Cult leader Jim Roberts is dead. He died in Denver during December according to an official coroner’s report obtained by a member of the Cult Education Institute (CEI) message board. Roberts ruled with absolute authority over his small flock of followers, which probably never numbered much more than a hundred core members.

The relatively obscure group often drew attention because of its bizarre behavior. Known as both “The Brethren” and “The Brothers and Sisters” the group was also frequently called the “garbage eaters” due to its practice of feeding from garbage dumpsters. The nomadic cult recruited on college campuses and was the subject of news reports when students that joined suddenly vanished.

Roberts, a former Marine, known to his followers as “The Elder” or “Brother Evangelist,” lived a very secretive life and was rarely photographed. In 1998 an ABC News crew, led by journalist Dianne Sawyer, managed to confront him. Roberts subsequently refused to answer questions and quickly ran away.

Jim Roberts

Jim Roberts

Roberts was pronounced dead on December 6, 2015 at 6:59 AM. The likely cause of death was cancer. Cult members identified the body and claimed that Jim Roberts had not seen a doctor in 40 years.  Upon his death Roberts, who was 5 feet 8 inches tall, weighed 105 pounds and was clothed in a green T-shirt, khaki trousers and an adult diaper. Authorities obtained fingerprints and digital photographs.

Followers in the Roberts group often “suffered health problems” that could have been cured through modern medicine. Instead at times they died due to medical neglect. One reportedly passed away from pneumonia.

The Roberts group claimed to be based upon the bible, but was known for encouraging its members to terminate contact with family with and old friends. Members then wandered from place to place under Roberts’s guidance fund raising and attempting to persuade people to join the group. Cult members lived largely from charity and whatever food they could find, much like homeless people. One former member explained that Roberts “weaseled his way into control until next thing you knew he was running every aspect of your life.” Another former member described Roberts as a “paranoid megalomaniac.”

CEI has maintained a subsection about the Brethren led by Jim Roberts since the 1990s. Many complaints over the years came from families desperately trying to locate lost loved ones submerged in the group that remained isolated and dominated by Roberts. Hopefully, now that Jim Roberts is dead some of those families will find their lost loved ones through restored communication. However, it is likely that long-time Roberts loyalists, influenced by the cult leader’s teachings, will try to maintain the group mindset and to some extent its historic pattern of behavior.

Note: There is a website run by parents of members of the Jim Roberts group. Many are still searching for their children.

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Tom Cruise may not be a “Top Gun” any more, but the actor has become the top cheerleader for the Church of Scientology and he recently received a medal for it.

Mr. Cruise was awarded the so-called “Freedom Medal of Valor” according to this month’s issue of International Scientology News.

Pictured with the gaudy gold medal embedded with diamonds hanging around his neck the film star that has never won an Oscar looks happy.

Photos of Tom Cruise receiving his award and subsequently being saluted by Scientology’s supreme leader David Miscavige can be seen on the Web site of Dave Touretzsky, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

The medal award ceremony though, actually took place in Great Britain two months ago.

The current headline reads, “Advancing Scientology on a Fully Epic Scale.”

And the Scientology news article goes on gushing about Tom Cruise’s “mission accomplishments” as follows:

“Spearheading LRH [L. Ron Hubbard] Purification tech into the heart of human disaster,” which is a nod to the actor’s efforts in New York City regarding controversial detoxification clinics.

“Changing the face of education at national levels,” seemingly a reference to Cruise promoting Scientology’s “study tech.”

“Eradicating the very thought of psychiatry,” Cruise shocked the public when he told one reporter that “psychiatry should be outlawed.”

The tally counted by Scientology for Tom Cruise reads rather impressively.

He has reached “250 million people” with “study tech.”

“50 million people” with his warnings about the “evil of psychiatry.”

The Hollywood star has reportedly touted the religion “across 90 nations.”

And a purported “5,000 people hear his word of Scientology – every hour,” the publication claims.

“Every minute, of every hour-someone reaches for LRH technology…simply because they know Tom Cruise is a Scientologist,” says International Scientology News.

But is that a good thing considering the troubled history of this church, which after all has been called a “cult”?

Maybe Cruise is “Tom Terrific” for Scientologists, but to many of the church’s alleged victims and critics he is more like a “cult recruiter.”

