Jul 12, 2012

Religious Abuse: Animal Cruelty Edition

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

The Banality of Evil

Nearly a year ago, after Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison, I wrote something about the phenomenon of religious abuse and speculated that Jeffs's incarceration would not stop the cycle of abuse. Obviously, I was proved right. News of Jeffs's continuing influence keeps trickling out. But I really wasn't prepared for some of the horrors that are occurring under the control of this megalomaniacal pederast. Colorado City and other FLDS communities remain as Jeffs's fiefdoms, with a substantial membership acting as brutal enforcers. The latest casualty? A kitten. Yes, that's right. Some follower -- or followers -- of Jeffs tortured a kitten to death simply to send a message. (This link contains graphic images. Click with care.)

Controversial Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints (FLDS) leader Warren Jeffs’ polygamous sect is accused of sending a cat buried alive in a bucket of concrete to a former church member as a threat. Jeffs was convicted last year on felony charges related to sexual relationships with underage girls, according to The Blaze. A dangerous fast landed the FLDS leader in the hospital in critical condition after his incarceration began. The fundamentalist church once again made headlines after a cat in concrete was sent to a man who had “abandoned the radical sect” as a warning.

AZ Family notes that other former FLDS followers claim to have received similar shocking threats. Isaac Wyler was excommunicated in 2004. He recently discovered the kitten buried in a concrete bucket inside a pipe in his yard. Wyler considers the incident a “threatening message” to “encourage” his silence about the FLDS. Since leaving the FLDS, Wyler has been very outspoken in his opposition to the polygamous sect.

Isaac Wyler has been a thorn in Jeffs's side for years and has been on the receiving end of a lot of threats and intimidation by FLDS enforcers. One of the more telling details in this atrocity points to the scope of the problem. (This link contains graphic images and video. Click with care.)

Chatwin, who left the FLDS 13 years ago, believes the cruel act was done by members of his former church. He claims both the threats and the animal killings have been going on for years.

Chatwin also claims that when he reported the cruel act to Colorado City sheriffs, they didn't seem too concerned.

"[The officer] kind of chuckled and laughed a little bit and then he said that if it was up to him, he'd just throw dirt on [the cat]," Chatwin said. "And this is coming from a city marshal who's a member of the FLDS Church."

To be clear, the kitten was not yet dead. It died later under veterinary care. It was suffering, with most of its body stuck in hard cement, and their "solution" was to "throw dirt" on it. This is not the first indication that the police and other civil authorities, in FLDS strongholds like Colorado City, work for Jeffs, not the citizens of those communities. The problem has gotten bad enough to require intervention from the federal government. In June they filed lawsuits against two FLDS dominated towns.

According to the Justice Department sect members in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hill Dale, Utah have been forcing nonbelievers out. The feds call it discrimination and they want it to stop.

They say it's happening because FLDS members control everything that counts in these places from the town hall to the tap water.

. . .

"The police force in Colorado City is, without a doubt, the most crooked police department in the country," said private investigator Sam Brower.

Arizona's legislature had attempted to deal with the problem of Colorado City by passing a bill that would have dissolved any police department that had lost half its membership to legal problems. Six of twelve Colorado City cops were decertified for crimes like bigamy and child abuse. The bill passed the State Senate but died in the House when reps from the area defended the FLDS community. Said reps seem to have no idea what actually goes on in Colorado City and spend their visits there at invisible little league games in a town that has no such thing.

Armed with the Justice Department's legal action, Arizona's Mohave County last week added its own police patrols to Colorado City.

The patrols come after a complaint was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against the Colorado City government and local marshal’s office alleging civil rights violations.

The complaint, which was announced on June 21, alleges the Colorado City Marshal’s Office “routinely uses its enforcement authority to enforce the edicts and will of the FLDS; fails to protect non-FLDS individuals from victimization by FLDS individuals; refuses to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies’ investigations of FLDS individuals; selectively enforces laws against non-FLDS; and uses its authority to facilitate unlawful evictions of non-FLDS, among other unlawful conduct.”

Apparently, that includes conduct like laughing off the torture of small, defenseless animals.

