Sunday, June 26, 2011

Assailing the Tender Age: A Real Love for Big Cheats


Well Doctor--all my loving poems
write themselves to you.
If I could channel love,
by gum, it’s what I’d do.

And never pen another
foolish freudian line
that bleeds across the page
in half assed metered rhyme.

If all this bother and devotion
is not, in truth, for you--
(since you’re the expert on emotion)
tell me Doctor--who?
--Anne Sexton, “Real Love in an Imaginary Wagon”

On the morning of 4 October 1974, Anne Sexton (left) already had, at the age of forty-five, a lot of things that many people would envy. She had a lifetime of accomplishments: among other things a lecturer position at Boston University and a visiting professorship at Colgate--which is quite a coup for a former fashion model who never graduated from college herself. She had numerous accolades, among them a fellowship from the Royal Society of Literature, and a Phi Beta Kappa key. Her 1967 Pulitzer Prize for a collection of poems titled Live or Die brought with it fame and prestige. She had a new book coming out in 1975. And she had friends and family, including two grown daughters. She even had her own rock band (Her Kind).

So there is some poignancy to Sexton’s actions on that day. After a lunch meeting with Maxine Kumin to go over some galley proofs of her upcoming book The Awful Rowing Toward God, the woman with so much to live for went home, locked herself in her garage, started her car, and sipped vodka while she patiently waited for the carbon monoxide to chase away the breathable air.

Although stunned, those who knew Sexton could see her suicide coming for years. She had a history of suicide attempts and bipolar disorder. She and her pal, Sylvia Plath, openly shared a fascination with death, especially their own. Her mortal obsession manifest itself early, during her teenage years, where she would, as a prank, fake her demise. A former boyfriend, Jack McCarthy, recalled for biographer Diane Middlebrook an incident when he came to a snow covered hill to meet her for a moonlight sledding date. He arrived late to find Sexton crumpled motionless at the bottom of the hill covered in what looked like blood. As it turned out, the blood was Mercurochrome. They were fifteen at the time.

Sexton had other problems, as well. Family life seemed to overwhelm her. Her in-laws in large part raised her children, for she was often unable to care for them. And despite her love for and seeming dependence on her husband, she felt compelled to sleep around with other people. As she once explained:
I don’t really want to have an affair with anyone, but I have to; it’s the quality of action. I first had this feeling, I suppose, when I was dating, after Kayo [Alfred Sexton, her husband] went into the service. Pound, pound, pound heart: makes me feel crazy, out of control.
By now, you’re probably thinking that the woman really needed psychiatric help. Truth was, Sexton had seen a parade of shrinks for over two decades. In a way, psychiatry had become her life. That’s kinda ironic, actually, for she saw psychoanalysis as out-and-out quackery. She derisively called it “the big cheat.”

One has to wonder what she saw in psychiatry given her low opinion of the profession. That opinion had to have intensified when one of her shrinks, referred to by Middlebrook by the pseudonym Dr. Zweitung, bedded her.*

One of her early shrinks--in fact, the one who treated her for the longest contiguous period of time (eight years)--would later answer that psychoanalysis gave her the most important thing she ever had: her gift for poetry.

__________________

*Translating the name from German, Dr. Middlebrook’s really calling him Dr. Two-Tongue, or Dr. Forked-Tongue. The New York Times identified him as Dr. Frederick Duhl.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Silly Crostics Answers

Wow! I thought it might take you guys a week to get all of these. You got them in a day, with SJ and Susan giving a bulk of the answers.

1. Duplicitous disciple: Judas
2. The Hindenburg, for example: Airship
3. Locale of Bailey Quarters’ quarters: Cincinnati
4. Even more snarled: Knottier
5. Capital of Saskatchewan: Regina
6. Acid that’s a real pisser: Uric
7. How K9 paints: Beautifully
8. Japan’s second largest city: Yokohama
9. Shrinky’s craggy landmass, and its neighbors in the North Sea: Islands
10. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s sweet home: Alabama
11. Idiot: Moron
12. You, me or everyone else: Anybody
13. A section of either London or New York: Soho
14. Conditional word: If
15. British actor and songwriter Anthony: Newley
16. “The ________ Song” (Ringo Starr): No-No
17. Third largest Hawaiian Island: Oahu
18. What air conditioners are good for: Cooling
19. Winnie-the-Pooh’s donkey pal: Eeyore
20. US President Richard: Nixon
21. Middle Ditch star Sue: Tarrant
22. James Earl Ray’s edible handler? Raoul
23. Lift up: Elevate
24. Bride’s partner: Groom
25. Suitable for raising crops: Arable
26. Consequence: Ramification
27. Rum cocktail, often made with strawberries: Daiquiri
28. The consequence for eating on the run: Indigestion
29. A doctor that’s on your nerves? Neurologist
30. Cold in the Light author Charles: Gramlich
31. Hometown of St. Francis: Assisi
32. Chemicals that are cheaper than day rates? Nitrates
33. Old ____________ (Disney Movie): Yeller
34. Where Denver got Rocky Mountain high: Colorado
35. Location of clue #3: Ohio
36. Burning, gooey weapon used in Vietnam: Napalm


When you get all the words correct, the message reads:
[Jack Ruby]  I am as innocent regarding any conspiracy as any of you gentlemen in this room.
Since Ruby’s saying that in front of the Warren Commission, we can see a delicious irony in his words. While they’re deceptive, and deliberately so, they are literally true.

The fact that you could derive such a meaningful statement from a double acrostic rests on the fact that the lines are relatively simple. They’re just single words. All you have to do, as the puzzlemaster, is line up the letters (making sure that they are an even number--the first choice I had for this puzzle had an uneven number of letters, so I had to scrap it). Then you find words that start with one letter, and end with another. Any Scrabble player could do it, although finding a word that begins with ‘u’ and ends with ‘c’ forced me to put on my thinking cap.

Maintaining a double acrostic structure with lines consisting of something meaningful is considerably more difficult. Some poets have used double acrostics. Often, however, such double acrostics yield a much simpler message than the one in the above puzzle. Moreover, the poetry is usually nothing to write home about. Take, for instance, the following poem by Paul Hansford about the English town of Stroud.
Set among hills in the midst of five valleys,
This peaceful little market town we inhabit
Refuses (vociferously!) to be a conformer.
Once home of the cloth it gave its name to,
Uphill and down again its streets lead you.
Despite its faults it leaves us all charmed.

