ISKCON in the News Articles from the Cult Observer 1984-1999
Krishna Assets (p. 7) Robin George and her mother, Marcia, can collect $9.7 million in damages, awarded them in June from the Hare Krishnas for Robin's kidnapping and brainwashing in 1974, from any company newly formed by the sect. Superior Court Judge James A. Jackman ruled in Santa Ana, California, on April 27, that the Krishnas had fraudulently formed "alter ego" corporations in an effort to conceal assets and prevent a complete settlement payoff.
Krishna at the Airport (p. 26-27) Regulation in effect since 1980 requiring registration, proof of affiliation, and limitation to eight 48-hour permitted locations have dramatically reduced solicitations at Washington D.C.'s National "port, once the scene of repeated complaints from travelers of harassment by groups such as the Hare Krishnas. Permits may allow requests for donations or only distribution of literature, and canvassers are required to stay away from ticket lines and refrain from following people. A Krishna public affairs director denied that the rules forced his group's move, and said that they now stress mailings, and prefer canvassing door-to-door and at universities and public monuments. Groups still frequenting the airport include the nondenominational Pocket Testament League and Lyndon LaRouche's International Caucus of Labor Committees.
Zoning (p. 8) The Hawaii Supreme Court has declined to review a case involving a zoning ordinance prohibiting more than five unrelated persons from occupying a house. It thereby affirmed a trial court's injunction barring the Hare Krishnas from using a house as a residence even though it was also used as a church.
ISKCON (p.20) According to the London Daily Express for May 22, actress Hayley Mills, daughter of Sir John Mills, joined the Hare Krishnas shortly after her recent breakup with a close friend.
In 1979 ISKCON purchased Croome Court, an 18th Century mansion with parks designed by the famous landscape gardener Capability Brown, for L300,000. The Birmingham Evening Mail and the Worcester Evening News for June 7 report that the property, extensively restored, is being offered for sale at L750,000 by the Krishnas, who are moving their headquarters to Watford.
Krishna Bombed (p.16) Two bombs exploded at a suburban Philadelphia Hare Krishna complex on June 17 damaging a stairway and shattering numerous windows. The bombs, consisting of mason jars filled with gasoline, were sparked by small batteries. Local Krishna officials said they knew of no motive for the attack, but added that the group has attracted "self-declared enemies" whose views were "anti-cult." Neither the Krishnas nor other observers suspects that the bombs were set by the group's neighbors, whose complaints about early morning chanting and Krishna invitations to local children to attend free dinners, moved the Krishnas some time ago to make their rituals quieter and to curtail certain community activities.
Krishna Return Child (p. 17) A Canadian child abducted by her father three years ago to live among the Hare Krishnas was returned to her mother in late June. Julie Chapados, 11, rejoined her mother Carol in Laval, Quebec, while her father, Marcel Servant, is being held in nearby Montreal to face kidnapping charges.
Throughout Mrs. Chapados's long search for her daughter, the Krishnas denied any knowledge of Julie's whereabouts, and at one point said that her father was no longer with the group. But police reported that when they identified Mr. Servant in Calgary, Alberta, he was driving a van registered to the Krishnas and carrying a passenger who is a member of the organization. Authorities also said that Julie was, in fact, living at a Krishna Center near Calgary, and that the Krishnas arranged to deliver her to local social workers on the advice of their Toronto attorney, who had been contacted by police following her father's arrest. The arresting officer told the Montreal Sunday Express that he thought the Krishnas were accomplices to kidnapping after the fact, "But who could we charge? To prove it against one person, that's the point. I don't think we could do that."
Mrs. Chapados told the press that she was especially grateful for help given in her efforts to find Julie by Mike Kropveld, head of Montreal's Hillel Cult Project.
Krishnaland Planned (p. 15)
The Hare Krishna movement plans to build a "Temple of Understanding," 20 times larger than the Palace of Gold already in place in the hills of West Virginia, as part of an extensive "Krishnaland" complex there. Srila Bhaktipada, the first American Krishna disciple and founder of the Palace of Gold, unveiled the plans to Krishna followers from the East Indian professional community of Columbus, Ohio, during the city's first Hari Nam festival earlier this year. The temple, as long as three football fields and 148 feet tall at its highest point, will include visitor facilities, a theater, a planetarium and formal gardens, and will cost about $25 million, with the Krishnas doing most of the work themselves. "You can worship God under a tree," said Bhaktipada, -[But] nobody visits you if you sit under a tree." He added that construction is expected to begin next year and take five to ten years to complete, but "if someone ... wants to donate a large amount of money, it will go faster." The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, 8/5/84
Krishnas on the Mall (p. 10) The food is free and the tents, colorful, but a parent from a local chapter of the Citizens Freedom Foundation said students should beware before they accept anything from Hare Krishnas, who are in Madison with their "Festival of India" on the Library Mall.
The parent, who was interviewed under the condition that she not be identified, said despite the Krishnas' claim that they are in town to sell paintings and hand out free food, they are on campus only to recruit what she labels as "slaves" for the group.
"They're told to be there, when and where to go, what to do and when to do it and how to do it," she said. "They cannot think. They are just literally robots. They are programmed."
Janakinath das, curator of the Museum of Vedic Culture and emcee for the event, said the accusations of brainwashing and mind control are unfounded.
"People can charge, but our business here is not to proselytize. In fact, the Hare Krishna movement has never been found to be a proselytizing, brainwashing group, only we’ve been advertised like that," he said.
The parent said Krishnas are looking for a particular type of student. "They're looking for the very naive young person who is probably a loner, probably at a low point in their life, probably having a little trouble adjusting to school, a person who is open to new ideas, very intelligent, idealistic, inquisitive, and a little insecure."
The parent said she was on the mail today handing out literature from the CFF on cults and how to avoid them, The CFF is a non-profit nationwide organization that provides education on the behavior of cults and provides emotional support for families who have a member involved in a cult.
Roger Howard, University Assistant Dean of Students, said the University has not informed students of the alleged dangers of the Krishna group because there have been no substantial problems of students being entrapped by Krishnas. "We have had no evidence that significant numbers of students are being harassed by cults, '
Howard said that if students are concerned about cults like the Hare Krishnas, they can call the Campus Ministry or listen to a Campus Assistance Center tape which deals with cults on campus.
Some scenes at the event differed little from an afternoon with Sister Pat. In many places, students debated and asked questions of Krishnas on their basic beliefs, and often found that their questions were subverted or left unanswered.
"He avoids all the answers," said Joel Chechak, an exasperated debater. "They turn your questions around completely."
The Krishna contention that a man is in every way superior to a woman was another belief that raised some ire among the listeners.
One Krishna told a woman that if a man were reincarnated and came back as a woman, he would have taken a step backward.
A Krishna woman expressed her adherence to this tenet.
"Well, it's true to a certain extent. In this age, everything is topsy-turvey. So it's like you might have women that have more qualities than men. You might have women that are less intelligent than men. But as a rule, usually, women are less intelligent," she said.
As a way of expressing their purity, Krishnas are also vegetarians and are offering free samples of such dishes as poppers, urhd beans, chick peas, and other vegetarian dishes from Vedic culture, which Krishna adherents claim began some 5000 years ago.
The Festival of India will move to Chicago after its close tonight at 7 p.m., then will be at the University of Illinois at Champaign. Janakinath das estimated the cost of the three stops at around $10,000.
Janakinath das also estimated the number of monastic members of the Hare Krishnas to be 10,000. Monastic Krishnas wear the familiar orange gowns and shaved heads. He equates the monastics to Catholicism's monks.
The bill for the three stops will be picked up by contributions from the Hare Krishna's 200,000 supporting members, among them Alfred Ford, great grandson of Henry Ford, the Detroit automobile mogul. The story is reprinted with permission, from the Sept. 20, 1984 issue of the University of Wisconsin (Madison) Daily Cardinal.
Rock Star Shuns Krishnas (p. 11) The London Standard for September 13 reports that British rock musician Boy George, who had been friendly with devotees of the Hare Krishna movement over the past five years, said that he finally lost patience with the group when he realized that "all they wanted to do was get me into pictures with them for publicity purposes. That kind of thing makes me see red."
Custody Law Applied to Krishnas (p. 15) A family in Spain recently removed their son from a Krishna temple by means of a revised custody law whereby a family can apply to a judge on grounds of a family member's being "incapacitated, physically or mentally, to govern himself." The family decided that the law applied to their situation after consulting an attorney experienced in cult cases, and filed the application. In late September, an official party including a judge, a lawyer and a court psychiatrist, escorted by police, arrived at the Krishna farm to serve the custody order and to take the young man with them. ISKCON officials reportedly were caught by surprise, since this law had never before been applied to one of their members. The outcome of the young man's two-month separation from the group, as ordered by the judge, is not yet known.
Krishna Convicted (p. 10) A member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has been convicted of causing a disturbance after blocking the path of a university student walking along Yonge Street in Toronto. The unidentified woman was sentenced to 25 hours of community service and three months probation in Provincial Court.
"This is a landmark decision," said Ian Haworth, president of the Council on Mind Abuse (COMA), a Toronto-based organization that works to educate the public about the problem of destructive cults. "We regard this as a very useful precedent to stop sect members from approaching people without their consent. "
University of Toronto student Marcel Weider told the Toronto Star that he was walking on Yonge Street in July when a woman in her 30s stepped out in front of me and... persisted in blocking my path while giving me her pitch line." Weider, 23, said he complained to a policeman after he realized the woman was a Hare Krishna trying to raise money. From the Toronto Star, 11/16/84, p. C13.
Krishna Santa "Misleading But Not Illegal" (p. 8) Krishna Santa requesting donations from passing motorists in Seattle. Seattle Times Photo. A representative of ISKCCN - the International Society for Krishna Consciousness - dressed in a Santa Claus suit collected about $50 a day from motorists in Seattle during December. Gary S. Wright told drivers stopping at an intersection that he was collecting money for "Food for Life," a Los Angeles-based charity whose purpose is to "feed hungry people." But George Delianedis, principal investigator for the Los Angeles Department of Social Services, said that Food for Life does not exist. It is also not registered with the Consumer Affairs Licensing Division of the city of Seattle, nor with the Charitable Solicitations Division of the Washington secretary of state's office.
Delianedis said that Wright was misleading the public. "When you solicit money for charity you've got to tell people] ... who you are. You owe the public full disclosure. It sounds to me like you've got someone... hustling," he said, adding that in California, Wright's actions would make him guilty of a misdemeanor. However, Washington state Assistant Attorney General Hay Uchida said that ISKCON is exempt from the requirements of the state Charitable Solicitations Act because it is a religious group, protected by the First Amendment. Uchida termed Wright's soliciting misleading, but not illegal." From the Seattle Times, 12/19/84, p. B2.
Krishnas Asked to Pay Taxes (p. 8)
The Dade County, FL, Tax Appraiser's Office is demanding that the International Society for Krishna Consciousness Miami Beach chapter pay $27,303.07 in 1984 property taxes on the Boardwalk Hotel. The Krishnas bought the hotel several years ago and converted it into a temple and a rent-free residence for Krishnas studying for the priesthood.
The county has, for the third straight year, rejected Krishna petitions for a tax exemption, questioning the group's tax exempt status and whether the building is used primarily for religious purposes.
"The burden of proof is on the taxpayer to show they are entitled to an exemption," said Assistant County Attorney Daniel Weiss. The county has also asked why the building's title is under the name of Bhaktivedanta Title Holding Corp. of Miami Beach Inc. Hayward Bradnian, attorney for the Krishnas, said that Bhaktivedanta is a holding corporation set up to simplify church bookkeeping.
The special master, an impartial taxing arbitrator who reports to the Property Appraisal Adjustment Board, will have to rule on the case early this year. Each of the past two years, the special master has denied the Krishnas an exemption, and the Krishnas have refused to pay and have sued the county. Those cases are pending before separate circuit court judges. From the Miami Herald, 11/29/84.
"Where is Joey?" Reprinted (p. 30) "Where is Joey?: Lost Among the Hare Krishnas,"
Mr. Yanoff writes: "Books like mine have taken on new importance since Pres. Reagan signed the bill which gives access to public schools by religious groups. The destructive cults will take full advantage: young people will need to be inoculated. A gift to a high school or college student will make interesting reading; more than that, it will prepare him/her to confront any cult with informed skepticism. " Cult Observer Report
City Funds Krishna Meals for Needy (p. 9) The Hare Krishnas of Cleveland have instituted what is probably the nation's first government-funded vegetarian meals-on-wheels program, called Food For Life, to feed the city's poor. The program, approved by the City Council in July after nine months of discussions, began with a budget of $20,000 from the city, and will probably have served 60,000 meals by the end of its budget year.
Food For Life director Tapahpunja Swami said that the program was developed with the help of the late Councilman Lonnie Burden, in whose ward the meals are served. Burden was a regular patron of the Krishnas' now defunct chain of vegetarian restaurants. From the Akron (OH) Beacon Journal, Dec. 23, 1984.
George Hamilton Sells Home to Krishnas (p. 17) On March 1, movie star George Hamilton sold his stately antebellum home in Church Hill, Mississippi, to the Old South Society of Vedic Life, a branch of the Hare Krishnas. Nico Kuyt, a representative of the group, says the mansion, known as The Cedars, will be made into a museum propagating the group's philosophy. "Since people are interested in antebellum homes, we will use that as an entry point," he said. "We'll fill the house ... with exhibits... that convey a different philosophical and cultural message." From the Hutchinson News, Mar. 3, 1985, p. 26.
Krishna Ad Fraud (p. 7) The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Canada) has been fined $1,500 for the door-to-door peddling of phony paintings.
Judge Jacques Letourneau of Sessions Court in Longueuil imposed the fine after finding the religious sect guilty of false representation following complaints from the Quebec Consumer Protection Office.
The consumer organization said a sect member identifying himself as an art student at Montreal's School of Fine Arts sold four paintings for $140 to a South Shore housewife in October 1983 after telling her that the works were originals done by a group of fellow art students.
The woman later realized that the pictures were in fact cheap reproductions imported from Asia.
The Krishna Society was also convicted of failing to draw up an itinerant sales contact. Montreal Gazette, Mar. 13, 1985.
Krishna Defends Santa Pose (p. 6) Krishna Santa Collects in Seattle Seattle Times Photo
In a letter to the Editor of the Miami Herald, Bhagavata Dasa of the Miami Beach Hare Krishna temple defended the Krishnas' practice of soliciting funds during the Christmas season while dressed in Santa Claus suits. Responding to a Dec. 9 letter by Rabbi Rubin Dobin, Dasa said that solicitors wear badges that identify them as members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a tax-exempt organization, no matter how they are dressed.
"Santa Claus is a Russian and German saint who has been adopted by all people in this country, no matter what their race, color, or creed," said Dasa. He likened the Krishnas to the Salvation Army, which collects money at Christmas for its charitable programs. "We distribute literature and food, and we also have buildings, vehicles, and volunteers to maintain," he said. "To do this we also collect donations as Santa Claus. The money is used for the same good work."
In reply to Rabbi Dobin's charge that the Krishnas engage in "deceptive and illegal fundraising, " Dasa said that such allegations probably came "from some anti-cult book that quoted a deprogrammed devotee after he was beaten into submission." From the Miami Herald, ]an. 20, 1985.