The involvement of federal authorities puts me in mind of another ongoing dispute I've been watching unfold with no small degree of fascination, in a region not far from where I grew up. The FBI recently became involved in a local fracas within the seemingly quiet Amish community. Federal prosecutors brought hate crime charges against Bishop Samuel Mullet and a group of his enforcers for cutting the hair and beards of Amish citizens in other local communities. Thus far, those charges have stood up to legal challenge.

It's dicey. At what point does this become a church/state issue? This is exactly what the Amish defendants are arguing -- that both the local and federal governments are intervening in religious matters. But the crimes are horrible, even sadistic. Cutting of hair and beards violates Amish religious custom. And there are reports of Bishop Mullet putting his own male parishioners in chicken coops and sleeping with their wives as punishment for various infractions.

We're back to the conundrum that always arises when dealing with mind control cults. Are people exercising freedom of religion when their decisions are manipulated or coerced by a charismatic leader? What legal intervention is fair in those circumstances and how much of the internal process of any religious group is protected under the First Amendment? In both of the above cases, however, the crimes affected people who were not directly under the religious authority of the religious sects involved, which would seem to open up a pretty clear legal path. And other legal interventions have occurred when crimes were committed that are clearly not First Amendment protected. The sexual abuse of minors has been a prominent feature in both instances and landed Warren Jeffs in prison, most likely for the rest of his life. Fairly, I think.

Sex abuse and other thoroughly degrading offenses are at least as typical in cases of religious abuse as in an any top-down, authoritarian, insular, environment. And, of course, the seamy underbelly of the Catholic Church, continues to be exposed in one horrible revelation after another.

One of the biggest embarrassments for the Vatican has been the Legionaries of Christ, whose charismatic leader Marcial Maciel Degollado turned out to be a pedophile and drug addict with multiple mistresses and children under a false identity. He was most likely a psychopath. They can be so charming. But the entire enterprise had to be brought under Vatican control when what was long known by Church insiders became public. Just recently it was learned that their new leader Rev. Thomas Williams had fathered a child. Now come new charges of horrible abuses at a Legionaries facility here in the US.

Dozens of women who attended a high school run by the disgraced Legion of Christ religious order have urged the Vatican to close the program, saying the psychological abuse they endured trying to live like teenage nuns led to multiple cases of anorexia, stress-induced migraines, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

The women sent a letter this weekend to the pope's envoy running the Legion to denounce the manipulation, deception and disrespect they say they suffered at the hands of counselors barely older than themselves at the Rhode Island school. For some, the trauma required years of psychological therapy that cost them tens of thousands of dollars.

The Immaculate Conception Academy in Wakefield, RI, is one of a number of Legionarie feeder schools. It's numbers have now dwindled to the point where it has had to be blended with a sister school in another state. Very few girls had the dubious honor of graduating and moving on to the "consecrated" level. For many who were rejected the shame was intolerable. One shares that for her it was tantamount to rejection by God. But this was after a long process of psychological softening.

A number of the former students have compiled a blog to tell their stories. The most intriguing insight into what happened at the school comes from one of the counselors who tortured these girls.

Those of you who were told you didn’t have a vocation probably did not feel the mold of the perfect 3gf or you weren't easy to brainwash - you thought for yourselves and were not "docile." If any of you had an obvious best friend, we got really scared and concluded you did not have a call. If you had a “particular friendship,” you would be asked to leave, or we would be overly strict with you so you would decide to leave on your own. We all definitely thought we were doing God's will. Sometimes something we said to a PC came directly from a vicedirector or director who asked us to mention it to a certain PC, sometimes we didn´t even know why, but we trusted... No one saw you as an END, only as a MEANS to benefit the Movement and enlarge the numbers for the consecrated life.

. . .

We had very clear guidelines on our role and on how to lead you, but authority was given too much power and too little responsibility. Everyone was taught to treat those in authority like little gods and never to question them, correct them or doubt them. That was unbalanced and made our defects, flaws, mistakes and egotism influence our actions and attitudes. No one consciously thought she was damaging the PCs, but I bet many of us did question if those means were right.

. . .