Double acrostics prove just as challenging to the a-list poet. As exemplified by Anne Sexton, in an early draft of her poem “For God, While Sleeping”:

Sleeping in fever, I am unfit
       to know who you
are; blind, your left eye is tragic
      right eye closed back,
bleeding for the wicked Jews
      until your last sigh
crowds out the uninvited Rabbi.

              Kill me! Kill me! such dreams
              shine in the kingdom of deceit,
              Lost to feverish dreamer.
 
Under my fever I accounted my alibi
       softening my panic
to tell God not to break
       from the sweet Magi;
 
Under my fever I announce my alibi
      softening my panic
to tell God not to break
      for the wide Magi.
Surely I will recognize your face soon,
      not the crowd’s hysteria,
and not here where you grow public.

              Undo me! Undo me! terrible Mama.
              God bless thee. God bless thou,
              however we shout our lost hozzanas.
Sexton began work on this poem sometime in 1958, or 1959 while attending an informal poetry workshop that included her, Sam Albert, Maxine Kumin, George Starbuck, and the moderator/teacher John Holmes. The workshop focused on the technical aspects of poetry, thus they sometimes tried to outdo each other by deploying such “tricks” as double acrostics in their poetry.

Here, Sexton is trying to work out an acrostic for the message “Starbuck’s lust is naughty and sick. He tucks his trick in a caustic acrostic.” As you can see, she got as far as “Starbuck’s lust” on the left, and “tucks his trick i[n]” on the right. Then she apparently gave up on the double acrostic idea, and decided instead to write a much better poem without any gimmicks.

“How do I know that’s what she intended to write?” you ask.

Simple. I recently read Dr. Diane Middlebrook’s page-turning 1991 book Anne Sexton: A Biography. In it, you can see photographs of the actual worksheets Sexton composed to work out that very message in this poem.

While critics and fans typically cite the emotive power behind Sexton’s work, and the sometimes embarrassing candor of her “confessional” style, one can see in her poems, and in the worksheets she left behind, a technical precision that’s second to no one.

Of course, she didn’t start out that way. She had to learn the craft. This workshop, a subsequent class taught by Robert Lowell at Boston University, and her conversations with friends and fellow poets Kumin, Starbuck and Sylvia Plath, all played a role in developing her writing to what it would soon become.

But to hear the late Dr. Middlebrook put it, the person who really unlocked Sexton’s gift for poetry was himself nothing close to a poet.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

An Exercise in Silly Crostics

Corrected 6/20/11

This is a syllacrostic puzzle. To solve it, fill in the answers to the clues by using all the syllables in the Syllabox. The number of syllables for each answer appears in parentheses. The number of letters in each clue corresponds to the number of dashes next to it. You can use each syllable only once. If you fill all the clues in correctly, their first and last letters, reading down, will reveal a quote, preceded by the speaker’s name.

I did the first one, just as an example. I'll add correct answers, and cross out their syllables in the Syllabox, as they come in.  By all means, use Google if you get stuck.



1. Duplicitous disciple:

(2) _J_ _U_ _D_ _A_ _S_

2. The Hindenburg, for example:

(2)_A_ _I_ _R_ _S_ _H_ _I_ _P_ (Foam)

3. Locale of Bailey Quarters’ quarters:

(4)_C_ _I_ _N_ _C_ _I_ _N_ _N_ _A_ _T_ _I_ (SJ)

4. Even more snarled:

(3)_K_ _N_ _O_ _T_ _T_ _I_ _E_ _R_  (Susan)

5. Capital of Saskatchewan:

(3)_R_ _E_ _G_ _I_ _N_ _A_ (SJ)

6. Acid that’s a real pisser?

(2)_U_ _R_ _I_ _C_  (Susan) 

7. How K9 paints:

(4)_B_ _E_ _A_ _U_ _T_ _I_ _F_ _U_ _L_ _L_ _Y_  (Susan)

8. Japan’s second largest city:

(4)_Y_ _O_ _K_ _O_ _H_ _A_ _M_ _A_  (SJ)

9. Shrinky’s craggy landmass, and its neighbors in the North Sea:

(2)_I_ _S_ _L_ _A_ _N_ _D_ _S_  (Susan)

10. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s sweet home:

(4)_A_ _L_ _A_ _B_ _A_ _M_ _A (SJ)

11. Idiot:

(2)_M_ _O_ _R_ _O_ _N_ (Susan)

12. You, me or everyone else:

(4)_A_ _N_ _Y_ _B_ _O_ _D_ _Y_  (Susan)

13. A section of either London or New York:

(2)_S_ _O_ _H_ _O_ (SJ)

14. Conditional word:

(1)_I_ _F_  (SJ)

15. British actor and songwriter Anthony:

(2)_N_ _E_ _W_ _L_ _E_ _Y_  (SJ)

16. “The ________ Song” (Ringo Starr):

(2)_N_ _O_ _N_ _O_  (Susan)

17. Third largest Hawaiian Island:

(3)_O_ _A_ _H_ _U_  (SJ)

18. What air conditioners are good for:

(2)_C_ _O_ _O_ _L_ _I_ _N_ _G_  (SJ)


19. Winnie-the-Pooh’s donkey pal:

(2)_E_ _E_ _Y_ _O_ _R_ _E_ (SJ)

20. US President Richard:

(2)_N_ _I_ _X_ _O_ _N_ (SJ)

21. Middle Ditch star Sue: 

(2)_T_ _A_ _R_ _R_ _A_ _N_ _T_ (SJ)

22. James Earl Ray’s edible handler?

(2)_R_ _A_ _O_ _U_ _L_  (Susan)

23. Lift up:

(3)_E_ _L_ _E_ _V_ _A_ _T_ _E_  (Susan)

24. Bride’s partner:

(1) _G_ _R_ _O_ _O_ _M_ (SJ)

25. Suitable for raising crops:

(3)_A_ _R_ _A_ _B_ _L_ _E_  (Susan)

