Getting Out : Media Reports
from Albatross - Monday, January 17, 2005
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The truth is out there!!!
Fringe Group at Center of Deaths
Murder-suicide by a former member brings unwanted attention to a Christian ministry known as the Family.By Larry B. Stammer
Times Staff Writer
January 17, 2005
Almost 20 years after a fringe religious group renounced practices that included child sexual abuse and incest, a murder-suicide carried out in two states has brought the group's sordid past back to the fore.
Last week, Richard P. Rodriguez, 29, the disaffected son of Karen Zerby, current leader of the communal Christian ministry known as the Family, allegedly killed longtime group member Angela M. Smith, 51, in his Tucson, Ariz., apartment. Then, after driving to Blythe, he apparently took his own life.
In a videotape recorded a day before the deaths, Rodriguez described his desire to exact revenge for an isolated childhood in which he was routinely sexually abused.
Sitting at the kitchen table in his Tucson apartment and speaking directly to the camera, Rodriguez, who had been groomed since birth as the church's heir apparent, said he had been contemplating suicide ever since being forced as a young adolescent to participate in "teen training." In a posting on the Internet in 2002, he described how the training required him to have sex with different girls in the cult each day.
On the tape, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, Rodriguez said that after leaving the group in his mid-20s, he had decided that suicide would not be enough: He would take members of the group with him. Although he hoped Smith would lead him to his mother, who keeps her location secret, he made clear he would settle for what he could get.
In the video, he displays for the camera a variety of weapons before picking up a long knife. "This is my weapon of choice," he says. "I only want it for one purpose. That is for taking out the scum." Smith was stabbed multiple times, police said.
Now the Family, which claims a membership of nearly 8,000 living communally and ministries in 100 countries, is scrambling to shore up its reputation as a worldwide Christian evangelical ministry in the wake of a police investigation, national media interest and accusations from former group members who say that a childhood of sexual abuse growing up in the commune drove Rodriguez to murder and suicide.
The group has issued statements disavowing any responsibility for Rodriguez's actions, saying he was responsible for his choices in life. It also has gone on the attack, warning detractors that "the enemy will rue the day," in a message they said came from Jesus Christ, and calling them "vitriolic apostates."
"There are some people who are exploiting this tragedy and trying to use it to their own ends to hurt Mama and me and the Family, and tear down our work for the Lord," said a statement signed by the group's second-in-command, who uses the name Peter, on behalf of himself and Zerby. Peter also said that Smith was not a member of the group at the time of her death.
Originally known as the Children of God, the group began in the late 1960s, founded by David Berg, who preached the Gospel to the hippies of Southern California.
Like many other cults of the time — including the People's Temple, led by Jim Jones, who persuaded 900 followers to commit suicide in a mass ceremony in 1978 — the group promoted unorthodox practices and demanded absolute obedience from its followers. Berg preached an anti-Establishment, apocalyptic creed, and as his movement grew, he started spreading a bizarre collection of prophecies, such as that a comet would doom America. He called himself "Mo," short for Moses David.
But it was the free-love gospel, espoused by Berg and his followers in order to gather new converts, that made the group stand out — and later led to allegations of child abuse and prostitution in at least a half-dozen countries. Many former members of the group have described a lifestyle that included orgies involving adults and young children, as well as directed sex between teenagers.
Berg, who died in 1994, also established what he called "flirty fishing," in which female members used sex to become "hookers" for Jesus, a sexual variation on Jesus' telling his disciples to become "fishers of men," according to the Encyclopedia of American Religions.
Claire Borowik, a spokeswoman for the Family, told The Times that the group "came up out of the '60s with a high degree of liberality on the sexual side. When we began to have children, the degree of liberality continued in some cases in homes in which Ricky [Rodriguez] lived. This was banned in 1986."
She said stringent policies were put in place calling for excommunication of any adult found to have been in "inappropriate contact" with anyone younger than 21.
