Here’s another repost from the original blog. I wrote this in January 2019, just before the old blog went “poof”. I am reposting it as/is here, since I recently reviewed Not Without My Sister, a book about sisters who were raised in the Children of God cult. This was the first post I wrote about this cult; I first heard about it on the A&E series mentioned below.
Having now exhausted Leah Remini’s Scientology episodes, at least for now, I moved on to another A&E series hosted by Elizabeth Vargas, called Cults and Extreme Belief. Since yesterday afternoon, I’ve seen three episodes. The first two, about NXIVM and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, were disturbing enough. But the third one, about the Children of God (now known as The Family International), made me stop and blog.
Before I watched the show, I had heard a little bit about this religious cult, founded in California in the 1960s by a charismatic preacher named David Berg. Originally called “Teens for Christ”, this group mostly consisted of runaways and hippies, and preached to each other about salvation, happiness, and a coming apocalypse. Creepy founder, David Berg, was frequently known by the alias Moses David, and gave himself the titles of “King”, “The Last Endtime Prophet”, “Moses”, and “David”. His first wife, Jane Miller, married him in 1944 and divorced him in 1970, two years after he started his cult. Berg married his second wife, Karen Zerby, in 1970. She is currently leading The Family International, since Berg died in October 1994.
One thing that struck me about this cult is that it was full of musically talented people, children in particular. One of the children involved was Berg’s granddaughter, Merry, who was also known as Mene. Merry, who died in her sleep in December 2017, was fifteen days older than I am. She was musically talented and very ethereal looking, with beautiful blonde hair. Merry was featured on musical recordings done by Children of God, as well as videos.
Other talented children were also used to make songs about love and sex, and some were also forced to do strip teases. Aside from that, there was rampant sexual abuse. Merry was one of the most victimized of the bunch, having endured multiple forced exorcisms as well as extreme abuse on all levels. She was forced to live in different places, locked in a closet for six months, whipped, tied up, and screamed at by her grandfather, who claimed she was possessed by the devil.
The whole story was very disturbing to me, but I think what really captured my attention was the way these kids looked. Here they were, maybe ten or eleven years old on these videos from the 70s… a lot of them are probably my contemporaries. Most of them were attractive and musically gifted, singing so beautifully songs about love. But the love they sang about was inappropriate and forbidden because it involved sex. Indeed, these children were commanded to go “flirty fishing” to entice new people to join the cult. The flirty fishing was more than just flirtation; in fact, it included sex. David Berg preached sex.
As I watched the above video, I was eerily reminded of the beauty pageants that used to be so popular in the 1980s. The lyrics sound so wholesome, yet all of the singers look like they’re in a trance. These teens in the video were likely born into the cult and knew nothing else. It’s all about worshiping their sick leader, who was supposedly an alcoholic and may have also suffered from mental illnesses.
As a child of the 70s and 80s myself, I am also aware of the late actor, River Phoenix, who was extremely famous and much beloved by people of my generation. Phoenix died in 1993, having overdosed on drugs at The Viper Room in Los Angeles. He and his similarly talented siblings were raised in this cult when they were very young. Phoenix once claimed that he lost his virginity at age four, but later said he was kidding.
David Berg unofficially adopted Ricky Rodriguez, nicknaming him Davidito. He was born in the Canary Islands, the son of Berg’s second wife, Karen Zerby, and a man she “flirty fished”. In 2005, when Rodriguez was 29 years old, he murdered a woman who had been his nanny and sexually abused him. Then he killed himself. Rodriguez was forced into inappropriate sexual relationships when he was a child and developed deep seated resentment toward Berg and Zerby because of the abuse he suffered.
I know I heard of this cult before I watched Elizabeth Vargas discuss it this morning. I remember hearing about River Phoenix and his siblings being in a religious cult when they were young. It’s tragic how many youngsters were affected by this cult, which was considered a “religion” and granted special privileges. Many who were raised in The Children of God later committed suicide because they had no foundation from which to launch their lives beyond the cult.
It’s amazing how many cults there are out there and how people get caught up in them. It’s tragic that children grow up in these organizations and are left with nothing when they come of age. I may have to find something a little lighter to watch later.
The first part of today’s post is reposted from my original Blogspot post from January 2019, when I binge watched Surviving R. Kelly, which aired on Lifetime at the time. Two years ago, Bill was away on business and I found myself watching too much TV. Last night, I finally binge watched the second part of the series, which aired in early 2020. I’m reposting my thoughts about the first part, because I think it’s relevant to the rest of my thoughts about this case.The featured photo is a screen grab from Dave Chappelle’s parody about R. Kelly’s abuse.