26. Consequence:

(5)_R_ _A_ _M_ _I_ _F_ _I_ _C_ _A_ _T_ _I_ _O_ _N_  (Susan)

27. Rum cocktail, often made with strawberries:

(3)_D_ _A_ _I_ _Q_ _U_ _I_ _R_ _I_  (Susan) 

28. Penalty for eating on the run:

(4)_I_ _N_ _D_ _I_ _G_ _E_ _S_ _T_ _I_ _O_ _N_  (Susan)

29. A doctor that’s on your nerves?

(4)_N_ _E_ _U_ _R_ _O_ _L_ _O_ _G_ _I_ _S_ _T_ (SJ)

30. Cold in the Light author Charles:

(2)_G_ _R_ _A_ _M_ _L_ _I_ _C_ _H_ (SJ)

31. Hometown of St. Francis:

(3)_A_ _S_ _S_ _I_ _S_ _I_ (SJ)

32. Chemicals that are cheaper than day rates?

(2)_N_ _I_ _T_ _R_ _A_ _T_ _E_ _S_  (Susan)

33. Old ____________ (Disney Movie):

(2)_Y_ _E_ _L_ _L_ _E_ _R_ (Foam)   

34. Where Denver got Rocky Mountain high:

(4)_C_ _O_ _L_ _O_ _R_ _A_ _D_ _O_  (Foam)

35. Location of clue #3:

(3)_O_ _H_ _I_ _O_  (SJ)

36. Burning, gooey weapon used in Vietnam:

(2)_N_ _A_ _P_ _A_ _L_ _M_  (SJ) 

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Death by X-Spot (Answers)

Below are the answers to the previous quiz. Next to each clue I’ve listed the name of subject and his or her life dates, followed by the length of time between my last blog post about them during their lives and their passing.

1. Actress and songwriter for Elvis Presley; co-starred in Glen/Glenda; played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the film Ed Wood: Dolores Fuller (1923-2011)--three years, eleven months, one day.  First answered by Ray.

2. Singer/songwriter known for her advertising jingles and the song “Poetry Man”; claimed to have had an encounter with an extraterrestrial: Phoebe Snow (1950-2011)--three years, ten months, eighteen days.  First answered by Susan.

3. Controversial Los Angeles Police Chief; Daryl Gates (1926-2010)--three years, eight months, one day.  First answered by Pinetop Swamp.  Independently answered by Susan.

4. Attorney, former JFK advisor and speechwriter; advisor to Ted Kennedy; he represented an early nemesis of Ralph Nader: Ted Sorenson (1927-2010)--three years, seven months, four days

5. Singer, actor, and sausage maker; best known for the song “Big, Bad John” and for his role in Diamonds Are Forever: Jimmy Dean (1928-2010)--three years, six months, twenty-four days.  First answered by Ray.  Independently answered by Susan.

6. Professor and activist; best known for his book A People’s History of the United States: Howard Zinn (1922-2010)--three years, three months, seven days.  First answered by Foam.  Independently answered by Pinetop Swamp.

7. Musician known as the “King of Pop”; former son-in-law of Elvis Presley: Michael Jackson (1959-2009)--two years, nine months, thirty days.  First answered by Foam.  Independently answered by Pinetop Swamp.  Independently answered by Susan.

8. Actress; best known for her roles on Maude and The Golden Girls: Rue McClanahan (1934-2010)--two years, eight months, twenty-two days

9. A 1960s folk singer; the last name mentioned in a famous trio: Mary Travers (1936-2009)--two years, three months, eight days.  First answered by Pinetop Swamp.  Independently answered by Susan.

10. Musician; last surviving original member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience--Mitch Mitchell (1947-2008)--two years, one month, two days.  Partially answered by Pinetop Swamp.

11. Former baseball player; most famous as a live Las Vegas entertainer: Danny Gans (1956-2009)--two years, five days

12. Scion of a wealthy Saudi family; cited as the founder of Al-Qaeda: Osama bin Laden (1957-2011)--one year, three months, twenty-two days.  First answered by Foam.  Independently answered by Pinetop Swamp.  Independently answered by Susan.

13. Actor, political activist, food company founder, and race car driver; won a Best Actor Oscar for The Color of Money: Paul Newman (1925-2008)--one year, three months, eighteen days.  First answered by Pinetop Swamp.  Independently answered by Susan.

14. Minister; the oldest of Charles Manson’s followers; the father of one of Manson’s youngest followers: Dean Morehouse (1920-2010)--one year, three months, fifteen days

15. Cuban-American spy; participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion; one of the Watergate burglars: Bernard Barker (1917-2009)--one year, twenty-five days

16. Professor of media studies (University of Western Ontario); friend of Marshall McLuhan; famous for writing the books Subliminal Seduction and The Clam-Plate Orgy: Brian Wilson Key (1925-2008)--one year, seven days.  First answered by Foam.

17. Notorious artist manager; his clients included Sam Cooke, the Beatles, and The Rolling Stones: Allen Klein (1931-2009)--eleven months, twenty-nine days.  First answered by Susan.

18. Musician and actor: famous for such songs as “I’m a Man”; appeared in Trading Places, and The Blues Brothers 2000: Bo Diddley (1928-2008)--eleven months, twenty-five days

19. Former spy, stationed in South America: recruited other spies through a YMCA basketball program; best known for his book Inside the Company: A CIA Diary: Philip Agee (1935-2008)--eleven months, two days

20. Former President of Iraq: someone surreptitiously recorded his execution on a cell phone: Saddam Hussein (1937-2006)--ten months, nineteen days.  First answered by Pinetop Swamp.  Independently answered by Susan.

21. Musician; member of The Country Music Hall of Fame; known for such songs as “Gone” and “Wings of a Dove”; appeared in the movie Swamp Girl: Ferlin Husky (1925-2011)--ten months, ten days

22. Hitman; alleged assassin of JFK; father of a famous actor: Charles Harrelson (1938-2007)--nine months, ten days

23. Filmmaker: produced such legendary grindhouse fare as Color Me Blood Red, Space Thing, and Blood Feast: David Friedman (1923-2011)--nine months, four days

24. Statesman; scion of a political family; two of his brothers were assassinated; walked into a “bear trap” in 1969: Ted Kennedy (1932-2009)--nine months, three days.  First answered by Foam.  Independently answered by Susan.

25. Murderess and minister; mentored by Anton LaVey and Charles Manson; terminally ill when I began a series featuring her: Susan Atkins (1948-2009)--seven months, thirteen days.  First answered by Susan.

26. Beatles chauffer and road manager; former CEO of Apple Corps; rumored double of Paul McCartney: Neil Aspinall (1941-2008)--five months, seven days.  First answered by Susan.

27. Former CIA case officer, and ultraconservative political columnist; National Review editor: William F. Buckley (1925-2008)--five months, three days.  First answered by Ray.  Independently answered by Susan.

28. Actress; best known for numerous roles she played in all five Star Trek series: Majel Barrett Roddenberry (1932-2008)--four months, nine days.  First answered by Susan.

29. Reclusive author; best known for his novel Catcher in the Rye: J.D. Salinger (1919-2010)--three months, twenty-one days. First answered by Foam.  Independently answered by Susan.

30. Standup comedian and actor; appeared in Prince of Tides, Dogma, and Car Wash, but best known for seven words: George Carlin (1937-2008)--two months, twenty-nine days.  First answered by Foam.  Independently answered by Susan.

31. American/British writer; most famous as a contributor to The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail: Richard Leigh (1943-2007)--one month, twenty-seven days

32. Highly esteemed television journalist; CBS News anchor succeeded by Dan Rather: Walter Cronkite (1916-2009)--twenty-eight days.  First answered by Ray.  Independently answered by Susan.

33. Actor and gun activist; best known for such lines as “Solyent Green is People!“ and “Take your hands off of me, you damned dirty ape!“; although politically conservative, he marched in support of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1963: Charlton Heston (1923-2008)--four days.  First answered by Foam.  Independently answered by Pinetop Swamp.  Independently answered by Susan.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Death by X-Spot

For whatever reason, when I wrote academic papers, or parts of the dissertation, some of the people featured in those pages croaked within a few months or so. I chalked it up to coincidence. But now, the phenomenon seems to have followed me into cyberspace. Some of the people I’ve mentioned here were alive when I posted about them, but have since passed away.

From the descriptions below, can you identify the lucky decedents who at least lived long enough to see their names in The X-Spot? A point for each one. No fair Googling.

1. Actress and songwriter for Elvis Presley; co-starred in Glen/Glenda; played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the film Ed Wood.

2. Singer/songwriter known for her advertising jingles and the song “Poetry Man”; claimed to have had an encounter with an extraterrestrial.

3. Controversial Los Angeles Police Chief.

4. Attorney, former JFK advisor and speechwriter; advisor to Ted Kennedy; he represented an early nemesis of Ralph Nader.

5. Singer, actor, and sausage maker; best known for the song “Big, Bad John” and for his role in Diamonds Are Forever.

6. Professor and activist; best known for his book A People’s History of the United States.

7. Musician known as the “King of Pop”; former son-in-law of Elvis Presley.

8. Actress; best known for her roles on Maude and The Golden Girls.

9. A 1960s folk singer; the last name mentioned in a famous trio.

10. Musician; last surviving original member of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

11. Former baseball player; most famous as a live Las Vegas entertainer.

12. Scion of a wealthy Saudi family; cited as the founder of Al-Qaeda.

13. Actor, political activist, food company founder, and race car driver; won a Best Actor Oscar for The Color of Money/

14. Minister; the oldest of Charles Manson’s followers; the father of one of Manson’s youngest followers.

15. Cuban-American spy; participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion; one of the Watergate burglars.

16. Professor of media studies (University of Western Ontario); friend of Marshall McLuhan; famous for writing the books Subliminal Seduction and The Clam-Plate Orgy.

17. Notorious artist manager; his clients included Sam Cooke, the Beatles, and The Rolling Stones.

18. Musician and actor: famous for such songs as “I’m a Man”; appeared in Trading Places, and Blues Brothers 2000.

19. Former spy, stationed in South America: recruited other spies through a YMCA basketball program; best known for his book Inside the Company: A CIA Diary.

20. Former President of Iraq: someone surreptitiously recorded his execution on a cell phone.

21. Musician; member of The Country Music Hall of Fame; known for such songs as “Gone” and “Wings of a Dove”; appeared in the movie Swamp Girl.

22. Hitman; alleged assassin of JFK; father of a famous actor.

23. Filmmaker: produced such legendary grindhouse fare as Color Me Blood Red, Space Thing, and Blood Feast.

24. Statesman; scion of a political family; two of his brothers were assassinated; walked into a “bear trap” in 1969.

25. Murderess and minister; mentored by Anton LaVey and Charles Manson: terminally ill when I began a series featuring her.

26. Beatles chauffer and road manager; former CEO of Apple Corps; rumored double of Paul McCartney.

27. Former CIA case officer, and ultraconservative political columnist; National Review editor.

28. Actress; best known for numerous roles she played in all five Star Trek series.

29. Reclusive author; best known for his novel Catcher in the Rye.

30. Standup comedian and actor; appeared in Prince of Tides, Dogma, and Car Wash, but best known for seven words.

31. American/British writer; most famous as a contributor to The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

32. Highly esteemed television journalist; CBS News anchor succeeded by Dan Rather.

33. Actor and gun activist; best known for such lines as “Solyent Green is People!“ and “Take your hands off of me, you damned dirty ape!“; although politically conservative, he marched in support of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1963.

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Assailing the Tender Age: The Children of God vs. McMartin


I had planned to write a series on what conspiracy researcher Dave McGowan derisively calls “The Pedophocracy” for quite some time, but delayed it for several years.  Frankly, I didn’t relish the thought of doing it. I don’t like the subject matter (as do most of you).  I don’t like researching it. And I certainly don’t like thinking about it (again, that would apply to most of you).

At the same time, I realized that I would have to post about the topic someday. I also felt that the best way to broach the subject would be to give twin examples of the issue from conflicting points of view. For that, the McMartin Preschool Trials in Los Angeles and the international investigations into the Children of God/Family of Love proved the most readily accessible foils. In many respects, the cases are quite similar. Yet, they demonstrate a huge disparity in terms of public reaction to the subject of pedophilia. On one extreme, you will find some who feel that charges of child sexual abuse reflect a lynch-mob mentality, a conservative Christian paranoia about shifts in personal power and autonomy which frets over any indication of egalitarianism. On the other extreme, you’ll find those who will tell you, “Believe the children,” as if everything said by them--no matter the conditions that prompted them to say it--has to be true, or that devil-worshipper's indeed lurk everywhere.

McMartin and CoG represent these extremes. Each featured a charge of systematic abuse and ties to power.  Authorities investigated and subsequently adjudicated both. Each narrative focused on a quasi-demonic figure who allegedly used gestures of goodwill and respected vocations (schoolteacher, minister) to exact sexual and/or physical violence upon the most vulnerable population within our society.  And in both instances, prosecutors failed to win convictions.

Most important, the dominant depiction of them in mainstream media is, for the most part, well-founded. Prosecutorial misconduct, as well as overzealousness on the part of investigators and experts with personal, financial and promotional axes to grind, probably led to a near miscarriage of justice in the McMartin case, and to probable injustices in similar proceedings that led to convictions. So one can understand the mainstream characterization of McMartin as a witch hunt. On the other hand, the Children of Love all but admitted (in Steven Kelley’s apology to Lord Justice Alan Ward) that abuse did take place. Couple that with David Berg’s teachings on sexuality, incest and pedophilia, and you can see that authorities had good reason to investigate them and file charges.  Moreover, one can understand why people remain suspicious about the FoL to the present day, despite the fact that their members have never been convicted of a serious crime.

The differences between these mainstream depictions (and subsequent public perceptions) partly lay in the nature and reliability of evidence in both cases. The McMartin evidence consisted of witness interviews (of previous students), an archeologist’s declaration of tunnels beneath the school, and a few personal items of the main defendant, Ray Buckey. Defense attorneys challenged the validity of all of this evidence, and with good reason. The witness interviews gave every indication of coercion by (arguably) well-meaning professionals of children who, after badgering by authoritative figures, kowtowed to the opinion of the adults around them. The claimed existence of tunnels was soundly disproved by a reputable archeology firm which conducted a more thorough, more methodologically scientific, and unbiased dig than the lone-archeologist-for-hire. The items taken from Buckey’s place--a graduation gown (supposedly for black ceremonies), a few pin-up photos (supposedly illustrating an unusual sex drive--for a twenty-five year-old male, no less) and a rubber duck (supposedly--well, I’ll leave that to your imagination)--were all taken contrary to context, and interwoven into a story of perversion that assumed a priori the guilt of the defendant.

The evidence against the CoG consisted of eyewitness testimony, the cult’s own print and electronic media, and the observations of various social services agencies doing routine (and later extraordinary) investigations. Whereas the McMartin pupils gave coerced testimony as children malleable to adult influences, the FoL kids voluntarily told their stories, for the most part as adults. Their accounts show a remarkable consistency with no good evidence of collusion. Local, state, and national authorities noted the conditions in which the children lived (e.g., overcrowding and inadequate education), and documented these in situ. Most important, the cult’s own literature demonstrated its approval of (1) prostitution; (2) the indoctrination of minors into prostitution (e.g., “The Little Flirty Fish”); (3) its expectation of sexual capitulation, especially from females, and regardless of circumstance;* (4) the hypersexualization of children (e.g., The Story of Davidito);** and (5) incest (e.g., “Sex with Grandma”). From the filmed exploits of flirty fish, to the nude dancing, masturbation and sex-confessional videos that members sent Berg for his enjoyment, we can see that the cult had a profound belief in combining sexuality with religious practice. That children took part in making said videos demonstrated (a) concrete evidence of sexual activity among pre-teens, and (b) that the cult’s sexual mores extended to their children--at least during a limited period of time, if we believe the FoL’s current vehement protestations.

While logic formed some basis for public acceptance of mainstream accounts, other, more visceral aspects supported them. Because of widespread reliance on day care, parents could very well have felt neglectful for leaving their children with someone who isn’t part of their family, especially if that places them at risk for sexual abuse. The blanket depiction of organized sexual abuse charges as hysteria could go a long way in allaying anxiety over day care, especially when accompanied by statistical evidence that sexual abuse is less likely to happen there than in the homes of friends and family. Moreover (let’s face it), some of the people who served as the face of the anti-satanic group weren’t the most popular, or mediagenic folks around (e.g. Kee MacFarlane, Judy Johnson).  Many people found them easy to demonize, spoof, or otherwise dislike.

By the same token, the CoG story affirms long-standing prejudices against New Religious Movements (NRMs), simply for being different, or for not believing what the mainstream does.*** The public thus saw David Berg and the Children of God in the same context as Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, Marshall Applewhite and Heaven’s Gate, or other coercive cults that either killed or seriously harmed its members.  By implication, this tarnishes the reputations of newer sects that don't use coercive mind-control methods. 

Of course, there’s a validity to linking the CoG to all of those nefarious groups. The similarities are obvious. And Family’s actions speak for themselves. The point here is that part of our understanding of these cults, even when accurate, comes from emotive reasoning, over-reliance upon which usually leads us astray.

Which leads us back to McMartin. Its most profound legacy consists of a thorough and passionate “debunking” of what Dr. Lawrence Pazder called ‘Satanic Ritual Abuse’ (SRA). True, the evidence of McMartin points away from any systematic, religious-based child abuse at the school, and more towards the uncoordinated, non-conspiratorial and sporadic abuse of far fewer children in other settings.  That’s just one case, however. It would constitute a tremendous fallacy to assume that because SRA didn’t happen at McMartin--or even at the other schools where authorities engaged in similar investigations and prosecutions--that it didn’t happen elsewhere.

And the Children of God gives us ample evidence that something very close to SRA actually occurred. In short, the CoG manifest, in real life, almost everything that Ray Buckey and his associates were accused of at McMartin. 

Adults within the CoG sexually abused children. Moreover, this abuse was widespread and persistent. The indoctrination of children into sexual activity (through various Mo Letters, and the realization of their instruction by colony leaders, parents and guardians), was documented by eyewitness accounts and the cult’s own literature (which they then tried to get rid of during the so-called ‘Pub Purges’).

