The subject of fake and hoax news stories, including Russian disinformation (what they refer to as dezinformatsiya) has done a great deal to change the way modern society works. Conspiracy theorists are now more trusted than actual news sources and more and more, people can’t tell the difference between total bullshit, biased reporting, or a fair news report that just happens to disagree with their point of view. This has led to a massive shift in public opinion and likely had a significant effect on the election of Donald Trump.
One incident that serves as a perfect example, is “PizzaGate.” One of the most sensational fake news stories that was spread virally through social media was the claim that a child sex ring was ran by Hillary Clinton and/or her campaign manager John Podesta out of a Washington D.C. pizzeria named Comet Ping Pong. The story was absorbed into the anti-Hillary fervor during the 2016 Presidential election. The conspiracy theory has its origins in leaked Podesta emails about food, including an email regarding the restaurant itself. The hashtag #PizzaGate spread the rumor, alleging the pizzeria’s menu had secret codes that were used by pedophiles to order sex. Conspiracy theorists quickly linked Podesta and Comet Ping Pong to the belief in a group of elite pedophile occultists secretly ruling the world (this is a recurring theme in Illuminati conspiracy theories).
The story leapt from Internet crazy to real-life danger when one man, inspired by word-of-mouth retellings of the PizzaGate rumors decided to drive six hours to Comet Ping Pong to investigate. The man, 28 year old Edgar Madison Welch of Salisbury, NC drove from his home to Washington D.C. with a handgun and semi-automatic rifle. Once in D.C., Welch says he abruptly shifted his plans. Instead of “investigating,” Welch decided to come armed with his semi-automatic to “rescue the children.” There were no children held in the pizzeria and Welch surrendered peacefully. Though Welch now feels he acted in haste, he does not believe that the accusations of a pedophile ring in a pizza place were wrong, but that the child sex slaves must be elsewhere.
“The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent”
– Edgar Madison Welch
This story is not new. Mass media being used to spread rumors and innuendo leading to acts of violence now even has its own specific term, stochastic terrorism. The problem is, this is likely to prove a very simplistic and skewed understanding of this new world of digital misinformation, the way this relates to the culture wars, and their potential for inspiring political violence.
It wasn’t just that a massive wave of new internet and social media users that changed the impact of social media in the political discourse, but increasing numbers of rural residents and the elderly are logging on to social media. The YouTube video above illustrates another aspect of this is also a chance for religious extremists to spread their worldview; promoting their belief in a Satanic conspiracy in the highest levels of government (always surrounding Democrats for some reason).
It isn’t just Russian hackers and hucksters spreading leaked and potentially doctored emails alongside fake news stories, dezinformatsiya, and sensational clickbait. Certainly Russians were heavily involved in the 2016 US Election, as well as the Brexit vote, and helped promote and fund various European Far-Right movements but there is still quite a bit of confusion (and denial on the part of the incoming President) as to the level of the Russian interference, the intent, and the actual Russian entity or entities doing the meddling. State actor or bored Runet users, the goal of destroying the “Western Empire” has long been the stated objective of Eurasianists and the election of Donald Trump is only one step in a process of destabilizing their ideological rivals.
There is a cultural legacy of placing special relevance given to word-of-mouth information and advice. People share rumors, opinions and what news they feel is important whether other options exist or not. It is a folkway, a traditional mode of doing information spreading. The fact that you can now do it online has made for an interesting parallel to word-0f-mouth communication. Now people can spread news stories (with or without fact checking) which people either read in full or just check the headline. The town gossip of old is now the Facebook conspiracy theory super-spreader and the Internet, as the story of Pizzagate can attest, has the potential to become a pernicious rumor mill. Only now, with social media, the power to spread rumors has much greater arsenal than the town gossip; YouTube videos, memes, and private Facebook groups make the production of a one-sided conspiracy worldview both easy and potent.
Social theory in the Twentieth Century noted an increase in secularization due presumably to modernity. The term disenchantment of the world coined by Max Weber became an important aspect of conceptualizing the modern world. Now, with social media, the return to the old folkways of social information spreading and fewer barriers between conspiracy theory and millions of people ideologically primed to believe; we are seeing what can only be described as a re-enchantment. The technology this time has led to greater potential for the spread of supernatural claims. The hypothetical has replaced the demonstrable as the most revered level of information. The post-fact era, as it has been called, may also be the era of multiple mass-hysterias, new witch hunts, and a new technological dark age.