Scientology has eight Operating Thetan or OT levels and Mr. Cruise has almost made it to the top. He reportedly is now an “OT VI” and in the process of becoming an “OT VII.”

But moving up the OT levels can be quite expensive, a journey many of his religious brethren cannot easily afford.

However, within the luxurious, cocoon-like and pampered existence of celebrity Scientologists this doesn’t seem to cause much concern.

“I think it’s a privilege to call yourself a Scientologist,” Cruise told those gathered at the award ceremony.

“That’s what drives me,” he said. “I know that we have an opportunity to really help for the first time, effectively change people’s lives and I am dedicated to that. I’m absolutely, uncompromisingly dedicated to that.”

Other sources have been somewhat less sanguine in their assesment of Scientology.

Time Magazine called the organization the “Cult of Greed… a hugely profitable global racket that survives by intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner.”

But Mr. Cruise apparently doesn’t care. After all he’s got his medal.

In a strange twist a controversial rabbi known for his music and scandal, lives on through pop bands in New York City that have drawn an ultra-Orthodox Jewish cult-following

The Moshav Band and Soulfarm band members grew up within communities founded by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach in Israel in the late 70’s. Now they play in Manhattan clubs to head-banging fans often with covered heads reports the New York Times.

Carlebach, an inspiration for the bands, was a pop rabbi with a cult following of his own. His music drew upon traditional Chasidic melodies and themes.

The rabbi died in 1994, but left behind mixed legacies of music and scandal.

Many considered him a musical genius, but he also allegedly had a penchant for sexually harassing women during his long career. Some of those women later spoke out.

Carlebach was quite controversial amongst his Lubavitch brethren for his touchy-feely approach. Such contact between men and women is strictly proscribed among ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups.

And it seems Carlebach did much more than simply hug many of the ladies he met.

But the rabbi’s musical legacy has endured long after his death. Now the NY bands have created a new form of pop fusion music composed of a little bit Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and Carlebach.

Carlebach would probably be pleased. The constantly touring rabbi wanted to make Chasidic music and thought more accessible. One promoter observed that he “revolutionized Jewish music.”

For the Orthodox Jewish young people that have become the fans of his musical progeny the music is perhaps a “gentle form of rebellion.” But because of its Chasidic themes, attending clubs that stage these bands is apparently permissible.

The net effect is that otherwise largely cloistered ultra-Orthodox youth have found a vehicle to break out of their strictly controlled and insular communities.

Again, Carlebach would probably have liked that. And it is something of a celebration of the positive legacy he left behind.

As for the bands, one member observed that the Chasidic/Carlebach influence apparent in their performances has “gotten us a lot of work.”

Eric Rudolph, once one of the ten most wanted criminals sought by the FBI, is now behind bars, reports MSNBC.

Indicted for terrorist bombings the white supremacist eluded law enforcement for years and had not been seen since 1998.

Many believed Rudolph was dead, his remains rotting in some remote and forgotten refuge.

But the FBI has confirmed that the alleged murderer is alive.

Rudolph was found by a Sheriff’s deputy in North Carolina, apparently scavenging for food in a garbage dumpster.

The suspicious officer brought in the apparent vagrant, who was later identified as a wanted fugitive.

A former member of the Missouri “Church of Israel” led by Dan Gayman, Rudolph grew up in a world filled with hatred, bigotry and paranoid conspiracy theories.

Beginning in childhood he was submerged in a subculture that includes as many as 50,000 Americans in more than a hundred desperate groups scattered across the country. This subculture is often called the “Christian Identity” movement.

Christian Identity believes that whites are the descendants of the biblical tribes of Israel and God’s elect. And also that the world will soon be engulfed in an apocalyptic struggle. In that struggle whites will battle against a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

According to the movement’s proponents Jews and non-whites are actually descended biologically from Satan. That is, Satan had sex with Eve in the Garden of Eden and this union produced the other races.

Dan Gayman preaches a so-called “two seedline doctrine.” He says the offspring of Satan inhabit the Earth today, but rather slyly insists he doesn’t know who they are.

Gayman has a history of trying to carefully spin his beliefs, in an apparent effort to disarm critics.

Eric Rudolph’s mother introduced her son to Christian Identity.

The widowed Mrs. Rudolph eventually found a haven and home within Gayman’s Missouri compound, where the charismatic preacher became a mentor and paternal figure to her teenage son.