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks watching more television than usual. Yesterday, I binge watched Surviving R. Kelly which recently aired on Lifetime. Although I am a musical person, I never paid a whole lot of attention to R. Kelly. The only thing I remember seeing about him was a Mad TV parody song and a South Park episode. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen Dave Chappelle’s take on his outrageous behavior toward young black women and girls. Oh, and of course I’ve heard some of his music. There is no denying the man is musically gifted. Unfortunately, he’s also a predator.
It was interesting watching that series, especially since I’ve also been watching shows about cults. I’ve also started reading a book about a woman who was raised in the Children of God cult, which I blogged about last week. Consequently, I now have cults on the brain. I even dreamt about them this morning.
After hearing some of the stories of the people who have been caught up in these restrictive groups, I’m beginning to think most of my problems are really small. Imagine, being so warped in your thinking that you allow someone like R. Kelly to lock you in a bedroom and force you to use a bucket for a toilet. Imagine letting someone like him do the most demeaning things as he calls you vile names and forces you to debase yourself. The women were all young, beautiful, and talented, and most of them hoped he could help them launch their own careers. I suppose on one level, they might have been trying to take advantage of a man with power that they wanted to share. But then R. Kelly used his gifts to harm them.
I think, aside from the stories I heard from the victims themselves, I was most affected by what their families were saying. I can’t imagine the anguish they felt, especially the ones whose daughters basically disappeared. I remember one mother saying that when a child has died, you know what’s happened to them and you know they won’t be back. It’s much worse when a child gets involved in a “cult” that separates them from their families. You don’t know what has happened to them, where they are, or if they’ll be back someday.
In a way, I think Bill can relate to that thought. He lost contact with his daughters for years. They wouldn’t speak to him, and their mother basically prevented him from having anything to do with them at all. It’s only been within the past couple of years that he’s been able to reconnect with one of his daughters. So much of what I heard R. Kelly’s victims say, Bill has heard from his younger daughter. These types of abusers convince their victims that no one will help them and no one loves them, at least not the way the abuser does. It really does a number on a person’s psyche.
I was angry with my husband’s daughters for years, mainly because they were hateful. In the back of my mind, I knew they were being victimized the same way Bill was. But it still made me angry, because I felt like they knew better. But honestly, I don’t know. I think being around abusers can really fuck up a person’s mindset. It’s frustrating for people like me, who don’t have a loving relationship with the victims. It must be soul crushing for a parent. I know it was for Bill. It’s much worse when there’s sex involved. For R. Kelly’s victims, it was all about sex, control, and power.
I listened to the mothers of R. Kelly’s victims, and a couple of the fathers, too. Some of the family members had the distinct displeasure of seeing their loved ones engaged in videotaped sex acts with the singer, which later ended up as porn videos for sale to the masses. I can’t even imagine how devastating that must have been on so many levels. Perhaps today, I should watch something a little lighter, like 80s era sitcoms.
In any case, Bill’s weird schedule is done for this week. We’re leaving town tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it, because I need a change of scenery and a chance to have some fun. Hopefully, we’ll have decent weather. Next week, he’ll be TDY in Germany. The week after that, TDY in the USA. Then, it should be smooth sailing for the next couple of months. (ETA: in 2021– boy do I miss being this carefree… but I sure hate the long TDYs)
And now, my thoughts in 2021, having seen the second part of this series…
Yesterday, as I recovered from my traumatic morning and irritating visit to the vet’s office, I came home and watched the second half of Surviving R. Kelly, which aired on Lifetime about a year ago. In that series, survivors and R. Kelly’s relatives talked about what went wrong with R. Kelly to cause him to hate women so much.
R. Kelly grew up in a house full of women. From the age of eight until he was about fourteen, Kelly was sexually abused by an older female relative. He was also sexually abused by male relatives. He never said anything about the abuse, but it obviously affected him. As he developed his obvious musical gifts, writing beautiful, inspirational hit songs like “You Are Not Alone”, which Michael Jackson made a hit, and “I Believe I Can Fly”, which is a staple at graduations, a hatred was simmering inside of him.
As I listened to the stories told by R. Kelly’s victims, young women who had been asked to meet him or work with him and were lured into his “sex cult”, I was reminded of so many other stories I’ve heard. In my post from 2019, I mentioned my husband’s experience with his ex wife. Bill has told me many times that he believes his ex wife hates men. That hatred comes from years of abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to protect and nurture her.
This morning, I reposted several book reviews about the Josef Fritzl case. Fritzl, as some may remember, is an Austrian man who kidnapped his own daughter and kept her underground in a dungeon for 24 years. He repeatedly raped and impregnated her. But before Fritzl was a monster, he was also an abused child. He was raised by a woman who beat him. The beatings only stopped when he finally got big enough to fight back. But Fritzl’s mother was also an abuse victim. According to one of those books I read and reviewed, Fritzl’s mother spent time in a concentration camp for refusing to house German officials. She had been cold and abusive before she went to the camp, but was much worse when she came home.