Krishnas' Soliciting: Religion or Fraud Debated in Suit (p. 6) Contending that their Constitutional rights to free religious expression are being violated, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has filed suit challenging the prohibition of leafletting and solicitation at JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports. But the defendants, including the New York Port Authority and several airlines, are countering ISKCON's contention by asserting that the Krishnas' airport activities are fraudulent in nature and have nothing to do with sincere religious beliefs.
Searching for evidence to back up their charge, the defendants served ISKCON with "a vast body of interrogatories," or legal questions, requesting detailed information about ISKCON's membership, property, and finances, in some instances for the past eighteen years. The Krishnas filed suit for a protective order relieving them of the obligation to respond to the interrogatories. The court held that the defendants had not shown sufficient need for the information sought, and the motion in ISKCON's favor was granted on Feb. 27.
ISKCON objected to the interrogatories on the grounds that they were unusually burdensome and oppressive, that the information sought was irrelevant to the case, and that compliance with the requests would infringe upon its constitutionally protected religious liberty and associational privacy rights. The defendants argued that the information sought is needed to show the true nature of the activities in which ISKCON wishes to engage at the airports. The court, however, held that the extensive inquiry into membership and finances might have a "chilling" effect on ISKCON's practice of its First Amendment activities, and that protection is particularly needed because the group's beliefs are so unpopular.
In addition, ISKCON asserted, and the court concurred, that the issues in the case are (1) whether the airlines' policy constitutes state action, (2) whether the terminals are public spaces suitable for First Amendment activities, and, if so, (3) whether defendants' prohibition of all soliciting and leafletting is an overbroad limitation on First Amendment activities. The court found the interrogatories irrelevant to these issues. From the Religious Freedom Reporter, Feb. 1985, pp. 32-33.
Krishna Woman Sues Over Deprogramming (p. 9) A Hare Krishna member has filed a federal civil rights suit for damages and an injunction against her parents and the deprogrammers they allegedly hired to abduct her. She claims that she was held against her will and abused physically, mentally, and emotionally, for a month before she escaped.
The complaint also names as defendants members of the Baltimore Police Department and the FBI, charging that they refused to pursue the case after it was learned that it involved a religious deprogramming, and refused to pursue the charges she made against those involved following her escape. A declaration is sought to the effect that any FBI policy of nonpursuance of kidnapping cases involving religious deprogramming "is outside the statutory and constitutional limits of prosecutorial discretion" and that such a policy is contrary to international law, convention, and treaties to which the U.S. is a party, and is therefore void. From the Religious Freedom Reporter, May 1985, p. 98.
Court Rules Hare Krishnas May Solicit at Stadium (p. 14) Hare Krishna members do have the right to solicit donations around Anaheim Stadium, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on August 13. The court's decision overturned a ban on Krishna solicitations, and declared unconstitutional a city law requiring a permit for such actions on which the ban had been based.
The court based its decision on free speech protections in the California Constitution that are broader than similar provisions in the U.S. Constitution. U.S. Circuit Judge William Norris ruled that under the California Liberty of Speech Clause, the parking facilities and walkways of the city-owned stadium are “public forums" in the same sense as streets, sidewalks and parks, and "must be open to expressive activity." From the Los Angeles Times, Aug. 14, 1985.
Deprogramming "'Must Be Stopped, " Says Lawyer for Watchdog Group (pp.14, 23) "Deprogramming is the most direct assault on religious liberty in this country today. It must be stopped," says Lee Boothby, a lawyer with Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The religious watchdog group has filed suit in federal district court in Baltimore on behalf of 24-year-old Kimberly Gough, whose parents hired professional deprogrammers to try to force her to leave the Hare Krishnas. From the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, Jul. 20, 1985.
Mayor Lauds Krishna Food Program (p. 8) Mayor Wilson Goode of Philadelphia was guest of honor at a May 29 ribbon-cutting ceremony which marked the opening of a Hare Krishna "Food for Life" center in that city.
The Food for Life program, begun 18 years ago, now has centers in 12 major U.S. cities. The Philadelphia facility is paid for by private donations and funds from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, administered by the Philadelphia Committee for the Homeless. Charlotte McLaughlin, whose Krishna name is Chandrika Devi Dasi, a member of the prominent Philadelphia Lippincott publishing family, is director of the shelter, which serves free vegetarian lunches and provides shelter for 18 homeless men.
Mayor Goode, described as looking uncomfortable in a pink carnation lei placed around his neck by a devotee, praised the efforts of the Krishnas on behalf of the "homeless and the hungry." From the Philadelphia Daily News, May 30, 1985.
Krishna Adopt-a-Cow Program (p. 12) In an appeal modeled after charities that help impoverished children, a central Pennsylvania dairy farm run by the Hare Krishnas is developing a program of cow care that is expected to attract funds from Hindus, vegetarians, and animal lovers.
The program is called Adopt-a-Cow. Contributions are tax-deductible and credit cards are accepted. The program has three options, as described in ads in newspapers for ethnic Indians and in solicitation letters sent to 15,000 Hindus across the country.
The $30-a-month package buys an 8-by-10 color photo of the cow, sweets made from its milk, newsletters on its birthday and on other occasions such as pregnancy, and a weekend "vacation" at the Juniata County cow farm. From The Denver Post Dec. 15, 1985
Krishna Allegedly Attacks Leader to "Cleanse" Group (p. 12) Hare Krishna leaders from around the world gathered at New Vrindaban's Palace of Gold [near Moundsville, WVA) for a vigil as the "dean of the faith," Kirtanananda Bhaktipada, remained unconscious and in critical condition yesterday.
Bhaktipada was hospitalized with severe head wounds after he was attacked with an iron bar. Marshall County Sheriff Donald Bordenkircher said Hare Krishna member Mike Stockman, 28, was arrested. Stockman told officers he had acted to "cleanse the church," the Sheriff said.
Bhaktipada, 48, is credited with building the Palace of Gold, an ornate temple that attracts thousands of tourists and devotees to New Vrindaban each year. About 600 people live in the religious community. From the AP and USA Today Oct 31 and Nov. 1, 1985
Krishna Protest vs. Soviet (p. 31) The occasion of the recent Geneva Summit conference was used for a protest march along Lake Geneva by Krishna devotees, according to the Daily Telegraph of Nov. 30, 1985 They handed out cards stating that Krishnas are at present being held in Soviet prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals. Russian trials of Krishna devotees have been reported from as far apart as Siberia and Armenia. ISKCON in Russia exists in underground fashion, in secret private meetings. According to their statement in Geneva, there are 200 initiated members in the USSR plus 10,000 Soviet citizens who practice Krishna consciousness.
Krishnas. Try Comeback (p. 5) On its twentieth anniversary in America, the followers of the Hare Krishna movement are diminished in number, less publicly visible, divided by quarreling leaders, and dependent on part-time devotees who wear conventional dress at outside jobs. But the movement seems to be surviving.
The decline of the counter-culture, which fed recruitment and financed the once-lucrative incense business was a difficulty faced in the late 1970s, according to E. Burke Rochford, Jr., a Tulsa University sociologist and author of the recently published book, "Hare Krishna in America." The death of founder Swami Prabhupada in 1977 and the division of the mission field among 11 contentious gurus paralleled the decline in membership from 10,000 to 2,000. But the shift from full to part-time commitment, and the welcoming of Indian Hindus, has helped says, Rochford.
Minnesota sociologist Thomas Robbins agrees with Rochford and the Krishnas themselves that the leadership split has hurt. "Some of the gurus let power and authority go to their head [sic]," creating disillusionment and cynicism, said the movements national director of interreligious affairs. All three agree that the "guru issue," which failed to resolve itself at a worldwide leadership meeting in West Virginia last summer, is the movement's biggest problem. From the Seattle Post Intelligencer Feb. 8, 1986
Ex-Krishna Charged in Krishna Death (p. 28) Thomas Drescher, formerly a member of the Hare Krishna group, was charged in Moundsville, WVA yesterday with the May 22 shooting death of Stephen Bryant, a Hare Krishna devotee who was a persistent critic of the organization. Drescher was also arraigned on charges of criminal homicide in connection with the June 1983 shooting of Charles SL Dennis near the Krishna's New Vrindaban, WVA community.
Bryant's parents said that their son left New Vrindaban after a dispute with its founder, whom he tried to discredit, along with the Krishna religion itself Authorities said that Drescher and St. Denis, who both lived near New Vrindaban at the time using spiritual names, had been at odds over the sale of a house. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette June 6, 1986
Ex-Krishna Abuser Gets 50 Years (p. 8) Former Hare Krishna member Kenneth Capoferri, 39, was given a maximum 50-year sentence yesterday for molesting four children at a West Los Angeles child-care center run by the sect where he worked from 1982-84. An attorney for the Hare Krishnas urged the maximum sentence "to purge our community of the feelings of outrage, pain, anxiety, and confusion" caused by the molestations, which are said to have created serious psychological problems for at least one of the affected children. From the Los Angeles Times July 17, 1986
Killing Sparks Probe of Krishna Sect (pp. 4-7) The recent slaying of a disenchanted Hare Krishna devotee who persistently alleged wrongdoing and deceit in the movement has sent new ripples through the divided Krishna community.
Since the fatal shooting May 22 in Los Angels or Steve.Bryant, 33, and the arrest of a Krishna follower in the murder, plans for a broad investigation by a federal grand jury have been announced. Even the sect itself had decided to conduct an internal probe of possible wrong doing by Krishna members.
Both Bryant's death and his allegations of wrong doing by Krishna leaders will be examined by a federal grand jury in Moundsville, W. Va. That is the city nearest the 600-member commune and Indian-Style palace that is a showcase settlement for the 21year-old International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
The Hindu sect, which drew on young Americans' fascination for Eastern meditation and chanting in the late 1960s, attracted between 5 000 and 10,000 followers in the first dozen years. But the movement has also been embroiled in legal battles over airport soliciting and parental charges of kidnapping vulnerable youth into the order.
Internal conflict surfaced after the 1977 death of the sect's 82-year-old founder from India, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, when 11 gurus carved out areas of dominance.
Since then, members of a growing, internal reform movement - estimated to number about 300 Krishna believers -have questioned the authority of the leadership and accused some leaders of condoning or participating in immoral practices and physical intimidation of followers. Most of the self-styled reformers - which included Bryant - are initiates from the days of Prabhupada; Bryant was easily the most vocal among them.
He had joined the street-chanting, saffron-robed sect in Detroit when he was 21. As. his disenchantment with the movement grew after Prabhupada's death, he began writing a book he called "The Guru Business," and he hoped to expose alleged wrongdoings by leaving hefty packets of photo copied "evidence" with law enforcement officials and newspapers across the country.
Bryant's crusade initially stemmed, by his own account, from the breakup of his family at the Krishnas' 4,000 acre New Vrindaban settlement - largest in the Krishna movement - which lies perched in the hills of West Virginia about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pa. He attempted to prove that the guru-founder of New Vrindaban, Kirtananda Swami Bhaktipada (formerly Keith Ham), lured Bryant's wife into becoming a devotee several years ago, then helped her get a divorce and prevented Bryant's access to his two sons. Spokesmen for the community countered that Mrs. Bryant left her husband because she wanted to. Bryant progressively broadened his attack by collecting interviews from others who charged that some among the movement's almost three dozen gurus manipulated devotees, broke up marriages, and allowed child abuse and drug trafficking - claims which the dissidents said went unacknowledged or were denied by the movement's various leaders. Bryant also challenged the legitimacy of the 11 gurus who immediately succeeded the founder.
In the year before his death, Bryant tried to drum up support for his claims by traveling to West Virginia and California. Convinced that he was a marked man, he was constantly on the move, living out of his van and disguising his appearance.
Krishna spokesmen denied Bryant's accusations. An internal review by a special society committee last year concluded that his claims of wrongdoing were largely unfounded. And a New Vrindaban spokesman this month claimed that Bryant and like-minded supporters were not true devotees, that in fact Bryant "had not followed our religious practices for at least the last seven years."
But Bryant's fellow dissidents continue to maintain that critics of the sect are in danger. Several followers said in interviews that they have been threatened themselves or have heard certain sect leaders mention violence as a way to deal with internal critics.
According to a California member, who insisted on anonymity, when Bryant's name come up during a gathering of Krishna leaders in September at New Vrindaban, he heard a ranking commune member allegedly say: "That guy should be afraid. There are 250 residents here looking to blow his head off."
And officials of the reform-oriented Berkeley temple announced early this month that they had received anonymous threats warning them to drop their attempt through federal court to gain control of the temple's assets.
For the most part, dissidents interviewed gave information only on the condition that they not be identified by name, profession, or city of residence for fear of reprisals, they said, to themselves or their families.
Spokesmen in the West Virginia Krishna community and a Los Angeles based guru all denied knowing of any threats to followers or non-members and, by contrast, insisted that nonviolence - even to the point of not killing animals or harming insects is an inviolable tenet of their faith.
Nevertheless, Marshall County Assessor Alfred (Pinky) Clark, who is attempting to levy heavier taxes on the commercial aspects of New Vrindaban, said he obtained a gun permit and a revolver after hearing of Bryant's slaying. Clark, who lives within three miles of the commune, said he had received threats in the months before Bryant's death, and that a day laborer at the commune's farm told him after Bryant's death that "the talk was going around to 'get Clark! "
"We're being very watchful and cautious, although things have quieted down since the announcement of a federal grand jury investigation," Clark said.
Problem of Violence
Over the years, gurus and violence have presented a problem for some Krishna communities, although possession of the weapons has been defended by Krishna leaders as a defensive need.
Law enforcement authorities in 1980 found a variety of weapons at the Krishna farm of Berkeley guru Hansadutta (Hans Kary), and later confiscated an illegal submachine gun found in the trunk of a car used by the guru. Kary lost his position in 1984 after, a conviction on gunfire and felony vandalism charges for shooting up a storefront and car dealership. He has been living at New Vrindaban since then.
Bhaktipada, when told by a Times -reporter in 1981 that one of his New Vrindaban devotees had recently bought a large number of weapons at local shops, said: "I have no objection to a certain number of persons in the community having weapons for self-protection. But they should be in the hands of cool, level-headed Krishnaconscious persons . . . If there is a need for violence, we can become violent." Several weeks later, Bhaktipada said the young man agreed to sell the guns "at my suggestion."
Last October, the West 'Virginia guru was bludgeoned into a coma and hospitalized for 36 days by a former devotee, Michael C. Shockman, who is serving a 15-mondi prison term after pleading guilty to malicious wounding charges.
Statements to Reporters
Only two months later, Bryant himself sent to reporters statements saying that death was scripturally justified for gurus guilty of the crimes he had been alleging. However, he disavowed any personal intent to carry out that threat or to conspire to kill anyone himself.
Bryant's own vocal belligerency and illegal possession of a gun landed him in the Moundsville jail in February. He staged a three-week hunger strike, writing to a Times reporter from jail on Feb. 15: "I've pretty much reached my rope's end in combating this domestic cult on my own and so I've decided to fast to death if I don't get some Gov't help."
Bryant's lawyer on Moundsville, David R. Gold, later said: "I thought he was realistically hopeful that he would single-handedly be able to mobilize public opinion against the [New Vrindaban] community." Bryant was convicted for carrying an unregistered gun, which Gold said Bryant got for defensive purposes, then was released pending an appeal and returned to California.
