrate was told there were up to 40 children in one house with only one toilet, and children sharing rooms with adults.

    Lawyers for CSV told the court secrecy was paramount for the sect, and they feared the children could be punished for revealing information to authorities if returned to their parents.

    A child welfare worker claimed some of the children told them they were required to always smile, and crying was punished with a beating using a wooden paddle or stick.

    They alleged that the children were made to do the community’s housework and look after younger children, and that older children were “indoctrinated” at special camps.

    CSV said that on five occasions when social workers had arranged to speak to group members about complaints, they arrived to find that they had disappeared.

    It was argued authorities feared the children could “disappear” within hours of being sent home.

    They claimed members of the religion had been known to vacate houses at a day’s notice.

    Some of the children had already lived in sect homes in four other countries as well as up to nine different homes in Australia.

    The magistrate’s decision to keep the children in state care was quickly appealed by their devastated parents.

    The appeal was heard several days later by the Supreme Court.

    Appearing for CSV, Ian Freckleton argued that the magistrate had acted to protect the children.

    Dr Freckleton told the Supreme Court the state’s case would include evidence from a child psychiatrist, an overseas expert on the sect, police officers who had investigated the group, and former members.

    “Those persons will say that they harbour the most serious of concerns if those children are returned even for an extremely short period to this community,” he told the court.

    “They’ll say that there is a possibility of significant emotional and physical misfortune befalling these children immediately.”

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  17. But in a landmark ruling, the court ordered that the children be reunited with their families until a future court hearing.

    The judge said each case had not been considered on its merits and the children should not be deprived of their liberty until the Children’s Court had properly assessed the alleged risks.

    It was ordered that each parent give an undertaking to the court, with special conditions including giving up their passports and allowing case workers access to the children, until the Children’s Court was in a position to properly examine the alleged risks.

    A Sydney children’s court made a similar decision.

    Acting for the children in the initial court proceedings, Robert Richter QC argued many of the allegations against the group were “guesswork” and that they had been persecuted.

    A forensic psychologist interviewed some of the children, and found they had been traumatised by the raids. They were terrified they would be taken away again.

    But he found they were otherwise happy and well-adjusted children, not isolated or abused.

    The bitter dispute continued through the courts for many months, with CSV maintaining that the children were in danger.

    The families struggled to obtain the representation needed to fight the claims, and a magistrate determined this was unfair. The case was indefinitely adjourned in December of 1992 until funding could be found for the family members’ lawyers.

    Despite hopes the case could be resolved out of court, state authorities refused to back down, and it was not until 1994 that a proper hearing began to decide whether the children should remain with the sect.

    It ended in a government backflip that involved both sides agreeing to a 15-month supervision order that allowed independent social workers to monitor the children.

    In NSW, the protection case had settled reasonably quickly, with agreement between authorities and the families in November 1992.

    But the families involved sued for damages, saying the raids had left the children with ongoing psychological trauma.

    The civil case took years, with a NSW Supreme Court judge finally ruling in 1999 that the raids had been illegal because the officer named on the warrants was not present when they took place.

    The claim for damages was confidentially settled a month later.

  18. Juliana Buhring: The first woman to cycle around the world talks canines, Kardashians and religious sects

    by ADAM JACQUES, The Independent UK 11 AUGUST 11, 2013

    Everyone said I shouldn't do it People said that I wasn't ready, that I wasn't a cyclist and I didn't know what I was doing. I trained for eight months in Italy, though I hadn't cycled before that since wobbling around on a bike when I was five. I wanted to prove you don't have to be a professional to do something incredible, and I cycled 18,000 miles in 152 days.

    I ran out of money on the way I hadn't got any sponsors, but I did a lot of tweeting and social networking, telling people where I was. So when I told people that I'd ran out of money, many contacted me and said, "Keep going! We'll keep you on the road." I had a constant drip of donations from all these people. A lot went wrong, though: my bike broke, I got diarrhoea in India and I got attacked by dogs.

    It's amazing how fast you can ride with a pack of dogs chasing you I was frequently attacked while riding in Turkey. In some areas, huge dogs roam in packs of 10 to 15, and they chase to kill. There are a lot up in the hills so I'd pray that if they found and chased me I'd be racing downhill rather than uphill. I was saved a few times by cars coming up behind me and deliberately driving into the pursuing dogs.

    I fell into a bit of a depression after I got home I found myself staring out of the window and wanting to be back out there. The first few weeks, everything seemed so banal; I had no interest in stupid gossip and I didn't go back to the English-language school where I had worked: I just wanted to get back to the top of a mountain and experience that adrenalin rush.

    I credit my difficult upbringing for my resilience [Buhring was born into the mystic Family of Love sect, escaping when she was 23.] Because of the abuse I had to face growing up, I learnt to be strong. Being thrown into an endeavour such as cycling around the world with no support required the mental strength that maybe someone who'd lived a more sheltered life would have struggled with.

    I don't want to be defined as a sex-cult survivor When I wrote [the 2007 bestseller] Not Without My Sister about my experiences, the media coverage was very sensationalistic about the sexual side of things, with all these horrible soundbites. But when I look back at it now, I don't even recognise those experiences as being mine.

    There's a stigma attached to being an ex-sect kid It's as if it was our choice, or we're to blame for the world we were born into. I think there's a feeling out there that we are somehow damaged and have to wear this horrible mouldy coat that you can't ever get rid of because it's your skin. But many have since made a life outside of that – interesting people who are contributing to society.

    We live in a coddled society The tiniest thing breaks people and they need therapy – they're like, "Oh, I can't face society as I didn't get hugged as a child." I'm a tough-love person. I'd say, "OK, it happened; get over it." You can't let your past define your future.

    Society's superficiality baffles me The media is constantly telling women what our roles are and how we should be seen by others. When I see all this stuff about Kim Kardashian, I keep thinking why is there not more content on female politicians, artists and adventurers? I'm riding in [Europe's longest unsupported cycle race] the Transcontinental this year, yet I can't get sponsorship as there's not much interest in woman in these fields. [Buhring will be the sole female rider in the race.]

    For more: For more on Buhring's charity:


    by Juliana Buhring Published on her blog WANDERLUST September 10, 2013

    There are many kinds of prejudices in the world; political, religious, cultural, racial, gender. You name it, they’ve got it. Most, if not all, are born from ignorance and fear of what is “different”. My little brother had a dream that was almost destroyed by prejudice. It was not prejudice against his idea; it was a brilliant one. It was not even prejudice against him as a person; he’s a cool guy. It was prejudice against his upbringing.

    When I last saw him, my brother spoke with great enthusiasm about an idea he had for a project involving a popular sport in the country where he lives. He went about finding sponsors, equipment, and most importantly, a major sports league to work with. He put in a lot of time and hard work, demonstrating a massive degree of commitment, initiative and ability. Everything was a green light. The project was in its first stages of launching.

    But then something unpredictable happened; though perhaps it should have been predictable. Somebody somewhere brought up the fact that he was born and raised in a cult. They had read my book, which made worldwide ripples a number of years ago and just like that, working with my brother was not okay anymore. The reasons stated being a “moral obligation to [their] organisation” and “can’t afford to put the reputation of the league in jeopardy at all”, they had “to be cleaner than clean”. The inference being that working with my brother would somehow sully them? That his unfortunate childhood might rub off on them at least, and put their reputation in jeopardy at most.

    It’s like telling a refugee from Afghanistan who escaped the war as a kid, that you will not give him a job because he was born in a country where the Taliban once ruled. You’re sure he’s a nice person, and you realise that he himself is not Taliban, but you do not want the unfortunate nature of his birthplace to tarnish the reputation of your company.
    I’m sure, like me, you would call this logic “stupid”. It appears our society is overrun by stupidity. You cannot even call it ignorance anymore when the facts are out there in black and white and everything you want to know can be found with the click of a computer button.

    When I wrote the book, it was with the intention of opening up, what was for decades, a hidden world. Together with two sisters, we shone a spotlight on the underbelly of the Children of God cult. We named names, we listed dates, quoted evidence and did it all so thoroughly that the group could not deny the core accusations of institutionalised abuse and basic human rights violations.

    continued below

  20. We wrote it with one primary goal: force them to change their inner policies and make restitution to a generation of children harmed by their dogma.

    We wrote it for one reason: so our younger siblings and children still in the group could have a normal life that we were denied, with the possibilities that we were not given. So they could get an education, medical care and their basic human rights. So they could grow up with opportunities which would allow them to explore their full potential in life.

    With a massive hemorrhage of membership and monetary support drying up, due to all the negative publicity and information on the internet, the group was finally forced to disband in 2010. Our dream was realised. Our family was free.

    Knowledge may be power, but it is also a two-edged sword. It certainly felt like a stab in my gut to learn that the same book which had helped free my siblings to go out into the world and follow their dreams, had become the source of roadblocks now being put thrown up in their paths to prevent their realising them.

    Sadly, this is not a new story. When ex-cult kids try to integrate and make a life in society like every other Joe Blow out there, they quickly discover that society is extremely intolerant of the unusual and different, fearing what they do not understand. They soon learn that to exist in society, they must hide their identities, bury their pasts and recreate an entirely new persona. Most of my friends who were born and raised in cults are successful lawyers, artists, musicians, teachers, nurses. They work in every sector, from banks to NGOs to the self-employed. They are successful, hard working, contributing members of society. Yet across the board, one thing is true of all: nobody knows they are cult babies. Not their employers, not their friends and colleagues, and often, not even their spouses. They have completely recreated their identities and they have done this because they fear the stigma of their origins. A stigma created and cultivated by ignorance, stupidity and a sensationalistic, irresponsible media.

    We were born into a cult. So bloody what? ‘Cult’ is short for ‘culture’. We grew up in a different culture from what is considered ‘normal’ by society today. And because of where we were born, entirely without choice, we must wear our origins like a cloak of shame, or a giant scarlet letter. “I’m a cult baby. Careful. We are, by default, damaged. The ‘crazy’ that is cult has been automatically transferred onto us. Come too near, and it will rub off on you.”

    What do I tell my younger siblings now? You are free to do whatever you want in life. You have a dream, go for it! You can do and be whatever you like! Become anybody…but not yourself. To thine own self be true…unless you are a cult baby. Then be anybody else. Anybody at all. Just not you. Because the cult was right about one thing: the world will never understand.

  21. Michelle Pfeiffer: The day I realised I was part of a cult

    Michelle Pfeiffer, the actress, has disclosed that she was once part of a “cult” which believed humans can exist without food or water.

    By Claire Duffin, The Telegraph UK November 2, 2013

    Pfeiffer, 55, whose films have included Dangerous Liaisons and Batman Returns, said she became involved with a “very controlling” couple when she was starting out in Hollywood.

    They believed in breatharianism – the ability to live without food and water – and put her on a diet “nobody can adhere to”.

    She was 'saved' when she was introduced to her first husband, Peter Horton, the actor. He had been cast in a film about the Moonies, the name given to followers of Rev Moon Sun-myung’s Unification Church. She said that while she was helping him with research “on this cult” she realised: “I was in one”.

    “We were talking with an ex-Moonie and he was describing the psychological manipulation and I just clicked,” she said in an interview for The Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine.

    Pfeiffer, who left home and moved to Los Angeles when she was 20 described, the couple as “kind of personal trainers”.

    “They worked with weights and put people on diets. Their thing was vegetarianism,” she said in the interview ahead of the release of her latest film, The Family.

    “They were very controlling. I wasn’t living with them but I was there a lot and they were always telling me I needed to come more. I had to pay for all the time I was there, so it was financially very draining.”

    “They believed that people in their highest state were breatharian,” she added.

    Followers of breatharianism believe food is unnecessary and sunlight can provide all the nourishment the body needs.

    However, the practice has attracted criticism and has been linked to several deaths, including that of Verity Linn, 49, who died a remote part of the Scottish Highlands in 1999 after apparently embarking on a period of fasting.

    Her diary mentioned the teachings of Jasmuheen, a self-proclaimed prophet from Australia also known as Ellen Greve, who preaches that people can draw nourishment from the “divine life force in the form of liquid light”.

    continued below

  22. In the interview, Pfeiffer, a strict vegan, also denied having plastic surgery, including Botox and fillers, but admitted she found ageing difficult and would “never say never”.

    “The loss of youth, the loss of beauty – it definitely plays havoc with your psyche,” she said.

    “There’s this transition from, 'Wow, she looks really young for her age,’ to, 'She looks great for her age.’ And there’s a big difference. I’m now at, 'She looks great for her age.’ There is certainly a mourning process to that.

    “I used to think I would never have surgery but it’s really hard to say never. I’m in the 'never say never’ camp now.

    Pfeiffer, who also appeared in The Fabulous Baker Boys, has two children with her husband, David Kelley, 57, a producer.

    He was the creator of Ally McBeal, the legal comedy drama, and rumours have suggested that Pfeiffer was the inspiration for the neurotic main character. She scotches such an idea: “No, that’s totally made up.”

    The couple met when they went bowling on a blind date in January 1993 while she was in the process of adopting a daughter, Claudia Rose, now 20, as a single parent.

    Two months later, she brought her daughter home, and within a year she and Kelley were married. Nine months after that, their son, John Henry, now 19, was born. She acknowledged the decision to adopt a child, initially on her own, had taken courage. “One thing I’m not short on is courage.”

    She added: “I’d been really desperate to start a family for a long time. And then I was 33 and I just thought 'You know, I don’t want to wait any more’.”

    Her first marriage, to Horton, had ended in 1988 and she then had relationships with John Malkovich, her co-star in Dangerous Liaisons, Fisher Stevens, an actor and producer, and Michael Keaton, with whom she starred in Batman Returns.

    She said that her desire to have children “was colouring my relationships. I was maybe hanging on to some that I shouldn’t have.”

  23. Sour note: Did ties to cult kill the tour?

    Abruptly cancelled U.S. concert tour by Fleetwood Mac alum Jeremy Spencer was to include a Valentine's Day show in San Diego at Lestat's

    By George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, February 14, 2014

    An air of controversy and mystery surrounds former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer's sudden cancellation of his entire U.S. tour, including his Valentine's Day show in San Diego tonight at Lestat's.

    The English-born Spencer was a charter member of Fleetwood Mac, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. He performed on all of the band's early hits, including "Oh Well" and "Black Magic Woman" (which was written by Mac's then-leader, Peter Green, and soon became an international hit for the band led by former Tijuana guitarist Carlos Santana).

    This would have been his first U.S. tour since he abruptly left Fleetwood Mac in 1971 in Los Angeles to join the Children of God (later known as The Family International). That controversial, quasi-religious group, which sprouted in the late 1960s, combined scripture and free sex. It did so in a manner that went beyond the norms of the almost-anything-goes, peace-and-love hippie ethos of the time, including -- critics and former members have charged -- pedophilia. In 1986, following lawsuits and a series of official investigations, The Family International officially renounced sexual contact between children and adults.

    Spencer's tour was scheduled to start Thursday in Los Angeles and conclude March 31 in New York. (Ironically, Spencer was also scheduled to perform here at Lestat's in May, 2012, with San Diego singer-songwriter Jack Tempchin, but that show was also mysteriously cancelled at the last minute.)

    This week saw a rapid-fire sequence of events related to the now-aborted tour. At 1:06 p.m. Wednesday, Spencer's U.S. record company, Blind Pig, belatedly sent out a a national email press release, with the headline: JEREMY SPENCER LAUNCHES U.S. TOUR Fleetwood Mac Guitarist To Make Rare American Appearances

    Twenty-four minutes later, at 1:30 p.m., Blind Pig sent out a second press release. It contained a single sentence: The previously announced U.S. tour by Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer has just been cancelled. No reason or explanation was offered.

    U-T San Diego immediately contacted Blind Pig Wednesday to ask why the tour had fallen through. No response came until Thursday, when a spokesman for the record label wrote: "Apparently he (Spencer) was getting threats, so decided for his own safety to return to his home in Ireland." Blind Pig has yet to respond to our request to elaborate on the nature of those threats.

    Meanwhile, the Safe Passage Foundation is crediting its online petition at as the key reason Spencer's tour was cancelled.

    continued below

  24. The foundation describes itself on its website as: "a not-for-profit 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization that provides resources, support and advocacy for youth raised in restrictive, isolated or high-demand communities, often referred to as 'cults' by society at large." Its petition appeared under the heading: Jeremy Spencer: a child-abuser unworthy of your support -- STOP the Jeremy Spencer USA tour

    On Wednesday, Safe Passage issued a statement that began: "We are pleased to report that both the Jeremy Spencer tour and the Kickstarter fundraiser have been cancelled! We would like to thank everyone who signed our petition for their support as well as organizers and supporters of the Jeremy Spencer tour for heeding our call to take a stand against child abuse."

    None of this was mentioned in the email Lestat's music honcho Louis Brazier received Wednesday afternoon from Spencer's booking agent. That email consisted of a personal statement from Spencer himself. It read:

    I have very difficult news to convey to you. I have recently been under considerable stress due to unrelenting demands on my life and time. It has now resulted in potentially serious health problems for which I am compelled to return to Ireland for treatment. I am distraught over having to postpone what was to be a memorable tour. Fans of my music were keen on the opportunity to enjoy it live, so many venues put their hearts and souls in to promotion and preparation, band mates have put their other projects on hold to prepare and there was great excitement over the release of (my album) 'Coventry Blue.' Unfortunately, here I am forced to let everyone down who was counting on me. I cannot do the subject justice. Please convey to the venues my deepest apologies, and gratitude for their consideration of my situation. I am truly sorry over such an untimely delay. Thank you for your understanding. I value your support.



    There is another facet to the tour's cancellation that neither Spencer or Blind Pig have yet mentioned.

    Spencer was underwriting his tour through an online Kickstarter campaign, in which his fans were asked to help underwrite his U.S. concert trek. As of this morning, his Kickstarter page indicates Spencer has raised $10,416. The page, like his website, makes no mention as yet of the tour's cancellation.

    Those who pledged $200 or more were promised an autographed drawing Spencer did of Fleetwood Mac's original members. Any fan who pledged $1,500 or more was promised dinner with him and his band, if logistically feasible. For $2,000, he would do a private show. (According to his Kickstarter page, one fan pledged $2,000.)

    There is no word yet on the status of Spencer's Kickstarter campaign or whether refunds will be made.

    read the links embedded in this article at:

  25. Cults: "People underestimate how powerful they are"

    Voice of Russia July 9, 2014

    Academics estimate that there are tens of thousands of new religious movements - often referred to as cults - worldwide. The majority are said to be in Africa and Asia. Here in Britain, it's thought there are between 500 and 1,000 new religious movements, or cults - though some say that figure is a conservative estimate. VoR’s Juliet Spare is joined by three guests - two of them former cult members - for this in-depth discussion.

    Juliet is joined by:

    Ian Haworth, founder and current general secretary of the Cult Information Centre, a non-sectarian educational charity based in London, England. He has worked full-time as a specialist in cults since 1979 and is a former cult member.

    Lynne Wallis, who has written extensively for newspapers on cults and families affected by new religious movements – cults – including an article for the Times Educational Supplement in 2008 called 'Cult Watch' detailing the danger cults pose to young people.

    Natacha Tormey, author of ‘Born into the Children of God: My Life in a Religious Sex Cult’ and ‘Cults: The Bloodstained History of Organised Religion’. Natacha Tormey was born and raised within The Children of God, a religious cult that became infamous for its bizarre sexual practices and religious doctrines. Natacha escaped at 18.

    How did you leave?

    NT: “It was quite a long process, so the doubt started when I was 14 years of age when most teenagers are starting their rebellious years, so to speak. Obviously, on top of the usual teenage angst I had that additional circumstance of being, living in a cult… At that time we were in France – it was very difficult because we had to, kind of, hide everything we did all the time. Live, but in secrecy, and never talk about what was going on at home or that we were part of a cult. That’s really when all of my doubts started.”

    “As I got older, going on to 16 – 17, I started to have a little bit more interaction with the outside world and slowly I began to realise just how strange my living situation was. By the time I reached 18, that was it…”

    Did you have interaction with the outside world at any point in your time there?

    NT: “Up until the age of 13 almost none. So, in Thailand and the Asian countries that we lived in, we lived in very big communes, sometimes of 100 – 150 people. Very much your typical compound community – you’ve got very high walls, big security gates… It was a very well-run operation in the sense that they managed to go unnoticed with these huge communes living together. They didn’t actually attract that much attention, but obviously, children weren’t allowed to leave the compound. When we did, it was very rare and we would always be supervised by adults either to go fundraising by doing shows or things like that.”

    “So, it [contact with the outside world] was very minimal for the first 13 years. And then when we moved to France. Obviously there you couldn’t have those kinds of big communes – they would have been noticed straight away. It was very small – usually just my family and then one or two other people, so there was obviously more freedom. They couldn’t watch us all the time… We had very small interactions and then by the time I reached 16, I was kind of jumping out my window at night…”

    continued below

  26. What were the questions you were asking yourself when you were there? You started questioning your existence within this cult at 13 to 18 and at 18 you were jumping out the window, wanting to leave – was there a catalyst for this?

    NT: “Well, a very key moment, obviously the doubt started slowly, was in 2000 when they predicted, I think it was the third or the fourth prediction of the end of the world… And it didn’t happen. We were all extremely afraid on New Year’s Eve. We had a stash of food, we were prepared for Armageddon basically, and yet again it didn’t happen. That, for me, was kind of the final straw. That’s when I really realised that this is just all lies and none of it is true.”

    You’d wake up in the morning, and what would be expected of you?

    NT: “It would depend on which period we’re talking about. In Thailand, where it was much stricter in those kinds of communes, all the children were separated into groups and we all had very strict schedules. So it was – you wake up, you’ve got ten minutes to make your bed and get dressed. All the kids wore uniforms and whoever was looking after us we would call auntie or uncle. It was just very-very regimented. Everyone was marched downstairs in single file for breakfast. You had a certain amount of time to eat and then everyone was marched back upstairs. Many hours had been spent reading – either the stories from the Bible or publications from the leader Berg [David Brandt Berg] or Zerby [Karen Zerby]. In some homes you had school time which again is not really school. Apart from learning how to read and write it was all based around the cult leader’s theology and his beliefs. All of our education about history and science was all according to the cult leader’s version, with a lot of religion mixed in.”

    Ian Haworth, what made you set up the Cult Information Centre and would you say it’s very widely used and known?

    IH: “It is known internationally and it’s very easy to find in the UK just by going online. What provoked me to set up the centre is that I came back to the UK in 1987 from Canada where I’d been doing this – I set up the first charity of this kind there. So what really provoked me to get into the field is what provoked me to set up the first charity in Canada, which was called COMA – Council on Mind Abuse. And it was just that I’d gone through a nightmare experience in a group. I’d only been in a group for two and a half weeks and I managed to escape, thanks to a journalist. It took me eleven months to recover and in that recovery time the tragic deaths in Jonestown, Guyana occurred where 913 people died following the orders of Jim Jones. I realised that that could have happened to me. I could relate to those people...”

    “When the Canadian media started to ask – is this a problem in our country? I went forward and said – yes it is… That led to a lot of media coverage and then my desire to try and be involved in an educational process to try and warn people. That’s how it all started.”

    You called it mind abuse. Is this something that we don’t really understand?

    continued below

  27. IH: “Most people have no idea what constitutes psychological coercion or mind control, or radicalisation. I’m using my terms carefully because radicalisation, although it’s usually used in connection with terrorist groups, it’s the same thing as what we’ve been describing as mind control or psychological coercion or thought reform for many years.”

    “People are processed to become terrorists. People are processed to become cult victims.”

    “In my case, I was 31 when I was recruited into a group. I was theirs… I was completely under their control by the third day. I mention this because I want to emphasise how quick this process is. After just two evenings and one morning on a course in Toronto – I was theirs. I gave them all the money I had, dedicated my life to it and resigned from my job. As you know, I fortunately managed to escape very quickly thanks to a journalist helping me.”

    Do you think in Britain, there is a lack of understanding of the techniques used in mind abuse?

    IH: “Well of course ‘it’s never going to happen to me’ is normally the attitude. I think people that do consider what a cult might be assume that it’s probably some kind of strange organisation that will be visually identifiable, that a cult recruiter will therefore be obvious when he or she approaches you, that probably the people that are recruited are not very intelligent, they’re probably on drugs anyway and people make all kinds of excuses as to why someone would join. What we’re saying is that people don’t join, they are recruited instead. And they’re recruited through subtle techniques and the techniques work and work very effectively.”

    “The easiest people to recruit tend to be well-educated people. People with average to above average intelligence and they think it would never happen to them. The safest seem to be the very seriously mentally ill which isn’t very comforting.”

    Lynne Wallis, what made you write about cults?

    LW: “It was a long time ago when I started actually – probably more than 15 years. I think I met somebody who lost her daughter to a group, probably better not mention their name. Her daughter had been working in a West End department store, she’d just left university, she was new to London… I think this is a very common time for people to be recruited, when they’re in a new city and they’re vulnerable, sometimes when they just start university. She came one evening and said she’d been invited to a women’s meeting at Wembley and it turned out to be a recruitment fair for this particular group and very-very quickly she was sucked in. This woman Betty, her daughter was receiving messages on her mobile, she was being loved. She was being told she was awesome and within about a month she’d lost weight, she wasn’t eating properly, she lost her sense of humour… In other words, she’d undergone a complete personality transformation. She’d really had her own personality sucked out of her and everything had been replaced by values of this group.”

    “Then I met Ian Haworth and he put stories my way sometimes and I’ve written and interviewed probably scores, not hundreds, but scores of ex-members of groups, but also families who’ve lost sons and daughters.”

    continued below

  28. As a journalist what would you say is the legacy you’ve witnessed that these cults have had on individuals and families you mention? You’re highlighting an issue – do you think it needs to be highlighted further?

    LW: “I think it does. I think awareness is very-very low. I think Ian is absolutely right that everyone says it could never happen to me. It could happen to anyone at a particular time in their lives when they’re vulnerable. I think it should probably be on the curriculum – kids going off to university, their parents warn them about STDs, drugs and alcohol but whoever thinks to tell them about the damage these groups can do? Even the parents think it can’t happen to their children.”

    “I think it really is high-time that something should be done because this has being going on too long…”

    IH: “This is one of the things that we do. We go out and give lectures. I’m spending an entire day this week at a school that has this on the curriculum but as Lynne has suggested that’s not necessarily the norm. But I do go around various schools and colleges and sometimes universities to talk about this phenomenon. I sometimes speak to professional groups as well because they’re losing people to the cults. A lot of people imagine that the typical recruit is young but it happens at all ages. Captains of industries are being recruited into cults as well.”

    It sounds like a very aggressive style of recruitment. Could you tell me more about that?

    IH: “Everyone that’s recruited is programmed to understand that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Your critical abilities are now severely impaired and so if the group says that two and two is seven, it is and you excitedly share that with people.”

    “The two main goals seem to be to bring in money and to bring in people. It’s quite normal to be sent out to recruit others. Now, if you were in a cult that we would call a therapy cult where you stay in your job, then you’d be doing that after hours and on weekends. If you’re in your typical religious cult where you’re working for the group full-time then you’re doing that [recruiting] full-time. You’re constantly going out there and trying to recruit people usually by, unfortunately, lying to them and misrepresenting what it is that you stand for. If people that you’re talking to ask questions then you’ll be very vague all of a sudden about what’s really going on because they just want you to cross the threshold and then a psychological door closes behind you.”

    “As Lynne was saying, you become someone else… It’s interesting we’re doing Voice of Russia because I often compare this with Russian dolls. The real you is now covered over by a new personality. That’s the outer doll, if you will, and that’s the one that interacts with family and friends and the world. The real you, however, the good news is, is inside. Getting that real you out is another matter altogether and there’s no guarantee that that will ever happen…”

    LW: “…And in this recruitment process I think quite early on anyone who dares to challenge anything that is said by any of the leaders in one of their brainwashing mind control obsessions, punishment and reward is introduced. Someone will be shunned, maybe ostracised if they’d dare to disagree. Obviously in any kind of healthy environment, perhaps in an actual proper cosier religion, questioning is encouraged, but within these groups it’s quashed very early on.”

    continued below

  29. Natacha, having heard from both Ian and Lynne, why do you think people don’t understand cults or are scared to talk about them?

    NT: “I think what Ian is saying is completely correct. I think people underestimate how powerful cults are when it comes to recruitment. So, if we take the Children of God for example, who still exist today or even back when I was a teenager, they operated in African countries under fake names. They had humanitarian organisations with completely different names to the Children of God or Family International which they are now called. They’d be out there – these homes with all these young couples with kids, aged 20 to 30, all living together, having a great time, doing all this humanitarian work.”

    “For many young people who would bump into them it would be like ‘why, this is amazing, I could do something with my life, I can help others and help save the world!’ But behind all of that is a completely different story. Once you get pulled in through that exciting new world very quickly the trap closes and you find out that actually you only saw the tip of the iceberg here – now you’re going to see the real deal. But by then, it’s usually too late. You’re completely sucked in and it’s very difficult to get out after that.”

    “Like Lynne was saying – voicing doubts… Anyone who dares to voice doubts even at the beginning, either they’ll be completely rejected or punished. In a psychological way it’s a means of control and is a warning to other members that you cannot contradict the leadership. So, often in the Children of God for example, people who were considered severe doubters would be separated from their spouse or their children…”

    “One thing I talk about in my book is when my mother dared to defend one of her children who was being very harshly physically disciplined by other aunties and uncles in the home, and she dared to say something against it and was sent to Chelyabinsk for six months when she was pregnant…”

    “High radiation, minus forty degrees – she was being taught a lesson by the leadership that this is what will happen to you and we can keep you there if we want to and we can send you somewhere else and you may never see your children again. And this was as much a lesson to my father, who was left behind as ‘you better keep your wife in check.’ So it’s all these psychological things, but all done in a very, how do you call it…”

    LW: “It’s for your own good.”

    NT: “Yes, it’s for your own good. This is the Lord trying to teach you a lesson. This is good for you, this is good for your family, it will make you a better disciple, etc.”

    What is like when you speak to the families?

    LW: “They’re devastated… It’s like a living bereavement. If that person is still in the group and there’s all sorts of conflicting advice about whether you should try and get the child out, they normally have an incredibly hard time making contact – someone else will answer the phone or they’re not around. They just don’t know what to do. They are at a loss… Sometimes that child, their green light will come on and they’ll come out and have some counselling or something. But I know several families who have had sons and daughters in for years and I think, I don’t know if this is right Ian, but isn’t it true that the longer they’re in, the less likely it is that they will come out – is that right?”

    IH: “Not as far as I’m concerned. Some people do say that, you’re quite right. I’ve never said that. Some have said in the past that after a particular point in time, that’s it. But I’ve never seen any kind of need for saying that. I’ve known people who have come out of cults after 30 years and have fully recovered…”

    continued below

  30. Is it possible for everyone to recover? Have you found your recovery path through writing a book was therapeutic Natacha?

    NT: “Definitely! Writing the book was the final step in my healing process, but I’ve been out of the cult for twelve years now and it’s taken that long. It’s like Lynne was saying earlier, the process of manipulation for someone who joins a cult is stripping down that personality and replacing it with this cult personality. But when you’re born into a cult, you never have the chance to form that personality at the start. So the road to recovery and the first big question is – who am I? What is my personality? You don’t even know who you are as a person! What kind of clothes do I like to wear? What’s my style? Everything has to be learned from scratch about yourself and then after that you can start properly healing. But it takes years and it’s taken me years to go through that, and finally get to a point where I actually know who I am and I’m comfortable with it. I can move on…”

    If you had a chance to speak to those people who are on the cusp of wanting to change, who are in the same cult you were in, what would you say?

    NT: “…I’d say that I know how scary it is to even contemplate facing a world that you’ve never known or that you’ve lost touch with for many years. But once you get out there you realise that there’s actually nothing to be afraid about and that there’s actually a lot of people who understand. And who won’t judge you! And I think that’s a big thing! Especially people who have joined a cult voluntarily – they feel like somehow no one’s going to understand, they’re going to blame me, they’re going to think I was stupid, that I deserve whatever happens to me. People don’t see it like that. There are plenty of professionals out there and institutes like the Cult Information Centre that are there to help! And they understand and know that you’re victims, you’re not actually thinking in your right mind. So, it’s really not judging yourself and accepting that you are a victim and you need help… I think that’s the biggest difficulty for some.”

    IH:” There is another thing here and that is, it’s not the best thing to put on your CV when you’re looking for a job. That’s one of the problems here because there are a lot of high-profile people who are ex-cult members who would not dare do what Natacha’s bravely doing, and talk about their story.”

    “I know a senior partner in a major law firm in this city who is an ex-cult member. And I know other people in other similar institutions, and there are teachers and there are doctors who are ex-cult members. It’s not something you really want to broadcast because you might lose some clients, if not all of them…”

    “And yet, there are, as Natacha says, lots of people who are aware of the phenomenon and help is available.”

    continued below

  31. Do the right people seem to understand the level of exploitation of this mind abuse?

    IH: “No, I don’t believe they do. The mental health profession is sorely lacking in an understanding of this phenomenon. There used to be one psychiatrist in Britain that was really good and could help just about anybody. Sadly she died about five years ago. There is another psychiatrist now that is up on this, but because she works on the NHS she can only deal with clients in a limited geographic area. There are very-very few mental health professionals that begin to understand the phenomenon but there are a small handful of people that do.”

    “There are a couple of people with a background in psychology that are very good at counselling people and they work inside our field and the academic world as well. There are a couple of other people who specialise in counselling cult victims and they’re trained counsellors and they’re very good. But still, as a country, we’re really lacking in understand this phenomenon and are way behind the rest of Europe, unfortunately.”

    When you said the phenomenon, it is estimated there are five hundred to a thousand cults [operating in Britain], what numbers would you quote?

    IH: “You’re quoting the figures that I would use and I am accused of being conservative and I prefer to be that… But it’s a growing problem and it is getting worse. Hopefully, it’s not as bad as it would be if there weren’t voices like ours – that’s a hard thing to measure.”

    “I think if people started to recognise that cults are here to stay and there’s a tremendous need to be a lot more discerning and just simply question!”

    “People spend a lot more time checking out a new car than they do checking out a group that they may be interested in getting involved with. A new car may break down but if it’s a cult, you’ll be the one breaking down. It’s a completely different ballgame and a very serious one.”

    continued below

  32. Finally, why do you think it might be getting worse?

    LW: “I’m not sure why but I think an awful lot of groups seem to be setting up on the back of these health and wellbeing groups, and yoga groups. Every single newspaper has a massive great health section full of this ‘neo new age’ sort of stuff. I’ve seen within that a growth of abusive one-on-one relationships. Not a situation where a person gets sucked into a group but where one person targets another and usually ends up taking a vast amount of money from them. They usually target people who have a vast amount of wealth.”

    “I’ve interviewed three or four people who have been in that situation. I don’t know… Maybe it is the breakdown of religion and people not going to church anymore, family breakdown but more importantly, there’s nothing really to stop them. It’s unregulated – there isn’t a body that actually has any clue and that can monitor these groups.”

    “We are behind the rest of Europe! Awareness is just incredibly low. I guess politically it’s not a vote winner. It affects a relatively few number of people and politicians don’t take the long-term view do they, they take the next four years…”

    IH: “For me there are two issues here. One is, statistically if each person that’s recruited becomes a recruiter and recruits four or five other people and that’s a minimum, then cults are bound to grow at a tremendous rate, and they do… But the other side of it is that as cults continue they become wealthier and wealthier and they get the best lawyers in the cities and there are lots of stories we give to the media that don’t see the light of day. The journalist gets paid but it’s not published because people don’t want to get sued. So that’s another aspect.”

    “There is a control and there is an influence on the media, and that’s most unfortunate.”

    Is there a real lesson that you’ve learned that you would like to impart or you think society as a whole would benefit from, especially in Britain, where as Ian and Lynne say it’s very beneath the radar, with tightly controlled media that is influenced by highly paid law firms who are able to represent these new religious movements – what would your lasting comments be?

    NT: “I think one of the big issues is people being afraid to trample on religious freedom. There’s a fine line between overanalysing every religious group – is it a cult, is it not, and where we are now – where cults can operate so easily. Lynne was talking about new age groups and I think it is one of the rising areas that cults will take advantage of, to be able to recruit people. And it’s not a new thing! If you look back at the Order of Solar Temple not so long ago who ended with something like seventy suicides… They recruited exactly the same way! So Luc Jouret – one of their two leaders, used to hold these conferences on alternative medicine and new age healing methods and that’s how he recruited a lot of very rich and very powerful people. I think it’s what people need to be very aware of – a group or a person who just seems overly caring, if you’re going through a difficult time or you’re feeling lonely or you just had a loss, and you meet a group or several people where there’s that instant ‘we love you, you are one of us’, and I’m not saying that everyone should be paranoid or wary because the world wouldn’t be a very nice place, but sometimes something that is too good to be true is really too good to be true.”

    “I think awareness is the most important thing. That is what all of us here are trying to do and there’s a long road to go before we get to a place where people are actually aware of these dangers, are looking out for them and not falling into the trap…”

  33. Woman who escaped Children of God cult credits Irishman with helping her get out

    The Independent Ireland July 15, 2014

    A woman born into a cult called the Children of God has revealed that an Irishman helped to get her out.

    Natacha Tormey (30) was one of 12 children born into the notorious cult and spent her entire childhood believing that she was part of an elite children’s army who would one day save the world from the Anti-Christ.

    The cult, which Hollywood star, Rose McGowan, also belonged to, was a very controlling organisation.

    Natacha was denied an education and had barely any knowledge of life outside the communes which she lived in. The followers of the cult were encouraged to believe in total sexual freedom and many members revealed that they suffered appalling sexual and physical abuse.

    Speaking on Ryan Tubridy on 2FM this morning, she revealed that after leaving the cult in 1999, she was in danger of getting sucked back in but she credits an Irishman with helping her escape.

    “I was born into the cult a decade after it started. My parents met in the cult and got married. They had several children in the cult.

    She said that the cult became more bizarre and they began operating in countries where their practices could avoid detection. Born in Asia of French parents, her parents had 12 children all of whom were in the cult.

    Former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer was a member of the cult, which was led by David Berg.

    “As I was born into it, I knew very little else. I was brainwashed from birth.”

    continued below

  34. She said that the sexual abuse started from an early age.

    “It started when I was four. When you are that young you don’t really realise what happened to you. In my case, it was one of the so-called uncles – the childcare staff – who abused me.

    She said that the sexual abuse was also coupled with physical abuse.

    “All of the parents thought whoever was looking after the children was doing a good job. There was definitely some cases when the adults knew what was going on and did nothing. My parents say that they didn’t know what was going on and they weren’t aware until I told at the age of 13.

    “The environment was highly sexualised. The leader of the cult – David Berg – put out a letter saying that the children of the cult should explore their sexuality from an early age.

    “As soon as a girl starts having her periods, she is basically an adult. There were no rules in place.”

    Natacha said she started to believe that things were very wrong when she was a child. When she was a teenager she really started to question the doctrines of the cult.

    “I always had a gut feeling something was very wrong and as I grew older, I realised that this wasn’t ‘normal’ no matter what I was being told on a When I was a teenager I really started to question the hold the cult had over my family and the rules that they made us live by. What we thought and how we acted.

    “By the time, I was 16 or 17 years of age, I just had huge doubts. The cult decided that the world would end on New Year’s Eve 1999 and when it didn’t, I realised that it was all a hoax.

    “I had no idea how to get out. I met this guy who helped me get out. I had no clue what the world outside was like. After a couple of years together, I left him and moved to London.”

    She revealed that she almost got sucked back into the cult but her relationship with an Irishman helped save her.

    ““I was finding it very difficult to adapt. I was feeling very suicidal. I was struggling to fit into regular society.

    “I went back to where the cult was based on Reunion Island and over a period of time, I nearly got sucked back into things. The group had changed a lot by then. I needed to reconnect with my parents and talk to them about.”

    However, she credits an Irishman with saving her.

    “I was debating religion on a website and there was an Irish guy who I started speaking to. We fell in love over the course of a few months. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. We broke up.”

  35. I was 4-YEARS-OLD when I was forced to have sex with a cult member from the Children of God

    Malaysia Chronicle July 24, 2014

    ON the night of December 31, 1999, Natacha Tormey stood huddled in her garden with her family, waiting for the world to end.

    But when the clock struck midnight without the expected soldiers of the Antichrist making an appearance, the teenager had a sudden realisation that would change her life.

    Natacha, now 30, told The Sun: “Everything I had ever been told was a lie. And I knew I had to get out.”

    Natacha was brought up in the Children of God cult.

    Founded in California in 1968 by self-proclaimed prophet David Berg, it was active in 15 countries at its height, including the UK.

    Up to 35,000 people are thought to have been members, including the parents of actors Joaquin and River Phoenix and of the actress Rose McGowan — all raised in its sinister clutches by their parents.

    To the outside world the sect presented a wholesome image of a Christian family living in harmony, helping the needy, performing music and praising God.

    But for children like Natacha it was a sick system dedicated to brainwashing and sexual abuse.

    Natacha, now a happily married human resources consultant living in Buckinghamshire, said: “There was a whole sordid world you got pulled into, but the outside facade would have looked quite innocent to people like my parents.”

    Her French parents Marcel and Genevieve had joined the cult, also known as The Family International, as teens in the Seventies.
    Natacha was born in Thailand in 1983, and spent her childhood moving around various sect communes in South Asia, France and later the African island of Reunion.

    From a young age she and her 11 siblings were taught the various ways they might be raped or killed during the coming Apocalypse.

    Children were readied for battle and promised superpowers, like the ability to shoot thunderbolts from their eyes, when the time came.

    They were taught to fear the outside world, known as “the system”, which was “full of non-believers who wanted to kill them”.

    But it was the cult’s teachings on sex that were most disturbing.

    Berg taught that sex was the most glorious way to praise Jesus and members were instructed to “share” their husbands and wives.

    Group sex was common and Berg also taught that children needed to “explore their sexuality”.

    He once wrote that all sex pleased Jesus, no matter if it was between an adult and child or even between family members.

    As a result, child abuse was rife.

    Natacha was one victim. At the age of four, unbeknown to her parents, she suffered days of horrendous abuse in an outhouse at the hands of a middle-aged cult member.

    She recalled: “I felt sick to the stomach and I knew something was very wrong.

    “But we were never told it was wrong for an adult to touch you like that. On the contrary, we were told that you must obey adults, so I just kept quiet.

    “David Berg had basically said that any sex was sanctioned by God, so there was an amazing opportunity for any paedophile.”

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  36. Bergs own stepson Davidito was another victim.

    In 1982, when he was seven, the cult published a book describing — complete with photos — the “sexy experiences” he had been subjected to, including cult members performing sex acts on him.

    It was meant as a guide for rearing children. Davidito eventually left the cult and changed his name to Ricky Rodriguez.

    But he could not escape his memories and in 2005, at 29, he tracked down one of the women involved in his abuse and stabbed her to death. He then shot himself dead.

    In the communes of 100 to 150 people, physical and emotional abuse was also common.

    Natacha explained: “Many adults would carry fly swatters and just whack you around the head if they felt like it.

    “If you did something really naughty, like telling a lie, you could expect a spanking with a wooden board.

    “There were also psychological punishments such as silence restriction, where you would be forced to wear a sign warning anyone from talking to you. It was torture, really.”

    Kids rarely left the commune, but adults would go out to preach the gospel and fund-raise.

    Sometimes fund-raising took the form of “flirty fishing” — a practise advocated by Berg that involved women having sex with men in return for a “donation”.

    Natacha said: “It was religious prostitution, simple as that.

    “The sad part is that the women genuinely believed that this was the most perfect sacrifice you could make for God.”

    When Natacha was 13, her family moved from Thailand to France, where for the first time she started to mix with the outside world.

    It was then that doubts about her upbringing started to creep in.

    She explained: “I saw that the ‘system’ wasn’t scary and that there were normal people out there. They weren’t evil and they weren’t trying to kill us.”

    Two years after the world failed to end at the turn of the Millennium, Natacha, then aged 18, fled.

    Despite initially struggling to cope in the real world, she eventually did carve out a new life.

    She moved to England and finally managed to find a job, love with husband Kevin and happiness.

    Her whole family has since also left the cult, which has been run by Karen Zerby, now 67 — mother of Davidito — since Berg’s death in 1994 at the age of 75.

    None of the cult’s leaders have ever been brought to justice.

    Natacha said: “I am outraged and disgusted by what happened, and I think a lot of members of my generation feel we were let down by the world a little bit.

    “But for me, I have to let that anger go. I couldn’t let them win.”

    see photos at:

  37. Born into a sex cult

    Natacha Tormey on how she survived those dark days, escaped, and finally built a new life

    by LYNNE WALLIS, The Independent UK August 11, 2014

    The smell of Dettol can trigger a traumatic memory. It was kept beside every adult’s bedside in the cult communes that Natacha Tormey grew up in – the cult’s members practised "sharing" their partners with others, and believed that disinfecting themselves afterwards would prevent sexually transmitted disease.

    Natacha still has a bag she calls her survival kit, comprising a compass, first aid box and a torch, which she carried everywhere for several years after her escape, convinced that Armageddon, or "End Time" would come and she would need it to hide from the devil.

    She believed she was part of an elite childrens’ army that would one day save the world from the Antichrist, when glorious martyrs such as herself would have a golden palace on top of heaven. She would have a "superpower" that would enable her to shoot thunderbolts from her eyes to strike her enemies dead.

    Natacha’s French hippy parents Marcel and Genevieve were recruited into The Children of God during the 1970s as teenagers in Paris. Renamed Moonlight and Star, they survived by busking and begging, but the cult only allowed them to keep 10 per cent of what they earned. Three sons Matt, Marc and Joe came before Natacha was born in 1983, the year they were sent to a commune in Thailand.

    "We were all very thin," recalls Natacha. "If someone was ill, it was because the parents had ‘sinned’ – everything was designed to instil guilt and fear. Adults were 'uncles' or 'aunties' who could discipline any child. Watched all the time, we learned to arrange our faces into masks of unquestioning submission."

    Beatings were regular and severe. One afternoon, during enforced "naptime" four-year-old Natacha was beaten by Uncle Ezekiel, who was in bed in the same room with Aunty Joy. As punishment for fidgeting, he hit her hard with a fly swat. That night, Natacha dreamed of shooting him down with a thunderbolt as he begged for mercy.

    The late David Berg, the son of an evangelical preacher from California, founded the Children of God cult in the late 1960s, exploiting the hippy anti-establishment, free-love culture. He ordered his "disciples" to send him videos of their orgies, insisting that Jesus liked sex and that they shouldn’t be ashamed of liking it. He encouraged adults to have sex with children over 12, but it happened to those far younger.

    Women were sent out "flirty fishing" to lure in new members. "They were treated like pieces of meat," says Natacha. “My mother complained when my young brother Vincent was viciously beaten. Heavily pregnant, they sent her to Siberia, to freezing cold Chelyabinsk. Dad tried to stop it, but Mum feared further reprisals. Families were torn apart."

    Members of the cult included the parents of River and Joaquin Phoenix, and those of the Hollywood actress Rose McGowan. Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer was recruited after meeting devotees in the audience at one of their concerts.

    All over Europe and the USA, idealistic young hippies were being recruited in the belief that the cult represented love, freedom and peace. If only, says Natacha, they could have known that every single aspect of their and their childrens’ lives would be controlled.

    Women were totally submissive, and not allowed to take the Pill. Like Natacha’s mother, who had 12 children, many were exhausted by childbirth by the age of 30, and others from having to "share" with other womens’ husbands.

    Natacha was four when she was sexually abused by a man she calls Clay in her book. He began touching her in the shower and then started creeping into her bed during "naptime". Natacha became ill with a fever and was put into isolation in a converted shed. Her heart sank when Clay was asked to look after her.

  38. In her book she writes "I believe my mind is unable to deal with the horror and has blocked out some of the worst of what happened. I couldn’t say whether Clay had full sex with me. It is a dark place I do not want to return to. But the sensory images are always with me, playing out in nightmarish flashbacks: his unwashed skin, hairy armpits and sweat dripping on my face as he leaned over me, the smell of Dettol, his fingernails grabbing at my skin and his thick Filipino accent as he gave thanks to the Lord for delivering me to him."

    Shortly afterwards, there was an "investigation" into child sexual abuse. Natacha instinctively knew that the "right" answer was no, she had never been touched in a "bad way".

    A girl who spoke out was made to stand alone for weeks with a sign around her neck saying, "I am on silence restriction for telling lies. Do not speak to me". It was many years later before Natacha told her parents about the abuse.

    When Natacha was 12 they were sent to France, where life improved dramatically. "The French wouldn’t tolerate communes, so we lived in a normal house. We played outside for the first time in our lives."

    Berg had died and the cult was falling apart. When Natacha was almost 15, the family were moved to Réunion island near Madagascar, where Natasha’s brothers Marc and Matt, disillusioned, announced that they wanted to leave. Marc left when Natacha was 17, but outsiders found him too intense. Miserable, he sought solace in alcohol and drugs with other former members.

    Natacha decided to leave when she was 18. The night she left, Natacha got the devastating news that Marc had been killed in a car accident. Grieving, racked with guilt and anxiety, Natacha, with no money, moved in with an an older man she met called Thomas, whom she calls "my ticket out".

    She recalls: "I was fearful of the outside world, and I felt out of place, a weirdo. I didn’t know what a CV was, how to open a bank account."

    The couple moved to the South of France, where Natacha met a woman who became her mentor. She recalls, "I’d been around all these dull, subservient women. Manon was glamorous and amazing. Slowly I learned that it was OK to say no."

    Natacha left Thomas and came to the UK to live with former cult members in Harrow, Middlesex. She met another man who treated her badly. Natacha says: "With Manon’s words ringing in my ears, in front of all his friends, I said, 'How dare you treat me like this? I am a human being' – words I wished I’d been able to say as a child."

    Natasha became depressed and began drinking heavily, once contemplating suicide. "I went to Réunion to be with my family. Everything had relaxed and children were no longer beaten. But I was very angry. I couldn’t see my parents were victims."

    Natacha returned to the UK and in 2008 met her husband Kevin, and talked her way into an admin job in human resources. "Kevin said I was the bravest person he’d ever met. I slowly began to believe that I must be strong and resilient to have survived. I discovered who I am, that I have a sense of humour."

    Natacha and Kevin married in 2011 and live in Buckinghamshire. She is in contact with all her siblings. Her parents live in France, surviving on benefits and seasonal work.

    "The cult exploited their youthful idealism," Natacha says, "robbed them of their happiness and freedom and spat them out in middle age. Cults needs to be on the curriculum so young people are aware of the dangers. Second generation cult members, the innocents, had no control over their fate. My book is for us. It’s time we had our say."

    All names have been changed except for Natacha Tormey’s

  39. Former Children of God member threatened police with shotgun

    by Mark Russell, Court Reporter for The Age Australia September 5, 2014

    A former member of the notorious Children of God cult, known as The Family, has been jailed for two years for threatening a police officer with a sawn-off shotgun.

    Joshua Cannane blamed his time in the cult for his paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Cannane, 26, of Croydon, pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of possessing the shotgun and one count of using the weapon to resist arrest on February 26 near the Chirnside Park Shopping Centre.

    County Court judge Liz Gaynor said Cannane had pointed the gun at the police officer and warned him he was not going back to jail.

    Cannane was jailed for two years with a non-parole period of 12 months.

    He had been jailed in 2008 for 20 months after slashing a shopper at Knox City Shopping Centre and then stabbing a policeman who was trying to arrest him.
    He was released after serving six months.

    Judge Gaynor said Cannane was the fifth of nine children born to parents who were members of the closed religious community known as the Children of God.
    He was born in NSW but his family came to Victoria when he was aged about one.

    "When you were aged two or three, you were taken briefly by the Department of Human Services officers during the large-scale raid on the Children of God premises," Judge Gaynor told Cannane.

    Police and Department of Human Services officers raided the cult's properties in Victoria in May, 1992, after ex-sect members claimed children were being sexually, physically and psychologically abused.

    The sect had been set up in 1968 by David Berg to encourage free love and communal habitation.

    A total of 128 children - aged between two and 16 and from six communities in both Victoria and NSW - were taken into protective custody before later being released, after no evidence of criminal wrongdoing was found.

    Judge Gaynor said Cannane's parents gradually moved away from the cult, eventually leaving when he was aged 12 or 13.

    "They lived in the community until you were about five and then moved in with another family from the Children of God, or The Family, as it was known, to assist them with the care of a person who was dying of cancer," she said. "The house was in Donvale and together with your siblings and parents and the other family, you shared the house with about 16 or 17 people.

    "The family lived on benefits, donations and assistance from the Children of God."

    After his family left the Children of God, Cannane briefly attended Norwood High School but found it difficult to settle into a conventional school setting and soon left while repeating year 9.

    Cannane hardly left the house for the next three years and became a heavy cannabis smoker before later using heroin and ice.

    Judge Gaynor said Cannane told her he had had a very unhappy childhood while his family were members of the Children of God, "enduring routine harsh punishment and disciplinary measures".

    The judge said Cannane's earliest memory was of being lined up with a number of other children and hit with a stick. "You said the main emotions you experienced as a child were ones of anger and fear."

    Judge Gaynor said while she was not critical of Cannane's parents, his childhood had accounted for the development of "a paranoid attitude to the world" to such an extent he developed a post-traumatic stress disorder.

  40. Christopher Owens on the Children of God and His ‘New Testament': “It’s My Own Take on Pop”

    By Shane Barnes, FlavorWire September 26, 2014

    The video for Girls’ “Hellhole Ratrace” was released in June of 2009, throwing the band’s frontman, Christopher Owens, into the indie-rock spotlight. Owens was perhaps too willing to talk about everything in his early days, detailing his time spent in the Children of God cult, his since-kicked opiate habit, and his years spent with the late Amarillo art pioneer Stanley Marsh III. Girls had three excellent, critically acclaimed releases — two full-lengths, one EP — with influences that ranged far and wide: surf music, old-school country, King Crimson, Randy Newman, Felt, the Everly Brothers, and somehow others. And then, citing “heartbreak” from the band’s constant turnover of members, Owens called it quits in 2012.

    But he didn’t stop making music. In 2013 he released Lysandre, an odd, under-appreciated ode to the ’70s that features recurring refrains and instrumentation that brought to mind Donovan rather than the shoegaze fuzz of his early Girls work. Now, with his latest release, A New Testament, Owens has put on his boots and his ten-gallon hat to produce one of the year’s best country and gospel albums, and it’s from a guy who, in his own words, can’t make a country album. Flavorwire spoke to Owens as he was prepping for his current ongoing tour in support of the new album, out September 30 via Turnstile.

    Flavorwire: Did you set out to do anything particular with A New Testament, or did it just kind of veer toward the gospel and country side of things?

    Christopher Owens: Definitely. The idea was to make an album that explored the influence country music had had on me. I love country music — classic, traditional country music — and it’s something I’ve liked for a long, long time. And it’s something I felt was already in my songs already, it wasn’t too far of a stretch. If I just changed a couple of instruments, I can kind of sound like that. I wanted to show the things I love while giving a modern take, you know?

    Yeah, even with Girls, the country was always underneath everything else.

    I’m glad you said that, because I’ve had a lot of people calling me up and telling me it took them by surprise. And I thought, we’ve always done it. We just didn’t do it so explicitly. This is just the first time that I’ve decided, “OK, this is what we’re going to do.” And with the Girls stuff, the first album had to be what it was.

    And the second one, the EP, Broken Dreams Club, was songs that we had been playing live but hadn’t recorded, so we didn’t know exactly what we were trying to do with them, sonically.

    And then, for a band’s second full album — or third record, whatever you want to call it — it’s time for them to make a big statement. So we went big on there. So, for Girls, there wasn’t really time to do a country record. It would’ve been too soon to do it as a second album.

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  41. I feel like now I can kind of get away with.

    Something about this album — the country influence is there, plus the soul stuff, but it’s definitely a pop album. If this were 30 or 40 years ago, it would be all over the radio.

    Yeah. It’s like when the Beatles covered that Buck Owens song, you know? It’s not country, but it’s got that influence. They weren’t even intending to make a country song. They can’t. And in that same way, I can’t. It’s my own take on pop. I really believe that pop is just country, R&B, and Broadway hits all mashed up and made very short and accessible for everybody.

    You listened to that kind of stuff in the Children of God, right? Did that have a direct influence on the sound of this album?