Within this controlled milieu Gayman nurtured Eric Rudolph’s hate and seemingly reinforced it.

It appears that the boy’s mindset was hardened at the Church of Israel. And the beliefs he largely learned there and amongst his other Identity brethren would be the impetus behind Rudolph’s “holy war” as the “Army of God.”

The FBI searching for Rudolph would later question Gayman. But like many hate group leaders, the prejudiced pastor would disavow any responsibility for the crimes committed by his one time follower.

However, Rudolph’s alleged crimes directly reflected the doctrinal focus of hatred inherent within both the Christian Identity movement and the Gayman church.

His targets for destruction would be gays, abortion clinics and the supposed “New World Order,” as expressed by nations coming together at the World Olympics.

How did Eric Rudolph survive for five years in hiding?

Did the subculture that created him sustain the fugitive?

What underground network of friends and support may have existed, that might have made Rudolph’s long-term survival in hiding possible?

Did such a support system suddenly collapse, forcing the fugitive to forage through garbage to feed himself?

The Christian Identity movement has spawned a litany of murderers and violent criminals.

How many more potential Eric Rudolphs are stewing in this sordid subculture, waiting to launch their holy wars?

As investigators unravel the past five years of Rudolph’s life, more will likely become known about this dark organized movement of hate that exists within America.

Since 9-11 Americans have looked outside of the country for the face of terror.

But long before that terrible day it was Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombing that made domestic terrorism the primary focus of the FBI.

Since that bombing of the Murrah Federal Building investigations and arrests have put many members of the Christian Identity movement, white supremacists, so-called “militia” men and an assortment of anti-government extremists behind bars.

The saga of Eric Rudolph offers compelling testimony that there are those within America that have a darkly twisted interpretation of religious scriptures, which often leads to bloodshed.

Osama bin Laden’s is not the only hate filled proponent of “holy war.”

Probably the two most widely accepted and respected researchers regarding Mormonism in the world today have announced their coming retirement, reports Salt Lake City Weekly.

Sandra and Jerald Tanner of Salt Lake City have researched the Mormon Church (LDS) and its history for three decades.

Due to Mr. Tanner’s health the couple has chosen to move on into a less demanding schedule and mode.

Shortly after meeting, Jerald and Sandra Tanner married in 1959. This was perhaps the culmination of a period of doubt and questioning about their Mormon faith.

Ironically, Sandra is the great great granddaughter of Brigham Young and Jerald is related to LDS Church Apostle, N. Eldon Tanner. A background like this certainly would have assured them status and acceptance within seemingly genealogy obsessed Mormon society.

However, instead after the Tanners closely examined the historical records of their church as Sandra explains, “We felt that the Book of Mormon didn’t meet the standards of historical authenticity.”

As a direct result, the Tanners, like many Mormon free thinkers and intellectuals, were eventually excommunicated.

But unlike some excommunicates that drift away into relative obscurity amongst Mormons, this couple took a very different path and eventually became the “notorious Tanners.”

In 1964 they established Modern Microfilm, an archive, and that would eventually become perhaps the single best and most credible resource for objective historical information about the Mormon Church and Mormonism. This effort would ultimately be known as the Utah Lighthouse Ministry, a nonprofit charity.

Along the way the Tanners became part of Mormon history themselves, as pivotal players in numerous critical and important archival revelations, not always appreciated by their former church.

At times they were also debunkers, exposing purported Mormon historical documents as forgeries, even if they appeared to support their own theories or suspicions.

Always honest, forthright and concise in their work, the Tanners are even respected by Mormon apologists that largely consider them enemies.

One such apologist admitted, “They’ve been effective” And regarding their research begrudgingly added, “In an odd sort of way, I’m grateful for them..”

The Tanners are not apologetic about their Christian faith.

Sandra Tanner said, “We are for Christianity, and like consumer watchdogs, we put out the alert against an aberrant group that claims to be Christian.”

What this refers to specifically is the claim often made by the LDS and its members, that “Mormons are Christian.”

However, to date no Christian church has accepted this claim based upon Mormon doctrines, teachings and added scriptures, which clearly contradict historical Christianity.

Taking such a stand about Mormonism didn’t make the Tanners popular amongst their former brethren. They have often been called “anti-Mormon.”

Sandra shrugs this off saying, “We make people uncomfortable and so if they can call you ‘anti’ they can dismiss our work.”

