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 the Books on Religion and Cults page of this site.

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."

    view music video at:

  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: