By Brian Birmingham

Hey David, I know that you are online a lot and always interested in whatever attention that you receive. And there have been a couple of articles that have recently appeared about you and your followers here at CultNews.

You probably saw a recent report about how you borrowed or copied many of your ideas from other groups called “cults” like the Brethren founded by the late Jim Roberts. Jim didn’t appear to like you very much. Apparently, you were trying to poach some of his followers.

Well, if you do occasionally check out CultNews to see if you have gotten some attention maybe you will see this letter, which is now publicly posted.

David, you and I go way back. I’ve studied you and the group you created for almost twenty years now. These studies began shortly after 9/11, which is when I first met your devotee James on the street in Dallas. He was fund raising for you and handing out your “Liberator” comics.

At one point I even considered actually joining your group for a trial week in the Spring of 2002.

Dave McKay

However, your followers frightened me when I met them in person. They just seem so fanatically devoted to you David. But over the years I have continued to track your activities online and off. There are very few groups called “cults” as extreme and tightly controlled as your so-called “Jesus Christians.” For this reason I will keep watching your group as long as possible, or until it fades away and ceases to exist.

I want to warn people about you, your deceptive recruitment tactics and the various scams you run until you are gone.

In my opinion you are a modern-day Diotrophes (3 John 9-10) a false prophet and false teacher (1 Timothy 6:3-5). It seems to me that you are exactly the type of person Jesus warned Christians about in the New Testament.

Is there any good in you?

Is there anything that you have ever done that warrants positive recognition?

Sadly, it seems to me that the answer appears to be no. Despite your years of reading about Jesus’ teachings you don’t seem to have genuinely internalized any of them, nor do you really live them.

Must people feel sorry for someone like you who seems so lost?

No. I don’t think there is anything anyone needs to sympathize about concerning such a selfish life wasted on self-aggrandizing stunts and scams.

Anything that MIGHT have been a positive attribute, like your ability to be witty is spoiled. Because your wit is almost always poisonous sarcasm; it’s an expression of your incessant cruelty, and cannot be considered a good trait.

Thought admittedly you can actually be funny, but it’s so often humor at someone else’s expense, cutting and unkind.

David, you are a smart guy. But you have used your intelligence to hurt people. For example, you use your writing ability to beat down and bully others, in an apparent attempt to try to make them feel stupid and inferior. So, your intelligence doesn’t count as a positive quality, since you have used it to do evil.

David, you are quite creative, but that too is tainted. Because you use your creativity to deceive, lie and slander. You make up wild stories like a grifter to suck in your unsuspecting followers deeper into your abyss.

Even the kidney donation thing you came up with was a scam. You used it like a con man for media attention and now that the media is on to you, you’ve lost interest in helping people by promoting organ donations.

But you certainly can always find the time to bash the bereaved families of your followers whenever you can.

David, please understand I don’t wish any harm to come upon you or your devoted disciples.

In fact, I actually admire and respect what you and your followers claim that you stand for.

But the Bible warns that some people may “claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him (Titus 1:16). Jesus warned (Matthew 24:5) and “deceive many.” But Jesus said (Luke 21:8) “do not follow them.” You see David real Jesus Christians must be wary, and watch closely what would be teachers do, to see if their actions match their words.

All Christians want to be more like Jesus in thought, word, and deed.

Some of your studies online are noteworthy due to the ideals they teach.

However, it’s not enough to teach what Jesus said if you don’t follow-up by trying to live by His teachings. That’s the hard part David, it’s about obeying Jesus, which is exactly your problem. You talk the talk, but you don’t walk the walk, which makes you a hypocrite.

No doubt, if you bother to discuss this letter with anyone you will probably attack me personally. This has often been your response to criticism or claims of “persecution.” But false claims of persecution and personal attacks won’t change the facts. And it isn’t a meaningful response to the issues raised in this letter.

Frankly, in my opinion your followers are being deceived. And I think you know that. Deception is your trade David. That’s how you have supported yourself for many years. Taking advantage of others through deception.

You are a predator that quells the spirit and wounds the psyches of your victims.

So, what can someone expect as the net or end result of being involved with someone like you?

The people you dominate and manipulate all seem to eventually end up on the street hawking David McKay’s writings and fund raising.

Doesn’t that demonstrate your selflessness David?

Are you “forsaking all”, “trusting God” and not depending on money?

It seems to me that the focus of your group is to promote your words, while constantly fund raising to sustain you and your deception.

