Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pardon the Interruption, but…

…meatspace concerns have the lion’s share of my attention right now. I’ll be back in cyberspace shortly. Although I may be a bit slow getting to your pages, I will check in from time to time.


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Loving Children of an Ungodly Father: Neither Rest nor Relaxation

A number of things began to come to a head for the Children of God as 1977 came to a close. Berg had had it with the intramural squabbles among his assistant leaders, who were beginning to rival him in authority. Claiming that they had become “too dictatorial,” and chastising them for dragging their feet on such things as FF-ing and other sexual policies, David Berg fired his top 300 officers (known collectively as 'The Chain'), and on 18 February 1978 rechristened the cult ’The Family of Love.’ Berg referred to the change as Reorganization Nationalization Revolution (RNR).  A month later, Berg clarified the nature and scope of the changes in a Mo Letter titled “Happy Rebirthday--RNR Rules!” (DO, February 1978). Among other things, he instructed:
TRY TO GET AWAY FROM BEING CALLED THE 'CHILDREN OF GOD' where the name is not helpful nor legally necessary….  
AS OF REBIRTHDAY, FEB. 18, THE CHAIN’s [the 300 leaders directly under Berg] FIRED and need to find new jobs….
EACH HOME SHOULD HAVE AN IMMEDIATE NEW ELECTION or reelection of local Servants no later than February 18.…
FFERS NO LONGER NEED FISHERMEN, ONLY FISHERWOMEN! An experienced girl FFer with each trainee group or group of trainees--Then the Fish will pay all the bills! Don’t tell me you can’t afford to FF!--You can’t afford not to!--Read the Book of Ruth!
NO MINIMUM AGE FOR FFERS!--unless sex is involved!--Then they must be of legal age for sexual involvement, usually at least 21 to 23, depending on the state or country. Watch out!….
PREGNANCIES FROM SEX OR FFING need no longer be considered as obligations to marry as before. Some have felt free to help each other for fear it might require marriage if pregnancy occurs. That’s optional….
OUR CHILDREN BELONG TO THE FAMILY and to all of us, and we are all their parents and they are all our children, so no “unwed” mother need fear for herself nor her children. Several of our children call every adult in the Home ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy’, and that’s as it should be….[emphasis original]
The above new rules clarified Berg’s vision to his membership. Whereas males participated in FF-ing before RNR, he intended this practice almost exclusively for females. Moreover, he wanted children to engage in the practice. Although he forbids actual “sex” in flirty fishing, from the context of this and other cult literature one has to interpret that word as actual intercourse (as opposed to oral sex and masturbation--after all, by rules, the group considered only these three activities as FF-ing). In effect, though, we see Berg taking more direct control over the group by eliminating self-willed middlemen (or middlepersons).

Berg also wanted to distance the group’s identity from the negative publicity it had so far accrued under the name Children of God. From here on out, when possible, they were to be known as the Family of Love.

Like trying to grip a handful of water better by making a fist, Berg’s attempt to assert greater authority in many respects caused him to lose parts of his flock. Many members had begun to leave on their own, if they weren’t already excommunicated. Their reasons varied, of course. We can guess that some of the first generation simply missed living a “normal system” life. Many, however, cited specific aspects for leaving. Some parents hated the separation from their biological offspring, whom the cult said belonged not to them but to leadership. Others couldn’t stomach Flirty-Fishing and other sexual policies of the group. A number of parents also began to hear rumors about the sexualization of the young, and feared that their own kids were subjected to abuse.

Then still, others objected to the strict enforcement of tithing. Berg demanded that everyone give 10% of their income before taxes. In some countries, the tax base for even modest incomes was 50%. Say if a couple, through busking, litnessing and ff-ing scraped together $10,000 for the year--a decent, livable wage for the 1970s--and had to pay 50% in taxes (or $5,000) on top of a tithe ($1,000), then living on $4,000 a year each could pose quite a challenge. Of course, in countries with high tax rates, they could enjoy the benefits of the national infrastructure and social services. Then again, if the cult decided to then move them to another place with a lower tax base, and fewer services, then they’d be SOL.

Moreover, because of legal pressures, Berg saw the advantages of not looking so much like a cult in various countries (especially, in the US). One way to do this would be to make homes more nuclear. Of course, if families lived on their own, they might become less inclined to tithe. Berg must have sensed this, for in 1979 he reformed the tithing policy, allowing for family units living by themselves in the “outside world” to determine the amount they could afford to give. Each family had to apprise the group of their income monthly using an Independent Report Form. Obviously thinking that a little bit of revenue from these folks beat nothing at all, Berg nevertheless continued to give IRF’ers the hard sell about the benefits of actually tithing. In a Mo Letter titled “IRFERS BEWARE” (DFO, published March 1980), Berg blamed a female follower for her own rape and murder on the grounds that she would have been protected had she (1) consented to the rape and (2) paid a full tithe:
THEY OBVIOUSLY WEREN’T WHOLE-HEARTED OR TOTALLY SOLD OUT FOR THE LORD, or he could at least have been tithing. [He] had a good job, but was only an IRFer, not a tither. If they had at least been tithing or serving the Lord fulltime, they would have been more in the will of God, you know that. But obviously they’d taken an apartment near her relatives & gone back to System work & were only IRFing, only sending very little a month for the Lord’s work….

I’M SO CONVINCED OF THE JUSTICE & FAIRNESS & GOODNESS & MERCY & LOVE OF GOD, that I know good & well that a thing like that will not happen unless there’s mighty good reason for it! [emphasis original]

The more negative publicity came the cult’s way during the 1980s, the more they engaged in public relations to halt what they perceived as so much religious persecution. They publicly made statements ending ff-ing and prohibiting child sexual abuse. While they stressed that these were minor incidents from the past, we have good evidence (in terms of witness testimony, the cult’s own publications, videotapes and photographs) that both activities occurred after their supposed termination in 1987.

The 1990s brought turmoil to group leadership, as law enforcement agencies around the world exhausted their tolerance for the CoG/FoL. Someone would have to pay the consequences for the wanton exploitation of women as semen receptacles and surrogate mothers. Someone would have to pay the consequences for the flagrant violation of law that existed as cult dogma for the previous two decades. Someone would also have to pay the consequences for systematically abusing children through violence, sex and/or a combination of both.

One person not paying any consequences at all was one David Moses Berg. He died peacefully on 1 October 1994 in Costa da Caparica, Almada (Portugal), never so much as spending a day in court (much less a minute in prison) for the cult’s criminal activities.

After his death, Berg’s lover, Karen Zerby, assumed leadership of the cult, along with her leader-approved boyfriend, Steven Kelly (left). Under the alias Peter Amsterdam, Kelly took over Michael Sweeny’s position as Berg’s second-in-command after Michael left the cult in 1979.

As its leaders, Zerby and Kelly would have to shepherd the cult through some rather turbulent times, as all the deeds of their founder would come back to haunt the cult, while their own past actions would exact their karma personally upon them.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Loving Children of an Ungodly Father: I Fought the Law and…I Won!

Parents of Children of God members began to organize early on in the 1970s, and in 1973 finally got New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to ask then-State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz to investigate the “extent of the various activities of the organization known as Children of God as its activities affect the public peace and safety.”* 

The Lefkowitz report noted a number of suspicious activities, some prosecutable (e.g., kidnapping, tax fraud), some not (e.g., brainwashing--a legal activity, at least in 1974 New York). They had a number of witnesses, including fourteen ex-members, thirty-four parents, six members who responded to subpoena, and a number of people who had direct contact with the group. They also had documentary evidence in the form of films, Mo Letters, and other cult publications. The problems they encountered stemmed from the lack of cooperation with anyone associated with the cult, and the group’s ability to move key witnesses in and out of the country.

David Berg made clear early on, in various publications and sermons, that the CoG would not recognize any legal authorities. He practiced what he preached almost immediately. In September of 1969, after police arrested twenty of their numbers during anti-war protests, the cult put up $34,000+ dollars in bail to secure their release. They then spirited them away to undisclosed locations. Because police could not locate the offenders (among them Berg’s sons Jonathan and Paul), the only thing they could do was keep the bail money and try them in abstentia.