In 2000, Rodriguez left the group on good terms, according to Borowik. A missive he posted on the Internet in 2002, though, expressed anger about the church's abuse of children. The posting ended hopefully. He wrote of seeing twins in the park with their loving parents and realizing there was a different kind of childhood than the one he experienced. "It gives me hope," he concluded, "that one day [the Children of God leadership's] evil legacy will die with the Family, and it will be only a distant or, better yet, forgotten bad memory."
By August 2004, in another message he posted on the movingon.org website, Rodriguez seemed far more pessimistic. He wrote that at the time of the first posting, he had hoped that he would one day be able to move on with his life. "I know now that will never happen," he wrote in August. "I can't run away from my past, and no matter how much longer I live, the first 25 years of my life will always haunt me."
The August message ended chillingly: "Every day these people are alive and free is a slap in the face to the thousands of us who have been methodically molested, tortured, raped, and the many who they have as good as murdered by driving them to suicide. It would probably involve a great deal of sacrifice and would best be accomplished, I think, by people who have nothing to lose, such as myself…. I think there are others who feel this way, and I would really like to get in touch with them and exchange ideas."
In his final videotape, Rodriguez acknowledged that his August posting was an attempt to recruit others into his revenge scheme. "I was as clear in that as I could be without spelling it out," he said. But in the end, he said, he didn't regret that no one else had joined him. "I'm glad that others of us haven't gotten to the point that I've gotten to that we really don't have anything else to lose. I'm happy. What it tells me is that people still have hope."
The day before the deaths, Rodriguez spoke of his own hopelessness. "I really don't have anything to lose, I think," he said on the videotape. "I don't want to go through my life the way it is now. I've tried for four years…. If it had just gotten a little better — a little better even emotionally — it would have given me hope. But it's gotten worse."
What Rodriguez said he wanted was justice for children he said were sexually and physically abused, and he drew a parallel with the war on terrorism.
"I feel like we're in a war here," he said. "I feel like everyone who has left [the Family] and in some way speaks out — in some way tries to help somebody, in some way tries to help ourselves — is a soldier in this war. It's a war on terror because these [expletives] are the real terrorists…. Terrorizing little kids, driving them to suicide. Isn't that like murdering them, basically?"
Borowik, the group's spokeswoman, said the organization believed there had been seven suicides of members and former members in the last 30 years. Former members place the number at 31.
She blamed Rodriguez's associates among other former members for his state of mind. She said they should have urged him to seek counseling. "I realize he had a lot of anger with his parents, but had he written and asked for help, they would have wanted him to have the help he needed," she said.
Former Family member Daniel Nathan Roselle, a full-time student who knew Rodriguez when they were both growing up in the group, said in an interview that he urged Rodriguez to consider legal recourse the last time they spoke, five months ago. "I said, look, I'm working this legal thing, and I think we're getting some traction here, and I think nobody's voice is more eloquent on what happened than yours," Roselle said.
At that time, Roselle said, Rodriguez never spoke of an actual plan. He said Rodriguez spoke of wanting to find out where Mama and Peter were.
"There was a lot of rage, but there were no specifics," Roselle said when asked whether he had thought of alerting authorities. "I have to be honest with you. In the 10 years I've talked to others of us, there's a lot of rage."
Roselle and other former Family members were quick to say they didn't condone murder. All said they mourned the death of Rodriguez and Smith.
"I wish it hadn't happened. I wish he hadn't died. It seems the only way anybody's listening is that Rick and Angela died," Roselle said. "It makes me cry."
Roselle said he was sad rather than angry about his experience. He recalled being sexually abused once in Panama by a 20-year-old woman when he was 7.
"I remember the house and looking around at the couch and looking at any number of naked couples going at it, and then having someone come up and get into bed with me in my little mattress on the floor," he said, fighting back tears. "We try to forget, and you can try to go on."
For Rodriguez, that apparently wasn't possible.