Well David, you’ve been doing this for a very long time, decade after decade, with a small, but deeply devoted sect of followers.

Maybe now it’s time for you to slow down and get right with God while you still have time?

It’s never too late to make things right with God if you earnestly seek Him in repentance.

And what about your adult children?

Isn’t it time to get things right with them too?

You are not getting any younger David; in a few years you will be 80.

Think about it. Or better yet pray about it. It is better for you to pray to God then to prey upon others.

By Brian Birmingham

Often when somebody exits an abusive group or relationship there’s an internal struggle in the person’s mind, in which one wonders about oneself, “How did I get involved in such a situation? Why did I stay involved for as long as I did? What’s wrong with me?”

Often, there is a lot of self-blame involved in leaving an abusive group or relationship.

It takes time for one to process such experiences. To figure out how and why it happened.

One of the most important things that a former member of an abusive authoritarian group, or “cult,” can realize, which will help in the recovery process, is that it’s not a question of “what is wrong with me?” But more pertinent and helpful, in terms of healing, is to question instead, “What was done to me while I was involved in the group, that made it so hard to leave for so long?”

This effectively reframes the recovery process from “What is wrong with me?” to “What was done to me?”

Once one comes to understand that there is an intentional planned process of coercive persuasion and thought reform involved and that the recruitment and indoctrination process was deceptive, then one is well on the way to genuine recovery regarding the pain inflicted by an abusive group or relationship.

Sinasta J. Colucci understands this very well. And this understanding is reflected in the pages of his book “Better Than a Turkish Prison: What I Learned from Life in a Religious Cult.”

As far as I know, this is the first book ever written by a former member of the religious, Bible-based cult called the “Twelve Tribes.” And since I have recently reported about the death of Twelve Tribes leader Elbert Eugene Spriggs and his followers, it seemed meaningful to review this book, even though it was published in 2018.

“Better Than a Turkish Prison” is the story of how one young man got swept up into the highly controlling world of the Twelve Tribes, and his eventual disillusionment with and defection from the cult.

It’s as if Colucci did not so much “join” the Twelve Tribes, as he just intended to visit the Stepping Stone Farm in Weaubleau, Missouri in 2004. However, that visit turned into nine years.

Colucci was assimilated or absorbed in a what can be seen as a “Borg-like” hive. The Borg are a fictional sinister predatory alien group that appear within the Star Trek series. They are a cybernetic “Collective” and their motto is “resistance is futile.” Much like the fictional victims of the Borg Colucci was historically absorbed by Twelve Tribes.

However, Colucci eventually broke free, along with a woman he met in the group, who he later married.

It’s been said that nobody joins a cult, they just postpone the decision to leave.

Sinasta Colucci is a striking example of this truth, which he vividly explains in his book. He describes occasions in which he noticed hypocrisies and double-standards in the group’s lifestyle. Times in which Twelve Tribes teachings were not consistent with the way they were living and doing business.

However, despite these contradictions Colucci writes very plainly that the main reason he stayed for so long was because he once believed that there were no viable options for survival outside of the group.

At no point throughout the book does Colucci describe himself as a victim of the Twelve Tribes. Nor as a victim of its leader Elbert Eugene Spriggs.

And at no point does he ask “What was wrong with me? Why did I join? Why did I stay as long as I did?”

What Colucci does instead, at least in this reader’s opinion, is explain what was done to him. He also goes into the circumstances of his life, just before he was recruited at the age of nineteen. What made him vulnerable.

This is a unique book written by a former member of the Twelve Tribes. And as a former member with almost a decade of direct experience Colucci gives the reader a very good and insightful look into what life is really like day-to-day in the Twelve Tribes for both men and women. The author also provides interesting and valuable details about the group’s theology and practices.

For example: the description of how the loaf is made for the Sabbath-night “breaking of bread.” And details about Ha-Emeq (Marsha Spriggs, Yoneq’s wife) and her “Shiners” was intriguing.

Also, especially interesting are the descriptions of Spriggs’ personal behavior in Hiddenite; how he complained about his corn not being sweet enough. And how he made fun of a woman for being overweight. These insider accounts show Spriggs to be the hypocrite that he was.

My only criticism of Colucci’s book is that the last fifty or seventy-five pages, of the approximately two-hundred-and-fifty-page book, are basically a treatise on the author’s atheism. It seems to me that Colucci went from a preachy Twelve Tribes member to a somewhat preachy atheist.