The CoG would come to rely upon this tactic quite a bit in the future, especially after the cult went international. If US authorities wanted to investigate or question a cult member, the cult could quickly spirit her or him away to a distant location, most likely in another country. If authorities tracked them down to a specific colony/compound, other members could stall them, saying something like “We don‘t know who you‘re talking about. We never heard that name [which was quite possible, since everyone in the cult had an alias],“ or simply “We don‘t know where she/he is.” Meanwhile, the targeted person had ample time to escape from the back. And Berg felt quite justified using the stall-and-evade ruse, as he noted in a Mo Letter titled “Public Relations” (DO, 24 November 1971):
YOU MUST NOT INTERFERE WITH AN OFFICER WHO COMES WITH A MENTAL WARRANT—or you're in legal trouble! You can ask to see the warrant, make sure who it's for, and while you're stalling, someone else can inform the disciple involved, who then has a perfect right to run out the back door if he wants to! A mental warrant is not a warrant for arrest for a crime—so if he's supposed to be so crazy, who would blame him for running! This procedure has been very successful on a number of occasions! The tricky one is where they get the disciple away from you first on a supposed visit, and produce the warrant and the officer later when they have him alone! He can still try to run if he wants to—and certainly no officer's going to shoot him for that!—The parent wouldn't let him! [emphasis original]
From 1971, Berg made himself quite scarce, despite the fact that supporters had a difficult time contacting him. As the 1974 New York State Attorney General’s Office report stated, when addressing the matter of trying to figure out the cult‘s net worth:
Because Berg and members of his Family have been residing in Europe for the past several years, further efforts to obtain evidence of their net worth have been abandoned as an exercise in futility. Testimony of a large contributor that he had travelled to Europe in order to meet Berg and was unable to do so because Berg was always ‘moving about’ and not available, caused him to become disenchanted and to devote himself to ‘doing everything possible to expose these people’ for the irreligious libertines they have become.

Among other things, the Lefkowitz report determined the means by which the cult got money, and how they kept up with as much of it as possible. As expected, they got money from members, from member parents, from selling Mo Letters on the street, and from local merchants. Interestingly, the AG’s Office also notes that as early as 1974, the cult had received substantial donations from “businessmen,” who had donated as much as $75,000 to the group after they “flattered” him. Note that this coincides with the advent of FF-ing in late-1973.

Getting money was one thing. Keeping it was another. The CoG incorporated in Texas as a religious organization, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) didn’t see them as one, and ordered them to pay their full share of taxes. That also disallowed deductions for people who donated money to them. Yet, the CoG still claimed to be a tax-exempt entity and registered charity when soliciting money. Technically, they weren’t lying. They had set up a subsidiary corporation, Youth for Truth, Incorporated (YTI). The IRS, unaware of YTI’s connection with the CoG, granted it tax-exempt charity status. Thus the CoG could launder all it’s money through YTI, and not pay a red cent in taxes.

In case you’re wondering, Lefkowitz sent a copy of this report to the IRS. Still, the CoG could have just as easily started another tax-exempt subsidiary.

Kidnapping became a serious issue within the cult, as disaffected members tried to leave, but found it difficult to do so without their children and/or spouses. Even if a parent went to court and won custody of a child, that didn’t mean the cult would comply with the order. A good example of this: Berg’s son Paul, and his daughter-in-law Sarah. After CoG members kept asking him about how to have sex with an expecting woman, Berg instructed Paul to demonstrate with Sarah, at the time over eight months pregnant. Paul said “Yes.” Sarah said “No.”

Of course, women weren’t really allowed to say no in the CoG. Paul forced her compliance by whacking her in the stomach with a two-by-four. This induced premature labor, which required the care of an outsider “system” hospital. Upon her release, cult members incarcerated her and the infant inside a trailer, outside of which they posted a guard. They also took her first child, Nathan, from her. When the guard left his station for an extended period of time, she escaped, with the baby, and walked over six miles to secure help. She obtained custody of Nathan in 1973, after Paul’s apparent suicide. But when she asked CoG attorneys to assist in returning him to her, they told her that the cult didn‘t know his whereabouts. By that time, of course, he could have been anywhere around the globe.

Even if an ex-member managed to escape with his/her kids, the cult would sometimes kidnap the young from the parent‘s residence. In 1976, Una McManus left with her two children. Although she had legal custody of them, her husband, then still in the cult, abducted the kids with the help of other CoG members. The kids were never returned to her, but instead grew up in the cult. Like Sarah Berg, she could practically do nothing as the cult shuffled her offspring from one country to the next, so that local leadership could repeatedly say, “We don’t know where they are.” McManus subsequently won a $1 mill. lawsuit against Berg and the CoG in 1979, partly because neither Berg nor any CoG representative showed up to contest it. Berg’s response?
She had joined the Family & claimed that it had harmed her irreparably, psychologically & blah blah, & she went to a System court & that stupid idiotic damn Satanic diabolical System judge awarded her the million dollars damages. Do you think I paid?--Of course not! They can't find me!--But I'd better never go to Ohio! ...

But just because I didn't show up in court to face this judge & this silly little girl who was suing me for a million dollars, the judge awarded her the decision & granted her the damages!--Which they'll never collect unless they can catch me, & then they won't collect it because I don't have it!--Ha!

In a nutshell, these examples demonstrated how authorities fared when investigating, charging or even trying to convict Berg and members of his group. Step one was to evade the law by stalling for time, escaping, and outright lying. Step two consisted of maintaining an aggressive horde of attorneys.