In the early morning hours of May 22, Bryant left a friend’s home in the Palms section of Los Angeles' Westside, telling him he was going to park his van down the block so as not to bring trouble to his friend's doorstep. "I try not to be paranoid, but it’s the least precaution I can take," his friend quoted Bryant as saying. Not long afterward, the friend said he heard two shots and ran outside to look, but then dismissed his fears that something had happened to Bryant.
Later that morning, Bryant, known as Solucana to other devotees, was found shot twice in the head and slumped over the steering wheel of his parked car and locked van, according to authorities.
Some of his friends told Los Angeles police to look for a man named Tirtha, the Krishna name for Thomas Arthur Drescher, 37, a onetime follower at New Vrindaban with a reputation for violent behavior.
Five days later, Drescher was arrested in Kent, Ohio. The warrant for his arrest, however, was issued by West Virginia authorities in connection with the unsolved disappearance in 1983 of another former Krishna devotee, Charles St. Denis, from the New Vrindaban area.
(Drescher was indicted earlier this month in Moundsville along with Krishna devotee Daniel Reid, 31, who is lodged in a Los Angeles jail, on first-degree murder charges based in witnesses' accounts of St. Denis' fate. The principal witness, Randol Gorby, was seriously injured in an explosion at his home the day after Drescher was apprehended in Ohio, authorities said. A number of commune members, according to their attorney, James B. Lees, have quietly cooperated with authorities since 1984 in the investigation of the St. Denis disappearance.)
Kent Police Detective Ronald Piatt and his partner said that when they arrested Drescher, they found on him 11 surveillance notes" describing Bryant's van, his physical appearance and his movements in Los Angeles. Drescher also carried $4,000 in cash.
With Drescher when he was arrested, said Piatt, was a Krishna priest from Cleveland who had clippings from three newspapers about the death of Bryant and written instructions of unknown origin saying that if Drescher were ever wanted by the police, he should be sent to a temple in New York, then flown to India. At the time of his arrest, Drescher's car was packed with clothing and other goods, and his rented mobile home was found nearly empty, Piatt said.
"We think he was in the process of activating those plans [to leave the country]" Piatt said.
The Krishna priest, Terry Shelden, was held for three days on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon - a hooked-blade utility knife - but the charged was dismissed. He has since disappeared from the Cleveland Temple and his whereabouts are unknown, Piatt said.
The detective added that a fire of undetermined origin burned Drescher's mobile home July 5.
Drescher is now in custody in West Virginia. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office is seeking to extradite him to California to stand trial for Bryant's murder.
New Vrindaban officials have denied any connection with Bryant's death and characterized Drescher as a follower who fell from favor with the community three years ago. After living on his own property near New Vrindaban for several years, Drescher moved to northeast Ohio late last year.
Apology From Jail
Swami Bhakdpada said Drescher wrote him from jail to apologize if he had caused the commune any difficulty. The guru said he responded with a short note advising Drescher "to chant the name of God and to depend on God's help and mercy."
New Vrindaban spokesman Dick Dezio said he welcomed the announced plans of U.S. Atty. William Kolibash to have a federal grand jury in Moundsville examine the murder of Bryant and the dissident's charges of illicit activity at New Vrindaban.
Bhaktipada declared earlier that the investigation will show "we are religious people who have no other business but to worship God."
Dezio accused Bryant of some of the same charges Bryant had leveled against the West Virginia commune - drug use, "a fetish for guns," child abuse, and threats of violence.
"We have heard a lot of stories and a lot of claims, but no one has ever come forth with any evidence [about our community]," Dezio said. Regarding interviewed dissidents who declined to reveal their identities in print for fear of reprisals, Dezio said, "I don't know anyone within the movement who has to be feared."
Charges by dissidents that a climate of fear prevails were also rejected by Los Angeles-based guru Ramesvara (Robert Grant), 35, who said that, other than Bryant's death, there has been "no incidents of violence against a disgruntled person" in his jurisdiction. Ramesvara, who is one of the original 11 successors to the society founder, supervises Southern California, parts of the Midwest, the New York area, Hawaii and Japan.
"As far as I know, Steve Bryant didn't have any bad feelings toward myself and, similarly, I had no bad feeling toward him," Ramesvara said. "He wasn't disturbing us. He came and went very secretly. A number of our core members attended his funeral in Los Angeles; they wanted to show their sympathy and outrage."
At the Berkeley temple, where another of Steve Bryant’s vehicles still sits in the parking lot, Jagat Guru (Jack Hebner), the reform-minded temple president, said: "I can't bring myself to believe, though some do, that Bryant's death would be ordered.
"I feel his assassins are fringe members who took it upon themselves to do it. But whatever the truth is we do not want it to be hidden," Jagat Guru said. Krishna followers interested in reform have grown steadily to about half of the leadership ranks, most of them longtime followers initiated by the sect’s founder, Jagat Guru said.
"There is no room and no tolerance of riffraff in the garb of a preacher who is interested in simply taking church money for liquor, drugs, women, or whatever else he might enjoy," he said.
The society has an international Governing Body Commission, but William Ogle, a Knoxville, Tenn., lawyer, who acts as its general counsel, conceded in an interview that the administrative authority of the commission in relation to the gurus is still murky. "It is no secret we are going through a serious developmental state in the aftermath of the founder's departure," Ogle said.
On July 11, the commission's executive committee announced that it had started its own investigation into Bryant’s death. "We want to find out if anyone in our group was involved and if so, to what extent. We would take disciplinary action irrespective of what position the person held in the society," said Michael Grant, public affairs director for the Los Angeles temple, who said he spoke on behalf of the executive committee.
When Ogle served as commission chairman in 1985, he directed a special committee to look into Bryant's allegations.
The committee concluded that it was an "injudicious mistake" for New Vrindaban to initiate Bryant's wife as a devotee of the guru without his knowledge. (Bryant said he was in India on a business trip at the time.) At the same time, the committee noted that Bryant's "unsubstantiated allegations" against the West Virginia guru were "blasphemous" to the highest degree.
Disagreements Not Allowed
One longtime Krishna follower, who said he had been "roughed up" by disciples because of his open disagreements with the new gurus, said serious criticism of the leadership is interpreted by loyal followers as "blasphemy against their spiritual master, [meaning] you can take action against [the offenders]."
Yet another dissident in California agreed: "No one is supposed to question these guys. You worship them as perfect or you are in trouble."
With the matter of authority in the movement still unresolved, the number of gurus has grown from about 20 last year to nearly three dozen.
"There has been a lot of negotiation and infighting in the society recently, but I think the political situation can be rectified," said Nalini Kanta. (Tom Hopke), a Los Angeles devotee. He said he is the Peace and Freedom Party candidate for Congress in the 23rd District this year and an astrologer for the Krishna movement.
"I've been vocally opposed [to abuses], but I'm not fearful for my own life," Nalini Kanta said, indicating that he is not at all as "vociferous, so radical," as Bryant was.
He said a big group of one-time disciples of the founder "think [the movement] is run in a very authoritarian way and that it should be done in a more cooperative way. I am against the philosophy that one particular guru should have dictatorial rule in his area. Prabhupada could do that because of his purity."
Former Berkeley temple official Paramahansa Swami said the root of the dispute is really spiritual authority. The reform influence at Berkeley and the conservative ideology at New Vrindaban "are exactly at the opposite ends of the spiritual movement," Nalini Kanta said.
"In the last three years in that temple, 10 different people have 10 different philosophies," said Paramahansa, who maintained that the unquestioned authority of a spiritually qualified master is necessary to avoid religious "anarchy." By John Dart The Los Angeles Times April 21, 1986 Copyright Los Angeles Times Reprinted by Permission
Krishna Urged to Settle Conflict (p. 4) A U.S. district court judge in San Francisco has urged Berkeley Hare Krishna members to reach an out-of-court settlement in their suit accusing West Virginia members of trying to take over the Berkeley Temple. The leader of the West Virginia group and the ousted head of the Berkeley group are also alleged in the suit to have raided $1 million in assets of two California Krishna groups. A trial is set for September of next year. The West Virginia group is being investigated by a federal grand jury in connection with the murder of an ex-member. From the Los Angeles Times August 9, 1986
Krishnas Protest Soviets (p. 14)
Members of the Hare Krishna group demonstrated yesterday outside the Soviet Consulate in Woollahra protesting against religious persecution in the Soviet Union. The protest, during which 80 Krishnas released 25 doves, coincided with the publication of a report - authenticated by non-Krishna sources - of civil rights abuses affecting the Krishnas and other minority religions.
Official Soviet publications have listed Krishna Consciousness as the third greatest threat to modem Russia, after Western imperialism and rock and roll music. From the Sydney [Australia] Morning Herald, May 6, 1986
Security Tighter at Krishna Commune (p. 14) Security at the Hare Krishna commune of New Vrindaban in West Virginia has been increased in the wake of a grand jury probe into the death of a Krishna dissident who had accused Krishna leaders of allowing child abuse and drug trafficking.
The 650 member commune, about 10 miles west of Moundsville, has tightened security, and 10 armed disciples patrol the grounds of the Palace of Gold, the elaborate and glittering Krishna temple, which has become a regional tourist attraction.
Commune leader Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada, badly beaten in November by a disgruntled member, has moved to a more isolated area and is rarely without a German shepherd attack dog.
A Charleston tour director says that the controversy has not kept tourists away, although he did cancel spring and summer bus tours after a typhoid and hepatitis outbreak at New Vrindaban. "I think the intrigue of what's going on would bring even more tourists," he said. From the Dayton [OH] Journal September 5, 1986
Krishna Devotee Guilty of Murder (p. 5) Hare Krishna dissident Thomas Drescher, 37, was found guilty Dec. 5 by a West Virginia jury of the first-degree murder of Charles Saint Denis, another devotee, at the sect's New Vrindaban commune. on June 10, 1983. Sentencing is scheduled for January 15.
Jury foreman Timothy Shrout, county prosecutor Thomas White, and defense lawyer Robert McWillia agreed that the key testimony came from four people who said Dresch bragged to them of how he had killed Saint Denis, whose body has never been found. The witnesses included two former senior aides at the commune, a police informer, and Nick Tsacrios, husband of St. Denis' former lover, Deborah Gere.
The witnesses testified that Drescher said he shot Saint Denis 10 to I2 times, and that he and Dan Reid, another Krishna follower, then stabbed the victim repeatedly. 'The two then allegedly placed the body in a pre-dug grave and poured corrosive chemicals over the remains. Reid, 31,.has also been charged with Saint Denis' murder and faces a January 31 trial in West Virginia.
Drescher is also charged with the May 22, 1986 murder of another dissident Krishna follower, Steven Bryant, whose body was found in a van in Los Angeles. Bryant had threatened to expose criminal misconduct by sect leaders.
During the trial, defense lawyers described intrigues involving sex and drugs among members of the sect, and maintained that the witnesses were lying. Public defender McWilliams said that St. Denis was a "womanizer" who had in the past disappeared for years at a time. From the Los Angeles Times December 6, 1986, Part I, p. 14 and the New York Times December 1 1986
Krishnas Lose Farm (p. 8) Eighty Hare Krishna followers are about to lose their 55-acre commune in the town of Cochecton, in New York state's Catskill Mountains. The previous owners of the property, Camp Co-Chec-Ton, Inc. of Brooklyn have begun foreclosure proceedings on ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) for defaulting on a $212,000 mortgage. The property also figures into a California lawsuit against ISKCON which has resulted in the group's assets being frozen. From the Record [Sullivan County, NY] September 24, 1986, p. 5
Krishnas in Ireland (p. 14) On July 20, over 500 Hare Krishna devotees from all over Ireland gathered on the small island of Inish Rath for the opening of a new temple and conference complex. The 22-acre island, formerly owned by the Earl of Erne, was bought by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) two years ago for 120,000. From the Belfast Telegraph July 21, 1986, p. 4
Body Found in Hare Krishna Murder (p. 11) A body believed to be that of Charles St. Denis, a Hare Krisha devotee who disappeared in 1983, was found Jan. 6 in a creekbed in the W. Virginia Krishna community of New Vrindaban. Dan Reid, who pleaded guilty in connection with St. Denis' slaying, agreed to lead police to the body as part of a plea bargain arrangement.
Witnesses at the trial of Thomas Drescher, who was convicted in December of St. Denis's murder, testified he and Reid killed St. Denis, and then tried to dissolve the body with acid. Reid, who will be sentenced Jan. 12, was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter because he was not "the principal killer," said Marshall County Prosecutor Tom White. From "Body Found in Krishna case," the New York Times January 8, 1987
For ISKCON, Charity Begins - and Ends - at Home (p. 15) The London tabloid News of the World looked into the charitable status of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and found that most of the group's income in Britain is raised by selling on street comers. In 1983 only 38,000 out of over 800,000 went to charity, and an ISKCON official admitted that most of that had probably simply been transferred to a branch of the organization.
A spokesman for the Charity Commission stated that there is nothing to prevent a religious charity from spending all its income in support of itself. From the FAIR News October 1986, P. 7
France - French Krishnas Desert (p. 16) The Hare Krishna sect has all but disappeared in France save for about 50 diehards, virtually bankrupt and living in hardship in a chateau owned by the sect, which they will soon have to vacate for nonpayment of rent. Last September their spiritual leader, Shrila Bhagavan Das, formerly William Ehrlichman, returned home to the United States, taking the sects cash with him.
Bhagavan, who claimed to have been sent to France in 1977 by the sect’s founder, Bhaktivendanta Swarni Prabhupada, is now widely considered a usurper. In the intervening 10 years, he became the head of a lucrative organization, spread throughout Western Europe, which earned a substantial revenue from begging, donations, the running of vegetarian restaurants, and the sale of books, records and religious objects.
In 1984 French tax inspectors imposed a huge tax rectification on the sect, saying work carried out by its members could not be termed voluntary.
As financial difficulties accumulated, so did desertion by members disgusted by Bhagavan's opulent lifestyle. From "Krishnas deserting in France," by Ariefle Vericy, Agence France-Presse, the Washington Times February 16, 1987, p. 51)
Hare Krishnas Call for Swami's Resignation (p. 11) The North American Governing Body Commission (GBC) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has asked Kirtanananda Swanti Bhaktipada, 48, to resign from the commission.
Bhaktipada is leader of the W. Va. Krishna community of New Vrindaban, which has been rocked by charges of corruption. Last December, Krishna follower Thomas Drescher was convicted of murdering another devotee, Charles St. Denis, on the 4,000-acre compound.
The GBC statement says the controversy surrounding the 400-member community "has seriously called into question Kirtanananda Swami's ability to hold a position of leadership..." Bhaktipada is one of 24 members on the international commission.
The GBC also charged that Bhaktipada has portrayed the criminal investigations into SL Denis' murder as collusion between the government and media to destroy the Hare Krishna movement.
"We disagree with this conclusion and feel that neither the law enforcement agencies involved nor the media is guilty of undue harassment, the GBC said.