It is not uncommon for pseudoscientific beliefs to be picked up and interpreted and absorbed into Religious, Secular, and New Age worldviews. Such is the case with the ideal that there is “something special” about Rh Negative blood factor. A typical example of imprecise jargon within the scientific community rendering the concept mystical to the lay community, paving the way for folk interpretations. This also becomes a case of how any pseudoscientific claim can become proof of a “big conspiracy” when folk belief is met with facts.
RH NEGATIVE BLOOD = BLOOD OF THE GODS”
–Will Rogers, MT33, PhD, B.S., AA., CPT, CLC*
*credentials could not be independently authenticated.
The belief in a divine blood type is simple enough, but first, you have to believe in a few specifics; namely, divinity and its literal physical transfer by blood. Seems simple enough, but not all religious tenets hold to this and even fewer scientific tenets (none, to be exact). Rather than being a subset of fringe or theoretical hematology, this is a byproduct of lay research without the aid of an actual expert or historian to correct those faulty assumptions any researcher can make without proper guidance and insight.
The Facts of the “factor.” The Rhesus or Rh factor, is an antigen that exists on the surface of red blood cells in most people. When discussing the four general blood types, A, B, O and AB, they are also labeled as being with or without the Rh antigen, positive or negative. This references the Rhesus factor of the blood, either with or without the Rhesus factor. 85% of people are Rh+ and the remaining are, thus, Rh-. Rh factor is most relevant medically with regard to blood transfusions and during pregnancy as an Rh factor mix-match between mother and child can cause Rhesus (or Rh) disease. The danger during childbirth is what gave Rh Factor its name. When the first serum to prevent this disease (which was at the time unnamed) was produced and tested it was done using blood from a rhesus macaque monkey, and the blood factor the serum was derived from retained the name rhesus (Rh). Though Rh disease can have severe consequences for infant mortality if untreated, this is where the known impacts of Rh negative disposition end.
It is not clear when the belief in a super extra-normal or metaphysical attribution was first given to Rh negative blood. The first mention I can find occurred in an October 1976 issue of UFO’s Ancient Astronaut Magazine, in an article titled Blood of the Gods. A concise synopsis of the article would be, ‘my family has rhesus negative (Rh-) in our genetics and very high IQs, we may have alien DNA.’ The author mistakenly claims the Rhesus Factor is so named due to the factor being present in rhesus monkeys, having not known the history that gave the antigen serum and, thus, the blood factor their names. The article continues to claim that the Basque region of Spain boasts a higher than average Rh- population and suggests this may have been an alien colony. Aside from some gentle boasting and subtle racializing, this article is the first known print example of claiming Rh negative’s spooky alien derivations.
To those who are Rh+ (or anyone who has no idea what their blood type and factor may be but just hear weird stuff about bloodlines and aliens), the various origin theories have led to peculiar fears and suspicions. Namely, the fear that Rh- people are human/alien hybrids. This proves to be a concern for some people with Rh negative blood who are being accused of being hybrids. This produces the potential for a real modern-day witchhunt that is already playing out online in chatrooms of conspiracy theory websites. Hopefully, education can stave off the potential for such violence, which is part of the reason for the Rh Negative Registry Website.
This is not a hypothetical threat, this is a real life problem that has already resulted in violence. Remember the movie They Live? Kyle Odom did. Kyle Odom also wrote a 21-page manifesto in which he explained why he needed to shoot Idaho pastor Tim Remington. A week after Pastor Tim conducted a very public prayer invocation at a campaign rally for then Presidential Candidate Ted Cruz, Tim was targeted and and shot multiple times by Odom. Odom, a former marine, later sent out a Facebook post explaining his motive, Pastor Tim was a Martian.
Odom’s thoughts on Rh factor are not immediately known, but his belief in Martian mind-control and manipulation were well documented in his manifesto. Odom was later arrested after a manhunt and Pastor Tim recovered and returned to his church in Idaho, but the threat of violence based on total nonsense still exists.
As an aside, folks that believe in alien origin often use this story as a way of describing racial and ethnic difference, sometimes in the same breath as misquoting Bible verse and Apocrypha.
There is a significant religious conspiracy theory that centers on Rh- as well, but it may be less dangerous and more nonsensical than the threat of folks like Kyle Odom. The quote from Dr. Will Rogers (again, his credentials could not be independently verified) appeared at the beginning of a long, rambling Facebook post, replete with loose-associations and various Bible verses taken out of context. Here is a bit more of his post (read if you dare or scroll past):
The Secret Book of John
IS THIS THE SOURCE OF RH NEGATIVE BLOOD???????????
IRON AND CLAY SHOULD NOT MIX…………but they did (Celestial / Fallen Angels and Terrestrial / Homo Sapiens )
“And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.” –Daniel 2:43(KJV)
Where did the Rh negatives come from? Why does the body of an Rh negative mother carrying an Rh positive child reject her own offspring?
If two Rh-Negative people try to have a baby it will usually die or be born a “BLUE Baby”, because it is not processing oxygen properly. That’s why they are called “Blue-Bloods” approximately 5% of the Earth’s population are currently Rh-Negatives.
From man’s primitive point of view, THESE creatures WERE gods! But that was early man’s point of view. Where they really gods? The ancient stories tell us, BUT, THESE STORIES WHERE TAKEN OUT OF THE BIBLE!
Rh-negative women and men have several”Unusual Traits” that Rh-positives don’t have. Some call these attributes…………….REPTILIAN!
Your blood type; A, B, AB, O / neg or pos is given to you so you can make an
ATONEMENT, TO COVER, TO PURGE, TO MAKE RECONCILIATION,TO PACIFY, ATONE OR PIT A TENT
OVER YOUR SOUL.
WHY?? What did your soul do that it needs make an atonement????????
That’s why the blood of Yahushuwah / Jesus was and is so important!
Rh-negative women and men have several “Unusual Traits” that Rh-positives don’t. Some call them “Reptilian Traits”.
WHERE DOES Rh Negative Blood come from? Most people with RH-negative blood have certain characteristics that seem to be common among the majority. Here is a brief list of the most common.
¨ Extra vertebra.
¨ Higher than average IQ
¨ More sensitive vision and other senses.
¨ Lower body temperature
¨ Higher blood pressure
¨ Increased occurrence of psychic/intuitive abilities
¨ Predominantly blue, green, or Hazel eyes
¨ Red or reddish hair
¨ Has increased sensitivity to heat and sunlight
¨ Cannot be cloned
¨ Alien Abduction and other unexplained phenomenon
A person with type O negative blood is considered to be a “Universal Donor”….ie….
UNIVERSAL BLOOD or original blood. It means YOUR BLOOD can be given to man, mankind (a kind of man) and human (hue=color or bent man),regardless of their blood type, without causing a transfusion reaction. “O” NEGATIVE BLOOD is………
OTHER WORLDLY ….IE …..NOT OF THIS WORLD!!!!!!!!
This collection of odd pseudo-science and pseudo-religious conjecture marks some of the more confusing claims about Rh- people and the Rh Negative blood factor. The belief that Rhesus Negative really means non-primate (which, again, was due to simple choice in nomenclature; read here and here) has led to several wild assumptions. The potential confusion that such a misnomer could cause, I am sure, they had not foreseen. Here’s hoping that the conflation of Rh Negative blood and extra-human origins ends or, at the very least, does not result in the harm of anyone, regardless of their blood type.
Full disclosure: I still have no idea of my blood type.
If you follow the 2016 Presidential campaign trail closely, you have most certainly seen video from recent Trump campaign rallies. If you do, you will notice an ever-increasing number of African-Americans in the background. They, and occasionally some white Trump supporters, regularly holding up signs emblazoned with the words “Blacks for Trump.” If that were all they said, then the anomalous ideological content of the sign-holders would likely be forever a matter of speculation.
Luckily, for students of conspiracism and anomalistic beliefs, that was not the case.
Meet Michael Symonette, AKA Maurice Woodside, AKA Michael the Black Man. Symonette is the man organizing the “Blacks for Trump” group at various Trump rallies in Florida and in recent Presidential debates. Symonette is also a former alumnus of the Yahweh Ben Yahweh cult.
After the prosecution of Yahweh Ben Yahweh’s charismatic preacher, Hulon Mitchell Jr, along with several other YBY members for conspiracy to commit murder and implicated in brutal case of mutilations and ritual beheadings (Michael was tried and acquitted), Symonette worked as a musician before starting an independent far right radio station in Miami espousing anti-gay, anti-muslim rhetoric. The radical politics, however, were part and parcel of the Yahweh Ben Yahweh tradition.
So what does the main African-American Trump supporter believe?
“One reason is because Hillary’s last name is Rodham, and their family members are Rothchilds, who enslaved 13,000 slaves as collateral … She’s also on camera kissing the head of the Ku Klux Klan and saying, ‘That’s my mentor.’ That’s all on my website.”
That website’s url, Gods2.com, is on most of the signs Symonette and friends bring to Trump rallies. But a visit to the website reveals a confusing mess of false hyperlinks, 48 pt. font doomsayer proclamations, and a confusing barrage of Bible verse citations and proclamations of the greatness that is Donald Trump and the sullen harlotry that is Hillary Clinton.
By Falsely accusing Trump of being a War Monger that’s why Hillary keeps saying on Liberal Media with Fox repeating naively that Trump might push the Nuclear button & she says she won’t put boots on the ground in Middle East which is the vally of Jehosaphat
The fact is she knows that she will cause Armageddon deliberately just being President because God has said she will not be saved, so because she’s doomed she wants everybody to be Killed to Rev.2:20-23.
Trump’s Female problems are phony because Deut.19:15-18, Exo.22:10 & the Constitution art.3 sec.3#1. Says u must have 2 eye witnesses to prove Guilt. gods2.com
That’s right, he signs his writings on his website with his web url.
Symonette has been a major GOP supporter before Trump, at times supporting Rick Santorum and being lauded by Glenn Beck as proof of the existence of burgeoning Black Conservatism.
Of course, Symonette, is not the only “Black for Trump.” Regularly joining him at Trump rallies are Eddie Jules and Anthony Williams. Jules ran for Miami-Dade County sheriff despite no experience and Kaufman is a self-proclaimed sovereign citizen and Hebrew-Israelite.
Together, this trio, often good for a laugh in the Miami-Dade area are taking their show, and a few of their friends onto the Trump Train. If the regularity with which these three are brought to the front to be placed behind Donald Trump is any indication, they have truly found their true home.
If you can’t get enough of your new favorite crazy Michael/Maurice has a YouTube page under his real (?) name, Maurice Woodside, and it is all the scatological raving mess that his website is. A beautiful chaos, a perfect alternative to waterboarding.
Enter this rabbit-hole at your own risk.
Update: Maurice Symonette has yet another alias. He currently is also known as Maurice Warns and was a darling of pro-Trump fringe websites when he organized a makeshift Trump rally outside of the DNC office in Hollywood Florida.
Another addition to the Michael/Maurice Symonette story is that he continued to follow Trump into Washington D.C. and was seen behind Ted Cruz during a hastened press encounter after Jeff Sessions confirmation hearing ended. Symonette was behind Cruz holding a white hat with the presidential seal with the words “Blacks for Trump” written in magic marker on the bill.
He and about a dozen of his friends (or followers?) were highly visible during Donald Trump’s February 18th, 2017 rally in Melbourne Florida holding signs that said “Trump 2020.” It begins to dawn on me that Symonette and Trump have a similar fondness for being seen.
For more on Michael/Maurice, check this piece on The Ave.
A right-wing Christian pastor warned on his radio program that the Pokémon GO cell phone game undoubtedly had sinister portents.
Rick Wiles, who frequently warns the apocalypse is near, called police last week after spotting a middle-aged man apparently taking pictures with his phone outside his “TruNews” offices — but officers told him the man was playing the augmented reality game, reported Right Wing Watch.
That freaked Wiles all the way out, and he let his imagination run wild.
“These Pokémon creatures are like virtual, cyber-demons,” Wiles said. “What this man, Friday, was trying to find was the Pokémon demon that had been placed inside the ‘Trunews’ office.”
Wiles worried that terrorists could use information harvested by the app to target Christians.
“What if this technology is transferred to Islamic jihadists, and Islamic jihadists have an app that shows them where Christians are located geographically?” Wiles said.
The game places “PokeStops” an “Pokémon gyms” at churches, in addition to homesand businesses, but that was enough to terrify Wiles.
“The enemy, Satan, is targeting churches with virtual, digital, cyber-demons,” Wiles said. “I believe this thing is a magnet for demonic powers.”
It didn’t have to be terrorists, he warned, saying everyday Americans could be tricked into doing the wicked bidding of these “cyber-demons.”
“At what point does this game go live and the Pokemon masters are telling people to kill people in those buildings?” Wiles said. “People are losing touch with reality.”
He compared Pokémon GO to the Facebook Live broadcast of a traffic stop that led to Philando Castile’s fatal shooting, saying it showed how digital technology could alter reality.
“I thought, either this is staged or she has lost touch with reality,” Wiles said. “Which one is it? Both of them are weird and frightening.”
Wiles’ co-host, Edward Szall, agreed — and he backed up their argument with a fake quote by the creator of Pokémon that supposedly endorsed Satanism.
“They’re spawning demons inside your church,” Wiles said. “They’re targeting your church with demonic activity. This technology will be used by the enemies of the cross to target, locate and execute Christians.”
See Also: Rick Wiles says Pokemon Go will be used to located and murder Christians (RWW)
In October, 2015, the Catholic Church conducted a synod (or doctrinal council) on the family (more specifically, the Catholic Church’s stance on issues relating to the family). In the wake of conspirative discussion leading up to the synod, Pope Francis warned synod fathers against “the hermeneutic of conspiracy” which he stated as “sociologically weak and spiritually unhelpful.”
Though this statement was apparently a momentary caution against rumors that the Pope was attempting to subvert the church’s stance of issues related to the family, the statement (and the larger subject) is one that resonates if not in every aspect of modern life, at least in contemporary American political and social life.
Hermeneutics in Social Life.
Hermeneutics originally referred to the ways of interpreting religious and philosophical texts, specifically to interpretation of scripture. In the sense that hermeneutics is now a wider used ‘theory of understanding’, it has effected how almost every social science discipline is conducted (though, not always welcome). As a study, Hermeneutics has focused on interpretation of texts; Sociology being an exception as it is used to understand the meaning of social events.
To understand the meaning of an event, so the theory goes, it is important to comprehend both the historical and social context in which that event occurs.
Hermeneutic of Conspiracy.
The singular, hermeneutic, refers to a specific mode of understanding and interpretation. When considering the political and social mindset of Americans at large, a hermeneutic of conspiracy reveals itself.
One year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, as if aware that this would appear to some in the future as the genesis of some new American ‘conspiracism’, Richard Hofstadter wrote a lengthy refresher course on the long history of the Paranoid Style in American Politics.
The long history in America of anti-Intellectualism, Nativist Populism, fear and distrust of ethnic, religious, and political outsiders (the various anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-Communist, anti-Masonic, anti-Asian movements) and their associated laws restricting or removing access to Life, Liberty, and Property all come with a built-in conspiracy narrative.
The Hermeneutic of Conspiracy, at least in America, is as follows:
An alien ‘out group’ wishes to infiltrate America and attain dominance.
This alien force is willing to use deceit to achieve these aims.
The alien interlopers have uncanny skill in deceit and trickery.
Some within the proper ‘in group’ have already been deceived, any alliance with the interlopers is proof of treason.
The only valid recourse is the removal or subjugation of the ‘out group’ by any means necessary.
This hermeneutic was applied to Catholics in the anti-Papist Movement in the 1840s and 1850s, to Communists after WWII, to Jewish people before WWII, and to Americans of Japanese descent, most notably, during WWII.
The Current Revolt in the Hermeneutic.
The simplistic, linear American conspiracy hermeneutic is currently metastasizing. The end of the Cold War, the growth of Globalization as a social and economic trend, the advent and subsequent advancements of the Internet and Social Media have made it possible (almost inevitable) that a multiplicity of conspiracy theories simultaneously exist, overlap, seemingly contradict yet remain apparently coalesce.
The following is one very recent example.
The perceived threat of religiously inspired persecution of Christians in America is at the center of some of the most vociferous and unhinged conspiracy theories today. In them, non-Denominational and Evangelical Christians claim that the Catholic Pope Francis is attempting a syncretism between Christianity and Islam to create the One Religion of the Book of Revelations; this new religion, called ‘Chrislam‘, will be mandatory forcing Christians to choose between conversion or Death.
If the implication of a union between the Catholic Church and Islam seems far-fetched, consider suggestion by prominent Evangelicals that Muslims and Homosexuals are somehow in league. This particular nonsense, spread by Pat Robertson and others, came to light in the wake of the Orlando Massacre at the Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016 but had been floated recently in Christian conspiracy theory groups as an explanation for the existence of transgender peoples, gay marriage, and the apparent dissolution of traditional gender roles and heteronormativity in America. In effect, the Right Wing Christian hermeneutic of conspiracy places blame on a coalition between Catholics, Muslims, & the LGBT Community for all issues that they believe are unnatural and undesirable social events.
It is claims such as these that make it hard to not accuse the believers of playing a morbid prank. From a sociological perspective, however, this is just one more reason that a hermeneutic of conspiracy need be further investigated.