Some people have alleged that a Step 3 required pressure on authorities by important people acting as CoG patrons. Gov. Rockefeller’s investigation produced a report, but nothing else. A number of other investigations by the US Senate, as well as the states of California and Vermont, also failed to produce convictions, or even formal charges. But even if they wanted to arrest a CoG member for a crime, according to these authorities, there would probably not be a good chance of locating the individual(s), let alone bringing them to court and actually trying them.

Some believe that the investigations served only to mollify parents and concerned relatives of CoG members. Through FF-ing and other outreach ministries, the cult had found financial and legal support from very powerful people in government and media. As this particular story thread goes, the investigations were certainly half-hearted, with very little effort to follow through on them, or bring charges against the cult.

*From the report submitted by Asst. Attorney General Herbert Wallenstein presented to Lefkowitz on 30 September 1974.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

The Loving Children of an Ungodly Father: The Enemy Within

In his 2007 HBO documentary The Children of God:  Lost and Found, Noah Thompson talked to his mother over the telephone about the cult.  His mother, still in the Family International, tried to avoid many of the issues raised by her son, and when confronted directly often took a party line stance, denying flat out that anything untoward could have happened:

[Noah] Mom, I’m trying to make this documentary, and I need some help so I can tell all sides of the story.

[Mom] I really don’t want to be part of that.  You know what, son?  Every single report on television or in the newspaper about the Family is all negative. 

[Noah] I just want to let you know, I want to air some things out and just get, you know, your perspective on the Family, you know, and why you joined, you know, and really have your voice heard on the film.

[Mom] (long pause) I don’t think that’s what God wants you to do.  And if you betray us like that, there’s not going to be any family.*
Thompson’s mother has already set the dynamic:  say positive things about us, or we will consider what you say as betrayal.  Moreover, she issues a vague threat should he go ahead with his documentary, based on her interpretation of God’s intention.  Of course, here, the will of the Almighty seems tantamount to the PR concerns of the cult.

Thompson finds even more resistance from his mom when talking about the sexual aspects of cult life.  She wants to know if he will mention anything about Flirty Fishing, to which he replies:
[Noah] FF-ing, Flirty Fishing, will be acknowledged, because it was a extremely--it was a huge part of the Family doctrine, you know what I mean?  And it went on, for what, ten years? So I’m going to have to talk about that.  And--

[Mom] And you’re going to take me as a slut?
Despite its hostility, his mother’s response at least acknowledged that the practice went on, and that she participated in it.  When Noah voiced his own experiences, however, she quickly went into denial.
[Noah] You know, as I look back at my childhood you were gone, you know, for a substantial amount.  I’ve slept with plenty of my nannies.

[Mom] Excuse me?

[Noah]  I’ve slept with plenty of my nannies. 

[Mom]  I’m sorry.  I don’t believe that.

[Noah]  You sleep in a room.  You jump in bed with some nanny.  You roll around fucking naked, and that’s how it went down.  That’s how it went down.  Then you’d get up and you’d go to breakfast.  I mean that’s how commonplace it was. 

[Mom]  Why didn’t anybody tell me?  Why didn’t you tell me?…We are not child abusers.  Daddy was not a child abuser.  I am not a child abuser.  We would not let child abuse happen to our children.”
In an early post in this series, I pointed out, using David Berg’s own words, the cult’s position on honesty.  For the most part, they were against it, and even made lying to protect the group a point of sacred policy.  So, I would see the denial by Thompson’s mother in that light.  After all, there were numerous witnesses to the childhood sexual abuse.

Just as they starred in Berg’s idealized child rearing publications, his own brood played the leading role in his exposure as a pervert.  His eldest biological child, Linda Berg Davis (Deborah) led the charge in her 1984 memoir The Children of God:  The Inside Story.  Among other things, she claimed that, as a young girl, a drunken David Berg would try to wake her up in the middle of the night for sex.  Feigning sleep, he would give up, and then molest his younger daughter, Faith.**  As she explained to ABC’s 20/20, “My dad was just an evil personality that was not hearing from God at all.”

Later, Merry Berg would affirm that CoG adults frequently abused children, including her.  Moreover, her worst offender was none other than her Grandpa.  As she told NBC News in 1993: 
They’ll be, now,  ‘Now smile children’ if they put the kids on a show, or singing for someone.  And they may be beating them, and abusing them in the back room, like they were to me.  When I was nine-years old, they were sexually abusing me….