Whereas the kids at McMartin sang a song titled “Naked Movie Star,” some of the CoG kids, including Berg’s granddaughter, Merry, actually played the game--and we have the videotaped evidence (featured in Noah Thompson’s HBO documentary) to prove it.

McMartin accusers alleged a cover-up because of the perpetrator's supposed connection to very powerful people. The CoG, on the other hand, documented its own attempts to connect with power through Flirty Fishing.  They met with some stipulated successes, (e.g., Duke Victor Emanuele Canevaro, President Bush, Sr.), alleged successes (e.g., Augosto Pinochet), and some successes we can only guess at.

While the McMartin accusers alleged that the kids were constantly flown back and forth to meet with the demands of supposed organizers, Community Services Victoria and other social service agencies initially suspected wrongdoing because the CoG kids really were transient, constantly flown from one country to another, without the supervision of one or perhaps both parents.

And while the McMartin accusers averred that the kids were either tortured or threatened with torture should they “spill the beans,” the CoG made videotapes boasting of their use of “punishment.”  Said videos also showed how “grateful” the kids were to receive it. Lord Justice Ward found that this “discipline” went much farther than the normal spanking, and bordering on physical abuse. And as Natalie Raynes stated in her Cosmo article, the punishments at the ‘Victor Camps’ was far more intense--mind you she was sent there because she had misgivings about submitting to adult groping.

Because the CoG/FoL's child abuse resulted in large part from Berg’s doctrine, it had a ritualistic component to it. I think one can fairly classify these actions as ritualized abuse.

Of course, with their self-righteous-holier-than-thou-wearing-their-piety-on-their-sleeve-like-a-pharasee-fundamentalist form of Christianity, one can hardly see the CoG as practicing Satanic Ritual Abuse.****

Perhaps the term ‘Christian Ritual Abuse’ would be more in order?

Then again, would there be much difference between CRA, and SRA? If so, which would be worse?

___________________________
*Berg’s dictates regarding the sexual submission of women are not only evident in eyewitness testimony given by former members, but also in such Mo Letters as the previously cited “IRFERS Beware,” where he chastised a female member for not submitting to a brutal rape, and in “The Girl Who Wouldn’t!” (DO, dated 17 June 1978), where he berated a heterosexual female member for not submitting completely to the woman whom leadership assigned her to please.

**The Story of Davidito, as described by Lord Justice Ward, was nearly 800 pages, many of which he found to be quasi-pornographic. Those posted here, and on the site XFamily.org are but a small sample.

***In this series and in previous ones, I have used the term ‘cult’ to describe a coercive organization, based around religion or ideology, and totally reliant upon heavy indoctrination of new members. I use the term “NRM’s” to distinguish between cults and new sects that do not resort to violence, threats, blackmail, or brainwashing to keep their flocks in line, and are otherwise legitimate.

****The Argentinian and Australian investigations turned up rumors that Berg and others within the CoG were, at least at one time, practicing a form of occultism that bordered on satanic. I didn’t mention the rumors earlier, because I don’t think they are true, and they’re somewhat distracting. But if the rumors were true, then you’d have an actual case of SRA.

To read this series from the beginning, click here and scroll down.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Loving Children of an Ungodly Father: Consequences

The Davidito book does relate David's early witnessing of sexual behavior and encouragement to explore his own sexuality, and while these experiences would be characterized as sexually abusive or neglectful by most child abuse experts, there is no report of his having been actively molested or abused by adults. Moreover, there is no evidence of long-term negative effects on David. The first author, a clinical child psychologist with thirty years of experience, recently administered a psychological evaluation to David, who is now nineteen, and found him to be a bright, well-adjusted, and emotionally strong young man.
--Sex, Slander and Salvation contributor Lawrence Lilliston, testifying to Lord Justice Alan Ward about the effects of pedophilia on Ricky Rodriguez as documented in The Story of Davidito.

Figure 1. The “Ricky Rodriguez” Video



Ricky Rodriguez made this tape sometime in early January, 2005. During the course of it, you can see him pulling out a mini arsenal of weapons, as if he’s about to fight his own personal war.

And that’s exactly what he’s about to do. Like any other soldier, he’s a man on a mission: to kill his mother, FoL leader Karen Zerby, and her consort, Steven Kelly.

Rodriguez was but one of hundreds of second-generation Children of God/Family of Love members who left the cult once they became adults. While one might have the wherewithal to leave physically, leaving psychologically could prove far more difficult. First, many of these people, as children, suffered physical and sexual abuse, for which they never received treatment. What’s worse, they had very little education, which limited the types of employment they could find, and the amount of money they could earn.

Some of the women born into the Children of God turned to the sex industry for survival, among them two former children of David Berg’s own household. Davida Kelley worked for years as an exotic dancer before turning to modeling and “sexy wrestling .” According to a June 2005 issue of Rolling Stone, Berg’s granddaughter, Merry, barely eked out a living as a prostitute after psychological breakdowns forced her withdrawal from Bible college. The cult sometimes uses her as an example to other wannabe independents, although friends say that she is doing much better these days. Still, she had her struggles. As her mother told RS, “She’s just given up on life.”

She wasn’t the only one. Many of these children self-medicated. Merry at one time had an addiction to methamphetamine. River Phoenix, of course, most likely died chasing the dragon.  Some of these second-generation members gave up completely and committed suicide, among them Abe Braaten, Simon Novotny, and Josh Lykins.

Rodriguez was in a unique position as Berg’s handpicked successor. Of course, after Berg’s death, Zerby and Kelly actually took the reins. So, one might guess that Rodriguez simply hated his mom for passing him over. But in his personal correspondence with Zerby, Rodriguez--described by almost everyone who knew him as an honorable and kind man--demonstrates a genuine crisis of conscience about the Family’s teachings and practices. In a very gentle way, he tried to reason, almost plead with his mother to distance the FoL from Berg's doctrine and reform the cult before it was too late. In a letter dated 29 May 2000, which began with the salutation, “Dear Mama and Peter; God Bless you! We [he and his wife, Elixcia Munumel] love you too,” he wrote:

People have tried to warn you before, but your minds have been so darkened to the truth and your ears so stopped to the voices of reason you have chosen to ignore them. You’re like the prophet in the vision of [David Berg’s] Bahai Temple prophecy who just keeps on chattering even after the light has gone out. Most people can see that it’s a joke and some even start laughing, but you just keep on going because you whist not that the spirit has departed.