Reader's comments on this article
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Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 18:04
Transcript will be available on cnn.com shortly... heres a direct link to the transcript page. Not sure when they put them out, but it will be here... http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/acd.html
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Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 13:53
Can anyone digitally record the CNN show today? It would be nice to have digital copies of these TV shows for reference.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 12:20
CNN running the show this afternoon -- the producer says. Anderson Cooper 360 7pm EST
But things often change at the last minute --- so DON'T BLAME ME!
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| From SuzieQ|
Tuesday, January 18, 2005, 22:37
And as anyone who has read the summit jewels (1992) quite some time after the "official policy" was enacted (1989) Mama was extremely concerned with making sure "our teens and JETTs" knew that we were only saying it was wrong, but as far as God was concerned it was definately not wrong. I wish these interviewers had the gn in front of them to confront Claire when she says this.
The written word to those sorry pedophilles from their queen clearly stated that child abuse is only wrong in the System's eyes, but they must understand that God thinks it's fine and it's not really "abuse".
Is it any wonder that they continued their abuses and beliving they would get away with it and if the System didn't find out about it, then it was fine.
I recently got my 15 year old sister out of the cult and am helping her get on with a normal (as possible) life. She was suicidal and depressed and now is doing fine. She was abused by uncles sexually and physically and emotionally by many others in a number of homes and this was AFTER THE AUSTRALIAN RAIDS!
It makes me sick.(reply to this comment)
| From xolox|
Tuesday, January 18, 2005, 18:59
Also, how many times did he ask if anyone had been turned in, or reported to the police? Just another question Borrowik responded to in the best way I can imagine. With bumbling mumbling, and finger pointing denial.
Borrowik, you are known. You are not just some mouthpiece. In the eighties Claire Borrowik (of Cacho y Clara) was one of the main leaders for all of south America. These things happend on her watch!
Stands to reason they would pick someone "with a record". No stepping out of line there, she would incriminate herself.
Claire Borrowik is not some random woman who can speak into a camera. She is one of the perpetrators. She carries a personal resposibility in all of this. If she were to report anything to the authorities, she would have to start with herself.(reply to this comment)
Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 09:57
In order to refute what the cult is saying now and will be saying more of in the future, we need to remember and repeat over and over until we are heard, that WE are NOT disgruntled ex-members. We were never members. We never chose to be in the cult. We are their CHILD VICTIMS. They are attempting to blame their child victims for the acts of one of their other child victims. This time, their one trick pony, they used against Watchman and everyone else who spoke out against them will not work because we are not the "angry ex-members", postulates, etc. they always lump their detractors into. We are their CHILDREN! We are their VICTIMS!
This is a case of Sleepers, except on an international scale. This is a case of a horribly abused child growing up and killing his abuser. We need to say that over and over and over until we are heard. The horrible abuse he suffered and witnessed drove him to this, nothing else, certainly not other child victims.
Another issue we need to make clear is that this was not just a murder/suicide. This is much larger. This cult has operated an international, (they are in numerous countries), conspiracy, (because their abusive doctrines involving children were dictated by cult leadership and consented to by members), to exploit children, (exploit because we were systematically used for cult purposes, whether sexual, physical, mental or financial). This cult has operated an international conspiracy to exploit children on the largest scale. This cult may very well have been one of the largest cases of exploited and abused children not related by nationality or ethnicity in the modern world.
Nothing has so far ever been done about it because unlike some other cases of child exploitation, we were their own children. When our very own parents conspired in the cult to exploit us, then who was there to protect and defend us or prosecute our abusers? No one. When such tremendous wrong goes unpunished and even unprosecuted for so long, then it is not so shocking that a case like Ricky's has occured.
Further, unlike the movie Sleepers, we were not in a reformatory. We, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of us, we were only in the cult and subjected to its doctrines and practices, as a result of having been born to our cult member parents. We did nothing wrong. We did nothing to deserve the horrific abuse inflicted upon us or the indoctrination and mental oppression which went along with it. We are not EX-MEMBERS! We are the child victims of a cult that operated on an international level.