Mormon historian Michael H. Marquardt said, “The Tanners don’t make anything up…and a sad thing is, there are other historians who will use their work and not admit it.”

But Sandra and Jerald Tanner’s odyssey as researchers and people of faith was never about appearing in footnotes.

The couple now married more than 40 years wanted to help others like themselves in a struggle for truth and an authentic history.

The Tanners raised three children in Utah and throughout their family life resided a short walk from the historic Mormon Temple erected under the direction of Sandra’s revered ancestor.

Isn’t it odd how that history came around full circle?

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, apparently is busy helping a “cult” recruit new members.

One such recruit writes, “I have joined a cult, a secret society where there are special books to memorize, pins and key chains given out and, coming soon, the secret handshake and obligatory chant.”

The name of this not so “secret society” is “Weight Watchers,” reports News Journal.

But rather than losing their minds, it seems adherents just lose weight.

The author of the article lost 52 pounds.

Does this sound like a healthy “cult”?

The writer notes that her new “cult” is not punitive. She claimed, “I had a cookie and a piece of chocolate, and my brethren in the cult didn’t knock down my door and make me give it all back.”

It seems everything is not black and white, good or evil in this group.

The Weight Watcher devotee says, “I have learned it’s OK to eat different things, even, heaven forbid, snack things, just as long as you don’t use a pitchfork to shovel it in.”

Not only does this cult lack its own compound, it seems to put pounds off altogether.

The Worldwide Church of God was built upon the exclusive claims made by its founder Herbert W. Armstrong.

Armstrong concocted a religion, which some called a “cult,” that was apparently an amalgam of several sects. Like Jehovah’s Witnesses he denied the Christian belief in trinity and insisted upon observing his version of the feast days and festivals of Judaismt. Armstrong also incorporated a belief about British-Israelism, which holds one day Jesus will rule from the throne of Great Britain.

This unique blend of theology and practice eventually netted Armstrong more than 160,000 followers, which he ruled over like a dictator for decades. It also afforded him a lavish lifestyle that included mansions, costly furnishings and a personal jet.

However, when Armstrong died in 1986 his religious empire went through a kind of evolution or what some might call a “revolution.”

His successors made an effort to effectively mainstream their isolated group into Protestantism. But after accepting the doctrines and moderate beliefs of their Christian brethren, Worldwide membership dropped drastically.

It seems without its peculiar dogma that the religion lost its attraction. And many Worldwiders felt there was no longer much reason to belong and tithe to the church. Schisms and splintering have subsequently reduced Worldwide to about 60,000 adherents, though its annual revenue is still about $25 million dollars.

The modernization of Worldwide doesn’t seem to have included democratization and/or opened up the issue of meaningful financial accountability to the membership. A power elite still appears to run the organization without referendum and they recently decided to hold an auction.

In what can be seen as a symbolic liquidation they sold off some of the opulent residue that still remained from Armstrong’s glory days, reports The Pasadena Star News.

It appears that the “cult” Herbert Armstrong built may gradually disappear without the man and idiosyncratic beliefs that made it so unique and compelling to its faithful.

The 50-acre Ambassador College campus property in Pasadena, once the crown jewel of Armstrong’s holdings, is now being developed into residential housing to provide designated pastors with pensions.

Mormonism may have once arguably fallen within the category of a “cult.” It certainly began as a personality-driven group defined by a totalitarian charismatic leader, Joseph Smith.

Smith eventually exercised absolute control over his followers in Illinois, where they lived within a largely self-contained community called Nauvoo.

He was head of the church, its “prophet,” “revelator,” “seer,” the mayor of Nauvoo and a militia general. The people of Illinois came to fear Smith’s power, which ultimately led to his arrest and death.

Then came Brigham Young. Unlike Smith’s son and designated heir Young had a new vision for the Mormons, which included a “Promised Land.” That land is now known as Utah.

In the beginning Utah was a theocracy ruled over by Young. But through a series of pragmatic “revelations” and succeeding church presidents, the religious state would become one of the United States of America. First, it was necessary to give up polygamy and many years later another “revelation” would provide the premise for previously excluded Blacks to enter the Mormon “priesthood.”

The totalitarian governance of The Mormon Church changed too. Power devolved from one-man rule to a more moderate structure of council and quorums.

But will Mormonism ever completely cast off what can be seen as its “cultic” baggage?