The Followers of Christ is a religious sect that preaches faith healing in states such as Idaho, which offers a faith-based shield for felony crimes – despite alarming child mortality rates among these groups
Mariah Walton’s voice is quiet – her lungs have been wrecked by her illness, and her respirator doesn’t help. But her tone is resolute.
“Yes, I would like to see my parents prosecuted.”
“They deserve it.” She pauses. “And it might stop others.”
Mariah is 20 but she’s frail and permanently disabled. She has pulmonary hypertension and when she’s not bedridden, she has to carry an oxygen tank that allows her to breathe. At times, she has had screws in her bones to anchor her breathing device. She may soon have no option for a cure except a heart and lung transplant – an extremely risky procedure.
All this could have been prevented in her infancy by closing a small congenital hole in her heart. It could even have been successfully treated in later years, before irreversible damage was done. But Mariah’s parents were fundamentalist Mormons who went off the grid in northern Idaho in the 1990s and refused to take their children to doctors, believing that illnesses could be healed through faith and the power of prayer.
As she grew sicker and sicker, Mariah’s parents would pray over her and use alternative medicine. Until she finally left home two years ago, she did not have a social security number or a birth certificate.
Had they been in neighboring Oregon, her parents could have been booked for medical neglect. In Mariah’s case, as in scores of others of instances of preventible death among children in Idaho since the 1970s, laws exempt dogmatic faith healers from prosecution, and she and her sister recently took part in a panel discussion with lawmakers at the state capitol about the issue. Idaho is one of only six states that offer a faith-based shield for felony crimes such as manslaughter.
Some of those enjoying legal protection are fringe Mormon families like Mariah’s, many of whom live in the state’s north. But a large number of children have died in southern Idaho, near Boise, in families belonging to a reclusive, Pentecostal faith-healing sect called the Followers of Christ.
In Canyon County, just west of the capital, the sect’s Peaceful Valley cemetery is full of graves marking the deaths of children who lived a day, a week, a month. Last year, a task force set up by Idaho governor Butch Otter estimated that the child mortality rate for the Followers of Christ between 2002 and 2011 was 10 times that of Idaho as a whole.
The shield laws that prevent prosecutions in Idaho are an artifact of the Nixon administration. High-profile child abuse cases in the 1960s led pediatricians and activists to push for laws that [combat] it. In order to help states fund such programs, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (Capta), which Richard Nixon signed in 1974.
But there was a fateful catch due to the influence of Nixon advisers John Ehrlichman and J R Haldeman, both lifelong Christian Scientists.
Boston College history professor Alan Rogers explains how the men – later jailed for their role in the Watergate scandal – were themselves members of a faith-healing sect, and acted to prevent their co-religionists being charged with crimes of neglect.
“Because Ehrlichman and Haldeman were Christian Scientists, they had inserted into the law a provision that said those who believe that prayer is the only way to cure illness are exempted from this law,” he said.
They also ensure that states had to pass similar exemptions in order to access Capta funds. The federal requirement was later relaxed, but the resultant state laws have had to be painstakingly repealed one by one.
Some states, such as Oregon, held on longer until high-profile deaths in the Followers of Christ church in Oregon City attracted the attention of local media; over time the state reversed course.
As a result, several Followers of Christ members in Oregon have been successfully prosecuted. In 2010, Jeffrey and Marci Beagley were convicted of criminally negligent homicide after the death of their toddler, Neal, who died from a congenital bladder blockage. In 2011, Timothy and Rebecca Wyland were convicted of criminal mistreatment and the court ordered that their daughter Aylana be medically treated for the growth that had been threatening to blind her. Later that year, Dale and Shannon Hickman were convicted of second-degree manslaughter two years after their newborn son died of a simple infection.
Next door, Idaho presents a polar opposition to Oregon. Republicans, who enjoy an effective permanent majority in the state house, are surprisingly reluctant to even consider reform. Last year, the governor’s Task Force on Children at Risk recommended change: “Religious freedoms must be protected; but vulnerable children must also be appropriately protected from unnecessary harm and death.” Democratic legislator John Gannon proposed a repeal bill which he “never thought would really be that controversial”.
The chairman of the senate health and welfare committee, Lee Heider, refused to even grant it a hearing, effectively killing it.
Brian Hoyt, who lives in Boise, grew up in the Followers of Christ church.