There’s so much truth in what you believe and constantly cajole others to, but there’s also so much falsehood, and so many lies and pretenses. It’s the worst kind of lie really, because it has a good measure of truth in it. If only you could make love and acceptance the focus of the Family instead of self-righteousness and spiritual pride, you could make it into a truly wonderful place....

Of course, no reform came. And Rodriguez grew increasingly embittered. His marriage fell apart, and he moved from California to Tucson, AZ in September 2004. In a telephone interview he gave to Noah Thompson for the latter’s HBO documentary later that year, Ricky would not echo the outrage expressed by both Thompson and Davida Kelley (with Noah when he made the call). It’s certain that Rodriguez sympathized with Thompson’s anger, but he didn’t show any signs of it.

Perhaps Rodriguez had already decided to kill his mother, and didn’t want to say anything that would jeopardize that plan. One could speculate that he had already been working on it when he decided to move to Tucson.

Why Tucson?

Well, he had one big problem. Since 2001, he and his mother were estranged. So, he didn’t know where she was, although he seemed to suspect that she lived around there. More important, he knew someone in that area who would have knowledge of Zerby’s whereabouts: his mother’s close associate Angela Smith, née Susan Kauten--the same Angela Smith whom he identified (along with his mother) as one of his childhood rapists.

Figure 2. Rodriguez and Smith, from The Story of Davidito


In January 2005, Rodriguez put his plan in motion by contacting Smith and inviting her to dinner. On 8 January 2005, he arrived at her home demanding she tell him his mother’s location. When she didn’t divulge the information, he tortured her, stabbing her repeatedly until she died.

It’s not certain whether Smith gave Rodriguez false information, or none at all. What’s clear is that Rodriguez subsequently spent the next ten hours driving around in circles looking for Zerby. At 7:30 the next morning, he gave up, pulled his car off the road, and pumped a bullet into his temple.

While the Family of Love’s leadership managed to avoid the consequences of their actions--David Berg especially--someone had to pay them. In many instances, second-generation members foot the bill.

One could argue that Zerby finally paid some consequences, given the violent deaths of her son and her friend within a ten-hour time-span. Still, she didn’t pay like Rodriguez and Smith did.

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Loving Children of an Ungodly Father: Useful Sex Idiots

Commissioner Juan Carlos Rebello readily stipulated, “We found evidence suggesting that the Family [International] was funded by influential businessmen worldwide.”

That hardly seems surprising. After all, the Flirty-Fishing ministry had, as one of its stated goals, the connection to powerful people who could pull strings for the cult in host countries. As stated by a member identifying himself only as Simon in a videotaped report on FFing activities in Osaka: “We start off by the letter, Esther the Queen of FF-ers, was read, and was really convincing about how we need to make sure that we’re reaching people that will be able to help us in our ministry.”

Dr. Miriam Williams Boeri noted in her memoir Heaven’s Harlots that Flirty Fishing gave the Children of God access to a lot of influential people: from celebrities to international arms dealer. An internal video produced by the cult about local ff-ing efforts featured in the documentary The Love Prophet gives a glimpse of just what kind of connections the cult had made:
There’s Faithy there in the foreground with this sweet gentleman, the ambassador of France. She was able to really witness to him and he really fell in love that night. We had sweet... David, dancing with one of his little sheep to the song, ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’ Here, you see Faithy as she witnesses to the vice-president of an [redacted] company from Sweden. And he’s asking her at this time, “Do you think I’ll go to heaven?” Very, very sweet man who really enjoyed their contact that night.
Figure 1. Clip of internal Children of God Flirty Fishing video



As you can see, the group’s contact extended beyond the famous and the infamous. They included government officials, and captains of industry. Then too, the Family immediately benefited from the early landing of one of its biggest fish, Duke Victor Emanuele Canevaro. They made use of his Italian properties to hide out Berg, and to train future Flirty Fishers.  But one could easily speculate that the Duke also gave them ties to other titled aristocracy. He could have also helped legitimize the group in certain socio-political circles.

The CoG had documented ties to Muammar Qaddafi (see a photo of Faith and Jonathan Berg with the Col. here). Conspiracy researcher Alex Constantine listed even more:
One Argentine magazine found that some financial supporters of the cult were ‘well-known and powerful people,’ and pondered whether Berg's disturbed mental state ‘is being exploited by a network of powerful people to sexually control an army of children.’ Julia Berry [Julia Berg], the prophet's own kin, has said that it was her 'privilege' to be paired sexually with ‘very important men - men from the government.’ The Children of God, she said, ‘always had very powerful friends.... I met presidents from around the world. The children's chorus gave us an image of purity and innocence. It was a seduction.’

According to the Washington Post for June 2, 1993, ‘the Family's leadership follows a policy of lying to outsiders, is steeped in a history of sexual deviance and has even meddled in Third World politics.’ Edward Probe, a Canadian who once edited Family publications, worked in the Philippines from 1986 to '88. He told the Post that ‘Family officials openly sympathized with right-wing military officers who tried to overthrow the government [of President Corazon Aquino]. What we were doing was supplying all the moral support.’ One former member from Costa Rica told Argentina's Gente magazine on September 9 about her life inside the cult: ‘My father used to have certain privileges inside the organization,’ she said. ‘He was considered a very important person for public relations. His paternal grandfather, the criminal lawyer, Guillermo Puddle, was a close friend of Chile's military dictator Pinochet, and Juan Carlos, the king of Spain.‘ Pinochet and Carlos became financial and political benefactors of the cult.

The Family, according to David Hubert, a former member, contends that sexual evangelizing was used to curry political favor. ‘They would target special people,’ he told the Washington Post, ‘in the media, lawyers, in the government.’