Racism and elitism still permeate the modern Mormon religion through its writings and teachings about the so-called “Laminites,” a mythical people apparently invented by Joseph Smith, but accepted by Mormons as historical fact.

Thomas Murphy a Mormon anthropologist recently attempted to address this issue by proving Smith’s historical claims were scientifically false. However, the response to his research results was the threat of possible expulsion through excommunication. Other Mormon scholars and intellectuals have experienced similar resistance.

William Bagely, a Mormon descendent and historian specifically studied probably the darkest day of Mormon intolerance. This was September 11, 1857, known as the Massacre of Mountain Meadows. On that day a group of Mormon men dressed as Indians murdered 120 settlers as they crossed Utah.

This event seems to reflect the deep fear early Mormons had of their ethnocentric society being somehow defiled or violated by “unbelievers.”

Bagley points out that Brigham Young himself knew about the coming attack and supposedly said, “Brethren, do your duty.” But Mormon apologists deny this, reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

In recent months another controversy has erupted in Utah. This revolves around the rather heavy handed way the Mormon Church has exercised its power in Salt Lake City to suppress free expression around its historic Temple Square.

What then is the future of Mormonism in the 21sr Century?

Will The Mormon Church continue to evolve until it is another denomination within the mainstream of American religious life? Or has it reached some limit, which it cannot move beyond?

Many insist that the demythologizing of the Mormon Scriptures and the opening up of Utah as a truly pluralistic society is inevitable.

Scientologist Lisa McPhearson died tragically in 1995 while under the care and treatment of her Scientology brethren. But it has taken more than seven years for the lawsuit filed by her family to reach a trial date.

Scientology is adept at delaying and/or derailing lawsuits and it seems they have used every strategy and courtroom tactic to keep this case from going to trial.

Scientology frequently employs what can be seen as the “ad hominem attack.” Rather than directly respond to issues raised, they often go after whoever raises them. This may mean pursuing a plaintiff personally, harassing their lawyer or even their family. It doesn’t appear that Scientologists are adverse to almost anything, when attempting to protect church interests.

The recent loss of a libel case in Denmark and another not long ago in England appears to verify this observation. The largest libel judgement ever awarded in Canadian history, was to a lawyer slandered by Scientology. Each case involved a perceived enemy pursued relentlessly by the controversial church.

But despite all its apparent delaying tactics the McPhearson case will finally proceed to trial and a jury will hear the case. And the judge has refused to remove the plaintiff’s lawyer, despite Scientology’s insistence that he is somehow unfit, reports Associated Press.

This means the sad story of Lisa McPhearson, who died allegedly of severe dehydration after 18 days of care within a Scientology facility, will now be heard in court.

That is, unless Scientology makes a last minute settlement with a “gag order,” which the church that has been called a “cult” has done often in the past.

The Mormon Church has a rather odd practice of baptizing the dead.

They believe that by placing faithful members as stand-ins for the deceased they can offer the dead a last chance to receive salvation.

According to a researcher Hitler is listed as a completed baptism, as is Stalin and Ghengis Khan, reports Associated Press.

But not only do the bad need baptism according to Mormons, so do the good. Buddha and the Catholic Saint Joan of Arc are listed along with Anne Frank, a victim of Hitler’s Holocaust.

Sound crazy?

Well according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) their baptism is the only way to reach the “Celestial Kingdom,” which is according to Mormonism, the best neighborhood in heaven.

Two lower and seemingly less “heavenly” neighborhoods are also available, they say.

So Mormons gather genealogy information to identify which dead need their help to get to a better place in the hereafter. This is the primary motivation behind their vast genealogical archives.

However, some folks just don’t appreciate this gesture and apparently feel it’s rather patronizing if not insulting.

Jews in particular have repeatedly told Mormons not to include their ancestors or brethren on such lists. And the Mormons promised not to, or so they said.

Now it appears LDS may have broken its promise.

The concept that such baptisms are necessary comes from the Mormon belief that the LDS is the only “true church” and thus the exclusive organization that can provide salvation on the earth. According to Mormons, other faiths don’t have a valid “priesthood” and therefore their rituals don’t count.

Many theologians might consider this a bit presumptuous and evidence of ethnocentric triumphalism.

Jews seem to feel it’s offensive, disrespectful and simply want to be left alone.