They put this silver ring on my hand, and they, he said, ‘I now wed thee,’ you know, ‘I David now wed thee.’  And I was now supposed to be one of his wives, and I was his grandchild.”
According to her and Davida Kelley, Berg ordered Merry, then twelve, to lose her virginity by bedding her younger quasi-brother, Ricky Rodriguez.  In truth, he wanted Ricky to knock her up that night.  Because Berg regarded Rodriguez as his heir-apparent, he felt that a union with his biological granddaughter might bind the lad more to him--for only then would they have a common “blood” interest. 

Rodriguez and Kelley (right) corroborated each other’s claim that Berg and Karen Zerby would take them to bed.  Moreover, they both said that Berg expected Ricky to have sex with his mother, while Davida performed sex acts on David.  As she told CNN:
He [Berg] was a sick fucking pedophile. He was just a sick fucking pervert.  He interpreted, like, the law of love and the Bible and religion into his own little sick perverted way, and that meant being able to violate, and abuse anyone and everyone….

You were only required to have actual intimate intercourse with David Berg once you were, like, the mature age of, like, twelve….

I actually witnessed Karen Zerby having intercourse with her own son, Ricky Rodriguez, at age eleven.
Natalie Raynes, a friend of Rodriguez, characterized molestation as typical within the CoG.  As she wrote in a January 2006 article for the Australian edition of Cosmopolitan:
If someone touched you, you had no choice but to let them or they’d abuse you or a person you cared about in front of you, which was even worse.

By the time I was ten, we were living in Poland.  I was being abused by someone every single day.  They’d shove fingers inside me or else get me to ‘pleasure’ them (as they called it).  They didn’t believe in condoms and when you started your period they stopped having intercourse with you, but still did everything else.  The cult also didn’t believe in doctors so I’m lucky that I never got an STI.
She also wrote that non-compliance to abuse led to more vicious punishment, or as phrased in the previous post, “discipline”:
At nine, I was sent to a ‘Victor Camp,’ which was like a concentration camp for the cult’s rebellious kids.  I thought there’d be lots of other kids, but it was just me and one other boy.  We were badly beaten, drilled with cult doctrines around the clock and made to clean up after everybody else.  I was also on a ‘silence restriction,’ so I was forbidden to speak one word for three months or more.

I felt like there must have been something terribly wrong with me that I was definitely going to hell because I didn't like people touching me.
Although born into the cult, Merry, unlike most of the second-generation CoG members, did not grow up completely under its guidance.  Her first real contact with it came when she accepted an invitation to visit her grandfather at his secret location.  For most of us, the opportunity to meet a grandparent is a no-brainer decision.  Unfortunately for her, it was a tremendous mistake, which trapped her inside the cult.  And, because she didn’t grow up in it, she knew that the lives of most of her peers on the outside differed vastly from those within the CoG colonies.  Upon turning fourteen, she protested their ways, and the incestuous rape by her grandfather. 

The cult’s “discipline” of Merry was exceedingly harsh, consisting of nasty verbal and sexual abuse and torture in an effort to “exorcise her demons.”  Moreover, the cult openly admitted to it’s brutal treatment of her in a Mo Letter titled “The Last State?--The Dangers of Demonism!” (DO, dated March 1987).  Here, Berg recorded his tirade against the girl, punctuated by numerous slaps to the face, with the promise of starvation ("fasting") and more severe “discipline” to come. 

In commentary to the previous post, Shrinky noted the lack of official or community concern about obvious criminal activity that included the rape of children.  As we will see, the CoG/Family of Love enjoyed a number of political connections, and they could very well have shielded themselves from prosecution.  But that protection began to break down during the 1990s.  As more and more authorities commenced investigations against them for charges ranging from tax fraud to child pornography to kidnapping, the group defended themselves the best they could.  On one front, they engaged in PR, depicting the investigations and subsequent raids as “persecutions.” 