Perhaps Colucci thinks that his current choice of atheism reflects his progressive path of enlightenment?

Or maybe this reader/reviewer is a bit oversensitive about this.

All in all, though, “Better Than a Turkish Prison: What I Learned from Life in a Religious Cult” is a good read and I recommend this book.

By Brian Birmingham

I recently interviewed a former member of the Roberts group (aka The Brethren, “Garbage Eaters”).

The Roberts group, established and led by Jim Roberts, is known as one of the most controlled, restrictive and enigmatic groups in America. It’s members, nick named the “garbage eaters,” for their habit of scrounging for food in dumpsters.

The group members have wandered about North America, Central America, South America, Europe and Africa, fund raising and at times recruiting college students, who then would disappear for decades.

Known for their total isolation and nomadic lifestyle the families of members frequently searched in vain for their loved ones. Typically, there was little if any communication with family and old friends, which was strictly controlled by Roberts.

Since the death of Jim Roberts in 2015 the group has undergone several substantial changes in its leadership and practices according to the former member I interviewed.

Jim Roberts

First of all, the group is no longer led by one man, but instead is now run by a small council of “older brothers,” who were appointed by Roberts before he died.

These designated leaders are David Kurtz (known as “David” in the group), Jerry Williams (known as “Hatzair”), Jonathan Schmidt (known as “Johannon”) and Channon Lill (known as “Hopeful”).

Bart Wilcox (known as “Zephaniah”) was also originally one of the appointed elders, but it’s been reported that he married, and was replaced by Lill.

The group is apparently now relaxing some of its strict rules involving marriage, communications with family, as well communications with former members.

Today they’ve got no real base or headquarters, but are now reportedly in Flagstaff Arizona, Knoxville, Tennessee, Asheville, North Carolina and Denver, Colorado. These locations are apparently maintained more or less permanently.

The leaders or elders listed above have phone numbers and email addresses, and one of them is known to have a positive relationship with a former member with whom he is in contact.

However, even with all of these relatively major changes the group remains very secretive. And they do not want to be easily found.

There are certain things that are not known about their current practices.

For example: are there still so-called “bozo camps,” where supposedly troublesome members are assigned and sent to for punishment?

Does the group continue to abandon especially problematic members?

In the past problem members often would be sent to bozo camp only to find out that there was no one there, and that everyone there had left the location before the problem member arrived.

Does the Roberts group still do this?

What are their recruitment tactics like today?

There are many unknowns that remain about how the Roberts group is run today by its current elders/leaders.

It does seem that fewer people are joining the group and then disappearing, which greatly distressed families.

It also seems like there are fewer people leaving.

CultNews could not find out how many minor children are now part of the group.

The group is also aging.

Some of the men Jim Roberts hand picked as elders are now entering their seventies.

What will happen to the group as the older members begin to die?

Most personality-driven groups called “cults” wither and disintegrate after the establishing founder/leader is gone.

Perhaps the Roberts group too, will follow that pathway to ultiamate extinction.

Note: Researcher Brian Birmingham was the first to uncover the medical examiner’s report concerning the death of Jim Roberts.

By Brian Birmingham

Some basic background information for those readers who may be less familiar with the so-called “Jesus Christians” (JCs), led by American Dave McKay, who now lives in Melbourne, Australia.

The McKay group is more or less a watered-down version of the Roberts Group/Brethren, nick named the “garbage eaters” for their practice of scrounging food from dumpsters. The JCs, like the Roberts group founded and led by Jim Roberts (now deceased see Medical Examiner Report), is defined and controlled by its founder and leader Dave McKay.

Dave McKay

Though McKay and his followers seem a bit angrier and more resentful that the Roberts group.

Both groups see themselves as the epitome of First Century Christian disciples living minimally on the road, while sharing what they represent as the original teachings of Christianity.

Dave McKay’s craving for attention has put his group in the news at times. Most notably when he hatched a scheme to have his followers donate their kidneys to strangers. For a time, the JCs were called the “kidney cult.”

McKay himself was once a member of the notorious “Children of God” (COG) led by pedophile Moses David Berg (now deceased).

Moses David Berg

McKay has incorporated facets of COG and other teachings he copied to create what can be seen as a composite of cult beliefs, which are used by the JCs.