    Well, the country influence you’re hearing on this record — the actual stuff you hear — is all stuff I’ve gotten into later in life. To be honest, the stuff I listened to in the Children of God — when I heard the Everly Brothers and stuff — it was really only about once a month, or once every six months. Typically we didn’t get much of that music at all. We only had our own music, which was very religious music that the adults wrote.

    But every once in a while they’d have a dance night where they would put on a group of cassettes called “My Old Favorites,” which was our leader’s. And it was a bunch of oldies. And I mean from before 1950 in most cases. Those were deemed OK to listen to on special occasions. And those oldies were very close to country.

    Do you remember any of the songs on there?

    Oh, gosh. Stuff like “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” or “Love Me Tender,” a couple mop-top Beatles stuff — definitely not the psychedelic Beatles stuff. Patsy Cline. It couldn’t be too negative. It had to be just right. I’ll always remember those songs from “My Old Favorites,” and I think they did give me a taste for the oldies sound. A very simple sort of a pop song, which I still have a strong place for.

    You tweeted that Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” is a “touchstone of perfection.” Do you ever worry about proclaiming your love for pop music in such a public way?

    That song to me is just a classic. I don’t think American Idol has really produced another knockout like that. It was just a really special thing. And I was feeling a little nostalgic.

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  42. On the last album you said that if Beyoncé or another huge pop singer had covered “Love Like a River,” it would’ve been a huge hit. Do you feel that way about any of the songs on A New Testament?

    I feel like “Oh My Love” should be a classic. To me it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever written. Somebody should cover that in a couple years and let it be on Top 40 radio, and I would be over the moon.

    I feel really strongly about a lot of our songs. They have a kind of classic quality that I feel like, if they could just enter the sort of general public’s subconscious, it would be part of pop culture — whatever that means, if it were in a movie or if somebody covered it — I think that would happen. They could be hits. Back in the day there would be one radio station or one Ed Sullivan show, and you could play a great song like that and the world would start to sing it. Now, it seems kind of impossible. I would need a little help with that, I think.

    I heard in an interview recently that Randy Newman is one of your lyrical heroes. When did you first get into him?

    Well, like a lot of people my first real exposure to Randy Newman was I think in that movie Antz—

    Toy Story!

    Oh, sorry! Toy Story, that song (singing), “You got a friend in me, you got a friend in me,” and I came away sort of unimpressed. But in 2007, when I really started to write lyrics for my own songs, I heard “I Just Want You To Hurt Like I Do,” and I thought, “This guy is just a fucking genius.” And he helped me realize that when you’re writing a song it doesn’t have to be “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It can be like, “I think it’s gonna rain today,” over and over. It’s just the right balance of being a smart-ass and also being very genuine.

    He sort of opened a door for me, and made me feel like I could do it. You know, that song I wrote, “Jamie Marie,” on the last Girls record was a direct sort of homage to Randy Newman.

    What was your inspiration was for the aesthetic of all the promo materials for this album. It’s a very, uh, distinct look — I don’t even know how to nail it down.

    I don’t work with a stylist or anything like that. I just kind of have a photographer come in and I know exactly what I want. I tell them what to do, I trust myself. I kind of just wanted everything to be warm and have a certain romantic aspect to it. I try to have more specific visions for these albums.

    A lot of people will go through their whole career and do the same thing. You know, James Taylor has been James Taylor for 25 years. I guess that says something about me, I do little looks. I wore a suit for the last album, now I’ve got cowboy hats and boots. There is a side of me that it’s certainly a playful guy. And why not have a good time while you have this opportunity?

    Right. Not everybody gets to come out with an album people pay attention to.

    Exactly. And, as they say, we only live once.

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  43. We were raised in sex cult Blonde Electra reveal dad thinks he's God's prophet

    THEY have been ridiculed as the female Jedward, the novelty act that doesn't deserve a place on The X Factor live shows.

    By Nadia Mendoza / The Daily Star UK October 10, 2014

    Yet it seems Blonde Electra – sisters Jazzy, 24, and Ruby, 22 – aren't actually a panto fake, but the real kooky deal with a very unconventional secret past.

    And the aspiring songbirds haven't been scouted from an extras agency nor plucked from stage school, but were actually raised in a sex cult.

    The girls revealed: "Our dad has 11 children, is George Osborne’s [Chancellor of the Exchequer] cousin and thinks he’s God’s prophet on earth.

    "Our parents met in a sex commune but have taken a vow of chastity and live as brother and sister. And yes, our sister is married to Cher’s son."

    Jazzy continued: "We’re very British, although people get confused with the accent.

    "I think it’s because we moved around and our father home-schooled us [they've lived in 33 countries].

    "Dad speaks with a very upper-class accent. Our ancestors would have had tea with the Queen... Obviously, all that ended when dad was disowned for running off to the sex cult."

    Speaking to the Daily Mail, the reality star hopefuls candidly spoke about their dad, Michael Jaffray King, and the cult he joined in Brazil.

    The sect was called Children of God, who allegedly encouraged women to parade around topless.

    It is here that he met the girls' German-born mother Joanna, who they claim is his "greatest follower", essentially a groupie who believes he is a prophet.

    The cult is said to have used sex "as a bargaining tool", which the sisters liken to prostitution.

    They said: "It didn’t start out being about sex. They were just hippies, but then the guy who led it said everybody needs sex like they need to eat, and sex was used to support the group."

    Hmm, sounds legit.

    King, who later founded his own group, believes his mission is "to save the world" and according to the siblings is "the biggest diva ever."

    Having bid farewell to cult life back in the 90s, the girls' parents took a vow of celibacy in order to convert to Catholicism.

    This now means, in the eyes of God, they are brother and sister.

    As a result, the girls confided their folks don't have sex and sleep in separate bedrooms.

    Having chosen their own path, Jazzy and Ruby's parents have now disowned them, with their father delightfully taking to Facebook to slate them as they hit the spotlight in the UK.

    Jazzy said they have been "excommunicated" and been branded "evil" for taking part in "Devil’s work".

    They concluded: "It's just dad. He is not all there… It’s a case of 'good riddance to bad rubbish'."

  44. How a cult stole my life

    Author Taylor Stevens was raised in a sect where beatings, starvation and sexual abuse were everyday events. Forty years later, can she leave the ‘Children of God’ behind her?

    By Julia Llewellyn Smith, The Telegraph November 1, 2014

    Most children would be praised for writing stories. Not Taylor Stevens. Aged 41, Stevens was born and raised in a cult then known as the Children of God, whose members (a term Stevens dislikes since it implies she had a choice) lived communally, usually in squalid poverty, surviving by begging. Children were often beaten, starved, separated from their parents, denied education and sexually abused.

    Stevens’s sporadic schooling ended for good when she was 12, but she always had a compulsion to tell stories. “All entertainment – music, television, books – was banned. We were so bored, I used to make up stories to tell the other teenagers when we were sitting for hours in the back of a van being driven to go beg somewhere,” she recalls. “Imagination was my survival mechanism.”

    When she was 15, she got her hands on a few notebooks and began writing stories. “I knew my supply was limited, so I wrote really small, squeezing as many words into each line as possible.” Before long, however, they were discovered and the books were confiscated and burned.

    “The leaders told me I was a witch and full of devils and performed an exorcism on me. They put me in a room for three days without food. They wanted me to confess my sins. I didn’t know what to say, so I just came out with every doubt about the group I’d ever had. I made strange noises because I thought that’s what they wanted, but I was worrying: ‘What happens if they’re the wrong noises?’ ”

    Afterwards, Stevens was isolated from her peers for months. “They thought I’d contaminate them with my evil spirit. They made me read propaganda for hours at a time and then write essays about how it was making me a better person. I just made stuff up to make them happy.” She laughs. “There’s an irony they didn’t want me to write fiction but almost everything I was telling them was fiction – and that gave me the grounding for what I do today.”

    Twenty-five years on, Stevens is a bestselling author. Her first novel, The Informationist went into The New York Times top 10, translated into 20 languages and was optioned by James (Titanic) Cameron. Two more, extremely readable, thrillers have been published, another two are in the pipeline.

    It’s an extraordinary turnabout for a woman who only escaped the cult aged 29. Today, talking to me from her home in Dallas, Texas, she appears a regular suburban mum, our call’s interrupted by one of her two teenage daughters returning unexpectedly to the accompaniment of frenzied dog barking, then school calls demanding an unexpected pick up for the other. Yet Stevens is far from that stereotype: “I don’t relate to being a PTA mum, where your whole life is, ‘Oh,
    Susy did this, and then we made cupcakes!’ ” She adds: “No matter how much they love me, no matter how wonderful they are, people can never understand where I came from.”

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  45. Founded by David Berg also known as “King”, “David” or “Moses”) in California in 1968, the cult, today known as The Family or Family International, preached the imminent apocalypse and the shunning of all personal property.

    Free love was encouraged within communes (though contraception was banned) and Berg encouraged “flirty fishing”, sending out female members to recruit new members and earn money through prostitution. By the time Berg died, he was wanted by Interpol for inciting sexual abuse against children. In 2005, Berg’s stepson and heir apparent murdered his former nanny and then killed himself, leaving a video claiming she had abused him as a toddler, adding the person he really wanted to kill was his mother – Karen Zerby, still the cult’s leader.

    Thanks to its anti-American rhetoric, the cult attracted many hippies and anti-war protesters, as well, Stevens says, as many on the run from the law. Over its 46-year history, it’s boasted 35,000 members, including 13,000 children – today it’s believed to number around 10,000 people. Actress Rose McGowan was born into the cult, her family deciding to leave when leaders began advocating sex with children, while the Phoenix family, including the actor brothers River and Joaquin, were members for a period in the Seventies.

    Stevens’s father joined the cult in 1969 aged 23, her mother in 1970 at 18. Leaders “married” them to each other, because, she suspects, both were Jewish.
    “You’d have to ask them why they joined. My parents were very young, maybe directionless and they were probably approached by a smiley person saying:
    ‘Why don’t you come and spend the night?’ she says. In her second novel, The Innocent, set in a cult, a character explains the lure: “To release oneself from independence, to follow the Prophet was to be free of responsibility.”

    As part of its rejection of property, the cult led itinerant lives, so by the time she was seven, Stevens and her four younger siblings had lived in caravan parks, alongside other members, in five different US states and three European countries. For one brief period, when Berg relaxed the rules, Stevens attended various mainstream schools acquiring a basic education and avidly reading Nancy Drew library books, though she never made friends with “outsiders”. “We led a double life, we just didn’t talk about what went on. We knew we were the chosen ones, superior to them, that they were wrapped up in their worldy ways.”

    When she was 12, the family moved to Japan and her education “and my innocence” ceased. In keeping with the cult’s anti-nuclear-family stance – she was removed from her family and sent to various communes where she and the other teenagers cooked, cleaned and did the childcare for hundreds. At one point she was sharing a cupboard-sized room with six people and a bathroom with 20. “They took away our best years, it was full-time child labour.”

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  46. She was also sent out regularly to beg, once finding herself on the snowy streets of Osaka in her only footwear – open-toed sandals. “The begging just shredded me, I hated the dishonesty, asking people for money they thought was humanitarian projects, when we had no time for anything except just trying to survive.”

    She dreamed of escaping, but – with spies everywhere – never confided her unhappiness. In any case, she had no skills to navigate the outside world. “I was terrified God would strike me dead.” The cult regularly read out “Traumatic Testimonies” where members would recount horror stories of life outside. “They’d say: ‘It may look good out there, but believe me I’d be dead if I hadn’t found The Family.’ ” Outsiders – however much they tried to debunk Berg’s teachings – were treated with suspicion. “You couldn’t even begin to hear what they were trying to tell you, you’d been inoculated against it.”

    Stevens moved on to Mexico, where the cult was establishing its hardest-core stronghold to date. “The leadership really was sadistic. They were there to teach wayward north-Americans how to be good cult members and they were so abusive. Children suffered horrible physical discipline for the smallest infractions, it wasn’t about punishment, it was about hammering square pegs into round holes. My whole life has been levels of awfulness, so all I could do was keep my head down as usual and just get through it.”

    After Berg’s death in 1994, Stevens used the upheaval to seize her chance to move to a commune in Kenya, “as far away as I could get from leaders checking all the time if we were spiritual enough”. She married another cult member and, hoping to actually help others, rather than beg, the pair set up a mission in Equatorial Guinea, which has one of the worst human rights records and levels of poverty in the world.

    “It was the land that time forgot, like walking through the doors of hell,” Stevens exclaims. “It was the most inhospitable place you could live: the climate, the culture of paranoia. We had to bribe the government to let us help the people.” Despite this, they built 3,000 school desks and brought in $30,000 of medical and educational supplies.

    Empowered by having succeeded against such odds, the couple, now with a toddler and a baby on the way, moved to Germany. Her husband found a job and they were able finally to leave the cult. “I will never forget how elated I felt the first morning I woke up in our own small apartment, finally free of the eyes that had been watching and judging me my entire life,” she says. “Going to the shops, booking a doctor’s appointment – all the ordinary things most adults take for granted – were so novel for me. Walking down the street alone felt extraordinary, we had always gone out in pairs, it was like being naked. I was frightened God would strike me down, I developed all sorts of phobias. It took a long time to adapt.”

    The couple (now amicably divorced – “In the cult environment, you think you know someone because you live with them full time, but you only know who the cult expects them to be”) moved on to the United States, where they continued to live in abject poverty. To make extra cash, Stevens began buying books at car boot sales to resell on eBay. Having previously read “maybe 15 novels” in Africa, she became an avid fan of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels.

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  47. Realising she had lived in equally exotic locations as those Ludlum depicted, she decided, aged 35, to write her own thriller set in bizarre and terrifying Equatorial Guinea. “My spelling and punctuation weren’t much but I could string words together,” she says. As evidence of this, soon after The Informationist was published, to huge acclaim, a stranger accosted her saying there was no way she had only a primary-school education and accusing her of having invented her backstory to boost sales.

    In fact, though her background is a publicist’s dream, Stevens was reluctant to dwell on it too much and initially wanted to omit it from her author’s biography. “I could have invented a past for myself,” she says. “But growing up, we lied to the outside world about us all the time and I vowed I was never going to do that again.”

    She refuses to discuss details of physical abuse, or the cult’s sexual elements, firstly to protect her daughters but also, as one character explains in The Innocent, because it overshadows the dozens of other indignities that thousands of children endured. “There was sexual abuse… But that’s just one of so many dishes served on the smorgasbord of my childhood… Nobody reports about the extreme discipline, or being separated from our families, or education deprivation, or the lack of medical care… That’s not entertaining enough.”

    Was it her desire to focus on these other horrors that led her to write The Innocent? “Other people were using the fact I’d been raised in a cult for their own agendas – to sell books, to show cults are bad – I just wanted to let people see what it was really like,” Stevens says. “I wanted to describe dispassionately, without anger, the sadism I had to live through, how no justice was ever served.”

    Today, her parents divorced, she has no relationship with her father, partly because he continues to identify with the cult, but, after some rebuilding, has a “solid, loving” relationship with her mother.

    Having her own daughters fully brought home to her the horrors of her own youth. “Through comparing my children’s growth and development… to what I had experienced comparatively at those ages, I grasped the true horrors of what I had lived through,” she says. “I can’t comprehend how so many of the parents in the cult could have set aside such a powerful instinct.”

    The Informationist, The Innocent, The Doll are published by Arrow, £7.99 each

  48. Joaquin Phoenix talks Children of God cult he was born into: 'This is more than a religious community'

    The actor opened up to Playboy about being born into the controversial cult: ‘I think the moment my parents realized their was something more to it, they got out.’


    Joaquin Phoenix revealed what it was like to walk the line in a religious cult.

    In the December issue of Playboy magazine, the star talked about being born into the Children of God religious group, with whom his parents, John and Arlyn Bottom, and his siblings — Rain, Liberty, Summer and the late River — traveled through Central and South America in the early 1970s.

    The group, often described as a cult, reportedly included "sexual abuse of young children and a highly sexualized environment in which husbands and wives are expected to share their partners with others," the magazine says.

    "I don't think we ever got to that point," Phoenix said. "Because frankly, as it got closer, I think my parents went, 'Wait a minute. This is more than a religious community. There's something else going on here, and this doesn't seem right.' And so they left very early on."

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  49. The star spoke openly about what he knew of his parents' experience with the group.

    "I think my parents had a religious experience and felt strongly about it," he said. "They wanted to share that with other people who wanted to talk about their experience with religion."

    The 40-year-old actor was just a baby during that time, but said his parents found a sense of community when first being introduced to what he described was a "cult."

    "I think my parents thought they'd found a community that shared their ideas," he said. "Cults rarely advertise themselves as such. It's usually someone saying, 'We're like-minded people. This is a community,' but I think the moment my parents realized there was something more to it, they got out."

    While Phoenix's unorthodox upbringing has caused some to speculate on what it was really like, he defended his parents' decisions and their ignorance to the controversial aspects of the cult.

    "When people bring up Children of God, there's always something vaguely accusatory about it. It's guilt by association," he said. "I think it was really innocent on my parents' part. They really believed, but I don't think most people see it that way. I've always thought that was strange and unfair."

    The Bottoms became the Phoenixes shortly after leaving the cult and starting a new life in southern California, where Joaquin was introduced to a new group — the entertainment industry.

    "When you're a kid, acting is an extension of playing," the "Gladiator" star recalled. "I always loved it."

    After three decades of acting, the typically reclusive star confessed he still gets nervous when starting a new role.

    Joaquin Phoenix confessed that even after 30 years of acting, he still gets nervous. ‘That’s crazy, isn’t it?’ he said to Playboy.

    “I still find it terrifying,” he told the mag. “It’s f--king ridiculous that I’ve literally been doing it for 30 years and still feel like it’s the f--king first time I’m making a movie every time I go in.

    “It’s probably good though,” he added. “Just because it means I still care and it matters so much to me. But I think it’s a motivating anxiety and fear, as opposed to a debilitating one.”

    The "Her" star, who is typically reclusive, equated what a good-looking woman must go through with suitors with how fans cautiously approach him.

    "It's like when you notice somebody walk past you, then stop and turn around," he said in the December issue of Playboy magazine out Friday. "I started to realize it's the same thing that sometimes happens to attractive women.

    "When someone is shuffling back and forth, it makes me uneasy," he continued. "I'm definitely not interested. But if somebody comes up and goes, 'Hey, how are you? My name is so-and-so' — great. I'll rap with you."

    see photos at:

  50. Joaquin Phoenix Confirms Family's Involvement With Cult That Used Sex to Evangelize; Actor Says Children of God Not Just a Religious Community


    Joaquin Phoenix recently addressed his family's brief connection with the Children of God religious group, explaining his parents' desire to belong to a community who believed in Jesus.

    The "Inherent Vice" star said that his experience with the religious group as a child was only fleeting and that his parents had wanted to belong to a group of people who shared their faith in Jesus Christ. However, Children of God has a long history of sexual exploitation. It first formed in Huntington Beach, Calif. in 1968 and consisted mostly of converts from the hippie movement. With an initial message of salvation and spiritual "revolution," the group later began using a method of evangelism known as "Flirty Fishing," which uses sex to exhibit God's love and win converts.

    "My parents had a religious experience and felt strongly about it," Phoenix told Playboy magazine. "They wanted to share that with other people who wanted to talk about their experience with religion. These friends were like, 'Oh, we believe in Jesus as well.' I think my parents thought they'd found a community that shared their ideals."

    After reports of serious misconduct, financial mismanagement, and accusations of leaders having abused their positions, including complaints from those opposed to flirty fishing, COG ended as an organizational entity in 1978. A third of the total movement left, but the remaining members renamed themselves The Family of Love.

    Today, after more reorganization, the group is known as The Family International. In recent years, many critics have called the religious sect a cult. While Phoenix did not specify the timeframe of his involvement with COG, the actor went on to recount his parents' realization about the group.

    "Cults rarely advertise themselves as such," he said. "It's usually someone saying, 'We're like-minded people. This is a community,' but I think the moment my parents realized there was something more to it, they got out."

    Fortunately, Phoenix said he and his family never witnessed sexual contact between adults and minors or polygamist activity, which, similar to flirty fishing, the group renounced during a realignment in the 1980's.

    "As I understand it, you're on the outside of that group until you're accepted," Phoenix told Playboy. "I don't think we ever got to that point, because frankly, as it got closer, I think my parents went, 'Wait a minute. This is more than a religious community. There's something else going on here, and this doesn't seem right,' so they left very early on."

    The Golden Glove Award-winner went on to defend his parents against the negative light of COG.

    "When people bring up Children of God, there's always something vaguely accusatory about it," Phoenix stated. "It's guilt by association. I think it was really innocent on my parents' part. They really believed, but I don't think most people see it that way. I've always thought that was strange and unfair."

    Meanwhile, Phoenix's three siblings include the late actor River Phoenix as well as sisters Liberty and Summer Phoenix, who are both actresses.


    By Stephen Rebello, Playboy NOVEMBER 12, 2014

    [NOTE: Only the section of the interview dealing with the Children of god is included here. To read the full interview go to:

    On-screen or off, Joaquin Phoenix isn’t for the fainthearted. Known best for film roles that showcase his capacity for brooding intensity, idiosyncrasy, physicality, combustibility and raw vulnerability, Phoenix has impressed as a megalomaniac Roman emperor in Gladiator (earning an Oscar nomination), a country-music hellion in Walk the Line (another Oscar nomination), a traumatized World War II veteran in The Master (yet another nomination) and a heartbroken divorcé who falls in love with a Siri-like operating system in Her (an Oscar nomination that should have been). But after 30-plus years in the acting game, when he’s not busy filming with top directors such as Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson or Spike Jonze, Phoenix’s public image has been known to get murky. Or downright mind-boggling. Or ominous. Or darkly funny.

    In 2005 he entered rehab for alcoholism; less than a year later he crashed and rolled his car and, as it filled with leaking gasoline, was saved by director Werner Herzog, who miraculously happened to be passing by. In 2008 Phoenix told the world he was bowing out of acting to become a hip-hop artist. His weight ballooned; he sprouted a bushy beard, donned sunglasses, dreadlocked his hair and played a couple of train-wreck gigs. Actor Casey Affleck, Phoenix’s friend and brother-in-law (married since 2006 to Phoenix’s sister Summer), filmed it all—including Phoenix’s romps with hookers and cocaine—for a 2010 movie, I’m Still Here, advertised as a documentary. Then, in front of 4 million TV viewers (and hundreds of thousands more on YouTube), Phoenix appeared to strike the final match in his career self-immolation with an infamous guest appearance on Late Show With David Letterman during which he seemed spacey and incoherent. It turned out to be a hoax, of course, an elaborately staged, drawn-out Andy Kaufman meets Sacha Baron Cohen–esque performance piece.

    But something few people get about Joaquin Phoenix is that off screen, he’s not a moody, egocentric, arrogant, volatile twit. He’s a sardonic jester, a leg-puller engineered for fame but smart enough to see right through it. His parents, Arlyn and John Bottom, raised him that way. Searching, nomadic hippies, the two met as hitchhikers in 1968; by 1974, when Joaquin was born in Puerto Rico, they (with River and Rain, Joaquin’s older brother and sister) had gravitated to the Children of God sect, a lightning rod for controversy. Watching TV and fraternizing with nonbelievers was discouraged. When Phoenix’s parents fled Children of God in 1977, they boarded a Miami-bound ship, then relocated to Los Angeles. To celebrate what they saw as a risen-from-the-ashes rebirth, they changed their last name to Phoenix.

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  52. Arlyn Phoenix got a job as secretary to NBC’s head of casting. The Phoenix kids went to work. Billed as “Leaf Phoenix” throughout the 1980s, Joaquin scored roles on Murder, She Wrote and Hill Street Blues, leading to attention-getting big-screen stints in Russkies and Parenthood. By 1989, tired of what he called “banana in the tailpipe” roles, he stopped making movies, until something much better came along six years later in the form of To Die For, a smart, wicked, Gus Van Sant–directed bit of comic nastiness. Phoenix, hoping to show off his range in a wider variety of material, including big comedies, kept the dark stuff coming with such downers as 8MM (as a character who sells porn films) and Return to Paradise (as a flower child awaiting execution for drug possession). But those flicks led to Gladiator, a box-office hit and awards grabber. Accolades, fame and stardom have brought things Phoenix tolerates but probably hates, such as scrutiny and intense public curiosity—and interviews.

    We sent PLAYBOY Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello, who last interviewed David Fincher, to track down Phoenix at a Middle Eastern restaurant in L.A.’s explosively hip East Side. Rebello reports: “I first met Phoenix in 2007 when I interviewed him for a PLAYBOY 20Q, during which he smoked and fidgeted a lot but was charming, kind and archly funny. That same guy turned up seven years later for this interview, minus the cigarettes. Arrogant? Combative? Uncommunicative? Please. He might rather have been doing something else—maybe anything else—but Joaquin was frank, talkative and endearingly off center.”


    PLAYBOY: Your first film after I’m Still Here and a four-year break from moviemaking was 2012’s stunning The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s controversial epic that had a Scientology-like cult as its backdrop. Its release revived interest in how, in the early 1970s, your parents, John and Arlyn Bottom, and your siblings, River, Rain, Liberty and Summer, traveled through Central and South America as part of the Children of God religious group. The group has become highly controversial as ex-members continue to surface and publicly reveal the sexual abuse of young children and a highly sexualized environment in which husbands and wives are expected to share their partners with others.

    PHOENIX: As I understand it, you’re on the outside of that group until you’re accepted. I don’t think we ever got to that point, because frankly, as it got closer, I think my parents went, “Wait a minute. This is more than a religious community. There’s something else going on here, and this doesn’t seem right.” And so they left very early on.

    PLAYBOY: How were they introduced to the group?

    PHOENIX: Through friends. I think my parents had a religious experience and felt strongly about it. They wanted to share that with other people who wanted to talk about their experience with religion. These friends were like, “Oh, we believe in Jesus as well.” I think my parents thought they’d found a community that shared their ideals. Cults rarely advertise themselves as such. It’s usually someone saying, “We’re like-minded people. This is a community,” but I think the moment my parents realized there was something more to it, they got out.

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  53. PLAYBOY Have you ever compared notes with Rose McGowan, who has talked about spending the first nine years of her life with her parents in an Italy-based version of the cult? She told the press about the sect’s female members being perceived as existing only to serve their men sexually and having to go “flirty fishing” in bars to lure new recruits.

    PHOENIX: We haven’t, but I think a lot of what has been exposed about the group happened in the 1980s. She was there well into the 1980s, I think. It’s kind of a typical progression of something like that, you know? It starts out one way and takes some time before it evolves into something else. When people bring up Children of God, there’s always something vaguely accusatory about it. It’s guilt by association. I think it was really innocent on my parents’ part. They really believed, but I don’t think most people see it that way. I’ve always thought that was strange and unfair.

    PLAYBOY: With all the traveling you did with your family, was it tough to make friends and then have to say good-bye?

    PHOENIX: Yeah. We were fun kids, so there were plenty of friends. I had some pretty solid friends at different times, sure. To be honest, most of my friends were my sister’s friends and they were girls. It was much more fun to hang out with girls than boys.

    PLAYBOY: When did you figure out that girls were as aware of you as you were of them?

    PHOENIX: Well, that’s immediate, isn’t it? I don’t know what age, but it’s as soon as you all start becoming curious about each other. I don’t recall sex being discussed in my family. You become a teenager and start having curiosity about it.

    PLAYBOY: Your parents’ disillusionment with the group prompted them to celebrate a rebirth by changing your surname from Bottom to Phoenix and relocating to southern California. That’s when your mother got a job at NBC and brought you to talent agents, who signed you at the age of six. Did you enter show business willingly?

    PHOENIX: Oh yeah. We were always singing and playing music, and we were encouraged to express ourselves. When you’re a kid, acting is an extension of playing. You have an imagination, right? If that’s encouraged and you’re in an environment where you’re given these props and opportunities to express yourself, it’s terribly exciting. I always loved it. In fact, I was thinking about it driving across the San Fernando Valley today. We used to live deep in the valley, and the station wagon would break down all the time when we’d go on auditions. But I loved those moments when you’d walk into an audition or onto a set and have an experience you didn’t know you were capable of and didn’t really even know where it came from. It was so fulfilling to have that experience.

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  54. Hubei police detain three cult members

    By Cao Siqi, Global Times China November 18, 2014

    Sect advocates sexual deviancy

    Three key members of Children of God, a cult with branches worldwide, have been detained by police in Baokang, Hubei Province for illegally organizing cult activities and disrupting social order, police announced on Sunday.

    Hubei police detained three key members surnamed Zhu, Zou and Huan in the township of Xiema on the evening of November 11 after receiving a tip-off from local residents.

    Police at the scene also confiscated written materials about the Children of God. Police said that Zhu, from Henan Province, established five branches in four townships in Hubei and had attracted nearly 100 followers in Baokang and nearby areas in recent years.

    "The cult organized secret meetings on every Sunday and held two conferences on Passover and Christmas," Zhu confessed to police. Zhu said that more than 20 among the 100 members are from other provinces.

    Children of God, currently known as The Family International, was established in the US in 1968, and entered China in 1980 through cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Hangzhou.

    The cult encourages its followers to recruit members and raise funds by religious prostitution. It advocates group living, promiscuity, and child sexuality.

    The State Council and the Ministry of Public Security have identified at least 14 cults since the 1990s, including the "Children of God."

    A Baokang police officer said that Zhu came to Hubei from Henan as he feared that members of his cult would be converted to "Almighty God," another cult identified by authorities and reportedly popular in Hubei.

    "The Almighty God cult has been very active in recent years … Zhu was recruited by the cult and subject to a secret investigation," a police officer surnamed Ouyang told the Global Times.

    According to a statement that Baokang police sent to the Global Times on Monday, the cult has dispatched 37 members from nine countries such as the US, Canada, the UK and France to China to disseminate its doctrine and established more than 100 "families" with over 190 members by the end of 1984.

    Authorities cracked down on the cult after 1984, but since 1990 it has revived, Ouyang said, adding that the cult attacked social systems and ideology.

    "Zhu said almost all the residents in his hometown participated in the cult," Xu Jianhua, a police officer handling the case, told the Global Times.

    The public security ministry has launched a national crackdown on "Almighty God" since June, arresting about 1,000 suspects nationwide in two months.

  55. Glenn Close Returns to Stage, Reveals Remarkable Childhood in Cult

    by Stephen Galloway, The Hollywood Reporter October 15, 2014

    Back on Broadway in Edward Albee's 'A Delicate Balance,' the three-time Tony winner opens up her larger-than-life father, William Taliaferro Close, a doctor who spent years in the Congo, battling Ebola and serving as Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko's personal physician; his decision to join religious group/cult the Moral Re-Armament; and why she holds no resentment: "Forgiveness is probably the most revolutionary concept there is right now in our world."

    This story first appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    There's a photo of her 26-year-old daughter, actress Annie Starke, with a beloved rescued Labrador (Close is fond of dogs and has blogged about them for the site FetchDog); multiple shots of one of her three homes, in Maine ("David's house," she calls it, referring to her husband, business and social entrepreneur David Shaw); pictures of Shaw beaming in Telluride, Colo., during a break from a 1,000-mile motorbike ride; and tons and tons of snapshots of flowers, spilling across gardens and sidewalks, over driveways and walls, filling every inch of Close's domain.

    "I love peonies," she says. "I'm not a gardener, so I try to keep it as simple as possible with perennials so there's not a phalanx of gardeners going through the house."

    I sit back in the corner of the subterranean Manhattan restaurant where we've been skating across an interview for the better part of an hour on this late September evening and try to figure her out. She's gracious and well-mannered but oh-so-hard to read — the type of book you ponder in your study rather than at the beach, E.L. Doctorow rather than E.L. James.

    With her no-nonsense black blouse and short-cropped hair, Close, 67, is refined and reserved, without a trace of the flamboyant characters she has played in movies like Fatal Attraction and the FX series Damages. She makes effortless chitchat — about her garden; the books she's been reading (Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard, Edward O. Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth); her concern for the environment ("I'm a lover of nature, and if my daughter ever has a child, that world is going to be so deeply different"); and her grandchildren on Shaw's side, one of whom interrupts us via Skype, eliciting an exquisite gurgle of delight.

    "She's like royalty," says actor John Lithgow, who appeared with Close in 1982's The World According to Garp and now is her co-star in the upcoming Broadway production of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, which begins previews Oct. 20 at New York City's Golden Theatre. "There's something very regal to her, distinguished. She has a native blue-bloodedness. It seems to come from good breeding. There's a patrician elegance about her."

    The play brings Lithgow and Close together for the first time onstage in a much-anticipated 18-week run that will push each to the limit in one of the most intellectually and emotionally daunting works of the repertoire. Albee's 1966 drama of domestic disintegration centers on a suburban, upper-class couple, Agnes and Tobias (Close and Lithgow), and follows them across one night and day as they deal with the intrusion of family and friends as well as their own troubled past.

    Close has trouble believing it has been 20 years since her last theatrical production, when she won her third Tony, for playing silent screen star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

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  56. Producer Scott Rudin sent me piles of scripts — Noel Coward, everything," she says. "He thought rather than a 'star' vehicle, it would be best to come back in a really challenging ensemble. I liked that idea. We honed it down to A Delicate Balance because it's everything we wanted: an incredibly challenging play, where you have to have a seamless ensemble to pull it off. And it's about language. It's challenging and risky."

    All this discussion of her role is polite and proper and very much what one might expect of an actress as poised and polished as Close. But hints of another, more complex woman begin to seep through.

    They're there when she admits to being "kind of a recluse" who immerses herself in books, rarely watches television, and notes, "I wouldn't say I'm naturally social."

    They're there when she talks about her sister Jessie, who grew up with mental health issues and plunged into a series of disastrous marriages before being diagnosed as bipolar in her 50s, which Jessie will discuss in a forthcoming memoir, Resilience: Two Sisters and a Story of Mental Illness (Grand Central Publishing).

    They're there when she discusses the years she has spent in therapy herself. "I've had it over the years," she says. "And there's still somebody I talk to if I need to. It's very helpful."

    And, most extraordinarily, they're there when she tells me about her larger-than-life father, William Taliaferro Close, who spent years in Congo, at one point as Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko's personal physician, and who swept his daughter and family into a right-wing religious cult that gobbled up their lives.

    The cult's impact was so great, says Close, that for years "I wouldn't trust any of my instincts because [my beliefs] had all been dictated to me."

    Close was 7 years old when her dad, a Harvard-educated doctor from a long line of New England blue bloods, joined the religious group known as the Moral Re-Armament.

    Founded during the late 1930s, the MRA held firmly to what it called "the four absolutes": honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. But these benevolent principles masked the all-consuming, all-controlling traits of any other cult — this particular one led by Rev. Frank Buchman, a violently anti-intellectual and possibly homophobic evangelical fundamentalist from Pennsylvania, who argued that only those with special guidance from God were without sin, and that they had a duty to change others. What began as an anti-war movement gradually turned into a possessive and exclusionary force.

    It is unclear how many adherents the MRA had, though about 30,000 people gathered to hear Buchman speak at the Hollywood Bowl in the late 1930s, and the group was widely discussed in the press during and after World War II. Its post-war conferences were attended by several high-level diplomats and politicians — despite allegations that Buchman had been a Hitler supporter — and its cultlike nature appears to have emerged only slowly.

    "I haven't made a study of groups like these," says Close, "but in order to have something like this coalesce, you have to have a leader. You have to have a leader who has some sort of ability to bring people together, and that's interesting to me because my memory of the man who founded it was this wizened old man with little glasses and a hooked nose, in a wheelchair."

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  57. When her family joined the cult Close was removed from everything she held most dear — above all, life in the ivy-covered, stone cottage on her grandfather's Connecticut estate, where she ran wild over the rugged land with her Shetland pony, Brownie. While Dr. Close went to Congo as a surgeon, she lived with her brother and two sisters at the group's headquarters in Caux, Switzerland.

    "They had a big hotel, a very glamorous, exclusive hotel called Mountain House, which I think is in one of Fitzgerald's novels," she recalls. "[They] made it into one of their world headquarters, and we stayed there for two years. When the mutiny broke out [Congolese soldiers rebelled in 1960, shortly after the country declared independence from Belgium], we didn't see our father for a whole year."

    During the family's time in the MRA, "You basically weren't allowed to do anything, or you were made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire," she says. "If you talk to anybody who was in a group that basically dictates how you're supposed to live and what you're supposed to say and how you're supposed to feel, from the time you're 7 till the time you're 22, it has a profound impact on you. It's something you have to [consciously overcome] because all of your trigger points are [wrong]."

    While Close was ensconced in Mountain House, her father was trying to bring modern health care to the Congo. "He went to the Congo, the former Belgian Congo, when he was 36 and stayed for 16 years," says his daughter, who rarely visited.

    Dr. Close was a natural leader whose skills proved vital in combating Congo's first major Ebola epidemic in 1976. The virus had its first known outbreak in a small village on the Ebola River; panic ensued as the disease spread, especially following the deaths of a dozen staff members at the local hospital. While Mobutu, a dictator who fleeced his country of billions, fled the Congo, Dr. Close, who had been a mentor to the health minister, persuaded the Congolese air force to fly supplies to the village at the heart of the epidemic and also to provide helicopters so that medics could reach the hundreds of other villages in the area, leading to a massive quarantine, which helped contain the epidemic, though nearly 300 people died.

    During his years in Congo, he grew in stature and influence and even adopted a Congolese son, Glenn's brother Tambu Kisoki, who today lives in Sacramento, Calif. (Close's other siblings, Jessie, Tinaand Alexander, reside in Montana and Wyoming, not too far from their 90-year-old mother, Bettine.)

    But Dr. Close increasingly became disillusioned with Mobutu, as the former military officer who had seized power in a military coup in 1965 succumbed to corruption. The actress remembers meeting him during one of her three long visits to the country.

    "He was very charming early on — he was remarkable — and then he got corrupt," she says. "My dad always felt it was when Mobutu's mother died that he really gave in to all the forces around him. There was no one to hold him to his conscience. My dad — who had renovated the huge hospitals, started the maternity hospital and the hospital ship on the Congo River — stood up to a lot. But it came to a point where he thought it was dangerous to step in."

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  58. The elder Close returned to the U.S. in 1977 and resettled in Big Piney, Wyo., choosing the least populated county in the least populated state, where he remained as a country doctor until his death in 2009. In time, he moved away from the MRA, as did his daughter, who had left Switzerland and returned to America at age 15 to study at the elite Connecticut boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall.

    It took her many years to reach the point where she could break free of the MRA, which began to founder in the 1970s and changed its name in 2001 to Initiatives of Change. For a while, she performed with an MRA offshoot, Up With People, an ultra-clean-cut singing group that was discreet about its links to the MRA and was almost omnipresent in the 1960s. She severed her ties in 1970. "Many things led me to leave," she says. "I had no toolbox to leave, but I did it."

    She won't go into detail about how she left. "I'm not going to go into all of that," she says. "You can't in an interview."

    At 22, Close enrolled at the College of William & Mary. But her youthful experiences haunted her. "I would have dreams because I didn't go to any psychiatrist or anything," she says. "I had these dreams, and they started with betrayal, a sense of betrayal, and then they developed into me being able to look at these people and say, 'You're wrong. You're wrong.' And then the final incarnation of those dreams was my being able to calmly get up and walk away. And then I didn't have them anymore."

    The MRA never tried to lure her back. "They knew that was it," she says. "I had nothing to do with them from that point. And I wouldn't have anything to do with them."

    Suddenly, she seems to regret having said so much. She levels her blue-green eyes on me, vulnerable and almost apologetic, and there's a warmth to her I haven't felt till now.

    "I'm very gullible," she says.

    I ask what she means.

    She doesn't fully explain.

    It has been five years since William Close died at age 84 and 45 years since his daughter left the MRA, years that have seen her go from being an admired stage actress to an Oscar nominee for her first screen role as Robin Williams' mother in Garp and on through such films as Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, Reversal of Fortune and Albert Nobbs.

    She has had victories and defeats, fallow times and fertile — she didn't appear in a film until she was 35 and still smarts at alterations made to the ending of Fatal. "Changing [Alex Forrest] into a psychopath was never fair to her," she says. "But they were right in giving the audience what they wanted."

    She has gone through two divorces and other significant romantic relationships; has had a daughter (with producer John Starke); and remains especially connected to her mother, "a remarkable woman. My mom would have made a great pioneer woman. She has an inner strength and this inquisitive mind: She's reading at least three books at once."

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  59. Close has come to terms with her sister's mental health issues. "We were ignorant or had no vocabulary for mental illness," she says, "so she was 'the irresponsible one,' the wild one: 'Pull up your socks, find a job.'" The two are tight, and were also tight growing up, at least "as much as one could be in the circumstance."

    Professionally, the actress has added producing and writing to her résumé and would like to direct, too: She still plans to helm an adaptation of Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart, in which she would star opposite Meryl Streep.

    She has lost some beloved friends, including Williams, though she cherishes the ones she has, including her best friend, actress Mary Beth Hurt. She remembers hearing about Williams' death while on the phone with designer Ann Roth. "It was the kind of friendship that, whenever we saw each other, it was just complete love," she says. "I didn't know he had Parkinson's. But I knew he had issues with depression and substance abuse. Very sad."

    Amazingly, her career is still in the ascendant thanks to the afterglow of Damages and the buzz surrounding Balance. She regrets that Albee, 86, has not been at rehearsals, reportedly because he is somewhat frail. Will he come? "I hope so. It would be lovely."

    She is developing a follow-up to her two 101 Dalmatians movies and says, "There's a movie I'd like to write and direct, way down the road." She has been back on movie screens with Guardians of the Galaxy, playing the leader of the Nova Corps charged with keeping the peace, and would like to appear in a sequel. "I'm contracted to it. It had a wonderful sense of humor."

    She seems to enjoy the huge range of work she's tackled and says she loves acting as much as ever — the more difficult the material, the better.

    And it's hard to get more difficult than Balance, whose language is the verbal equivalent of a Rubik's cube, and whose intense emotions spill out at unexpected times. Memorizing the lines alone has taken Close months — "I still have lines to learn and things to figure out," she says — and yet she almost glows with delight at the prospect.

    "I'm compelled to do what I do," she says. "Just like my father was."

    Looking back, she wishes she had known him better. "He was never taught how to express himself emotionally or was never around anyone who let him know that was OK," she reflects. "As children, you don't love naturally. You have a natural sense of survival, but love has to be taught."

    In her 40s, she decided to write to him, putting everything she felt in a letter, "and I wrote him everything, everything I felt about our relationship, and it was extremely honest."

    If ever she felt anger toward her father for plunging her into the MRA and for any harm that did to her, the anger is long gone.

    "I always thought, the way life works, the burden of forgiveness is on the child," she says. "That's the way it goes. Forgiveness is probably the most revolutionary concept there is right now in our world. Because without forgiveness, you just perpetuate what has been before. You [have to] say, 'It's going to stop with me.'"

  60. Sleepy Hollows Orlando Jones Developing Cult Deprogrammer Ted Patrick Pic

    by Dominic Patten February 5, 2015

    EXCLUSIVE: The actor is going from the supernatural on the small screen to the controversial world of cults on the big screen. Orlando Jones and his Drive-By Entertainment partner Noam Dromi have optioned the rights to cult deprogrammer Ted Patrick’s story. Jones and Dromi intend to write the screenplay as a starring vehicle for the actor who is currently finishing up his second season as Captain Frank Irving on the Fox hit Sleepy Hollow. Jones and Dromi will produce the feature with docu filmmaker Tracy Funches. .

    Prominent in the 1970s, Patrick was known as the “father of deprogramming” and seen as savior to many parents who had seemingly lost their children to cults. The Special Assistant for Community Relations for then Governor Ronald Reagan, the civil rights activist’s life was upended when his 14 year-old son was nearly converted by the Children of God cult. Subsequently, Patrick reached out to those families with relatives who had joined the group. As described in his book Let Our Children Go, Patrick even pretended to join Children of God to learn how they operated. Despite professional training, Patrick was hired by parents and family members to help deprogram their loved ones. Patrick’s methods found him standing trial several times on kidnapping charges – a part of his technique he ceased though he continued trying to deprogram cult members like those who had joined Scientology. Patrick was convicted on a number of felony charges over the years due to his methods.

    Jones formed Drive-By in 2008 with Dromi coming on board in 2011. The Sleepy Hollowactor is repped by Paradigm, 723 Productions and attorneys Nina Shaw and Gordon Bobb of Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finelstein & Lezcano.

  61. I Grew Up in a Cult. Here’s What Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Gets Right.

    By Flor Edwards, March 2015

    For most viewers who stream the new Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the story line will be an unfamiliar peek into what it’s like to emerge into the world after living in an underground doomsday cult. But for me, having grown up in an apocalyptic cult, which cut me off from the world completely until I was 14, it’s all too familiar. While there may be some plot points that are structurally incongruent, there are important details that are strikingly spot-on.

    Set in rural Indiana in the time of viral YouTube videos, officers raid an underground bunker while four women inside, known as the “mole women,” cheerfully chant, “Apocalypse, apocalypse, we caused it by our dumbness,” to the tune of “Oh, Christmas Tree.” Kimmy Schmidt sees the light of day for the first time in 15 years, and her life goes spinning into a whole new orbit. Savior Rick’s Spooky Church of the Scary-pocalypse, was postapocalyptic. The cult that I grew up in, the Children of God, was preapocalyptic. “Father” David Brandt Berg, the leader of the Children of God, led his 12,000 followers to believe that we lived in preparation for the end-times that would come in 1993.

    Like Kimmy, growing up, my days were tightly regimented, and I was constantly being watched. Unlike Kimmy, I never saw our leader nor knew what he looked like, as he lived in complete hiding. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (an awesome name for a Netflix cult leader, by the way) is also enigmatic, and we don’t see his face until later in the season. When the mole women emerge from underground, they land a guest spot on theToday show with Matt Lauer, who questions them about their past. It’s in these first five minutes of the pilot episode that the stage is set: One woman sold her hair to Wayne on Craigslist; another was lured into his car to “look at baby rabbits” after he was a regular customer at the steakhouse she worked at. She joined because, as she put it, she didn’t “want to look rude.” These are all lighthearted spoofs that poke fun at the reality behind cult radicalism and religious extremism, but I’m curious to know Richard Wayne Gary Wayne’s motive: Is he just a womanizing pervert who gathers a group of women who believe his every word, or is there some ideology captivating them to stay? I can say from personal experience that no one would stay in a cult without some promise of utopia or change.

    When 29-year-old Kimmy decides to stay in New York instead of going back to Indiana with the rest of her clan, her wide-eyed wonderment is met with all the typical conflicts of living in a big city: She has to find an apartment, a job, and, of course, a flourishing social life. These are the perfect obstacles for someone who has spent 15 years in an underground bunker (unlike me, she was forcibly recruited, i.e. kidnapped, at 14, the youngest member of the cult). These first few minutes of B-roll are spot-on — Kimmy runs alongside a random jogger because she’s just so happy to be outside (cult escapees are unrealistically grateful — for everything!). A quick clip shows her discovering water flowing out of a faucet and then laughing in glee at the hand dryer in a public restroom (a public restroom for an ex-cult-member is a novel idea — functioning toilets and running water are a first-class experience).

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  62. For a 29 year old Kimmys enthusiasm to be at a park and swinging in a swing for the first time might seem questionable, but it’s not. I remember the first time I walked on soft wood chips at a park in the suburb of Berwyn near Chicago. I will never forget the first time we stepped off the plane at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and my 11 siblings and I discovered a drinking fountain for the first time. We all gathered around and took turns pressing the button that magically spouted a clear fluid arch of drinkable liquid. We probably looked hilarious, but it didn’t matter; we had discovered water like it was life on Mars. Kimmy doesn’t care either if she looks ridiculous; she is discovering the world for the first time, and that is the appeal of the journey of Kimmy Schmidt.

    When you’ve grown up in a cult your whole life (or since your early teens, as in Kimmy’s case), you want nothing more than to be “normal,” although you don’t quite have a grip on what this “normal” is. All you know is that you’re not it. At one point we hear Kimmy explicitly say, “I just wanna be a normal person.” She satisfies this desire by buying herself the coolest pair of tennis shoes that light up, throwing herself at guys trying to kiss them, and engaging in life with an uncharacteristic optimism that no doubt stems from her years in isolation. On my first day of high school, I wanted nothing more than to be normal. I had never bought clothes in my entire life, but I found a shirt I thought was cool. I was kicked out for showing too much cleavage — an offense I did not know was worthy of expulsion. This was just the first instance in an adolescence (and adulthood) full of misunderstanding and confusing miscalculations.

    I resolved at some point that, as Kimmy so aptly puts it, “The worse thing that can happen has already happened.” I was going to have to find my way, like Kimmy, to cope with this world that I was unprepared for. (Sadly, I didn’t have the brilliant writing of Tina Fey or background music during my personal moments of triumph.) Like Kimmy, I learned to cope by learning to understand people. Maybe our backgrounds were different, but deep down, inside, we were all the same. I reasoned, at some point, that nobody really felt normal (in fact, there was no such thing!) and everyone was just trying to fit in.

    Growing up in a cult gives you an abnormal zest for life, and Kimmy Schmidt exuberates this confidence fittingly (although being stripped of your identity and being told that you’re “garbage” and a “dum-dum” would lead to a less-than-sunny disposition in real life). But Kimmy’s optimism, coupled with her resilience, is what makes the show relatable and endearing. Her character will be the broad appeal of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.


  63. The Cultural Gaps in a Cult Child’s Life

    By Flor Edwards, Vulture March 24, 2015

    I remember the first time I heard Pink Floyd. Not a song. Not a concert. But the actual words Pink Floyd. Two glorious words. And my first introduction to pop music.

    Growing up in the Children of God cult, I was not allowed to listen to music that was not produced by the group. We kids knew well the story of Jeremy Spencer, world-famous slide guitarist of Fleetwood Mac, who one night at a concert met some eccentric people backstage and left his band to join the Children of God. He never looked back. The Children of God attracted many young, talented musicians from the ’60s. Music, songs, and dancing were abundant and common. But any music produced outside of the group was forbidden and shunned.

    I was sitting in the back seat of a Chevrolet Cavalier with my two sisters when Pink Floyd came up. I was 15 years old and had started public high school. We had just made our first “systemite” friend, Chris Huffman. (Father David, our leader, had taught us that anything outside of the cult was evil, people were “systemites,” and for me, this world had become intriguing and mysterious.)

    “Do you guys like Pink Floyd?” Chris Huffman said as he lit up an unfamiliar green substance in a small metal pipe. I had never seen drugs before, nor listened to pop music. Now I was sitting in the back seat of my new friend’s car as he lit up a substance that had to be heroin (all drugs are heroin when you’ve grown up in a cult). What was I becoming? Heroin and Pink Floyd — I was doomed. I was fast becoming a systemite. I was going to have to play it cool, and playing it cool is not something you learn growing up in a cult.

    “No, thank you,” I said to the heroin. The car filled up with a billow of smoke as I racked my brain for an answer to the question: Do I like Pink Floyd? The Dark Side of the Moon blasted from the old stereo system. I was going to have to lie. Yes, I loved Pink Floyd. I was going to have to lie many times when questioned about my knowledge of pop culture. It may well have been a contact high, but listening to systemite music for the first time was a milestone in my emergence into the world I was cut off from.

    “Pink Floyd,” I repeated to myself, and tucked the words away in the section of my brain reserved for categorizing “What Is Cool.”

    Learning to identify “What Is Cool” started a few years earlier, when Father David died and my family was relocated to a house in the South Side of Chicago. That’s when I started reading — books, magazines — and watching TV for the first time. I can count on two hands how many movies I’ve seen growing up. We had a recommended list with all the movies we were allowed to watch; The Ten Commandments and Jesus of Nazareth were top picks, along with 101 Dalmatians and Annie.

    Riverside Library in Cook County now became a safe haven where I could escape into the world that I had been sheltered from. The TV upstairs was our window to the world. We became enthralled with shows like The Love Boat, Full House, and Entertainment Tonight. We watched fast-paced action films starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. I saw my first scary movie, The Silence of the Lambs. Like any normal teenage girl, I developed celebrity crushes, top-model envy, and was intrigued by the idea of status and fame. Rich people were a novelty growing up, and now here they were separated only by a thin TV screen and some grey static. The only two celebrities I knew of growing up were Michael Jackson and Madonna. Father David had taught us that they were evil and worldly, vessels of sin and corruption. Their music was of the Devil, and I was never to listen or I would burn in hell for all eternity.

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  64. The images that struck me most from this new avalanche of media were the stories I saw on the news. I had never watched the news growing up, and when my family arrived in Chicago from Thailand, the ’94 Winter Olympics were on. The Nancy Kerrigan–and–Tonya Harding scandal was making headline news. I watched the clip over and over of Nancy Kerrigan wailing in pain as she held her knee. I couldn’t help but also notice the beauty of the sport. When the skaters glided across the ice, they looked happy and free. They moved effortlessly and wore costumes fit for ballerinas. They were beautiful. I watched as 16-year-old Oksana Baiul collapsed in tears when it was announced that she had won gold. I wanted to rejoice with her. I wanted to be her. I couldn’t help thinking, Sports can’t be evil, even though Father David had led us to believe they were.

    The next year, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma, and O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder charges in the trial of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson’s stabbing. These stories took center stage on our family’s TV. I was beginning to experience firsthand the enormous impact media can have on the human psyche. I began to have questions and doubts. I began to inquire about morality. The world was becoming a complex myriad of grey — no longer black and white, no longer a simple story of good and evil. I was beginning to wonder where would I fit in. I saw power in how humans communicated through television, books, and magazines. Advertisements became a full-time obsession. I became fascinated with how words were used to manipulate and sell products that I had never heard of.

    In the years since, I’ve had countless instances where I’d hear of a cool band, TV show, or movie from my childhood years that I have no reference for — but I’ve also had an incredibly rich experience with culture. The first album I listened to in its entirety was Björk’s Homogenic. A best friend from high school wanted me to have it, and I listened to it over and over again. It was an almost spiritual experience. Now my tastes are eclectic and broad, ranging from country, folk, and soul (Alison Krauss and Union Station, Brandi Carlile, Alabama Shakes) to pop (Emeli Sande, Sam Smith, FKA Twigs) to hip-hop (the Roots, Outkast) and experimental trip-hop. Classic rock (Simon and Garfunkel; the Beatles; Crosby, Stills and Nash) makes me nostalgic for the quasi-counterculture ’60s environment I grew up in. However, I have absolutely no references to music from the ’80s (sorry, Prince). That decade will always remain as enigmatic and obscure as my complicated childhood.

    When time allows, I binge unapologetically on shallow reality-TV shows, my guilty pleasure. But some things never go away: People are still shocked that I’ve never seen Star Wars, have no recollection of Barney, memories of Sesame Street, or Saturday-morning cartoons. I still have a long list of “make-up movies” that I hope one day will fill the gap for all the things growing up in a cult didn’t teach me. And when the world gets too loud, I put on some headphones and dissolve into a corner of The Dark Side of the Moon.

    Read Flor Edwards's earlier piece for Vulture on what Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gets right about growing up in a cult. [see above]

  65. How Rose McGowan Escaped From the Depraved Children of God Sex Cult

    by Michelle Siouty ⋅ Movie Pilot, April 10th, 2015

    Rose McGowan is not only known for being a beautiful and sultry woman, but also for being an insanely talented actress as well. She made her acting debut in the dark comedy Encino Man featuring Pauly Shore and is probably most well known for her role as Paige Matthews in WB's Charmed.

    Can we also mention how gorgeous she is? And I must say, she has aged gracefully.

    What many people might not know though, is she actually grew up in the terrifying Children of God cult in Italy.

    The Children of God, also known as The Family International, Family of Love, and The Family started in 1968 in Huntington Beach based off a hippie movement. The founder is David Berg, who is also known as "Moses David."

    Rose's father, Daniel McGowan, ran his own chapter for Children of God, and he and his wife Terri were members until 1978. As was normal in religious practice, Daniel married another woman named Rebecca, whom McGowan considered her step-mother.

    The cult cultivates a highly sexualized environment among its member, encouraging husbands and wives to swap partners and has even been accused of acts of indecency against minors - something that must surely have preyed on the mind of McGowan's parents.

    And those involved were not only encouraged to have sex with each other. A practice known as "flirty fishing" saw women members - called "Jesus' whores" - sent out to bars and clubs to seduce unsuspecting men to join the depraved cult.

    Part of McGowan's father's job was to provide drawings for pamphlets promoting promiscuous sex, as instructed by Berg. But McGowan's father felt he had crossed the line when Berg asked him to draw images depicting pedophilia as something positive.

    This all became too much to bear for McGowan's father, so in the middle of a stormy night, he, Rebecca, and the children escaped the sadistic clutches of Children of God.

    Her family moved back to America when she was ten years old. At the age of fifteen, McGowan emancipated herself from her parents, enrolled herself through beauty school, and pursued her passion for acting all on her own.

    McGowan is incredibly grateful for her father's ability to realize his hippie lifestyle was actually hurtful and for removing the family before anything truly harmful could've happened. This incredibly heartfelt actress spoke with People and looks at her childhood with a positive twist, claiming that

    "There are people who will read this story and think I had a strange existence. I think they've had a strange existence!"

    see photos at:

  66. The Real Life Kimmy Schmidt

    Twin Sisters, Former Children of God Members, Describe Life Inside Controversial Religious Sect

    By REENA NINAN, JACKIE POU, HANA KARAR and LAUREN EFFRON, ABC News Nightline, May 30, 2015

    Most childhoods are filled with bike riding, eating pizza or going to the movies, but twins Flor and Tamar Edwards, both 34, have been discovering many of these things for the first time as adults.

    That’s because for the first 13 years of their lives, these twins lived in what some ex-members call an apocalyptic cult.

    “I didn’t know what a movie theater was,” Flor said. “We saw a drinking fountain for the first time, and we all just kind of like saw it, and we, like, huddled around it like it was some ...“

    “... novelty,” Tamar said, finishing her sister's sentence.

    Flor and Tamar were raised in a controversial religious sect called “The Children of God,” which formed in Huntington Beach, California, in the late 1960s out of the “free love” hippie era. The twins said the group lived as nomads and were shut out from mainstream society, believing that they were among God's chosen people who would be saved when the apocalypse came.

    As children, Flor and Tamar said they were taught they were “going to be God’s Martyrs” when they were 12 years old -- because they said members believed the apocalypse was coming in 1993 -- and the twins lived in constant fear of that approaching year.

    “I was terrified because of the this ‘end time’ that was coming up so I had to deal with a lot of, as a child, very real fear,” Flor said. “I thought a lot about my death that was supposedly coming when I was going to be 12 years old.”

    Flor said she has watched “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” a popular Netflix show about a group of young women who are freed after years of being held captive by a cult leader in an underground bunker. It’s a storyline she said she can relate to. In the first episode, the character Kimmy Schmidt “sees water in the bathroom for the first time,” Flor said, a moment that really resonated with her.

    Within The Children of God, the twins said they and other families lived in tight quarters. They said they were prevented from going to school, and they said they didn’t learn to read until age 9.

    “Everything was evil. You know, education,” Flor said.

    “Politics was evil,” Tamar added.

    “Music,” Flor continued. “Anything. Anything outside of the group was evil.”

    They missed the 1980s entirely, they said, and are still catching up on a those lost years of pop culture references.

    “If I watched all the movies from the '80s and got a whole collection of music from the '80s, I just -- there's no context there,” Flor said. “We knew that there was someone out there named Madonna and Michael Jackson. That's about it.”

    All of this, they said, was determined by one man, David Berg, known to them as “Father David.”

    “Father David taught us that churches were evil,” Flor said.

    “And money was evil,” Tamar added.

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  67. Flor said Berg actually came from a “long ancestral line of evangelists,” and that he was “very familiar” with the established Christian church, but rejected it.

    “He wanted to break away from that and he came out to California,” Flor said. “He had some sexual experiences when he was very young and he was living in a constant conflict between his desire and his commitment to God.”

    The Edwards family was living in Los Angeles when they joined The Children of God, and then, in 1985, when the twins were 5 years old, Flor and Tamar said Berg decided his followers should leave the United States. So the family packed up and left for Thailand, where the twins said they lived until they were 12 years old, when Berg decided it was safe for his followers to come back to the states.

    The group moved to Chicago in 1994, where the twins said they were confided to a house with dozens of other families.

    “Once you're inside the house, it was kind of like our own little community,” Flor said. “You know, we did what we did inside the walls.”

    Some called The Children of God a sex-charged cult. At its peak, the group claimed to have tens of thousands of members around the world, and that 13,000 children had been born into the sect. Among those children raised in the group were actress Rose McGowan and a young Joaquin Phoenix, both of whose families eventually left.

    Ex-followers say they were taught to believe that love for God was expressed through having sex or exposing others to sex, including children.

    “Sex was the thing that drove people,” Tamar said. “They didn’t do any drugs, no alcohol. ... So sex was the way to freedom, they saw sex as God’s creation of love and beauty, which was one of the teachings but also within that there was abuse that happened. ... Children were having experiences that surely [they] didn’t want to have.”

    The twins said it was common for adults in the house to have sex in front of children.

    “We've talked to some of the adults. ... They believed in what [Berg] said,” Tamar said. “So they don't have regret over it. They don't say, like, ‘Oh no, that was bad.’ They still believe that Father David had something, like, that's how charismatic he was.”

    The Children of God has since reorganized and is now known as The Family International. In the 1980s, the group formally prohibited sexual contact between adults and minors and renounced its previous endorsement of sharing sexual partners and polygamy.

    "TFI reorganized four years ago (May 2010) and currently exists mainly as a small virtual community, so there is little relation of controversies and allegations from the distant past to the current membership, or alignment to its history of the past 10 years," a spokesperson for the organization told ABC News via email in November. "TFI has expressed its apologies on a number of occasions to any members who feel that they were hurt in any way during their membership, which are also posted online. For all intents and purposes, TFI no longer exists as a structured entity or communal movement."

    Flor and Tamar said they were never sexually abused, but they said they were physically abused as children.

    “[Children] would be getting spanked really young,” Flor said. “My little sister she was like 6 months old which, you know, you don’t get spanked at that age.”

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  68. Some former members of The Children of God have committed suicide. One member named Ricky Rodriguez, who was deemed a prophet inside the sect, made headlines in 2005 when he murdered his alleged abuser, who had also been a former Children of God member, and then committed suicide at age 29.

    Tamar said she wanted to take her own life when she was just 7 years old.

    “I wanted to take my life and it really came from a place of first of all... there wasn’t room for play and fun and that’s what every kid wants,” Tamar Edwards said. “I wanted to escape what was going on and second of all, I really didn't want to go through the apocalypse.”

    “The apocalypse seemed really scary,” she continued. “The whole Earth burning in the lake of fire, they had a whole agenda of what was going to happen like a lot of religions do, so it was terrifying.”

    The group disbanded after David Berg died in 1994, and suddenly the twins said they were forced into a life they had never lived before.

    “We wake up in the morning, and I just remember looking outside, and looking on the lawn, and everyone was outside with their things packed up,” Flor recalled. “We walked around the house, like, the house was empty.”

    Days after the group disbanded, Flor and Tamar said the Rev. Pongsak Limthongviratn, a Thai pastor, came to their family’s aid, counseled them and helped them navigate life outside of the religious sect.

    Flor and Tamar said they still struggle to live normal lives as adults today. They both live in California now. Flor is a freelance writer and office coordinator. Tamar teaches yoga in San Francisco.

    “It’s hard to go out and have a drink at the bar like normal social things that people do,” Flor said. “Meeting someone at a party when they ask where you’re from I almost want to go run away and hide.”

    The hardest part, she said, is not being prepared for the real world and not being taught how to live outside the walls that had long surrounded them.

    “It’s the hardest thing to have lived a life where you weren’t prepared for what was on the other side and then be on the other side,” Flor said. “That’s definitely been the hardest part for most of the kids. I don’t even think the upbringing was that difficult as much as being told a lie your whole life.”

    Both Flor and Tamar admit that although they still have questions about their past, they want to move forward.

    “Who are we supposed to be mad at?” Flor asked. “Father David's dead. I already said I'm not blaming my parents because of what we've been through together. I can't blame all the other adults. ... Should I blame God? Should I blame religion? I don't even know who to direct my anger at. And already that becomes very exhausting for me. So instead, I just do what I can with what I have.”

  69. Physically abused, told they would die at 12 and banned from school: 'Real-life Kimmy Schmidt' twins reveal what life was like inside controversial Children of God sect

    By SOPHIE JANE EVANS, Daily Mail May 30, 2015

    As children growing up in a controversial religious sect, they spent every day 'paralyzed by fear'.

    They were physically abused, banned from school and told they would die as martyrs aged 12.

    But now, twin sisters Flor and Tamar Edwards, 34, have escaped from The Children of God cult and are both living and working in California - one as a freelance writer, the other as a yoga teacher.

    They have opened up to ABC's Nightline about their lives inside the sect - which blended free love attitudes with preparing for the second coming of Jesus - and their transition to the outside world.

    'I didn’t know what a movie theater was,' said Flor, who along with her sister has compared their situation to that of the lead female character in the Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

    In the program, Kimmy Schmidt, 29, struggles to adjust to life in New York City after being rescued from an Indiana cult - and is even shocked when water sprinkles out of a sensor-activated tap.

    Flor, who feels she can relate to that particular scene, continued: 'We saw a drinking fountain for the first time, and we all just kind of like saw it, and we, like, huddled around it like it was some ...'

    '... novelty,' Tamar ended.

    The Children of God cult was founded by former pastor, David Brandt Berg, in Huntington Beach, California, in 1968, and has frequently been at the center of physical and sexual abuse claims.

    Former members include actress Rose McGowan, actor River Phoenix and his brother Joaquin.

    Speaking to Nightline, the twins, who joined the group aged just five with their family while they were living in Los Angeles, said they and their 12 siblings were physically abused as youngsters.

    '[Children] would be getting spanked really young. My little sister was like six months old which, you know, you don’t get spanked at that age,' said Flor, adding that she was never sexually abused.

    They also said they were told they were 'going to be God's Martyrs' aged 12 because members apparently believed the apocalypse would occur in 1992 - something that left them 'terrified'.

    During their childhood, Flor and Tamar were reportedly shut away from mainstream society, banned from going to school (meaning they could not read until aged nine) and kept in tiny living quarters.

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  70. They said they were taught everything was evil including education, politics, money and music. Indeed, the sisters only heard chart-topping songs for the first time after escaping from the cult.

    'If I watched all the movies from the '80s and got a whole collection of music from the '80s, I just -- there's no context there,' said Flor, who is among thousands of children born into the sect.

    After joining the group in Los Angeles, the Edwards family moved to Thailand on Berg's orders, before returning to Chicago in 1994 when the leader deemed it safe for his followers to come back.

    Upon their return, Flor, Tamar and their family were stuck in a house with dozens of other families.

    The twins confirmed widespread claims that the sect - now known as The Family International - was sex-driven at the time, with many adults having sexual relations in front of children in the property.

    Followers were taught that love for God was expressed through sex, but 'within that there was abuse that happened', said Tamar. This alleged abuse led to some former members committing suicide.

    Tamar herself was also driven to attempt to kill herself at the tender age of seven due to her lack of fun in the shared home - and her pure terror at the thought of going through the apocalypse.

    'The apocalypse seemed really scary,' she said. 'The whole Earth burning in the lake of fire, they had a whole agenda of what was going to happen like a lot of religions do, so it was terrifying.'

    In 1994, Berg's death led to the sect breaking up. Flor and Tamar said they found their new life in the outside world difficult to adapt to - and still struggle to go out drinking or meet someone new.

    They were helped in their efforts by Thai pastor, Reverend Pongsak Limthongviratn.

    And despite the horrors of their childhood, the twins, who regularly post photos of each other on Facebook, said they are not angry at their parents, who 'went through everything' with them.

    During his time as the leader of the Children of God, Berg was known to his followers as Moses David, Mo, King David, Dad, and Grandpa. He instructed new converts to memorize lengthy Bible verses and undertake Bible classes. They were also expected to live the lives of early Christians.

    In 1978, the sect was reorganized by Berg amid abuse claims. The founder dismissed more than 300 of the movement's leaders and formally banned sexual contact between adults and minors.

    The new movement was named The Family Of Love. But during the 1990s, more allegations of child sexual abuse were brought against TFOL, which had acquired the nicknamed The Family.

    In 1994, Berg died and many families left the group. Karen Zerby (known as Mama Maria, Queen Maria, Maria David, or Maria Fontaine) took over leadership, allowing members greater freedom.

    Ten years later, the movement's name was changed to The Family International.

    see photos at:

  71. The cult of my childhood across three continents, life was a whirlwind of uncertainty

    Japan was the worst, for me. Returning 25 years later, with my kids, helped me overwrite the past and set me free

    by TAYLOR STEVENS, Salon July 5 2015

    The cult of my childhood, the Children of God, an apocalyptic, isolationist movement, began in California amid the hippie “free love” era of the ’60s and ’70s, and soon spread across the globe, with communes in up to a hundred countries at any given time.

    When most people think of cults and communes, the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, may first come to mind, but our communes were often houses in middle- or upper-class residential areas with 40 or more people living inside, and neighbors none the wiser. We didn’t believe in owning property or setting down roots, so rarely did anyone stay in one place for long, even if the commune itself lasted for years. Anything a person “owned” didn’t belong to him or her, but to the commune and to the group. This same concept also applied to spouses and children, so even if a family happened to reside under the same roof, it didn’t necessarily mean they lived as a family.

    From my youngest years, life was a whirlwind of uncertainty: a fluid stream of faces, names, accents and personalities. One day to the next, a parent, sibling or friend would be gone. I might know where they went, or I might not. Like a rock around which the eddies swirled, there were also constants: the lifestyle, the beliefs, the top-down control, lack of any individuality and little autonomy, and the daily drudge required to keep so many people fed and clothed.

    By the time I was 14, I’d lived on three continents and in over a dozen countries. Japan was, for me, where the worst occurred.
    My family moved to Asia when I was 12 and for the next five years I bounced between communes in Japan and South Korea. Occasionally I lived in the same commune as my parents, but most of the time I didn’t. My memories of those years are divided between life inside, and life out on the streets. I have only a vague sense of where many of those houses were, partly due to the haze of time, but mostly to the secretive nature of the cult. I often didn’t know my own address—presumably so that, on the off chance I was forced to tell, I simply couldn’t—and I never left the communes unescorted.

    The cult ideology didn’t allow for gainful employment. Money for rent, utilities, and other things requiring cold hard cash came nearly entirely from panhandling and selling cult-produced pamphlets, music, and videos. Most of our food and clothing came from what we called “provisioning:” conning people into giving us what we needed for free.

    Most of the on-the-street begging was done by the children because it’s a lot harder for a person to say no to a kid than to an able-bodied adult. Plus, without birth control or family planning there were a lot of us, and education beyond sixth grade was considered a waste of time, so we made a bountiful supply of free labor.

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  72. The places where I spent the most time on the streets are the ones I remember well enough to name: Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Hiroshima and Fukuoka.

    I had a brief bout with rebellion in Tokyo where, at age 14, I spent eight- to 10-hour days walking store to store, house to house, trying to keep the commune from spiraling deeper into poverty. I was suicidal, and aware for the first time that I no longer believed what I’d grown up believing. I began to act out by disrespecting some of the weaker adults, arguing and back-talking, and turning simple things into drawn-out ordeals. Within the cult’s totalitarian structure, this was shocking and unheard of behavior. The commune leaders believed my attitude stemmed from not getting enough love, and the solution then, was for one of the adult men to have sex with me. They set aside a room with a bed and romantic music. Once in that room, realizing what would happen, I talked, kept on talking, and didn’t shut up until the early morning when the guy suggested maybe we should just get some sleep.

    In my memories, Osaka, Nara and Kobe all blend together. In that jumble was the autumn our landlord decided to tear down the house and we were kicked out. Finding an affordable location to fit more than 40 people on short notice is difficult enough in countries where houses are big, but nearly impossible in Japan. Without a place to live, and with winter approaching, the commune split into chunks. I was put with two men, two preteen boys, and a younger teenage girl. We lived out of a van. I spent weeks tromping through the snow in sandals because they were my only pair of shoes. Every day was a repeat of the one before: panhandling, finding free food and, because we couldn’t all sleep inside the van, finding hotels to put a roof over our head for free. When free didn’t materialize, we’d often find cheap hotels in sleazy parts of town, but could only afford one tiny room because most of our money went to the commune leaders to pay for their long-term hotel stay. The men would take turns between sleeping in the van with the younger ones and checking in alongside me because, at 15, I could pass as an adult and nobody questioned when a couple showed up.

    My memories alternate between gratitude for the luxury of a bed and hot water, and the nausea that follows when I think back on a few of those nights, but that’s just a passing shiver. What haunt me still are the hard cold hours of asking for money, of being told “no” more often than “yes,” the sinking desperation at the end of each day knowing that we never had enough and that tomorrow would bring more of the same.

    Somewhere between Osaka-Nara-Kobe was where leadership exorcised demons out of me. I’d always been a storyteller. Life without access to books, music and movies from the outside was very boring, and telling stories provided entertainment. Eventually, I started writing them down. But when my notebooks were discovered, they were taken and burned, and I was isolated for three days without food.

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  73. They said it was to weaken my body so I’d let go of the demons that controlled me. They accused me of being a witch, wanted me to confess, and so I did. I wrote about anything I’d done that could be considered a sin, and made up what they wanted to hear. The irony of getting punished for writing fiction and then using fiction to appease my tormentors was lost on me at the time.

    I don’t think they were fully convinced the devils were gone, because they soon shipped me off to a commune of much younger children and adults, with no peers I might contaminate. I spent the next seven months assigned to a man who minded me constantly and who was to beat the demons out of me if they manifested in any way. Thankfully, they never showed up.

    I left Japan for good when I was 17. If this was a movie, then this would be the two-minute montage: I moved to other countries and many more communes. The control and abuse that had started in Japan followed, and intensified, and then came to a head. By the time I was in my mid-20s, things had begun to ease up and I found myself in Africa, which was where I made the decision to break free. I got out when I was 29, uneducated, married to a man who’d been born and raised in the cult just like me, with two babies, and with none of the social support that most people take for granted. We left together, eventually made it to the United States, and settled in Texas. My children grew. I dealt with and processed the trauma of the past. I taught myself to write, got divorced, became a published novelist, and realized I was older than my 32 year-old mother had been when she and my father had moved to Japan with their five children.

    Through the years, Japan was always there in the background and I began to wonder what it would be like to revisit the country that had built the framework of who I was and see those experiences through the eyes of a now-free adult. I wondered if it would be possible to return to where the hurt had been the worst and overwrite the past with the present. I wanted my children to see the country where I’d grown up, wanted to show them the streets where I’d begged so they could understand where I’d come from, so they’d never take for granted the blessings that they have in normal, suburban, middle-class life. Most of all, I wanted to retexture those streets with who I had become in spite of them, and maybe in some small part because of them. And I wondered if going back was a bad idea: Maybe returning would be like cutting open a wound that had already scarred over.

    With each novel I wrote, the wondering grew stronger. I write international boots-on-the-ground thrillers featuring badass information hunter Vanessa Michael Munroe, a woman cut from the same cloth as Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher. The locations in which these stories are set are what ground them in reality, and this time I was ready to set her in the land I’d left behind.

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  74. Twenty five years after leaving Japan for good, I returned to Osaka, the epicenter of my ordeal, together with my children who were now the same age I’d been then. We tracked down temples and castles outside of which I’d begged. For the first time, I paid entry fees, walked past the gates, and became a tourist. The power of each moment arrived, not from finally seeing what had been closed off to me before, but from crossing each threshold simply because I could. We ate food that I had smelled for five years but never tasted. Every yen spent became a cherished moment because the spending itself laughed in the face of those years of deprivation and isolation. I experienced more of Japan in three weeks of visiting than I had in nearly five years of living.

    The most emotional moment arrived at Hiroshima Peace Park. Hiroshima hadn’t birthed particularly bad memories; in comparison to everything else they were relatively good. I was 13 when I lived there and, after having spent over a year separated from my parents, was briefly with them again. In Hiroshima we had regularly returned to the same panhandling spot and nearly 30 years later I still knew every turn, every shrine and every monument inside that park. I stood in the middle of a gravel-paved path and looked around. I breathed in what life had been, who I’d been, what returning here represented, and what I had become. I looked at my daughter who was the age I’d been when I’d walked these same paths. The realization fully hit, and I began to cry.

    The trip gave me everything I needed to write my next novel, “The Mask,” but Japan is in my past now. I no longer wonder, no longer care, and no longer have any desire to return—although there are still days when the weather is cold and wet and I look out the window from the warm inside and feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I’m not out there, walking one place to the next, achingly desperate to get enough money to stop and go home.

    Taylor Stevens is the New York Times bestselling author of "The Informationist," "The Innocent," "The Doll," "The Catch" and the novella "The Vessel." The series featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe has received critical acclaim and the books are published in 20 languages. "The Informationist" has been optioned for film by James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. In addition to writing novels, Stevens shares extensively about the mechanics of storytelling, writing, overcoming adversity, and the details of her journey into publishing -- she welcomes you to join her. Her latest novel, "The Mask," is out now.

  75. Bringing Down Americas Happiest Christian Cult

    For decades, the freewheeling hippies of Jesus People USA —“God’s forever family” — forged one of the most influential movements in Christianity. They were also Jaime Prater’s family, until he made a documentary exposing the commune’s darkest secrets.

    by Jesse Hyde, BuzzFeed Contributor August 28, 2015

    Usually, Jaime Prater felt excited on the first day of school. He’d get up early, put on the outfit he’d laid out the night before — he liked bow ties and sweater-vests — and hurry down the hall with the other kids in his building. But this morning in September 1989 felt different. This morning he was starting the eighth grade, and he felt something closer to dread.

    For as long as he could remember, Prater had lived here among the Jesus People, about two blocks from the “L” train in Uptown Chicago. At first he had loved it, but things had changed since he turned 10. Lately he would lie awake at night, his window open to the muggy summer air, listening to the rattle of the train,
    and dream of escape.

    Or he’d try to imagine the commune’s early years, back when they caravanned across the Midwest in an old school bus, the word “Jesus” painted in big, loopy letters on the side, winning souls for Christ. He loved hearing the stories from that time: the mass baptisms in the woods, the early members tracting at O’Hare among the Hare Krishnas, everyone strumming their guitars and singing early Christian rock back on the bus, enraptured with the glow of the Holy Spirit.

    By the time Prater was born, the Jesus People had stopped touring and had transformed a dilapidated apartment building on Chicago’s North Side into the Friendly Towers, where all 400 of them lived in communal bliss, sharing meals, clothes, and pretty much everything else. They were God’s forever family, just like the Bible taught.

    Prater’s dad had an Afro back then, and his mom spoke of Jesus, peace, and love to whoever would listen; they had been legit hippies, Prater liked to think. But now they were different, stooped and beaten down by middle age, resigned to their middling status in the commune’s rigid hierarchy: His mom taught in the Jesus People school, and his dad worked as a mechanic. Prater hoped for some other kind of job when he grew up — maybe helping with the Cornerstone Festival — but that wasn’t up to him. The nine-person leadership council, half of them blood-related, decided everything — even whom he’d marry.

    He wanted to believe the council spoke for God, but already he had his doubts. He’d heard dark and ugly rumors about their founder, a bearded Messiah-like figure, and he’d heard stories that horrified him about the Farm, a remote and secluded resort in the Missouri woods. But he knew better than to ask about any of that.

    And yet, for as much as he tried to keep his troubles to himself, something was amiss. For weeks, he’d caught his parents whispering about him. He figured it had something to do with the day one of the men in the commune touched him. Prater had tried to forget that moment, the feeling of terror that washed over him, the searing shame when it was over, but he couldn’t move past it. Since then, he had been acting out in strange ways, desires he couldn’t control aroused inside him. Eventually he told the council, and now he wished he’d never said anything at all.

    He watched his dad in the kitchen, sipping his coffee and listening to the morning news on the radio. Outside, the Chicago morning loomed dark and gray. When it was time to go, his dad motioned for him to follow and they headed past the other Jesus People kids crowding the hallways and stepped into the cool morning air.

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  76. They crossed the street, damp with rain, and walked a few blocks until they came to a towering castle-like building known as Magnolia. This was where new families were sent. His dad nudged him softly toward the door. He wouldn’t look down at his son, who begged him to not make him go inside.

    On that morning, Prater’s isolation began. Over the next two years it would increase until he was forbidden from contact with anyone in the commune outside of his parents and his brother and sister. He took his meals in his parents’ room, but he spent his days alone at Magnolia, tutored in a broom closet and shunned from the other children, who were instructed to never speak with him again.

    “I didn’t understand it at the time, but they were trying to keep me quiet,” Prater says today. “They still are.”

    It’s a warm spring morning in Chicago, and Prater is seated at a Starbucks not far from Friendly Towers. For the first time in years, he’s visiting the neighborhood where he grew up. He’s gone a few days without shaving and his beard is coming in gray in spots, but he appears youthful, his face unlined, his eyes dark and expressive. He adjusts the stocking cap on his head and fiddles with his watch, scanning the window to see who might be passing by. He’s visibly nervous to be here. “I know logically that doesn’t make sense,” he says. “It’s not like someone is going to come attack me. But it almost gives me a panic attack being here.”

    In 2014, Prater self-released No Place To Call Home, a film documenting his years inside Jesus People, one of the strangest and longest-running religious experiments in American history. The church in which Prater grew up, officially called Jesus People USA, is one of the final vestiges of what may be the last great religious revival in America. Known as the Jesus Movement, it swept up as many as 3 million people in the late 1960s, many of them burned-out hippies who felt disillusioned by the free-love and drugs ethos and ached for some kind of spirituality outside the confines of traditional Christianity.

    The movement spawned hundreds of religious communes across the country, including Calvary Chapel, one of the largest and most influential megachurches in America today, as well as the Children of God, the notorious sex cult that once claimed as followers Joaquin Phoenix, Rose McGowan, and Jeremy Spencer, one of the original members of Fleetwood Mac. Most of these communes collapsed within a few years. Jesus People USA, which today has about 300 members, is one of the largest that has survived.

    The influence of the Jesus People movement on evangelical Christianity is profound. “It gave birth to Christian rock,” says David Di Sabatino, who made a documentary about Lonnie Frisbee and the Jesus People movement called Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher. “The contemporary Christian music industry wouldn’t exist without the Jesus People.”

    For much of its history, Jesus People USA hosted one of the largest Christian rock festivals in America, called Cornerstone, launching Christian bands that would go mainstream in the ’90s, like MxPx and P.O.D. “Nearly every megachurch in America has a youth outreach arm that’s been influenced by the Jesus People movement,” says Larry Eskridge, author ofGod’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America. “You see it in the way they dress, in the kind of music they use. All of that, you can trace back to the influence of the Jesus Movement.”

    When Prater set out to make his film, he didn’t have any professional experience; he simply wanted to explore what it was like growing up in a religious commune. He raised some money on Kickstarter and set out across the country, reconnecting with kids he’d known growing up, capturing their stories on film.

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  77. What he found shocked him. While the broader Christian community has long been aware of allegations of strange behavior from within the walls of JPUSA, such as adult spankings and group confessionals of masturbation, few outside the commune knew of its darker secrets.

    Of the 120 people Prater reached over two years, 70 said they had suffered some form of sexual abuse growing up in the commune. One woman told him of a trip to the Farm, the 300-acre JPUSA retreat in Doniphan, Missouri, where she said she was sexually assaulted by one of the commune’s leaders. Another said he had been forced to perform oral sex on two men in the Leland Building, the Jesus People dorm for single men. Prater found that the Jesus People leadership had not only been aware of dozens of complaints of abuse, but had conspired to hide those crimes and silence the victims.

    When Prater finished the film and posted it on Vimeo, it went nowhere: Only a few hundred people saw it, and Prater didn’t submit it to any festivals or distributors. “I didn’t want people to think this was about me, or that I was doing this to get famous,” Prater says. But within the walls of JPUSA, and the broader Christian world, it was a bombshell. Prior to the film, no one, other than perhaps JPUSA leadership, had known about allegations of widespread sexual abuse or possible cover-ups. Suddenly, Prater had cast himself into the uncomfortable role of whistleblower.

    The fallout was swift: One of the members of the leadership council, who also functioned as their in-house attorney, left with his family shortly before the film was released. Two more council members, including the son of the founder, would follow. JPUSA seemed to be crumbling from within.

    Today, the remaining members of JPUSA (pronounced juh-POO-za by the faithful) live in the same apartment buildings where Prater grew up. They are officially part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, a prestigious and well-respected Christian denomination based in Chicago that serves as an umbrella organization for 800 churches across the country. Shortly after the film’s release, 18 members, including Prater, filed a lawsuit against JPUSA and the ECC, seeking damages for the abuse they suffered. The lawsuit is in mediation, and several attorneys related to the suit called me and advised me not to speak to their clients. JPUSA leadership declined to speak to me for this article, despite repeated requests, as did their attorney. Only Edward Gilbreath, the executive director of communications for the ECC, would say anything. He stressed that while JPUSA was a member congregation of the ECC, it was an “autonomous self-governing organization” that made its own rules. “We take these matters very seriously,” he told me. “And we’re concerned for all parties involved, but beyond that I can’t comment.”

    Prater says he’s paid a heavy price for what he’s brought to light. It’s cost him a relationship, a job, and lifelong friendships, and severed any remaining ties to where he grew up.

    “It’s almost like I’m attacking my family, the only home I ever knew,” Prater says back at Starbucks. We’ve been talking for more than an hour, but he’s still skittish, looking over my shoulder every few minutes to see if anyone from JPUSA is passing by. “I really struggled with speaking up, with documenting what I found, because it was so disturbing to me, and so painful to relive. But someone had to tell the truth. Someone had to tell the story of what happened there.”

    Everyone who grew up in Friendly Towers knew the whitewashed version of their history, but few knew their real story.

    The Jesus People movement started in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, in the late 1960s with a man named Lonnie Frisbee, who liked to read the Bible while tripping on LSD, and David Berg, the sex-crazed madman who led the Huntington Beach, California–based Children of God.

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  78. Frisbee would become one of the most influential members of the movement. Blessed with long golden hair and a face that looked vaguely messianic, he had dabbled in the underground gay scene in Laguna Beach, California, before emerging as a hippie preacher who could speak in tongues. His ministry at Orange County’s Calvary Chapel was an earthy, back-to-basics rebuke of what Christianity had become, an open-arms embrace of the longhairs, the stoned, and the barefoot not welcome at mainline denominations.

    Calvary Chapel, the All Saved Freak Band, and groups like Children of God turned the Jesus Movement into a mass phenomenon, culminating at a Christian rock festival at the Dallas Cotton Bowl in 1972 that drew as many as 200,000 people (including Mike Huckabee) to hear Johnny Cash sing gospel and Billy Graham, the most famous preacher in America, deliver a sermon proclaiming them a special generation.

    “We felt like we were part of this big movement,” says Micki Johnson, who joined JPUSA at the age of 18. “The free love, the drugs, it had left us disillusioned, and we weren’t going to find what we were looking for in the traditional church. Here was this thing that talked about the love of Jesus, but you didn’t have to cut your hair or shave your beard. You could come as you are.”

    In 1969, an early member of the movement named Jim Palosaari left the Haight scene for Seattle, where he fell in with a group that called itself the Jesus People Army. He stayed for a year until he became concerned over the growing influence of the Children of God, which advocated using sex to gain converts. (Its leader, known to his followers as King David, would later encourage incest and pedophilia among members of his cult and would bed dozens of his followers, often in group orgies.)

    Alarmed at the direction the Jesus People Army and the Children of God had taken, Palosaari decamped for Milwaukee. When Palosaari left to evangelize in Europe, a small group of disciples left Milwaukee under the leadership of a man named John Herrin. In time, Herrin would prove a bad fit for the ministry.
    Already kicked out of several churches for sleeping with female members, he had barely passed seminary. Short and skinny, with black chunky glasses and a long beard, he required $10 from the communal pot every day, Micki Johnson recalls, for what members would only later learn was used for a bottle of cheap wine and a trip to the porno theater.

    “He had three sermons he’d rotate,” Johnson says. “If we said we were bored by them, his wife would say we needed to pay closer attention to understand what God was telling us.”

    Yet Johnson and others were only vaguely aware of Herrin’s vices, and the basic appeal of JPUSA remained: Like Jesus and his disciples, they were sacrificing material things to serve the poor and disenfranchised.

    “I felt like this is where the Lord had led me,” Johnson recalls. “Jesus had gone to the cross for me; how could I not forsake all my former life and do what he told me? And I believed these were the last days, so you better be doing what he wants you to do when he returns.”

    In 1971, Herrin’s group, which would eventually call itself Jesus People USA, began traveling throughout the Midwest and South in their converted school bus, stopping at churches and parks to play impromptu Christian rock concerts, which led to Herrin’s sermons, and hopefully baptisms. “I was so stoked by the teaching, the music, the bold street witnessing,” Johnson recalls. “We saw a lot of miracles, lives changed, people healed and delivered from addiction.” When their bus broke down in Chicago in 1973, a preacher took them in and let them stay the night in the basement of a church. Eventually they bought a nearby apartment building and christened it “Friendly Towers.” The Jesus People had finally found a home.

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  79. Mary Prater says she and her husband were attracted to Jesus People for many of the same things that had appealed to Johnson and others. As an interracial couple in the ’70s, they often felt like they didn’t belong anywhere. John Prater had always liked the idea of communal living, and Mary Prater, disillusioned with the formal worship style of the Catholic Church, wanted something that felt more authentic.

    “At the time the Jesus People attracted a lot of kids who were struggling with drugs, kids who came from broken homes, and they were looking for an alternative,” Mary Prater says. “The gospel the Jesus People was preaching was all about God forgiving you and making you whole, and that resonated with me.”

    By the time Prater’s parents joined the commune in 1978, John Herrin had been kicked out of the group for making an advance on a female member, and his wife, Dawn Herrin, had taken charge. A willowy, matronly woman uncomfortable in public, she spoke in a soft and gentle tone, masking a towering force of will and thirst for power that could border on obsessive. Known as Mama Dawn, she dressed like a “forever hippie,” as one former member put it, wearing her hair long and layering her outfits with scarves like Stevie Nicks.

    Early members say that after the ouster of her husband, Mama Dawn feared losing control of the group. She implemented a strict authoritarian structure known as the Shepherding Movement, a form of discipline that became popular among hard-line Christian groups in the 1970s and early ’80s. Inspired by a book called The Master Plan of Evangelism, which reads like something out of Mao’s China, everyone was assigned a shepherd, or a “buddy,” who in turn answered to a “family” head, who took serious matters to the pastors and the leadership council.

    When Prater’s family moved into the Friendly Towers, he was put in a nursery while his parents spent the day out on the streets ministering, handing out pamphlets about grace and forgiveness, or putting on skits about popular Bible stories, like the return of the Prodigal Son.

    Prater’s mom felt guilty about leaving her 6-year-old alone all day in the nursery. One night after dinner, she told one of the leaders she was going to skip evening Bible study. She wanted some time with her three kids, whom she’d only seen at communal meals. The leader relented, but Prater realized she wasn’t free to parent the way she wanted. Over time, she would learn her family wasn’t entirely hers.

    While Prater still called his parents “Mom” and “Dad,” he unofficially belonged to a larger family headed by a man named Ron Brown, the token black man on the leadership council. The title was more than ceremonial: If the council decided a certain couple wasn’t fit to parent, they would “give” their children to another family, and from then on the kids would take that last name, answer to their new mom and dad, and, in some cases, have minimal to no contact with their actual parents.

    “You see this sort of behavior in a lot of authoritarian groups,” says Janja Lalich, who has studied cults for 20 years. “Whether intentional or not, the idea is to break down the family as an autonomous structure to build loyalty. It’s all about loyalty to the leaders. This is textbook cult behavior.”

    Early on, Prater’s mother begged her husband to leave, but in some ways they were stuck: They’d donated all their possessions when they joined. Plus, they didn’t actually make any money. Everyone worked for free at JPUSA. The commune now had a growing business empire — a moving company, a recording studio, and the booming Lakefront Roofing and Siding Supply — all of it built on the backs of its members.

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  80. For Mama Dawn’s family and the rest of the council, life was different. Her daughter and son-in-law (a man named Glenn Kaiser) fronted Resurrection Band (“the most influential band in Christian music history,” according to Christianity Today), and her son Johnny Herrin Jr. played drums and ran all the commune’s businesses. Another daughter and her husband controlled the commune’s finances.

    Mary Prater says she couldn’t share her doubts with anyone other than her husband, who believed they were doing God’s will. If she complained, her “buddy” would eventually catch wind of it and report her to the council. Sometimes, even husbands ratted out wives for “subversive” thoughts. One former member told me that as a teen, she once reported on her mom after finding a romance novel hidden under a bed.

    But typically it didn’t even have to come to that: Members policed themselves. At the weekly worship services, where deacons passed out grape juice and Hawaiian bread for Communion, public confessions were expected.

    “Guys would stand up and confess to masturbation, or a visit to the porn shop,” says Chris Harold, a former member who joined the commune in 1986. “It was so humiliating. You would just sit there and think, I never want to have to do that.”

    How the Jesus People had drifted so far from their stoned West Coast moorings would take early members years to figure out. “A lot of these groups started out really loosey-goosey,” says Di Sabatino, the documentary filmmaker. “And then as the community grows you start to have problems. A member does something out of line and so you start having rules and soon the rules start to calcify and you become this thing you never wanted to be.”

    When Prater was little, the Jesus People had phased out many of its most bizarre practices, and he loved his life at Friendly Towers. He felt like he was part of a big family, with dozens of brothers and sisters. They’d play tag in the alleyways while their moms pinned laundry to the wires running between the buildings, splash through the cold water of the fire hydrant on hot summer afternoons, and stay up late in the common room watching old Alfred Hitchcock films projected onto a big white sheet. They played He-Man and Thundercats, had long discussions about Star Wars, and built elaborate Lego kingdoms in the hallways. It felt like a summer camp that would never end.

    By the mid-’80s, Jesus People USA had staked out a place on the margins of mainstream Christianity, directly at odds with conservative Southern ministries like Pat Robertson’s

    700 Club or the Southern Baptist Convention. Its pastors dressed like they belonged to a biker gang, had little in common with Republican politics, and played what amounted to Christian heavy metal.

    Because of the emphasis JPUSA placed on taking in what they called “the broken” (homeless people, drug addicts, victims of domestic violence), there were always new people around. When Prater was a kid in the late ’70s and ’80s, homeless people lined up outside Friendly Towers every day at lunch for a free meal; sometimes they would stay the night in the same room as children. While Mama Dawn and the leadership council kept tight control over the daily activities of the Jesus People, they paid little attention to visitors, placed few controls over their activities, and rarely performed background checks.

    “Without intending to, they created the perfect environment for someone to prey on children,” Chris Harold says. “The combination of children being an afterthought because parents were so busy, or in some cases being reassigned to parents who didn’t really know them or care about them, and then absolute strangers just coming in and out of the building — it was a situation ripe for abuse.”

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  81. When Prater was 8, two single men were assigned to live in the room he shared with his brother, who was several years older. The boys had decorated it with fish tanks and cages that held rabbits and squirrels. By this point, Prater was used to living with the two men who shared his room and felt as comfortable around them as he did his own brother. One morning when he was 10, he woke up with an erection. Unaware of the concept of masturbation, he pulled his pants down and began innocently exploring his body.

    Across the room, one of the single men who lived there noticed his actions. He stopped getting ready for work and walked over to Prater’s bed. Within the commune, he was one of the favorites. He had dark hair and deep blue eyes. Because of his good looks, he often appeared in the pages of Cornerstone Magazine. He and his brother had both been dropped off at Friendly Towers as children and raised by one of the pastors. Without warning, he began fondling Prater, which went on for several minutes.

    “I sat there, frozen,” Prater says. “I was feeling something I had never felt before, and it was confusing, because it felt good, but it was also terrifying because I had no control over what he’d do next.”

    Prater didn’t know if he had done anything wrong, but the encounter aroused something inside him. Not long after, he started exposing himself to other children in the commune, which caught the attention of the leadership council, and rumors spread that Prater was now molesting other kids. After talking with Prater, a member of the leadership council approached his mom and told her what Prater had said about being molested. “But they dismissed it,” Mary Prater recalls.
    “They told me he was lying.”

    Alarmed, Prater’s mom found him and asked him what happened. “I said, ‘Did this happen, Jaime? Tell me what happened,’” Mary Prater says. “I don’t remember what he said but he was crying. And I said, ‘They say you’re lying. Did you lie?’ And then he said, whispering, ‘Yeah, Mom, I lied.’ But I knew it wasn’t true. I knew he had been pressured into saying it.’”

    When she discussed the matter with her husband, they decided that if their son said he was lying, that was the end of the matter. But over the next few years, Prater continued to expose himself to other children, and to seek the company of older men. Prater’s parents didn’t know what to do. His mom was convinced he was acting out because he’d been molested, and pushed for therapy. But the council said no. They insisted he’d made up the story for attention. The only answer, they said, was to isolate him, which they did when he turned 13 by pulling him out of the commune’s school and making him take his classes in a closet at the Magnolia building several blocks away.

    “The truth is, the person who had molested Jaime was set to marry one of the pastor’s daughters, and if this ever came out, it would create a scandal,” Prater’s mom says. “The right thing would have been to deal with him, but instead they sent Jaime away. They had decided he was the problem.”

    Mary Prater says she deeply regrets the decision and wishes she would have stood up to the council. “It’s hard to describe the pressure and fear we felt,” she says. “They are your landlord, your employer. They have complete control over you, and I knew that no matter what I said, they had already made their decision.”

    Prater says the three and a half years he spent in isolation harmed him far more than any sexual abuse. Kids he had grown up with would no longer talk to him, or even look his way. He desperately craved his dad’s approval, and had always sensed he was a disappointment, but now he had no doubt. Within the hierarchy of the commune, he had cast a dark cloud over the family.

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  82. “I would sit in that little closet where I spent six hours a day, just me and my tutor, and I’d hear kids outside playing, music coming out of people’s rooms, parents talking behind closed doors, the clanking of pans down in the communal kitchen, and I just wanted to be with them. I felt like I was dead, like I’d been buried alive,” he says. “I thought it would be a weeklong thing, but then it turned into a month, and then it turned into years.”

    When Prater was 14, his grandmother (who wasn’t affiliated with the Jesus People) decided she would rescue him, at least for the day. She took him downtown to see The Phantom of the Opera, which had just come to Chicago.

    “I just connected to it right away, it was like someone was singing my song,” Prater says. “I saw myself in the main character, this man who was ugly and unfit for society, and because he believed what they said about him, he lived in the underworld of the opera house. I just felt like, This is me, this is who I am.”

    The musical took over Prater’s life. Back at Friendly Towers he listened to the soundtrack nonstop, painted the walls of his room black, and re-created the entire set of the play complete with a staircase made of papier-mâché, a falling chandelier, and even a metal cage around his bed to replicate the Phantom’s lair. “I felt like I had a friend and someone who understood me,” Prater says. “That music probably saved my life.”

    Prater’s parents, meanwhile, were becoming increasingly concerned about the effects of his isolation, and talked about sending him away to a Christian reform school. His mom broached the subject and Prater told her no. Instead, they compromised and sent him to the Farm, where for three months over two successive winters he helped with chores, like fixing the lodge. To Prater it felt like a labor camp.

    Finally, Prater’s mother had had enough. She worried they were driving her son to madness, or suicide. She went to the council and told them that her son’s isolation had to stop. To her surprise, they agreed, and he was welcomed back in the community.

    “My classmates were like, ‘Where have you been?’ They had no idea what had happened,” Prater says. “To them, I had just disappeared for the last three years.”

    Over time, Prater concluded that his isolation had as much to do with his emerging homosexuality as his allegations of sexual abuse, and so he decided to “butch it up.” He got rid of all his musical soundtracks and became vocally anti-gay. When he asked for a job atCornerstone, Mama Dawn asked to meet with him at the magazine’s offices, just across the street from where he had grown up.

    By this point in the mid-’90s, Jesus People had shed many of its eccentricities. It no longer allowed adult spankings, practiced exorcisms of children, or reassigned kids to other families. It talked about these practices as innocent mistakes, growing pains in the quest to build a fully functioning Christian commune.

    It had also built significant business holdings. Lakefront Roofing was grossing as much as $12 million a year. Cornerstone was one the biggest Christian music festivals in the U.S., drawing 20,000 people a year.

    Mama Dawn began by asking Prater, who was now 21, about his love of Phantom of the Opera. She was warm and patient, but there was something in her eyes, watching him carefully, that made it impossible for Prater to completely relax. He knew what she was getting at. She wanted to know if he was gay.

    He explained that the musical had spoken to him at a time in which he had felt alone and ugly. “I never knew that,” Dawn said, and she seemed moved. Prater made a point of mentioning that he no longer cared for Barbra Streisand and didn’t like musicals generally. It was just a phase. Convinced he wasn’t gay, Mama Dawn gave him a job at Cornerstoneas a graphic artist.

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  83. Over the next few years, Prater wondered if he could stay within the commune and be true to himself. He still believed in Jesus, but he doubted so much of what he had grown up believing, and he was becoming more comfortable with the fact he was gay — he’d known that since he was 4. Slowly, he began to realize something that maybe he should have known all along: He didn’t belong.

    By the time Prater decided to leave in 1999, many of the longtime members had left, including his parents and siblings. Where the council had once made leaving very difficult, it now put up little fight when someone wanted to go, partly because of criticisms from the broader Christian community. In his first few years after leaving the commune in August 1999, Prater cast about, searching for identity and purpose. His entire life, Mama Dawn and the council had made all his decisions for him. He never had to think about money, or paying bills, or what he’d eat. Now that was all up to him, which was both liberating and crippling.

    Eventually, he concluded he couldn’t move forward until he reckoned with his past. At the urging of a film professor at a local college Prater was attending, he decided to make a documentary about growing up in JPUSA. Unaware that anyone else had suffered sexual abuse there, he saw it as nothing more than an exploration of his childhood.

    In March 2013 he created a private Facebook page, inviting 250 former JPUSA members to share their stories with him; he posted a rough cut with initial interviews in the hopes of soliciting more. “It was like I literally opened the floodgates,” Prater says. “People started flooding my email, flooding the (Facebook) group with stories.”

    Almost all of the stories dealt with sexual abuse. In one of the most harrowing, Prater says a man in his early forties told him that as a boy, he was physically and sexually abused so many times by so many people over a 10-year period, he didn’t know where to start. He had been taken from his mother as a baby and raised by a council member. He told Prater he could remember sitting naked in a bathroom with a DCFS investigator, telling her that the bruising and scabs on his body had come from playing sports and bug bites, something he had been coached to say.

    “I hadn’t set out to make a movie about sex abuse,” Prater says, “but that was the catalyst.”

    Prater had never made a documentary, and had only a rudimentary understanding of filmmaking. With no financing, he raised nearly $7,000 on Kickstarter and started flying all over the country to hear the stories that had come in via Facebook. In Minnesota, a girl he’d grown up with told him about the terrifying dreams she’d had as a child of men having sex with her mother while she was made to watch.

    Erik Johnson, a boy who was adopted by Micki Johnson in the late 1970s, said he went to the building where the single brothers lived to get a mountain bike and a 27-year-old lured him into his room show him karate moves. Instead, Johnson said the man performed oral sex on him. In another interview Prater filmed,
    Angel Harold said a teenager began molesting her when she was 9 years old. She later told me that a pastor forced her to perform oral sex on him, and eventually raped her.

    “Here was this leader telling you that you’re beautiful, you’re pretty, you’re not doing anything wrong because you’re doing what you’re told. I actually remember feeling completely safe, like, Ahh, I’m being a good girl,” Angel Harold says. “I remember thinking, So this is what little girls do with their leaders. This is my new role. Mom was made a cook. Dad was made a painter. And this is what I do.”

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  84. Former commune members who had been adults when the alleged abuse occurred were shocked at what Prater had uncovered. “We never knew what was going on with other families,” says Micki Johnson. “You might have known your kid had a certain problem, but that’s it. We had no idea how widespread it was.”

    As Prater gathered more stories, the gravity of what he had unearthed began to descend upon him. For a year he sat on the footage, unsure of what to do, torn between the loyalty he still felt to the community that raised him and anger at what he believed had happened there.

    In December 2013, with the editing of the film nearly over, Prater sunk into a deep depression, even considering suicide. Most disturbing to him was how many times people had gone to the JPUSA council and the Evangelical Covenant Church to report abuse. Again and again, alleged victims were told that the council would handle the matter internally. And almost without exception, that meant finding a way to keep victims silent, while doing nothing to reprimand the accused.

    As soon as the film started making waves, triggering the defections of prominent families and attracting the attention of the national press, JPUSA tried to silence Prater, threatening him twice with a defamation lawsuit. Those threats came and went, but Prater says JPUSA’s attorneys told him they would begin negotiations on a settlement related to his suit against the church only if he changed key parts of his film, excising any abuse allegations against John Herrin Jr., and tracked down every copy of the film. He complied with their request to edit the film, but he refused to take it off the internet.

    “I’ve lost more than I’ve gained for speaking out,” Prater told me. The making of the film consumed his life for two years, eventually causing his partner to leave him. People he’s known since childhood stopped talking to him.

    Friends who still live in the commune were angry about the way the film depicted JPUSA. They didn’t deny that abuse happened, but they questioned the assertion that the leadership council had known about it and covered it up. They also wondered how many of the 70 incidents were committed by children or teenagers. “I’m not saying there weren’t cases of adults with children, I’m not saying that didn’t happen,” an adult child of a member of the leadership council who still lives at JPUSA told me. “But it’s hard for me to believe a grown man could walk into the room of a child of the opposite sex. Everyone would have noticed.”

    Last July, Prater’s lawyers called him with an offer from JPUSA. They would begin to negotiate a settlement if he promised to stop talking to the press.

    “They don’t realize that they’re not going to shut me up with money. That’s not why I’m doing this,” he said. “I want an acknowledgment of what happened, and some kind of accountability. That’s the only way so many people can heal, and it’s the only way I can be assured something like this won’t happen there again.”

    On a cool spring morning last year, Prater and I met not far from Friendly Towers. He showed me the first building he’d called home and the place where he’d been isolated for three years. As we walked, we could hear children outside the JPUSA day care, waiting for their parents to get off work.

    From the outside, it seemed like little had changed, but Prater told me that wasn’t the case. Dozens of families had left. The annual Cornerstone Festival, once the biggest Christian rock festival in America, folded in 2012 due to poor attendance. The commune had also relaxed many of its rules that had grown out of the Shepherding Movement (such as the buddy system), largely to contain a mass exodus that began in the mid-’90s.

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  85. Many who left are still trying to come to grips with their years at Friendly Towers. For the earliest members, the continued existence of JPUSA is a testament to good ideas gone bad.

    “It could have been a utopia,” John Prater says. “It should’ve been an upside-down community, but it’s not. It’s a top-down community like any other business.
    And that’s not the gospel Jesus preached.”

    It’s been more than a decade since Angel Harold and her husband, Chris, left, and Angel says she’s only beginning to understand the extent of the damage wrought by the sexual abuse she suffered, some of which has only recently begun to resurface.

    “It’s taken us both a really long time to rebuild our lives to figure out who we are,” Angel Harold says. “We had to learn to think for ourselves. And in a lot of ways, we’ve been lucky. There are so many people who are worse off who have left.”

    What the Prater and Harold families wonder is how so much abuse, both physical and sexual, went on for so long under the noses of authorities in one of the biggest cities in America. While the Department of Children and Family Services sporadically visited Friendly Towers, and one or two abuse allegations made their way to the police, no formal investigation uncovered what occurred there.

    Longtime members I talked to say they blame themselves for not speaking up. But the victims I talked to blame the structure of the commune itself, and their parents, their “buddies,” and ultimately the leadership council for not doing more to protect them.

    “You can’t complain in an environment like that,” says Lalich. “If you complain, you’re isolated, humiliated, physically punished … and once you’ve been through that a few times, you’re going to learn to keep your mouth shut. It becomes a self-sealing system. It’s an environment that’s absolutely closed in on itself.”

    In the end, one of the alleged victims told me, it came down to power and preservation. Even today, the leadership council sits at the top of a multimillion-dollar business empire, to say nothing of the real estate it owns with the ECC throughout Chicago. Several members told me JPUSA’s affiliation with the ECC has allowed it to buy property with what essentially amounts to ECC financing.

    “It was like, ‘Look at this thing we built. Do we want this to have a tarnished name? Do we want to lose it?’” says Tamzen Trott, whose father remains at JPUSA. “And so instead you cover it up, and the more it happens, the deeper it gets.”

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  86. The day after I met Prater, I visited Friendly Towers one last time. I had already been by several times, but on each visit I was told no one would be available for an interview (JPUSA leadership declined to respond to subsequent requests for comment made in writing and over the phone about the lawsuits and abuse allegations). Once again, the woman at the front desk told me they weren’t giving tours or interviews, but if I hurried I could catch the tail end of a worship service across the street. She pointed to Everybody’s Coffee, owned and operated by JPUSA, and said that if I pushed through the double doors in the back I would find the chapel.

    I followed her instructions and took a seat on a metal folding chair in the back. The room, which looked like an empty warehouse, had a dark, cavernous feel, except for the stage, which was bathed in an amber glow. There were about 200 people in the congregation, and for all that might have changed about JPUSA, one thing hadn’t: They looked nothing like the typical church crowd. There were aging hippies, a mom with elaborate tattoo sleeves running up both arms, and couples with dreads and gauges and nose rings. Most of them lived across the street at Friendly Towers. The pastor, who I would later learn had baptized Prater, wore his graying hair in a ponytail, his jeans loose and baggy. He spoke softly of forgiveness and redemption. It could have been any Sunday at any church in America.

    As the service ended, the congregation filtered into Everybody’s Coffee, and eventually, they started to make their way back to Friendly Towers.
    I watched the children follow their parents and wondered if they would ever learn about the things that happened in the place they called home. Perhaps the pending lawsuits would force some kind of reckoning. Or maybe the Jesus People would simply move forward, as they had always done, trying to forget the past.

  87. My life in the cult

    How “serving God” unraveled into sex abuse, child neglect and a waking nightmare

    I was a naive teenager, desperate for belonging. But my "home" for 30 years turned out to be a house of horrors


    I left the Children of God in the early 2000s. It took a long time to come out of the haze of those 30 years, but when I did, I was appalled by my former self.
    One of the most common questions people ask is: How could you be part of such a thing? And how could you stay? For years — as I came to grips with my own guilt, remorse and shame — I asked myself the same things. In 2003, my eldest son, then an adult, sent me a link to a thorough three-year investigation into the COG as part of a child custody case filed with the High Court in England in the early 1990s, and I learned that, according to these court records, I was not alone in the horrors I’d experienced.

    I grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., the youngest of seven children in a comfortably middle-class Catholic home. We must have looked like the perfect family. My parents were leaders of the Charismatic group at their large church. Our house was clean – almost sterile. “Rake the rug after you walk through the living room to clear your footprints. Put a sheet on the sofa before you sit down,” my mother would chime. After my older siblings left home, I felt lost and alone. At 16, I fell into anorexia and depression. I spent my summer lifeguarding, swimming and dabbling in drugs.

    Perhaps that’s why I began my spiritual quest, or perhaps it was just a symptom of the times. I was looking for meaning to life, to belong to something larger than myself. In my junior year of high school, I saw a friend reading a Bible at school. She had recently met the COG, and gave me one of their publications to read. I found it a bit strange, but it touched something in me. I went with her to meet the COG after school that day.

    I was trying to find my path in life, and I thought this might be it. Here was a group of dedicated Christian young people determined to return to the pure roots of Christianity by living communally and sharing all things. I felt loved and accepted, and was welcomed into the fold as a new “babe” in Christ. Born again. I didn’t see this as a “cult”; I saw it as a chance to live an honorable life of service to God and others. And I was so young. What did I know about how the world worked? It would be another nine years before my frontal lobe was completely developed, the portion of the brain involved in decision-making that allows us to envision long-term consequences. I had no idea I was walking into a nightmare. I couldn’t see past the utter joy of the overwhelming love and acceptance I felt.

    I took a new name. I cast off my belongings. If this abrupt change hurt my friends, I was blind to it. I lost contact with them. I was completely swept up in my zeal. In the atmosphere of the ’60s and early ’70s, when hippie communes were popular, shucking off your conventional life was an appealing idea. My mother took a hard stand: “Do NOT visit the COG commune.” But teens have a way of doing what they want to do. On my 18th birthday, I moved in to the local commune. What could they do?