On another front, they tried to destroy evidence of past crimes by re-writing their history.  It’s in this vein that the Pub Purges, a systemic effort to root out controversial DO and other sensitive materials from their libraries, occurred. Likewise, they issued a 1992 statement on child abuse, claiming that they (a) loved their children; (b) neither condoned nor tolerated abuse of any kind; (c) abuse existing in the cult might have been done by some individuals acting on their own in violation of their beliefs; (d) there was no evidence to the contrary; (e) that most of the most controversial beliefs stemmed from their time as the Children of God, but were excised when the group reorganized as The Family of Love; (f) most of their sexually based ministries officially ended in 1987 because of the AIDS crisis; and (f) they really, really, loved their children:***
It has come to our attention that serious accusations of sexual misconduct involving children are being made against members of our fellowships, principally by some disaffected former members who are working in conjunction with various anti-cult organizations.  In the absence of any medical or other tangible evidence to support these allegations, our adversaries have produced some rather extreme and outdated examples of literature published in the past by some in our former fellowships, maintaining that such literature accurately reflects the present lifestyle and practices of our membership.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Therefore, we feel it necessary to confront and deal with this issue directly, in order to provide objective observers with an opportunity to hear all facts regarding this matter, that they may draw their own conclusions. [emphasis original]
Now, I could cite more court-quality evidence of rampant childhood physical and sexual abuse occurring within the CoG.  But if I documented a substantial portion, they would easily dwarf the current total contents of this blog.  Therefore, the testimony of victims is overwhelming, consistent, redundant--in other words, the best type of eyewitness evidence one could present.  On the other hand, the CoG/FoL flatly denied that any abuse existed.  Despite the fact Berg wrote ML’s and True Komix encouraging childhood sex; despite the fact they filmed and photographed children in stripteases and other sexually provocative circumstances; and despite the fact that leadership instructed members to lie to authorities in the case of trouble the Family International would seem to expect us to accept their indignant vehemence as evidence of religious persecution.

Under those circumstances, whom would you believe?  The Family International, or its disgruntled former members?

In case you had just a brief notion to answer the former, let me point this out:  the 1992 document said, “From that point on (1985), any adult member found guilty of having any kind of sexual contact with a minor was excommunicated from our fellowships.”  Problem is, Merry Berg was born in 1972, and her abuse continued until she left the group, at age eighteen, in 1990.  That’s five years of non-excommunicated folks, including the founder.  Raynes was born in 1983, and her abuse continued until 1999, when she left.  Yet she said (as have many others) that molestation was rampant in the cult long after this 1985 deadline, and those children who put up resistance to it faced “discipline.”

*From the context it’s difficult to ascertain whether she means there won’t be any more Family International, or if she means that the Thompson family itself will cease to exist.

**While it appears to be common knowledge within the cult that they maintained an incestuous relationship for decades, Faith and David flatly denied the accusation. 

***As mentioned in a previous post, the Children of God reorganized as the Family  of Love in 1987, but the organization has always existed under various aliases.  In order to cut down on confusion, I’m referring to all of these entities and incarnations as the Children of God, unless there is a specific reason to single out another name.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

The Loving Children of an Ungodly Father: Controlling the Kids

In his conclusion to “The Lustful Prophet,” Dr. Stephen Kent noted that while some aspects of Freudian psychology explain Berg, others do not. Most critically:
To Freudian psychohistorians, Berg is the ‘primal father’ (‘Dad’ to group members) who hoards the women of his ‘clan,’ often stealing them from his ‘sons.’ Unexpectedly, however, none of the younger "sons" kill him--a reality at odds with the classic primordial myth in which they commit patricide…. Here we see the first of several differences from Freudian themes that suggest the limited utility of classic psychoanalytic interpretations to this religious figure and his work. Berg survived, and seemingly thrived, in the open atmosphere of sexual noninhibition and antinomianism because of a practice that Freud had not considered possible: the primordial father gave his male underlings relatively equal access to a pool of women similar to his own. Under his edicts, these men acquired many more sexual opportunities with women than they ever could have had in regular society, since COG women were pressured against refusing the sexual advances of sexually desirous males.
Here we can see Berg wielding sex as a weapon not only against females, but against the males in his flock. By heightening their identities as a function of their sexual attractiveness and availability, Berg reduced women to the status of almost physical organisms meant only to do domestic chores, have sex and bear children. Their acceptance of this policy meant that they had no choice in the selection of sex partners. Any man could have any woman he wanted--provided leadership approved, and usually they did. Consequently, the men in the CoG at this time had little inclination towards jealousy, and less desire to leave the group, or challenge Berg’s authority within it.

Berg took great care to control the cult’s future by manipulating the children born in it, and (like River Phoenix) very young children whose parents had joined. The first step that made this possible consisted of splitting families apart, so that many children grew up virtually parentless, reared and cared for by a series of nannies who rotated from one colony to another at the discretion of leadership.

The next step involved schooling that served very little purpose in terms of education. In fact, the cult really didn’t want the next generation to have much more than an elementary school education--enough so that they could be useful to the cult, but not enough to make an appreciable living in the outside world. What formal schooling they actually got heavily leaned toward indoctrination to obey authority no matter what.

Figure 1. Child discipline tape

The above clip comes from an actual child discipline tape produced by the cult for instructional purposes. The theme of complete and unquestioned obedience is front and center, with the threat of punishment first and foremost. In one example, we see a teacher taking away privileges for a minor infraction, with the threat of more serious punishment if the individualistic behavior continued.