The GBC also alleged that Bhaktipada "accepts worship publicly," in contrast to a preference for an "increasingly humble role regarding demonstrations of respect' among ISKCON’s gurus. From "Swami in spotlight of Krishna dispute," the Washington Times, February 20, 1987
ACLU to Investigate Krishna Raid (p. 8) The West Virginia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has begun an investigation into the Jan. 5 raid at the Hare Krishnas' New Vrindaban community during which federal and state agents seized computers, record albums, sports caps, and stickers as part of a probe into alleged copyright and trademark violations by members of the sect.
The New Vrindaban community has been accused of selling items without proper permission. But Krishna leaders maintain that no permission was necessary because the items were altered slightly from the originals. However, Bruce Smith, assistant U.S. attorney in Wheeling, said copyright laws protect copied items "together with any facsimilies (which) make people think it was the original." He said the items seized in the raid fell into the latter category.
Krishna spokesman Umapati Das said Krishna leaders met with ACLU state president Roger Forman and another ACLU official. Umapati said that the ACLU representatives were very interested and enthusiastic about the case.
"They said it was obviously a case of religious harassment... of people being deprived of their constitutional rights," Umapati said.
Forman, however, said it was too early in the investigation to determine the motivations of the federal agents who conducted the raid. He said possible directions taken by the ACLU could include the appealing of any court decisions or other legal actions.
"[T]he scope of the search appears to be excessive," Forman said. Krishna leaders have charged that the agents conducting the raid kicked down doors and took unnecessary personal files.
Asked to respond to the allegations of harassment, Bruce Smith repeated an earlier response from U.S. Attorney William Kolibash: "This investigation deals with individual persons. If they are members of the community, it is purely coincidental." Smith noted that Chief Federal Circuit Court Judge Robert E. Maxwell has already ruled that the search and seizure was done lawfully. From "ACLU Starts Probe Into Krishna Raid," the Wheeling, WV Intelligencer," February 25, 1987
Hare Krishnas Expel Swami Bhaktipada (p. 7) In a resolution passed at its headquarters in India, the governing body of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) voted March 18 to excommunicate Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, the leader of New Vrindaban. The 600-resident West Virginia commune - the largest Krishna community in the world - is being investigated by federal authorities for numerous allegations of criminal activity, from drug dealing to child abuse.
The resolution said Bhaktipada, who is also the target of federal investigations, had undermined the worldwide religion and had created his own movement within it in an "attempt to establish himself as the sole spiritual heir to ISKCON."
A New Vrindaban spokesman called the excommunication an unjustified "political move," and said Bhaktipada would probably remain as leader of the community, which is incorporated independent of ISKCON.
Ron Bruch, president of the ISKCON temple in Philadelphia, said the governing body is forcing Bhaktipada's followers to decide whether to stay with him or go to another temple. He said he expected the majority to stay, although "some may re-evaluate." From "Panel Votes to Dismiss Bhaktipada," the Wheeling Intelligencer, March 19, 1987, p. 1
Krishna commune called "unhealthy" for children (p. 11) As the ongoing federal, state, and local investigations of the Hare Krishna community of New Vrindaban, WV., progresses, court documents and interviews with former devotees offer a sordid portrayal of life in a place where sexual abuse of children is condoned by sect leaders, where outbreaks of disease are common, where young girls have been forced under threat of expulsion to marry older men and men of high standing may take several wives, where women are kept in subjugation and are sometimes beaten, and where educational practices are grossly inadequate.
Concern over child welfare at the commune has increased since the headmaster of the Krishna school was charged with sexually molesting a child over a 6-year period.
Ex-devotee Christine Mills calls New Vrindaban "a dangerous, unhealthy, and immoral environment." In the lawsuit she has filed in an effort to remove her children from the commune, she says she fears for their safety. She tells of having once helped Krishna leaders hide a child during a similar custody dispute. The child was later taken to India to prevent his being returned to his mother. From "Suffer the children at Hare Krishna commune," the San Jose Mercury News, March 21, 1987, p. IOC
Soviet Krishnas Seek Official Acceptance (p. 14) The Soviet branch of the Hare Krishnas is campaigning to have the organization registered with the government.
Previous attempts by the officially banned sect to acquire a legal basis have been turned down, and official persecution of the Krishnas has continued. Devotees are ostracized and publicly attacked, and 26 Krishna are currently incarcerated in Soviet camps or prisons. From "In Moscow, Soviet Krishnas Ask Permission to Practice Faith," the Washington Post, May 2, 1987, p. A 17
Mother and Daughter Win $1.3 Million Award Against Krishnas (p. 1,2) Former Hare Krishna member Susan Murphy Erickson and her mother, Mary Murphy, were awarded $610,000 in damages against the Hare Krishna organization on June 16 by a Norfolk County Superior Court jury in Dedham, Massachusetts. Interest at 12% a year since the lawsuit was filed in 1977 brought the total judgment to $1.3 million.
Judge Robert W. Banks placed a $1.5 million attachment on the Hare Krishna temple in Boston to preserve the women's right to collect the award. The temple has taken out a $200,000 second mortgage to pay lawyers' fees.
Susan testified that she dropped out of school and left home at age 14 to become a full-time Krishna devotee. She said that while living in the Boston temple in 1974-75 she was forced to beg on the street, slept about 5 hours a night, and ate two meals a day of cereal and potatoes.
James Frieden, the plaintiffs' attorney, said other Krishnas encouraged Susan to lie and steal and convinced her that all nondevotees, including her family, were meat-eating demons."
Susan returned home at age 16 after her mother learned that the temple planned to send her to Germany on a forged passport.
Paul Minkoff, attorney for the Krishnas, linked the sect with traditional religions, and blamed a poor family life at the Murphy home for the emotional damage suffered by Susan.
Psychiatrist Norman Zinbeg testified that Susan suffers from "post traumatic stress disorder" and will require additional therapy, and that Mary Murphy has been "severely damaged" by anxiety over her daughter.
The jury found the Boston chapter o the Krishnas guilty of "intentional infliction of emotional distress" upon mother and daughter, and interference with the mother's parental rights. It also
found that the Krishnas had failed to protect Susan from sexual intercourse forced upon her by Krishna devotee Douglas Hewer, to whom she was given in a temple "marriage" at age 14.
Judge Banks denied motions by the Krishnas for a new trial and a reversal of the verdicts, but took under advisement motions that he reduce the interest on the award because the plaintiffs failed to pursue the lawsuit for several years. He also agreed to consider a motion that he reduce the award itself because the temple allegedly qualifies for the limitation on civil liability afforded charitable organizations under Massachusetts law.
An attorney for the Krishnas said the sect would probably appeal the verdict. "I'm very happy... [but] I'm crying for the hundreds of parents with children in the movement," said Mary Murphy following the verdict. I hope the world becomes aware of what’s happening. They're not just a religion. They're very dangerous people." She said she hoped the verdict would force the sect to review its policies. From "$61OG award in Krishna abuse case," the Boston Herald, June 17, 1987, p. 14, and "Hell in the Hare Krishnas," the Boston Phoenix, August 14, 1987
Hare Krishnas Sued by Baseball Teams and Creator of "Peanuts" (p. 13) Attorneys for 26 major league baseball teams and United Features Syndicate, which represents "Peanuts" cartoon creator Charles Schulz have filed suit against the West Virginia Hare Krishna community of New Vrindaban for copyright infringement.
The suits charge that the community distributed caps, buttons, and other souvenirs emblazoned with the plaintiffs' trademarks in return for donations as part of a muli-milllion-dollar nationwide panhandling operation.
United Features has requested $50,000 in damages for each violation, which could total in the hundreds. The 26 baseball teams requested a total of $27 million in damages.
Named as defendants were the New Vrindaban community, its guru, Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada., and Dennis Gorick, who headed the fundraising program. From "Sports teams, 'Peanuts' creator may sue Krishnas," the Seattle Times, June 11, 1987
Award in Krishna Case Debated (p. 12) Religious groups and other interested parties in the Boston area and elsewhere are debating the recent jury verdict that awarded $1.3 million to former Hare Krishna devotee Susan Murphy and her mother.
Roland Hegstad of the Washington-based Religious Liberty Association said he thought the verdict was indicative of "an antipathy developing among mainstream denominations to anything that's new or unorthodox."
But Michael Langone of the American Family Foundation saw the verdict as a warning to groups like the Hare Krishnas that they cannot excuse their actions in the name of religious freedom.
The Rev. Peter Conley, spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, said he felt the case "was very much decided on the facts," and that he did not see it as a precedent.
The leader of the Boston Hare Krishna temple expressed concern that the sect can never receive a fair trial.
But one legal argument in the case - that Susan Murphy was under age when she joined the Krishnas - has resulted in a new policy at the Boston temple requiring that minors who wish to stay there must have written permission from their parents. From "Krishnas regroup, others debate verdict," the Patriot Ledger [Quincy, MA], June 20,1987
Hare Krishnas (p. 16) Devotees at the Krishna mansion in Hertfordshire, a gift from Beatle George Harrison, have been ordered to "discontinue the use of the land for the purpose of a religious community and public worship and public entertainment in connection with religious festivals." The decision was made to preserve the peace of the village of Letchmore Heath, which is an exclusive conservation area. Residents have complained about noise and extra traffic, particularly during major festivals, which attract up to 25,000 people.
Hare Krishna Airport Solicitor Sues Police (p. 10)
Robert Plouffe, a Hare Krishna devotee in Orlando, FL, is suing three police officers for $1 million, claiming he was insulted and deliberately provoked into a scuffle at the Orlando International Airport.
The suit, filed in federal court, charges that airport officers Markvin Getz, Tom Reynolds, and Cynthia Robinson falsely arrested Plouffe November 23, 1986, and violated his constitutional right to express his religious beliefs.
Plouffe said the scuffle began when a man he believed to be a tourist began ripping pages from a copy of a Krishna religious book Plouffe had just handed him. Plouffe said he forgot his vow of non-violence, cursed, and grabbed for the book. The next thing he knew, the "tourist," who turned out to be a plainclothes police officer, was arresting him.
Plouffe said he was tackled by two uniformed police officers who shoved his face onto the terminal floor and cuffed his hands behind his back. He was charged with battery.
The airport suspended Plouffe’s soliciting privileges, but reinstated them when the battery charge was dropped a month later. From "Hare Krishna priest files suit against police," the St. Petersburg Times, August 18,1987, p. 2B
Hare Krishnas in Moscow Warned (p. 15) For several weeks in July, a small band of Hare Krishna devotees gathered every night to chant in front of a Moscow theater. Following the singing, group members spoke with curious onlookers.
But on August 17, this episode of glasnost ended when 15 Krishnas were accused of violating an article of the administrative code which forbids religious observances anywhere but in a church or temple. They were warned that if they were caught singing and dancing on the street again, they would be arrested and charged under the criminal code.
But Soviet authorities have not acknowledged the Hare Krishnas as a religious sect, despite repeated applications for recognition by the group.
"[I]f we are not an official religious group, then we should be allowed to sing on the street," said Krishna devotee Alexander Dragilyov. From "Moscow's Krishna Cutoff," the Washington Post, August 19, 1987, p. Fl.
ISKCON (p. 16) The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has almost died out in France. About 50 Krishna devotees will soon have to leave their commune in Oublasse for failure to pay the rent. Gas and electricity were cut off months ago. Last September the group’s spiritual leader, “His Divine Grace, Shrila Bhagavan Das,” formerly William Ehrlichmann, returned home to the U.S., taking the group’s money with him. In 1984 a huge tax rectification was imposed on the group because the work carried out by its members could not be termed voluntary.
British Hare Krishna Center May Face Closure (p. 16) The main center of the British Hare Krishna community, a manor given to the sect by former Beatle George Harrison, is being threatened with closure by the local council in Hertsmere, Hartfordshire.
The council has ordered the sect to "discontinue the use of the land for the purpose of a religious community and public worship and public entertainment in connection with religious festivals."
A council member said the decision was made in order to preserve the peace of the village of Letchmore Heath, which lies in an exclusive conservation area. Villagers have complained about noise and extra traffic in connection with the center.
The manor and its grounds have been regarded as a shrine since 1974 and the numbers coming for regular worship have steadily increased. In 1981 the sect was limited to 1,000 visitors a day except for six religious festivals a year, which attract up to 25,000 attendees.
The sect appealed the ruling and a public inquiry was slated to be held on November 9. About 10,000 devotees were expected to stage a protest march in London. From "Krishna mansion faces closure," the Guardian [Manchester, England], July 8, 1987, p. 2
Hare Krishna's Murder Conviction Appealed (p. 10) An appeal filed on behalf of Thomas Drescher, sentenced to life in prison last January for the murder of Krishna devotee Charles St. Denis, blames extensive media coverage for prejudicing a jury against the defendant.
The appeal was filed in late August in the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Drescher's attorney, Mark Karl, said the jury should have been sequestered due to the case having received "media exposure the likes of which the West Virginia courts have not seen for some time." From "Drescher Appeal Cites Publicity," The Intelligencer [Wheeling, WVI, August 29, 1987
Hare Krishna Leader Indicted for Arson (p. 9) Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, head of the West Virginia Hare Krishna community of New Vrindaban, and Thomas Drescher, a follower who is serving a life sentence for the murder of another sect member, have been indicted on charges of burning a building to collect $40,000 in insurance.
The two were charged along with three other followers in Federal indictments made public September 16, said United States Attorney William Kolibash.
Bhaktipada, formerly known as Keith Hamm, and Drescher are charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and arson, illegal use of fire or explosives, and malicious destruction.
Kolibash said Drescher burned an apartment building on July 14, 1983 , and that the Inland Insurance Company paid the Krishna community $40,000 five months later.
The Krishnas have denied any wrongdoing. Devamriat Swami, president of New Vrindaban, said the charges were part of a continuing harassment of the Krishna community. From "2 in Sect Charged in Insurance Case," the New York Times, September 18, 1987
Officials Skeptical of Krishnas' Plans for "Spiritual City" (p. 11, 12) West Virginia officials are skeptical about Hare Krishna plans to construct a "Spiritual City" at their New Vrindaban commune.
According to Krishna officials, the proposed city is designed to shelter 10,000 of the "most spiritual people" in the event of a nuclear holocaust.
Marshall County Commissioner Howard Byard said he doubted whether adequate water and sewage facilities are available for such a project. Jill Spencer, supervisor of a nearby park, said she hoped the Krishnas would not attempt to use county facilities, since they have refused to pay county taxes.
County Prosecutor Thomas White said he doubted 10,000 Hare Krishnas would come to New Vrindaban since the community is out of favor with the rest of the sect because of charges of illegal activities there. From "Krishna Plans Are Doubted By Officials," The Intelligencer [Wheeling, WVJ, August 18, 1987
Hare Krishna Devotees Arrested in Moscow (p. 16) Police in Moscow forcibly broke up an August 29 demonstration by about 20 Hare Krishna activists, who were pushed into a police bus after they assembled in a small park on Gorky Street opposite City Hall to press for official recognition as a religious group.
Soviet officials have accused the Hare Krishnas of being "anti-Communist" and a tool of the American CIA. Hare Krishna spokesmen have denied the charges.