Hoyt is a fit 43, and lives in a well-scrubbed suburban neighborhood. He runs a successful window cleaning business that started with a squeegee mop and a bucket after his teenage escape from home left him with no cash and few educational opportunities. When I visited him, his house was being renovated – what was once a “barebones bachelor pad” now accommodates his partner and step-children. Slowly, Hoyt has developed the capacity for family life, after a life in the sect left him “unable to relate to families” for a long time. “I didn’t understand the concept,” he said.
He lost his faith around the age of five, when a baby died in his arms in the course of a failed healing. While elders prayed, Hoyt was in charge of removing its mucus with a suction device. He was told that the child died because of his own lack of faith. Something snapped, and he remembers thinking: “How can this possibly be God’s work?” His apostasy set up lifelong conflicts with his parents and church elders.
In just one incident, when he was 12, Hoyt broke his ankle during a wrestling tryout. “I ended up shattering two bones in my foot,” he said. His parents approached the situation with the usual Followers remedies – rubbing the injury with “rancid olive oil” and having him swig on Kosher wine.
Intermittently, they would have him attempt to walk. Each time, “my body would just go into shock and I would pass out”.
“I would wake up to my step-dad, my uncles and the other elders of the church kicking me and beating me, calling me a fag, because I didn’t have enough faith to let God come in and heal me, while my mom and my aunts were sitting there watching. And that’s called faith healing.”
He had so much time off with the untreated fracture that his school demanded a medical certificate to cover the absence. Forced to take him to a doctor, his mother spent most of the consultation accusing the doctor of being a pedophile.
He was given a cast and medication but immediately upon returning home, the medication was flushed down the toilet, leaving him with no pain relief. His second walking cast was cut off by male relatives at home with a circular saw.
Other people who have left the group, such as Linda Martin, told similar tales of coercion, failed healing using only rancid olive oil, and a high level of infant mortality, isolation and secrecy. Violence, she said, was “the reason I left home. My childhood and Brian’s were very similar.” Deaths from untreated illness are attributed to “God’s will. Their lives are dominated by God’s will.”
Martin and Hoyt have both lobbied to change the laws, with Martin in particular devoting years of patient research to documenting deaths and other church activities. Hoyt has faced harassment online and at his home, and church members have even tried to undermine his business.
So far, their testimonies of abuse have not convinced Idaho’s Republican legislators. Senator Heider, for one, describes the Followers of Christ as “very nice people”.
Child advocate and author Janet Heimlich, who has campaigned against exemptions around the country, says that Heider told her before the legislative session began that “he would carry the bill” and helped with the production of a draft, but by the time the session began in October he indicated that no bill would be passed or even heard.
Heider’s repeated response to these claims was a welter of contradictions and bluster.
After telling the Guardian that no bill was lodged (John Gannon confirmed that he did, as was reported in local media in February) and that he had been told by the attorney general and the Canyon County prosecuting attorney that the laws did not need to change (both men deny saying this), Heider took refuge in the US constitution.
“Republicans didn’t feel the need to change the laws. We believe in the first amendment to the constitution. I don’t think that states have a right to interfere in religions.”
When pressed on the fact that children are dying unnecessarily as a result of exemptions, Heider makes an odd comparison.
“Are we going to stop Methodists from reading the New Testament? Are we going to stop Catholics receiving the sacraments? That’s what these people believe in. They spoke to me and pointed to a tremendous number of examples where Christ healed people in the New Testament.”
Heider blamed outsiders for stirring the pot on this issue, even challenging the Guardian’s right to take an interest in the story, asking “what difference does it make to you?” and adding “is the United States coming in and trying to change Idaho’s laws?” He confirmed that he attended a Followers of Christ service last year – a rare privilege for an outsider from a group that refuses to speak to reporters.
But if we take Heider at his word concerning the reasons for his opposition, his view of the constitution is simply mistaken.
Alan Rogers, the Boston College history professor, points to a string of US supreme court decisions that distinguish between freedom of belief and freedom of practice, which affirm the former and limit the latter where it causes harm. These stretch back as far as Reynolds v United States in 1878, which forbade Mormon polygamy, and include Prince v Massachusetts, which affirmed the federal government’s ability to secure the welfare of children even when it conflicts with religious belief.
Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates, has long researched the connection between religion and conservatism. He points out that “almost all American politicians are cowards when it comes to religion”.
Religious liberty is a powerful idea, and a great achievement in the history of western civilization, but “it’s also used as a tool by the rich and the powerful, and by politicians who want to look the other way”.