    I had no idea what a costly decision it would be — to burn bridges with everyone I’d been close to, to give up the only world I had known. Like St. Francis of old, I saw myself as a committed follower of Christ. I saw this as my “new family.” A lot of what happened next could probably be explained by my need to justify this stunning, impulsive first move — once I jumped into the deep end, I had to prove to myself that I could swim.

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  88. Life in the commune was tightly scheduled. Proselytizing took up most of our time, but I still fulfilled the daily requirement of reading two to three hours from the Bible as well as the group’s publications. As Daniel Kahneman wrote in his book on the mind, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” “A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.” Back then, I only knew it as my daily routine. We read thousands of Mo Letters, rambling talks written by the group’s founder, David Berg, and named after his pseudonym, Moses David.

    Life was said to be “fair” and God “just.” Therefore if anything bad happened, we were to search for the reason it occurred. “Nothing happens by accident to one of God’s children,” we were taught. “Caught a cold? Seek the Lord and see why he is dealing with you,” we were admonished. “Then write a confession and ask for united prayer for deliverance.” The natural extension of this belief in a “just world” is conspiracy theories, of which COG publications were rife. The Illuminati were pulling the strings of world events behind the scenes, and evil persecutors were always after Berg and us, so we must be constantly vigilant about our security and he and his top leaders must live in utter secrecy.

    We were taught that anything we heard had to be measured against “the Word” before we could accept it. Doubting was considered sinful, so if we ever had suspicions about anything in the group, we dared not mention them.

    Take, for instance, the time David Berg prophesied the end of life as we know it in the U.S. He warned, “You in the U.S. have only until January [1974] to get out of the States before some kind of disaster, destruction or judgment of God is to fall because of America’s wickedness!”

    Then nothing happened. But Berg, like all the other self-proclaimed prophets whose prophecies inevitably failed, found a way to both rationalize it and inflate his group’s importance. Comparing himself to Jonah in the Bible, he said nothing happened because the people repented. Since God’s children had done such a good job of warning the world to turn from their wickedness, God didn’t have to destroy America – yet. That was still to come.

    It’s an awkward moment when a prophet has to explain his failed doomsday prophecy. I remember glancing around the room thinking, “Are you guys all OK with this?” But when everyone else seemed to accept the reasoning, I figured it must be all right.

    I’ve since learned about the principle of social proof, in which people surreptitiously check to see what others are doing and then align their behavior accordingly, figuring those people know more about correct behavior than we do. That was the modus operandi in the cult. The sad truth is that in many cases, those other people were just as clueless as I was.

    In 1976, I was taking care of the children of COG “Archbishops” in a secret Commune in Pennsylvania. In response to yet another one of Berg’s frightening prophecies of soon-coming nuclear holocaust and antichrist world takeover, we moved to “safer” third-world countries. I ended up in a country in the tropics. The heat, the poverty, the grime, the roaches – what a shock it was to me.

    After a year of constant fundraising and childcare, the green light was given to all COG members to begin to “live the Law of Love,” which until then was only practiced in secret by the top echelons of COG leaders. This stated, “Anything done in love is perfectly lawful in God’s eyes.” Free sex was now the norm in Communes (as long as it was done with “sacrificial love” as its motive), and sex with outsiders – Flirty Fishing (ahem, prostitution) – was now the preeminent “witnessing tool.”

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  89. When I joined the COG there was a strict rule against sex before marriage; suddenly that was turned upside down. But I swallowed my “old bottle” ways (COG term for those who don’t embrace the new teachings) and soldiered on. At 20 I lost my virginity Flirty Fishing a Middle-Eastern gentleman – all for the cause of Christ, of course.

    Not long after, I was invited to help care for another leader’s children, this time in a secret Commune. These leaders were unlike anyone I had met before in the group. Gone was the veneer of righteousness and spirituality. These people were funny, good-natured and kind. Since their Commune was secret, they had little contact with other COG members – a safe haven from the rampant sexual promiscuity.

    I stayed with this family for over four years, caring for and schooling their children, cooking, cleaning and falling in love with all of them.

    To fulfill the duty of “caring for the [sexual] needs” of the people in his home, the man of the house spent time with me every few months – with his wife’s blessing. When I got pregnant with his child, I wondered if God was telling us I was now part of their family. (“Everything happens for a reason,” you know.) A man with two wives was not at all unusual in the COG – Berg had a harem.

    When my son was a toddler, though, the family was abruptly whisked away to live with Berg, and I was left to join the mainstream group, emotionally shattered and never to see my son’s father again.

    In contrast to my former quiet room with peaceful, well-behaved children, I now found myself sharing a large bedroom with many children and a newly “mated” couple. (“Mate” was the preferred COG nomenclature for “marry.”) Their big double-bed can be referred to as nothing if not the centerpiece of the room, with the children’s and my beds arranged around the sides. This couple thought nothing of having uninhibited sex daily during our mandatory “quiet time” (two hours of rest after lunch), and I wanted nothing more than to escape the cringe-worthy awkwardness of the situation.

    I would take my son for walks around the neighborhood as much as I could to get away from that overcrowded, oversexed home. Hopeless, deserted and alone, that was my time to cry.

    Should I have left then? But what would I have done? In the COG, we were not permitted to hold jobs. We were told any future planning was taboo and considered a lack of faith in God’s power of provision. What would my skills be? Where could I go? My parents had both died of cancer shortly after I left for the commune. I felt alone in the world — but I was still not going to “turn my back on God’s work.”

    By the following year, desperate for companionship and desperate to have a father-figure for my son, I met a rare single man in the group, and within six weeks we were “mated.” After the initial two months of newlywed bliss, I felt he had lost all attraction for me. Clinging desperately to what we initially had, I persevered for years, hoping in vain he would be the man I believed him to be. (I can only imagine the stress he must have felt living with me.) We never outright fought, but rather played passive-aggressive games. Our poor children.

    The much-feared “persecution” of the COG came. The leader I worked with was among those named as cult leaders in a front-page newspaper story. We needed to move immediately. We fled to a new country. Once again, culture shock. Our unvaccinated children came down with whooping cough, and then later measles, rubella and mumps. After months of quarantine to contain the spread, the leader moved her children away. During more than six years with them, she had become my pseudo-mother figure, and overnight she was torn away from me along with her children, whom I dearly loved. More emotional damage.

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  90. Berg’s “law of love” had given license for all manner of lechery, as well as abuse of children through severe corporal punishment, which he promoted (“spare the rod, spoil the child”), as well as sexual abuse heaped most abundantly on those nearest to him. The new push of enormous “School Homes” began to perfect the physical punishment of children, especially adolescents, through spankings and “silence restriction,” where a child would be made to wear a sign warning others not to speak to them.

    We were to treat the children in the group as all “our children,” according to Berg’s teaching in his Letter “One Wife.” If ever a parent tried to come to the defense of their child, they were labelled as “favoring their children” — a serious sin in the cult. Many teens also lived away from their parents – some lived on opposite sides of the world. I did my best to protect my children, but mainly I lived in denial. I thought abuse happened elsewhere, not where we lived. It was easy to remain in the dark. We lived in a vacuum, after all: No books, no TV, no magazines and of course, no Internet.

    Meanwhile, the desperation of the average member brought on by scarcity and poverty drove a constant scramble for survival. Members were either out on the streets selling pamphlets or cult products, approaching businesses for donations of money or goods, or taking care of the ever-growing number of children, as free sex and no birth control were seen as the only way to please the Lord. No time was allowed for thought. If things ever began to ease up, a new “push” would inevitably come in the next directive from Berg, and our “witnessing” hours would increase, putting the children’s already scanty education further onto the back burners and increasing stress all-around.

    The stress, the constant submission, the daily struggle, the lack of meaningful mental input – it was as if I had undergone a spiritual lobotomy. I was effectively brain-dead.

    Berg died in 1994 and his mistress, Karen Zerby, took over the leadership of the COG. Although Ff’ing was no longer allowed, new strange doctrines arose to take its place. We were to “make love to Jesus,” i.e., pretend Jesus was our partner when we had sex with someone and say words of endearment to him.

    Then came the innumerable spirit helpers and guides. These imaginary ghosts provided all sorts of services. Many people received “stories” from them; some even wrote whole novels supposedly channeled from great authors of the past.

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  91. This all was getting a little hard to swallow. I don’t know which was more offensive — the poorly written novels, or the bizarre “spiritual truths” that Zerby was proclaiming.

    But I’d put so many years into the group. Longing to stay true to my initial commitment to “serve the Lord,” I continued clinging to my delusion. Loss aversion is very powerful. But eventually, even that fear can be overcome.

    When my eldest son reached adulthood living far from home, he left the group. He told me he thought Zerby was a lunatic and sent me a link to the custody case with the High Court in England. Reading that opened my eyes. The group I had devoted 30 years of my life to was a house of horrors.
    I left immediately.

    My mind was in a fog. What a psychological jolt! All the regret and apologies I can muster will never turn back the clock. My older children’s childhoods can never be relived. Since then, I’ve struggled to understand what allowed me to remain so gullible in the first place. The more I read about cults, the more I realize how universal the experience, from Jonestown to ISIS. Isolated and alone, in unfamiliar surroundings, members’ sense of “normal” behavior gradually becomes more bizarre, and even morally repugnant. Stanley Milgram, who conducted famous experiments on obedience in the 1960s, summed it up well when he wrote, ”Often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act.”

    Now that I am old, it is all-too-easy for me to replay with deep remorse the horrors of those wasted years. Nevertheless, I am heartened by the forgiveness shown to me by my children and other young people whom I taught in the group.

    As for me, I still have hope. Having missed out on years of learning, there are not enough hours in the day for all there is to learn. I study all that I can about neurology, psychology and behavioral economics. I listen to courses on history, science, language. I want to keep traveling and learning. I’m interested in most everything – except Christianity and new age groups. I’ve had my fill of those.

    Mary Mahoney writes the blog, "Coming to Grips with my 30 Years in a Cult" where she explores the psychology behind cult membership. (Link here: ) Contact Mary at:

  92. Children of God cult survivors come out of the shadows

    After decades of silence, 2 Ottawa residents recount tales of abuse, exploitation, debauchery

    By Simon Gardner, CBC News March 13, 2016

    Simon Gardner has been a journalist with CBC since 1988. He's won awards for reporting on a wide range of subjects ranging from foreign wars to police corruption. He can be reached at

    If you passed Ottawa residents Danielle Fortin or Jerry Golland on the street you wouldn't think there was anything unusual about them.

    Fortin, 63, grew up in Montreal. She has a matter-of-fact way of speaking, punctuated by an occasional self-deprecating laugh. She describes being "wild" in her youth, and that included taking hard-core drugs.

    These days she lives quietly in Ottawa with a mildly-disabled son.

    Golland, 69, also grew up in Montreal, raised in a secular Jewish family. A little over a year ago he retired from a teaching position with the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

    He's long been a familiar face at Ottawa nightclubs and music venues, where he specializes in performing the songs of his hero, Leonard Cohen. His manner of speaking can seem unfocused, but he chalks that up to his struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

    What sets Danielle Fortin and Jerry Golland apart is a bizarre chapter in their lives: they were both members of the Children of God, one of the world's most notorious religious cults.

    The disturbing history of the Children of God is well documented in news reports, books and documentaries. At its height, the movement had tens of thousands of members, including such famous names as River and Joaquin Phoenix, Rose McGowan and Jeremy Spencer.

    The group was founded in 1968 in California during a time of hippies and sexual liberation.

    Female members of the COG were expected to lure in men by having sex with them. Children were sexualised and sometimes sexually abused at an early age. Thousands of members worked like slaves raising money to support the shadowy sex-driven lifestyle of the group's leader, David Berg.

    After more than 25 years of keeping the story to themselves, Golland and Fortin agreed to reveal their experiences.

    Lured into the cult

    Fortin's first exposure to the Children of God came in the mid-1970s. She was hooked on heroin, unhappy with her life and looking for meaning. She recounts going to Spain on impulse during a drug-fuelled binge.

    "And there was some people singing on the street, three or four guys singing, 'You got to be a baby to go to heaven.' And at that time my state of mind was, 'Wow! Can I be a baby and got to heaven?' And they told me yes — if I receive Jesus into my heart."

    Golland's contact with the cult came in 1971 in London, England.

    An abusive, psychologically-troubled friend had taken all his money and most of his possessions, including his passport. He was sitting by himself in a park when he heard music and saw a yellow double-decker bus with "Children of God" written in psychedelic letters on the side.

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  93. They scraped me off the street

    "I was so ingrained not to be religious, I had always mocked it all my life. And then 40 or 50 people, I heard this music coming from the park, and standing all around me (people) saying, 'Hey, come with us, come on our bus, you can come home with us.'"

    He says in different times he would have run like hell, but he was at the end of his rope.

    "Nothing attracted me to them," Golland said. "They scraped me off the street."

    He would spend the next 20 years as a member of the cult, always on the lookout for vulnerable people — people just like himself — to recruit.

    "We'd learn to spot, you know ... those eyes, that person, there is a vulnerable person. We called them sheep. He's a real sheep as opposed to someone who was more antagonistic — he was a wolf."


    Danielle Fortin's initial impression of the group was positive. She felt that for a change she was "doing something right."

    As Fortin would soon discover, the Children of God was also a top-down, rigid organization that exploited members, especially women and children.

    Almost all the young women in the cult were ordered to "flirty-fish." That meant having sex every day, often with new and different men.

    "You have to totally submit yourself to your leader, to the person in charge. No matter what they ask you, you have to obey ... and being single, you were asked to go out flirty-fishing. That means going into a bar or restaurant or hotel and meeting some people to ask for the mercy of Jesus in their heart in exchange for a donation."

    Fortin often got into trouble with the group's leaders because she was choosy. She didn't want to have sex with every guy that wanted her.

    David Berg, the cult leader, also promoted concepts he called "one wife" and "sharing." Even married female members were expected to sleep with other men in the group.

    Because of the cult's Christian fundamentalist underpinnings, members were forbidden from using any form of contraception. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of children born out of the Children of God.

    Child abuse

    Both of the former members say they were able to protect their own kids from sexual abuse but couldn't always keep them safe from physical abuse.

    Fortin remembers one of her boys, who was just 11 years old, being punished for being rebellious. For three months he was confined to a house full of adults, forced to eat by himself and forbidden from speaking.

    "It was hard for me because I was sitting at the table and he was at another table and he was crying 'Mommy, mommy.' And I could not do anything because I was too afraid of being kicked out."

    She also recalls the same son, as an infant, being spanked until he was "all bruised and black."

    ​Golland, who has five children, says physical punishment of kids was all too common.

    "We're talking four, five, six, seven years old, kids, black and blue, beaten, spare the rod, spoil the child. Berg himself always said he found a coat hanger [useful for beating kids] ... Criminal."

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  94. Pamphlets used to solicit donations

    The main task of the cult members was to solicit donations by distributing pamphlets that espoused the gospel of Berg, also known as Moses David.

    Berg also penned "Mo Letters," explicit instructional pamphlets for members. Titles included "Adventures of a Flirty-Fish" and "Lashes of Love."

    Golland says members who were good at raising money and distributing the pamphlets were called Shiners. Those with poor sales were called Shamers. If you missed your quota you could not come home for dinner, he said.

    Golland's sales performance was bad enough that he was even prevented from attending his own wedding ceremony.

    Leaving the cult

    Fortin travelled the world with the Children of God and its affiliated groups, including stops in India, Fiji, and the Philippines.

    By 1992 she was flogging videos and audio cassette tapes of Children of God musical acts to store owners in Puerto Rico. One of her sons needed heart surgery, an operation that required travelling back home to Canada.

    She remained with the Children of God in Montreal, and eventually moved to Aylmer, Que., and then Ottawa, where she continued to contribute a tithe of 10 per cent of her income to the group before gradually breaking away.

    She recalls receiving a visit at her home in Ottawa from a Children of God "brother" who scolded her for having so much food in her cupboard.

    She argued she needed it to feed her children and couldn't spare any for the group.

    "It took me quite a while to realize I was brainwashed and that I was not doing he right thing. Took me a few years of reading about people in cults and people who are abused."

    Fortin stays in contact with three other former Children of God members, one in Montreal and two in the Ottawa area. She calls the group her "network," and considers their meetings and conversations a form of therapy.

    The final straw for Golland came when one of his sons, just 12 at the time, was forced to sing in the rain until midnight in order to raise money. The adult member supervising the boy stayed warm and dry in a nearby car.

    Life after Children of God

    Golland returned to Ottawa in the early 1990s and managed to get work, first with Algonquin College and then with the Ottawa Catholic School Board as an English language teacher.

    He feels fortunate that he was able to not only survive the Children of God, but also retire on a modest pension. Other members, he says, were not so lucky.

    "[There were] a lot of suicides of former members, adults and teenagers. Drug addiction. Prison. A lot of people could not adjust."

    The Children of God still exists today under a different name, but it doesn't have the same reach, influence or notoriety. Berg reportedly called a halt to flirty-fishing because of the emergence of the AIDS epidemic.

    Golland is in the process of writing an e-book about his journey with the Children of God called Only One Man.

    He warns that what happened to him and Fortin could easily happen to others.

    "There are still lonely, alienated people ... the sheep, kids. There are still a lot of them out there."

  95. How Cyclist Juliana Buhring Learned to Keep Going After Surviving a Cult and Losing the Love of Her Life

    By Helen Rumbelow, Glamour May 13, 2016

    The mountains of Praiano, Italy, tumble spectacularly into the Mediterranean Sea. If you look closely on any given day, you might see a tall tattooed woman jogging the 2,000 stone steps that go almost vertically up those cliffs. It’s like a scene from Rocky: Juliana Buhring, 34, is the underdog, outsider, and rebel, working to win the distinction of fastest female ultradistance cyclist on earth.

    Training this hard and this long is about a relationship with pain: facing it, pushing through it, leaving it in the dust. It’s safe to say Buhring knows how to do all that. Her lessons started early, when she was born into one of the most infamous cults of the time, the Children of God. The group, which later changed its name to The Family International and at its peak had thousands of members (including a young Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan), was started in the 1960s by David Berg, an ex-pastor who espoused free sex. The women were sent to bars to go “flirty fishing” and seduce new recruits, and children were encouraged to be sexual. (Responding to accusations of child abuse, the Family has acknowledged that from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s the group “wasn’t as safe an environment for children and young teens as it should have been.”)

    Early on Buhring was separated from her family: Her father was off working closely with Berg, and the leaders scattered her 17 siblings among the cult’s numerous communes around the world. “I had just turned four when I heard our group’s green car start up,” she says. “I ran to the window and saw my mom getting in with my brother and sister, and thought, Wait! I raced to the front door, but they were pulling out of the gate. I remember my mom waving to me out of the window, crying. I was distraught. I thought they were going on a shopping trip. I didn’t understand they weren’t coming back.”

    Buhring saw one sister occasionally, but otherwise she was on her own, moving from country to country and living in communes with 20 or 30 kids. “We often just slept on mattresses spread across the floor and were cared for by random adults,” she says. “A lot of them were very violent. We got beatings, hard labor, constant ‘spankings’ with things like coat hangers and cricket bats. They’d even duct-tape our mouths shut.”

    A self-described defiant child, Buhring first thought about escaping at 13. She’d even sneak away at night to make friends outside of the commune. But it took hearing that one of her half sisters had died of a drug overdose to give her the push she needed to leave for good. “By then I was 23,” Buhring says. “We were in Uganda, and the leaders were happy to see me go.” She got a job in Kampala, and later moved to England and decided to tell her story. The memoir Not Without My Sister, which she wrote with two of her siblings, exposes the sexual abuse and neglect they suffered and became a best-seller in the U.K. They also started a charity to support other young people leaving extreme religious groups.

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  96. Then in 2009 Buhring reconnected on Facebook with an adventure guide named Hendri Coetzee. They’d first met in Uganda, where they’d had a short, intense affair, but this time they couldn’t let go. “There was not a day when we didn’t chat, Skype, or call,” recalls Buhring. “We finally reached a point where we were like, ‘Let’s give this a go. There’s something happening here.’” They decided to meet up for New Year’s 2011 in Uganda. Buhring booked her ticket and counted the days, as Coetzee kayaked in the Congo. But on December 8 she logged on to Facebook to see her feed flooded with tributes to him. A crocodile had lunged out of the river and dragged him underwater to his death. His body has never been found.

    Despite all that she’d been through, losing Coetzee “was the one blow I didn’t want to come up from,” Buhring says. Reckless with grief, she signed up for a race to cycle around the world to raise money and awareness for her charity, which had merged with the Safe Passage Foundation. She had no training, no teammates—she’d be on the road completely alone. Everyone told her she was insane. “This wasn’t about being strong,” she says. “It was about escaping.” On July 23, 2012, after working with a coach for only six months, she took off from Naples, never expecting to make it back. At times she was miserable. She rode through a cyclone in India “covered in mud and human dung—I was sick, constantly wet, and mobbed by men,” she says. “But it never occurred to me, Oh, you could just stop. I’m too proud.”

    And in those 144 days of punishing cycling over 18,000 miles, something unexpected happened. Buhring, who had always felt so alone in life, found herself forced to rely on the kindness of strangers, and they came through. “People were amazing,” she says. “I stopped feeling like everyone had it out for me.” By the time she pedaled around the globe—the journey she describes in her new book, This Road I Ride, out in May—she knew she had to keep going. “I had been such a stunted child in a tiny world; I just wanted to make up for all of that lost time,” she says. “I wanted to do everything.”

    She’s certainly on her way. In 2013 she became the only woman to attempt the first transcontinental race from London to Istanbul and finished ninth overall. The next year she took first place for women in the Trans Am Bike Race, although she needed a wheelchair to board her flight home. (“I was f---ing winning that race,” she says.) “The last three days,” says her coach, ultradistance rider Billy Rice, “she went without sleep. That’s huge. She is the most determined person I’ve ever met.”

    So far Buhring has raised more than $20,000 for Safe Passage: The money will cover things like travel for those trying to leave cults and college tuition to help start a new life. “They need advice on how to set up a bank account, pay rent—things you don’t learn when you’re growing up in a cult,” she says. She’d also like to erase the stigma that “ex-kids” are damaged: “Many are ashamed about their pasts, but I’ve seen people who come out superstrong.”

    As she hunkers down, dead set on smashing a new record in the Race Across America in June, Buhring pauses to consider her own tough history. “Hendri would often say, ‘The strongest metals have gone through the hottest fires.’ And I now know that’s true,” she says. “When you think you can’t go any further, you always can.”

    Helen Rumbelow is a feature writer at The Times in London.

  97. Juliana Buhring - How I escaped my childhood in a cult


    Juliana Buhring is sitting drinking coffee in a central London hotel. She seems relaxed but, Buhring tells me, she is feeling twitchy. “I just want to be on the move, really. I feel uncomfortable staying anywhere too long.” Her restlessness is understandable. Buhring, 34, is a top endurance cyclist and spends her life racing across continents - in 2012 she set a record as the fastest woman to ride around the globe, which she writes about in her new book, This Road I Ride. Her obsession with cycling began only five years ago, and yet she has been on the move for most of her life.

    Until the age of 23 Buhring grew up in the notorious cult the Children of God (later known as The Family). It was founded in 1968 in California by David Berg, who under a variety of messianic and paternal pseudonyms - including Moses David and Dear Grandpa - prophesied imminent apocalypse and preached a perverted interpretation of Christianity in which children were sexualised from an early age and ordered to practise free love, both with each other and with adults.

    Part of their doctrine was called “one wife”, explains Buhring, who spent her childhood behind high walls in communes whose members shared everything, including their bodies. “It said everyone was married to each other in Christ, as one big family.”

    She was separated from her mother at the age of three. “I remember the day vividly. My mother was crying. She waved and blew me a kiss. I was never told they were leaving me. They just never came back.” Berg believed the children of his followers could be made a pure generation. “We were shipped off to military-style training camps, to break our spirits. That could involve having to wear masking tape across the mouth for a month, or being kept in isolation and fed only soup. They would get you to dig ditches and fill them up again. And of course, very hard beatings.”

    The abuse was relentless. “The beating room was a bathroom that had been soundproofed so that nobody could hear you scream. Or they would strip you naked and beat you in front of everyone,” says Buhring.

    Even such punishment couldn’t quell Buhring’s rebelliousness. “I always questioned the stupid rules. As a teenager I’d pretend I was going out to beg for money, but I’d be meeting friends and getting drunk.” Her inability to be “controlled”, as she puts it, meant she was shipped around the world from one commune to another.

    “No one questioned what was happening,” she says. “A ‘guardian’ would take me to a new country. I had a passport. They saw a white child with a white adult and we were just waved through immigration.”

    She was surrounded by what she calls “brainwashed” adults. “Some were psychopaths and it is kids like me who bore the brunt of it all. When I finally left, there was no paper trail to actually show I ever existed.”

    Leaving Uganda - where she had ended up with the cult - she went to the UK, where two of her half-sisters, Kristina and Celeste, had already started new lives. “I went to get a bank account and I had no national insurance number or anything. Just a passport. People find it hard to believe. It was as if I’d been living in a fantasy world, but it was a horrible fantasy.”

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  98. The three sisters later wrote a bestselling book about their lives, Not Without My Sister. They describe the terror, as children, of being expected to lie down next to a grown man, and of how children were made to lie on top of each other, rub themselves up and down and make groaning noises. “I still find it hard to describe, and yet I have been processing what happened for the past decade. I don’t want a stigma to be attached to me. All of us who grew up in cults feel as if we are wearing a mouldy coat we can’t take off, but we can. Many people consider us to be damaged goods, but we are not. Lots of people don’t reveal their past living in a cult. I do because I say, ‘Those who mind don’t matter. Those who don’t mind matter.’ ” She gives me a rather challenging look.

    Buhring struggled to adapt to life outside the cult. She didn’t know how to make lasting relationships. “I felt a profound sense of not belonging,” she says. “Everything felt so mundane.”

    All that changed after she moved to Naples to work as an English language teacher. One day, a friendly name popped up on her Facebook page - Hendri Coetzee, a South African explorer with whom she had a brief fling before leaving Uganda.

    “I loved his attitude to life,” she says. They had spent nights discussing his desire to explore the Congo in a kayak. “He felt every day should be exciting. ‘What good is life if you don’t live it?’ That was his motto.”

    As they communicated remotely, they realised that they wanted to spend their lives together. Buhring booked a ticket to meet Coetzee in Uganda. “He was doing a trip with two Americans,” she says, “taking them down a new bit of the Congo.” He told her he’d see her on his return. A week before she was about to fly, she logged on to Facebook to find it was full of tributes to him. “He’d been killed by a crocodile. I couldn’t believe it. He was always terrified of crocodiles. They were the only thing on earth that scared him.”

    A month later Buhring went to say her goodbyes. “I sat by the river with all Hendri’s friends and I missed him terribly. I thought I could survive anything. There were times in my life when I thought no one cared about me, that I meant nothing, no one looked after me or protected me and I thought it couldn’t get any worse. But then it did. All I wanted to do when Hendri died was to jump into the river after him.” She looks suddenly tearful. “It was a terrible time. I wanted to die.”

    Given these desperate feelings, why didn’t she follow him? “These two dragonflies suddenly settled on my arm and it was as if Hendri was giving me a hug. I knew that he wouldn’t just give up. He believed we should live life to the full. Every day should count.”

    Some months later, the idea came to her to cycle round the world. “I had barely cycled and I was turning 30. Everyone thought I was mad but I knew it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t that fit. I drank like a fish, but I was in grief and I couldn’t think of any other way to get rid of it than to try and outrun it.”

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  99. So in 2011 with only a bike little money no real route or even the right footwear, Buhring set off to cycle 18,000 miles. It took 152 days, during which she was chased by dogs, attacked by magpies and nearly buzzed off the road by huge trucks, while living off the kindness of strangers. It was an act of sheer madness, she admits, “but I had nothing to live for, so it didn’t bother me that I might die.

    “Hendri was with me the whole way, but my emotional journey did progress from feeling raw and unhinged to seeing that life is great and humanity is wonderful. I got my faith back little by little.”

    Still, Buhring says, she finds it hard to feel she belongs anywhere. “I am never sure where home is.” So she has filled her life by competing in challenging races, the next of which will be the Race Across America.

    I ask her whether or not to partake in such gruelling events is a way of escaping the past. Is she a sort of cycling Forrest Gump, needing to keep pushing herself to prove that she, Juliana Buhring, actually exists?

    “There is some truth in that. It’s a way of escaping everything. It is the one place where I am in the moment and everything is still. There are no worries, no concerns. I can’t even feel the physical pain. I am amazed how my brain can override my body. My brain is the computer and it tells my body to keep on going, so on I go!”

    I ask her if she sees her parents at all, both of whom were in the cult. Maybe she might find a sense of belonging with family members?

    “This is very difficult,” says Buhring. “The cult has now been disbanded, partially after our book came out and exposed what was going on. My mother has come full circle and she is now so sorry about everything.”

    Buhring says she has spent a long time puzzling over why her parents didn’t seem able to do anything to help her. “My mother was just almost reprogrammed,” she says. “They told her I was fine and she believed them. They sent her letters from me that were fake. They told her I was with my father when I wasn’t. They love-bomb you, then destroy you, then build you back up, until you cease to have any control or belief in your own thoughts. This is what happened to my mother. She knows that now and we are rebuilding our relationship.”

    It’s a different story with her father. He lives in the Far East with his present wife and some of Juliana’s other half-siblings. “I’d rather have nothing to do with him, but I care about my siblings, so I have to keep in touch.” She is scathing about her father. “He reneged on every role a father should do. He didn’t protect me or care about me. He just left me, and I don’t care if he was brainwashed. It is over now and the cult has been exposed, yet he refuses to believe any of it, any of the stories I have told him. He would not read the book. He thinks I am evil, possessed by devils, that sort of thing.”

    Part of her motivation to cycle is that she is raising money for Safe Passage, a charity that helps escapees from cults to adjust to the world outside. “Lots of ex-cult kids find it hard to adjust and this charity helps them ease back in to the outside world,” Buhring says.

    So now she needs to go back to Italy to train for her next race - and to see her boyfriend, Vito.

    “Yes,” she says, blushing. “I have met someone. It was unexpected and it was right and deep and everything to me.” Is he, I ask, a cyclist?

    “Oh yes!” she says, rolling her eyes. “How could he not be?"- This Road I Ride by Juliana Buhring is published by Piaktus.



    The Guardian NOVEMBER 27, 2016

    Q&A with Lauren Hough - Interview by Ursula Kenny

    Hough, 39, was born in West Berlin and brought up in the Family, founded by David Berg in 1968 in California and originally known as the Children of God.

    Where do you live now?
    In Austin, Texas. I’ve only been here a couple of months. I sold my house in Washington DC last year and I’ve been travelling in my camper. A couple of months in Portland, Oregon and Berlin and now I’m here. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously, but I’ve rented a house in Santa Fe and I’m moving there in a couple of weeks.

    You moved around a lot with the Family?
    We travelled around in campers, caravans, lived in tents. We moved to Chile for a couple of years when I was four. Japan for a few years too, then Switzerland and then Germany.

    It must have been quite something when you left.
    Oh God, yes. I was done. I just couldn’t figure out how to leave on my own. I would think about it… do I run to the embassy? How can I get my passport? Then one day Mom just told us to pack. There was absolute relief and absolute terror – we stayed in Munich for a couple of weeks and my brother and I were convinced we were going back in. But we didn’t. My grandmother took us into her little house in west Texas.

    What made your mother decide to leave?
    Mom was worried that we’d had absolutely no education and that she couldn’t protect me. My stepdad was just frustrated that they were never going to make him a leader.

    Why did your parents join the Family?
    My mom was upset about the Vietnam war. She was a hippy, protesting and everything else, and here were people who were actually doing something – dropping out, leaving society, following Jesus. The way she saw it was, yeah, a great, utopian thing. She met my father and he was there for much the same reason. He was travelling around so he wouldn’t get a draft card. My mom doesn’t talk about the Family and I don’t ask her about it. We’re close, but only so much. I only recently talked to my dad about it [Hough’s parents split up when she was 7]. We’re close now. We weren’t always.

    You don’t blame them for what happened?
    Well, I know what an idiot I was when I was 19, the age they were when they joined. It’s kinda hard to hold it against someone.

    How have you felt since coming out? Have you had a lot of therapy?
    Not so much and most of it wasn’t so helpful. I’ve had therapists cry and hug me and it was really strange. They just don’t really know what to do with it. I mean, I still hide things. I still have nightmares, I can’t deal with crowds. I will always feel kind of separate. For a long time, I just didn’t really have friends. In high school, I had no idea how to talk to people. I didn’t understand cultural references. Ninety per cent of conversations are: “Hey, do you remember that episode of Seinfeld?” and shit. And I was weird, I was just awkward. I read everything I could get my hands on. It’s just what I did, I hid in books.

    Which books particularly?
    On the Road: the book that made me want to write. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. The Glass Castle [by Jeannette Walls] – reading this, I realised you could take a terrible thing, that bad thing in every memoir, and make it worth reading. There’s no self-pity in it.

    Do you know what has become of the so-called “Shepherds”?
    Oh, God… thank God, no. “Uncle Stephan” – the last anyone saw he was holding a cardboard “The End Is Near” sign in Amsterdam. I mean, some of these people are my friends’ parents. We’ve all reconnected through Facebook. But… I stay away from the subject of whose parents did what to whom and I will meet them but not their parents. There’s a very clear line drawn between who we associate with.

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  101. Second generation people versus the people who joined. We have our secret Facebook groups where we can talk. We kind of provide our own free therapy.

    What’s next?
    I’d like to write more. I don’t know if I can support myself doing this but I’m working on a book – a memoir trying to put it all together.

    The Shepherds by Lauren Hough first appeared in Granta 137 (£12.99). To order a copy for £10.65 go to or call 0330 333 6846

    (Excerpt) by LAUREN HOUGH

    Do you remember me?” she asks, as a hopeful smile spreads on her face, like she’s trying to tease the right answer out of me. We’re not children any more. We’ve left. Some of us left with our families, some with our friends and some alone. Now we’re living in this other world where we keep having to explain – why we lived in so many countries, why our accents change when we talk to strangers, why we didn’t go to school, why we can’t sleep. But to one another, to those of us who grew up like me in the Family, we don’t have to explain.

    Yet on message boards, on Facebook, and now, outside a coffee shop on South Congress in Austin, Texas, this same question – “Do you remember me?” – comes up over and over. It’s usually followed by the volley of questions we’ve tested to figure out who we were then.

    “What was your name? Who were your parents? Were you in Osaka? Switzerland?”

    Part of the problem with growing up in something so secluded as a cult is that our pasts are so unbelievable we need a witness for our own memory. And so we seek out those who remember.

    When I met Ruthie, I was crossing the country in a tiny Winnebago because this is the sort of brilliant idea you get when you can’t sleep.

    My trip stalled in Austin with a broken clutch, so I sent out a message on a board for cult babies: “Anyone here?”

    Ruthie responded and I invited her for coffee. I didn’t need to figure out who this woman was, I knew. She was a frazzled German with an American accent who clutched her coffee, her fingers worn ragged. Those calluses and scars were a by-product of what our parents would call home-schooling, but whose curriculum was heavy on diaper-changing, cooking and the words of our prophet. With its lack of anything that might be considered a real education, some of us have difficulty finding work that doesn’t make our hands bleed.

    We were 13 the last time Ruthie and I saw each other. Her name was Faithy back then and I wasn’t allowed to talk to her. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone, because the last time I saw her we were both still in the Family and we were in serious trouble.

    We lived in a huge, 10-bedroom chalet in Switzerland which had once been a quaint bed and breakfast. If it weren’t for the Family’s avoidance of even basic upkeep, it would have been like something you’d see on a postcard. Our window boxes were filled with rotting memories of carnations, the roof leaked and the floors sagged under the weight of all the people they supported. We’d managed to cram nearly 70 of us into this particular home. Its one virtue was that it was close enough to the American military bases in Germany that we could pick up Armed Forces Radio. That was important, because I had a radio.

    One night, a home shepherd called Auntie Mercy shook my shoulder to wake me. My first thought was that the Romans were at the door. Romans were cops and we practised constantly for when they made their inevitable raid on our home. As Auntie Mercy put a finger to her lips to shush me, I looked around and saw that the other kids were still asleep. This was not a good sign. I followed her out on to the landing in my undershirt and panties because when a home shepherd summons you, you don’t stop to get dressed. She didn’t say a word, only turned, and I followed her down the stairs.

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  102. The other home shepherds were in the dining room along with the shepherd for my age group, Uncle Stephan, who waved his weirdly hairless arm at me and said: “Have a seat, sweetie.” When a word like sweetie, so innocent and saccharine, slips out of the wrong mouth, you’ll wish you were wearing pants. I sat in the chair facing them, and rubbed my eyes, acting sleepy to buy time, like staring down a gun and pleading for a cigarette.

    “Should we pray?” asked Auntie Mercy. We held hands, mine clammy, and we prayed as I flicked a hardened, yellow grain of overboiled rice with my toe. The eels began to turn in my stomach as I waited for the inevitable next line.

    “Do you have anything to tell us?”

    I started small with the confessions. I’d played this game before. “I haven’t been putting my heart into my chores,” I said. If I got it right on the first guess, they’d just keep digging for more. I would give them anything. I would have to. But I wasn’t giving up my radio.

    One thing most cults have in common is that you have to give up everything to join. In that home, and every other home I’d lived in, there was a pile somewhere of random items someone had given up to follow Jesus. If Grandma or Aunt Nancy sends you a package, that goes in the pile too. Occasionally, all this crap is divvied out to those who need the supplies, or those with enough pull to get something they want. When I had been tasked to clean up the pile, I found the radio.

    Faithy caught me listening the first night. She slept below me, in the middle bunk of the triple-decker. I was up top. Wherever we went, the bunks were built out of two-by-four and plywood. The mattresses were bare foam, but weren’t too bad. The foam was easy to cut into if you wanted to hide something – hard-boiled eggs, a book, a corner of a chocolate bar, or even a radio. Faithy and I hadn’t talked much because I had been on silence restriction and not allowed to speak to anyone but a shepherd.

    Silence restriction and sign-wearing were the newest tactics in arbitrarily inflicted punishment. Silence restriction is pretty simple to understand. Then we wore signs around our necks made of cardboard or plywood with catchy slogans like “Silence restriction” or “I need to count my blessings” or “Please remind me to smile” – that last was being worn by an eight-year-old whose desire to smile remained unchanged. Punishments came and went like any other fad in the outside world but favourite methods included writing essays, memorising chapters of the Bible, a paper-clip daisy chain wrapped around your head and then hooked to each cheek to force a smile, running laps around a driveway, pointless manual labour, isolation, public beatings, bread-and-water diets. These, usually in some combination, could last days or months and there was no way to tell which way it would go.

    Faithy was new to our home, louder than the rest of us had learned to be, and she had more than one pair of socks, a sign she’d been living in smaller homes where kids get things like socks. I met her the night I accidentally pulled out the headphone cord from the radio and she heard the static from the little built-in speaker. From that night on, when we were pretty sure no one else would check on us, she’d climb into my bunk. I snapped the plastic band attaching the earpieces, we’d each take one and huddle together under my blanket to listen.

    Since it was my radio, I got to choose between our only two English music stations. And for a few hours each night, we experienced a whole new world.

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  103. The Family produced their own music but their songs weren’t about love or loss or pain. Family songs praised Jesus, or our prophet, or the Family itself. The radio brought music and words that made us feel hope and loss. I could live another life in the radio’s music, another life where I wasn’t so afraid of everyone. Sometimes we’d hear the Cure or the Smiths. I loved the angst-ridden, painful voices I didn’t understand but felt pouring into me. Faithy wasn’t as enthralled. She liked Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson. We’d tap our toes against the footboard until we remembered that we weren’t alone, and stopped for fear of waking up the kid in the bottom bunk.

    Our secret created a bond and we started talking during the day.

    We talked about places we’d been and told stories from before, when the cult had been just hippies, travelling in caravans and living in camp grounds, and we remembered being happy. There wasn’t much else to talk about. She saw and did everything I saw and did. She was good at remembering movies and as she’d lived in some of the more liberal homes, she’d seen more than I had. She’d tell me the movies, scene by scene and sometimes line by line, like they were stories.

    I hadn’t made many friends, or at least didn’t keep them. I was in trouble a lot and few of the children around me were stupid or brave enough to be friends with someone on the shepherds’ radar. Friends in the Family were a liability, but now I had a friend, or something close to it, and I liked having someone to talk to.

    Then a few weeks into our nightly listening party, Auntie Mercy caught Faithy in my bed. We’d accidentally fallen asleep. Auntie Mercy didn’t see the radio, but she told us she’d better not catch us again. When she didn’t say anything to us the next day, we thought she’d let the infraction slide. If she had, it would have been the first and last time she’d shown anyone mercy. I didn’t know her well enough yet to fear her as I should have.

    “What else?” asked Uncle Stephan. His eyes were cold and blue and he had this German accent, which was perfect, really.

    I had tried to avoid him, but avoiding him was impossible. I hadn’t seen any Nazi movies or I might have known that he fitted the mould, like a caricature. His eyes terrified me.

    Despite only wearing a thin undershirt, I wasn’t cold. Still, I folded my arms over my chest and shivered.

    “I was foolish. I told some jokes I know,” I said.

    “What else?”

    After the first hour, I ran out of things to confess. I was tired and confused. I stopped talking. I didn’t know what they wanted. I closed my eyes and I was quiet when I heard his boots on the tiled floor.

    Uncle Stephan always wore boots in the house. No one else ever did.

    Grandpa didn’t like wearing shoes indoors because shoes dragged filth inside and evil spirits could hitchhike on shoes and clothing.

    Grandpa was David Berg, the founder of the Family. The adults called him Dad, which was as confusing as it sounds. In another reality, another time, he’d have been locked up in an institution. In my reality and time, he founded a cult.

    I felt Uncle Stephan’s breath on my face for a moment. Then he slapped me hard across the face. I heard the shepherds praying for me again, or maybe they were praying against me. I felt my lip with my tongue and tasted blood. I didn’t know where my parents were or if they knew what was happening. I didn’t dare ask.

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  104. I opened my eyes and met his across from me. I hated him.

    Uncle Stephan had already put me on silence restriction for a month. I’d only recently been allowed to talk again. We hadn’t seen a movie all year because we weren’t “following the spirit”. It’s not like we ever watched anything but musicals anyway, but those were better than the nothing we had now. He liked public punishments. And he used a bamboo cane he carried around with him. Spanking wasn’t anything unusual, but his cane, which broke skin, only happened behind closed doors. Most of the time they just used a belt or a paddle.

    So I stared at his eyes and I didn’t blink and I wanted him to see I wasn’t crying. I knew he’d break me. They hadn’t broken me yet but it was inevitable. All I wanted in that moment was for Uncle Stephan to know that breaking me wouldn’t be easy. I looked above Uncle Stephan’s head and saw a poster of Jesus. This wasn’t the blond, friendly Jesus.

    This Jesus was coming down from heaven on a horse, surrounded by the flames of a burning Earth.

    If the shepherds had watched any cop shows before they dropped out to follow Jesus, they would have known the proper way to do an interrogation. While I sat in the dining room and tried to figure out what the shepherds wanted from me, Faithy was in the shepherds’ office upstairs and probably wondering the same thing. They didn’t know they were supposed to tell me Faithy was upstairs and I should tell them everything before she cut a deal. But then again, there were no deals in the Family. Confession, while possibly good for the soul, was not good for my immediate future.

    I couldn’t think of any more small crimes. So I just started making shit up.

    “I took some apricots from the pantry.”


    “I was hungry and there were lots so I thought it was OK.”

    “What else?”

    “I murmured about having to watch the kids instead of going postering last Saturday.” That was a lie, but a lie that might work in my favour. I liked taking care of the little kids. Plus, my mom was in charge of them so being assigned to help with the little kids meant spending the day with her while most of the home was out raising money by selling posters or knocking on doors and asking for donations.

    “What else?”

    Six hours later, the sun was up and I could hear the home stirring upstairs. The kids assigned to make breakfast walked around the circle of shepherds and me. The kids looked straight ahead as they passed. There was a time when I might have felt humiliated. But we were used to public punishments now so I didn’t mind them seeing me. We’d all been in this chair at some point. Those who hadn’t knew it was only a matter of time.

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  105. The shepherds either had what they wanted from me or gave up trying. Auntie Mercy wanted to pray again. This time I had to hold their hands and the words she prayed told me this was just the beginning of my ordeal.

    A few weeks later, still in the attic where they’d decided to store problem kids like me, where we’d read the insane ramblings of our drunken prophet, where they expected us to report every thought that passed through our heads, where the beatings happened daily, I broke. It sounds more like a sigh than the shattering you feel in your soul. I remembered how it didn’t hurt when I broke, how it was easier after.

    The Romans came that night. But they were too late. Someone tipped off a reporter at the local newspaper, who tipped off the home shepherds. Before the sun rose, we quietly crammed ourselves into vans, kept our heads below the windows, and our shepherds drove us to the next home.

    Faithy didn’t come to the new home and I knew better than to ask where she’d gone. And now, this woman named Ruthie, with Faithy’s face and voice, was asking me about the radio. “Did they ever find it?”

    “You didn’t rat me out,” I say. No, they never found the radio.

    “But then why did you get in so much more trouble than I did?” she asks.

    “I wondered about that for years. But you know how it goes, you just stop thinking about it. Then one day, I was telling my girlfriend about the radio and I finally figured it out. They thought I was gay.”

    “Goddammit,” she says, smacking the table. The pearl snap-shirted Austinites stop to stare at the interruption of their peace. We both smile at the three Family sins she’s just committed – drawing attention, unwomanly loudness, and the greatest and least forgivable, taking the Lord’s name in vain. “How much did that suck?”

    I laugh and shake my head and say: “Fuckers.”

    This is the shorthand we speak because she knows, without me having to tell her, how hard it was to give them that one thing. To know they were right, even if only once. But at 13, I wasn’t yet a lesbian, or anyway I didn’t know it. Back then I was just an awkward tomboy.

    She shows me pictures of her husband, her kids. I show her pictures of my dog. We talk all afternoon. She says she’s doing all right. Maybe we’re both grading on a curve, but I tell her I am too.

    And we don’t have to explain. We remember.

    The Shepherds by Lauren Hough first appeared in Granta 137 (£12.99). To order a copy for £10.65 go to or call 0330 333 6846

  106. International Journal of Cultic Studies Vol 6 2015 pp 102-105

    The Children of God - There Is Life After the Cult

    By Faye Thomas, MDiv

    Reviewed by Cynthia Kunsman

    Houston, TX: Strategic Book Publishing and Rights. 2013. ISBN-10: 1608605280; ISBN-13: 978-1608605286 (paperback), $16.99 ($15.29, 258 pages.

    Faye Thomas offers us a glimpse into the stages of recruitment into the Children of God (CoG) and the difficulties that she faced during her recovery process. However, not unlike the misconception many Evangelical Christians hold, the author seems to presume that a mature Christian orthopraxy and sound doctrine make one impervious to cultic influence.

    I found the author to be an endearing character in the well-written narrative, which depicts the all-too-familiar experience within a high-demand group. (A rudimentary knowledge of Spanish will help the reader because the author uses simple phrases that are not translated directly in the text. These phrases add character to the work, but they can be distracting to those who are unfamiliar with the language. I didn’t locate the appendix, which included translations of the Spanish phrases in the text, until after I had finished the book.)

    Along with stressing the often-denied message that all young people share a vulnerability to cults, the author chronicles her transition back into mainstream life and a return to her religious roots. She also notes that recovery, which she processed primarily from a religious standpoint, proved to be a more difficult process for her than surviving within the cult itself. The book chronicles the potential pitfalls when one is searching for a healthy belief system after having exited a thought-reform group. One of those pitfalls can include one’s lack of objectivity regarding the spiritually abusive nature of new spiritual transitions and interests.

    The Memoir

    Faye Thomas provides us with a window into her world as a college student in the late 1970s as a business major who receives a scholarship to complete her junior year in Spain. Schiller International University’s small Madrid campus offers American students the benefit of solidifying their Spanish language skills via immersion in the culture. In August of 1977, the 20-year-old embarks upon a host of immediate challenges common to relocating in a foreign country, including the unanticipated reaction of the nationals to her appearance. She finds herself alone as an African American; and the Africans whom she does encounter in Madrid come from cultures and belief systems that are often equally foreign to her.

    While visiting a cafe that is featuring a group of singers, she encounters a handsome, English-speaking, CoG missionary named Daniel. Her eager new friend quickly develops into her love interest; and when she is pressured to make a quick decision, she accepts his invitation to join him at the “Paris colony” for the Christmas holiday. Although disappointed when he returns to Spain just after she arrives in Paris, she decides to enjoy the opportunity of the visit. Within a few days, she acquiesces to 2 years of full-time service in the CoG and abandons her scholarship. Daniel had suggested to her early in their relationship that her stress was not a normal response to so many life changes, but was rather a spiritual sign that God was calling her to join the group. She also considered that joining would advance their personal relationship.

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  107. Her colony gives her the new name of Joy as she completes her indoctrination period in Paris. When finally permitted to visit Daniel’s colony in Madrid, she finds him to be distant and observes him courting another potential convert. Upon her return to France, an African member named Eli consoles Joy with earnest romantic interests, which grow into a marriage proposal. When Eli asks her to elope to marry, which would require leaving the group, the devoted Joy stands on her convictions to remain faithful to leader Moses David. She continues to follow the Mo Letters, the infallible writings of the group’s prophet that dictate imperatives for members worldwide, because she believes that she will eventually be “overtaken” by God’s joy for her perseverance.

    Joy moves from colony to colony in both Europe and Latin America during her 2 years with the CoG. The group enlists her to establish a new colony in Geneva that is solely devoted to Flirty Fishing (abbreviated FFing)—the sexual seduction of potential converts as a recruitment technique. Her moral discomfort with FFing grows from discussions with Eli in Paris into a theme that carries throughout her experience in the group. She notes the cognitive dissonance arising from the conflict of the Mo Letters with her prior religious training, observes the marital strife that FFing causes for several married couples, and soon is unfit for FFing when she becomes pregnant. She delivers a healthy son in July of 1979 and eventually finds a reasonably good living situation for herself as a single mother within a colony in Curacao.

    As the end of her 2-year commitment to the CoG approaches, Faye/Joy’s sister locates her after the untimely death of their brother. Her family had already been searching for her, fearful that she may have died in 1978 during the tragedy at Jim Jones’s compound in Guyana. A potential recruit, who declines joining the cult, secretly helps her set up a private post-office box to maintain family contact. Concurrent with another death in the author’s family in the United States, the tone and content of the Mo Letters become increasingly surreal to her. When the letters start discussing the benefits of the sexual fondling of children by adults and of homosexuality, she decides to leave.

    Along with the help of Eli, the former member of the colony in France who had once proposed to Joy, her sister plans her escape. In the middle of the night on the planned date in May 1980, she collects her babe and the plane ticket that her sister had sent to her Curacao post-office box. Within hours, the 22-year old sits with her 10-month-old child on her lap in a plane bound for Chicago.

    Eli and another former member who becomes her roommate help her reclaim her critical-thinking skills as together they examine the false teachings of the CoG. As also is true of the narrative of her CoG experience, which documents the all-too-common elements of life in a high-demand group, the author chronicles the painful process of starting over and the deep grief that accompanies it. She recounts the collateral damage that both her cult experience and her recovery process inflict on her relationships as she builds her new life.

    I found the reception and care extended to the author by loved ones and her religious community to be very encouraging. (Evangelical Christians can revictimize former members because of the negative stigma of cults, but the author found much support.) She eventually completes a BA degree in business management and earns an MDiv degree at Wesley Theological Seminary. Reverend Faye Thomas now pastors both Church on the Hill, which she established in Washington, DC, and her urban outreach parachurch organization called the National Network of Christian Men and Women. Late chapters in the book detail the projects and the political and social goals of her parachurch endeavors.

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  108. The Message

    Midway through the memoir portion of the book (soon after she is separated from Eli), the author includes a chapter entitled The Struggle Within, in which she explains why she believes she remained in the group. As a reviewer who shares a religious background that is quite similar to the author’s, I quickly recognized the concepts and theology of the Word of Faith (WoF) movement that she cites in this chapter. WoF deviates from core, theological Christian orthodoxy and focuses on positive confession as a means of achieving perfect, divine health. Pentecostalism, which is generally accepted as within the pale of Christian orthodoxy, grew out of late-19th-century revivalism as something of a theological innovation or renewal movement among Evangelical Christians. Pentacostalism is notably recognized by its practice of speaking in foreign tongues. Today, the movement also often is associated with prosperity teachings that promise adherents monetary wealth.

    At first, I didn’t find the WoF authors quoted in this interim chapter to be all that unusual, considering the author’s precult traditions and culture. Intimately familiar with the sources and with some experience with the urban church culture in the DC area, I was comfortable with the nature of the specific quotes because they were applicable and positive. The author couched her involvement in the CoG in Christian terms that associated thought reform with her own error—a willful choice of carnality, fueled by confirmation bias: “Since the flesh is always at enmity with God, the cult is a door to release sin and the lust of the flesh” (p. 109). With its position at the book’s midpoint, I considered that this section likely noted a chronological record of the author’s own thought processes at the time, long before she exited the group.

    I believe that both the author’s use of and reliance on the writings of the charismatic leaders of the WoF movement for guidance out of CoG, and her current theological stance point to her unwitting grooming and preparation by one movement for the appeal of and manipulation within another. Her return to language of her precult and early church experience likely provided comfort, but it could be interpreted as an example of the long-term influence of all high-demand groups and the greater difficulty in leaving them compared to the difficulty in remaining a member.

    I identify personally with this very experience because I prepared to walk away from a 4-year Shepherding/Discipleship experience in the Baltimore/Washington corridor. I relied heavily upon WoF sources for confidence to exit. Empathizing with the author, I found that the painful process of confronting the short experience of obvious abuse in a group known to my exit counselor came far more easily than my later, deliberate choice to dig deeper into the more insidious spiritual abuse within WoF theology. The latter heralded a profoundly personal existential crisis. I then looked inside the abyss of my own personal deficiencies that made me particularly vulnerable to manipulation. Seventeen years after my exit, I still find myself peeling away layers of the experience as a part of my ongoing personal and spiritual growth. The author bravely begins this difficult process and notes aspects of it in this chronological, interim chapter in the memoir section.

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  109. Having concluded the personal history portion of the book in a similar approach to that which Deborah Davis employed in her contributions to seminal writing about the CoG (1984), the author then expounds upon her thesis that her youth and spiritual immaturity as a Christian made her vulnerable to cultic influence. Quoting Enroth and Melton’s Why Cults Succeed Where the Church Fails (1985), she applies several of their concepts in her conclusion. Ultimately, however, her thesis favors a spiritualized “demand for purity” view without a critical discussion of thought reform itself.

    In a section focused on and entitled the Lure of Cults, the author explains the factors that cults exploit with young adults for the purpose of recruitment and retention. She notes that a desire for greater self-awareness, promised by the cult, results in the paradoxical relinquishing of one’s individuality to the cult. In addition to the appeal of “dropping out” of society and the “freedom of sexual expression” allegedly afforded by the CoG, she cites the pressure of shared financial responsibility borne by all members as a potent retention tool (pp. 174–180). The author quotes Enroth’s claim that 90% of recruits leave within 2 years (Enroth, 1985, p. 54) and identifies this with her own 2-year experience. She attributes to a spiritual cause Enroth’s observation that Christians often rejoin other destructive cults after they exit Bible-based cults; the cause she offers is rejection of Christ’s Lordship, which is then compounded by the lack of Christian resources for former cultists. For the Christian, “the unadulterated Word of God,” in concert with the support of family and friends, provide the best solace after one exits a group.

    Evangelical readers may find disappointment in the author’s continued praise of additional WoF ministries and individuals as helpful and healthy resources for Christians in recovery. Her list of cited authors includes Ken Hagin, the Copelands, Fred Price, and Francis McNutt, among others. She also documents the ministry commission that she received through a personal prophecy from Cindy Jacobs (p. 207), a particularly controversial individual who is noted for the spiritual “deliverance”/exorcisms she conducts (Cindy Jacobs, 2003). The author describes her further investment in WoF in the early 1990s through her development of coursework in the theology of the Pentecostal movement, spiritual gifts, and healing ministry—principles that she advances in the church for which she now serves as pastor. From a thought-reform perspective, the author has unfortunately escaped a very devastating cult to heavily invest herself in a different belief system that is considered within Christian, countercult apologetics circles to be theologically aberrant, albeit less destructive (McConnell, 1988; Positive Confession, 2012; Tillin, 1999).