A group known as the Committee to Free Soviet Hare Krishnas, based in Stockholm and headed by D.V. Jakupko, said early in 1986 that 25 Hare Krishna members in the Soviet Union were either in prison or psychiatric hospitals because of their beliefs. From "Moscow Police Break Up Hare Krishna Gathering," the Los Angeles Times, August 30, 1987
Krishna Leader Cleared of Arson Charge; Follower Guilty (p. 6) A U.S. District Court jury in West Virginia December 15 found Hare Krishna devotee Thomas Drescher guilty of burning an apartment building near the sect's New Vrindaban commune to collect $40,000 in insurance.
But the jurors found New Vrindaban's leader, Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, innocent of arson, conspiracy, and mail fraud.
Drescher's lawyer said he would appeal his client's conviction on charges of malicious burning. The charge carries a possible 10-year prison term and a $10,000 fine. Dreshcer was cleared of conspiracy and mail fraud charges.
U.S. Attorney William Kolibash said his office's wide-ranging investigation of the New Vrindaban community will continue. From "Krishna leader cleared of arson charges," the Boston Globe, December 16,1987
Various Sites Proposed for Hare Krishnas' "City of God" (p. 7) The eastern Pennsylvania town of Jim Thorpe is dismayed at the prospect of a Hare Krishna "City of God" in its midst. Residents fear sect members will try to convert local youth and turn the area into a haven for panhandling. Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, leader of the sect’s New Vrindaban, WV, community, envisions a walled city that will be a "bastion that stands for fortification of religion, decency, purity and love of God."
Various sites, including New Vrindaban itself, have been proposed for the city. The Hare Krishnas are said to favor the Jim Thorpe site because of its proximity to other Krishna communities. But a Krishna spokesman said Bhaktipada had chosen a 300-acre site near Trenton, NJ, because of its historical significance.
The completed city would enclose 280 acres, and would shelter 12,000 people inside its walls and another 30,000 outside. The compound would include gardens and a gilded palace, a huge temple surrounded by 16 satellite temples, and a bomb shelter stocked with provisions for 30 days.
Bhaktipada reportedly wants to hire New York mega-developer Donald Trump to build the city.
"The swami is big enough to talk to Donald Trump," said Sanatha Dasi, a former New York resident who is serving as the projects architect. "The question is, is Donald Trump big enough to talk to Swami?" From "City fears Krishna community," the Tribune [Mesa, AZ], November 22, 1987, and "Hare Trumpna," the New York Post, November 14, 1987, p. 4
Hare Krishna Solicitors Arrested for Trespassing (p. 9)
Two Hare Krishnas seeking financial support for their cause were arrested in the University of Pennsylvania Quadrangle two weeks ago for trespassing. The two have been linked to the Hare Krishna community of New Vrindaban, in Moundsville, WV, which has been the subject of state and federal investigations of alleged illegal activities including sexual assault on children resident in the commune and copyright infringements in connection with sales of items to the public.
The Krishna solicitors said they were collecting donations for the group's program that allegedly provides food for poor people in West Virginia, a claim denied by Detective Sergeant Thomas Westfall, of Marshall County, WV.
University Public Safety Sergeant Thomas Messner said that a similar Krishna group was soliciting on campus last year, but using a different name. From "Krishna cult tied to murders, deceitful fundraising," by Kristine Butler, and "U. prohibits soliciting, peddling in residences," by Kristine Butler, The Daily Pennsylvanian, January 25, 1987.
Krishna Murder From the FAIR NEWS, January 1988 (p. 15) A Hare Krishna follower is being questioned about the murder of a fellow devotee whose headless body was found in a store in the London area. The victim was James Immel, an American, who had been the British leader of ISKCON from 1979 to 1982, when he had reportedly left the movement with several other disenchanted members.
Pennsylvania Residents Oppose Krishnas' Park Purchase (p. 10) Residents of Moosic, PA, are up in arms over reports that the Hare Krishnas are considering the purchase of Rocky Glen Park amusement complex when its lease expires in July. The Krishnas would like to build a walled "City of God" on the site.
At a public meeting February 3 nearly a thousand local residents voiced their protests, and 700 signed petitions opposing the sale. The meeting was called after borough council president Joseph Mercatili was told by Rocky Glen owner Marvin Roth that someone was interested in buying the park. Mercatili said Roth "seemed hesitant' to disclose the identity of the prospective buyer.
Scranton resident Donald Fetterolf, whose son, Eric, was once a member of a cult, warned the audience that the Krishnas would subtly beguile area youths into joining their sect.
"Why do they need a walled city, to keep their devotees in or to keep the parents out?" Fetterolf asked.
Borough solicitor John Brazil reassured the crowd that the park's commercial zoning bars any church or religious commune at the site. But many in the audience expressed doubt that the zoning regulations would keep the Krishnas out. From "The Krishnas: It's sour music up in Moosic," by Jeff Pillets, the WilkesBarre Times, February 4, 1988, p. 1 A.
Petition Charges Hare Krishnas with Abuse (p. 11) A petition filed in the West Virginia Supreme Court charges that children at the Hare Krishna commune of New Vrindaban have been subjected to sexual abuse and forced into communal marriages. Christina Mills, a former devotee who filed the petition, claims her children are in danger at the commune. From "Court hears allegations of Krishna child abuse," The Washington Times, March 3, 1988, p.A7.
Mother Refused Custody of Krishna Children (p. 8)
Former Hare Krishna member Christina Mills has lost her court bid to gain custody of her three children, who live at the Krishna's New Vrindaban commune in West Virginia with their father, Dennis Gorrick, a sect fundraiser.
Despite recommendation by a family law master that the children, ages 2, 3, and 6, be removed from Gorrick's care, Circuit Judge Steven Narick ruled May 3 that Mills had failed to prove her allegations that the children are exposed to child abuse and other criminal activity at the commune.
The judge added that Mills may still appeal the case to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. From "Mom loses Krishna fight" the San Antonio Light, May 4,1988, p. C3.
Extradition Fight in Krishna Murder (P. 8) Lawyers for Hare Krishna devotee Thomas Drescher, now serving a life term in West Virginia for the murder of another devotee, asked the West Virginia Supreme Court to deny a California request to extradite Drescher to face trial for the 1986 murder trial of a disgruntled member of the sect. Drescher's lawyers argue that there is no proof that Drescher was in California at the time of the murder. Wheeling, WV Post Intelligencer, 9/3/86, P. 11.
George’s Coercion Charges in Krishna Case Rejected in Appeal Panel Review (p. 6) The California 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego tentatively rejected in December the claim by Marcia George that her daughter Robin was imprisoned and then psychologically coerced into accepting Krishna beliefs after joining the group in 1977.
The ruling was announced to help guide attorney arguments in the sect's appeal of a 1983 verdict which awarded the Georges $32 million in damages, later reduced to $9.7 million.
Witnesses had testified in the original trial that Robin was held captive and brainwashed by ceremonial devices like chanting and fear based on a religious belief that leaving the Krishnas would be an unacceptable alternative. They also said that deficient diet deprived the then 15-year old girl of the ability to decide to leave.
The appeal panel said, however, that Robin "cooperated almost enthusiastically," with the Hare Krishnas and consented to leave home and follow their movement.
The preliminary decision also distinguished between the religious belief of the sect and the conduct of the group's members in hiding Robin from her parents. Thus, while the First Amendment rights of the Hare Krishnas to free religious expression might be recognized by rejecting the brain washing charges, the award to Marcia George herself might well be increased because, as she claimed in the original trial, her husband suffered a fatal stroke, - because of the couple's search for Robin. Indeed, one judge questioned how the conduct of Krishna members who refused to let the Georges see their daughter could be immunized by First Amendment protection.
An attorney for the Krishnas suggested that the court was trying to craft an opinion that would not jeopardize religious groups. From " $9.7 Million Hare Krishna Award Reviewed," Los Angeles Daily Journal, December 12,1988
Hare Krishna Australian Decline (p. 15) The Hare Krishna farm on the far northern coast of New South Wales with guru's throne, lavish furniture, and sauna is $180,000 in debt and short of live-in followers - from over 350 to 40 or 50 in the last decade.
Many Australians have left the movement after the "defrocking" of the Australian leader following his admission that he was a homosexual and the revelations of criminal activities of some Hare Krishna leaders in the U. S.
Promotional promises of "a multimillion dollar religious village-cum tourist trap," have gone unfulfilled. From The empty throne," The Bulletin [Sydney], August 9, 198 8, 91-94
Krishna Member Faces Murder Charges (P. 6) Thomas Drescher, serving a life sentence in West Virginia for the murder of a fellow Hare Krishna, was extradited to California in December to face charges connected with the 1986 murder-for-hire of a former member, Stephen L. Bryant, who had become a vociferous critic of the sect. The investigation into who may have hired Drescher continues. Los Angeles Times, 1213188, Part 11, 1.
Krishna Member Surrenders (p. 11) Hare Krishna member Gary Gardner, former principal of the now closed Boys School at the group's New Vrindaban commune in West Virginia, surrendered to county authorities nearly two years after being indicted for the alleged sexual assault of one of the school's pupils. Gardner said he had been in India and not known about the indictment until his recent return to this country. Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV) 11/11/88
New Hare Krishna Mansion (p. 11)
The Old South Society for Vedic Literature, a hare Krishna group with about 20 members, recently acquired Gloucester House in Natchez, an historic Mississippi river city, and hopes to make it a popular spot for visitors. The society distributed brochures to welcome centers all over the state to let people know that the house is open for tours. Star Tribune
Hare Krishna (p. 14) Hare Krishna members in late November were planning to fast as part of their battle with the Hertsmere Borough Council over whether or not the group can use their estate at Bhaktivedanta Manor, a gift from Beatle George Harrison some years ago, as a festival site and place of worship attracting up to 1000 people a day and 30,000 on special occasions.
Krishna and Glasnost (p. 15)
Some 50 Soviet Hare Krishna followers have reportedly been released from labor camps where they were sent for "anti-Soviet" and "anti-social" activities. A Krishna branch has been officially registered in Riga, the Latvian capital, and there are indications that such recognition may take place in other cities as well. Moreover, 60 devotees have been allowed to travel to India for a two-month course in Bombay, Delhi, and Calcutta.
Brainwashing Claim Dismissed in Robin George Appeal (pp. 6,7) The 4th District Court of Appeal in San Diego in August dismissed the claim of Robin George that the Hare Krishnas brainwashed her when she was with them as a 15-year-old runaway. Ms. George's claims of emotional distress and libel were also dismissed and she was left with only a $75,000 award tied to the wrongful death of her father, who had a fatal heart attack due to the stress of trying to find his daughter when she was among the Krishnas.
The court let stand, however, a $2.9 million judgment in favor of Robin's mother, Marcia George, for emotional stress and libel during the period that the group allegedly conspired to hide Robin from her parents. In 1983, an Orange County, CA jury returned a $32.5 million verdict in favor of the Georges against the sect later cut to $9.7 million by the trial judge.
The Krishnas contended in their appeal that the earlier verdict interfered with their constitutional right to freedom of religion. Krishna spokesman Mukunda Goswarni said, "The court was really very wise on that brainwashing fiasco," adding that the jury award would have forced the Krishnas to sell six of their temples around the country. Justice Howard Weiner, who wrote the opinion, called the brainwashing claim the "centerpiece" of the appeal. The Georges contended that Robin was brainwashed and could not have left the Krishna temples even if she had wanted to. Weiner said that according to a recent state Supreme Court ruling on a case involving the Unification Church, Ms. George had to show that the Krishnas physically restrained her, which they did not, he added.
Lynn Seldon, an attorney for Ms. George - now 29 and a married interior decorator - said she "got clobbered," adding, "If anybody was wronged by this Krishna behavior, it was Robin. I think her mother agrees. Robin was injured the worst. Robin George herself called the ruling "sad." The court apparently didn't understand the "element of mind control and how that interferes with your thinking," she said. "The court is looking at this case and saying, 'This girl did these things and had a choice - there must be something wrong with her' . . . [It's] not like joining the Baptist church. Its a totally different ballgame."
Attorneys on both sides said further appeals are almost certain because neither side was a complete winner. [From "Krishnas Did Not Brainwash Cypress Girl, Court Rules," by Alan Abrahamson, Los Angeles Times, 8/31/89, Part 11, 3.
The Hare Krishnas in India (p. 14) A new book by Charles R. Brooks that traces the "reverse" missionary work of followers of the American sect in the town of Vrindaban. Princeton University Press, $14.95 (paper), $39.95 (cloth).
Krishna Temple Sales Blocked (p. 10)
The Supreme Court has blocked the court-ordered sales of five Hare Krishna temples, giving the sect a chance to appeal a $5-million judgment against it. The case, in which a California jury awarded former Krishna member Robin George and her family $32.5 million in damages for emotional distress, has attracted wide interest in the religious community for its large penalty. On appeal, the 1983 award was reduced to $2.9 million, which has risen to more than $5 million with interest.
In 1974, Miss George, still a minor, visited a Hare Krishna Temple and, according to court documents, soon followed the group's advice and left home to live permanently with the group.
The National Council of Churches, the World Hindu Association of North America, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, and the National Association of Evangelicals have filed friend of the court briefs supporting the Krishnas and asking that the Supreme Court hear the case. Hindu leaders say the original trial in effect passed judgment on their religion and falsely portrayed their scriptures.
A state judge last month ordered that five Krishna temples already placed under court supervision, including the religion's headquarters in Los Angeles, be sold and the proceeds paid to the Georges. The Krishnas asked the court for a stay to save their religion from "destruction." Since then, the Krishnas have held a round-the-clock vigil in front of the National Archives, and on April I they marched through Washington advocating religious freedom.
Lawyers for the Georges argued that "there is no reliable evidence in the record to support [the Krishna's] allegation concerning the financial hardships which will befall them if the stay is not granted." Washington Times, 4/20/90, 136. [The Washington Times is controlled by Unification Church companies.]
Ad Claims Persecution
A "Campaign to Save Religious Freedom in America" ad in the March 30 Washington Post claims that a court order compelling the International Society for Consciousness (ISKCON) to sell property to pay damages to an ex-member represents Persecution of Hinduism. "How would you feel if a court threatened to close your church because a former member and her mother didn't like your religion," asks the ad, in reference to the court-awarded punitive and compensatory damages to Robin George for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Pressured to Join Krishnas (p. 18) Anton Hoefter, just out of seven years in a Swiss monastery school, tells of his brief experience with a Hare Krishna group in China and of the excessive pressure put on him to join the group. Areopagus, Advent 1989 (Vol. 3, No. 1), 35-37.
Krishnas Back to Airports (p. 10) A federal judge ruled late last year that the three major airports serving New York – Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark, are “public forums,” much like sidewalks, and therefore venues for free speech. This means that groups like the Hare Krishnas will be able to resume their airport activities of the 1970s. The Krishnas plan to use different tactics in the 1990s. Male members are letting their locks grow out and are doffing their day-glo robes in favor of shirts and trousers. Exact details are missing, but they’ll reportedly be extolling the virtues of their holy book, the Bhagavad-Gita, rather than putting the direct arm on people for money. MSP Airport News (Minneapolis-St. Paul), 4/4/90.
Krishna Leader Indicted for Murder (p. 8)
Three members of the Hare Krishna community in West Virginia, including founder-leader Keith Ham, 54, also known as Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada, were indicted by a federal grand jury last week, accused of conspiring to murder two dissident members of the sect in West Virginia and Los Angeles.