I don’t know how accurate those connections are. But if any of them are true, that’s an impressive rogue’s gallery when taken in conjunction with another, more thoroughly documented connection to political power: specifically, the US Republican party. In fact, their good relationship to the GOP allowed their children’s chorus to perform twice for President George Bush Sr.: once at the White House, and again when the President toured the damage caused by Hurricane Andrew. When Bush lost his bid for reelection, the White House visits continued under Democratic President Bill Clinton. In 1998, The US Department of Agriculture chose the Family Faith Foundation, a CoG front headed by Berg’s daughter, Faith Fischer, to distribute several million dollars worth of relief supplies to Siberia--a mission Faith jeopardized by actively proselytizing once she landed in Russia.

Constantine’s question wasn’t so much whether or not the Family actually had important international political and industrial contacts. They did. The question is whether or not their highly placed friends shielded them from prosecution. There’s really no solid proof that this occurred. Yet when you look at all the times they escaped the consequences of their crimes, from New York State Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz’s 1974 investigation to the difficult-to-explain legal exonerations of the cult in the face of substantial evidence, it’s a difficult hypothesis to rule out.

You’ll also note in the above Constantine quote a concern that “influential businessmen” were not only protecting the cult, but using them as well, mostly for their sexual services--as if they were useful idiots perfectly suited for sexual compromise and other sex ops. You’ll note in the above video (Fig. 1) someone censored the actual faces of the big fish they were attempting to land. The potential for embarrassment (and subsequent blackmail) is obvious, especially if the flirty little fisher were underage. Then again, the cult’s frequent travels could have made them useful as couriers, smugglers or a host of other espionage activities.

There’s not substantial proof that anyone other than David Berg used the cult in an underhanded way. Our problem here is that we have very little to disuade us from this second part of Constantine's hypothesis, yet.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Loving Children of an Ungodly Father: Never Mind

The Family of Love’s pressure against Judge Roberto Marquevich successfully distracted the Argentinian investigation. The focus was no longer on child abuse. It was now on religious persecution exacted by overzealous and close-minded authorities.

I could guess that the group’s accusations took Judge Marquevich by surprise. But it's no speculation the decision of his colleagues on the Appellate Court flabbergasted Judge Daniel Rudi by overturning Judge Marquevich’s order to detain twenty-one adult members of the Family of Love. Judge Rudi wrote a blistering 135-page dissenting opinion that copiously quoted Family literature. But outvoted two-to-one, he could do nothing but let authorities release the prisoners, and allow the cult to carry on as it always did.

Likewise, prosecution efforts in Australia, Spain, and France failed to net a single conviction.*

Despite citing abundant evidence of physical and sexual abuse within the cult, Lord Justice Alan Ward granted custody to the child’s mother, even though she was still in the group. In his opening statements, Lord Justice Ward explained that he found Mrs. T’.s daughter, as an individual, a suitable parent. So the only reason he could award custody to Mrs. T. would be the negative effect the FoL could have on the child, referred to in court documents only as ‘S.’. Although he himself chronicled, documented and found numerous instances and circumstances in which the child could have been harmed, he still, essentially, found in favor of the cult. He cited religious freedom and tolerance in his decision. Most of all, he cited his belief that the family had changed, and were still changing for the better. Thus, the abuses were all in the past, and thus had no bearing in this case:
I am impressed by the winds of change that have blown and continue to blow through The Family. Although sullied by their participation in the sexual excesses, Maria and Peter Amsterdam have demonstrated convincingly a willingness to change. With Berg's death they have an opportunity subtly yet dramatically to change further. In my judgment, they may be ready to do so. In my judgment, they should be given an opportunity to do so. I intend, therefore, and subject to argument from Counsel, to impose a Stay upon this Order so that NT and those who are close to her in The Family may have some short period of reflection. I would extend that Stay if I were given certain assurances.

One of those assurances was a court-ordered apology given by leadership (the Steven Kelly quote in the previous post) for past child sex abuse. Perhaps some would like to give the cult a benefit of the doubt, and believe that they had not only put the practice behind them, but had come to the horrifying realization that they had serious harmed their children. But as ex-member Natalie Raynes wrote in her 2006 Cosmo article, she and other children fell victim to sexual abuse inside the cult well after 1987 when the FoL declared that the practice had ended. And in her speech before the 1993 FoL Summit Meeting outside of Budapest (Hungary), Karen Zerby stated her belief that the practice was righteous. It’s just that they had to stop it because it looked bad to authorities:
This [sexual contact between adults and minors] is about the only subject where we're really going along with the System, we're playing along with them, we're acting like we believe what we did was wrong, because we have changed, and stopped doing it [. . .] We need to somehow explain to our [teenagers] that love and loving affection is not wrong. As it says in [Berg's writings], if it's not hurtful, if it's loving, then it's okay. Of course, having actual intercourse with a child wouldn't be okay as it wouldn't be loving, but a little fondling and sweet affection is not wrong in the eyes of God, and if they have experienced the same in the past they weren't 'abused.' [. . .] We need to explain to our [children] that any experience they may have had along these lines, if it was loving and if it was desired, was not wrong. We need to show them that even if in some case the experience for them wasn't so great, that by comparison to what goes on in the System, it still wasn't abuse.

“Fondling” was precisely the type of abuse Raynes said she suffered. To repeat from her Cosmo article:
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.

By now, you’re probably wondering how the Children of God/Family of Love eluded prosecution for their crimes for over two decades. And once caught by authorities, walked away virtually scot-free, despite strong evidence of guilt.

Obviously the PR efforts helped. After all, Lord Justice Ward and other law enforcement officials would be loath to rule in favor of the FoL if that created a public backlash. If such were the case, the PR allowed them a hook upon which to hang any decisions that would be unpopular otherwise.

That premise, of course, assumes that law enforcement officials were actively trying to find a way to exonerate the Family of Love, as if they were somehow protecting them.

And that leads us to Alex Constantine’s question: did the FoL have powerful allies in many countries who would keep them safe from prosecution?

According to Commissioner Juan Carlos Rebello, who headed the Argentinian raids, the answer would be “Yes.”

__________________________
*One Australian FoL member, Peter Riddell, was found guilty of kidnapping his infant son, forging his wife’s signature on a declaration of consent, and absconding to Japan with him in 1983. Japanese authorities simply deported him back to Oz, which subsequently voided his passport.

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