While the children later on refer to spankings, it’s unclear as to the harshness of this form of corporal punishment. After all, there’s some difference between a single half-hearted swat and a score of home-run swings. Berg freely discussed corporal punishment in the context of his own upbringing. The type of punishment Berg recalled receiving from his father seem excessively brutal--perhaps even sadistic. But unlike his mother’s punishments, which tended to the psychological and verbal, Berg had high praise for his father’s harshness, saying that it was really good for him.

Consequently, Berg expected his followers to exact corporal punishment. He also expected the children receiving to express their gratitude and joy at receiving it. Towards the end of the child discipline tape, we hear an interviewer ask some of the kids for their opinion on spankings. Knowing they were on videotape, what else could they do but declare it the best thing since unsliced bread. One exchange I found particularly chilling:
[Interviewer]: Do you think you get too much discipline here, sometimes?
[Seven-year old girl]: No, we just get as much as we need.
[Interviewer]: So you get enough, then?
[Girl]: Yes.
[Interviewer]: Do you like getting discipline?
[Girl]: (pauses) Well, sometimes it’s hard to understand, but then I think about it, and…I sorta… I like discipline, a little.
To any kid in the CoG, this message would be fairly clear: “You will do as we say, and like it. Otherwise, we will punish you. And you will like that.” Later in the interview:
[Interviewer]: If we do naughty things, and we get disciplined, then why do you think we still do naughty things, even if we know we‘re gonna get disciplined for it?
[Girl]: (immediately) ‘Cause we don’t have a fear of the Lord.
Given the degree to which David Berg and his agents conflated their own orders and authority with that of God and Christ, we can easily see that these children were to fear and obey the dictates of the leadership. Also, the quickness of this child’s reply gives me cause to believe that it was a programmed response, which she internalized well. Had she not, they wouldn’t have used her for the clip.

Berg took an active role in determining the cult’s policy on children. After all, one of the perks of promoting free sex and flirting fishing is that these activities produced children. The more children, the more the organization could expand and maintain viability in the future. In a number of family publications, Berg used his own household as a blueprint for how a family should run. His biological children long since grown up, his new family consisted of himself, his girlfriend/common-law wife Karen Zerby, Zerby’s daughter Christina Zerby (called ‘Techi’ by the cult), her son Ricky Rodriguez (called “Davidito”), and Davida Kelley, daughter of Berg lieutenants Alfred and Sara Kelley. Later, Merry Berg (called Mene) lived with them for a four-year stretch. Merry was Berg’s biological granddaughter, the offspring of his late son Paul and his ’betrothed’ Judy Helmstedler.* Christina’s father was Michael Sweeny (called Timothy Concerned), at the time Berg’s second-in-command. Ricky was produced as a result of flirty fishing, and from birth Berg groomed him to be his heir-apparent.

Berg started the Life with Grandpa comic book series, in which he explained to children various aspects of cult life. Each issue focused on either Davida, Davidito, Techi or Merry. Whereas these often stressed the themes of discipline and obedience present in other cult material meant for kids, they also introduced to them the cult’s sexual mores. In explaining flirty fishing and resultant families to the young, Berg wrote in one titled “Real Fathers” (GP, date unknown):
See, God just used Timothy and Carlos [Ricky’s father] only to fuck Mama [Zerby] so that I could have you both. They were both just an instrument or tool that Jesus used to help create you wonderful children for His Kingdom! Praise the Lord!
You read that right. The above was intended for children.

Christina and Ricky also played center stage in childrearing books for adults.** In these, the sexualization of both children is candidly on display. In one titled Techi’s Life Story, Christine, as a toddler, appears nude several times. Berg called further attention to her various states of undress writing a caption reading “A drape to cover her pubic area would have been better.” Later, she would videotape one of the cult’s notorious kiddie stripteases.  The Story of Davidito featured a number of photos ranging from suggestive to, well, softcore, where Rodriguez posed with a number of nannies, often in some stage of undress, or sharing some intimate moment with him.

Figure 2.  Rodriguez with nanny Angela Smith (née Susan Kauten) in The Story of Davidito

Heavily implied here was that the nanny or mother should include sexual play in the care giving of little boys--much as Maria the maid did to him, at that age. As for little girls, we can see them as sexualized very early as well. The difference here was that little boys were reared to expect sexual pleasure. The little girls were reared to give it.