What happened to us was dictated from the very top of the cult. The way we were raised and exploited was dictated by cult doctrine espoused in mountainous cult literature and for which every member was made to read and live out. Ricky was the founders' own son upon whom they practiced all their most abusive doctrines. He was the test case upon which we were all modeled. Now we have the final result of their test case. Their own self-proclaimed "prince" is dead as a result of what they did to him. Yet, rather than issuing an apology to the hundreds, if not thousands, of parents and children for whom they dictated their twisted practices that they practied and modeled on Ricky, they seek to blame their other child victims. The cult leadership does not even take pause at Ricky's death. They go directly into victim attacking mode, their long time modis operandi. Ricky's very own mother remains silent, living in hiding and having her cult members issue statements placing blame onto her other victims.
Is it shocking? Not really when you consider that very few pedophiles, child abusers, sweat shop owners or child exploitation ring leaders ever issue apologies or even admit their guilt. The most shocking aspect is the scale upon which this cult has operated and the inability of the authorities, in even industrialized countries, to put an end to it.
Does it not strike anyone as suspicious that the leadership of this cult lives in hiding? Does it not give the authorities pause that everyone in the cult uses fake names? Is no one concerned that the highest leadership in the cult changed their names legally to very common ones which are difficult to track? Some have even changed their names more than once. Does no one have information on the passport buying scheme the cult leadership was busted for in Canada awhile back?
If nothing is wrong and this cult never exploited or abused its children, then why do hundreds of their children now spend large amounts of their time speaking out and telling their stories? Why do they bother? And why are all of our stories the same regarding what kind of abuse was inflicted on us? Why do so many of us commit suicide? Why are so many of us in therapy? Where is the financial support Claire Borowik claims has been extended to us to help us heal from our injuries?
I don't know one person among us who has ever received a red cent from the cult. I do know many, many horror stories, though, of how many of us ran away from the cult and had to struggle to make a life for ourselves with no money, no education and no support system. I know of many of us, including myself, who have supported a younger sibling to make his or her struggle a little easier.
Have you no shame Claire Borowik? There are hundreds of us. The cult for which you speak has hundreds, if not thousands, of child victims. You can't call us all liars. We are all telling the same story.
You may have gotten away with lying in Argentina about what the cult did to children there, but the United States of America is no Argentina. Here we have a justice system which is among the best in the world.
Run and hide, Zerby, run and hide. The truth will find you. Your son is dead. You only son is dead. Your legacy is a dead son and the truth of what you did to him. You better find a very big rock to hide under because the truth is out, and its looking for you, you and Kelley and Lonnie Davis and your agent, Claire Borowik.
Here in the United States we have justice, of the non-violent kind. If you don't come to it, we'll bring it to you. But most importantly, we have freedom of speech. We have freedom to speak without fear of retribution, unlike what we grew up with in the cult. And when so many of us are speaking and telling the truth of what the cult did to us as children, we will inevitably be heard. We will be heard, and not you, your agent Claire Borowik or the gods of abusive lying cults can stop that from happening.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2005 - 03:59
San Jose Mercury News
Group, P.A. woman's slaying intertwined
KILLER, SON OF SECT'S LEADER, BLAMED IT FOR CHILDHOOD ABUSE
By Elise Ackerman and Kim Vo
For years, Angela Smith's parents had asked her to leave a religious group she had joined in the 1970s. As the new year began, Smith finally seemed ready. She had recently moved to Palo Alto and landed a steady job.
But Smith, known to some friends by the nickname ``Joy,'' never got the chance to put her past behind her.
During a trip to Tucson on Jan. 8, she was stabbed to death by Ricky Rodriguez, the estranged son of the missionary group's leader. Rodriguez then drove west, to the California border town of Blythe, where police say he killed himself with a single shot from a semiautomatic handgun.