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  110. Although she cites ideologues from the E. W. Kenyon school of WoF, the author does not acknowledge the influence of theosophy and New Thought Christianity on the movement (McConnell, 1988). Most Pentecostals and Charismatics know nothing of Phineas P. Quimby, a late-19th-century philosopher trained in the European-style of mesmerism, who explored medical applications of hypnosis as a modality for healing (Quimby, 2008). Quimby’s notable student, Mary Baker Eddy, sought his help for a host of somatic illnesses. Eddy adopted many of his ideas and incorporated them into her tradition of Christian Science—a charge she staunchly denied, despite the concurrence of her work with Quimby’s writings published posthumously (Eddy, 1912, Quimby 2008). E. W. Kenyon found much merit in Eddy’s Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, and then essentially sanitized and supplemented it to conform to Evangelical Fundamentalist doctrinal standards (Barron, 1987; Kenyon, 1969; McConnell, 1988).


    Although I find so many elements of this memoir to be an inspiring and insightful chronicle of recruitment into, devoted service within, and exit from a high-demand group, I attribute it as an unfinished saga. The author’s detailed and sometimes tedious account of personal recovery demonstrates well the stages of recovery from cultic involvement, but her embrace of WoF theology suggests that she has not yet fully stepped into true freedom from thought reform and the magical thinking of the Kenyon school of faith healing. Although I don’t believe that her experience can be recommended to Evangelicals who are emerging from thought-reform programs, it unfortunately is not at all uncommon within Evangelical circles. It serves as an account of cult-hopping into a less damaging but familiar theological system. Perhaps the author, who overcame so much adversity, cultivated a meaningful life, and forged so many opportunities to help others, will one day tire of the demands of WoF. I hope to one day review another book by her that documents the completion of her saga and reflects full liberation from high-demand systems.


    A century of Christian Science healing. (1966). Boston, MA: Christian Science Publishing Society.

    Barron, B. (1987). The health and wealth gospel: What’s going on today in a movement that has shaped the faith of millions? Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

    Cindy Jacobs. (2003, October 1). Retrieved from http://

    Davis, D., & Davis, B. (1984). The Children of God: The inside story. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

    Eddy, M. (1912). Science and health. with key to the scriptures. Boston, MA: Allison V. Stewart.

    Enroth, R., & Melton, J. (1985). Why cults succeed where the church fails. Elgin, IL: Brethren Press.

    Kenyon, E. (1969). The two kinds of faith: Faith's secret revealed. (9th ed.). Lynnwood, WA: Kenyon’s Gospel Publishing Society.

    McConnell, D. (1988). A different gospel: A historical and biblical analysis of the modern faith movement. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

    Positive Confession. (2012, February 1). Retrieved from

    Quimby, P. (2008). The complete collected works of Dr. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: In order of subject matter. Manchester, CT: Seed of Life Publishing.

    Sargant, W. (1957). Battle for the mind: A physiology of conversion and brain-washing. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

    Tillin, T. (1999). Ten Reasons to Reject Word-of-Faith Teachings. Retrieved from

    International Journal of Cultic Studies ■ Vol. 6, 2015

  111. Abuse Of Minors and Apocalypse Predictions

    Words From A 'Children of God' Cult Survivor

    Movie Pilot, March 2, 2017

    By Jancy Richardson

    Cults & Conspiracies seeks to understand the evil that we do to each other and the psychological drives that inform those actions. Inspired by season 2 of Hulu's #ThePath, Cults & Conspiracies investigates how cults and radical ideologies work their dangerous magic on the unsuspecting.

    MP Super News's dark-leaning, inquisitive show has looked at the Jonestown Massacre and de-programming techniques, but this episode we're talking to Flor Edwards, a survivor of the Children of God cult (a.k.a. The Family International).

    The Children of God cult became famous for the bizarre teachings of leader David Berg, particularly those encouraging the sexual abuse of children and forced prostitution of young women (a technique to recruit new members known as 'Flirty Fishing'). Several celebrities escape the cult, including Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan.

    Cults & Conspiracies' guest for episode 5 is cult survivor Flor Edwards, who left the cult with her family at the age of 13.

    Life in the Children of God Cult

    Edwards explained that CoG leader David Berg never set out to make a cult: he was "a very interesting character" who was "responding to the political climate of the time." Berg's family were kicked out of the mainstream Christian church when his mother claimed a divine miracle saved her from her deathbed. Berg set up the Children of God to "give people a way to follow God without having to adhere to the traditional practices of the church," although his practices soon became much darker as he exerted complete control over his followers.

    What Did the Children of God Believe?

    Berg encouraged his followers to move away from "corrupted" Western society to South East Asia and South America. They were poor, idealistic, and convinced by their leader that the world would end in 1993.

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  112. When the foretold apocalypse didnt happen, Edwards says, Berg made a public apology to his flock, but said that God had granted them an extension for being good. Berg "believed that he was God's middle-man," which he used to promote his strange teachings:

    He had these free sexual beliefs, people had to have a sexual revolution and it needed to happen very young, believed adulthood began from 12... He had absolute power.

    Fortunately for Flor Edwards, the bad publicity from the cult's sexual abuse of minors meant that there were stricter rules in place when she was a child: she wasn't witness to sexual abuse but did see a lot of physical abuse: "they would punish us a lot."

    Was it a Shock for Ex-Members to Re-Join Society?

    The cult partially disbanded when Berg died in 1994, when the cult dispersed and abandoned the families with many children. Flor's parents didn't send the kids out into the world to fend for themselves, as many members did, following the kids' wishes to go to regular school. Despite the abuse, there was a sense of belonging and normalcy that felt good: the cult had its faults, but it was home for her whole life until that point.

    "Most of the adults had been outside of that culture for 25 years, they had no money, no education, no experience, and they had a lot of children.

    Edwards states that it was very difficult to re-adjust to a normal life after leaving the Children of God, stating that it was:

    "A little bit like dealing with a disability... it doesn't stop, even when time passes. There are always things you gotta keep re-learning"

    Edwards is remarkably forgiving of her experience, noting that her story is easier to for her to accept when life is going well, but becomes really hard when life gets harder. She is currently a writer, and has written a great deal on her life during and after the Children of God. Her writing has been a great help to other cult survivors.

    Next week we’ll be joined by a former member of the Buddhafield sect, the sexually motivated "alternative" community featured in the Oscar nominated documentary Holy Hell. Through our discussion we'll aim to gain a different perspective on the dramatic process involved in escaping the clutches of a cult.

  113. Life after a sex cult

    'If I’m not a member of this religion any more, then who am I?'

    Michael Young grew up immersed in the Children of God church, which was labelled as a sect by the FBI and dogged by child abuse allegations

    by Sophia Tewa, The Guardian 11 March 2017

    Of his eight siblings, Michael Young was the most zealous street missionary. As a child growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, he preached up to 10 hours a day, three to four days each week. He spoke to strangers on the streets and often went door-to-door. He’d ask them, in broken Spanish, if they wished to go to heaven. If they said yes, he would pray for them. If they said no, he would ask for at least a donation to The Family International, a church formerly known as the sex cult The Children of God.

    Young’s parents, devout American missionaries who moved to Mexico in 1998, told him that such work was his destiny and duty. The alternative was an afterlife spent in the slums of heaven, a place only slightly better than hell.

    When he was eight years old, in 2000, Young’s family moved to Texas and started their missionary work anew in mini-malls and Walmart parking lots, handing out theological tracts about the imminent apocalypse that would soon wipe out the unbelievers.

    Young says he was happy. “I was spiritual in a way that was kind of very obsessive and very determined,” he says.

    But Young was unaware that his parents’ church was labelled as a sect by the FBI and hounded by child abuse allegations. In a 1974 report, The New York attorney general’s office had also called the Children of God a “cult”. The group’s practices drew investigations from the FBI and Interpol, which were on the hunt for its leader, David Berg. One anonymous informant spoke of rape, incarceration, kidnapping and incest inside the group.

    The investigations ended in 1994, with Berg’s death. But in 2009, the organization started to crumble. The church disintegrated and Young was suddenly forced to forge himself a new life, along with thousands of other isolated missionaries who had to assimilate into a society that they had long rejected.

    The Children of God started in 1968 as a small group of runaway teens and hippies who, under the direction of Berg, a charismatic evangelical preacher, devoted themselves to the worship of Jesus Christ and promiscuous sex, according to the New York attorney general’s office.

    The report documented Berg’s proclivity for incest and witnesses testified that child rape was used as an excuse to “increase the tribe”, leading to many pregnancies in various communes.

    “A 14-year-old runaway who spent nine days at a COG commune testified that she was raped and because of her refusal to cooperate with the elders, was held in solitary confinement on no less than three separate occasions,” the report states.

    The late actor River Phoenix, who grew up in the Children of God, told Details Magazine in 1991 that he was four when he first had sex while in the group.

    Young says he never personally experienced sexual abuse from members of the church, but witnessed it. “It definitely wasn’t a safe place to grow up, especially if you were a girl,” he says. “Close friends of mine growing up were abused and raped.”

    Berg’s philosophy, which he called the Law of Love, was a blend of Christian dogma and the free love ideals of the 1960s’ sexual revolution. To recruit new converts, he advocated that women of the church proposition men, which Berg’s daughter Deborah Davis described in her autobiography, The Children of God: The Inside Story, as a “world-wide prostitution network” that brought “dad unwanted publicity and attention from the law”.

    “The Law of Love is a doctrine that’s meant to justify and conceal sexual exploitation,” Young says. “It’s made to make other people feel obligated to give up their bodies to others’ so-called sexual needs. That your body is not your own –you’re supposed to give it up to God.”

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  114. Berg with his long white beard and apocalyptic visions, saw himself as the last prophet before Armageddon. His message was relatively simple, if not terribly original: God would soon be returning to Earth to hand down judgment. To avoid His wrath, Berg advised his followers, they should live an austere life and abandon all their possessions. And they did.

    The New York attorney general found an estimated 120 Children of God communes in 1974, many of whose members were required to surrender their personal belongings and money to leaders of local homes. More than three decades later, in 2006, there were over 1,400 communes in more than 100 countries, according to the group.

    Berg discouraged members from working and sending their children to school, according to interviews with 10 former members who were born in the group. The Children of God were to eschew the world. Members lived in large communes, typically with four or five families under one roof, as they waited for the impending apocalypse.

    The Children of God had communes in small and big cities as dispersed as Staten Island, Tucson and Coachella, the report shows. It recruited among disgruntled teenagers from school dropouts to draft dodgers, who would end up giving all their money to the group.

    Berg renamed his movement the Family of Love shortly after the mass suicide at Jonestown in 1978, which brought negative media attention to other fringe Christian sects. In 2004, the Family changed its name again to the Family International.

    “We were always fundraising for cash, using that cash to pay rent and then fundraising the next month so there was a lot of anxiety,” Young recalls. “We didn’t buy food from the grocery store, it was usually donated.” He’d spend much of his time teaching Bible courses and “the New Testament, where there would be the signs of the times and Jesus was coming back at the end of them”.

    But the apocalypse would never happen.


    In 1993, allegations of sexual abuse finally caught up with Berg. Interpol launched an investigation into Berg’s activities in Argentina and, according to documents obtained by the Guardian through a Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI was investigating him as well. Berg was on the run. He fled to Portugal, where he died in 1994. Karen Zerby, Berg’s widow, assumed leadership of the group, along with her new husband, Steve Kelly.

    Faced with growing disillusionment among members, Zerby and Kelly decided it was time for a change. In February 2009, they made the surprise announcement that the world would not be ending after all, at least not imminently.

    “It looks like they were just trying to stem the flow of members out of the movement,” says Laura Vance, a sociology professor at Warren Wilson College who studies the Family and other new religious movements. “They went in the direction of stricter enforcement of the rules first, and then when that didn’t work, within a few years, they went in the opposite direction.”

    In a series of letters to their followers, the two leaders admitted they really couldn’t be sure when Jesus would return, and that the Lord showed them that they needed to “set goals up to 30 years or even farther into the future”.

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  115. According to Family materials they told their followers that if Jesus wasn’t going to come earlier to take them to heaven, they needed to worry about financing the care of aged Family members and the future of their children.

    “The whole cult was built on the theory that the antichrist was coming so you didn’t have to save for retirement. You didn’t know how long you were going to live so nobody looked ahead,” says Angel Yamaguchi, a former member who was born in the group and left at the end of 2009. “They’ve left a bunch of people that they’ve damaged struggling to try and cope and find out ‘how do I move on?’”

    Over the next year, Zerby and Kelly told Family members that they weren’t required to live in communes or devote themselves entirely to the organization. Members were free to enroll their children in school or to find regular jobs, which had previously been known as “system jobs” held by “systemites”. They could seek relationships with nonbelievers, an activity they’d been told for decades was reprehensible.

    The proclamation came to be known as “the Reboot”. Zerby and Kelly framed it in terms of giving the group a fresh start. But to many members, it was devastating.

    “All of a sudden, we started thinking about the tomorrow,” says one missionary member who asked to be identified as Clara. When contacted by phone, she said she was trying to distance herself from the group and would only speak on condition of anonymity.

    Clara panicked when she realized that after two decades in the Family, she was ill-prepared to lead a normal life with her husband and four children. “Now I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of my life. I don’t regret our missionary work but I regret not having a proper education and being so restricted with what we chose to do with our lives.”

    The Family’s 15,000 members were free from the oppressive rules that dictated their lives. Communes were disbanded as dazed members began planning for the future, something completely foreign to Family members who grew up in isolation and thought that they’d never reach adulthood (because the world would end long before their 21st birthday).

    That was four years ago. Today, they’re adjusting to society and letting go of the strange beliefs that had dictated their lives since birth.

    “They started giving us more freedom to think about things and maybe ask questions without just trying to force ourselves to believe things,” Young says.


    In a series of phone conversations, Young told me how he struggled to leave the group. He said he grew disillusioned with the Family after the Reboot but he didn’t immediately turn away from the church. He studied the Bible from cover to cover in search of God’s meaning.

    “I was definitely still working through what I was supposed to do and why did I leave. And should I have left? And is Jesus real?” he says. “I was pretty freaked out and I had panic attacks where I thought I’m going to hell.”

    He couldn’t find a job, with no experience other than missionary work. But he was good at making balloons for kids and blew them up in restaurants in exchange for tips.

    Once, a hostess asked him out on a date at work. She bought a balloon, gave him a kiss and her number. They went home to her roommates and talked about video games and TV shows. “I was just paralyzed with not knowing how to say anything and just sitting around being weird,” Michael recalls. “I liked her a lot and I was really devastated because she never called me back after that.”

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  116. Dr Marlene Winell a psychologist who studies religious indoctrination, says it can take a long time for former members of cults or extreme religious groups to feel comfortable in their new reality.

    “It’s a common thing to feel like you have to adjust to the secular world because there are so many expectations and behavior patterns that you’re not familiar with,” says Winell. She says it can take them a long time to leave those groups, especially if they were born into them. “They also are reconstructing who they are. If I’m not a cult member or a member of this religion, then who am I?”

    More than a year and a half after leaving the Family, Young joined a community college honors program, which helped students get scholarships and transfer to a four-year college.

    “That was the first time that I felt like I had friends. We talked about art, music, dancing,” he says. “I felt instantly like I belonged with these people.”

    After the Reboot, many former missionaries landed where the movement originated four decades earlier. Clusters of the Family appeared in places like Houston, Texas, and San Diego, California, according to interviews with former members.


    Some younger members, like Martin Merour, 28, have kept one foot in the Family. Merour was very candid about his life in the Family and their unconventional beliefs.

    His family had sometimes discussed the Law of Love, Merour said by phone, and read some of the literature on the subject, but people mostly kept their sex lives private.

    “Because they’re not living communally, there are not as many opportunities to engage in sexual sharing,” says Vance. “So, in practice, it’s rare but it certainly is still allowed.”

    Martin spent most of his childhood on the outskirts of the Niger Delta in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where his French and German parents moved in 1997 to preach Berg’s gospel to the locals. The Reboot didn’t seem to affect the Merours who were far removed in the mission field. They stayed in Nigeria and continued on with their work. But most communes collapsed.

    “It was a bit disconcerting seeing that other branches were closing down or other people, even friends, were deciding that perhaps the missionary work was no longer for them,” he says. “You’re wondering if you’re going to be the only one left for a while.”

    Today, the Family counts only about 2,500 members in some 80 countries.

    In 2015, Martin moved to Berlin, Germany, discovering life outside the missionary world. He enrolled in a soccer club and went to school to learn German. Still a proud Family member, he sends a donation every month to the Family and remains fond of his childhood years in Nigeria. But he doesn’t know if he’ll go back to mission work anytime soon.

    “Ultimately, I still want to serve the Lord,” he says. “I’m just not sure how.”

    For Young, who recently started his master’s degree at Penn State University, there is nothing about the old days of the Family to be nostalgic about.

    “What I worried about the most when I left was, will I ever find friends, a girlfriend, fit in, a place where I belong,” he says. “I found people I connected with once I found people who shared my values and goals, rather than trying to fit in.”

    see photos at:

  117. Remembering River Phoenix

    New Book Revisits the Actor's Too-Short Life

    by BY SARAH FENSKE, LA Weekly OCTOBER 28, 2013

    If River Phoenix had survived that night at the Viper Room, he'd be 43. That's a sobering thought for any Gen X-er -- right up there with the fact that the swimming baby on the cover of Nevermind is now 22 and Eminem's daughter Hailie Jade is the homecoming queen. Somehow Hailie was always supposed to stay that little kid asking "Daddy what are you doing?" in "My Dad's Gone Crazy" -- and River Phoenix was always supposed to stay young and beautiful. His death at 23, triggered by a hastily gulped speedball in the wee hours of the morning of October 31, 1993, seems inevitable.

    But it wasn't. As Gavin Edwards details in his enormously compelling new biography of Phoenix and his era, Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind, the actor didn't take that speedball knowingly. "A guitarist friend" handed him a cup and told him, "Hey, Riv, drink this -- it'll make you feel fabulous." It didn't. Almost immediately he shouted, "What did you give me? What the fuck is in it?" Valium didn't help; soon Phoenix was vomiting on the table, and soon after that, he was convulsing on a Sunset Boulevard sidewalk.

    These days, you can find audio online of his brother Joaquin Phoenix's desperate 911 call, and even if you are the sort of looky-loo who's riveted by such horrible things, it will still break your heart. The ambulance rushed River Phoenix to Cedars-Sinai, but he'd already been in full cardiac arrest for 20 minutes. In less than an hour, he was pronounced dead.

    It's a terribly sad ending, and parts of his life weren't all that much happier. Born River Jude Bottom (say it without the middle name -- yikes) to a pair of well-meaning hippies, he grew up in the newly formed Children of God cult, which infamously encouraged both incest and adultery. "Children as young as three were encouraged to 'play' sexually with their parents and other adults," Edwards reports. "But even greater emphasis was put on the children stimulating each other; they could pair off for sexual exploration at night, after prayers but before bed."

    Phoenix later told Details magazine that he wished he'd waited longer to "make love" -- he was four when he first did so, he said, adding, "But I've blocked it out. I was completely celibate from ten to fourteen."

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  118. It was a peripatetic life in the cult - as Edwards tells it, River was born in a small Oregon town and lived in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela before he was of kindergarten age, with his parents doing their best to proselytize in each new place. Since the cult didn't provide for its missionaries, the five Phoenix children were tasked with begging for the family's bread.

    From there, it's perhaps not a huge step to becoming a child actor -- once the family left the cult and settled in Southern California, it still fell upon River to earn the money to support the family. He started busking with his siblings, then progressed to commercials, and finally, in 1982, as a 12-year-old, earned a spot in a new CBS series, an adaptation of the old movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. From there, it was on to a series of unforgettable performances -- Stand by Me, The Mosquito Coast, My Own Private Idaho.

    He was beautiful in a heart-stopping, James Dean sort of way, but more importantly, he had genuine talent. Some co-workers were appalled by his naivete. Home-schooled, and not in a particularly organized way, River worshipped his quirky dad but seemed to have no awareness of just how much he didn't know, Edwards reports. But he nevertheless had a quality that impressed everyone who worked with him.

    "One of the things that was most striking in researching this book is that almost everyone who met him was struck by how special he was," Edwards says. "He had a spark; he had a light." There is no mistaking what would have happened had he kicked his drug addiction, Edwards believes: "River would be one of the leading lights."

    Edwards never names the musician friend who handed Phoenix the drink containing that dissolved speedball. The family never took legal action, so "this person's identity is not a matter of public record," he tells the Weekly. "Given the situation, I didn't think it was my place to name him."

    Beyond that, the book makes it clear that, really, it doesn't matter whether Phoenix knew what was in the cup -- he'd have gulped it in anyway. He'd developed a serious drug problem, one that (despite his relatively clean reputation) had begun to affect his work, and in classic Hollywood fashion, everyone who should have confronted him had a vested interest in not pissing him off and thereby staying on the gravy train.

    It didn't help that he'd always been convinced of his own invincibility.

    "He was the guy who jumped off cliffs," Edwards says. That's what gave made him magic to Hollywood, and that's what made Gen X -- men and women alike -- swoon. But such hubris has consequences, and now we're left with his movies, and Edwards' devastating book about what was, and what might have been.

    see photos at:

  119. My Childhood in an Apocalyptic Cult

    by Flor Edwards, April 19, 2014

    A clandestine cult with twenty children to a room, no outside music, movies or books, and no contact beyond the compound. For the first fifteen years of my life, this was my normal.

    “Miss Edwards, do you have another shirt in your locker?” my second period Spanish teacher, Mrs. Buck, asked me on my first day of high school, making sure the whole class could clearly hear my dilemma.

    I looked down at my breasts, their little white mounds pushing up and slightly out of a shirt that was low-cut and tight-fitting, but not too provocative, at least I thought.

    Mrs. Buck’s orders to return to class the next day only if I had appropriate clothing came as a shock for two reasons: Firstly, I didn’t own a lot of clothes. Secondly, I grew up in a community where boys and girls spent a lot of time naked together. I did not understand the proper rules of dress code. Showing a little cleavage was no big deal to my teenage mind.

    All my life I had been taught that constantly moving was part of our family’s duty to God. I had lost count of how many places we had lived. I wanted to be normal, so I convinced my parents to let me enroll in Rowland High School, in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. Earlier that morning I had been thrilled to start classes. At fifteen years old, it was my first day at any school, anywhere, ever.

    On my way home I cried profusely for being ostracized for reasons I didn’t understand. I stopped at the local library, where I often went to read glossy women’s magazines. An issue of Seventeen caught my eye. I flipped through it. In a side bar, black bold letters read, “Did you grow up in a cult? Take this quiz and find out now.”

    I had heard the word “cult” when I was younger and had been trained to answer that, “No, I had not grown up in a cult” or “What’s a cult?” if anyone ever asked me.

    Intrigued, I flipped to the story. In a sidebar black bold letters read, “Did You Grow Up in a Cult? Take this quiz and find out now.”

    I stopped crying. Maybe there was a reason for my being ostracized. I turned to the quiz. I had to know the truth.

    First question: “Did you grow up in a secluded environment?”

    I thought about my early childhood in Thailand, before we moved back to the States. Every home I lived in there was required to have walls at least eight feet high, topped with loops of barbed wire or jagged glass sealed into the cement. The gates were boarded with plywood. I lived with my family and thirty to forty other people. I was told they were my “family in the Lord.”

    We called ourselves “The Children of God.” I wasn’t allowed to leave without permission. If I did, I would be banned from ever returning and doomed to eternal hell and condemnation in the afterlife. My parents and the other adults I lived with told me that I was allowed to leave, but if I did I’d be giving up my birthright as one of God’s 144,000 chosen and would forfeit my spot in heaven come the apocalypse in 1993.

    Were you under the influence of a charismatic leader?”

    I thought about David Brandt Berg. He lived in hiding. My parents followed him but were never allowed to see him. I never knew what he looked like. In photos he would white out his face and draw a picture of a lion head. He called himself “Father David,” but we kids were required to call him “Grandpa.”

    “Were you coerced to recruit members to your group?”

    I thought about the trips I’d go on, during which I was taught to tell people about Jesus and his love. We called it “witnessing.” These recruiting trips were the only times I could go beyond our compound.

    “Were you taught that the outside world was a forbidden place, and did you feel guilty for wanting to leave?”

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  120. The world outside was referred to as “the system.” It was a scary place filled with evil, corruption and devilish temptations and desires. Father David referred to anyone who was not part of the Children of God as “systemites.” He sent out comic books with illustrations of what these systemites looked like—ultra-cool boys with slicked-back hair and baggy pants, girls with dyed hair, dangling jewelry, painted fingernails and lots of make-up. They were lost and it was our job to save them. We were taught to be natural and wear our hair long with minimal fuss. Make-up and jewelry was forbidden. Boys kept their hair short and men were not allowed to grow facial hair. Father David shunned any attention to fashion or outer appearance. “Worldliness,” he called it, was a device of the Devil. I was told I was special because I was born into the Children of God. Over time, I learned to believe it.

    Until I picked up that issue of Seventeen, I thought we were just part of a religious missionary group with strict rules. I followed my family and trusted them.

    All of our lives, we had never been allowed to choose where to live, what clothes to wear or what food to eat. Everything had been decided for us.

    For the next few weeks after taking the Seventeen quiz, the words ran like a manta through my mind: Oh my God…I grew up in a cult…Where do I go from here?

    * * *

    The Children of God was founded on the shores of Huntington Beach, California, in 1968. David Berg was the youngest child of evangelist Virginia Lee Brandt and Hjalmer Berg. After several attempts at following his famous mother’s nationwide evangelical mission, Berg was kicked out of the Christian Missionary Alliance, a group his parents belonged to, for alleged sexual misconduct, although Berg claims he was expelled for trying to preach to Native Americans who came into the parish, as he put it, “dirty and barefoot,” eager to hear the gospel.

    Berg partnered up with Fred Jordan, a television evangelist and founder of the American Soul Clinic in Los Angeles, an organization dedicated to training missionaries for the foreign field. Together they promoted a television program called “Church in the Home,” which broadcast sermons to people’s homes via a weekly television program. Their partnership lasted for fifteen years. During that time, Berg developed a philosophy that any action was justified as long as it was done in the name of God’s work. This philosophy would be a founding principle of the Children of God.

    Berg, along with his wife and four children, began offering assistance to a small group called Teen Challenge at the Light Club, a Christian coffeehouse near the Huntington Beach pier. Soon they were running the mission full time, keeping it open and alive seven days a week with songs about Jesus and a message of the end times.

    The word “church” was never mentioned. Father David detested the church. His group of followers began to grow, as did his prophecies and revelations, which included apocalyptic visions, claims against the established church and a plethora of “laws” condoning sexual freedom.

    In the 1970s he began vigilant protests against the established church. His protests were called “Woe the Church Ministry” and members dressed in sackcloth, held thick wooden staves, smeared ashes on their foreheads and stormed into Sunday morning church sermons to warn the congregation of the end of the world.

    In a practice called “flirty-fishing,” Father David instructed the women to use sex to entice new members to the group and gather donations. He appointed a woman named Karen Zerby as his chosen prophetess. He called her his “first wife,” but he was known to sleep with any woman who had the privilege of meeting him. We learned to call Karen Zerby “Mama Maria.”

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  121. She headed the flirty-fishing movement, which, along with the Woe the Church Ministry, attracted attention from the media, often landing the Children of God on the front page of newspapers. As the group grew to hundreds and then thousands, it was time to organize, and according to Father David’s orders, flee from the western world that would be the first to burn in hell come God’s judgment and the apocalypse.

    * * *

    My mom was born and raised in Malmo, Sweden, to an alcoholic father and a harsh, distant mother. As a child her parents dropped her and her younger sister, Eva, off at a Lutheran church every week. Mom loved the sermons and excelled in church activities, eventually becoming a scout leader. In high school she became a full-time babysitter for one of her teachers, then quit her babysitting job to travel to Tunisia. As a young woman she was a traveler full of adventure. She told stories of traversing the Swedish slopes, getting caught in a blizzard while skiing and bravely crossing a narrow bridge swinging high above a Norwegian fjord.

    On her way to buy a ticket to Tunisia, Mom met Thomas, a member of the Children of God who she described as “having eyes that were full of light.” She said he was glowing with an aura she had never seen. He sat on a street corner strumming a guitar. She sat down next to him and he told her about Jesus. He invited her to come to their house that night for dinner. Fish soup was on the menu. Mom was a strict vegetarian.

    When she told them about her dietary restrictions, one of the members told her, “It’s O.K. Just put the fish on the side.”

    She was ready to either hear or deliver a lecture about conflicting dietary beliefs. To her surprise, they didn’t judge her for being vegetarian, nor did they try to convince her that she should change her habits. It was then, she said, that she felt an acceptance she had never felt before. She was part of a community. She had found her family. She dropped everything she had, including a fiancé back home in Sweden, to join the Children of God. She was just one of thousands to “forsake all” and follow Father David Berg.

    Shortly afterward, Mom and Dad met in Spain in 1978. Dad, a promising geology student, had dropped out of UC Davis two weeks before he would have graduated at the top of his class to follow his five older siblings into the Children of God. The McNally family lived across the street from him in South Pasadena and most of their kids also joined.

    When people ask me what compelled them to join, I think back to the times in which they were living: the 1960s. It was a time of protest, political turbulence and school rebellion. Baby boomers were coming of age, exploring sex and lowering their inhibitions. Hippies on the streets of California were looking for answers and Father David believed he had them. He incorporated the movements of the ’60s into his evangelical mission, even writing a letter called, “C’mon Ma! Burn Your Bra” and a series of letters on “revolutionary sex.” Father David believed that we could return humanity back to the Garden of Eden, the way God intended, a world of peace with humans living close to nature and serving God. He understood that the youth of the generation were ready to believe anything.

    Members were required to forsake all, cut off all ties with their families and devote their lives in service to the Lord. Father David was God’s mouthpiece and claimed to be his prophet. He offered young people the promise of freedom within the confines of his leadership. If there is such a thing as a modern-day prophet, Father David fit all the requirements. He had the charisma that would lead one of the most infamous cults of all time.

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  122. The Children of God outlasted most cults formed at that time. We kids had the burden to bear. It was our job to save the world and return the pagans, all other beings outside of the group, back to God’s natural state.

    My family’s move to Thailand in 1985 was based on a prophecy that Father David received. My family was living in Los Angeles at the time. One day Aunty Mary, who was also part of the Children of God, came running into the living room to tell us of the latest news Father David had received from God. Her hair was tied back in a little bun and she held a freshly printed magazine. She flipped through the pages and landed on a picture of a woman wearing the same spiky crown that rests atop the head of the Statue of Liberty. The woman’s legs were spread open wide and she was holding a globe of the world in one hand. In her other hand rested the fate of the world, symbolized by a handful of poverty-stricken, third-world folk at the mercy of her wrath. In between her legs were the Pentagon, the White House and other buildings representing lust, sloth and greed. Father David was ordering all of his followers to move out of western civilization. The west was evil, he’d say, and would be the first to burn in hell. He’d had a revelation from God that the world was going to end in 1993 and it was our job to warn everybody. We were part of the 144,000 with spots in heaven and we could take whoever was willing with us.

    * * *

    I missed the eighties entirely. I had a minimal education that included learning fractions and geography, reading portions of the King James Bible, and memorizing chapters upon chapters of scripture and reciting them on command. I was forbidden from reading outside books, watching movies, listening to music or talking to anyone outside of the group.

    Our days were spent taking care of the compound, raking leaves and caring for children who weren’t much younger than me. We were cut off completely from family and friends who were not part of the Children of God. I never knew my grandparents. We learned to call the adults in our community “Uncle” and “Aunty.”

    We woke up every morning at seven a.m. By 7:30 our rooms were immaculate and spotless, the bed sheets unwrinkled and firm. We slept in rooms sometimes filled with fifteen to twenty children on bunk beds, trundle beds and rollaway beds. One adult was assigned to watch us kids during the night. With little water supply and limited space, we kids showered communally and slept in tight quarters. Having to take our clothes off in the humid tropical afternoons or during nap time was not uncommon.

    After morning prayer, we gathered ourselves into neat rows and stood at attention, each line containing eight to twelve children determined by age. Mom had been giving birth to a new baby every year and was now pregnant with her eighth child. We stood shortest to tallest. I was usually somewhere in the back with my twin sister, Tamar, close behind. Our sister Mary Ann, who was older than us but a bit shorter, stood in front of me. I liked being sandwiched between my two sisters. We marched in single file, quoting a verse or shouting a quote in sync with our steps.

    Hup-two-three-four. God is not a fan of war.

    We marched like soldiers. We slept like soldiers. We stood like soldiers.

    On queue we’d file down the stairs and through the hall. We arrived at our designated tables for breakfast. We sat at our assigned seats and ate thick rice porridge or curdled powdered eggs and steamed rice sopped with soy sauce. The food was bland and tasteless. During lunch we slapped the slabs of boiled tofu under the table, where they stuck like gum or splattered to the floor. We balled up the rice in snowballs and had food fights when the adults weren’t looking, until someone got hauled off to the bathroom for a spanking and we all laughed like hyenas.

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  123. The Children of God had grown to include 12,000 members spread mostly across third-world countries, and an official campus was established in Japan called The Heavenly City School. It housed up to 300 members, consisted of multiple compounds spanning a whole block and was fully equipped with a studio where they produced religious tapes, posters and videos for distribution. In Thailand, we began distributing the media they produced for a suggested donation. Father David said that since we were on a mission to save the world, people would offer us gifts and we should accept them readily. Once some of the Thai aunties talked the colonel of Southern Thailand into letting us stay in his island property on Phuket for reduced rent. We enthusiastically agreed.

    * * *

    It was at this home in Phuket that I began to think about the reality of my situation. I was five years old and 1993 was just seven years away. I would be twelve when the world ended. Father David said we would be God’s martyrs. It was the price we had to pay for being God’s chosen ones. Most of my childhood was spent fantasizing about the details of my death.

    It only recently occurred to me how often I was forced to think about death as a child. When children are forced to think about death they don’t think about what will happen in the afterlife. No. When a child thinks about death they think about the exact moment of death. What must happen in order for a person to die? Will it hurt? Will I be able to handle the pain? How will it happen? How will I die?

    I knew for sure that I was going to heaven since I was one of God’s children, but the threshold to get there seemed insurmountable. I began to think about all the possible ways that I could die—primitive ways that I’d heard about, mostly from the Bible stories we’d read at night or from movies that we were allowed to watch on weekends like “The Ten Commandments” or “Jesus of Nazareth.” I formulated elaborate images of my mind of being burned at the stake like Joan of Arc; being crucified upside down, where the head fills with blood and slowly bursts; being beheaded like John the Baptist; or stoned to death like the prostitutes in the Bible stories or movies we’d watch.

    We had imitation attacks where some of the men dressed up in black uniforms and carried broomsticks for guns. They’d burst through the front doors close to bedtime. We’d all hide under the stairs and prepare to stay as still and quiet as possible until they’d tell us to come out and we’d sing songs in a state of euphoria, raising our arms in the air and pretending that we were flying up to heaven to meet Jesus at the pearly gates. How did nobody understand that I was terrified about what would have to happen in order for us to go to heaven? Did they not understand that death comes before resurrection?

    I was prepared for a real invasion, an army of men dressed in heavy black jumpsuits with helmets and batons and guns. The guns were my salvation. I figured that death by a gunshot wound was probably the least painful way to die.

    I felt sorry for these men I imagined, because I knew that they were human too. I thought that maybe I could convert them to our side. I convinced myself that if I could look into their eyes, I could persuade them that I wasn’t guilty of anything and I didn’t think that they were bad either. They were just doing their job. They were soldiers like me; they didn’t have a choice.

    At night I prayed that I would get shot. It seemed a quick and painless way to die. I wanted to be shot with a machine gun, so that I would die as quickly as possible. And I wanted to be shot in the heart. I was terrified of pistols and the idea of a wound that might leave me bleeding to death for hours.

    I slept on a mattress on the floor and positioned myself close to a wooden bed structure so I could slide under at a moment’s notice.

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  124. I was special I told myself as I cried myself to sleep.

    * * *

    One night when I was five, my thoughts were interrupted by the flash of fluorescent lights and Mom’s urgent command: “Hurry and get your things together. We don’t have much time.” She told us to be as quiet as possible. Outside the sky was still dark. Mattresses bound with baby blue sheets were stretched across the floor. We had ten minutes to pack up our things and vacate. We called it evacuation. Father David taught us to have “fleebags” packed at all times with toiletries, socks, underwear and a few pairs of light clothing in the case of a raid, natural disaster or the end time. We were trained to disappear at the snap of a finger.

    “Hurry kids! Before the officials get here.” Her voice was pressing but calm.

    This time I wasn’t dreaming.

    I had heard stories of raids before in homes thousands of miles away in Argentina and other parts of the world. These homes were called “jumbos” and housed up to three hundred members at a time. We knew that they were raided during the wee hours just before dawn, similar to the raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco; the only difference is we didn’t have guns or firearms.

    After being interrupted from their sleep and snatched out of bed, the children were ordered by officials to board a bus and then taken to social services, where they remained until their parents were proven innocent of child abuse and molestation charges. After being interrogated into exhaustion, the girls were then taken to the doctor to be examined. Social services wanted to determine whether or not they were still virgins. Although I was never sexually abused, I’ve heard many stories throughout the years of girls in Children of God who were physically and sexually abused.

    Although I was horrified by the graphic procedure involving a cold speculum and metal braces, I secretly wondered what it would be like to be taken away and placed in a new home, even if only temporarily. Guiltily, I wondered what it would be like to live in a fancy house with high glass cupboards filled with delicate china sets.

    Nothing much was said during the raid. Whenever we were ordered to do something, we simply listened and obeyed. There were no questions. We lived every day on the verge of martyrdom, thankful for another privilege, another chance to save the world.

    We packed our things and loaded into a Song-Taow, a Thai open-air taxi, which was waiting for us outside the gates. We positioned ourselves to fit on the benches, our fleebags under the seats and all of our possessions bound in large black trash bags. The sky was shifting from black to gray and if Dad was worried he never showed it.

    Mom was holding Becky, still a newborn, in her arms. She looked at Dad, who was loading the last of our belongings.

    “Are they all here?” She began to count us kids the way she did when she didn’t have a free hand, using her head to nod off the numbers one-by-one.

    “One. Two…Where’s William?”

    William was sitting behind Heidi with her fire-red hair, sucking on her pacifier.

    “Three… four…” Tamar and I always stuck together.

    “Five… six… seven…” She counted the rest of us. Becky was cradled in her arms. We were present and quiet, never uttering a word.

    I didn’t ask where we were going but I knew we had no destination. We were fleeing and I was thrilled by the idea of it.

    We drove off into the early morning hours, leaving behind a trail of dust. For the next seven years, every six months we would move to a new home in another part of Thailand.

    * * *

    When you grow up in an apocalyptic cult and the due date for the end of the world rolls around and nothing happens, it’s rather anticlimactic. There are no pre-apocalyptic ceremonial rituals. No gathering in huddles to pray in tongues and speak to the spirit world.

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  125. No public apologies about why the world didn’t end the way it had been revealed. Life goes on as usual. Breakfast is still served at 7:30 a.m. Recess is still late in the afternoon. Dinner is served at six. Lights out is at eight.

    When the world didn’t end as he had predicted, Father David had a revelation that it was time to move back west. He said God was pleased with our work so he decided to give us an extension. Every year after 1993 a letter came out entitled, “It Could Happen This Year.” I was beginning to have my suspicions. Was there any truth to anything Father David said?

    One day, Mom and Dad pulled us kids aside and told us that we would be moving back to America. A home in Chicago had room for us. I didn’t know whether Chicago was a city or a state. Mom cleared up the confusion and soon I was able to locate the Windy City on any map, even a large circular globe.

    John and Dad spent a year selling Children of God media at the harbor to save enough money for our flight to the U.S., where we moved into a five-bedroom house in suburban Berwyn with about thirty other members. It was there that I began to see the world I had been warned against.

    The rules weren’t as strict as they had been in Thailand, and the first thing I noticed was that we were allowed to eat even if we weren’t hungry. The eggs were fried in adequate amounts of oil and, unlike powdered eggs, I enjoyed these enough to ask for seconds—which, to my delight, I was allowed. The bagels, soft and fluffy with melted butter, filled me with my first experience of white flour delight. For the first time in my life I wasn’t just full. I was satisfied.

    After breakfast we were allowed to watch TV. The Winter Olympics were on. The Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding scandal was making headline news. It was my first time watching TV, ever.

    “See what happens when people get into sports,” Mom said. Father David had taught us that all sports were evil and of the Devil.

    I watched the clip over and over of Nancy Kerrigan wailing in pain as she held her knee. I couldn’t help but also notice the beauty of the sport. When the skaters glided across the ice they looked happy and free. They moved effortlessly and wore costumes fit for ballerinas. They were beautiful. I watched as sixteen-year-old Oksana Baiul collapsed in tears when it was announced that she had won gold. I wanted to rejoice with her. I wanted to be her. I couldn’t help thinking sports can’t be evil.

    Father David died on October 1, 1994, one year after his predicted apocalypse. I was twelve and the world hadn’t ended. My thoughts of death were beginning to subside as my worries shifted to my developing body, specifically my breasts. They were beautiful, I thought, and I didn’t want them to sag like Mom’s did, should I live to see adulthood. I developed impeccable posture, slept with a training bra on at night and taught the other girls to sit up straight, often slapping them on the back when we sat for hours listening to Father David’s letters. Since I had control over nothing else, I figured at least I could control the two new protrusions on my chest.

    After Father David’s death, we were still required by the leaders in the home to abide by his rules. Following his death we spent three days fasting and reading a burgundy book titled “The Charter.” In it was a complete set of rules on how members could now live their lives, including sexual limits and boundaries (at what age people could have sex and with whom), weekly allowances on alcohol (a quarter of a cup of wine per week), and rules on what constituted a “home” (members needed four consenting adults, also members, living in the same building in order to be part of the Children of God). This meant members had their freedom; we were no longer required to live in a compound. Four consenting adults and a commitment to tithing and proselytizing was what all members needed to still be considered part of the group.

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  126. I woke up one morning after the fast was over and looked out the window. Everyone was scattered on the lawn, with their belongings packed in large black plastic trash bags. I knew what this meant. Because of the new requirements on what constituted a home, everyone was dispersing. I thought about my family. There were now eleven of us kids, all under the age of fourteen.

    “Who’s gonna want to live with us?” I whispered to Tamar on the lawn the morning after Father David’s death.

    “We’re so big,” she agreed.

    A few days later the leaders gave my family a van. We had nowhere to go and no relatives to take us in. We started going to Sunday services at a Thai Lutheran church on the South Side of Chicago. One of the members, Mr. Tessalee, a Thai-Chinese man with eyes the shape of crescent moons, who always wore a crisp dark suit and skinny tie with his hair neatly combed, had heard we needed a place to stay. He had an empty building in the South Side and he offered to let us stay in it rent-free. It was a tall brick building with a small front yard surrounded by a chain link fence. We agreed. Mom was pregnant. Dad had no job. On our first night there we heard gunshots echoing from the alley. We would continue to hear these on a weekly basis. We were on our own.

    * * *

    I’ve heard many stories about kids who grew up like me and killed themselves because they didn’t how to make it in the world. Some were my friends, others distant acquaintances. They’d blame their parents for not teaching them how to write checks, or fill out applications, or hold their own in a normal social setting. There are girls who became strippers because all they knew how to do was give a powerful “look of love,” as taught by Father David during the flirty-fishing movement. They had no skills for working or making money, so they used their sexuality, just like their mothers did in the early days.

    One day John flew out to California to visit our Aunt Mary, who had recently left the Children of God. When he came back I noticed something was different. His hair was slicked back like the systemites in Father David’s comic books. He wore store-bought clothes and sometimes I noticed that he had headphones on. He was listening to system music. Was he becoming a systemite?

    He brought good news. Aunt Mary had invited us to come live near her in California. She lived in a house surrounded by bougainvillea and English ivy crawling up brick walls. She had found a house for us near her in the San Gabriel Valley. The Chicago winters were too cold, and California, John said, boasted perfect weather and endless summers.

    In April, we piled ourselves into the van as Dad loaded the last of our belongings. He hitched a wooden wagon to the back and we loaded it with foam mattresses. Dad and John took turns driving. Tamar made white-bread tuna salad sandwiches that we would stop to eat along the way. Bobby was a baby and we passed him from person to person. We didn’t have much food after moving to the house in the South Side. Mary Ann sat behind me looking gaunt. The rest of the kids shuffled in their seats. Mom lay sprawled across the front row, her stomach bulging with child number twelve. I could tell it wasn’t just because she was pregnant; something was definitely wrong.

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  127. Following the death of Father David the cult was slowly beginning to disintegrate. We no longer lived in communes. We no longer had his “law.” We no longer functioned like an army. The Children of God was becoming a loose group of families scattered across the world, struggling to make it in a society that they knew little about.

    In the summer of 1996, after we had moved to California, the leaders planned a road trip to Lake Tahoe for preteen members to convince us that the Children of God was fun and that there was no place we’d rather be. “Uncle Tim,” one of the leaders, drove a school bus that had been painted multiple shades of blue. On the way to Lake Tahoe, the bus broke down on the side of the freeway and we sat in our built-in beds sweating until Uncle Tim figured out how to get it working again.

    I was fourteen years old. Before we left, mom and dad had given us an ultimatum: Decide if we wanted to stay in the group or leave. I never asked what compelled them to make this decision, but I think there came a point when they realized they had to put their family first. It was clear that John was becoming a systemite. Mom and Dad decided that if we wanted out too, then they would leave with us. For that decision, I later chose to forgive them for raising us in a cult.

    John was now working two jobs: at a bagel shop during the day and a coffee shop in the evening. He made tips and was earning real hard cash, something we had never seen growing up. He drove a midnight blue Volkswagen Beetle and had systemite friends.

    One day in the campground as we ate blueberry pie filling from tin cans, Mary Ann, a year older than me, started the conversation that would determine our future.

    “Can’t you see what these guys are doing?” she asked, referring to Uncle Tim and all the other adults who had punished us when we were children. “This is not right.”

    “Well, what should we do about it?” I asked. High school seemed our only option. Plus, the idea of learning appealed to me.

    It was there, among the crackling pines and under a clear blue sky, that we decided to tell my parents. We called home from a pay phone and told them we wanted out. In the same conversation, Mom told us she had just got the results back from a doctor’s check-up. There was a reason why she had been in so much pain on our drive to California and had to lie down across the row of seats. She had been diagnosed with cancer and had a ten-percent prognosis. Although not quite sure what a ten-percent prognosis meant, I knew it couldn’t be good news.

    Mom later told me that the doctors had told her something was abnormal back when she was pregnant with us twins. However, since the world would be ending soon, Father David did not encourage visits to the doctor.

    I had little capacity to feel sorry for my mother at the time, as I was in my own state of survival, trying to figure out how I was going to make it as a teenager in a world I knew little about. After all that we’d been through she was going to have to fend for herself.

    And that’s what we all had to do: learn how to make it on our own.

    When we got home, dad enrolled us in a home-schooling program because he said that after the sheltered life we’d lived, throwing us into public high school would be like throwing lambs to the slaughter. He was right, but soon we wanted the real deal. We wanted a normal social experience. We enrolled in Rowland High School.

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  128. I wanted nothing more than to look cool. The night before I laid out my options. I had two shirts. One was fluorescent green with a short collar and buttons. The other had red, white and blue stripes. It fit me snugly and had a low v-cut, showing a little cleavage. I looked cool, I thought. I was ready to face the world.

    Being ostracized by Mrs. Buck on my first day was not the only obstacle I’d face. High school turned into a disaster, with both Tamar and I getting kicked out twice each for having alcohol and weed. Numbing our minds became our way of dealing with the world. We found ourselves in community day schools, where we were the only white girls and often witnesses to bloody fights or unfamiliar gang-speak.

    Tamar came home one day with the news of a college that boasted the promise of a stewardess degree.

    “Four years, Flor,” she told me excitedly. “Four years is all it takes.”

    Her mouth parched from excitement; she told me about a campus that sat high in the Malibu Hills called Pepperdine University. It was beautiful and looked like a palace, with Mediterranean Revival architecture. For the first time in my life I thought about going to college. We could apply to any school we wanted, she said. I was thrilled.

    Since neither of us had a high school degree or GED, we enrolled in classes at Mt. San Antonio Community College to start. There were courses in English and history and electives in everything from Spanish to horticulture to dance. I was able to choose what I wanted to major in. This was a novel idea for me. I had never even heard about college growing up. Father David said education was evil. Institutions were places of sin and corruption.

    I was beginning to see that for the first time in my life I had a future.

    In an honors business class our professor announced that there would be an all-expense paid field trip to UC Berkeley. I raised my hand.

    “What’s UC Berkeley?” I asked.

    Looking back now, I can see how naïve my question was but I also quickly learned that curiosity was going to be my greatest and only ally. I would have to forfeit seeming dumb for my own survival.

    Dad had returned to college to work on a degree, figuring that the best job he could get was a high school P.E. teacher. Instead he rekindled a love for academics, this time for mathematics. I remember waking up at two in the morning and watching him working under the amber light of a desk lamp, poring over a problem that seemed unsolvable. He was working on his master’s. I told myself that one day I would do the same.

    Mom began taking weekly trips to the hospital for radiation treatments and was soon cleared of cancer. The doctors called her a “miracle case.”

    A year later I received my acceptance letter to UC Berkeley.

    My friends congratulated me and made it a point to let us know how jealous they were and how lucky we were — both of us getting a spot in of the best schools in America. They could never get in, they said, no matter how hard they tried or how good their grades were.

    “It wasn’t just the grades,” I said. I bit my lower lip and thought hard about it for a minute. “I think my personal statement had something to do with it.”

    * * *

    Liked this story? Our editors did too, voting it one of our 20 best untold tales!

    See the complete list of Editors’ Picks here.

    * * *

    Flor Edwards received her MFA in nonfiction from the University of California, Riverside. She has a BA in journalism and is working on a memoir.

    Jesse Lucas lives in Louisville, Kentucky. With the help of his wife and trusty dog ‘Fox’ he’s able to avoid sleep and make comics instead.

  129. Will Rose McGowan name her rapist in new memoir?

    By Richard Johnson, Page Six September 26, 2017

    A certain movie mogul is said to be terrified he’ll be named as a rapist in Rose McGowan’s memoir, “Brave,” due in February from HarperCollins.

    The actress tweeted last year with the hashtag #WhyWomenDontReport: “It’s been an open secret in Hollywood/Media & they shamed me while adulating my rapist.”

    A HarperCollins rep said McGowan hasn’t turned in her manuscript yet, and the rep had no idea if she intends to tell the story or name her rapist. McGowan did not get back to me.

    But she dropped other hints last year, tweeting, “My ex sold our movie to my rapist for distribution.”

    In 2015, she told Buzzfeed, “There’s a lot of people that don’t deserve to be alive — put it that way. There’s a lot of people who also get the face and body they deserve.”

    HarperCollins describes “Brave” as “a revealing memoir and empowering manifesto from one of the most provocative voices in Hollywood.”

    The book will describe how she grew up in the Italian chapter of the Children of God cult. McGowan’s family moved to the States, and she once escaped through a cornfield at night before running away at 13.

    McGowan lived a transient punk lifestyle before being “discovered” on a Los Angeles street.

    “The Hollywood machine packaged her as a sexualized bombshell, hijacking her image and identity and marketing them for their profit,” the publisher states.

  130. Rose McGowan goes after Amazon and Jeff Bezos in latest tweets calling out abuses in Hollywood

    BY KURT SCHLOSSER, Geek Wire October 12, 2017

    Rose McGowan regained access to her Twitter account on Thursday following a temporary suspension by the social media platform for violating its terms of service. The actress has been a leading voice in recent days in criticizing Harvey Weinstein and those who failed to speak out against the Hollywood producer’s past sexual abuse of women.

    Thursday afternoon she used a series of tweets to go after Amazon and Jeff Bezos, calling on the CEO to “stop funding rapists” and “stand with truth.”

    Last September, McGowan said she had sold a show to Amazon Studios that she wrote and planned to direct. Various reports said the show might deal with McGowan’s upbringing in the Children of God cult.

    In a stream of five tweets Thursday, McGowan discussed informing the head of Amazon Studios (Roy Price) that Weinstein had raped her; that she wanted her script back; that her show had been killed; and more.

    Price shared a picture of himself with McGowan last July, a couple months before reports of the show deal.

    The studio chief himself was suspended by Amazon on Thursday after details of an alleged sexual harassment against a producer on the TV series “The Man in the High Castle” were revealed.

    In a new story on Thursday in The Hollywood Reporter, Isa Hackett talks about the “shocking and surreal” experience with Price during Comic-Con in San Diego in 2015.

    McGowan used her Instagram account Wednesday night to show a message from Twitter informing her that @rosemcgowan was being locked for 12 hours because she had violated policy by including someone’s phone number in a post. The locking of the account caused McGowan to be unable to tweet, retweet or like other posts, but she retained the ability to browse her feed.

    ‘THERE ARE POWERFUL FORCES AT WORK. BE MY VOICE,” McGowan wrote on Instagram.

    By Thursday morning, after a barrage of users came to the defense of McGowan, Twitter unlocked the account, while explaining why it had done so in the first place.

    McGowan, in a reference to tweets from President Trump threatening to wage nuclear war on North Korea, asked when such language would be a violation of the company’s terms of service.

    Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted that his company needs to be “more transparent” to build trust.

    McGowan reached a $100,000 settlement with Weinstein in 1997 for an incident in a hotel at the Sundance Film Festival. In the days after explosive reports in The New York Times and The New Yorker and elsewhere, other women have come forward to say they, too, were abused or raped by the longtime filmmaker.

    McGowan has been blasting others in Hollywood, including actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, for failing to step up when they allegedly knew what was happening.

    She’s calling for the board of The Weinstein Co. to be dissolved and calling out those who do business with the studio.

    A report in Deadline on Wednesday said that Amazon was “reviewing options” for what to do about two new series connected to The Weinstein Co. that are destined for its streaming platform.


    Ian CaramanzanaThu, Las Vegas Weekly October 12, 2017

    Jonathan Terrell doesn’t cry often. In fact, he keeps track of the times he has cried in his entire life. “I told my girl that I could count, on one hand, the times I’ve cried in the last two decades. Today, I reached my pinky.”

    The Austin-based singer-songwriter was mourning the loss of Tom Petty—his favorite songwriter, and, undoubtedly, his “biggest musical influence,” introduced to him by his parents. As musicians, they played in the house band for what became the Children of God—a European cult that reached the height of its popularity in the late ’70s. After fleeing to East Texas, the family continued to write and perform music.

    “My first guitar was a beautiful cherry red [Gibson] ES-335,” Terrell says. “I did work for my dad for an entire summer, and, on top of that, gave him $300 for it. In retrospect, that wasn’t so great of a deal.”

    These wacky anecdotes are the fuel for Terrell’s life. Maybe that’s why he excels at telling stories with his music. His eponymous project explores the middle ground between country and rock ’n’ roll—a sound best showcased on his latest EP, Color Me Lucky. Songs like “Faye” and “Thinking About You” are cheery, upbeat numbers about heartbreak and longing. Terrell always leaves room for ballads, such as “It’s Not Me (But It Could Be)” and the EP’s title track, on which he extracts bits of classic Americana through gruff vocals and twangy lap steel guitar.

    Terrell recently wrapped up recording a Mazzy Star cover with members of Spiritualized, and he’s about to begin work on a full-length slated for a 2018 release. “I’m sitting on nearly 30 tracks,” Terrell says. “The record is gonna be a good mix of the new straightforward stuff and the old singer-songwriter stuff. I can’t get rid of that.”

  132. No one took Rose McGowan’s claims seriously. Now everyone is listening

    by Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times October 13, 2015

    Well before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, Rose McGowan was already, in her words, a “feminist whistleblowing badass.”

    For months, the actress had warned of a powerful Hollywood figure who had allegedly raped her. She railed against a casting call that asked her to wear a tight tank top “that shows off cleavage (push up bras encouraged).” She was subsequently dropped by her talent agency, and tweeted: “I just got fired by my wussy acting agent because I spoke up.”