Moreover, if mothers followed the "suggestions" put forth in The Story of Davidito, that would require having sex with their sons. Berg did not consider incest a taboo, as we can see from his relationship to his cousin, and his amorous feelings towards his mother. While Christina Zerby and Berg’s daughter Faith, both still attached to the cult, swore that their father never molested them, Merry, Ricky and Davida, and his daughter Linda Berg Davis--all of who left the cult--unequivocally stated that, like charity, sex in the Berg house began at home.

*At the time of betrothal, Paul was still married to his first wife, Sarah. He died in France after falling off a cliff in 1973. Police ruled his death a suicide.

**These books were much like comic books, except that they mostly used photographs instead of drawings. In many of these photos, however, the cult superimposed drawings over the faces of the women engaged in sexual conduct with these children.  One could speculate that they deliberately did this to hide their identities from law enforcement, should this DO material reach outsiders.

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Friday, April 01, 2011

Legends, Hoaxes and the Big Lie: Delayed Fools

Normally, I run a gag piece on April 1.  To celebrate the day this year, we’ll try something a little different.  So I hereby interrupt the current series to bring you a previous one.

Anglia Television, now an ITV franchise, started out as an independent local station serving the East Anglia region of England.  One of their 1970s series, Science Report, featured weekly documentaries on scientific topics in a very calm, rational manner.  The program was stuffy, high-brow and all that--the last show you’d imagine pulling off some sort of April Fools prank.

But pulled it off, they did.  With music produced by Brian Eno, Science Report filmed a 1977 episode titled “Alternative 3.”  Meant as an April Fools Day gag, “Alternative 3” flatly announced that top scientists around the world had suddenly vanished.  Science Report reporters then took it upon themselves to find out (1) if their disappearances were connected; and (2) if so, where did everyone go.  Through a bit of sleuthing and luck, the journalists discover this huge US/UK/USSR conspiracy to whisk the world’s top minds away to a lunar moon base.  Their goal:  to colonize Mars for the wealthy, while the poor masses would be stuck on Earth where climate change would eventually kill off most of the population.

You’d think that the intellectually curious viewers who normally comprised Science Report’s audience would have recognized this as a hoax.  You’d also think they would call the station in droves wondering why they would ruin a decent show by airing a joke episode.

Viewers flooded the Anglia TV swtichboard immediately after “Alternative 3’s” first (and last) broadcast, all right.  But instead of decrying an obvious con, they demanded more information. 

In other words, no one got the joke.  Of course, the show was always so deadly serious.  And this one seemed no different than the others in this regard.  But you’d still think that the audience would have put two and two together.  They would have said, “Okay.  This is April 1st.  This has obviously got to be some sort of April Fools joke, right?”

Given the smarts of the show’s primary audience, they probably would have pegged it for an April Fool’s Day joke--if, in fact, the program aired, as intended, on April 1st.  For some inexplicable reason, Anglia TV decided not to air “Alternative 3” until some two months later, in June 1977.  Thus, no one connected it to April Fools Day, and consequently the audience saw it as another serious episode.

The problem expanded when Anglia let the public in on the ruse.  Many people didn’t believe the hoax explanation, among them Jim Keith, Mae Brussell, and, curiously, the author hired to novelize the television show.  Leslie Watkins published Alternative 3 (the book) in 1978, and immediately found himself besieged by critics for fear-mongering.  At the same time, he received a number of fan letters of support.  Both groups, it would seem, took the story at face value.  Watkins knew that his book was fiction.  However, subsequent events gave him reason to suspect that he might have unwittingly stumbled onto a true story--in whole or part:
I’d written a work of fiction, yet vast number of readers were insistent it was fact.  ‘Insistent’ is the right word.  I was denounced as a coward and a liar when I explained that I’d dreamed up the controversial scenario….

Renowned investigator Jim Keith suggested in his follow-up book, Casebook on Alternative 3, that I might have written it on behalf of the government (presumably of the USA) as ‘grey’ disinformation, calculated to confuse and defuse the issue of elitist control, mind control, genocide and secret space programs, by revealing yet concealing these truths?

Could Keith be partially right?  Was I, unwittingly, helping to blur the truth about some mind-boggling conspiracy?  That I now believe is a distinct possibility.  The deluge of seemingly confirmatory evidence from intelligent people convinced me I had accidentally trespassed into a range of top-secret truths.
Watkins planned to use all the evidence given to him in a sequel titled Backlash to Alternative 3.  But movers lost the chest containing it when he relocated shortly thereafter.

Coincidence?  Conspiracy?  Could this be the hoax that ultimately punked itself?

Keep an ear to the ground.  Meanwhile, get some popcorn and watch the show.

Figure 1.  Alternative 3

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