``My husband and I kept telling her to get out of the group,'' Smith's mother, Jo Kauten, said in a tearful conversation from her home in Winchester, Va.
Smith, 51, was the executive secretary to Rodriguez's mother, Karen Zerby, the spiritual leader of Family International, and to the group's late founder, Oakland native David Berg.
On its Web site, The Family says it is a Christian fellowship with 12,000 associates working in more than 100 countries. But the Washington, D.C.-based group also has been accused of child abuse in a number of countries.
According to the New York Times, before his death Rodriguez sent three videos to his wife and other family members in which he said he was avenging children like himself who had been beaten and subjected to sexual abuse.
Claire Borowik, a spokeswoman for The Family, said in an interview that the group has been vindicated in the abuse cases and called the criticism the work of ``vitriolic ex-members.''
In a statement, Borowik added that some of those ex-members had prompted Rodriguez to display violent tendencies after he left the group in 2000.
And, she said, Smith had in fact left The Family two months ago because she was ready for a change after three decades of missionary work.
The Family was founded in 1968 in Huntington Beach under the name the Children of God. Its founder, Berg, took on the name Moses David and was known to some of his followers as ``Mo,'' according to the group's Web site.
Scandal dogged the group after claims of brainwashing and child sexual abuse surfaced in the 1970s. Authorities from France to Argentina to Australia have raided the group's homes and taken children into custody.
The group's leaders have said they are targets of religious persecution. In her statement, Borowik acknowledged that minors had been ``subject to sexually inappropriate advances'' but said the group had tightened its policies in the 1980s to forbid sexual contact with children.
Nevertheless, ``Historically they've been known as one of the most horrifically abusive and destructive cults in American history,'' said Rick Ross, director of the New Jersey-based Rick A. Ross Institute and affiliated with www.cultnews.com.
Ross said he had interviewed several former members of the Children of God group, including Berg's daughter and granddaughter, who said they had also been abused. Berg died in 1994.
Though its leaders say the group has been reformed, Ross said, doubts remain because many of its longtime leaders -- including Zerby -- still run the organization.
Ross, who has been tracking cult groups for two decades, said he wasn't shocked by the Rodriguez murder-suicide.
``It doesn't surprise me because so many of these children suffered so much,'' Ross said. ``There have been many suicides over the last several years. There's a tremendous amount of pain.''
At a Web site for children whose parents belonged to The Family, www.moving on.org, members sorted out their tangled feelings about the deaths.
``While the facts regarding these events are still not clear, what happened to Ricky Rodriguez and Angela Smith was a horrible tragedy, and something that we sincerely hope is never repeated,'' the Web site's editors wrote.
A Moving On representative did not reply to an e-mail seeking further comment.
News of Smith's death has been especially painful to the staff at Palo Alto's Restoration Hardware, who remember their co-worker as an exceptionally kind and trusting spirit. ``Always something sweet,'' said Gretchen Mills, who took a chance and hired Smith though she had no retail experience.
According to her mother, it was Smith's first job in years that was not connected to Family International.
Mills said Smith caught on quickly, winning over customers and staff with a ready smile and warm personality. She brought snacks for the stock team and would interest herself in the details of her co-workers lives -- remembering to ask about dates and doctors appointments.
Said Mills, her boss: ``There was nothing creepy about Angela.''
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Monday, January 17, 2005 - 08:00
The public won't be fooled by that silly comment.TF's reputation is in shatters already in Europe where press coverage has been consistant for years about their abuses. Strange how cult apologists such as Eileen Barker and ILK haven't said Jack to defend them on this one! They'd be laughed out of the classroom and more importantly the courtroom.
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Monday, January 17, 2005 - 03:30
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Monday, January 17, 2005 - 02:22
I'm in Austria and won't be able to see CNN...can someone please record it?
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Monday, January 17, 2005 - 00:31
Watch CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday. Show about Ricky and Angela's death.
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