    Few people took notice. Many dismissed them as the rantings of an actress relegated to the fringes of Hollywood. Now, in the wake of Weinstein’s spectacular fall from grace, everyone is listening to Rose McGowan.

    As multiple women have come forward with stories of sexual assault and harassment by the embattled studio head, McGowan has emerged as the fiery voice and unexpected heroine of a movement that has swept beyond Weinstein and beyond the entertainment industry.

    In a series of sharply worded tweets, she has targeted other powerful media figures, circulated a petition calling on the Weinstein Co. to dissolve its board and urged women to speak up and fight back against sexual harassment.

    “All of you Hollywood 'A-list' golden boys are LIARS,” she tweeted Tuesday.

    “You lie,” she told Ben Affleck, alleging that the actor had known about Weinstein’s behavior for years. She attacked NBC, which quoted Weinstein saying he hoped for a second chance, for “being complicit in rape culture.” She demanded that Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, whose Amazon Studios has worked with Weinstein, “stop funding rapists, alleged pedo[phile]s and sexual harassers.”

    Her crusade has resonated with women, who have used the hashtag #ROSEARMY to share their own stories online.

    “She's been raising this red flag for a long time,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and co-executive director of women’s advocacy group UltraViolet. “Everything about this story, every positive thing that will come of it, is a direct result of Rose and the other survivors being willing to come forward.”

    Actress Stephanie Allynne, who stars on the Amazon show “One Mississippi,” said McGowan’s “energy and approach speaks to my soul.”

    “I’m so with her,” she said. “It’s not a bunch of safe, well-constructed statements that are just a snoozefest — it’s anger, passion and justice. I love how she is naming names.”

    Those who know McGowan, 44, described her as a strong-willed, passionate individual unafraid of authority or the status quo.

    “She has one of the strongest voices I know,” Alyssa Milano, who co-starred with McGowan on the WB series “Charmed,” told The Times. “I am so proud of the resolve and leadership Rose has shown throughout this vile situation.”

    McGowan declined to be interviewed, but in a 2015 Buzzfeed profile, she said: “I was born with a fist up.”

    She was, in fact, born into an unconventional situation: Her parents were members of the polygamous Children of God cult, and McGowan was raised in the cult’s Italy chapter until escaping through a cornfield when she was 9. After moving to the U.S., she ran away at 13 and lived a transient punk lifestyle until she was “discovered” on a curb in Los Angeles.

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  133. McGowan is perhaps best known as the petite, raven-haired actress who played Paige Matthews for five seasons on “Charmed,” which ended in 2006. She made waves in 1998 when she wore one of the most memorable red carpet outfits ever to the MTV VMAs: a barely-there beaded dress with a leopard G-string. Her boyfriend at the time, goth rocker Marilyn Manson, coordinated with a shiny leopard-print suit.

    Still, she struggled with that seductive image. In her upcoming memoir, “Brave,” McGowan details her life as a young Hollywood starlet grappling with the “personal nightmare of constant exposure.”

    “The Hollywood machine packaged her as a sexualized bombshell, hijacking her image and identity and marketing them for their profit,” according to publisher HarperOne. “Hollywood expected Rose to be silent and cooperative and to stay the path. Instead, she rebelled and asserted her true identity and voice.”

    That voice is finally being heard. McGowan has received an outpouring of support and admiration in the entertainment industry, including from Jessica Chastain, Mark Ruffalo, Lena Dunham and Amber Tamblyn, who tweeted: “I see you. We all do.”

    In a follow-up interview with The Times, Tamblyn said, “Now that we have collectively spoken, we can never go back.”

    McGowan even sparked a 24-hour Twitter boycott among women and a slew of celebrities on Friday, after the microblogging platform temporarily suspended her account the day before for violating its rules. Twitter later explained that the suspension was because McGowan had tweeted someone’s phone number.

    Within a few hours, McGowan’s account was reinstated and she continued her rapid-fire tweets, a move that UltraViolet’s Thomas called “strategically valuable.”

    “She’s willing to keep fanning the flames of it. These stories die typically without escalation,” she said. “She's willing to do the hard work of keeping this story in the headlines so it's not a flash in the pan, he goes for therapy and comes back and gets to revive his career.”

    McGowan is doing so at a potential cost. The New York Times reported that she received a $100,000 payment from Weinstein in 1997; the settlement included a confidentiality agreement prohibiting her from discussing the incident, which allegedly occurred in a hotel room at the Sundance Film Festival.

    Debra S. Katz, a Washington, D.C.-based employment attorney who has dealt with sexual harassment cases for three decades, said McGowan was taking a risk by speaking out against Weinstein.

    “She’s been extremely brave,” she said. “And other women are coming forward as a result.”

    Katz said Weinstein could legally go after McGowan, but said he would have a difficult time arguing that his reputation was further harmed by her decision to talk.

    “Harvey Weinstein has much bigger problems than this woman breaching the agreement,” she said.

    As for McGowan, she joined the rest of #ROSEARMY by remaining quiet on Twitter on Friday. But that silence is almost certainly temporary.

    “Ever seen a movie where one person takes on a corrupt, powerful system all by herself?” film critic Scott Weinberg asked on Twitter. “That’s @rosemcgowan & it’s not a movie.”

  134. The feminist whistleblowing badass who has become the furious voice of the 'Weinstein Resistance'

    by Russell Leadbetter, Herald Scotland October 14, 2017

    LAST Wednesday the New Yorker magazine tweeted a link to their breaking story about the film mogul Harvey Weinstein. It was written by Ronan Farrow, a man close to the industry – he's the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen – and contained a link to an audio tape, secretly recorded by the NYPD, in which Weinstein admitted to groping a woman.

    There was considerable reaction online but for many people one tweet stood out. “Now imagine his huge size, his monster face/body closing in on you,” it read. “In one second your life path is not yours. You have been stolen.”

    The tweet came from Rose McGowan, who was just 23 when, in 1997, Weinstein reportedly reached a $100,000 settlement with her following an incident in a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival.

    The incendiary tweet has been one of many she has posted in recent days. She has also tweeted that Weinstein raped her, she has agitated endlessly for the entire board of the Weinstein Company to be dissolved and she has scorned the “men of Hollywood” for what she described as their “I stand with you’ crap” – “we need you to ACT.”

    She has attacked actors for what she sees as their silence in the matter. She told Ben Affleck to “f--- off” and accused him of not being truthful about his knowledge of Weinstein’s long pattern of sexual misconduct.

    Another series of tweets saw her accuse Roy Price, head of Amazon Studio, of ignoring her when she had previously and repeatedly alleged to him that Weinstein raped her. On Friday it was reported that Amazon had put Price on leave of absence.

    Little wonder that McGowan, 44, should have been widely praised on social media for her fearlessness and determination and hailed as the voice of the “Weinstein Resistance.” (The producer has insisted that any sexual contacts he has had were consensual.)

    She was born in Tuscany, Italy, in 1973, the second eldest of six children to an American couple. She is one of a number of Hollywood stars with personal experience of a cult. In her case it was the Children of God – a group that, People magazine said in 2011, “extolled the virtues of free love and prepared for the second coming of Jesus”.

    Her first nine years were spent with the group in Italy. She told People that at first the setting was “really idyllic” but “like most cults you were cut off from your [outside] family. There were no newspapers, no television. You were kept in the dark so you would obey.”

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  135. Despite her tender years she rebelled – “I did not want to be like those women. There were basically there to serve the men sexually.”

    When she was nine she, her father and her siblings, fled when the cult began to advocate sexual relations between adults and children.

    They made their way to the US. The assimilation, she has said, was “not easy … My brothers and sisters, we thought everyone was boring.”

    In 1997, she told People, she met shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, “one of the sweetest people you could ever meet, and I ran away with the circus. That’s what I needed for 3½ years. I just needed to not be responsible, to have fun. Then eventually I kind of grew up.”

    She was “discovered” at the age of 18 and her early CV included the slasher-flick Scream (1996) and numerous other projects before she landed, in 2001, a role as one of the witch-sisters in Charmed, the long-running US cult TV hit.

    She went on to star in Brian de Palma’s Black Dahlia, Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof and Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror (in which she wore a machine-gun as a leg).

    In early 2007 McGowan was injured in a car crash. She sustained facial injuries and needed to undergo several plastic-surgery procedures. In January 2014, however, she posed for a photo in which she appeared, stylishly dressed and in full make-up, with “blood” trickling down her temple as she stepped out of a smashed-up red sports car.

    In a revealing interview she said she had realised that she had turned herself into a commodity in her film career.

    “I felt very uncomfortable about making myself into that commodity,” she said. “The male gaze affected me a lot, most of the time. When you see a woman on screen, she proceeds with the eyes of the men that filmed and directed her; she sees herself that way instead of having her own perception. "And I've been seeing that way for years – I'm not blaming anybody, I was part of the Hollywood machine – but I'm glad that my own life experiences and empirical evidences made me think and act in a different way.”

    She has now written a memoir/manifesto Brave, to be published in February. It will be, says the blurb, about the rise of a “feminist whistleblowing badass” determined “to expose the truth about the entertainment industry, dismantle the concept of fame, shine a light on a multi-billion-dollar business built on systemic misogyny.”

    We have not heard the last from her – not by a long chalk.

  136. Rose McGowan Was a "Feminist Whistleblowing Badass" Way Before the Harvey Weinstein Scandal

    By Life & Style Magazine October 17, 2017

    The actress in the middle of the Harvey Weinstein scandal is none other than Rose McGowan — a fierce feminist who has been speaking out about the hypocrisy and double standards in Hollywood way before the disgraced film producer made headlines. And it doesn't look like she is going to quiet down any time — and we don't blame her.

    Following news that Harvey has been sexually harassing women for decades, Rose has not only publicly accused the Oscar winner of assaulting her but has also called out other actors for covering up his behavior. "Ben Affleck f--k off," she tweeted before her account was temporarily suspended. “GODDAMNIT! I TOLD HIM TO STOP DOING THAT” you said that to my face. The press conf I was made to go to after assault. You lie." She reportedly received a $100,000 settlement from Harvey in 1997. Watch the video below to see the actress then and now.

    Rose, who made her Hollywood debut in the early '90s, has been a self-proclaimed "feminist whistleblowing badass” for years and we're just glad people are finally taking her seriously. In 2015 she told Buzzfeed, "someone blacklisted me in the industry, and I couldn't get a job in movies." Keep reading to find out more about the Scream star.

    Who is Rose McGowan?
    According to her Instagram bio, Rose is an artist and notable public figure. However, she is also the head of a revolution when it comes to exposing the sexism in Hollywood — and leads the #ROSEARMY on social media. Before being discovered in LA, the 44-year-old was born in Italy and raised in the Children of God cult in the States, which she ran away from at the age of 13. She is best known for her role as Paige Matthews in Charmed.

    Was Rose McGowan raped by Harvey Weinstein?
    According to the NYT, Rose received an undisclosed settlement from Harvey in 1997 after an incident in a hotel room at the Sundance Film Festival. While she declined to comment on the article, she did accuse the producer of rape on Twitter. "It’s been an open secret in Hollywood/Media & they shamed me while adulating my rapist.” Since there was a confidentiality clause in the settlement, Rose could face legal action for speaking out.

    What happened with Rose McGowan and Amazon?
    The actress claimed in a series of tweets that the e-commerce giant dropped her screenplay after she insisted that Harvey's company not get involved and ignored her claims that she was raped by the movie mogul. "@jeffbezos I told the head of your studio that HW raped me," she wrote. "Over & over I said it. He said it hadn't been proven. I said I was the proof." Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios, was put on a leave of absence following the allegations. "We are reviewing our options for the projects we have with The Weinstein Company," Amazon added in a statement.

    Is Rose McGowan married?
    Rose was married to visual artist Davey Detail from 2013 to 2016 when she filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences. Before Davey, she was engaged to rocker Marilyn Manson in 2001 and dated director Robert Rodriguez after meeting on the set of the 2006 film Grindhouse.

    Rose McGowan net worth:
    According to Celebrity Net Worth, Rose is worth an estimated $18 million dollars. Along with her acting career, Rose is currently working on her memoir, Brave, which will detail everything from her childhood in the Children of God cult and her career. “The Hollywood machine packaged her as a sexualized bombshell, hijacking her image and identity and marketing them for their profit,” the publisher states.

    rose mcgowan ✔@rosemcgowan
    I am a Witch. And I will hunt wrongdoers. In Hollywood, in government, in business. Stop hurting us or there will be consequence. #ROSEARMY

  137. Rose McGowans relentless fight against the Harvey Weinsteins of Hollywood, explained

    by Constance Grady, VOX October 19, 2017

    If there is any hero to come out of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it’s Rose McGowan.

    McGowan, who is best known for playing the mean girl in 1999’s Jawbreaker and one of the witches in the WB series Charmed, has spent the Weinstein scandal speaking out against both Weinstein and anyone who might be complicit in Weinstein’s actions. She circulated a petition calling to dissolve the board of the Weinstein Company. When reports emerged that Colony Capital was in talks to purchase the Weinstein Company, McGowan called on her supporters to boycott.

    And her supporters are manifold and vocal. Last week, when Twitter briefly suspended her, they boycotted the site in solidarity; they’re tweeting with the hashtag #ROSEARMY.

    For McGowan, the movement is an extension of the story she’s long been telling about her life, a story of fighting against the world’s desire to reduce her and other women to sexual objects. It’s a story that begins with her childhood growing up in cult that would be plagued by stories of child molestation, and continues into her career as an actress continually cast as sex objects; the 2007 car crash and subsequent plastic surgery that made her a target of public mockery; and her decision to turn her back on the norms of Hollywood and call on women to unite to upend them. That’s the story she’s bringing to its culmination in her upcoming memoir, Brave, the story she’s now preparing the public to accept.

    “I’m assembling an army,” she told BuzzFeed in 2015.

    Here’s how McGowan came to build that army.

    McGowan spent her childhood in a restrictive polygamous cult
    Until she was 9 years old, McGowan was raised in the Italian chapter of the Children of God cult, a group that began as a hippie peace-and-free-love religious separatist sect but would quickly become dogged by allegations that sexual abuse ran rampant in the confines of its compounds.

    McGowan says it was a controlling place to grow up, describing it as “a bit like the Medici court.” In a 2011 profile for People, she said, “You weren’t allowed to have imperfections. I had a little wart on my thumb, and I remember walking down this hallway — a door opened and some adult grabbed me and just cut it off with a razor blade and stuck me back out in the hallway with it still bleeding.”

    While physical imperfections weren’t permitted, neither was makeup or glamour. You were expected to be perfect as God made you: You were to purify your body, but do it naturally. For McGowan, who loved glamour — “I basically just came out of the womb waving red lipstick,” she told People — the rules were disquieting. But they were also liberating. "I don't remember ever seeing any mirrors," she said. "So I grew up without actually registering that I was a girl or a boy. Or registering that I was anything but a mind."

    For women among the Children of God, the rules were much stricter than they were for the men. “They were basically there to serve the men sexually,” says McGowan. Men in the Children of God practiced polygamy; the women would serve them and then go out to bars to seduce new recruits in a practice the cult leadership called “Flirty Fishing.” “At a very early age I decided I did not want to be like those women,” says McGowan.

    McGowan says she did get an education of sorts while she was in the cult; she’s fond of quipping in interviews that she was reading Edgar Allen Poe by age 4 or 6 but didn’t learn to tie her shoes until age 9. However, she has also recounted feeling physically unsafe. “From about [age] 3, every room I go into,” she told BuzzFeed in 2015, “I immediately look for what I would kill somebody with if I had to defend myself."

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  138. Children of God is most infamous today for its doctrine that children are sexual beings and that in order to raise children naturally, adults should have sex with them. (The version of the organization that still exists today has officially disavowed that doctrine.) But McGowan says that she herself was not molested during her time in the cult. Her father was a cartoonist who drew tracts for the movement, she says, and when cult leadership began asking him to draw pamphlets advocating for child molestation, he took his children and one of his wives (who was not McGowan’s mother) and ran.

    “I remember running through a cornfield in thunder and lightning, holding my dad’s hand and running as fast as I could to keep up with him,” McGowan recalled to People. “We hid in an old stone house and had to boil pots of hot water to take baths. [The cult] sent people to find us. I remember a man trying to break in with a hammer.” She was 9 years old.

    McGowan’s mother eventually escaped from the cult as well, and McGowan went to live with her, but due to what she tersely describes as “a mean stepdad” situation, she ran away at age 13 to live on the streets for a year before reuniting with her father and his other wife. “It was not an easy assimilation,” she says.

    The story of McGowan’s childhood as she tells it is a story of living in a system that explicitly treats women as sexual objects, that teaches women that their greatest purpose in life — the best way for them to serve God — is to serve men sexually. It’s a system that demands physical perfection and purity but dictates strict rules about how to obtain that perfection, and harshly punishes any deviations from those rules. McGowan’s childhood, in other words, was fantastic training for existing within and fighting against the great Hollywood machine.

    McGowan’s acting career has been marked by her struggles with an industry that wanted to make her into a sex object
    McGowan’s acting career began in earnest in 1995, when she was 22 and starred in The Doom Generation. In interviews, McGowan describes the experience with fondness, but she also describes a culture of sexual harassment on set: being told to lie down on top of an actor with an erection during her audition, and an instance after production had begun in which another actor tried to penetrate her with a water bottle. (Director Gregg Araki disputes McGowan’s allegations.)

    McGowan would spend much of her film career playing sexy dark bad girls, an experience she describes with ambivalence. "I just don't like being treated as less-than," she told BuzzFeed. "I don't like being treated as basically a couch that talks — and as important. I don't like being humiliated, or somebody trying to make you humiliated."

    In an excerpt from her upcoming memoir, Brave (which is set to come out in February), McGowan says she spent much of her film and television career struggling with her self-image as she worked to embody a certain physical ideal. She developed an eating disorder. She grew out her short hair, she says, because “I was literally told I had to have long hair because otherwise the men doing the hiring in Hollywood wouldn't want to fuck me and if they didn't want to fuck me, they wouldn't hire me.”

    “I had been turned into the ultimate fantasy fuck toy by the Hollywood machine,” she concludes.

    But her career was hobbled in 2007, when McGowan was in a car crash and one of the lenses of her glasses shattered over her eye. She underwent reconstructive surgery as a result — and the gossip press had a field day.

    “By the looks of things, it appears as though she kept the doctor on speed dial,” the New York Daily News snarked in 2009, adding that McGowan’s “taut, puffy face” was “barely recognizable.”

    “She was once known for her sex appeal, but thanks to the surgeon's knife she looks [sic] now appear nothing more than a memory,” said the Daily Telegraph.

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  139. Plastic surgery in Hollywood has long served the same function that makeup served among the Children of God: You are supposed to be physically perfect, but you are supposed to achieve that perfection naturally. If you rely on outside help to achieve the physical ideal you’ve been taught to strive for — help like cosmetics or plastic surgery — you become a figure to be mocked and ridiculed.

    McGowan rarely addresses the outcry over her plastic surgery in public, but in 2016, she wrote a blistering open letter to a film critic after he decried Renée Zellweger’s plastic surgery. “I refuse and reject this bullshit on behalf of those who feel they can't speak,” McGowan wrote:

    I am someone who was forced by a studio to go on Howard Stern, where he asked me to show him my labia while my grinning male and female publicists stood to the side and did nothing to protect me. I am someone who has withstood death threats from fan boys, had fat sites devoted to me. I've withstood harassment on a level you can’t comprehend, Owen [Gleiberman, the critic in question]. I was so confused by the heaping tons of abuse, I actually forgot what I looked like. Which is awesome because I rose up from some serious ashes to finally have my say.

    For McGowan, rising up from the ashes has involved rejecting the ideals she internalized as a young actress about the ideal Hollywood image. That’s why, in 2015, she shaved off her iconic dark hair live on Instagram, calling the act “a battle cry.”

    But for years, McGowan has heavily implied that she’s not only rejecting the insidious internalized misogyny she learned from Hollywood. She’s also rejecting the culture that physically assaulted her.

    Because at some point in her career, McGowan has heavily implied, she was raped by Harvey Weinstein.

    With the Weinstein scandal, McGowan refuses to stay quiet
    According to the New York Times, Weinstein reached a $100,000 settlement with McGowan in 1997, following an “episode” at a hotel room during the Sundance Film Festival.

    McGowan has never commented explicitly on this settlement in public, presumably because its terms included a nondisclosure agreement. Supporting that presumption, the Daily Beast has reported that McGowan is the unnamed actress in Ronan Farrow’s recent Weinstein exposé for the New Yorker who, Farrow writes, “initially spoke to me on the record [but] later asked that her allegation be removed” because “‘the legal angle is coming at me and I have no recourse.’”

    However, on multiple occasions dating back to at least 2015, McGowan has publicly hinted — often vehemently so — that Weinstein assaulted her. It was in 2015 that she gave an interview to BuzzFeed on the specter of sexual assault in the entertainment industry, saying, “It alters the course of your life; it's altered the course of my life." The interviewer mentions “a rumored serial predator in the entertainment industry, a powerful figure who is often whispered about but never exposed” (who’s been widely interpreted to be Weinstein), and McGowan responds, “There's a lot of people that don't deserve to be alive — put it that way.”

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  140. And in 2016 McGowan tweeted that “my ex sold our movie to my rapist for distribution,” alerting anyone who cared to do the math that her alleged rapist was almost certainly Weinstein. (The Weinstein Company distributed the 2007 film Grindhouse; McGowan had a supporting role in Grindhouse, which her then-boyfriend Robert Rodriguez directed.)

    As the Weinstein scandal has continued to develop, McGowan has continued to heavily imply that Weinstein assaulted her, often narrowly toeing the line between implication and outright assertion.

    “This is the movie I was filming when it happened,” she tweeted on Monday, along with a still from 1998’s Phantoms. (Phantoms was produced by Miramax, the production company Weinstein ran at the time.)

    “I told the head of your studio that HW raped me,” she tweeted to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on October 12. (Technically this might not violate a nondisclosure agreement — she’s not saying he raped her, she’s saying she said he raped her — but it’s a pretty fine point.)

    And she has continued to speak out sharply against those who she argues helped Weinstein flourish with impunity.

    “Bob Weinstein is a POS,” she tweeted after he made a statement saying he had no idea what his brother was up to. “They allllll knew.” (Bob Weinstein has since also been accused of harassment.)

    “You helped kill the Roy Price exposé,” she tweeted at the Hollywood Reporter’s editorial director Matthew Belloni. “I know what you did. You and your ‘paper’ are a huge part of cesspool Hollywood.” (Price recently resigned from his role as the head of Amazon Studios after he was suspended in response to sexual harassment allegations published this month in the Hollywood Reporter. However, the first exposé on Price was originally written for the outlet in the spring of 2016. When THR opted not to publish it, it was published by the subscription-based website the Information. Belloni has denied allegations that the Hollywood Reporter passed on the story due to outside pressure.)

    “We need to look at who funds the Rape Machine,” McGowan instructed her followers: “#TF1 Group, #WPP, #GoldmanSachs, #Technicolor.”

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  141. McGowan is following the money and naming names. She is out to destroy the systemic misogyny of Hollywood, and she is not being nice about it.

    None of this means that McGowan is completely immune to criticism. In particular, her feminist activism sometimes erases women who are not white, straight, and cis.

    In 2015, McGowan faced accusations of transphobia after she slammed Caitlyn Jenner for joking that the hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear. “You want to be a woman and stand with us,” McGowan wrote on Facebook, “well learn us.” (McGowan later apologized and said she was not transphobic.)

    And just last week, McGowan objected to a questionable set of Weinstein jokes from James Corden by tweeting, “Replace the word ‘women’ w/ the ‘N’ word. How does it feel?”

    “She, essentially, went full white feminist,” wrote Clarkisha Kent at the Root. McGowan deleted the tweet and apologized, but Kent argued that her apology was inadequate and poorly considered.

    McGowan also scolded Ellen DeGeneres for speaking out for gay and trans people in Mississippi. “Speak for women as well plz,” she tweeted, a sentiment that seemed to ignore the fact that many gay and trans people are women.

    McGowan is loud and unapologetic, and is also prone to making straight, white, cis feminism her default, erasing the experiences of other women. She messes up sometimes, and she’s usually loud about it, because she’s loud about everything. That makes her a formidable foe for someone like Harvey Weinstein, but it has its downsides too.

    McGowan is no longer very interested in acting. That gives her a lot of freedom to be as outspoken as she likes.
    In the current phase of her career, McGowan is not particularly interested in acting any more. (“I kind of always hated acting!” she told BuzzFeed in 2015.) She’s interested in pursuing directing, and in the meantime, most of her income appears to come from her investments. (She holds stakes in a number of businesses, including Drybar.)

    That means she can be loud and she can name names and she can refuse to be nice, and she doesn’t have to worry as much about potential consequences. She’s got a book coming out about standing up to systemic oppression, and she doesn’t have to think about whether she’ll ever be offered the opportunity to act again, because she doesn’t really want to act. That position grants her a certain level of freedom.

    McGowan is now using that freedom to speak out against the systemic misogyny of Hollywood and against everyone who is complicit in holding it up. And according to the story she tells about her life, that’s what everything she’s experienced has been building up to.

  142. Sex cult survivor reveals she was beaten into becoming a ‘soldier of Christ’ in preparation for the ‘Apocalypse’ in the terrifying Children of God cult

    Natacha Tormey, 34, was born into the religious cult and spent 18 years being indoctrinated and raised as a 'soldier for Christ'

    by Becky Pemberton, The Sun October 30 2017

    TO THE outside world, the Children of God cult seemed like many other hippie groups in the 60s and 70s; communes of young people playing music, helping the needy and living in harmony.

    However under the surface, the religious sect was a hot bed for child sex abuse, rape, and brainwashing about the forthcoming “apocalypse”.

    Natacha Tormey, 34, was born into the “sick” sect and spent 18 years being indoctrinated and raised as a “soldier” for Christ - and has lifted the lid on her time for the Sun Online.

    Her parents Marcel and Genevieve had joined the cult, known today as Family International, as teenagers in the mid 70s, shortly after its conception in 1968.

    The oppressive movement was launched in California by self-professed prophet David Berg and boasted 35,000 at its peak – including the parents of actress Rose McGowan.

    At the time of her birth, Natacha’s family were based in Thailand, although they later moved around communes in Indonesia, Malaysia and France.

    The communes were ruled by "Shepherds Of The Home", and kids were separated from their families to live with their separate age groups for their “training”.

    Natacha, who was taken away from her 11 siblings and parents, said: “Our schedules were very strict, kind of life a military camp. The daily schedules were very regimented, not so much schooling as religious education.

    “It was really a training camp when you were a child to bring you up to be a soldier in the end time, for the last seven years of the world.

    “We were meant to be the core army unit, so to speak, in a spiritual sense, where we’d be fighting the 'Antichrist' and the system, so they did have some physical training around that.”

    In order to be prepared for “surviving in the wilderness”, she was taught “Bear Grylls-style” survival skills such as making fires and catching small animals to eat.

    Any rebellion or talking back, and children faced being brutally beaten with a wooden board, or being placed under “silence restriction”.

    Kids who were forbidden from talking would go around with signs around their necks for weeks upon end without being able to communicate with anyone.

    She said: “They had all forms of punishments that were just horrible. Chewing on soap if you had said a bad word. Hitting was commonplace, knocking you on the head.”

    In some of the poorer communes she grew up in, she would walk round in tattered clothes, eating miniscule portions of rice and eggs, and many of her meals were donated and past their expiry date.

    Cult members were trapped in the communes psychologically and financially, as they would give all their finances over to the leaders when they arrived and were taught to fear the outside.

    She explained: “You couldn’t leave the commune, you had to get permission from who they called the Shepherd of the Home, the people who were in charge with the running of the home. No one had their own money.

    “They made you fear all the time that something bad would happen to you if you left. You would be struck dead.

    “As they didn’t use contraception, most people had five, six or seven kids, so they didn’t want to escape with no money or resources. It was very daunting.”

    Kids especially had no contact with the outside world.

    Natacha said: “Everything we watched, read and listened to was all cult-produced.

    “There were very few movies from the outside world that we were allowed to watch. Once in a blue moon, like once a month, we could watch a movie.

    “We were brainwashed from birth to be soldiers of Christ and have this special warrior status and ultimately die as martyrs and be rewarded in heaven.”

    continued below

  143. Natacha recalled being allowed to watch the Sound of Music on occasion, and also a heavily edited Pinocchio.

    She said: “They did have Pinocchio but they edited out so much of it that they thought was ungodly that it didn’t make sense anymore.

    “They had reproduced it with parts cut out and every five or ten minutes was a voice coming in to explain what it meant.”

    Although they were given basic skills in arithmetic, reading and writing, they were given a skewed version of history and science.

    Natacha said: “Things like history and science was very much the cult’s version of it. It was such a twisted view.”

    She claims that her generation, who were born into the cult, were hit hardest – and estimated that approximately 50 people that she heard of had committed suicide after their time in the cult.

    She explained: “Some don’t commit suicide for many years and then just can’t handle it.

    “Many of my generation who left fell into drugs, prostitution, stripping, alcoholism. I guess in one way because they just didn’t know how to cope with the outside world. You fall into jobs just to survive.”

    As well as the teaching about the upcoming Apocalypse, the cult’s views on sex were extremely disturbing.

    Natacha revealed: “There were the infamous sexual practises that went on, that were basically prostitution and the sharing between couples.

    “When my parents started it was no sex before marriage - pretty much the strict Christian lifestyle.”

    But she explained how, under Berg’s leadership, the idea of the sharing of partners and child abuse become commonplace.

    She said: “People who were married should give their partner sexually to those who were single so their sexual needs were met.

    “At the beginning it was consensual and you had a choice but it very quickly became that the pressure was so strong in the group environment that if you didn’t do it, you were considered to be disobedient and basically condemned and punished.”

    They quickly set up a rota for who had to sleep with who on what night, even if the woman was pregnant.

    She said: “They were forcing people to have sex with people - even if they were pregnant you weren’t let off the schedule. There was a point when a lot of orgies were going on in every commune.”

    If women didn’t comply with the sex rota or rebelled in general, there were severe punishments in store.

    Natacha said: “Some of the more severe cases you heard about were women being sent on a fundraising trip and they had come back and their entire family had disappeared.

    “Their spouse and kids would be sent to another country or commune. They had one option - to start complying or to leave and help get them back. In one case it took years to get them back.”

    And the sexual horrors weren’t restricted to adults.

    She said: “Berg later published a letter saying that there is nothing wrong with child sex, that children are capable of feeling sexual emotions from a young age.

    “Everyone who had a tendency towards that kind of thing took it as a go ahead to do it.

    “There was no age when it started. I was abused at four years old, I’m sure there were those who were abused younger. Once you reached to about 10 or 12 years old you were probably heavily targeted.”

    Her abuser was her teacher – a man in his late 20s or early 30s from the Philippines - who was in charge of her three-to-fives group.

    She explained: “It started during the nap times when he started touching me whilst taking a nap.”

    continued below

  144. Things took an even darker turn when she was quarantined for being ill one occasion, also when she was four.

    She said: “I spent a few days locked in this shed that had been converted into a bedroom and he basically did what he wanted with you and no one ever knew.

    “I remember mainly touching and rubbing himself against me naked."

    Shockingly, Natacha felt there was no one she could tell, after witnessing a child be punished and called a liar for confessing a similar thing had happened to them.

    She said: “I think there were teen pregnancies, but a lot of the children who were abused were too young to get pregnant. There were some [who did get pregnant] and that was what started the process of the cult cleaning up their act.”

    In order for the camp to continue functioning financially, women, and sometimes men, were roped into what was dubbed “flirty fishing” – which Natacha claims was essentially “religious prostitution”.

    She said: “Flirty fishing is the belief that a woman should go and use their bodies to win people over to Christ. I think initially they tried to use it as a recruitment tool until they realised they could make a lot of money out of it.

    “They didn’t just tell people they were asking for money, they made it sound like the women were giving these people such great gifts of salvation and God and that if the person wanted to donate to the cause at the same time there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

    While training, sexual abuse, beating and brainwashing continued in the various communes around the world, the date of the upcoming Apocalypse mysteriously changed numerous times, and Berg himself passed away in 1994 before the day of reckoning arrived.

    Natacha said: “The excuse was we weren’t ready. We weren’t prepared. God was finding us spiritually lacking so he was giving us more time.

    “Most people had been in the cult for 10 years, they were submerged with no contact with the outside world, no reference point with anyone who could say you are crazy.”

    However, on her 18th birthday when she was living in a camp in France, Natacha managed to finally break free from the commune.

    She said: “I always felt that something was very wrong since when I was a little girl. When I became a teenager I started to question things. I was 16 or 17 when I thought this was absolutely rubbish.”

    The camp in France was a little more relaxed than the others and she had been able to secretly date a man, who offered her a roof over her head.

    Natacha, who now has a career in HR, said: “For many years I was terrified, and nearly joined again after I left. I had depression and anxiety. There were times when I thought ‘My life is so difficult, maybe god is punishing me for leaving.’”

    Later she fled to the UK, and is now married to husband Kevin, and the pair have a one-year-old baby.

    Her whole family managed to escape, and Natacha said they constantly work hard to “move forwards and not look back”.

    She said: “I managed to break away. Psychologically it has taken a lot more years than that.

    “My main aim is to raise awareness and cults are not a thing of the past. They exist now just as much as they did before.”

    Born into the Children of God: My life in a religious sex cult and my struggle for survival on the outside and Cults: A Bloodstained History, both by Natacha Tormey, are available to purchase.

  145. Weinstein accuser Rose McGowans memoir Brave will pull no punches

    The actor has alleged that the film producer raped her in 1997, and her book promises to ‘shine a light on a business built on systemic misogyny’

    by Alison Flood, The Guardian November 7, 2017

    Rose McGowan’s memoir Brave, a book that the New Yorker claimed on Monday was the subject of an investigation by a private security agency hired by the film producer Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers, will be published on 30 January 2018 by HarperCollins.

    An account of McGowan’s rebellion against the “Hollywood machine that packaged her as a sexualised bombshell”, the memoir traces how she escaped from the Italian chapter of the Children of God cult, how she was “discovered” on a curb in Los Angeles, and how she went on to star in films including Scream and Planet Terror, as well as the television series Charmed.

    It will also, said the publisher, show how the actor’s fame “soon became a personal nightmare of constant exposure and sexualisation”. McGowan, who has accused Weinstein of raping her in a hotel room in 1997, said: “My life, as you will read, has taken me from one cult to another. Brave is the story of how I fought my way out of these cults and reclaimed my life. I want to help you do the same.”

    HarperCollins called the book “a pull-no-punches account of the rise of a star, fearless activist, and unstoppable force for change who is determined to expose the truth about the entertainment industry, dismantle the concept of fame, shine a light on a multibillion-dollar business built on systemic misogyny, and empower people everywhere to wake up and be BRAVE”.

    According to the New Yorker article by Ronan Farrow, Brave was allegedly the subject of an investigation by “an enterprise run largely by former officers of Mossad and other Israeli intelligence agencies”. The agency was allegedly hired by Weinstein’s lawyers to “provide intelligence [that] will help the client’s efforts to completely stop the publication of a new negative article in a leading NY newspaper” – the New York Times article that opened the floodgates for accusations of sexual assault against Weinstein – “and to ‘obtain additional content of a book that is currently being written and includes harmful negative information on and about the client’, who is identified as Weinstein in multiple documents.”

    Farrow alleges that agents met McGowan under false identities in order to obtain information from her. The book containing the “harmful negative information” was Brave.

    “The documents show that, in the end, the agency delivered to Weinstein more than 100 pages of transcripts and descriptions of the book, based on tens of hours of recorded conversations between McGowan and the female private investigator,” writes Farrow. His New Yorker article includes a comment from Weinstein’s spokesperson, which called “the assertion that Mr Weinstein secured any portion of a book … false and among the many inaccuracies and wild conspiracy theories promoted in this article”. Weinstein has also denied any accusation of non-consensual sex.

    McGowan, who shared the jacket image of Brave on Twitter, told Farrow after his article was published: “Your words will line the halls of justice.”

  146. Former sex cult leader facing jail for abusing children ‘on orders of God’

    by Russell Jackson, The Scotsman November 9, 2017

    A former member of a religious sex cult is facing jail for sexually and physically abusing children on the orders of God.

    Alexander Watt, who abused two children in the central belt in the 1980s, admitted his guilt at Paisley Sheriff Court today.

    The court heard Watt, 68, was a member of an organisation known as “The Children of God” or “The Family.”

    Prosecutor David McDonald said: “Publicly available information of the organisation, which is also supported by the complainers and witnesses in this case, suggest this was a ‘sex cult’.

    “The organisation believed in ‘free love’ and in the early years there appears to have been no structures on sex, regardless of age or relationship.

    “The organisation also advocated very strict discipline of children.” Watt, who previously lived in Edinburgh and Paisley and now lives in Dumbarton, who told police probing him he had been a member of a “hippy organisation” was previously jailed for two years in the 1970s for a politically-motivated bank robbery.

    Actors River Phoenix and Joaquin Phoenix were raised in the cult.

  147. Children of God cult beast caged for child sex attacks

    Alexander Watt abused youngsters in the 80s when he was a member of controversial religious organisation.

    by Ron Moore, Daily Record November 10, 2017

    A member of a religious sex cult who abused children has been warned he faces jail.

    Alexander Watt, 68, belonged to the controversial Children of God organisation when he carried out sexual offences against two youngsters in Renfrewshire and on the east coast in the 80s.

    Paisley Sheriff Court heard that father-of-10 Watt attacked a girl aged between four and eight and a boy aged between seven and nine.

    Watt, of Dumbarton, pled guilty to four charges of assault and lewd, indecent and libidinous behaviour against the children.

    Fiscal depute David McDonald told the court: “The accused was a member of the organisation The Children of God, aka The Family. Publicly available information suggests it was a sex cult with fairly lax rules over members’ sexual contact regardless of age.”

    Sheriff James Spy said: “These are serious charges. I am going to continue bail and you should not take it as an indication there will not be a custodial disposal.”

    Watt was placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register and will be sentenced on December 21.

  148. 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know about Tina Dupuy

    By Jennifer Abel, HEAVY December 6, 2017

    A journalist and comedian has become the eighth woman to accuse Minnesota Senator Al Franken of unwanted and improper sexual misconduct toward her. Here’s five things to know about Tina Dupuy:

    1. She First Broke her Story in ‘The Atlantic’ Magazine
    Tina Dupuy’s allegations against Franken first became known on Dec. 6. when the Atlantic published an article she wrote, headlined “I Believe Franken’s Accusers Because He Groped Me, Too.”

    According to Dupuy, she encountered Franken at a Media Matters party during Obama’s first inauguration, which she described as “a great time to be a Democrat. Not only had we just elected the first African American president of the United States, but Franken’s [Minnesota Senate] race had triggered a recount, leaving lefties giddy that we would soon have a supermajority in the Senate.”

    Dupuy wanted to pose for a photo with Al Franken because her foster mother was a Franken fan:

    I only bug celebrities for pictures when it’ll make my foster mom happy. She loves Franken, so I asked to get a picture with him. We posed for the shot. He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice.

    I’d been married for two years at the time; I don’t let my husband touch me like that in public because I believe it diminishes me as a professional woman. Al Franken’s familiarity was inappropriate and unwanted. It was also quick; he knew exactly what he was doing.

    It shrunk me. It’s like I was no longer a person, only ornamental. It said, “You don’t matter—and I do.” He wanted to cop a feel and he demonstrated he didn’t need my permission.

    2. She Spent Part of her Childhood as a Ward of the State
    The biography on Dupuy’s self-titled website says that Dupuy’s “infancy was spent as glorified luggage, dragged around several countries on two continents and eventually attending nine elementary schools. The daughter of two self-involved former-cult-members, Tina was mostly feral until the age of 13 when she was finally made a ward of the state. Think, ‘Kafka as a pre-pubescent girl.’ The most stable home she ever had was an adolescent all-girls group home in Northern California….”

    Her parents belonged to the Children of God cult, and Dupuy has said that her mother used to use young Tina as a “prop” to help sell Children of God leaflets on the streets of Manhattan.

    In the Atlantic, when she discussed her alleged encounter with Franken, Dupuy credited her foster father with supporting her latent interest in political matters: “My experience with government at that point [prior to meeting Franken] was being a ward of the court in foster care. Noting that I had an interest in politics and in grandstanding—at 14, I ran a scorched-earth campaign to make the entire group home I lived in recycle—my foster dad set up an internship for me at the district office of Representative George Miller.”

    Dupuy became a journalist and comedian whose work appears in a wide variety of outlets. She also hosts a show on SiriusXM. In 2014, she was featured in an episode of This American Life.

    In 2016, she took what she knew would be a temporary job as Communications Director for then-Congressman Alan Grayson — temporary because Grayson was not running for re-election and intended to step down the following January.

    3. She Says she Only Came Forward After Realizing Franken Would not Step Down
    Dupuy’s confessional in the Atlantic explains why she waited so long to come forward with her story: “I wasn’t going to come forward. Then I was. Then I wasn’t. I’ve been hoping Franken would just step down and I wouldn’t have to say anything. I’ve been hoping he’s a decent enough man not to force his victims to parade in front of the Ethics Committee. I’ve been hoping I’d not ever have the moniker of ‘Franken accuser’.”

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  149. Dupuys article also included a hefty dose of self-criticism for he 1990s-era support of Bill Clinton after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct: “I ignored the very idea that Bill Clinton raped Juanita Broaddrick. I put it in the same category as Bill Ayers, the New Black Panther Party, and Benghazi: A shorthand swipe Republicans lob on cable TV. Besides, I liked Bill Clinton. I had a single mother too. I also liked Hillary. As first lady, she made old men furious for not ‘knowing her place.’ The Clintons were an inspiration to me. Then [initial Franken accuser Leeann] Tweeden tweeted #metoo.”

    4. She Decries the Partisanship That Inspired People to Support Sexual Predators From Their own Political Party
    When various women accused then-President Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct in the 1990s, he had his share of feminist defenders who ordinarily would side with multiple women against the lone man they accused of mistreating them, but made an exception in Clinton’s case, basically on the grounds that as president, he supported feminist issues.

    Dupuy’s story in the Atlantic summarized some of those 1990s apologias, then recited a similar list of more recent ones defending Franken: “The author Kate Harding, shortly after Tweeden published her account, wrote a piece for The Washington Post, headlined: ‘I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign.’ In it, she rehashes what Steinem wrote 20 years ago: These are our guys, we must protect them especially if there’s a risk one could be replaced by a Republican. ‘If we set this precedent in the interest of demonstrating our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women, we’re only going to drain the swamp of people who, however flawed, still regularly vote to protect women’s rights and freedoms’.”

    But Dupuy completely dismissed such logic, rhetorically asking “Really? If Democrats demonstrate our party’s solidarity with harassed and abused women something bad will happen to women’s rights? Are you kidding me? Is that why there is a slush fund on Capitol Hill to settle sexual-harassment claims with taxpayer dollars—because of feminism? …. I have a radical idea: Maybe Democrats can replace politicians who harass and abuse women with anyone other than an abuser. There are good men in the world. I married one. I’ve worked with many more. Do we really believe our talent pool will dry up and our caucus will be nonexistent once we kick out all the creepers? I don’t. What if protecting men who harass and abuse women isn’t actually good for women? Maybe, just maybe, it’s only good for the men.”

    5. She’s a Former Poster Child for Alcoholics Anonymous, Despite not Being an Alcoholic
    For part of her adolescence, after being placed in a girls’ home, Dupuy started attending AA meetings (although years later, she realized she never actually was an alcoholic). A January 2016 article she wrote for Vox describes the story of how that happened: “The lowest point in my life came when I’d barely turned 13. My father, a man twice my size, had beaten me up, and I’d spit on him. I screamed and wailed for someone to call the cops. They came — and I was the one they took away. I’ve successfully blocked out going to court, but my records state I was there for assault, a charge that was later reduced to disturbing the peace. I was left to rot in juvenile hall for two months while I awaited placement. I’d never felt more isolated and alone — no parents, no advocates; no one knew where I was, and it was clear to me that no one cared.”

    continued below

  150. While in juvenile hall she met various AA members who came to the hall’s church to “witness” to people. As Dupuy puts it: “They said if I did what they did — that is, not drink and go to meetings — I’d never have to come back to juvenile hall. I was sold.”

    So she joined AA, and that’s how she got out of juvenile hall and placed into the girls’ home which she later described in her online biography as “The most stable home she ever had.”

    As Dupuy noted, when she joined AA she’d only drank alcohol about six times in her entire life, but:

    Mostly I just didn’t get along with my mother, and she subscribed to Calvinistic punishments like kid jail and institutions for the slightest of infractions.

    Nevertheless, believing I was an alcoholic helped me make sense of the way my mom treated me — and the way I acted in response. If I were an alcoholic, my mother’s harsh treatments made sense. My attitude problem (being ungrateful and calling my mother a bitch) was predictive: Only addicts would treat their parents that way. Only alcoholics would end up in a mental hospital, juvenile hall, and now a group home all before they turned 14. Drinking didn’t make me an alcoholic. According to the grown-ups who doled out harsh consequences, it was all these harsh consequences that made me an alcoholic.

    Decades later, after she was a happily married and professional successful adult, did she think to question the narrative she’d previously embraced: “First to go was the narrative that I was a volatile, unstable, and sick person. I wasn’t. Nor had I ever been. My husband of 10 years assured me I was even-keeled and emotionally stable. ‘You’re not cruel, you’re not mean. You never have been,’ he said. … Eventually I questioned if I was even an alcoholic. I’d been “sober” for 24 years. Had I ever really been a drunk? Well, not really. In fact, if you listen to my AA speaker tapes, I don’t actually drink in my pitch. I talk about how I wanted to drink or I intended to drink — but I never actually guzzled booze, got drunk, and had a bad time.”

  151. Endicott man who kept child porn sexually abused girls, gets 30 years in prison

    by Anthony Borrelli, Press Connects December 19, 2017

    Described by prosecutors as a manipulative predator, Endicott resident Richard Squires was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in federal prison for child porn and sexual exploitation charges.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Miroslav Lovric, in court documents, said Squires, 58, committed abuses against at least five children — four are developmentally disabled — who were chosen because he knew they would be easy targets.

    The FBI also found Squires with some 50,000 graphic child porn images and videos.

    "The sexual abuse of any child is horrific and inhuman," Lovric said in court documents. "But the sexual abuse of a developmentally disabled child is beyond comprehension and speaks loudly to the inhumanity that rests in Richard Squires' soul."

    But the defense, attempting to bring context to Squires' crimes, said he became the victim of "ritualized sexual abuse" himself during late childhood and early teen years.

    According to the defense, Squires fell in with the practices of the "Children of God" cult that advocated sexual relations between adults and children.

    Acquaintances had invited him to join the activities associated with the "Children of God" hippie Christian cult that was founded in 1968, then abolished in 1978, according to the defense. The cult had up to 130 communes worldwide during the early 1970s.

    In court documents, Assistant Federal Public Defender Courtenay McKeon said these experiences could shed light on why, as a grown man, her client committed sex crimes.

    "As a child, Mr. Squires did not understand that these activities were abuse," McKeon said in court documents. "He is just now beginning to connect his own childhood abuse with his actions as an adult and hopes to address them in counseling during his incarceration."

    Endicott man indicted on federal child sex crimes

    The sentence, handed down Tuesday by Judge Thomas McAvoy in Binghamton's federal courthouse, followed Squires' guilty pleas in August felony counts of sexual exploitation of a child, receipt of child pornography, and possessing child pornography.

    Squires' prison term will be followed by lifetime supervised release as a sex offender.

    Endicott police arrested Squires in mid-April after a teenage girl told authorities she remembered "possibly inappropriate activities" during a "truth or dare" game at a sleepover four years earlier, according to court records.

    Squires also set up cameras in his home to produce images and videos showing minors engaging in sex acts, according to prosecutors. He also told a victim to make it sound like these activities were just between her friends, if anyone asked her about it.

  152. David Ickes Friend Zen Gardner Confesses He Ran Pedophile Cult

    by Baxter Dmitry, Your News Wire August 12, 2016

    Zen Gardner, conspiracy guru and trusted friend of David Icke, has been forced to come clean about his years as a leader of notorious pedophile cult, The Children of God, also known as The Family and The Family International.

    The cult has been forced to change its name and flee one South American country after another in recent years after revelations about their sick child abuse practises and doctrine have come to light.

    Currently using the name Don Ferguson, but well known on the internet as Zen Gardner, the high profile conspiracy guru joined the The Family at the age of 22 to escape an abusive childhood. He remained in the cult for 27 years, working his way up the ranks to become a leader, teacher and media chief in charge of “image management.”

    An image manager’s job in a pedophile cult would likely involve painting a rosy picture of the cult as wholesome to the outside world.

    However Zen Gardner, in a blog post titled My Missing Years, is now attempting to play the victim and blame the cult leadership – of which he was a part – for the cult’s depravities. He is attempting to downplay his personal involvement by blaming the same cult whose image it was once his job to massage.

    It is unlikely that somebody who spent 27 years of their adult life in a pedophile cult, rising through the ranks to become a leader and media chief, would not have some idea of what was going on behind the scenes. That is not how cults work.

    The Children of God were founded by David “Moses” Berg (known as “Dad” to cult members) who led the group until his death in 1994. The son of American pentecostal evangelists, Berg was a nymphomaniac who had been sexually abused as a child.

    He preached the virtues of free-for-all sex, including pedophilia and incest, under the guise of religious observance, and advocated sex with minors. His only caveat was the assertion “as long as it is done in love.”

    The job of the cult’s leadership is to teach the “Mo letters” – doctrinal writings handed down by Berg that governed all aspects of members’ lives.

    Parts of the “Mo letters” promote horrific assaults on children and ritual sexual abuse of women and minors. Children are taught it is their role to sexually “service adults.” It is not clear whether Zen promoted this aspect of Berg’s teachings or not.

    “I practise what I preach. And I preach sex, boys and girls,” Berg wrote in one of his “Mo Letters.”

    Zen Gardner built up a committed online following, presenting himself as a guru of love and light, whilst keeping his past job a secret. David Icke, a trusted friend of Gardner’s, even considered giving the former cult leader his own programme on The People’s Voice Internet TV station (luckily it was not David’s decision to make, so this did not come to fruition).

    David Icke’s Credentials

    Icke champions himself as a child abuse researcher and exposer of pedophilia, however this is not the first time he has been exposed as associating with someone closely connected to child abuse.

    continued below

  153. In the 1980s Icke was a BBC colleague of shamed predator Jimmy Savile. According to former BBC Radio 1 presenter Nick Murray, “absolutely everybody knew about” Savile’s behaviour (ITV, 13 November 2012).

    Former BBC personality Bill Oddie said that Savile’s activities were a ‘running sick joke’ at the BBC. “The idea that youngsters were prey – everybody knew that.”

    However Icke did not raise the alarm on his fellow BBC presenter. If you have been paying attention to him these past few years you will have noticed he led his coverage of the Savile scandal with the claim that since the 1990s, when he asserts ‘unimpeachable sources’ informed him of Savile’s true nature, he has ‘told those who would listen’ about Savile’s ‘pedophilia and necrophilia’ (“Jimmy Savile… Doorman to the Cesspit,” David Icke newsletter, 14 October 2012) and that he had ‘named’ Savile as a predatory pedophile ‘such a long time ago’ (David Icke Newsletter, 3 November 2012).

    His claims of being a lone voice attempting to convince the disbelieving masses for decades was even repeated without question in the mainstream media.

    But the fact is, before Jimmy Savile’s crimes were reported by the mainstream media, Icke mentioned him a total of zero times.

    Not once, despite naming a multitude of others as pedophiles: George Bush Snr, Bill Clinton, Boxcar Willie, Kris Kristofferson, and many others. Not until Savile was dead and the whole mainstream media was swarming over his cadaver did Icke dare to so much as mention his name in his work.


    David Icke has built a career in part by championing himself as a pedophile exposer. He claims he is one of the best. And now an associate/friend of his – who he has promoted and been promoted by over the years – has confessed he spent 27 years, many of them in a leadership position, inside a notorious pedophile cult. And David Icke has remained silent on the issue.

    Worse than silent, in fact. It appears initial discussion of Zen Gardner’s confession was suppressed on the official David Icke forum.

    We emailed David Icke asking if he had any comment:

    “Given that Zen is a friend and supporter of your work, I wondered if you had any comment on this recent peice of news?”

    continued below

  154. David Icke via his son Jaymie responded with a torrent of personal abuse, and attempted to deflect from the issue by claiming he has never (physically) met Zen Gardner.

    “You are not a ‘writer’ at all. You are a professional clickbait headline merchant who is a disgrace to everything the alternative media represents. Your boss is Sean Adl-Tabatabai, a bitter former webmaster at, and the point of your ‘article’ will be to try to damage me by association with someone I have never met. But then that’s the level at which you operate so no one will be at all surprised. Much of the alternative media has already sussed you and the rest will follow eventually.

    I expect to be quoted in full. “

    David Icke’s claim that he has “never met” Zen Gardner is disingenuous. He may not have met Zen Gardner in person, but the internet is awash with videos featuring the two in discussion. Is this famously straight-talking proponent of truth now operating on the level of court room obfuscation and misdirection? Bill Clinton’s “That depends what the definition of ‘is’ is” comes to mind.

    Alternative Media Old Boys Club

    The tone of Icke’s response suggests he was hoping to completely cover up the scandal. He did not want to mention anything about Zen Gardner to his fans. He is aware that being a big supporter of Zen’s work over the years now puts him in an embarrassing position that many of his own fans would like him to address. However, Icke refused to address the issue we emailed him about.

    If so-called pillars of the alternative community refuse to deal with difficult issues, and attempt to bluff and misdirect, what hope is there for the alternative media? These ‘gurus’ must be held accountable for their actions, and not be allowed to get away with covering up each other’s misdeeds in the same manner as the elite they claim to oppose.

  155. How Dawn Watson escaped from a child sex cult

    A WOMAN who ran away from a horrific cult that considered paedophilia a religious rite has shared her harrowing story.

    by Alexandra Klausnerk, New York Post January 17, 2018

    A WOMAN who escaped from a sex cult as a teen is sharing her harrowing tale in the hopes that other victims will feel empowered to come forward.

    Dawn Watson, 29, ran away from The Children of God, now known as Family International, when she was just 13 years old.

    The cult, founded in California, by David Brant Berg in 1968, had spread to 130 other communities by 1972, including Brazil, where Watson was raised.

    In addition to promoting polygamy, the cult practised paedophilia and considered it a religious rite.

    “As you learned to brush your teeth as children, we learned to have sex,” Watson said of her troubling childhood.

    Male members of the cult known as “uncles” showed them pornographic images of women being crucified and shamed them into silence, she said.

    “I always looked at men and uncles of the community as a danger, and I wanted to be as far away as I could from them,” says Watson, who lamented never having a father figure.

    Watson was urged to keep quiet about the abuse.

    “A lot of the kids would get Scotch tape on their mouth, as in you don’t talk about things that are not of this culture or our belief systems. We had a spanking room that I was always in and out of,” she recalls.

    “I remember one day, we were just kids being kids, and we ended up getting a punishment and I remember I got so many spankings that my whole leg was bruised and I remember going to my mum and saying: ‘Is this love?’”

    Watson says her only solace was her cherished alone time with her dog.

    “I used to have a dog called Midnight and he was the cutest thing and he had a big doghouse, and I would sit down in that doghouse for hours and hours and just look at him,” she says.

    “He seemed to understand everything that was going on and it was a therapy for me because I could talk to him about anything and I knew he wasn’t going to judge me. He wasn’t going to punish me,” she adds.

    The cult tried to prevent members from learning about the outside world, but that didn’t stop Watson from seeking answers and a way out.

    “I finally got to a point in my life where I needed a way out. I desperately said: ‘You know what? If the outside world is a terrible place, if God is going to judge me and kill me and I am going to hell, I really don’t care,’” she said.

    Watson left the cult and stayed at the homes of various ex-members over the next few years. She said a man at one of those homes raped her when she was 15.

    “It was one of my darkest moments and it was at that moment I called up my mum and finally understood that she had found the strength to get out of the community,” she says.

    After reuniting with her family, Watson went on to study psychology. While it took a while for her to overcome her traumatic past and find her place in society, Watson is now committed to helping other victims like her.