The U. S. Attorney in Wheeling said the government will attempt to seize the group's 4,000 acres of land and residences at its New Vrindaban community in Marshall County, alleging that they were purchased with $10.5 million obtained fraudulently.
The murders include the 1986 slaying of dissident ex-member Stephen Bryant and the 1983 killing of Charles St. Denis. Thomas Drescher is serving a life term for the latter murder.
The government also alleges that Drescher, who faces charges in California for Bryant's murder, was promised $80,000 by Ham to commit the murder and that of another community resident, Terry Sheldon.
The New Vrindaban community has been the subject of several other investigations, leading to the expulsion of the commune by the national leaders of the Hindu sect two years ago, and its leader a year earlier.
One count of the indictment, which followed a two-year investigation, alleges that Ham and three of the community's corporations violated racketeering statutes by investing the $10.5 million received from fundraising scams into property and buildings at their community. The indictment alleges that the accused used the mails fraudulently to solicit money from the public across the nation. They allegedly solicited funds for a school, but failed to tell those contributing that "children were sexually molested" at the school. Los Angeles Times, 6/2/90.
Swami Denies Charges
Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada denied the murder, racketeering , and mail fraud charges recently brought against him and said they were part of a ploy to seize his 4,000 acre commune in West Virginia. He also said a political figure wanted to use the case against him for personal gain. He refused to identify the figure, but said he played a prominent role in a federal arson case against Bhaktipada - which ended in acquittal - three years ago. The Swami also said a coal company that holds mineral rights to much of New Vrindaban wants his devotees off the land so they can mine the coal. Intelligencer (Wheeling, WVA), 6/7/90,1.
Other Krishna Leader Responds
Kirtinananda Swami also said that an offer he alleges the government made him - by which the charges would be dropped if the New Vrindaban community gave up claim to the land it sits on - probably was connected with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness getting the property. Rabinda Surapa, chairman of the Hare Krishna movement's Governing Board Commission, denied that ISKCON had any part in such a deal, and that the property would not in any case go to ISKCON if seized by the government.
The Governing Board Commission labeled Bhaktipada an embarrassment to the other Hare Krishnas and denied Bhaktipada's allegation that it had threatened him. Rabinda said that it was Bhaktipada who had threatened ISCKCON and other Hare Krishnas in the past. He said he would testify in the federal trial against Bhaktipada if called as a witness. Intelligencer (Wheeling, WVA), 617/90, 1.
Krishnas on the Beach (p. 10) Hare Krishnas are preparing to frequent beaches in north Florida in traditional Krishna dress. Volusia County officials are reportedly less than enthusiastic about the prospect of religious solicitors roving the beach, but acknowledge there is nothing they can do to prevent it. The county ordinance regulating commercial soliciting, such as advertising and timeshare condo peddling, does not contain any reference to religious or non-profit organizations. Ft. Myers (FL) News Press, 7/13/90,4.
Krishnas in Moscow (p. 14) The local leader of the Hare Krishna movement, Sergei Zuyev, says "Our movement has been increasing in number so fast, it is hard to keep up count." He estimated up to 10,000 followers are now among the 300 million Soviet citizens. "Hare Krishna isn't only a religion," he said, but "a philosophy of spiritual happiness and that is what we try to provide.. . Young people are open to what we are trying to teach." Detroit News, 8/19/ 90,4A.
Boy George "Saved" by Krishnas (p. 12) Outrageous rocker Boy George has joined the Hare Krishnas, and thanks to them, he reported, he's finally beaten his lifelong addiction to drugs and booze. "I'm happy to be one of them," the 29-year-old singer told a close friend. "The beliefs of the Hare Krishnas have helped me get off drugs and alcohol - and I love their music."
According to a Los Angeles spokesman for the group, "Boy George chants happily, eats a strict vegetarian diet, stays drug-free, and worships regularly with other Hare Krishna devotees." His father, Jeremiah O'Dowd, told London's Sunday People newspaper: " The family is absolutely delighted. George has been through a long, dark tunnel and come out a better person." National Enquirer, 9/11/90,22.
Renegade Krishna Leader's "Spiritual War" with Critics (p. 14) Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada [formerly Keith Hain], the renegade Hare Krishna leader now under federal indictment for racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder, says the charges make sense only in the context of an ongoing spiritual war between the forces of good and evil. He told a reporter before an audience of devotees that persecution is an index of holiness - and his indictment represents nothing less.
"Jesus Christ said to expect it... Every real active devotee of God will be persecuted- always has been, always will. That's the way you know whether he's doing his job." He adds, "Remember, not only was Christ crucified, but everyone of his disciples were put to death as well. Still, the message lived on."
Most of their supporters are doing their best to match his confidence. A gray New Vrindaban Construction pickup proudly sports this motto: "Whether he is wrong or right, he's right."
Some of Bhaktipada's devotees - fewer than 300 remain from more than 600 residents in the mid-1980s - agree with his logic. I see it as a conspiracy" said the leader's gardener, Narasingha. I feel I can trust my own intimate knowledge of the man more than I can trust the rumors and hearsay.
"The persecution is going on because of envy ... of the success our community has had," said Sankirtan, who heads New Vrindaban's drama department.
Others believe the indictment is a divine message. "I think [the Lord] Krishna has waited too long to cleanse us," said Jaya Mirari Swami, who is in charge of the community's plumbing and heating systems. "It got real loose around here. You could go into garbage and find remnants where people were eating meat."From "In W.Va. hills a troubled temple to Lord Krishna, by Julia M. Klein. Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/22/90,2A.
"New Age Goulash"
Ravindra Svarupa, the Philadelphia-based North American chairman of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, said the expelled Bhaktipada was an embarrassment because of his misrepresentation" of the movement, his "messianic complex" and the "apparent criminal activities."
"He was acting in a completely independent and autocratic manner. He felt we had no control over him. Yet we are going to have to take responsibility for all of his actions. We couldn't be put in that position," he said.
Svarupa refers disdainfully to the religion practiced at New Vrindaban as "New Age goulash." Bhaktipada has replaced traditional Hindu dhotis with monk-like robes, translated the service from Sanskrit to English, and included hymns and references to Jesus Christ. In addition, male devotees at New Vrindaban no longer shave their heads and women are allowed to ascend to the sannyasi, or celibate order, and take the title "swami."The West Virginia Hare Krishna community at New Vrindaban, Palace of Gold - will be the centerpiece of the City of God in Marshall County, plans to build a $10 million temple, according to leader Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada. He said that the "Cathedral of the Holy Name" - which with 100,000 square feet will be far larger than the community's existing Palace of Gold - will be the centerpiece of the City of God complex the group plans to construct. The city is to include temples, mosques, synagogues, and living quarters." Charleston (WV) Gazette, 7/23/90.
Vol. 8, No. 1
Why Have We Betrayed Robin? (p. 5)
By Ronald Enroth, Ph.D.
In 1974, at the age of 14, Robin George was recruited by the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). During the next two years, leaders of the organization kept her whereabouts concealed from her parents, while denying her adequate food, medical treatment, and sleep.
Soon after her ordeal was over, Robin's father died of a heart attack, which was doubtless related to the stress of trying to locate and free his daughter. Robin and her mother brought suit against the Krishna organization in 1977, alleging false imprisonment, brainwashing, emotional distress, and the wrongful death of Robin's father. After delays, the landmark case went to trial in 1983, ending in a multimillion-dollar award for punitive damages.
ISKCON has appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which as of this writing has yet to decide whether to hear the case. Several Christian organizations, such as the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the National Council of Churches (NCC), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, have filed a brief with the Supreme Court claiming that the punitive damages awarded in the case are "clearly destructive of free exercise of religion."
As a sociologist of religion who has spent nearly two decades researching and writing about cults and new religions, I have followed this case from its inception, kept track of Robin George, and continue to be concerned. Five years after leaving the Krishnas, Robin became a Christian, and she and her husband are active in an evangelical church. They feel betrayed by the action of these Christian groups.
While l strongly support the concern for religious freedom expressed in the brief, I believe that these groups' filing of an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief was misguided. While they stressed that their brief should not be viewed as support for the doctrines and practices of the Hare Krishnas, their action is at best confusing. At worst, it compromises our witness. I believe they have given indirect aid and comfort to enemies of the gospel. Controversial new religions will interpret such legal moves as support for their attempts to gain legitimacy.
This was the case a few years ago when church groups filed a similar brief in connection with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church. Moon's followers used the issue of religious freedom (in a case involving tax charges) to marshal sympathy from the mainstream religious community. They prominently quoted Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, and other religious leaders in their publication to convey the impression that Christians were on their side.
In the ISKCON case, the Christian groups behind the brief argue that religious freedom may not survive "the crushing blow of punitive damages," and that any confiscation of Krishna assets would be "truly destructive" of the Hare Krishna religion. But what about the destructive impact on Robin George from her cultic experience and the premature loss of her father? Can any dollar amount compensate for such tragedy? And is the threat to religious liberty as grave as some evangelicals would have us believe? I am convinced that the awarding of punitive damages is not so much an attack on religious freedom as it is a reasonable response to illegal and unethical practices that are common to certain "cults," but not at all characteristic of the mainstream denominations that belong to the NAE and the NCC.
Instead of expending effort and concern over the imposition of punitive damages in cases involving extremist religious groups, these organizations would better serve their constituencies by informing and warning people about the potential for spiritual, psychological, and even physical harm found in such groups.
Ronald Enroth is a professor of sociology at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA. [Professor Enroth is also a member of the Editorial Board of the Cultic Studies Journal, which is published by the American Family Foundation, publisher of the Cult Observer.]
Vol. 8, No. 2
Hare Krishna Soliciting (p. 4) The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in January upheld a rule against soliciting contributions in the public areas at Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark airports in the New York City area, but said a ban on distributing literature there was unconstitutional.
The ruling stems from a 1975 suit brought by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc., against the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The decision reversed in part a lower court's decision that the ban on soliciting and distributing literature violated the Krishnas' First Amendment rights. The group requires members to pass out leaflets about the group and ask for contributions.
Jeremiah Gutman, a lawyer for the Krishnas, said he had not decided whether to appeal the decision. New York Times, 2/10/91.
Vol. 8, No. 3
Hare Krishna Murder Mistrial (p. 6) A mistrial was declared in mid-January in the murder trial of a Hare Krishna devotee charged with killing a disillusioned follower. Jurors told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carol Fieldhouse that their deliberations, begun in mid-December, had reached an impasse, deadlocked 8-4 in favor of acquittal. Prosecutors say they will request a new trial.
Thomas Drescher, 42, was charged with the 1986 slaying of Stephen L. Bryant, who allegedly called for the death of Drescher's spiritual leader, Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, head of the breakaway Hare Krishna commune in New Vrindaban, WV. Bryant, a former Krishna follower, had accused the swami of drug trafficking, prostitution, and child abuse.
Drescher already faces a life sentence in prison in West Virginia for the 1983 murder of Charles St. Denis, at New Vrindaban, while Bhaktipada goes on trial March 4 in Martinsburg, WV, on five counts of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, and six counts of mail fraud. One of the racketeering counts involves conspiracy in the death of Bryant. The Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV), 1/11/9 1.
Vol. 8, No 4
Krishna Leader Guilty (p. 8) The leader of the Hare Krishna spin-off community in West Virginia was convicted in late March of authorizing murder, kidnapping, and beating of devotees to protect an illegal, multimillion-dollar enterprise.
A jury found Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada, 53, guilty of mail fraud and racketeering, including being part of a conspiracy to murder fringe member Charles St. Denis in 1983. Bhaktipada faces a maximum of 90 years in prison and more than $76 million in fines.
Bhaktipada lieutenant Jerry Sheldon was convicted of racketeering and mail fraud, while Steven Fitzpatrick, another lieutenant, was convicted of mail fraud.
The three were indicted for allegedly making and selling millions of caps, bumper stickers, and T-shirts bearing the Snoopy character from Peanuts comics and other copyrighted and trademarked logos. The jurors failed to reach verdicts on two racketeering counts involving the murder of another follower who broke with the group. (From "Krishna figure convicted" (Washington Post, 3/31/91, A7.)
Responding during the trial to a witness implicated in the matter, who testified that Bhaktipada had approved one of the murders, the guru himself said, I told [the witness] that it wasn't a very good idea. But (I said) I have to advise you on two levels. Scripturally, I have to tell you there are certain circumstances when you can kill a man. But I must warn you, its against the law." (From "Swami Takes Stand in Fraud Trial," by Ray Formanek, Jr., Intelligencer [Wheeling, WV], 3/20/91, 1, 9.)
Scientology, Krishna Damage Awards (p. 6)
The U.S. Supreme Court in March sent back for review decisions by two state courts upholding punitive damage judgments against the Hare Krishnas (International Society for Krishna Consciousness - ISKCON) and the Church of Scientology.
One case involves a 1983 award of $32.5 million, now reduced to $2.5 million plus interest, to a California woman and her mother for emotional distress caused by the Hare Krishna organization. The other is for $30 million assessed in 1986 in favor of a former member against Scientology for harassment after he left the group.
The issue for the high court in both cases appears to be whether the punitive damages were so disproportionate to the harm suffered that they violate due process rights. (From “2 religious groups heartened by court ruling on damages,” by Larry Witham, Washington Times, 3/22/91, B6.) [The Washington Times is owned by Unification Church-related companies.]
Vol. 8, No 5
Krishna Leader Expelled (p. 6)
The conviction of the leader of West Virginia's Hare Krishna commune on charges of racketeering and fraud "bolsters our decision to expel him," says Mukunda Goswami, chairman of the U.S. governing body of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). "He should be portrayed as a lawless renegade," said Goswami. (From "Krishna Leader Is Convicted, by Ray Formanek, Jr., Intelligencer [Wheeling, WV], 3/30/91, 6.)
Krishna Leader Maintains Contact (p. 5) Jailed Hare Krishna leader Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada is in daily phone contact from jail with his New Vrindaban, WV community as he awaits sentencing on mail fraud and racketeering convictions. The calls are taped and played to community members, who are reportedly in good spirits and preparing for the tourist season, when many visitors stop to see the community’s Palace of Gold. “I kind of like it here (in jail) Bhaktipada said. “They take care of all your material needs and it gives me more time to chant hare Krishna, pray and write.” (From “Jailed Swami Adapts to New Life,” Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV), 4/9/91. 1-2)
Krishna Fundraising Methods (p. 7) Former West Virginia Hare Krishna follower Mary St. John, 39, testified at the recent trial of Swami Bhaktipada, leader of West Virginia’s Hare Krishna community, that she collected about $2 million for the organization from 1971 until she left in 1984. “He (Bhaktipada) said things like ‘my heart is where your money is.’” She maintained, adding that fundraisers often worked 13 or 14 yours a day. “Sometimes we were exhausted, but we were encouraged to work bars (late at night). That was pretty humiliating, but we’d do it.”
St. John said that Hare Krishna fundraisers often misrepresented themselves by asking for donations for underprivileged children or for a school at the Krishna community. She said she had a difficult time keeping up with the frantic pace of the fundraising and quit when her health failed. (From “Devotee Raised $2 million for Krishna Commune,” Ray Formanek, The Intelligencer (Wheeling, WV), 3/14/91, 1,2.)