Once upon a time, a territorial director came to visit. The topic of one of the meetings was that we realized we had divided PCs in 3 groups (accidentally): "future formators" (leaders, good recruiters or very obedient PC's who influenced others), trouble/issue/always sick/reluctant PCs and THE NORMALS!!! hahahahaha We realized we were not dedicating time or attention to the normals because we had our hands full with all the goals they gave us to form the FF and trying to make peace with the trouble PCs. So we had all these resolutions to attend to the "normals". Believe it or not, if you were on the "normals" list, you are probably not hurting much now, did not feel pressure to leave or stay, we did not worry if you never went for dependence and we did not inform much about you. [All Emphases Added]

Identified by the Associated Press as Lourdes Martinez, the former counselor fleshed out the details in a press interview. She is forthright about the wrongs she had committed and how they fit into a pattern of overall abuse. She also drops a bomb about some of the "informing" counselors did. It included giving intel to the priests who heard the girls' confessions and used the confessional as God's own echo chamber.

Often, information from the weekly reports written about each girl's development would be shared with the priests who heard her confession – a striking violation of privacy. The priests could then reinforce the directors' decisions in confession with the girls, she said.

"So she's hearing this from everyone and thinks it's the Holy Spirit talking. And we would say `Yes, of course,'" Martinez told the AP in a phone interview from Monterrey, Mexico.

Martinez described an almost "Lord of the Flies"-like situation in which the counselors were barely older than the girls under their care, with no experience in adolescent development. The counselors themselves lived with the fear that they must obey the rules and their superiors or risk violating God's will.

And that last is what makes Martinez's honest recounting so fascinating. She seems like a well-meaning sort but she participated in horrible abuses that she and others knew weren't appropriate when they were doing them. And this is how abuse, including religious abuse, becomes institutionalized and becomes part of a self-sustaining system that subsumes identity and diffuses individual responsibility. It's the bulwark for the banality of evil.

Banality of evil is a phrase coined by Hannah Arendt in the title of her 1963 work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.[1] Her thesis is that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths, but by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal.

Explaining this phenomenon, Edward S. Herman has emphasized the importance of "normalizing the unthinkable." According to him, "doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on 'normalization.' This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as 'the way things are done.'"[2]

Marcial Maciel didn't need to be in Rhode Island and Warren Jeffs can cause a kitten to die even as he's babbles incoherently away in a prison cell. Once these systems are in place, the tyranny pretty much runs itself. This is because a) the fish rots from the head down, and b) any hierarchical system can become an abuse factory. Let me repeat that: Any hierarchical system can become an abuse factory.

The fact that anyone can devolve into an abuser is the reason that Phillip Zimbardo had to abort the Stanford Prison Experiment. He, himself, began to act in an aberrant manner, despite the fact that he was a brilliant educator and researcher who knew the objectives of his own study. He was seduced by adulation. He fell into the trap of power. Very fine people can and do become abusers when they receive enough encouragement to do so. What both Stan Milgram and Phil Zimbardo have demonstrated clearly with their work is that human beings have some pretty dark impulses and when the power of a system absorbs the responsibility and gives us permission, we tend to play them out. And when you have a charismatic leader sitting at the top, setting the tone for sadistic behavior, all bets are off.

As an experiment, try reading Martinez's post in full and then watch the video I've posted below, which contains footage from the study and Zimbardo's commentary. (Warning: It's graphic and disturbing. I've seen the documentary. I don't want to watch it again. Chilling.) The parallels are hard to miss. For instance, near the end of the video, Zimbardo explains how when a new participant was brought in midway, who hadn't been conditioned the way the others had and displayed resistance, it became the singular objective of the "guards" to break down that "prisoner." As Zimbardo says, "He should have been the hero." It is exactly what Martinez describes in her blog post -- the students who weren't "docile" were targeted. In any hierarchy conformity and submissiveness to leadership are the goal. It's only a matter of degrees.

It is easy to blame the people who carry water for dangerous, charismatic leaders. They're responsible for their actions, for sure. And when they have integrity, they come forward and make amends, as Lourdes Martinez has done. But we're kidding ourselves if we think we'd do better. Except that I know, that I know, that I know, that I would never pack a live kitten in cement. That's unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

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