    Watson shared her story publicly for the first time in 2014 and the supportive feedback she got from others inspired her to set up a charity called Dawn Watson’s Institute.

    “I take people that have gone through extreme amounts of pain and I help them go through the process that I’ve gone through in my life of forgiveness of emptying, of owning what they have,” she explains.

  156. How REMs biggest hit inspired one man to escape from his life as cult member

    CBC Radio January 14, 2018

    Perry Bulwer left high school in 1972 to join a religious cult called The Children of God (later called The Family International). He moved around world from commune to commune. He had no money of his own. His access to newspapers, TV or radio was completely controlled by the cult.

    Perry lived this way for years, but he started to see abuse within the cult and began having doubts.

    While living at a commune in Japan, Perry eventually gained access to a radio, and was soon hit by a song that "rocked his world" — "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.

    "The lyrics seemed to speak directly to me. It was like for the first time in my life I realized that it would be possible to lose my religion — to give it up. And although I didn't do that right away, I did start to make secret plans to escape the cult."

    It took two years to squirrel away enough money to buy a plane ticket home--to physically get out.

    But escaping mentally would prove harder than he could have imagined. It's a journey he's still on today.

    Listen at:

  157. Who Are The Children Of God? Rose McGowan Was Shaped By Spending Her Childhood With This Religious Sect

    By KAYLA HAWKINS, BUSTLE January 30, 2018

    Actor, director, and writer Rose McGowan has gone from being best known for starring in movies like Scream and Jawbreaker to passionately speaking out against the wave of sexual abuse and harassment accusations that have rocked the entertainment industry. Her latest project is Citizen Rose, a docuseries on E! that will explore what the activist is doing now to challenge sexism and heal from the traumas she says she experienced in Hollywood. The series also looks into McGowan's background, including her childhood growing up as a part of the Children of God commune in the Italian countryside.

    The actor's family eventually left Children of God. But the group, now known as the Family International, still exists today. Per the group's website, it was founded in California in 1968 by David Brandt Berg and his wife as a Christian ministry for teens, but expanded to have a presence in cities all over the world. According to The Guardian, the FBI and Interpol investigated the group regarding claims of kidnapping, incest, and sexual abuse. A 1974 report from the New York Attorney General's office attested that child rape was common in Children of God, rationalized by Berg's "Laws of Love" philosophy of child and teen sexuality. Berg died in Portugal in 1994 while still under FBI and Interpol investigation.

    Survivors and siblings Kristina Jones,‎ Celeste Jones, Juliana Buhring co-wrote a book about their reportedly abusive experience, called Not Without My Sister: The True Story Of Three Girls Violated & Betrayed By Those They Trusted. And deceased actor River Phoenix, who — along with his siblings — spent a few years of childhood in Children of God, gave a 1991 interview to Details claiming that he was forced to have sex at four years old. Many other individuals who have left the organization have spoken out.

    In 2005, per The New York Times, Berg's stepson Ricky Rodriguez brought the Family back into the headlines when he killed his childhood nanny Angela Smith, then committed suicide immediately after confessing by phone to his wife. Authorities found a video he recorded before his death, which featured Rodriguez surrounded by various weaponry and promising to get justice for children like himself. His posthumous message led some to speculate that he may have been a victim of abuse. Claire Borowik, a spokesperson for the Family, told The New York Times that Rodriguez was raised in an harmless environment similar to a nudist colony, and called the organization a "Christian fellowship." She continued:

    "He was never taken advantage of. Rather he was allowed to explore his sexuality freely. He was allowed to explore as a young boy what comes naturally, and usually in our society, we do not allow such exploration."

    continued below

  158. McGowan called the Children of God "a cult" when she opened up about her childhood in an interview with People. McGowan claimed that she witnessed sexual abuse while living with the Children of God, even as a very young child. "I remember watching how the [cult’s] men were with the women... [The women] were basically there to serve the men sexually — you were allowed to have more than one wife," McGowan said. "The women would go to bars as lures [and pick up recruits] — they called it Flirty Fishing." In her book, Brave, McGowan also refers to Hollywood as "a cult." She wrote that she was reminded of her early experiences with Children of God when she became an actor and observed abuse in the industry as well.

    In a 1999 interview on The Roseanne Show, McGowan talked openly about the Children of God, saying that it had damaged her relationship with her mother, and that her mother "had been taught to serve men in all areas." The actor said she believes that experiencing cultural conditioning led her mother to the reportedly oppressive and sexist environment of Children of God. She also described strange rituals like being forced to learn how to snap her fingers. But that's not where the rituals ended.

    McGowan claimed to People that Berg wanted to spread the message that "God made children able to enjoy sex," which rationalized the group's alleged child abuse. In Brave, McGowan wrote that this was the point when her family decided to leave the group, but needed to be careful. "When the cult got wind of certain members wanting to leave, one of their children might disappear, or some family would get severe punishment meted out to them, as a way of teaching the others," McGowan claimed.

    While her series is all about rising above and responding to adversity, the actor told People that there are still lingering memories and scars from her time with the Children of God. "As strong as I like to think I’ve always been, I’m sure I could have been broken," McGowan said. "I know I got out by the skin of my teeth."

  159. Inside the Children of God sex cult in which actress and #MeToo campaigner Rose McGowan was raised and how her first love was stabbed to death in unsolved murder

    By Jon Lockett, The Sun UK January 30, 2018

    HOLLYWOOD actress Rose McGowan has told how she escaped a notorious sex cult she was born into.

    The lead campaigner of the movie industry's #MeToo movement's parents were once entrenched with the twisted religious sect in Italy.

    McGowan's parents escaped to the US when the sect began openly advocating sexual relationships between adults and children.

    But by then the cult - and its enigmatic leader David Berg - had devastated hundreds of lives.

    The Children of God cult was born out of the Teens for Christ movement which existed on the fringe of America's hippy community.

    They were considered as "harmless" Jesus People and generally preached simple living and good deeds.

    Their 'be nice to each other ' mantra fitted in nicely with those of the flower power generation of the late 1960s.

    But founder Berg would eventually twist the group into a religious cult which catered for his sexual desires.

    Horrific reports of sexual violence, incest, and brainwashing still haunt the religious organisation.

    At the beginning, Berg was a travelling preacher on a mission to spread the word of God.

    But he soon found himself skint and frustrated his message just wasn't getting through to America's youth.

    He then claims in 1967 he had a "lightbulb" moment which would take the Teens for Christ movement down a dark road.

    Berg later revealed: "“I saw something was really happening and was really going to explode!

    "I just knew it! I saw the Lord was really doing something!

    "That’s when I began to come down and teach in my dark glasses, beret, baggy pants, old torn jacket and tennis shoes…”

    He promptly changed the name of his religion to Children of God - hoping to appeal to the disaffected youth.

    By early 1969, COG counted 50 converts, and eventually Berg hit the road with his new-found followers.

    Within a year the group had recruited more than 200 new members.

    They returned to southern California in early 1970 -  and that’s when things started to go wrong.

    Twisted Berg started communicating to his converts through his weird writings and cartoons.

    In a February 1971 essay he talked of his "little lambs" who “laugh and sing and dance and play and f***!”

    Berg preached “sexual sharing” and "free expression" to all of his followers - including the children.

    “God created boys and girls able to have children by about 12 years of age,” the deviant once wrote.

    When interviewed in the 1980s he described those sickening words as "educational.”

    He once ordered female cult members to seduce and bed strangers - in a bid to attract more recruits

    His followers - including those that are married - were often called upon to sacrifice their bodies in the name of God.

    Berg is even reported to have expressed regret at never being able to sleep with his mother

    Before his death in 1994, Berg's granddaughter Merry claimed he'd molested her when she was a teen.

    By 1977, the cult had established more than 130 communities around the world.

    In 1983, the group reported more than 10,000 full-time members living in more than 1,600 communities.

    The Children of God was then officially renamed “The Family.”

    After Berg's death the group desperately tried to distance itself from the former leader and his bizarre teachings.

    It wanted to be seen as a genuine religious sect - offering freedom of movement.

    continued below

  160. But it was rocked by more scandals in the 1990s and 2000s with former members alleging acts of "sexual criminality."

    Then one former high-profile member Ricky Rodriguez - considered Berg's adopted son - committed murder-suicide in 2005.

    He blew his brains out after stabbing to death a female cult member he claimed was involved in childhood molestation.

    Rodriguez had earlier filmed a video, explaining exactly what he planned to do.

    In the video he said he saw himself as a vigilante, avenging children who had been subject to rapes and beatings.

    "There's this need that I have", he said.

    "It's not a want. It's a need for's a need for justice."

    McGowan has now opened about a life of abuse long before her alleged sexual assault at the hands of "predator" movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

    In her new memoir, the 44-year-old tells of being raised in the cult by "cruel" parents who forced her into a relationship with an abusive older man.

    Some of her earliest memories include her father taking a second wife and being savagely beaten for "refusing to take God into her heart", she writes.

    Shortly after escaping her relationship with the older man called William, McGowan says she started dating a club owner named Brett Cantor.

    Things seemed to be looking up for her, relationship-wise. Then, out of nowhere, he was stabbed to death.

    The murder is still unsolved, “but I have been trying for years to remedy that,” McGowan writes.

    She also speaks of the the 1997 Sundance Film Festival incident between her and Weinstein, who she brands a "monster", for the very first time.

    McGowan says that she had an appointment with Weinstein, who has denied ever sexually assaulting McGowan, but arrived to learn her breakfast meeting had been moved to his hotel suite.

    She claims Weinstein tore off her clothing and made her sit on the edge of the Jacuzzi while he performed a sex act on her while touching himself.

    "I freeze, like a statue," McGowan, who reached a £70,000 settlement with Weinstein, writes in the book seen by the New York Times.

    Then, in a story McGowan had previously hinted at on Twitter, she was taken to a photo-call for her film Phantoms which was playing at the festival in Utah.

    When her co-star Ben Affleck learned about what happened, he allegedly said: "Goddamn it. I told him to stop doing that." Affleck has previously denied this allegation.

    After the alleged assault, McGowan said her lawyer told her that no one would believe her in court and others “counselled me to see it as something that would help my career in the long run”.

    Weinstein's rep said in a statement: "Mr Weinstein denies Ms McGowan’s allegations of non-consensual sexual contact.

    "Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances."

    McGowan is one of up to 100 women to accuse Weinstein, 65, of sex abuse. including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, Brit model Cara Delevingne and actress Asia Argento.

    Weinstein was forced out of his own company in the wake of the scandal and is currently at a sex rehab clinic in Arizona.

    see photos in this article at:

  161. Children of God sex cult beast who abused kids dodges jail

    Alexander Watt admits string of sex offences against two youngsters in the 80s.

    by David Campbell, Daily Record UK February 3, 2018

    A former member of a religious sex cult who sexually abused children has been spared jail.

    Pensioner Alexander Watt, 68, who belonged to the controversial Children of God when he carried out sexual offences against two youngsters in the 80s in Renfrewshire and the east coast has been placed on probation for three years.

    At Paisley Sheriff Court yesterday, Sheriff James Spy ordered the dad-of-10 to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work and placed him under the supervision of social workers.

    He will also sign the Sex Offenders’ register for three years.

    Paisley Sheriff Court previously heard that Watt first attacked a girl aged between four and eight where he kissed her on the body, back and buttocks, exposed himself and enticed her to touch him.

    He also attacked a young boy aged between seven and nine by handling youngster’s buttocks, private parts and enticing him to touch him, as well as exposing himself.

    Watt, of Alclutha Avenue, Dumbarton, pleaded guilty to four charges of assault and lewd, indecent and libidinous behaviour against the children.

    His depraved actions only came to light after his victims, who cannot be identified, came forward.


  162. Joaquin Phoenix: The man who wasn’t really here? He’s still here

    He plays Jesus Christ in ‘Mary Magdalene’, in an echo of his own childhood as part of a cult religion. But the eccentric actor says his unconventional family kept him grounded

    by Donald Clarke, Irish Times March 10, 2018

    Joaquin Phoenix isn’t in the room. Has he climbed out the window? It’s a long way down and it’s snowing. Still, he is a bit of an eccentric. After a few seconds of confusion, he shuffles out of the bathroom dangling an extinguished cigarette from two fingers. Handsomely dishevelled, a little confused, he offers the very antithesis of the polished, on-message movie star. Nobody would confuse him with Hugh Jackman. But none of this looks like a pose. Joaquin does seem like a sincere oddball.

    I say hello.

    “Hello, hello. Where are you from? You sound like Terry George. ”

    Well spotted. That film-maker and I are both from the great city of Belfast.

    “Yeah, yeah. I worked with him on Hotel Rwanda.”

    He settles into a chair and ruffles his barmy hair.

    Now 43, Phoenix has been in the business since the age of eight. Brother of the late River Phoenix, he first appeared on screen as – you can see a pattern emerging – Leaf Phoenix, before reinventing himself as Joaquin at the age of 15. Nobody else around can match that combination of menace and vulnerability. You can see both in his current turn as Jesus Christ in Garth Davis’s mildly revisionist Mary Magdalene. There is something of the embarrassing street lunatic about this Jesus. But there’s also a battered sensitivity.

    “I think it was most important for me to find the man,” he wheezes. “Obviously we think of the icon first. And that is very dangerous as an actor.”

    So, he didn’t wrestle with the challenge of playing divinity.

    “We are all spirit and flesh,” he says. “It was more to do with finding that in myself and other people. I saw that in, for example, Sister Helen Prejean, who sits with death row inmates. I also thought of the Reverend James Lawson, who was very active in the Civil Rights movement.”

    I am intrigued by Phoenix’s relationship with Christianity and his feelings about its origins as a benign cult. He was born in Puerto Rico when his parents were still associated with the dubious body the Children of God. Founded by David Berg at the grubby end of the 1960s, the cult became notorious for its tolerance of incest. Phoenix’s family removed themselves from the Children of God when he was just three years old. But it remains a peculiar upbringing. That must colour his attitude to religion.

    “Everyone thinks that we were in this group with the founder and we all lived together,” he says. “My parents always lived apart from that. That was part of the process. You are not allowed in until you completely commit. I do have vivid memories of Venezuela and Puerto Rico, though.”

    Joaquin is not shy about the subject. Indeed, I get the sense that he feels the need to shift a weight off his chest here. The association with the Children of God has coloured much writing about him and his four siblings. Irresponsible reports have suggested that they’ve spent the remaining years shaking off early trauma.

    “Assumptions were made,” he says. “Sometimes very dark assumptions. It’s not true. The suggestion is my parents weren’t responsible. That pisses me off. My parents are the most protective people you could meet in your fucking life. And our wellbeing was paramount to them.”

    Phoenix recalls his parents watching an exposé about the Children of God years later and saying: “We fucking knew it.” The trigger to leave came when they caught wind of the practice known as “flirty fishing” – essentially using sex to lure disciples to the cult.

    “They received a letter suggesting that and they were out,” he says.

    The family changed their surname from Bottom to Phoenix – in honour of the avian symbol of rebirth – and settled in for a slightly less unorthodox version of the American life. Mom went to work as a secretary for NBC.

  163. continued: Dad became a gardener. A talent agent soon spotted the children and nudged all five towards the entertainment business. As a kid, Joaquin appeared in SpaceCamp, Russkies and, most famously, Ron Howard’s Parenthood.

    If you’re looking for a story of lost youth then you must search elsewhere. Joaquin gives me a characteristically quizzical look when I suggest that he missed out on childhood.

    “I don’t know where that comes from,” he says. “I don’t know who says that – maybe people who are not just acting, but also part of the machine. They attend the parties. They are pushing to be seen. Maybe that’s the thing. We never did. We always lived far away. Even when we lived in LA we lived up in the mountains. So I never experienced that part of it.”

    The Phoenix family played very much by their own rules. Then living in Florida, they remained stubbornly radical and stubbornly unmovable. Joaquin remembers breaking it to an agent that, as vegans, they would not do any commercials that involved animal products.

    “She was like: ‘Do you know how hard it is to break into this business? And you’re wiping out 70 per cent of the commercials you can do?’ I grew up putting my diet over working. I didn’t just want to be in any movie. I wanted to be in a movie I wanted to be in.”

    The Phoenix saga hinges around the death of River in 1993. When he collapsed outside the Viper Room on the Sunset Strip, the young actor was poised for world domination. (Somewhat surprisingly, Joaquin and River are the only brothers to have received Oscar nominations for acting.) It was Joaquin who made the 911 call.

    We didn’t see much of him on screen in the years before and after that tragedy. In 1995, he had a standout turn in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. It wasn’t until the millennium when, following an Oscar nomination for Gladiator, he really began to carve out a niche. Joaquin claims that the slack period was simply to do with a dearth of scripts.

    “There was nothing good I wanted to do,” he says. “The first time I took a break I was 15 years old. The scripts I got were just awful. How did a 15-year-old know that? I had a strong feeling for the things I wanted to experience.”

    Phoenix has succeeded despite a conspicuous suspicion of the publicity machine. I once sat in a round table interview with him that – while journalists pleaded as if speaking to a man on a ledge – he seemed permanently on the point of fleeing. He was nice throughout. He constantly said it wasn’t our fault. But he just didn’t like playing the game. In 2010, he faked his own public breakdown for a weird pseudo-documentary called I’m Still Here.

    “Oh, I am so fucking sick about talking about that,” he says. “No other film I’ve been in I have been asked so much about.” The film attacked the pressures of an endless celebrity news cycle.

    Film-makers still found things to do with him. He was transcendent opposite Philip Seymour Hoffman in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (about a cult, interestingly). This week, with Lynne Ramsay’s superb You Were Never Really Here, audiences will get to see the astonishing, anguished performance that won him best actor at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. We’re betting he’ll be at this year’s Cannes with Jacques Audiard’s adaptation of Patrick Dewitt’s The Sister Brothers.

    He probably doesn’t need to play by the rules. The best directors will fight to work with him. Still, he can’t help but notice the wretchedness all around. He recalls an incident from the making of I’m Still Here when he was urged to taunt a Miami audience with the words: “F**k you. I have a million dollars in my bank account. What do you have?” He resisted. He thought he’d be lynched. Eventually he gave in.

    “I did it and the crowd just cheered,” he says. “It was heartbreaking. I thought: Oh my God, what is this world?”

    He shakes a big, sad head at his unlit cigarette.

  164. I grew up in an apocalyptic sex cult just like Rose McGowan

    By Jane Ridley, New York Post, March 10, 2018

    Dressed head to toe in black and wielding broomsticks like guns, a band of assailants in helmets burst through the doors shouting and screaming like terrorists.

    As instructed, 5-year-old Flor Edwards hid under the stairs with the other children before the invaders hunted them down and pretended to shoot them dead.

    After remaining still for a few minutes, the kids rose, trancelike, from the floor — lifting their arms as they mimed flying up to meet Jesus at heaven’s gates.

    “[The drill] was to prepare us for the apocalypse,” Edwards, now 36, told The Post. The routine “practice raids” were staged by adults in the notorious Children of God sect, of which her family were members, living in a compound hidden behind an 8-foot-tall fence in remote Thailand.

    “I was terrified,” she recalled.

    Now a teacher at a community college, Edwards left the scandal-ridden doomsday cult in her early teens and has written about her unconventional childhood in the memoir “Apocalypse Child: A Life in End Times” (Turner Publishing), out Tuesday.

    Like Hollywood celebrities Rose McGowan and Joaquin and River Phoenix, who were also raised in the Children of God, Edwards lived in poverty and was programmed to believe that her existence would be snuffed out in 1993 by followers of the Antichrist. “[Up to the age of] 12 was as long as I was supposed to live,” she said.

    Devotees were taught that, following their inevitable death, they were destined for a blissful afterlife in the Garden of Eden while the rest of the world rotted in hell.

    Growing up, Edwards recalled, “Death was heavy on my mind. I’d think about it constantly . . . and imagine my future in heaven. I’d think about [how] I’d never become a woman.”

    It was in the mid-’70s that her father, a geology student, dropped out of University of California, Davis, to follow his five older siblings into the Children of God, which had been gaining traction among young hippies since 1968. The John Lennon-esque philosophy of peace, sharing and free love captured the mood of a generation. Possessions and other material things were considered unnecessary. The cult’s leader, David Berg, known as “Father David,” lived in seclusion and claimed to be the mouthpiece of God.

    “It started out very innocent. A bunch of young hippies joining together. . .and trying to do good things,” Edwards said.

    But over time, things turned dark. Writing to his followers in rambling letters, Berg espoused that America and the West were satanic influences and predicted that a warmongering global government would destroy Earth. Birth control was banned among the Children of God so the members could produce as many “end-time soldiers” as possible to assist in the fight against evil.

    “He was this obscure image that we had in our minds. I never saw him, my parents never met him,” Edwards said of Father David. “He was very much like a monarch. I remember being scared that if I said anything against him it would be blasphemous.”

    Edwards’ father met her Swedish mother in 1978, at one of the group’s communes in Spain. The couple went on to have 12 children, with Edwards and her twin sister, Tamar, the third and fourth of the brood, born in 1981.

    Edwards never experienced the cult’s reported worst practices — including incest and sex between adults and children. But in the shabby commune houses, where as many as 50 people would live at once, there was little privacy. Even at a tender age, she knew group sex was going on.

    “I am fully aware that all the adults are inside engaging in sexual congregation,” writes Edwards of one of her earliest memories, from age 3. “I don’t know how I know, but I’m certain an orgy is taking place inside.”

    continued below

  165. Edwards also experienced a bit of the group’s infamous “Flirty Fishing,” which encouraged female followers to recruit new members by “show[ing] God’s love” through sex. In one passage, Edwards describes being sent out in a frilly dress to a fishing town near the Thai-Malaysian border. She was nine years old.

    At the harbor, where the sailors they saw as potential converts were loading supplies, Edwards, her pregnant mother and her sisters sang Christian songs to them.

    “In unison, we gestured open palm to heart and then out to the audience of mostly men, as if to spread God’s love generously to anyone who was willing to receive it,” she writes. “Sometimes the sailors gifted us with souvenirs from their native lands, and we would accept them, allowing the men to wrap their arms around us and pull us in for a hug or a kiss on the cheek.”

    The family lived a nomadic existence, moving between compounds on the mysterious, mailed instructions of Father David. He transferred his disciples — which, at one point, numbered 144,000 people around the world — at his whim. Edwards lived in 24 different homes by the time she was 12, experiencing over and over the heartbreak of leaving new friends.

    She said that one of the most demeaning aspects of life in the cult was begging for groceries. “I was never hungry but the food we ate was quite bland, as everything we got was for free and we didn’t have money for sugar or oil,” said Edwards, who would be sent out on food-scouting missions with the other children. “I always felt embarrassed for having to ask for things for free.”

    “There’s something inherently humiliating about needing something from another human being, especially when it was not your choice to be in that position.”

    Edwards recalled once seeing the movie “Annie” — in which the main character is whisked from an orphanage to a mansion and given a fancy wardrobe and toys — and “wondering what it was like to have everything.” Instead, she was ordered by Father David to give up her few possessions, including a beloved doll. “It wasn’t my choice to give up my dolly,” she said.

    As for education, it was practically nonexistent. Chores, baby-sitting and performing marching routines like soldiers took up most of the children’s time. But they were occasionally home-schooled in math and geography in between reading and reciting portions of the King James Bible. Outside books, movies and music were largely forbidden. “It was an off-the-grid existence,” she said. “And we weren’t allowed to be children.”

    Discipline was left to the strictest and strongest “uncles” in the communes, who would beat the children with paddle boards.

    One day, “I was told after lunch that I was scheduled for a date with Uncle Paul at 2 p.m. to receive the dreaded board,” Edwards writes of punishment after a perceived infraction she can’t even recall. It could have been for something as innocuous as laughing at the “wrong” moment. She continued: “Each of the seven strikes sent me into a deeper state of delirium. ‘Please stop,’ I begged.”

    The one time Edwards was confronted with the issue of sexual abuse was when her mother told her that an uncle at the commune had been banished for crimes against his stepdaughter. “Personally, I always felt safe and protected by my parents,” she said, revealing that her family usually all shared one bedroom. “Some kids got it a lot worse than me. Some kids were abused, some kids were sexually abused.”

    continued below

  166. When 1993 came and went without the world ending, Father David announced that God had given them an “extension” of their apocalypse deadline. But when he passed away in 1994, members of the cult began leaving in droves. “Once he was gone, the group started to disintegrate,” said Edwards.

    That same year, when she was 13, the Edwards family was told Father David had had a “revelation” and that it was time for the cult members to return to the West. They would be moving to Chicago.

    Leaving Thailand for America was immediately eye-opening. Edwards recalled seeing a water fountain for the first time at the airport. “My brother was there, touching the button, and the water was coming out in an arch,” she said. “All of us crowded around it because we had seen nothing like it before . . . the fact that this clean water was coming out of this spout was amazing.”

    Shortly after settling in Chicago, the family moved to California, where Edwards and her sisters lobbied to finally abandon Children of God. “We wanted to go to school,” she said. Other children also wanted to leave, but “a lot of parents stayed in the group and said, ‘You’re on your own.’ My parents did what was best for us — take us all out, and stay a family. They left the group for us.”

    But the adjustment wasn’t always smooth. Edwards recalled trying to make friends and “being rejected” and admits to abusing alcohol and running with the “wrong crowd” in high school. She did find her path, however, first earning admission to California State University, Fullerton and then later, the University of California, Riverside.

    She later went on to become a writer and educator, coaching underprivileged kids in Los Angeles. Her father also got his degree and became a tenured professor in mathematics, although Edwards chooses not to reveal where her parents are today or what their lives are like, other than to confirm she is still close to them and that they both “loved” the book.

    Edwards, who is single, never met Joaquin or River Phoenix or Rose McGowan during her time in the cult, but she did run into the boys’ father, John Bottom, when she worked as a yoga teacher in Costa Rica.

    “We shared memories of the Children of God and he told me he tried to write a book,” she said. “Then he looked at me in a [funny] way and said: ‘The book has not yet been written.’ I took that as meaning I was supposed to do it.”

    Edwards said that “my childhood was taken away from me” and that she finds the world to be “an intense place.” But, she added, “because the world was always a mystery to me, I want to understand it.” She doesn’t hold a grudge against her parents for raising her in a cult, either.

    “I read memoirs and there’s always really horrible parents who beat and abuse the children,” said Edwards. “Mine didn’t do that. They just made one big mistake — joining the church.”

  167. Police probe Children of God sex cult as survivor breaks silence on childhood torment and abuse

    by Marion Scott, The Sunday Post, Scotland March 18, 2018

    DETECTIVES have launched an investigation into a religious sex cult operating in Scotland, we can reveal today.

    Police Scotland confirmed an inquiry into the Children of God cult, which operated around the country in the 1980s and ’90s.

    The inquiry can be revealed just weeks after Alexander Watt, the first British member of the cult to stand trial for child sex abuse, was convicted in Scotland.

    In a harrowing interview, his daughter Verity Carter today breaks her silence to reveal her years of abuse in Children of God communities around Scotland.

    The cult was founded in 1960s California by David Berg, whose teachings encouraged sexual relations between children and adults. He died in 1994 while on the run from the FBI.

    Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal yesterday confirmed an “ongoing investigation” into the Children of God.

    My Hell on Earth

    A sex cult survivor has spoken for the first time about the abuse she suffered while growing up in the notorious Children of God sect.

    Verity Carter was repeatedly raped and abused, forced on to the streets to trick people into donating money and taught how to conceal her torment from social workers and teachers.

    Verity, now a 38-year-old Edinburgh mum, said: “My earliest memories are from the age of four, being abused by my own father.

    “He would touch me and kiss me in a way that made me feel so uncomfortable. I would cry and beg him not to.

    “If I complained, I was told that I must have a demon inside me because sex was love, and love was what God wanted us to show each other.

    “I was not even old enough to go to school at that point but there was far worse to come.”

    Verity was brought up until the age of 15 in the Children of God, which was started by David Brandt Berg in California in 1968. By 1972, there were 130 communities scattered throughout the world, and in Scotland operated in Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Edinburgh.

    Hollywood actors Rose McGowan and Joaquin Phoenix were among those born into the cult. They have talked about their early childhood experiences in the sect which has since changed its name to The Family International.

    Berg, who went on the run after the FBI launched an investigation into sex abuse, liked to be called Moses, or Mo, and preached a distorted Biblical rhetoric which, they claimed, justified their abuse of women and children.

    Verity said: “My father, at least, did not rape me and would often even be ‘kind’ to me.

    “The worst abuses, the rapes and numerous sexual assaults, came from others within the communes we were forced to live in around Scotland, right under the noses of the authorities.

    “I can remember all their faces still, but the cult was very clever. Most did not use their real names, but the names they were given, usually Biblical.

    “I was called Rejoice, although I had little to rejoice in.”

    Berg, a bearded Californian preacher, demanded women go into communities as “bait” to engage men in sex to draw them into the cult, a former practice known as “flirty fishing”.

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  168. Verity said: “Those women would get pregnant and their children would be known as ‘Jesus babies’, and growing up I met a number of them.

    “The outside world was referred to a ‘systemites’ and we were taught as soon as we could talk that they were not to be trusted.

    “Our homes were filled with pornographic pictures and teachings from Grandpa David, and the systemites were never to see them or we were warned we would all be taken away from our families, put into children’s homes and probably murdered.

    “We were just children, but we were told it was our responsibility if our cover was blown.

    “We had to present ourselves to the public at all times as happy smiley children who loved God, nothing else.

    “If anyone asked questions, we were told to say we loved God and we wanted to be missionaries.

    “The truth was that unspeakable things were being done to us in the name of a perverted old man cashing in on the money we’d be sent out to collect most days.

    “On a good day, I could collect up to £400 by smiling and just asking people if they loved God. I was too young and naïve to question it, but I wonder where all the millions of pounds collected all over the world ended up.”

    Verity was only briefly sent to school – cult leaders feared teachers would discover what was going on – and if an inspector was to call at their community, incriminating evidence would be hidden in advance.

    She said: “I was taken out of school because the elders thought I might blurt out something and bring unwanted attention. My mother taught me and we’d get home visits from inspectors, but they were woefully inadequate.

    “We’d know when the inspectors were coming, all the pornographic books were hidden away and we’d be cleaned up and rehearsed what to say until we were word perfect.

    “The school inspectors, social workers, and doctors who all saw us, were all fooled. Nobody seemed to want to ask questions and risk asking something that might ‘upset’ our religion.

    “None of us dared say anything that would cause concern or we’d be beaten and punished for weeks.”

    Berg’s teachings were often issued in the form of comic style books, with topics such as “The Woman Who Wouldn’t”, a tale warning of dreadful punishment for a women who refused to have sex. Other teachings included ‘God Loves Sex … The Devil Hates It’, and Berg would state the Hitler was an ‘avenging angel’ helping rid God of ‘bad people.’

    Verity added: “I was told I wouldn’t live beyond 10, that I was an End Time Soldier, and it would be our glorious destiny to be raped and tortured in the name of God.”

    She said other cult members would regularly visit, and they were “drilled” to be able to evacuate a home within minutes, with a bag ready packed, leaving nothing behind for the “systemites” to use against the cult.

    Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland, who has supported Verity, said: “Changes to the law which allow child abusers to be pursued by UK authorities in other jurisdictions represent a step forward.

    “However it’s important to recognise such crimes occur much closer to home on a regular basis.”

    In 1989, Verity’s father, Alex Watt, left the cult, leaving his children with their mother, who remained a member. Verity said she continued to suffer years of abuse until, at the age of 15, she could stand it no longer.

    She said: “Something inside me snapped. I refused to allow the sexual abuse to continue. I had a huge row with my mother and the elders.

    “I was terrified. But I knew I could not continue living like that.”

    “I sincerely hope that by speaking out others may find the courage to come forward too and shine a light on what really happened.

    “It cannot happen again.”

    Police are investigating a religious sex cult operating in Scotland in the 1980s and 1990s, we can reveal.

    Senior officers confirmed claims of sexual assaults on women and children by members of the Children of God sect are being probed.

    continued below

  169. Their inquiry can be revealed today as a survivor of the cult breaks her silence after her father became the first member to be convicted of child abuse in Britain.

    Verity Carter has bravely given up her anonymity to reveal her years of torment in the cult where she was repeatedly abused.

    Ms Carter, 38, told how the children in the cult were ordered to conceal their ordeal. She said: “We had to present ourselves as happy smiley children who loved God, nothing else, but unspeakable things were being done to us.”

    Her father Alexander Watt, 68, of Ayrshire, was sentenced at Paisley Sheriff Court last month after admitting four charges of sexually abusing Verity and another child. The father of 10 was given 240 hours of community work, ordered to attend a rehabilitation course and placed on the Sex Offenders Register.

    Prosecutor David McDonald said: “Publicly available information of the organisation, which is also supported by the complainers and witnesses in this case, suggest this was a ‘sex cult’. The organisation believed in ‘free love’. There appears to have been no strictures on sex, regardless of age or relationship.”

    Defence lawyer Joe Barr said: “His plea of guilty is sincere, regretful, and apologetic. He left the cult in 1989.”

    Expert Ian Haworth, of the Cult Information Centre, said: “This is the first criminal prosecution of the Children of God members I have heard of but hopefully not the last.”

    Police Scotland’s senior child abuse officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal, said:

    “Due to an ongoing investigation into reports linked to the Children of God group we are unable to make any specific comment.

    “We would encourage anybody who has been the victim of abuse to contact the police.

    “Within our local and national child abuse investigation units we have specialist officers who will listen and robustly investigate reports of child abuse no matter who was involved, where it took place or when it happened.”

    Self-styled guru died on run from FBI

    The Children of God cult was the creation of Californian David Berg in the late 1960s.
    By the 1980s the cult claimed to have 10,000 full-time members in 130 communities around the world.

    Hollywood stars Rose McGowan, River and Joaquin Pheonix were born into the cult.

    McGowan’s parents Terry and Daniel, were involved with the cult in Italy but quit when the sect began openly advocating sexual relations between children and adults.

    The actress, 44, spent her first nine years in the cult and has described how she began to rebel against them.

    She said: “At a very early age, I thought, ‘These beliefs are absurd’.

    “Like in most cults, you were cut off. There were no newspapers, no television. You were kept in the dark so you would obey. It was not a wealthy existence.

    “I remember watching how the cult’s men were with the women, and at a very early age I decided I did not want to be like those women. They were basically there to serve the men sexually.”

    The cult eventually came to the attention of the FBI and Berg, under investigation for incest and child abuse, went on the run. He was still a fugitive from the FBI when he died in 1994 in Portugal.

    Berg’s own daughter Debbie also escaped, revealing she had been abused by her father. Bad publicity forced the cult to repeatedly change its name, first to The Family and later to The Family International. After Berg’s death, one of his wives Karen Zerby took over the running of the organisation.

    They say the organisation is now an online network of approximately 1900 people in 80 countries.

    A spokesman said: “Although the Family International has apologised on a number of occasions to former members for any hurt, real or perceived, that they may have experienced during their membership, we do not give credence to tales of institutionalised abuse.”

  170. My Teenage Life After Leaving a Cult

    by Flor Edwards, Narratively. Illustrations by Vinnie Neuberg

    This story was adapted from Flor Edwards’s new book “Apocalypse Child: A Life in End Times” from Turner Publishing, © 2018.

    I spent my childhood waiting for the apocalypse. When it never came, I grasped at anything I could to feel in control, from binge drinking to suicide.

    Istood eyeing myself in the mirror before my second day of public high school. At 15 years old, I was determined not to get kicked out of class again.

    “Do I look okay?” I asked my twin sister, Tamar. I was wearing a bomber jacket, Dickies, and Converse All Star tennis shoes. The day before, I had been dismissed from class for showing too much cleavage, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.

    “Looks fine to me,” Tamar said.

    I tucked an issue of Seventeen magazine inside my jacket. In that magazine was the secret I had just discovered and shared with my siblings: we had grown up in a cult. This was the reason we felt out of place and unable to fit in after moving to California. The day before, I’d read an article about a girl who had escaped a cult and an accompanying quiz consisting of five questions. If I answered “yes” to at least three, it said, I might have grown up in a cult. I answered “yes” to all five.

    Growing up in the Children of God I hadn’t been allowed to make any decisions for myself. Father David dictated how we lived and where we lived. From the clothes I wore to the food I ate to the friends I had – everything had been decided for me. After the death of Father David, our leader on the compounds in Southeast Asia, the cult slowly disbanded. Now, we were living in Dad’s home state of California after growing up hearing that America was a forbidden land, the epicenter of evil, and would be the first to burn in hell in God’s judgment during Armageddon before the Great Apocalypse that would come in 1993. It was now 1996.

    High school was my first chance at normalcy, and I wanted nothing more than to be normal after living a life over which I had no control. I cut my hair and dyed it an awful carrot color, and I complemented my new hairstyle by wearing jeans, jewelry, tennis shoes – anything that had been forbidden.

    On the way out the door, I passed Mom in the kitchen getting our six younger siblings ready for school. A few months earlier she had found out she had advanced cervical cancer and was now getting daily radiation treatment. Even after 12 children and two stillbirths, Mom rarely went to see a doctor in the cult. Father David did not encourage modern medicine and would have disapproved of her decision to seek medical care even though her cancer was life-threatening. Dad had enrolled in college to try to get a job, something he wasn’t allowed to do before even though he had excelled as a geology student right before joining the Children of God.

    My parents were too busy trying to make ends meet to worry too much about us older kids and our adjustment, but when they did try to control us, Dad was stern and Mom was unforgiving as if we kids were the ones who had done something wrong when we all knew we hadn’t; they were the ones who joined a cult and we were born into it. My siblings and I reacted to the newfound revelation from Seventeen magazine about our childhood in different ways.

    John, my oldest brother, was holding down multiple jobs and after work stayed out all night with his friends, partying in the rave scene. Mary Ann, my older sister, had frequent breakdowns and started acting strange, dressing in colorful clothes and telling her friends to “eat dirt” (for a while that was all she said to anyone). Heidi, my younger sister, spent much of her time away from home with new friends who lived down the street and dressed in black, wore smeared eye makeup, and chain-smoked cigarettes. continued below...

  171. She started listening to bands like Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine. One day she came home with a neat row of razor slits on the insides of her wrists. When Dad drilled her about it, she said, “Shut up. How dare you tell me what to do? You raised us in a cult!” Soon this was our response to our parents’ every feeble attempt to manage us, or perhaps step into their role as parents for the first time. In the cult, we were constantly watched by other people we called our “shepherds.” Now, for the first time, we were trying to be a family.

    * * *

    Halfway down the hill that led to the main road, Tamar lit up a bowl of pot. Even before discovering the quiz, we older kids had known something was off, and to cope we had taken to drinking alcohol, smoking pot, and hanging out with friends who took drugs we had never heard of.

    School became our haven from the confusing realities of home, and every day after school Tamar and I made it a point to stay out for as long as we could.

    After second period class, Tamar and I noticed a Thai girl named Diana. We eagerly made friends and let her know right away that we had grown up in Thailand. It was the only common ground we had and we wanted desperately to make a normal friend. However, we hadn’t had a conversation to decide what we would say if someone asked us about our past.

    “So, why’d you guys grow up in Thailand?” Diana asked when we met up for lunch.

    “Our dad was an English teacher,” Tamar said triumphantly, like she actually meant it.

    “So, what does your dad do for a living now?” Diana asked.

    Tamar looked at me. We both looked down at the concrete. There was an awkward silence, then a gurgle from Tamar’s throat.

    “Well, our dad was an English teacher in Thailand,” she said. Sometimes we told people he was in the military. Both were half-truths since some of the adults in the cult did take up English- teaching jobs at military base camps to obtain visas and make some extra cash.

    “Yeah, but what does he do now?” Diana persisted. Tamar’s face turned red. I felt my cheeks flush. I decided to keep quiet.

    “Um, I don’t know,” Tamar said. “I’ll have to ask him.”

    Diana gave us a long, hard look. She never met us for lunch after that.

    I couldn’t acknowledge where I had come from or accept the fact that this moment was all there was. Growing up in the Children of God, an apocalyptic cult, I had been told that I was chosen, that the end was near, but now there was no end in sight – no utopia, no heaven to look forward to. And in this new life in California, I was far from chosen or special; I was an outcast. I didn’t fit in anywhere, and I needed nothing more than to be normal and cool.

    America had held the promise of “cool” and glamour, of acceptance and happiness. But now, that too seemed to be slipping away. To cope with the this new “normal” that I so desperately wanted to escape, I’d get as drunk as I possibly could and turn my mind into a spinning cycle of forgetfulness, a carefree void.

    I would sometimes come home from school drunk, shouting at Mom and Dad, “You raised us in a cult! How could you? I hate you! How dare you! I should’ve never been born! You should’ve never had any of us!” My parents responded with a reminder of how difficult life was for them now with Mom’s cancer treatment, Dad starting school from scratch, and limited financial income. Their response always made me feel guilty.

    I played a game with myself in which I attempted to see how much I could drink and still maintain my sanity, even when the world around me started to spin. Since I had control over nothing else in my life growing up in a cult, at least I could control my wild drinking.

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  172. Drunken rages at Rowland Heights Park, located down the street from our high school, became an after-school routine. One day we were there with our new best friend Crayola, a wild girl who dressed in bright colors and pulled us into the girls’ room at school to share the bottles of liquor she always carried in the metal lunchbox that looked like a box of crayons (hence the name). Her boyfriend Thomas, who was older and hadn’t graduated because he had been expelled for being drunk on campus, was there, and the rest of their circle of friends. These kids skated in places they weren’t supposed to skate and tagged graffiti on the sides of freeway overpasses. Thomas retrieved a bottle of vodka from his backpack. We drank it straight. It felt like fire down my throat and made my ears burn. We drank it like it was medicine that would erase our childhood wounds with each desperate sip. We were walking away from the park when Thomas, drunk as usual, mentioned that he would have kissed me if he weren’t with Crayola. Hearing this, Crayola approached me from behind and hit me on the head with her lunch box. I fell to the ground, partly from the vodka, and she started yanking my hair by its roots, shouting, “You fucking bitch!”

    Since she was much smaller than me, I pulled myself out of her grasp. Tamar and I walked home together, crying, to the sound of Crayola still yelling.

    * * *

    Everything was spinning when I got home. I felt like a failure. Triggered by the fight with Crayola and distraught over my family whom I could tell was far from normal, I recalled the stories of other kids who couldn’t cope after leaving the Children of God and attempted to take their own lives. I decided to look for a way to end it all.

    I searched the house for anything that could cause death by ingestion – bleach, pills, a combination of cleaning products. I wanted it to be quick and painless, but I didn’t want to mangle my body. I found a nearly full bottle of aspirin in Mom’s cupboard. I decided that, on top of all the vodka I had drunk, it would do the trick nicely. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and headed off to my favorite hideout, tucked on a hill behind a farmhouse. There, before taking the pills, I found a sort of peace.

    I had grown up in a world where I was prohibited from making decisions. But if there’s one freedom we have as humans, it’s the will to live or die. I recalled a scene from the 1993 version of “The Three Musketeers,” one of the first movies we watched after moving to the U.S. Milady de Winter is sentenced to beheading for treason. Moments before her execution, clad in a flowing white gown, she jumps off a rocky cliff to her death in the ocean below.

    In the Children of God, we never talked about suicide, but the “End” was always on the horizon. When you’ve lived a life where death is an arm’s reach away, the prospect is enticing and feasible. Because I had thought of heaven so much as a child, I’d always felt connected to the afterlife in a way most people weren’t, almost like I belonged there instead of here. It wasn’t a way out; it was a way in. Life – even in all its magic and beauty – is a slow journey to death, so why not end it now? Why not meet the “light”?

    Before heading to the hill, I had written Mom and Dad a suicide note. It said I was unable to handle the world. I was sorry and I loved them and would miss them. And I loved and would miss Tamar. I would miss her the most. But I didn’t want them to miss me. I would be fine. And Tamar would be fine. Death is just a journey and one that I’d prepared for my whole life.

    I swallowed the pills in handfuls until the bottle was almost empty. I took the last pills one by one.

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  173. Once the sun had set I stumbled to my room and went to bed expecting, like I did most nights as a child, that I wouldn’t wake up. I prayed I would die in my sleep, painlessly, my body still intact.

    I was awake all night, throwing up a poisonous combination of vodka and remnants of over-the-counter painkillers. Every time I looked at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t bear what I saw. How could I live with myself?

    Tamar came into the bathroom, and I told her what I had done. She hugged me and said she sometimes thought about ending her life too.

    I mustered up my best outfit, walked onto the school campus, and held my head high. As I headed to first-period science class, I resolved I was going to have to keep looking up. I was going to have to find a way – any way – to keep hope alive. Because if death doesn’t accept you when you knock at its door, I sure as hell didn’t know what would.

    In class my stomach ached from the overdose of pills and my throat burned from the rancid taste of bile and vodka. But I couldn’t stop thinking, Why am I alive? Why am I here? A new life I never owned was slipping away from me, fading into an abyss. Even in my darkest hour, death wouldn’t take me. Now where was I to turn?

    Mom and Dad found my suicide note and took me to lunch at Subway to talk about it. I had never been out alone with just my parents. There’s an embarrassment that comes with a failed attempt at suicide, and there’s no real way to explain it to anyone, much less to the people who gave you life. The day was grey and overcast.

    “So, do you want to talk?” Dad said, unwrapping his sub. Dad looked different now. He wore khakis and a collared shirt. His appearance was more professional than in the cult when he and all the adult men mostly wore t-shirts and shorts as Father David ordered them not to be “worldly.” I sat across from them with my arms folded across my chest and didn’t say a word. I didn’t know how to address the topic with my parents.

    “Flor, you know we love you, don’t you?” Mom said. She put her hand on mine. Her skin was rough and her fingers wrinkled. “We would never do anything to hurt you or any of your brothers and sisters,” she said.

    “I know,” I said. I looked down at the pile of chips I had dumped on my napkin, but I wasn’t hungry. I knew it was much more complicated than love.

    “And we tried our best,” Mom said. “We raised you the best way we knew how.”

    “I know you did,” I said. “I know you love us. It’s just…” I looked away and felt hot tears welling up. I blinked them back and wiped my face with the cuff of my jacket. They would never understand.

    “Is Tamar okay?” Mom asked. “Tamar’s fine,” I said. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. They never asked why I did it or addressed the suicide question directly, and as hard as I tried I couldn’t find the words to tell them. Nor did I bring up the topic of the Children of God. They would never understand the connection, if indeed there was one. It was an awkward lunch with lots of silence and unexplained tears over a dry tuna salad sandwich.

    My parents were adults when they made the decision to join the Children of God. It had been their choice to bring their kids into the fold. But as the cult progressed and changed, the adults – not just the children – were abandoned and cheated and manipulated and lied to. Maybe my parents never wanted to be in a cult. Maybe, like me, they just couldn’t get out. They would never understand my experience, I reasoned. They were still figuring out theirs, and it would be years before I could begin to take control of my life and make sense of my own.

    If you liked this piece, check out Flor’s first Narratively contribution, “My Childhood in an Apocalyptic Cult,” voted the site’s best story from our first 200 weeks by our editors.

  174. Abusers should pay for their heinous crimes

    Editorial: Sunday Post View, 18 March 2018

    VERITY Carter’s story [see above] is one of childhood innocence stolen in the most horrific way by her own father and other members of the Children of God sect.

    Over many years she was abused by the man she should have been able to trust more than any other man in the world.

    This ordeal was compounded by yet more abuse, by those around her who followed the warped ideology of cult leader David Berg.

    He was another of those self-styled gurus who appeared in the 1970s, offering “alternative” lifestyles which, in fact, were nothing more than a cover for criminality and exploitation.

    Verity was one of those who was exploited in the worst possible way.

    But like so many abuse survivors, she showed huge strength to not only to escape this sordid group of individuals but to then bring her own father to justice.

    Now that courage continues in the form of her waiving her right to anonymity to reveal the extent of the cult’s depravity to help bring other members before the courts.

    It is encouraging that Police Scotland has confirmed that a wider investigation has now been launched into the Children of God organisation.

    We can only hope that anyone who suffered while in its “care” follows Verity’s actions by picking up the phone to alert the authorities.

    The cult may well have been at its height in the 1980s and 1990s but that does not mean the ordeal of other victims should be forgotten.

    Nor should it lessen the guilt of those who exploited children at that time.

    It is only right that those individuals, wherever they may now be in the world, are tracked down and made to pay for their appalling crimes.

  175. Sex cult victim urges others to come forward and find justice

    by Marion Scott, Sunday Post, 25 March 2018

    THE victim of a religious sex cult has revealed his 13-year wait for justice.

    Ken Watt, 39, is the son and victim of Alexander Watt, the first member of the Children of God sect convicted of child abuse in Britain.

    We told last week how Police Scotland were investigating their operations in Scotland as Ken’s sister Verity Carter broke her silence to reveal her harrowing childhood in the cult that encouraged sexual relations between adults and children.

    Speaking for the first time about his ordeal, Edinburgh-born Ken, who now lives in England, said: “It’s been a long, hard wait, but I completely understand that the police and criminal justice system had to do their job properly, and they did it well.

    “I just hope that now the first prosecution of this kind has been successful, there will be more because there are many hundreds more victims of this cult, and the abusers who are being shielded by them are still out there.”

    Ken, who said he has spent a lifetime struggling with the effects of the sexual, psychological and emotional abuse suffered while trapped inside the cult, added: “I hope the case will act as a catalyst for others to come forward, and I am extremely pleased the police are continuing their investigation.”

    We told last week how the prosecution of Alexander Watt, 69, in November, was the first time a Children of God abuser had been convicted in Britain.

    Ken, who was brought up in the cult along with eight brothers and sisters, said: “People need to know that this cult was a sinister, dangerous group who inflicted terrible abuses on many hundreds of children such as myself.

    “After living for several years in Paisley, we were moved around to various cities and towns across the UK, mainly renting rural properties on the outskirts of communities so nobody could see what was going on.

    “Children were abused, beaten and sent out to collect money. The highly sexualised teachings of the cult meant young girls were being raped and molested, they were videoed dancing naked to entertain and arouse the men, and it was all supposedly done in the name of God.

    “Those who led the cult must bear the responsibility for what went on because they distributed teachings which encouraged sexual behaviour with young children.”

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  176. Ken said the case against his father, who told Paisley Sheriff Court that he was following the teachings of the cult when be abused his son and daughter Verity Carter, 38, has made him determined to encourage others to tell what happened to them.

    Last week, Alexander Watt told The Sunday Post he “regretted” what happened, but said he was following the teachings of the cult. He was sentenced to 240 hours of community work, ordered to attend a rehabilitation course and placed on the sex offenders register.

    His son Ken said: “I have not spoken to my father for decades, but if he has true regret and any decency, he will co-operate fully and reveal the names of all those abusers he is aware of, so other victims can get justice too.

    “I was punished and sentenced to remain silent for six months because I intervened when another teenage boy sexually abused a young girl.

    “We were constantly moved around, from Paisley I was sent to Rugby, Tewkesbury, Birmingham and Manchester before I finally managed to get out aged barely 15. I struggled for years with homelessness and trying to get my life together.

    “The cult had left us unable to cope with society. We were not socialised, we were uneducated and unprepared for the world outside. Of course that suited the cult because it was extremely hard for anyone to break away.

    “The leaders who are still around must bear responsibility for everything that happened.”

    David Berg, a Californian preacher, who founded the cult, died in 1994 in Portugal while on the run from the FBI and his second “wife” Karen Zerby, 71, and her now husband Steven Kelly took over the cult and rebranded it.

    The cult had several homes or small communes in Scotland, including at Ferniegair on the edge of Chatelherault Park near Hamilton, in Ayrshire, and at Bonnington House in Livingstone.

    Scotland’s leading prosecutor for historical sexual abuse offences Kenny Donnelly said the Crown Office has a dedicated team determined to investigate cases such as this, and urged anyone with information to come forward.

    He said: “Although such cases can be extremely challenging to prosecute given the time which may have elapsed since the alleged offences were committed, recent successful prosecutions for offences of this nature show that justice can still be achieved after many years.

    “Those who come forward to report historical sexual abuse are to be commended for their courage, and we’d encourage anyone who has been a victim of such an offence to report it to the police so that it can be fully investigated.

    “They can be confident that they will be treated with the utmost professionalism and sensitivity by the police and our expert prosecutors.”

  177. Children of God religious sex cult abuser exposed as bank-robber

    The Sunday Post, 02 April 2018

    THE first cult member prosecuted in the UK for abusing children was a convicted armed bank robber and part of a gang plotting to overthrow the government.

    Alex Watt joined the Children of God cult, which preached sex with children, while on the run in Amsterdam.

    Watt, 69, from Edinburgh was convicted of robbing a Royal Bank of Scotland branch in 1973 and was jailed for three years. He was a supporter of a radical Marxist-Leninist group which robbed to raise political funds.

    Watt’s past was revealed by his defence lawyer at Paisley Sheriff Court after he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his son and daughter when they were children. Lawyer Joseph Barr said: “After the robbery Mr Watt went to Amsterdam and came in to contact with the Children of God.

    “As a result of this, he returned to Scotland and gave himself up, received the punishment he did, served his punishment and returned to the Children of God.”

    Barr also told the court when Watt abused two of his nine children he was “following the teachings of the cult” and was “deeply remorseful”.

    But despite claims he rejected the teachings of the cult, Watt said he found it “too upsetting” to name and shame fellow abusers when confronted by Sunday Post investigators.

    NOTE FROM PERRY BULWER: If Watt was truly remorseful and rejected the teachings of the cult, he would willingly expose other abusers he knows. Why would it upset him to expose pedophiles?

  178. Life in a cult

    'Like an extreme version of domestic violence'

    RN By Michele Weekes and Tim Fisher for Life Matters, April 12, 2018

    From indoctrination and control, to god-like gurus and 'love bombing' — there's a powerful psychology behind why people join cults, and why they stay.

    But what makes a cult? And are they, by definition, always 'bad'?

    As someone who was once deeply involved in several, Mary Garden is uniquely qualified to comment.

    Having discovered yoga at the age of 16, in the 1970s she left university and her life in New Zealand for India, spending seven years in various sects and cults.

    For her, the dangers stemmed partly from naivety.

    "You've got to realise there had been no exposés or warnings of these groups," she says.

    "Tens of thousands of us Westerners went over to India in the footsteps of the Beatles.

    Eventually, Ms Garden found herself pregnant to a yogi in the remote Himalayas.

    "Many of us Westerners got pregnant. I got pregnant twice," she says.

    Initially not allowed to see a doctor, Ms Garden managed to get away, and had a late-term abortion.

    "I ran away quite often and but I would still be drawn back," she says.

    "I was completely under [the guru's] spell. I mean, I thought he was this god-like figure.

    "There's extreme pressure to believe everything he says and to be devoted. I'm very grateful I managed to get away."

    Tore Klevjer is a Wollongong-based counsellor who helps former cult members adjust and recover.

    Having spent 11 years in Children of God, a Christian cult founded in the United States, he's highly qualified for the work.

    "Many people think a cult is just a strange religion or strange set of belief systems, but the defining factors are more the abusive things," he says.

    "Having rights and freedoms taken away from members, and then instilling in them an extremism, and a sense of black-and-white thinking."

    As Mr Klevjer explains, a cult does not have to be religious.

    "The dynamic of control and abuse can exist in meditation groups, or self-help groups," he says.

    It's often said that no one sets out to join a cult — and Mr Klevjer agrees.

    "People don't go down a list of known cults, choose one and think, 'This is the philosophy that best suits me'," he says.

    "The key thing to remember is that they don't know what they're joining — this is where coercion comes into it.

    "If people knew upfront what all the beliefs of the group were they would probably never join, but it's a slow process where the inside doctrine of a group is released over time."

    After spending several years with different gurus in India, Ms Garden can attest to this approach.

    "Most of us who go into these groups, especially with a charismatic leader, it's like we have this love affair," she says.

    "We fall in love with them, and we are in the honeymoon phase for a long time."

    And as she explains, if a guru becomes controlling or abusive, the behaviour can be rationalised away.

    "It's very much like an extreme version of domestic violence," Ms Garden says.

    "It means the guru can get away with doing anything abusive, and it's rationalised as his 'drama', or a game to wake us up. So everything that happens and what we go through is all our fault."

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  179. Mr Klevjer says most cults share patterns of operation, including a controlling technique commonly known as "love bombing".

    He describes this as a situation in which new members are made to feel at the centre of the group's universe.

    "You've met this wonderful group of people who all want to be your best friend, and they all want to know everything about you," he says.