Vol. 8, No 6
Hare Krishna Leader Sentenced to 30 Years (p. 5) West Virginia Hare Krishna commune leader Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada, convicted of authorizing the murder, kidnapping, and beating of devotees to protect an illegal multimillion-dollar enterprise, has been sentenced to 30 years in prison. Bhaktipada and two associates were found guilty in March of illegally selling millions of caps, bumper stickers, and T-shirts bearing copyrighted and trademarked logos as part of the group's fund-raising activities. The government said the scheme made a profit of $10.5 million between 1981 and 1985. (New York Times, 6/21/91.)
Award Against Krishnas Set Aside (p. 4) The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has thrown out substantial portions $610,000 award against the Hare Krishnas in favor of a former devotee and mother, saying that religious beliefs may not be placed on trial.
The court ruled that the claims made by Susan Murphy and her mother in a 1977 suit required the Hare Krishnas "to do what the First Amendment has forbid( it has been forced to attempt to prove to a jury that the substance of its religious beliefs are worthy of respect." The court said that the Murphys' emotional damage claims were based on "the notion that the disputed beliefs are fundamentally flawed and inconsistent with a proper notion of human development.".
An attorney for the Krishnas said of the decision: "I think the message is absolutely clear: There is no right to introduce evidence of religious teachings and religious services with the goal of demeaning and ridiculing a religion and imposing liability." James Frieden, a lawyer for Susan Murphy, said, "The religious beliefs were there to show the background of why she did what she did." But the court has now imposed "all these restrictions on the evidence. Although the evidence may be probative, the constitutional protection just removes it from contention and we have to stay away from it." (From "SJC ruling favors Krishnas," by Doris Sue Wong, Boston Globe 2/91, 31, 34.)
Vol. 8, No 7
Krishna Sued for Site by Ex-Owner (p. 4) The former owner of a West Virginia farm used to start the Hare Krishna New Vrindaban commune 23 years ago has sued to regain control of the leased property. (Commune leader Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada is in jail following his March conviction on mail fraud and racketeering charges.) Richard Rose charges that the use of the property to further illegal conspiracies caused him and his wife to suffer and that it hindered Rose's life's work, the establishment of a non-denominational, non-dogmatic, moral, and law-abiding philosophic center. (Intelligencer [Wheeling, WVJ, 5/11/9 1, 11.)
Boy George's Hare Krishna Album (p. 7) Boy George, back in London after visiting India, has put out an album, "The Martyr Mantras," inspired by the Hare Krishna movement, which he turned to after his heroin bust in 1986 and subsequent rehabilitation. The album, released in February, has done poorly. (Parade, The Sunday Newspaper Magazine, 8/111 91.)
Vol. 8, No 8
Hare Krishna Community (p. 9) The Hare Krishna community in Britain now numbers about 5,000, who live in or near the movement's European headquarters, a Georgian mansion in Hertfordshire purchased for the group by ex-Beatle George Harrison.
The academic timetable at the center's school includes early morning chanting and religious tutoring, academic work from 9 a.m. to I p.m., and activities such as dancing and yoga in the afternoon. Boys are sent to a special high school in India but do their final secondary work at a special prep school in England. Younger pupils, some of whom do not live at the center, see no problem mixing Eastern and Western cultures, appearing secure in their religious beliefs. "Vanilla Ice is big in school now, " said one, "but that doesn't mean we can't be Hare Krishna."
It remains to be seen if the children of formerly hippie parents who turned to the Krishna way in the '60s will decide to remain Hare Krishnas themselves. It seems as if they will. (From "Krishna's lessons in life-style," by Alex Hellos, The Guardian, 3/29/91, 19.)
Vol. 8, No. 10
Krishnas Ask Reconsideration of Award (p. 6) The Hare Krishna organization has asked a California state appeals court to reconsider a $6 million damage award against it in light of a recent Supreme court ruling setting new requirements governing punitive damages. In response to their 1977 lawsuit, a jury awarded the money to Robin George and her mother, who said the group brainwashed and conspired to hide the then 15-year-old girl as her parents searched for her. The Krishnas lawyers say the award would devastate the religion. (From "Hare Krishnas seek reversal of judgment," Riverside [CA] Press, 817191.)
Vol. 9, No. 1
Hare Krishnas (p. 8) The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which already runs social services clinics for members in England and India, plans to establish counseling networks and is researching the feasibility of old age pension plans and health insurance.
A row in the administration of Bolden Comprehensive School, South Tyneside, has erupted over Hare Krishna visitors teaching their faith to 13 and 14year old pupils at the public school. The Krishnas appeared as part of a program on other religions instead of the invited Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist representatives. The PTA feared the program would include Moonies or Satanists; next and that parents might withdraw their children from religious assemblies.
Vol. 9, No. 3
Hare Krishna Festivals (p. 8) A High Court justice has dismissed the appeal of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness against the Secretary of State's decision to uphold the Hertsmere Borough Council's ban of public worship and festivals at its Bhaktivedanta Manor. ISKCON says it will take its case to the Court of Appeals and then, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile, public worship can continue at the manor-which the local authority granted permission initially for use as a school and residence- and the members are demonstrating to get public figures to support their cause. The local council wants restrictions on events at the manor - a gift years ago of Beatle George Harrison which draw up to 25,000 people, but ISKCON has rejected the idea.
Krishna Damages Cut in George Case (p. 4)
The 4th District Court of Appeals in San Diego, in a 110-page decision, slashed to $500,000 a $2.5 million dollar award against the Hare Krishna organization [International Society for Krishna Consciousness] gained by Marcia George and her daughter Robin, who said the younger woman was wooed as a 14-year-old into the Krishnas and then hidden by members in a chain of events that began in 1974. The decision, which for the moment removes the Krishnas' prospects of financial ruin, leaves total damages for the Georges at $475,000, or close to $700,000 with interest, according to a Krishna lawyer, who declared the verdict a great victory for the sect and a crushing defeat for the Georges. "We keep chipping away at this verdict," he said, noting that a jury initially awarded the Georges $32.5 million in damages, later reduced by the trial judge to $9.7 million and further, on appeal, to $2.9 million. "Our position remains that the imposition of compensatory and punitive damages still is unconstitutional," he added, promising to fight what was left of the judgment. In the ruling, the court applied a 1991 California Supreme Court ruling retroactively to the case, deciding that the Georges should have given the jury some evidence of the Krishnas' financial worth before it determined punitive damages. The Supreme Court has required this financial information to ensure that awards are "sufficient to deter misconduct without being excessive." The Georges had sued asking damages for false imprisonment, emotional distress, libel, and the wrongful death of Robin's father [who died during attempts to locate her while she was among the Krishnas].
The court of appeal ordered the case back for retrial solely to decide the amount of punitive damages, and the Georges' original lawyer, Milton Silverman, of San Diego, said he would appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court, and retry the case-even though some of its facts are nearly 20 years old-if that court refused to review it. Silverman said he originally tried the case using laws on the books at the time. However, "10 years later, the rules are different and my clients are the worse for it." (From "Court cuts damages Krishnas must pay," by Lorie Hearn, San Diego Union, 1/31/92, A13)
Vol. 9, No. 4
Krishna Property Tax Case (p. 5) The West Virginia Supreme Court will soon consider a case in which the Hare Krishna commune in Marshall County claims it is not liable for $900,000 in past property taxes because it uses the land for religious purposes. The state Department of Tax and Revenue contends that the commune contains a number of commercial enterprises that are subject to taxation. (NewsRegister [Wheeling], 1/29/92, 1)
Vol. 9, No. 6
Krishnas' Airport Solicitation Suit Denied (p. 5) The U.S. Supreme Court, sharply divided on what degree of First Amendment protection to provide political and religious activities at public airports, has ruled that airport officials may bar fund-raising in terminals but cannot prohibit leafleting. In the 6-3 ruling, in a case brought by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas), the Chief Justice said that "Face-to-face solicitation presents risks of duress that are an appropriate target of regulation. The skillful, and unprincipled, solicitor can target the most vulnerable, including those accompanying children or those suffering physical impairment. The judgment rests on the finding that airports are not public forums. (Boston Globe, 6/ 27/92,8)
Vol. 9, No. 8
Hare Krishnas Help In Sarajevo (p. 9) Members of the Hare Krishna sect in Sarajevo are joining in the fight against the Serbian attack. The leader of the group's approximately 100 followers in the city, Jadranks Stojkovic, said that the Krishnas were helping refugees and that one member had been permitted to fight on the Muslim side. That is allowed under the rules of the faith if it is considered a just war, said Stojkovic, a Serb. (From "Even the peaceful Hare Krishnas are joining the fight in Sarajevo," by John Daniszewski, AP, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/29/92)
Vol 10, No. 1
Krishnas Protest Solicitation Rules (p. 5) Tampa-area Hare Krishnas are asking a federal judge to give them the right to ignore a local ordinance Prohibiting anyone from asking motorists for donations on county roads. The Krishnas and their attorney say that the ordinance is unconstitutional on both free speech and religious grounds. Criminal charges against the Krishna solicitors were dropped in late November when prosecutors determined they had been arrested within city limits. (From "Religious cult attacks soliciting rule," by Tracie Reddick, St. Petersburg Times, 12/10/93, 1,2)
Vol 10, No. 2
"FUQRA" Allegedly Bombed Krishna Temples, Cheated State (p. 5) Members of a fundamentalist Islamic sect whose Colorado compound was raided in October are suspected in firebombings of Hare Krishna Krishna temples in Denver and Philadelphia several years ago, according to court records. Officials found about thirty assault weapons stashed in two hillside mine tunnels near the 101 -acre compound of FUQRA, said to be a spin-off of the Black Muslims [Nation of Islam]. Both the Black Muslims and orthodox Muslims deny any link to the group, which has now been implicated in criminal activities in a number of cities around the country.
The president of the Los Angeles Hare Krishna temple said FUQRA members hate Hare Krishnas because the Krishna religion is affiliated with the Hindu religion, and Hindus and Muslims have a long history of conflict. A Denver Krishna leader said police told him that FUQRA members have also targeted Jews for violence.
Documents filed with the indictments of the FUQRA members taken into custody expose glaring flaws in the Colorado workers' compensation fund that allowed the men - who live with their families in the compound - to collect more than $355,000 in phony claims over eight years. (From "Krishnas say L. A. temple targeted" and 'Sect suspected in crimes across U. S.," by Ann Carnahan " Not linked to raided group, say Black and orthodox Muslims," by Robert Jackson, Rocky Mountain News, 10/18/92)
Vol 10, No. 7/8
Help! Who Are the Hare Krishnas? (p. 18)
I am writing from Slovenia, a former Yugoslavian independent republic of two million inhabitants, capital Ljubljana. I am a freelance TV journalist for Channel 'A' TV and the author of a TC documentary entitled Elizuje, which deals with spiritual movements, religions, the New Age, etc. The programs, 30 minutes long, are broadcast on Wednesdays.
My last three programs have dealt with the Hare Krishnas, and since I have tried to speak, in addition to other matters, about the dangers of such cults, I am now receiving abusive and veiled threatening letters from Hare Krishna sympathizers. My mother was also harassed. It is
impossible to point a finger at the Krishnas, but the trouble began after the first show about them. At the same time, many concerned parents and confused young people are asking me specific questions and I am at a loss for answers. As a result of protests, especially from the Krishnas, TV Channel A is now preparing an open discussion, a round table between them and others. I will probably be in charge and also a main target.
As you can see, I have a lot of questions. I will gladly receive any help you can provide (books, materials, VHS cassettes, addresses, etc.). I know that a lot of addresses to which I am sending this letter will not be able to help. In this case please at least send me addresses of people who can, or forward my letter to them. It could provide a real help for the forthcoming program and for defense of my own position. Many people, mostly parents, simply do not understand what is happening, and there is no institution dealing with cases like this. When I talk to teenagers about my programs, they denounce me because "everybody at the Krishna temple is so happy, so nice. They don't lie. So where are your proofs [that there is a problem]?, etc."
The media are, in general, unaware, and using as resources only Hare Krishna propaganda, if they comment at all. The Krishna represent themselves as a mainstream, benign religion. In a few years they have grown from a small group to a community of 50 "bhaktis" and several hundred devotees. They have bought a former student house and hire the biggest halls for their festivals and other events. Young people are being tirelessly recruited and avidly listening to the Krishna propaganda. A survey of three classes in a local high school shows that 80% of pupils have been approached and that 10% have visited the Hare Krishna temple and attended the group's programs.
Vol. 11, No. 3
Hare Krishnas: The Next Generation (p. 3) With the children of Hare Krishna members from the 1970s reaching maturity, the movement is said to have evolved from its exclusively communal, monastic lifestyle into a broader-based religious movement with the vast majority of members-still no more than several thousand in the U.S.-living outside the sect's communities.
Take Chitralekha Langsford-" Charie"- a teenager from San Juan Capistrano, CA. While her family helped prepare the Sunday feast at the Hare Krishna temple, she spent the day at the beach with her younger sister. Later, when a blast on a conch shell called the faithful to worship, she stayed in the temple garden, basking in the sun. The 19 year-old says she began phasing out the formal aspects of her religion a year and a half ago, and has no intention of becoming a full-time temple member. Like many second generation Hare Krishnas, she feels the pull of the secular world. While they practice their religion in their everyday lives, these daily lives, and their aspirations, are not greatly different from those of their non-Krishna contemporaries. "Charie" works as a waitress and plans to major in holistic medicine in college. "They are no different than any other teenagers," says Christopher Walker, 25 and raised in the sect, who is associate editor of a magazine for second-generation members who attended Hare Krishna boarding schools. Of the 500 far-flung readers of the magazine, he said "most are living a normal lifestyle as opposed to a full-time Hare Krishna lifestyle, but Hare Krishna consciousness does have a big part in their life."
Charie, who moved out of the commune with her parents in 1980, says, "I believe pretty much in the whole philosophy, but there are things that seem too restricted ... To me, I'm experiencing what I think I should experience at this time of my life. I'm not ready to experience the religion fully."