The net result is that in many ways the JCs are a cloned version of very early COG, with the wandering nomadic aspect of the Roberts Group thrown in and just a sprinkle of the Jesus Army (disbanded) for flavor and a dash of Heaven’s Gate-ish sci-fi (mass suicide all deceased) overtones thrown in for good measure.

If you are looking through a menu of groups called “cults” Dave McKay has concocted quite a stew. But his recipe isn’t very original.

The JCs are pretty much an Australian version of the Roberts group, with two major differences:

1. The McKay group uses the Internet. The JCs create and promote videos online and also actively recruits online. Whereas the Roberts group (again, as far as I know) never made the transition to online proselytizing.

2. The McKay group does not have a uniform, unlike the Roberts group, which has a very distinct style of dress.

Here is What most people don’t know. The similarities between the McKay and Roberts groups are not a mere coincidence. Dave McKay and his followers met Jim Roberts in Oregon, and even camped with the Roberts group for a while in Berkeley, California. This was around 1990.

But when Jim Roberts found out that Dave was in fact not a mere junior member of the group, which he represented himself to be, and instead the group’s leader, things got just a bit testy.

Jim Roberts

Roberts concluded that McKay was in fact attempting to infiltrate and poach his group. Subsequently, he told Dave McKay and his followers to leave the NE Ivy Street house, where they were all staying in Oregon at the time.

JC member Attilla Danko and a woman, who were in the USA at the time, met with two Roberts group members. One is named Jonathon Schmidt, who is still with the Roberts group to this day. Another Roberts group member named Thomas was also there in Berkeley at that time. Thomas has since left the Roberts group.

Eventually, McKay met face to face with Jim Roberts in Oregon. The two “cult leaders” apparently had a confrontation at the house on NE Ivy Street.

Thomas shared this information with CultNews about the Dave McKay and Jim Roberts’ meeting in Oregon.

Thomas was there and witnessed everything first hand.

This history demonstrates that the McKay group is simply a mishmash copied from other “cults” and that McKay has historically drifted through various groups, which he studied and then appropriated teachings from them as he saw fit. Making the JCs a highly eclectic and syncretistic group.

That meeting in Oregon must have been quite a scene. Two mutually exclusive “cult leaders” facing off, each wanting to be dominant top dog demanding obedience.

Of course, most of McKay’s followers today probably have no idea how Dave McKay manufactured his group’s identity and what groups and events contributed to its teachings.

It seems that the readers of CultNews now may know more about this group’s history than the so-called “Jesus Christians.”

But it’s not surprising that Dave McKay probably wants to keep his followers ignorant about all of this.

As the Bible says, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

And as some might also observe, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

But Dave McKay is an old dog that learned old tricks, which he copied from even older now deceased “cult leaders.”

Note: The Medical Examiner Report concerning Jim Roberts linked in this report was first obtained by Brian Birmingham to be archived online at the Cult Education Institute.

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By Brian Birmingham

Where is Benny Hinn and what is he doing now?

A cursory search for his name in the news online reveals that he has not been in the news lately. And a look at Benny Hinn Ministries’ website and Facebook page shows that he’s got no public events coming up in the foreseeable future.

In fact, Benny Hinn’s name has not been in the news much at all since September of 2019. This was about the time when Hinn announced to the world that he was rejecting the so-called “prosperity gospel” and would henceforward preach only historically established Christian doctrine.

Indeed, a reading of Benny Hinn Ministries’ website reflects an absence of any reference to prosperity theology, “seed faith” teaching or anything of the sort. Instead, there are only references to prayer, healing, deliverance, and like topics.

One thing that has not changed about Benny Hinn’s presentation, is his emphasis on miracles, and how they can (and do) happen all the time.

Benny Hinn

But where is the man many regard as the world’s greatest healer, when you really need him, during a pandemic?

While some evangelical churches and other houses of worship around the United States are ignoring Covid restrictions, Benny Hinn seems to be rather timid concerning his approach to serving the quarantined (and otherwise socially restricted) masses.

Where are the “Miracle Services” that he’s so famous for during this season of Coronavirus?

Benny Hinn does not appear at all enthusiastic about healing people from Covid these days.

Is he wary of becoming infected himself?

Maybe he has already been infected?

Hinn did suffer through heart attacks in 2015. And the past year may have been a bit rough regarding financial contributions.

But doesn’t Pastor Benny tell us that all manner of sickness and disease can be healed or cured through his ministry with God’s help?

Perhaps Benny Hinn now thinks that people must not rely upon him in any way, but instead heal themselves with God’s help alone.

If that’s the reason he has been so scarce lately, good on Benny for that!

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By Brian Birmingham

Q: You’ve seen a lot of changes take place in ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness) over the years, at least in North America. What are some of the biggest changes the institution has made, in your estimation? What things have not changed, or need changing?

A: I joined ISKCON in 1978, just when they instituted the zonal guru system. Under this system, eleven men were named to give initiation within their own zones. This was the biggest change I observed in ISKCON, and probably the biggest change in ISKCON’s short history. I remember being there when Ramesvara announced the plan to a packed Los Angeles temple room. It was unwelcome for most of the disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Some felt Prabhupada should be the only guru even though he was no longer present. They thought any future disciples should be connected to Prabhupada, even if someone else did the initiation ceremony. Others believed all Prabhupada disciples should become gurus and initiate their own disciples. Things split in that direction, because within ten years the GBC had named many more men to become gurus.

Nori Muster

One thing that has not changed is the place of women. As far as I know, ISKCON still has no women gurus, and they do not allow women to give the morning Bhagavatam classes or lead the morning kirtans. I like to believe they stopped arranged marriages, since I’ve spoken to ISKCON women who told me their assigned husbands beat and raped them. As far as the children, they did change the rules, so children are now allowed to live with their families. That’s one good change.

Q: If there was one thing that you would recommend that that the institution could and should change right away, then what would that one thing be?

A: It’s none of my business since I’ve left the organization. However, when I was a member, we tried to be more open about the truth in the ISKCON World Review. From 1986 to 1988 we published articles, interviews, and editorials on a variety of issues, including the guru reform movement, the gurukula, changes in the BBT, and the murder of Steven Bryant (Sulochan). However, it was the 1980s, and the organization was not ready for that. The GBC kept trying to make us stop writing about ISKCON’s problems. They wanted us to go back to printing only good news, so we resigned. If we had kept going, they probably would have found a way to fire us. However, I still believe sunlight is the best disinfectant, and wish the organization would be more open about airing their internal issues with their members, and the public. We just knew way too much in the PR office we were not allowed to talk about. It seemed awkward and unbalanced. Thanks to covering up the secrets, I left ISKCON with a load of guilt that took years to resolve.

Q: In other words, you’d recommend greatly enhanced levels of transparency and accountability, both within the organization itself as well as in its public-relations dealings? Do I understand you correctly?

A: Yes, I support transparency and accountability. Most of what I know about ISKCON these days is from what people tell me. Lots of people contact me after reading my book or finding my website. Some of the things people say make me think things are still a big mess in ISKCON. Let’s compare that to my undergraduate college. My college has a great reputation and always scores in the top ten public colleges. However, if my college had ongoing scandals and a bad reputation, I would feel embarrassed to tell people that’s where I got my degree. It’s the same for ISKCON. I spent ten and a half years in ISKCON and wish the organization would get it together so I could feel proud of them. I feel they’re still too secretive and defensive about their issues.

Q: What do you think about the ongoing “Hiduization” of ISKCON, and the emphasis placed (in recent years) placed upon outreach and evangelism to the Indian immigrant community? I thought that ISKCON is a non-sectarian spiritual society. Why are they identifying as “Hindus” now?

A: Over the years I watched ISKCON go downhill under white American leaders. About the time I left, 1988, I started to think Hindus could probably do a better job of running it. It is, after all, their religion. They grew up in the religion, while most of us grew up as Christians or Jews. As long as the Hindus are honest and treat everyone fairly, I’m all for it. I would hate to see the whole thing break down.

Srila Prabhupada

My other choice would be for the children of ISKCON to run it. However, most of them leave the organization when they grow up. Either way, actual Hindus or children who grew up in ISKCON, seem like the best options for cleaning it up and carrying on Srila Prabhupada’s legacy.

Q: Thank you for your time and help. I’m going to conclude this interview now.

Note: Nori Muster is the author of “Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life Behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement” (University of Illinois Press, 1997), “Cult Survivors Handbook: Seven Paths to an Authentic Life” (2010), and “Child of the Cult” (2012). She was an ISKCON member from 1978-1988, then earned her Master of Science degree at Western Oregon University in 1991 doing art therapy with juvenile sex offenders. She is currently a freelance writer and adjunct professor, based in Arizona. Muster also has a website for cultic studies information.