It’s no secret that child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, is devastating and damaging on many levels. Hearing so many stories of people who turned out to be manipulative, cruel, and predatory, I notice how many of them turned into legitimate monsters when they became adults. It’s like they revisit the horrors of their childhood on anyone they can. R. Kelly’s victims were mostly women who worshiped him for his talent and celebrity. He started with them the way many toxic people do… luring them with promises of help with their careers, superficial charm, and “love” that they weren’t getting at home.
Jerhonda, one of the women whose story I listened to yesterday described her mother as “uncaring”. She said her mom literally wasn’t interested in where she was or what she was doing. I was astonished by her story. She is a beautiful young woman, talented and intelligent, who had no adults in her life who cared about what happened to her. She fell into R. Kelly’s clutches. He was very nice to her at first, and seemed to care about her. It was like a drug, that regard that her mother had denied her. Once he had her trust, he her where he wanted her. That’s when Kelly changed and became an abusive monster.
Story after story was the same… and when one of the women was finally brave enough to say something to authorities, they didn’t believe her. So many of those women wound up suing R. Kelly and getting settlements that required them to stay silent. One woman named Lanita Carter, 24 years old and the mother of three when she met Kelly, was hired to braid his hair. He barely paid her for her work, but because she was associated with him, she picked up more clients. She fell prey to him, too… and finally had enough when he ejaculated on her face. He asked her for a “head massage”. She said she didn’t give massages, and he clarified that he was looking for her to massage his other “head”. He demanded oral sex and spat on her repeatedly.
Carter woke with her eyelashes sticking together with Kelly’s semen. One would think this egregious assault– especially one that could have significant health consequences would be enough to garner interest from the police. Imagine someone having so little respect for another human being that they’d do something as horrible as what Kelly did to Carter. She wasn’t the only one who received that extreme level of disrespect, either. R. Kelly was notorious for debasing his women with his body fluids. I can only guess it comes from lingering hatred of someone who abused him when he was a powerless child.
But when Lanita told the police about what R. Kelly did, they interrogated her. And when they went into R. Kelly’s home, they demanded that she give them information about the place that only someone who had been there would know. Carter was able to give them the information. They gathered evidence… but Kelly still wound up being sued instead of incarcerated for what he did. And when Carter spoke to the Chicago based personal injury lawyer who arranged settlements with Kelly, she wasn’t believed because– get this– she was TOO OLD! Carter eventually got two settlements from Kelly– one for $650,000 and the other for $100,000, which Carter got because Kelly wrote a song about having sex with the woman who braided his hair. Kelly was allowed to maintain the status quo, victimizing more girls and young women. In her interview, Lanita Carter says that the money didn’t heal the damage done to her.
I was also moved by listening to the women talk about how Black people, particularly women, are discouraged from reporting crimes to the police. This is because Black people are typically “over-policed” in the United States, and calling the police is seen as a betrayal of the community. So predators like R. Kelly, who are already surrounded by “yes people” due to their talent, money, charisma and fame, continue to get away with abusing other people unabated.
It wasn’t until the first part of this documentary series was released that R. Kelly was finally arrested and held accountable for his crimes against women. It’s shocking that it took so long and the cooperation of a cable channel to make R. Kelly accountable to the law. He is now in prison, awaiting a trial on federal charges. His music is tarnished, and he’s left so many victims in his wake.
I couldn’t help but notice one victim, Joycelyn Savage, was so entrenched in R. Kelly’s lies and abuse that at the end of the documentary, she was still in Trump Tower. She was still loyal to R. Kelly, and her anguished family continued to pray for her return. Savage is one of several of Kelly’s victims who came from a caring family. I was struck when I heard that Kelly had a place in Trump Tower. It seems rather appropriate that a notorious sex offender would live in a building named after another notorious sex offender and egregious hater of women like Donald Trump. And when I heard her insist that she was “happy” with Kelly, it reminded me of listening to people entrenched in cults.
People are still championing R. Kelly, just as they are championing Donald Trump. R. Kelly is truly disgusting… but the person he is didn’t form in a vacuum. He was a victim of abuse. I’ve heard so many stories about “monsters” who were victims when they were children. This is why I think we must pay more attention to child abuse. It’s not something that should simply be survived. I think about how many people could have been spared the horrors of R. Kelly’s adult attempts to exorcise his demons if someone had simply helped him escape his nightmarish childhood.
If you can stomach watching the series, I recommend it. It’s a good warning about child abuse, as well as becoming too adoring of stars. They have clay feet, just like the rest of us do.
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