According to Burke Rochford, a sociologist at the University of Vermont, whose Hare Krishna in America chronicles the movement through the 1980s, about 2,000 live in the 40 to 50 Krishna farms and city communities spread across the country, and more than 20,000 live outside, the majority of them Hindus from India who are drawn by the similarity of religious traditions and the absence of Hindu temples in most American communities. It is in the growth of congregational membership that, as Rochford says, the Hare Krishnas have become "simply another part of the religious landscape of American society." (From "Part-Time Hare Krishnas," by Dennis McLellan, San Francisco Examiner, 12/5/93)
Krishnas' Alleged Florida Scam
Hare Krishna fundraisers have come into conflict with Tampa's Busch Gardens tourist attraction by soliciting donations at the entrance to the facility while wearing safari-style clothing, including pith helmets, which mimic the outfits worn by Busch Gardens staff. The Krishnas approach cars coming to the gardens, present religious stickers, and ask for donations for religious pamphlets and books. The average take for two to three hours of work is $50 to $70, a Krishna spokesman said. Busch Gardens employees have carried signs near the entrance stating that the solicitors do not represent Busch Gardens. The Krishnas have been in conflict with authorities over local solicitation ordinances for some time, and currently have a case pending in which they claim that the laws now infringe on their free-speech rights. (From "Busch Gardens says Krishnas' outfits are a crime of fashion," by Doug Stanley, Tampa Tribune, 11/10/93, 1)
Vol. 11, No. 9/10
Hare Krishnas Defy Ban (p. 18) More than 20,000 Hare Krishna followers gathered in August at their country house facility in the village of Lechmore Heath, Hertfordshire, defying a ban on such assemblies by the local town council. The council wants to prevent the estate from being used as a temple rather than as the theological college it was established to be. The Krishna followers had come to celebrate Krishna's birthday, prompting a local pub owner to say, "The problems come when thousands arrive and clog the roads and there is all the noise and nuisance." From "Hare Krishna hordes swamp village as they defy ban," by Michael Fleet, The Daily Telegraph, 8/30/94, 3)
Suit Against Renegrade Krishna Leader (p. 4) Former Hare Krishna devotee Richard Villa, of New York has filed a $125 million lawsuit against renegade Hare Krishna leader Swami Kirtinananda Bhaktipada and other officials of his commune in West Virginia claiming that he was sexually and physically abused throughout his time at the commune school between 1979 and 1986. The suit says that "Kirtinananda's aquiescence encouraged, aided and abetted the aides, instructors, and administrators in acts of physical, mental, and sexual abuse," the suit said. The commune continues under Bhaktipada's guidance while he awaits retrial on federal charges of using murder, beatings, and fraud to control a lucrative business operation. (From "$125 million lawsuit filed against Krishna leader and other sect officials," Cult Awareness Network News, 9/94, 5, citing "Krishna community faces sex abuse suit," by David Wilkinson, The Charleston Gazette, 8/10/94, 1C)
Guruism Tarnished Krishna Movement (pp. 6,7) Professor Larry Shinn, of Bucknell University, a scholar of religion who has closely studied the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna) movement, spoke last year in Germany at the 25th anniversary celebration of the organization's establishment in that country. His generally sympathetic analysis-"The Journey of the Hare Krishna" (Academy for Vaishnava Culture, Conference on Vaishnava Culture, 29 January 1994, Wiesbaden)-is critical of certain aspects of the movement in America, but he laments that its failures have been publicized unjustly to paint a dark picture of the entire movement.
Prof. Shinn believes that many of the mistakes made during the first years of ISKCON in the U.S. stem from young people thinking they have seen a vision of a better world which they feel obliged to impose on others. This led to the development of an idealized Hare Krishna school system, the gurukula, which involved exaggerated attempts to form the lives of young students. Unhealthy training and sexual abuse were the result. Such idealized religious training, in Prof. Shinn's view, is simply not workable. He also believes that criticism of the zealousness of Krishnas' selling techniques in airports and elsewhere is deserved.
These problems stemmed, he says, from the inability of many Krishna recruits to maintain, for very long, the ideal Krishna lifestyle. This tendency was especially clear in the eleven young gurus who were chosen in 1977 to succeed the founder of the movement in America, a succession controversial even within the movement. More than half of these gurus collapsed over the next decade amidst sexual laxity, the use of hallucinogenic drugs, and extremely authoritarian views.
Even at the time he interviewed the founder's successor gurus from 1980-1985, Prof. Shinn says he had the feeling that many of them would not be obeyed because they were still too young to have acquired the necessary spirituality to hold their powerful positions in the movement. (He notes that leading a spiritual and priestly life is difficult even in the American [Roman] Catholic church, a long-established religious institution, as recent celebrated cases show.)
History of a Guru
The history of the guru who succeeded to the control of a Krishna retreat and farming community, New Vrindaban, in rural West Virginia, illustrates Prof. Shinn's point. Kirtinananda Swami Bhaktipada [Keith Hamm, eventually imprisoned after being found guilty of conspiracy to murder and other charges in connection with activities at the commune] made New Vrindaban into a spiritual Disneyland, engaging architects to put up seven temples on surrounding hills. Already at Prof. Shinn's first interview with Kirtinananda, in 1981, the overwhelming pride of the
guru portended problems. "One could recognize in Bhaktipada the Christian Baptist roots of his father. He interpreted the Krishna text very freely so that his own institutional views predominated." At the same time, rumors surfaced in ISKCON's inner circles that members in New Vrindaban dealt drugs and engaged in other illegal activities to get money for the expensive building projects which Bhaktipada had in mind.
During his visits to New Vrindaban in 1986 and 1989, Professor Shinn found Bhaktipada ruling with a heavy hand, and almost murdered as a result. A police raid found large stocks of sports clothing with famous team insignia that the Krishnas were selling illegally on streets around the country. And a murder investigation was underway that implicated a Krishna who had been living in the commune. During his last visit to New Vrindaban, Prof. Shinn was surprised at how Bhaktipada and some of his most powerful cohorts brushed aside charges of illegal activities, even though some court actions were already underway. A certain arrogance and self-righteousness ruled. The leaders had been given so much autonomy, and trust, says Prof. Shinn, that they no longer followed the dictates of their religious tradition.
Despite all of this, says Prof. Shinn, "I was always aware of the complete righteousness of the god-chosen members of that commune, most of whom had very little to do with the illegal intrigues" and knew little about the goings-on. Indeed, most of the commune’s members left for other Krishna communes because what was going on conflicted with their beliefs, and the number of residents fell from 800 to fewer than 100. “The tragedy of New Vrindaban,” for Professor Shin, “was not only that one of the Krishna gurus and some of his chief followers had become involved in illegal and immoral activities, but that the commune had become for many people in America a symbol of the collective ISKCON. And despite Bhaktipada’s March 1987 expulsion from the movement, the media and anti-cult groups still believe this. But while the history of New Vrindaban demonstrates that Krishnas in America often handle problems in illegal and immoral ways, this is “not typical for the hundreds of Krishna members with whom I am personally acquainted, still less for the countless communes in America, Europe, India, and elsewhere.
Hare Krishnas at Grozny "Front" (p. 10) Members of the Hare Krishnas [International Society for Krishna Consciousness] were seen in the Chechen capital of Grozny in December bringing relief aid to local citizens in the midst of the insurgency by nationalist rebels against the Russian government. The Krishnas at work contrast greatly with members of other relief agencies who ride around in white Land Cruisers and carry satellite phones.
The squad of twelve Krishnas, who serve 1,000 meals a day-as many as any other organization-have a reputation like Mother Teresa's in Calcutta, and apparently push no parochial agenda.
But the future of the Krishna endeavor has started to seem grim. The central administration has threatened to take their ambulance away, they have effectively lost contact with their Moscow headquarters, and a local merchant recently demanded rent on the shelled, hollow building they use to keep hundreds of people alive. (From "Krishnas Cast Bread on Roiling Waters in Russia," by Michael Specter, New York Times, 12/12/95, A4)
Hare Krishna Schism (p. 8)
ISKCON [International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Hare Krishnas] has six temples in Poland, with 250 resident monks. They claim 12,000 adepts. It is noteworthy that we have an active ISKCON schism in Poland named Mission of Czaitani, or Identity Institute International, founded by Chris Butler (Jagad Guru, Siddaswarupananda Paramahansa), present in all the larger cities, where they have more followers than the Hare Krishna themselves. They look more European in their dress, and don't shave their heads. Last year, some of their adepts from Ukraine and Russia came to a meeting with a California guru in Lublin.
Ex-Hare Krishna Leader Gets 20 Years (p. 6) Former Hare Krishna leader Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada [born Keith Ham], accused of murdering and beatings to discipline his followers, was sentenced on Aug. 29 to 20 years in prison-the maximum possible sentence- for racketeering. Federal District Court Judge Robert Merhige, Jr., in Martinsburg, WV, also fined Bhaktipada $250,000. The 59-year-old guru, who uses a cane and suffers from asthma, hypertension, and the effects of childhood polio, could have his sentence modified after medical evaluations.
Bhaktipada had pled guilty to one count of racketeering, which accused him of amassing millions through fundraising scams-including the sale of caps and bumper stickers hearing copyrighted and trademarked logos - and conspiring to murder two dissidents to protect his business empire. According to prosecutors, the two had threatened to topple Bhaktipada from power with rumors that he was a homosexual and a child molester. Former follower Thomas Drescher was convicted on both murders and is serving a life sentence. He testified that the killings were carried out with Bhaktipada's approval.
At the sentencing, Bhaktipada told eight followers sitting behind him: "this body in not mine. The body belongs to God, and He can do with it as He pleases.
Bhaktipada's group was expelled for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in 1987. (From "Ex-Hare Krishna Leader Gets 20-Year Sentence," New York Times, 8/29/96, A23)
Vol. 15, Nos. ¾
West Virginia Hare Krishnas Readmitted (p. 1)
After a 10-year expulsion, the Hare Krishna community in Moundsville, WV, has been provisionally readmitted to the international body that oversees groups affiliated with the Vaishnava Hindu order.
New Vrindavana [New Vrindaban], whose 2,000 acres make it one of the largest Krishna communities was expelled by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness after deviating from the Hindu order's moral and theological principles, according to society spokesman Anuttama Dasa.
The community's former leader, Kirtanananda Swami, is serving a 20-year prison sentence for his 1997 conviction on federal mail fraud charges. Dasa said Kirtanananda had "set himself up as an independent authority" and introduced unapproved worship practices, such as using an organ, instead of drums, and singing Christian hymns.
Under an agreement reached July IO, New Vrindavana has agreed to accept the authority of the society, abide by state and federal laws, cooperate with other society temples, and cease violating "proper Vaishnava behavior or standards of worship." During a one-year probationary period, the community also must report regularly on plans for fund-raising and maintaining its land holdings and buildings.
New Vrindavana was founded in 1968 as the Hare Krishna movement's first rural community outside India. At its peak in the 1980s, it had about 700 members and a steady stream of tourists visiting its golden temple and gardens. Today, it has about 40 resident members and 150 who live off site. (AP Internet, 7/18/98)
Vol. 15, No. 6
Reforming Krishnas Admit Past Child Abuse (p. 4)
The Hare Krishna movement (International Society for Krishna Consciousness -ISKCON) has published an unusually candid expose detailing widespread physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children who were sent to live in the group's boarding schools in the United States and India in the 1970s and 1980s. Parents were often unaware of the abuse because they were traveling, soliciting donations for their guru's books in airports and other public places, leaving their children in the care of Hare Krishna monks and young devotees who had no training in educating children and often resented the task, the report says. It goes on to say that the legacy of abuse and the leadership's failure to grapple with it earlier have led many Hare Krishna children and their parents in this country to abandon the faith. Membership is estimated at one million. (Laurie In 1997, the movement established a Child Protection Office in Alachua, FL, near a thriving Hare Krishna community. It investigates cases of past abuse and reports them to local authorities. The movement has an estimated 90.000 followers in the U.S., of whom only about 800 live full-time in the group's 45 American spiritual communities, or ashrams, down from an estimated 10,000 in the late 1970s. Most now live in and work in the secular world. There are no more boarding schools in the U.S., and many Krishna families now send their children to public schools. And whereas most U.S. followers were "Anglo" converts to Hinduism, about half today are recent immigrants from India and elsewhere in Asia. The movement's greatest growth in recent years has been in Eastern Europe and India, and the total world membership is estimated at one million. (Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, Internet, 10/9/98)
Vol. 16, No. 7
Hare Krishnas Confront Child Abuse (pp. 1,3)
Current and former devotees claim that for at least a decade leaders of the group knowingly permitted suspected sex offenders to work among 2,000 children in its boarding schools. After years of silence, former students are lashing out at the movement, some of them still living on the fringes of the group, chanting at the group's temples sometimes beside the very people they accuse of abuse. And now a law firm that has won millions from the Catholic church is taking their case.
When the charges surfaced last fall, leaders pledged to atone for what they openly acknowledged to have been sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the schools. And in May, leaders pledged $250,000 a year to investigate past child abuse and aid survivors. In addition, the group's Office of Child Protection compiled the names of 200 people who allegedly inflicted abuse in the 1970s and '80s (Two ISKCON child care workers were convicted of sexual abuse in the 1980s.) The office now reports that it has finished investigating 30 cases - three suspected abusers have been banned from Hare Krishna temples and another is in jail - and that the pace of the inquiry is appropriately deliberate. But some former students question the ISKCON leaders' sincerity. "It's spin control," says Nirmal Hickey, 28, a boarding school veteran whose father was the ISKCON minister of education. "It's totally phony." Half of the ISKCON leaders who pledged to give $105,000 to the ex-students did come through with their pledges, and temple leaders' plan to raise funds to build a multi-million dollar temple in Mayapur, India, has angered devotees who thought the money should go to the ex-students.
So far, the Office of Child Protection has conducted training on the prevention of child abuse, according to its head, Dhira Govinda, a social worker for the State of Florida's children and family services agency, whom former students call an advocate.
How the ISKCON officials respond to the suit will likely determine whether they hold onto their second generation, whether they become a model for religious groups, or a warning. "We have nothing to lose," says ex-student Arjuna, who like many Hare Krishnas adopted a single Hindu name. "They have us to lose."
Middlebury College sociologist E. Burke Rochford, who has studied the Hare Krishnas for two decades, says that the boarding school teachers were largely untrained followers deemed least likely to succeed at proselytizing and fundraising. Many instructors lashed out at their charges, Rochford and former students say. A week after he arrived, Krsna Avitara, then 12, says he was grabbed, hit and kicked by a teacher. "We all had the same prayer," he says: "Krishna, get me the hell out of here."
Some children dreaded going to sleep, anticipating teachers' sexual advances. Referring to one teacher, Krsna Avitara says: " A lot of my friends slept with him. We thought that this was what love was about." Girls also report emotional and physical abuse. Few children remember telling their parents about the abuse; letters were censored and family visits rare.
Loyal Hare Krishnas tend to agree with Rochford's assessment that much of the harm in the schools occurred because the movement that prized celibacy did not value its children. "Marriage and family life came to represent a sign of spiritual weakness," Rochford wrote in an article commissioned by lSKCON. Most parents, he wrote, "accepted theological and other justifications offered by the leadership for not remaining involved in the lives of their children," though a Hare Krishna spokesman, Anuttama, says protecting children was a basic value.
In the 1980s, many sensing a growing disconnect between the group's espoused values and its leaders' behavior. All but a few of the boarding schools worldwide closed. And as students left, their Hare Krishna parents often rejected them as failures, says Laximoni, now head of the last U.S.-based school, in rural Alachua, Florida, home to the largest American Hare Krishna community. But within a few years, students began coming back, some say because they had few job skills and little understanding of life outside. Other missed the intensity of the spiritual life. Nationwide, about 100,000 worshippers attend Sunday services.
Mormons Support Krishna Temple
Utah's Hare Krishna construction fund has received a $25,000 donation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation to help build a new temple in Spanish Fork. The president of the nearby LDS church in Salem Stake said: "I found these [Krishnas] to be wonderful people, honest, good people. The kind any community would want to have within its boundaries." The elaborately and richly decorated 5,000 square-foot structure will be modeled on an ancient Indian temple, and the surrounding grounds will include llamas, peacocks, and parrots. The existing temple is listed as a tourist attraction in a Rand McNally map book of things to do along Interstate 15, and with the Visitors and Convention Bureau of Utah. [A Hare Krishna temple in West Virginia that also had some tourist trade declined a decade ago amidst scandal and criminal activity involving segments of the Hare Krishna movement.] (Salt Lake Tribune, 6/9/99)