There’s also the fact that conservatives have been mobilizing religious liberty in recent years, first as a reason to kill same-sex marriage at the state level, and now to limit the scope of the supreme court’s decision that it cannot be outlawed by states.
While Idaho legislators stonewall, children in faith-healing communities continue to suffer.
According to coroners’ reports, in Canyon County alone just in the past decade at least 10 children in the Followers of Christ church have died. These include 15-year-old Arrian Granden, who died in 2012 after contracting food poisoning. She vomited so much that her esophagus ruptured. Untreated, she bled to death.
The other deaths are mostly infants who died during at-home births or soon after from treatable complications, simple infections or pneumonia.
In one Canyon County report on the death of an infant called Asher Sevy, we see the difficulty that the shield laws create for local authorities.
When Sevy died in 2006, a Canyon County coroner’s deputy attended by two sheriff’s deputies asked to take the body away for an autopsy. According to the coroner’s account, the family “were very much against this for any reason”, and informed the deputy that she “was not going with me or anyone else” and removal would have to be done “forcefully”.
After a liaison with the county’s chief deputy and the prosecutor’s office, the assembled county officials decided to leave “rather than escalate a problem that could be worse than it was now”. The conclusion? “The cause [of death] will go down as undetermined.”
Autopsies are at the coroner’s discretion, and the deputy, Bill Kirby, did write that at the time there was “no evidence of a crime”. The incident is unsettling, though.
Canyon County coroner Vicki DeGeus-Morriss, who has been in office since 1991, refused to speak directly with the Guardian. However Joe Decker, a county spokesman, insisted that the coroner and other officials had been successful in building a better relationship with the Followers.
“Back when Vicki first took office, the Followers rarely, if ever, reported a death. And when they did, they would often be uncooperative with both the Coroner and law enforcement when they arrived on scene,” Decker said. Now, they “have a relationship in which every single death is reported and autopsies are almost always performed”.
For the outsider, there may still be something unsatisfying about this – a lingering impression that exemptions from child abuse prosecutions have led Followers to form the impression that the law can be negotiated with.
Nevertheless, local officials can’t make laws, only enforce them. The frustration at the local effects of shield laws was perhaps evident in the support that Canyon County prosecutor Brian Taylor gave to efforts to change the laws.
Campaigners such as Mariah Walton, Janet Heimlich, Linda Martin and Brian Hoyt are determined not to let this matter rest in the next legislative session.
A new “Let Them Live” campaign, involving a television ad campaign featuring Mariah, is being coordinated by Bruce Wingate at Protect Idaho Kids. Resources are limited, but all are confident that improved public awareness will build pressure on legislators.
Gannon, the Democratic legislator, says for his part that his bill will be back next year. “It’s not going to go away,” he says. “Dead children don’t care about the first amendment.”
“I am honored to have the support of so many courageous conservatives in Colorado,” Cruz said in a press release celebrating the formation of “his Colorado Leadership Team with the endorsement of 25 current and former elected officials and key grassroots leaders,” including Klingenschmitt.
Some might recognize Klingenschmitt from a Daily Show segment just last week in which his ignorance and bigotry were on full display, but for those unfamiliar with “Dr. Chaps,” as he likes to be called, allow us to fill you in.
Back in 2006, Klingenschmitt was booted out of the Navy for wearing his uniform at a political rally, in violation of military regulations, though he claimed, of course, that he was the victim of anti-Christian persecution (and that God even sent a hurricane as a show of support for him), thus beginning his career as a Religious Right activist.
In 2014, Klingenschmitt won a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives and his tenure in office, unsurprisingly, has been marked by controversy. He was stripped of his seat on the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee in his first year in office after claiming on his “Pray In Jesus Name” television program that a brutal attack on a pregnant woman in the state was due to the “curse of God upon America” for legal abortion:
Klingenschmitt has declared that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy should never have been repealed since gay soldiers cannot serve effectively in combat because they are constantly “taking breaks on the combat field to change diapers all because their treacherous sin causes them to lose control of their bowels.” He also proclaims that those who are not welcome in the church should not be entitled to use public restrooms.
Klingenschmitt has repeatedly warned that allowing gays to serve in the Boy Scoutswill lead to “more homosexual molestation of young boys,” that gays need conversion therapy to “get the Devil out” and stated last year that a crane collapse in Mecca that killed over 100 Muslim worshipers was “the consequence of their sin” for “praying to Satan“:
And Ted Cruz is so “honored” to have Klingenschmitt’s support that he has placed him on his Colorado leadership team.