    "A lot of love, a lot of hugs, a lot of affirmation and it just really feels like a type of paradise.

    Mr Klevjer explains that in The Children of God, this "love" became increasingly conditional on a member's participation and their submission to belief systems that were released incrementally.

    "If at any point you question the beliefs they present, they sort of back off and justify it, saying 'Oh no no, we didn't really mean that, it's not that we believe he is the end-time prophet of God, he's just like a minister'," Mr Klevjer says.

    Joining at 21 years old, Mr Klevjer gave the cult control of his finances, and was encouraged to write letters to parents to say he had a new family.

    "It's one of my greatest regrets," he says.

    "There's this process of cutting off your old life and embracing the new and that's affirmed as a badge of allegiance and a badge of courage.

    "Your whole social life, your friends, your work, your vision for the future, everything that you are gets wrapped up in the group."

    For both Mr Klevjer and Ms Garden, extricating themselves was a long process.

    Having been a member for over a decade, by the time Mr Klevjer left Children of God, he had a family of his own; a wife and five children.

    "There was a lot of pressure on the children, which impacted my wife," he says.

    "They couldn't really play outside. Their lives were completely taken up in the group with homeschooling, and my wife saw a lot more of the lack of opportunities.

    "But the real clincher was when I started, because of the pressure, to question some of the doctrines of the group … that just wasn't allowed.

    "We were kicked out temporarily, first hoping we would repent and come back more submissive, and then when that didn't happen, we left and came back to Australia."

    Once free of a cult, finding help can be a challenge too.

    For many years, few mental health professionals had the training to adequately deal with former members.

    "I was obviously suffering post-traumatic stress from being with that Himalayan Yogi who physically and mentally abused me quite severely," Ms Garden says.

    "When I went in to talk to someone, at the end of the session she said 'Oh, it's so fascinating. What an interesting story'.

    "I went to people over the years to try and get help and they just had no understanding at all."

    As a counsellor now specialising in helping those who've lived in cults or suffered religious abuse, Mr Klevjer feels many counsellors may not attribute the damage they're seeing in a person's life to a cult.

    "There are mental health professionals coming up to speed with this, but many of them do not want to touch it," he says.

    "They don't see the full breadth of the damage that can be caused when people are institutionalised in this way."

    see photos at:

  180. I grew up in a sex cult: surviving the Children of God abuse

    By Christina Babin, Marie Claire April 3, 2018

    When Rose McGowan spoke out about the childhood abuse she suffered within the Children of God organisation, it shone a spotlight on a global cult engaging in the widespread exploitation of children. Fellow survivor Christina Babin tells how she too overcame the trauma to rebuild her life

    My earliest memory is of living in Jamaica aged four and looking out of the window at the children playing in the street. I was amazed to see them running and laughing – they seemed so free. Despite the sweltering heat and my longing to feel the fresh air on my face, I knew, even as a child, that I was a prisoner. We left the Children of God compound just once a week to hand out food to poor children. Every other minute was dedicated to working for God.

    I was just a baby when my mother naively joined the organisation with my brother and me, looking for a pure, simple way to live. She didn’t know that the Children of God was, in fact, a global cult founded on sexual abuse and violence – on the surface, it seemed like a warm community that embraced families. Set up by paedophile David Berg in California in 1968, it merged traditional Christian beliefs with communal living, and sexual contact with children from the age of 12 (Berg had sex with his own daughter at this age). High-profile members included Rose McGowan’s family, River and Joaquin Phoenix’s mother and Jeremy Spencer’s (Fleetwood Mac guitarist) family.

    Whatever country we lived in, and we moved a lot, the strict routines and degree of violence we experienced were the same. Every night, I fell asleep in the desperate hope of not wetting the bed. Clearly a sign of how disturbed a child is, it was considered by the cult as demon possession and could be beaten out of you. Physical punishment was the only real constant I knew. There was no limit to how far the adults in charge would go; one boy frowned instead of smiling and was thrashed. I saw children thrown through windows, and even babies were beaten. Such abuse was followed up by hugs – totally disorientating for a small child. We were told the punishment was because the organisers loved us and it was for the good of our soul. We were made to thank them. I learned to cope by taking whatever ownership I could. I remember staring at an adult abusing a friend and thinking, ‘I’ll remember this’. It was a small thing, but all I had. All this abuse existed behind closed doors, and the conspiracy of silence and our ingrained fear of the outside world stopped the truth about what was going on from being discovered by authorities for decades.

    Looking back, my childhood days pale into one repetitive cycle. We woke up at 7am in the sterile ‘children’s room’. Nuclear families were not allowed to live together, so we had to be with the kids and adults of other families, leaving us open to abuse. Then, it was straight on to your knees for prayers. After a small breakfast and more prayer, the children were allowed out for a limited period with a chaperone from the community to beg. These precious moments gave me tantalising glimpses of the outside world – of other children, shops, communities. A world we were told was corrupt and venal, where everyone was vicious to each other and deeply unhappy. Our afternoons were spent at the Children of God compound and dedicated to exercise. Competitive games were forbidden and enjoyment was banned. Exercise was simply training – it was about physically preparing us to be an army for God. There were no bedtime stories. Instead, we heard gruesome tales of how the world was about to violently end, how as martyrs we’d either burn at the stake or be shot. We went to sleep in a state of fear.

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  181. It was when I was about eight (we didn’t celebrate birthdays, so it’s hard to be sure) that the cult’s ideology shifted in a disturbing new direction – towards sex. A policy of ‘flirty fishing’ was introduced, which meant female cult members had to go out and have sex with men to convert them. In truth, this was prostitution and the cult took the profits. Then, in a disturbing twist, a letter arrived from the Children of God leader, ‘Moses David’, encouraging adults to teach children how to have sex, claiming it was healthy and good. And so the sexual abuse began. I was violated in this way from the age of 12 too many times than I care to remember, but sex was encouraged with children who were far younger. Even being isolated from TV or outside contact, deep down, I still knew it was wrong. All the children did. We also knew it wasn’t right to see adults having sex in front of us, yet were powerless to stop it. I remember Mum refusing to take part in any of the sexual behaviour, which caused lots of problems. As a result, we were split up and moved around to other communes.

    At 12, I was sent to a Children of God ‘reprogramming (propaganda) camp’, then to Japan and, aged 15, to the Philippines with my older brother. For a year and a half, I never stepped outside the gate of our compound, which was surrounded by armed guards. In effect, like the other children there, I was a slave. It was a place of unchecked abuse and vicious control. The regime was brutal, and there was no talking at all. If you laughed, they’d put tape over your mouth. We were forced to fast for days, they publicly beat us, and children would disappear for months, emerging bruised and silent. My mum now had no idea where I was, my passport had been taken and there was no hope of escape.

    I felt nothing but a sense of numbness when, 18 months after arriving in the Philippines, my brother and I were released and driven to the airport to go home to the US. In my hand were two reports about us, with strict instructions to pass them on to the next Children of God commune and not to read them. Realising we were alone for the first time ever as we sat on the plane unaccompanied, we opened them. Mine said I was compliant, but my brother’s was full of lies about his waywardness. We looked at each other and ripped them to shreds. It was a turning point, and yet I still wasn’t strong enough to escape, even when we landed back on US soil. It took me another two years to find the courage to leave. I know it’s hard for people to understand why I didn’t run when I had the chance; why, when I met my husband in the cult at 19 and he begged me to leave with him, I refused. But I was terrified of the outside world. I had taught myself to read but had no education, no idea how to speak to anyone and was scared after a lifetime of propaganda. I was living in mental chains.

    Freedom finally came when I was 20 and he convinced me to visit his family at their home. There I saw them sit and eat, laugh and hug. I remember watching them, waiting for the beatings to start, but they never did. Six months later, on our next visit, I made the decision never to return to the Church of God. I was 21. I’m now 43, have four children and my family live normal lives. I’m angry about the years I spent in captivity, but have carved out a bright future. My revenge has been to raise intelligent, independent kids. Through my book, I’m hoping to tell victims that they don’t have to be defined by what’s happened to them. My life filled with joy, hope and love. I am a survivor.

    Babin is raising money to self-publish a book about her life. Find out more at

    Words by Kate Graham.

  182. Cult leaders forced me to sleep with married couple when I was 11

    Survivor reveals secrets of twisted sect Children of God

    Christina Babin witnessed prostitution, violence and exorcism during her years trapped in the infamous global cult which used and abused young girls, forcing them to have sex with adults and lure in new recruits.

    by Grace Macaskill, The Mirror May 13, 2018

    Eleven-year-old Christina Babin felt her stomach churn as she followed a married­ ­couple into their bedroom and the door closed behind them.

    Christina knew exactly what was expected of her.

    This was her grim introduction to sex in the twisted world of the Children of God cult, where brainwashed adults could sleep with kids and women would lure new male members.

    The shuddering abuse was just a part of a warped world created in 1968 by founder David Brandt Berg.

    The ­former pastor’s followers expressed their faith through intense religious chants.

    But Christina says she was subjected to the sect’s sinister side and witnessed prostitution, violence and exorcisms.

    She and her siblings would be sent out begging. Any talk of the outside world was banned. Kids were turned into robots, not allowed to cry and faced a beating if they failed to smile.

    Stars like actress Rose McGowan, 44, Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer, 69, and the Phoenix family, including actors Joaquin, 43, and the late River, 23, managed to escape the cult.

    But Christina was not so lucky.

    When the sexual assault was over she felt relief, but then an ­overwhelming guilt that she hadn’t enjoyed it.

    “That’s how much control and ­coercion there was,” says Christina. “We were told that sex was a good thing and that we should enjoy it.

    “Afterwards I heard the man say ‘that just felt so wrong’. I’m not ­diminishing what this couple did in any way, but they were clearly brainwashed too.

    “I was so confused as to why I didn’t enjoy what happened. I couldn’t ­understand why it hadn’t been the amazing thing I was told it would be.”

    It would be another 11 years – and two further rapes – before Christina finally left the cult, which held ­thousands in its grip around the world.

    Today, mum-of-four Christina lifts the lid on life inside the Children of God and tells of the mental scars she bears after 20 years under its spell.

    And even at 42, Christina is playing catch-up on her lost ­childhood.

    She says: “Now I enjoy walking through the grass in my bare feet and if I see a sprinkler going off in the local golf course I want to run through it.”

    Christina was a baby and her brother was two when their mum was drawn to the cult’s lifestyle, with between three and 20 families in each commune.

    But when Christina was eight Berg introduced his “Law of Love”, allowing men to sleep with anyone they wanted.

    Women and girls over 10 lured men into the cult with sex in a technique called “flirty fishing”.

    Christina and her seven ­siblings were sent out begging and her earliest memory is of life at a commune in Jamaica, where she was jealous of local kids ­“running and laughing and looking free”.

    By contrast, her life was strict routine. Children were woken at 7am for prayers.

    After begging for hours, she returned to the housework and often cared for the younger kids.

    An hour a day was set aside for exercise but rough play was banned in case injury led to hospital visits and questions from ­outsiders.

    Families were torn apart as children lived with other kids and were told all adults were their parents.

    Christina and her ­family moved from ­commune to commune and witnessed terrifying violence from rogue cult members.

    Bedtime ­stories were ­replaced by frightening tales of the “oncoming ­apocalypse” or the wrongly ­perceived threat from the outside world.

    Christina says: “We were told people didn’t understand us, that the end of the world was coming or we’d die as martyrs, shot by outsiders. It wasn’t that the violence and sex attacks happened every day.

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  183. Some ­communes were great warm places, but in others there would be men – and women – who were ­physically and ­sexually abusive.

    "I’ve seen a boy beaten for simply frowning instead of smiling and a boy thrown through a paper window in Japan because he wouldn’t stop crying.

    “The only time we were allowed to shed a tear was when we were ­disciplined. We had to stop straight after.

    “We were trained to be emotional robots, ­always happy, always smiling – no matter what. We weren’t allowed to play or read books and one of the only films we were allowed to watch was The Sound Of music because the Von Trapp kids were always happy.

    “I was always fearful and wet the bed but I’d try to conceal it because it was considered demonic possession and could be beaten out of you.”

    When Christina was 12 she and her elder brother were sent to Japan for a month-long camp – without their mum.

    But they were gone for two years.

    In Japan she was forced to read the bible for hours, repeatedly pledge ­allegiance to the cult and put through punishing exercise regimes.

    She was sent to several communes and was raped twice.

    Christina recalls: “The cult attracted drop-outs, drug addicts and people with mental problems. People changed their names all the time to stay incognito.

    “We were told not to draw attention to ourselves so were only allowed outside in the yard every so often and had to stay silent when we were.

    "We were isolated from the wider world but told they were the ones living the wrong lives – that our way was the right way.”

    Aged 15, Christina was moved on yet again, to a prison-like camp in Manila, in the Philippines.

    It was surrounded by wire-topped fences and she says violence, solitary confinement and public exorcisms were commonplace.

    She goes on: “The minute I got there I was taken into solitary confinement and asked about any worldly thoughts I’d had. I admitted that I’d listened to music when out begging and owned a leather jacket. They admonished me and burned the jacket.

    “One of the guards, who called ­herself Mary Malaysia and later Aunty Joan, was vicious. If you so much as smiled she’d beat you. My brother disappeared into solitary for two months because he admitted he’d smoked and read books.”

    Incredibly, it was 18 months before Christina was allowed to leave the camp and she and her elder brother were put on a plane to Guam, a US territory in the Western Pacific, then on to California – where her passport was burned.

    She adds: “They burned my history – their way of keeping what they were doing secret.”

    It was the mid-1980s and the cult changed its name to The Family after its practices fell under the ­spotlight of authorities. Berg was living in ­seclusion and dictating his teachings through ­letters and photos which ­depicted ­children ­having sex with adults.

    He went on the run in 1993 and died a year later aged 74.

    He had tried to trick ­investigators by telling followers to stop ­sleeping with minors.

    But Christina says paedophile sex continued as cult members did not see it as a sin.

    Arrests were made in 130-plus communes but many young victims could not name their abusers. Freedom came for Christina when she was 20 and met her future husband in a commune in Louisiana.

    He encouraged her to visit his relatives, where she got a glimpse into normal family life.

    When she fell pregnant the cult ­expected the couple to hand the tot over, but they refused – then finally found the courage to leave.

    At first Christina struggled to acclimatise to life in Los Angeles. Incredibly, she doesn’t blame her mum and has managed to put the past behind her.

    She adds: “I can’t hold the anger – what use would it be? All I feel for past cult members is a sense of pity.

    “They have to live with what they did while I’ve moved on with my life. I have four beautiful children and I’m so grateful for every day I live in freedom.”

    see photos at:

  184. NOTE: The following article says the husband was raised in an unnamed religious cult. I can't be certain it is the Children of God/The Family International, but certain details about the couple's beliefs are very similar, which suggests that he was raised in that cult. For example, their attacks on churches, their rejection of medicine and vaccination, their belief in the sexualization of children. Also, the COG/TFI leader, David Berg, was depicted in cult publications as a prophet with the head of a lion to hide his identity. So, this couple's claim that God spoke to them through a stuff lion is either a very strange coincidence, or this is something the husband took from his cult childhood in the COG/TFI.

    Religiously extreme couple loses child custody after stuffed lion purportedly transmitting the word of God acted as their lawyer

    by Adrian Humphreys, National Post June 6, 2018

    A B.C. couple whose religious views are too extreme even for churches and pastors and put them at odds with family, doctors, social workers and anyone else trying to help them with their daughter, have lost their battle for custody of her.

    The unusual child custody trial featured the couple speaking in tongues to a stuffed animal they said transmitted the word of God directly to them and refusing legal assistance because Jesus Christ — through the stuffed lion — was their lawyer, witness and judge.

    In November, when the girl was one, the Provincial Court of British Columbia formally declared she was in need of protection and placed her in provincial custody, a decision the parents appealed to the B.C. Supreme Court. The parents claimed the judge violated their Charter rights, discriminated against them as Christians and made procedural errors.

    Both parents were raised in Christian homes, she in Ontario and he in B.C., but strayed from their roots until reconnecting with their beliefs as adults. They met in 2014 and shared a mutual interest in their own emerging view of the Christian faith and were privately married a year later, court heard.

    They are not named to protect the identity of the child.

    They had unstable working and living arrangements, moving around various communities in B.C., court heard. Their views started interfering with their relationships with others, including Christian communities. Several churches banned them and even called police for assistance when the couple set out to “purge churches of evil influences,” according to court records.

    At one point, after the birth of their child, they were criminally charged with causing a disturbance after police were called to a church in West Kelowna where the parents were trying to cleanse demonic influences, court heard.

    “It appears that, due to their strong religious beliefs, they are intolerant of those who do not espouse identical views. This includes other Christians,” Justice Diane MacDonald wrote in her ruling, released this week.

    After the woman found she was pregnant, she told a social worker her husband sometimes choked her to make her stop crying, had once tied her hands and covered her mouth with tape, which scared her, and occasionally beat her, court heard.

    She told the worker her husband grew up in a cult and believes sexual relations between children should be encouraged and that they “role-play” sins where she plays the victim and he plays the perpetrator, court heard.

    When interviewed by police about the allegations, she denied them. Her husband said that once, when he was frustrated with her and had had a few drinks, he put one hand over her throat and the other over her mouth.

    This led to a complaint to the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

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  185. After the birth of their daughter, the parents refused all medical tests and procedures for her, including a hearing test, blood test, eye drops and a vitamin K shot. The mother also said she was unwilling to have her vaccinated.

    Because of concerns over family violence and mental health, the ministry monitored the family. The couple refused to have parental capacity assessments, despite a court order.

    A month after the girl’s birth, she was removed from the home and the parents continued to have supervised access.

    The mother applied to change her daughter’s name to Jesus JoyoftheLord and her own first name to Risen Lord Jesus, her middle name to Refinersfire and her last name to Christ (with a hyphenation including her real name.)

    When their child custody case came to court, the couple refused legal aid.

    They said they had legal help, however, which came in the formed of a stuffed lion. During trial, the couple spoke to the lion in non-discernible words, presented as “speaking in tongues,” and said that through the lion they heard directly from God.

    They said Jesus Christ was their “lawyer, witness and judge.”

    When they cross-examined witnesses, they told each witness that their lawyer Jesus was asking the questions through them.

    In the end, the judge did not find them to be credible and ruled in favour of the ministry and placed the baby in continuing care. The parents appealed that decision, claiming it infringed on their religious freedoms “as Christian parents.”

    MacDonald disagreed.

    “The parents obviously love their child and wish to raise her in their home with their Christian values,” she wrote. “It is clear that there was sufficient evidence before the trial judge to allow him to come to the conclusion that a continuing custody order was warranted in the circumstances,” MacDonald wrote.

    She said the decision was not based on religious beliefs but on evidence of domestic violence; ignoring health care recommendations; concerns for the mother’s mental health; and their inability to work with those who could support them in parenting, including their own family, a maternity clinic, public health nurse, doctors, social workers, churches, Christian families and legal representatives.

    A continuing care order can lead to placing a child for adoption.


    Former Children of God member details life in the apocalyptic sex cult that lured Hollywood celebs

    Flor Edwards believed she was going to die at age 12.

    The now-36-year-old escaped the doomsday cult Children of God, the same group that Hollywood celebrities like Rose McGowan and brothers Joaquin and River Phoenix were raised in. The cult also reportedly lured Fleetwood Mac’s Jeremy Spencer.

    The teacher recently published a memoir about her turbulent childhood titled “Apocalypse Child: A Life in End Times.”

    Edwards revealed she has never met McGowan or the Phoenix brothers. River died on Halloween in 1993 at age 23 from a drug overdose.

    “I was aware of River Phoenix,” she said. “We were told about him in the cult, as a warning. Like this is what happens when you leave, which is really sad.”

    Edwards did run into his father in Costa Rica when she started writing her book.

    “I had a student who knew him and I told him about the book I was writing,” explained Edwards. “He said he had tried, and many people have tried, writing their stories, but it’s a very difficult one to tell. He told me a story about how he left a manuscript at a book publisher many, many years ago.

    "He then looked at me and said, ‘The book has not yet been written.’ I thought that was a sign to me that I was supposed to write the book.”

    Edwards told Fox News that as a child, death was always on her mind.

    “The world was going to end,” she explained. “It was just something I knew all my life. I don’t remember hearing about it for the first time. I just always had a date on my mind, 1993. That was the year we were going to die and the rapture was going to come. The world was going to end and for me, that meant I was only going to live until 12. So that’s what we were looking forward to.

    “We were going to attempt to save the world and everyone… I didn’t know how many people inhabited the world. But once it was time for the world to end, we were going to be martyrs for God. I would lay in bed at night thinking about this moment of when I was going to die at 12.”

    The Children of God started in 1968 by a small group of runaway teens and hippies who, under the orders of self-described prophet David Berg, dedicated their lives to worshipping Jesus Christ and engaging in promiscuous sex.

    The New York attorney general’s office revealed at the time child rape was used as an excuse to “increase the tribe,” resulting in many pregnancies in various communes.

    River Phoenix told Details Magazine in 1991 that he was 4 years old when he first had sex while in the group.

    Edwards, whose parents joined the group before she was born, said The Children of God easily lured followers with its message of peace and love.

    “It was basically an offspring of the hippie movie,” she explained. “It just started to grow and [Berg] needed to control this movement that was no longer hippies on the road, living out of caravans. They started to live in communes.

    “But what really changed was when children came around because the adults were there on their own free will, but us children weren’t. So when the group started to multiply… that’s when they started controlling us. And they had to come up with different ways to discipline us.”

    Members were required to give up their earthly possessions and surrender themselves to God. Former members claimed they were discouraged from working and sending their children to school and instead, lived with up to five families under one roof and waited for the apocalypse.

    “You have to understand the group was cut off from society for 20 to 25 years,” said Edwards. “No education, no money, no job… Even if you wanted to leave, I don’t think you had the choice or the means to leave… My mother definitely had suspicions, but I think it was very difficult to try and leave.”

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  187. The Children of God also preached that those who managed to leave were evil and would ultimately rot in hell.

    “If you leave, you were basically doomed and you were probably going to die even earlier,” said Edwards.

    Life grew increasingly dark for Edwards. Berg or “Father David,” lived in isolation and wrote to his followers in rambling letters, claiming they needed to prepare for the earth’s destruction. Birth control was banned so that members could produce “end-time soldiers” to lead the fight against the evil to come.

    Edwards said she never experienced incest, which was reportedly rampant within the cult, but she was aware of the group sex taking place. As a child, she described feeling like something was wrong.

    “I always remember watching my siblings being disciplined,” she said. “I used to get very upset and just know this wasn’t right. Especially because it wasn’t by my parents. It was by other people. And I think when you hear stories about the outside world, I would have questions. What is this world? I remember having moments of feeling very curious.”

    Edwards revealed that laughing at the “wrong” moment could result in agonizing punishment. She recalled being beaten so badly that each strike “sent me into a deeper state of delirium” as she begged for it to end.

    In 1993, allegations of sexual abuse involving children prompted law enforcement to investigate. Berg fled to Portugal where he died in 1994. His widow Karen Zerby, along with her new husband Steve Kelly, took over the group.

    By age 14, Edwards was ready to leave.

    “There wasn’t one particular moment,” she said. “My brother left and he was two years older than me. Some of my cousins had left… It became a possibility for the very first time. Whereas before, it wasn’t really an option.

    "Once my brother left, I think that’s what gave me the incentive. And then my sisters and I, we all talked amongst ourselves and said we wanted to go to school. We had a desire to get an education and just be normal.”

    By 1996, she and her family left the group.

    “I’ve heard recently the cult had lingered,” said Edwards. “But from my experience, once Father David died, we were on our own. But that’s not my story to tell. I don’t know if there are other people who had that experience, but apparently it kept going.”

    Edwards admitted she’s still learning new facts about the leader who overtook her childhood.

    “He did choose to conceal himself, and there were many reasons for that,” said Edwards. “[But] he manipulated his followers through these letters, these images… The adult members, like my parents, never saw him or met him either. But they all had this deep respect for him based on what he talked about.

    “That’s how he communicated with us. He was very, very charismatic. He had a very radical belief system and the adults bought into it. They really believed that idea from the hippie desire of creating change.”

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  188. What it Was Like Growing Up in the Children of God Cult in Thailand

    by Mahmood Fazal, VICE July 4 2018

    The Children of God was a religious movement founded in 1968 in Huntington Beach, California, by a former pastor named David Brandt Berg. At its peak, David managed to amass a following of roughly 150,000 people internationally, which famously included the parents of Joaquin and River Phoenix.

    Today, the group is seen primarily in terms of a cult. They’ve been accused of promoting sex between minors and family members, while infamously preaching the phrase: “God loves sex because sex is love, and Satan hates sex because sex is beautiful.”

    Flor Edward’s family originally joined the movement while they were living in Los Angeles. But then, when Flor was five, David Brandt Berg announced his followers should leave the “system,” or more specifically the United States, and travel to Thailand.

    Flor Edwards then spent her youth with a branch of the doomsday cult in Thailand, which encompassed most of the 1980s.

    By 1993, there was still no sign of the apocalypse promised by Father David, who ended up dying the following year. At that point the group began to fragment and Flor moved back to Chicago with her family.

    Flor now works as a teacher and has written a haunting memoir about her childhood years, Apocalypse Child: A Life in End Times. VICE spoke to Flor about religion and trauma.

    VICE: Hi Flor, who are the Children of God?
    Flor Edwards: The Children of God started out under Father David, who came from a long line of evangelist preachers and he wanted nothing more than to follow in his mother’s footsteps. He saw opportunity in the counterculture hippie movement in California. He wanted to start a new religious paradigm. He wanted to give these young people something to live for, a purpose and meaning in life. Over time it turned dark as they had to find a way to control us kids who hadn’t chosen to join.

    What was it like growing up in Thailand?
    Growing up in Southeast Asia was actually a beautiful experience. Even though we grew up within the confines of compounds, when we were able to see the country and the culture I was always enthralled with the beauty of Thailand.

    Was there a particular moment when you realised you were part of a cult?
    I think in my gut I always knew something was wrong, but the moment I realised I had grown up in a cult was when I was 15 and took a quiz from Seventeen Magazine. I was walking home from school one day and stopped at the library to look at magazines. In one was a story of a girl who had grown up in a cult. There was a quiz in a magazine titled "did you grow up in a cult?" I answered "yes" to every question and realised the truth.

    Was there beauty in such a dark environment?
    There was tremendous beauty in my childhood and finding that beauty was a huge part of why I wrote this book. I think great beauty can come from tragedy and the cracks are where the light shines through. I start my book with a little scene of my sister and I catching butterflies in Phuket. We unknowingly killed the butterflies by keeping them in captivity and rubbing the powder off their wings.

    This was sort of a metaphor for my life. We were predators destroying the beauty of the butterflies, just like the cult was destroying our innocence. I don’t know if the adults always knew what they were doing, just like we didn’t know we were killing the butterflies. They were duped and manipulated which was the sad part of the whole thing.

    What did you imagine heaven looked like?
    Heaven was a beautiful place where I would go after the Great Apocalypse would come in 1993. I often spent my nights fantasising about arriving in heaven after my death. I would be given unearthly superpowers and a new heavenly body.

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  189. I would never grow old and be reunited with my family (who was often split due to the teachings of the cult). There would be lush gardens and tropical fields and we could eat freely from fruit trees. There would be no war and everlasting peace. This was the heaven I was looking forward to my whole life.

    Tell us about the leader and what your thoughts were about him?
    Father David was a very complex character and part of the reason why I wanted to write this book. I needed to understand this man who had controlled my existence. As a child I was forced to believe that he was God’s prophet. I never saw or knew what he looked like. He was portrayed as a giant, cuddly, lion-headed figure whom I was supposed to love unconditionally.

    It turns out he was a deeply disturbed man with many demons. He was a textbook narcissist who hid behind his teachings of God and his love. He was actually quite brilliant (in an intellectual sense) with a high IQ and very charismatic. There was a method to his madness. I don’t know if he knew what he was doing or if he wanted to start a cult. He thought he was fulfilling God’s mission, which is the most disturbing and dangerous part of it all. In his quest for power he hurt many people along the way. I think he in part died from guilt, one year after his predicted apocalypse.

    How horrifying did it get?
    The worse part for me was the discipline and watching my peers being disciplined, especially my siblings who were very young. They had to find a way to control us so they established rules for disciplining us which sometimes included physical punishment which I talk more about in my book. I remember knowing that some of the punishers didn’t want to do what they did, they were just following orders. Unlike many who were born before me, I never experienced any sexual abuse and I am always sorry to hear the stories of those who did.

    How did you manage to escape?
    My family’s escape was a slow and gradual one. It took at least two years. When Father David died in 1994, the cult sort of fell apart and the group was given freedom. We were living in Chicago at the time and my family of fourteen was abandoned with no money, education, or social standing. A Thai church in Chicago took us in and helped us. From there we moved to California where my dad and my sisters enrolled in school. After having no education as a child, I managed to earn a master’s degree in creative writing.

    Are you still religious? What does "heaven" look like to you now?
    I am not religious in the sense that I go to church. I do believe spirituality and religion should be separate and I think that’s a big problem with religion. In an attempt to institutionalise and control, it strips away the very essence of what religion was meant to be: a source of connection to God, nature and community. That’s why cults form in the first place. They offer people a sense of connection, community, purpose and belonging.

    I think “heaven” can be found on earth and that “hell” is formed in the mind. Having grown up in a cult I was forced to experience the hell that comes with severe psychological manipulation and control and I’m happy to say that it forced me to create my own peace on earth.

    What have you got planned for the future?
    I currently work in education and am considering going back to school for another masters or possibly a PhD. I am deeply passionate about learning, probably in part because I was denied an education as a child. I have to say I think the education system, like most institutions in this country, is in a dire state and much needs to be done before everyone can have access to a quality education. I also hope to write more books.

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  190. When the Apocalypse Didn’t Come

    By Rebecca Moore, Los Angeles Review of Books September 2, 2018

    THE UGLY HISTORY of the Children of God broke into wide public view in 2005, when Ricky Rodriguez — groomed from infancy to lead the cult known for sexual sharing in their communal homes — murdered his former nanny before committing suicide. Apocalypse Child, an enlightening but narrowly focused memoir by Flor Edwards, paints a more complicated picture of the group than do the lurid headlines.

    Born in 1981 to rank-and-file disciples, Edwards lived far from the inner circle. Neither she nor her parents ever met David Berg, the group’s prophet and leader. Yet by Edwards’s account, Father David was ever-present through his revelations, his teachings, and his practices.

    Edwards describes an unusual, fascinating, and demanding childhood — full of love and affection, but also full of disruption and uncertainty. Her family lived a peripatetic existence, moving from Spain to Sweden (where she and her twin sister were born) to Mexico to California, and on to several places in Thailand for a number of years, before returning to the United States and settling in the Chicago area.

    Because memoirs must focus on the experiences of a single individual, we lose the backdrop. In Edwards’s book, that would be the larger picture of life and times in the 1970s, when Southern California was the epicenter of a religious counterculture, and when the majority of first-generation members like her parents joined in. The charismatic Lonnie Frisbee brought the Jesus People from San Francisco to Los Angeles; Chuck Smith baptized hippies on the beach near Costa Mesa, where he started Calvary Chapel; and John Wimber, a consultant to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, established the Vineyard Fellowship in a break with Smith over exorcism and healing. (Both Wimber and Smith expelled Frisbee from their groups when they learned that he was gay, and they wrote him out of their church histories.)

    The most famous, or perhaps infamous, of the Jesus Freak movements, however, was the Children of God. Renamed the Family of Love in 1978, and the Family International in 2004, most members knew it simply as the Family. The group was founded in 1968 by David Brandt Berg, a one-time minister in the mainstream Christian and Missionary Alliance. From his new pulpit on the streets in Huntington Beach, “Father David” channeled the spirit of the counterculture with his condemnation of “The System” and his promise of a coming apocalypse led by Jesus, the one true revolutionary. He was also fascinated by sex in all its forms and developed a theology that justified promiscuity — the “Law of Love.”

    As a child, Flor Edwards clearly resented her parents’ religious commitment and their rejection of The System. Their decision to live communally, rather than as a nuclear family, particularly seemed to gall her. “As members of The Family, we were expected to ‘share’ our relatives with each other,” she writes, noting that some “uncles” and “aunties” were quite nice, and others were harsh disciplinarians. Her parents’ decision to “go for the gold,” and have as many children as possible, was simply additional evidence that “Mom and Dad’s loyalty was to Father David rather than to us kids.” Frequent training sessions that her parents attended as home leaders helped them focus on service to Jesus apart from the distraction of children, who “continued to take a backseat in their priorities.”

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  191. Edwards has no idea what motivated her parents to forsake the world and join Berg’s End Time army. They were trying to follow Jesus and prepare for his return in what seemed to them to be the biblical way: living hand-to-mouth, evangelizing on street corners, praying, and working in anticipation of the coming apocalypse. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me,” said Jesus (Matthew 19:21). Adults in the Family took this injunction literally. But there was a cost to the children, as Edwards observes.

    The author escaped many of the antinomian and abusive sexual conventions that existed in the Family throughout the 1980s, although she recalls seeing and, more often, hearing adults coupling in a vacant bedroom (by 1990 the group had repudiated adult-minor sexual contact and abandoned the practice of bringing in new converts via sex, which they called “flirty fishing”). She did not escape occasional discipline, however, including a memorable occasion where she was given seven hard whacks with a paddle for “disorderly conduct,” which included the “vices” of disobedience, foolishness, defiance, and pride. With the adults distracted, she and her sisters had run wild, relatively speaking — playing instead of raking leaves, wearing outside shoes inside the house, laughing through mealtime, and staying up past bedtime. She was nine years old.

    But Edwards also relates warm memories of going on fun walks with her mother, creating a swimming pool in one of the family homes, and living an exotic, if challenging, life abroad. Somewhat unexpectedly, she found life trying in the United States, where she experienced bullying, ostracism, and poverty for the first time. “I had never felt shame living in Thailand,” she admits, “even though it was a third-world country and we had no money.” Her isolation from modern American life, and growing disenchantment with the Family as a teenager, led her into a hard-drinking crowd and culminated in a suicide attempt. A year in alternative high school, however, and a teacher who encouraged her to go to college set her back on track.

    By the end of the memoir, Flor Edwards is a bit more forgiving and understanding of her parents, seeing children and adults alike as victims of an abusive cult. It is clear that her parents did not share this victim mentality, although they gradually drifted away from the group when they sought medical care for her mother, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Serious abnormalities had first appeared in 1981 while pregnant with Flor and Tamar, but her mother thought nothing about it “since the world was going to end anyway.”

    Just as it is difficult today to imagine a Los Angeles teeming with Jesus Freaks, it is hard to envision the dedication required to give up everything in the belief that time on earth was short. Although Edwards does not actually use ironic quotes when writing about being “God’s End Time soldier,” they are nonetheless present.

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  192. The 1960s and 1970s lacked the pervasive sense of irony that marks our own century. Devotion, loyalty, perseverance, and ardor were not considered pathologies in that era. A counterculture had arisen that rejected the values of the 1950s — the parents’ values — in a quest for a life of meaning. One of the most self-revealing statements to appear in the book is when Edwards declares that as a child she had been “burdened with saving the world.”

    Fortunately, Edwards did not suffer the molestation a few children experienced in other communal homes or the cruelties inflicted on adolescents in some of the teen homes. Indeed, her book noticeably indicates that each home had its unique culture and practices, despite the edicts that came from on high. This undermines any attempt to make vast generalizations about the Family, even though former members tend to paint the past in broad strokes on critical websites. The mistreatment that occurred in one household was absent from another, and national differences made everyone’s experience different.

    Children swelled the ranks of the movement because members of the Family did not believe in using artificial contraception. As early as 1982, children made up the majority of full-time members, and this imbalance continued for several decades. As a result, leadership shifted the focus of activities from street ministry and evangelization to education and homeschooling of children.

    The educational background provided in the Family appears to have been exceptional for Edwards. She reports completing the Family-created fourth-grade workbook when she was seven, but not finishing the fifth-grade book because she was busy with chores in the communal home where her family lived. Even when she began attending public school as a teenager, she and her sisters were responsible for cooking and child care. Nevertheless, Edwards managed to maintain a 4.0 grade point average in high school and gained acceptance to UC Berkeley when she was 18, as did her twin sister.

    Her separation from the Family began when she graduated from high school — at least mentally and emotionally — so the memoir does not cover institutional developments that have occurred in the last two decades. These would include the 2010 “Reboot,” which abandoned the communal-home model and, in effect, dismantled the last vestige of the group’s notorious past. The Family International exists today primarily as a virtual religion. A visitor to its website would find a completely traditional evangelical Christian message.

    Apocalypse Child thus presents an absorbing snapshot of one individual’s experiences in a radically alternative movement, even though it lacks the sociological backdrop and wider lens that would have put her experience into its historical context. A reader would need to view a bigger photo album to gain a complete understanding of how that one snapshot fits.


    Rebecca Moore is Emerita Professor of Religious Studies at San Diego State University and the author of Beyond Brainwashing: Perspectives on Cult Violence (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

  193. Flor Edwards Survived the Notorious Children of God Doomsday Cult, Turning Her Pain Into a Poignant Book About Healing

    by MARC BALLON, OC Weekly SEPTEMBER 13, 2018

    The year was 2010. The setting was my intermediate print-journalism class at Cal State Fullerton. Flor Edwards, one of my students, was part of my “Love, Sex and Romance” mock press conference. Three volunteer female student panelists stood before the class taking questions from their male classmates about all things love, sex and romance. Then, the female students would interrogate three male panelists. Afterward, students had to write an article about what transpired.

    Over the years, I heard so many lurid questions and responses that nothing surprised me—until I met Flor. Her ribald tales about her scandalous childhood and experimental adulthood that included relationships with women and the occasional threesome made her classmates’ midnight confessions seem positively tame.

    Who was this provocateur hiding in plain sight?

    Flor, perhaps my best writing student, had mastered the fine art of politely but firmly keeping her distance.

    During the course of the semester, I picked up a few interesting tidbits: Her mother was Swedish; Flor had 11 brothers and sisters; and UC Berkeley had accepted her, but she decided to go to CSUF.

    Oh, and Flor had grown up in the notorious Children of God cult, the same one that had stolen the childhoods of Joaquin Phoenix, his late brother River Phoenix and Rose McGowan. When Flor was a little girl, the doomsday cult, beset with allegations of incest, allegations of adult-child sex and widespread psychological abuse, had prophesied that the world would end in 1993. Flor lived in terror that she would die at age 12.

    After she graduated, Flor and I kept in touch sporadically. I wrote her a letter of recommendation for creative-writing programs at UC Riverside and Columbia University, both accepted her for graduate school. Occasionally, we dropped each other a line.

    She reappeared in my life earlier this year, after authoring Apocalypse Child: A Life in End Times. Her wrenching memoir details the isolation, frequent beatings and emotional abuse she exerienced as a child in a cult that preached free love, “flirty fishing” and an apocalypse that never came. Flor had quite a story to tell, replete with false prophets, absentee parents, suicide attempts and redemption.

    We met at the now-closed Classic Rock Coffee in Fullerton, the first of many conversations. Her dirty-blond hair framing her youthful face, Flor, now 36, looked strong, healthy and happy, much as she had as my student nearly a decade earlier. We discussed how liberated she felt in writing and sharing her story with the world as Led Zeppelin blasted in the background.

    Still, she had her moments. “I occasionally get mad because of certain struggles I face. It’s like having an invisible disability,” Flor confided. “People look at me and think I’m normal, but they don’t understand the struggles I have.”

    The evolution of the Children of God from a haven for lost hippies to an oppressive, abusive cult sheds light on Flor’s traumatic journey from abused child to broken teenager to healing grownup.

    David Brandt Berg came from a long line of evangelical Christians. At a young age, he struggled with his sexual urges. When he was 3, his mother caught the future founder and leader of the Children of God masturbating in church, Flor writes in Apocalypse Child. His mom allegedly ordered him to finish the act in front of his father. As a young preacher, Berg claimed he had experienced sexual desire for his mother in his early 20s while the two shared a hotel during one of their evangelical missions.

    Berg struggled with his unholy sexual urges. Eventually, he came up with a new paradigm that abolished guilt and celebrated sin as a pathway to forgiveness. One of his founding principles: “Anything done in the name of God is pure and good and should be celebrated and condoned.”
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  194. Berg’s new belief system encouraged sexual freedom and unconditional love, an attractive tonic for the spiritual seekers to whom he would later minister.

    In 1968, the then-49-year-old Berg established the Children of God in Huntington Beach. Many of the drug-addled hippies of the day seemed lost to him. Father David, as he now called himself, believed that God ordained him to save them from eternal damnation. With his message of free love and salvation and a promise to return humanity back to the Garden of Eden, he attracted new followers, a veritable youthful brigade. They formed a singing group called Teens for Christ and performed locally. And they had lots and lots of sex.

    If you lived through the ’60s and didn’t join a band or a cult, then you didn’t really live through the ’60s. “Jesus Christ, it was the ’60s!” Flor said with a laugh.

    In the late ’70s, Flor’s mother joined the Children of God after meeting a member she described as “having eyes that were full of light.” He strummed a guitar on a street corner and told her about Jesus. Other members made her feel accepted as never before. She dumped her fiancé and life in Sweden and joined the group, eventually making her way to Spain.

    Halfway across the world, Flor’s father had dropped out of UC Davis just two weeks before he would have graduated at the top of his class as a geology major to instead follow his five older siblings into Children of God. A while later, Flor’s parents met and fell in love in Majorca, Spain.

    Even at the height of the Children of God’s Age of Aquarius, dark clouds gathered.

    When they joined, Flor’s parents, like all members, gave up all possessions at Father David’s behest. They also severed relationships with “systemites,” or evil ones, which included anybody outside the group such as “unenlightened” parents and grandparents.

    To recruit new members and fill the cult’s coffers, Father David encouraged young female members to seduce wealthy men and turn them on to the Children of God. The practice, which the group abandoned after a spate of bad press, was known as “flirty fishing.” Flor’s older brother came out of such a union.

    Flor and her identical-twin sister Tamar were born in 1981, the fourth and fifth of her mother’s 12 children. (Father David discouraged birth control, so Children of God could breed more “End-Time” soldiers to fight against evil.) Because the amount of children gradually began to outnumber adults, the cult grew far more restrictive and repressive.

    “Any time you have to control another person, that’s when things became more structured and more deliberate,” Flor said. “I think in the beginning, it was much more free and impulsive.”

    That certainly wasn’t Flor’s or her siblings’ experience in the Children of God.

    While in hiding, Father David communicated with his followers through long-winded letters. His adult foot soldiers told cult children what to think, read, watch and even feel. “A clandestine cult with 20 children to a room; no outside music, movies or books; and no contact beyond the compound. For the first 15 years of my life, this was my normal,” Flor writes in Narratively, a digital publication focusing on in-depth storytelling.

    In 1985, Father David declared the United States was a whore and encouraged followers to leave the West and preach to the developing world. He said he had a revelation from God that the world would end in 1993. The U.S. and other western nations would be the first to burn in hell. Flor, her family and other cult members all had spots in heaven and could take whomever was willing to join them. Only 144,000 believers, according to Father David, would find salvation.

    Flor and her expanding family soon moved to Thailand to “witness”—sing songs, dance, preach the gospel and beg for donations. Over the next seven years, they moved every six months to a new compound that isolated them behind high walls topped with barbed wire.

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  195. Flor became obsessed with death. She calculated that her life would end before her 13th birthday. Despite promises of a heavenly afterlife, Flor often thought about how she would die before her “rebirth” and how much pain she would have to endure.

    “I knew for sure that I was going to heaven since I was one of God’s children, but the threshold to get there seemed insurmountable,” Flor writes in Narratively.

    She began to think about all the possible ways that she could die—primitive ways that she’d heard about, mostly from the Bible stories or movies such as The Ten Commandments or Jesus of Nazareth. “I formulated elaborate images [in] my mind of being burned at the stake like Joan of Arc,” she said. “Being crucified upside-down, where the head fills with blood and slowly bursts; being beheaded like John the Baptist; or stoned to death like the prostitutes in the Bible stories or movies we’d watch.”

    She eventually prayed that she would get shot, thinking it the quickest and most painless way to go.

    Flor and other cult children also lived in constant fear of brutal beatings for minor “infractions”—or for no reason at all. The adults, she said, wanted to control the young ones and did so using hateful words or their fists. Punishments were doled out using a demerit chart. “We became accustomed to scheduled punishments or humiliations, often without knowing what we had done wrong,” Flor said. “We also became quite used to unexpected and erratic outbursts of discipline.”

    Two incidents stand out for their cruelty.

    One night, “Uncle Peter” was reading bedtime stories from the “Heaven’s Girl” series, “an apocalyptic sex comic book,” in Flor’s words. As he read, a girl on the bottom bunk began tugging at Flor’s leg. She tried to ignore the girl, but burly Uncle Peter noticed that Flor had momentarily stopped paying attention. He made his way toward her.

    “I didn’t have time to think before he lifted me in the air. He held me by my arms. My shoulders froze. My legs dangled,” Flor writes. “He slammed me down on the bed. I landed on my tailbone. Shock waves shot up my spine. My brain went numb and tingly. My throat dried up. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. For a moment, my whole world stopped with that slam to my tailbone.”

    Then Uncle Peter calmly picked up the book and continued reading.

    Another time, 9-year-old Flor had accumulated a total of five check marks next to her name on a demerit chart, indicating the vices of disobedience, foolishness, defiance, disorderly conduct and pride—big no-nos. She was told that after lunch, her beloved Uncle Paul would punish her with a wooden paddle, even though she wasn’t sure what she’d done wrong.

    Before the beating, Uncle Paul handed Flor a giant ladybug pillow to muffle her screams. Flor asked him if her mother sanctioned the punishment. Uncle Paul told the terrified Flor that her mom considered this “the best course of action.” He began beating her buttocks with such force that her legs gave way beneath her.

    “I was beginning to see that the adults, Mom and Dad included, would take whatever measure necessary to keep us in line and loyal to Father David’s teachings,” Flor writes. “I began to withdraw further and further inside myself, unable to handle both the fear of death that was always with me and now recognition of what adults were turning into.”

    Sexual abuse and allegations of incest have long surrounded the Children of God, now known as the Family. Father David countenanced not only free love, but also sex between adults and children, at least for the cult’s first few years.

    Father David also had a hankering for young girls. He kept a private stash of videos of scarf-clad girls dancing provocatively. By age 7, Flor knew the basics of how to sexually satisfy both men and women from reading Father David’s explicit letters.

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  196. Though she never experienced sexual abuse, Flor heard many stories over the years about molested Children of God girls and witnessed inappropriate behavior herself. In her book, she writes of hearing moaning adults in walled-off rooms having orgies. Then there was the masturbating 9-year-old.

    Somehow, this hyper-sexualized little girl had found a way to get herself off. And she wasn’t shy about doing it when the grownups were away. So, Flor and the other girls in the house, about 20 in all, hatched a plan to trick her. They pretended to join her, all simulating masturbation, encouraging the girl to let herself go, to really go for it. As she furiously touched herself and neared ecstasy, the other girls began to mock her until the little girl broke down in tears.

    The bullying had little to do with onanism.

    “Hurt people, hurt people,” Flor said. “Because of the environment we were in, it kind of turned into Lord of the Flies. The girl was weak, so, we ganged up on her.”

    The year 1993 came and went with the world still intact; Father David’s prophecy proved false. The charismatic cult leader found a way to spin it, though. God, he told his followers, was pleased with their work and gave them an “extension.” Flor began having her doubts.

    Father David encouraged followers to come back home, reversing his earlier edict that they flee the West because of its sinful ways. Flor and her family returned to Southern California.

    Father David died on Oct. 1, 1994. With his passing, the bonds that so connected Flor’s parents to the cult began to fray. With so many mouths to feed, they became more concerned with supporting their family. Flor’s brother John left first. Then Flor and two of her sisters told their mother they wanted out. Surprisingly, she conceded. “We just want what’s best for you. And if that’s what you want, then that’s fine,” her mother said.

    Flor, Tamar and their older sister Mary Ann were also allowed to enroll in a home-school program. “I was 14 years old and had never attended a real school,” Flor writes. “This was my first step toward a normal future.”

    Not exactly.

    Having never spoken to children outside the cult, Flor had little idea how to interact with classmates. She finally decided to befriend a cool girl named Kristen, who wore flannel shirts, jeans and other trendy clothes. Flor wrote her a note: “Dear Kristen, I would like to be your friend . . .”

    Kristen read it, looked at Flor and never spoke to her again.

    Flor’s awkward and failed attempt at friendship was the first of many social missteps. Growing up cut off from the outside world, Flor didn’t know how to interact with people or have a healthy relationship. She had no knowledge of popular culture and zero social skills. For much of her life, the Children of God, damaging as it was, had given her structure and stability; it taught her what to wear, what to eat, what to listen to and what to think.

    Now, Flor could make her own choices. She was free—or was she?

    “It wasn’t so much growing up in a cult that was difficult,” Flor said. “It was actually coming into the world.”

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  197. Flor’s difficulty in adjusting to modern American social norms manifested itself her first day at Rowland High School. Her Spanish teacher sent her home from school for wearing a blouse that showed too much cleavage. He said she could only return if she wore something more modest. “I did not understand the proper rules of dress code,” Flor writes in Narratively. “Showing a little cleavage was no big deal to my teenage mind.”

    But learning that she had been in a cult was. A few days later, Flor stopped by the local library and thumbed through an issue of Seventeen magazine. Black bold letters read, “Did you grow up in a cult?”

    Did you grow up in a secluded environment? Check. Under the influence of a charismatic leader? Check. Coerced to recruit members to the group? Check. Taught that the outside world was a forbidden place? Check.

    “For the next few weeks after taking the Seventeen quiz,” Flor writes, “the words ran like a mantra through my mind: ‘Oh my God . . . I grew up in a cult. . . . Where do I go from here?’”

    The answer was downhill.

    Flor had suspected she had grown up in a cult, and now she had proof. She shared the horrific news with some of her siblings. Like her, they reacted with rage and rebelliousness, channeling much of that anger toward their parents—and themselves. They felt like outcasts. “I started coming home from school drunk,” Flor writes in Apocalypse Child. “I would shout at Mom and Dad, ‘You raised us in a cult! How could you? I hate you! I should’ve never been born! You should’ve never had any of us!’”

    Flor descended into a life of booze and drugs to medicate her inner turmoil. She ended up getting kicked out of high school twice for alcohol and weed, despite maintaining a 4.0 GPA. At her alternative school, she and Tamar—who had also been expelled and was on a path of self-destruction—witnessed bloody fights among gang bangers. They did more drugs and alcohol to numb the pain.

    After Flor’s “friend” smashed a lunch box on her head in a jealous, drunken rage, Flor had had enough. She grabbed a handful of aspirin one night and washed the pills down with vodka. “I had grown up in a world where I was prohibited from making decisions,” Flor writes. “But there’s one freedom we have as humans: It’s the will to live or die.”

    Flor didn’t die, although she did spend a long night throwing up in the toilet. Her near-death experience gave her a renewed will to live.

    After surviving her suicide attempt, Flor cleaned up and returned to high school and graduated with honors. Enrolling in junior college, Flor took an English course that required a 10-page research paper. She knew exactly what she wanted to write about. “As I started to write, I discovered my childhood was a gold mine for material, no longer a piece of my past weighing down on me,” Flor writes in Apocalypse Child. “It had color and texture. Darkness and tragedy, too, but most of all, I had something to work with. Like a potter uses clay, I had material with which to form stories. When I wrote, I had a voice, something I never had growing up.”

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  198. Her professor gave Flor an A. She promised him that she would one day write a book about her experiences.

    And so she has. Kirkus Reviews calls Apocalypse Child “an impressive religious memoir—candid and inspiring without being sensationalistic or self-pitying.” Publishers Weekly says the book is a “wrenching testimony about a complicated childhood reclaimed.” Foreward Reviews praises it as “an engrossing account of growing up within the strangely insular Children of God cult.”

    The process of putting her thoughts on paper, of reliving the myriad traumas she suffered in the cult, was more difficult than Flor could’ve possibly imagined. She began penning her memoir in 2005; Turner Publishing Co. put it out 13 years later—nearly the same amount of time that Flor had spent in Children of God.

    She wrote to take control of her story, to understand what happened to her and to heal. “I sometimes cried while writing. There were times I almost couldn’t work, but finishing this book had a cathartic effect,” Flor said. “I think when you go through something traumatic, there’s a technique in the military where they actually make you sit there and listen to the sounds of bombs. I kind of did that through my memories.”

    And she’s not done. Flor hopes to write another book, perhaps about her life after the cult, perhaps something entirely different. She’s not sure. What Flor does know, though, is that she has finally found her voice. Life is good. Her relationship with her parents is stronger than ever, her bitterness toward them long since dissipated. Flor has never felt more optimistic, more confident and more capable. She feels proud of and validated by Apocalypse Child’s reception.

    Still, the scars of growing up in the Children of God remain, even if mostly hidden.

    Three of Flor’s sisters’ whereabouts are unknown; Flor has lost touch with them. She says she never wants to have her own kids: “After what happened to me, there’s no way I was going to bring a child into this world.” She has no intention of marriage, a result of her inability to fully trust others or to plan too far into the future. Or perhaps, Flor said, just because she never learned to live in the fantasy of fairy tales, her life was a wholly different kind of fiction.

    Given her lack of socialization as a child, her anxieties as an adult could paralyze her—if she permitted them to.

    “I can’t let myself go there. It would be such a deep, dark vortex. There would be no coming out,” Flor said. “I have to literally fight sometimes to keep myself afloat. But that makes life interesting.

    “As my mom said, ‘I was born to be a fighter.’”

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  199. Painting himself out of a corner
    Life inside and out of a cult

    by Millar Hill, The Drive Magazine February 2019

    There are very few times a journalist gets the opportunity to interview someone like Asaph Maurer, gaining insight into what an upbringing is like for a child born into a cult.

    The Children of God is a cult that began in the United States during the late 1960s by its founder, David Berg. Berg’s cult spread like wildfire and he claimed to have 130 religious communities around the world by the 1970s filled with men, women, and children.

    Asaph was one of those children.

    Born in Mexico, Asaph lived there for the first six years of his life before he was uprooted to India. The formative years of his life were sheltered from all influences outside of the cult. There was no access to doctors, public school, music, television, or books. The cult members were raised with the belief that the world was evil and it was run by the devil. Only the Children of God were free of this evil because they were God’s chosen children.

    “I never met the leader of the cult, but he was the one who raised all of us,” Asaph said.

    Members of the cult lived in communes consisting of 30 to 50 people living together under one roof. They were separated into groups by age and homeschooled. Asaph says every spare moment was spent studying the bible and Berg’s teachings. Eventually, they were sent out into the world outside of theirs with the intent to convert others into their way of thinking.

    During his time inside the cult, Asaph got married and had five children.

    “That kind of environment lends itself very easily to abuse and there was a lot of of physical and sexual abuse of children,” he said. “It was a childhood I had no control over but after I became an adult, I realized this is not the way I wanted to raise my family.”

    At the age of 28, Asaph and his wife escaped the cult, fleeing to Toronto from India. Living in total isolation with no exposure to the outside world, they started their lives from scratch.

    “We were out of the daily brainwashing and indoctrination that allowed us, very slowly, to realize what it was that we had been born and raised into,” he said. “So, we never went back to it.”

    Eventually after living together for some time in Toronto, their marriage didn’t work out and Asaph and his wife separated. There was a short period before moving to Windsor where Asaph lost a sense of what he was doing with his life. With his marriage over and his future unclear, he turned to alcohol.

    “Combined with the fact of having such a sheltered upbringing, I defaulted to the most rebellious activities: drugs and alcohol,” he said. “The real problem was that I didn’t have any kind of clear picture that connected with me for my life and since I didn’t, my life became a series of going out and making decisions that could have been replaced by better decisions. It got to a point where my life was in shambles and I couldn’t stop. This lasted for nearly six months. Towards the end, I couldn’t function without alcohol.”

    Asaph took the necessary steps to recovery. He found his own path, providing himself a life from which he no longer needs to escape with booze and drugs.

    “Through my experience, I learned that any step that a person wants to take to recover their lives is a perfectly good one,” he said. “It’s the right thing, it’s the right step. Even if it is going from a very harmful drug to one that is less harmful. The idea is that you can’t get better if you’re dead.”

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