For hundreds of years seers and prophets have used the Bible’s Book of Revelations to whip up hysteria and fear. The last book of the New Testament declares that all but the true believers will be wiped off the face of the earth and doomed to eternal suffering; only those who follow ‘the word’ will survive the coming apocalypse.
In his new book, Doomsday Cults, author Jonathan J Moore reveals how notorious cult leaders such as Charles Manson, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Ervil LeBaron and David Berg declared that they were God’s representative on earth and promised their followers that only through their teachings could the cult members survive doomsday. Monstrous crimes were committed in God’s name and each cult experienced its own horrific Armageddon. This edited extract takes a look inside the bizarre and disturbing world of David Berg’s Children of God sex cult…
Revelation – Book 7
15Therefore, ‘They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.’ 16Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. e sun will not beat down on them, ’nor any scorching heat.
The Children of God sect is a particularly secretive and difficult to access organisation. This is for a reason. Its founder, David Berg, was determined to use the word of God and the threat of nuclear annihilation to satisfy his paedophiliac urges. A mysterious inner circle known as ‘The Unit’, consisting of Berg and his most trusted followers, roamed the world, staying one step ahead of governments and worried parents.
Even though they were rarely glimpsed, this inner sanctum exercised an iron control over the cult members. Day to day activities were rigidly monitored and behind a glossy exterior of evangelical joy, members endured a grim reality of unrewarded, unremitting labour and rampant child abuse. The Children of God were given other names, such as e Family, Family of Love and The Family International. For simplicity’s sake, here we will refer to the cult as The Children of God.
Berg was no newcomer to the evangelical scene. He came from a long line of snake oil salesman and knew how to manipulate those who came in search of religious and sexual freedom. The emotional and psychological scarring experienced by the young cult members continues to leave a trail of murder, suicide and mental illness in its wake. Despite the best efforts of the modern day Children of God – The Family International – to disassociate themselves from the cult’s dark past, many questions remain.
The Teens for Christ and Children of God movement began life as a celibate cult where the members were encouraged to ‘get the victory’ for Christ. When Berg realised that there was a bevy of beautiful young woman around him willing to satisfy his every urge, he decided that his spiritual teachings should be altered to justify his lecherous longings.
This started harmlessly enough. In the early ’70s he began promoting the Law of Love. He took a few lines in the Bible and interpreted them less as a platonic love of mankind than as an encouragement to ‘share’. It was not right, the Mo Letters [a series of more than 3,000 publications – compiled into over a dozen volumes – consisting of writings by Berg or transcriptions of his speeches] said, for single members of the cult to feel lonely. It was important that married members share their partners and allow them to sleep with other cult members (as long as they were of the opposite sex). Lovemaking was, in Berg’s view, a symbol of God’s love.
Many members embraced this ideal and it was during this time that the Children of God gained a new name – they were dubbed the ‘Love Cult’ by the press. The communes became rife with extramarital, free-for-all sex. ‘Aunties’, ‘uncles’, ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ would engage in intercourse at any hour of the day and in any location. Children would be exposed to this lovemaking and there was no attempt to hide the activities from them. Children came upon adults groping in the hallways, or having loud orgies in the lounge rooms and dormitory bedrooms.
Mo Letters began to espouse the new ideology and it was common for children as young as four to spend ‘Word Time’ poring over images of men and women having sex in fields while a benign and bearded ‘grandpa’ looked down upon the copulating couple.
Not all were enamoured with the new directives and several left the cult. Even some who stayed behind were uncomfortable. A man could express his willingness to bed a cultist’s wife. No matter how physically repulsive they found the proposal, neither partner could refuse. To do so would see them labelled as selfish and a note would be made in the Open Heart Reports. Partners could be shamed publicly or even separated and sent to different compounds to learn humility.
In 1975 Berg had a revelation. The Unit had fled the USA when authorities took too much interest in their activities, and he had taken his close circle with him to London. These included several of his wives and some of the most attractive women in the cult. He began ‘witnessing’ in London nightclubs (always a good excuse to combine drinking with proselytizing), and he noticed that young men were keen to talk to his wives and the fashionably dressed acolytes. Strangers seemed more receptive to his heavenly message while gazing into the mascaraed eyes of the young women. Berg realised that he could use the women within the sect to go ‘flirty fishing’: they could solicit donations by exchanging sex for cash, or use sex to recruit new members into the cult.
It took a while to hone the techniques and approaches that constituted ‘FF’, but by 1976 Mo Letters explaining what was required were being sent to his communes throughout the world. Children and adults had a good set of clothes for when they went ‘witnessing’ in the outside world. This was stepped up a level for women engaged in flirty fishing. Whole posses would dress up in the latest low cut fashions and the nicest make-up and head into town to enrapture and ensnare unsuspecting men. Many of the young women took to it with a will. They were already following Berg’s ‘law of love’ in the cult compounds, so it wasn’t much of a step to take it into the real world. The attractive young women could still pick and choose who they wanted to bed and it was good to bring in cash for the Children of God’s coffers.
In line with all of his other operations, Berg ran it as a business. He leased large houses and effectively turned them into brothels. The girls had to write reports detailing who they had talked too, what sexual acts they had performed and how much they had earned. They were told to keep their eyes out for particularly well- heeled marks or men who seemed to be spiritually vulnerable. Berg would identify the best targets and a succession of FFs would ‘love bomb’ the mark to either bring him into Berg’s fold or extract as much cash as possible.
Powerful government officials were also targeted; they could hardly move against cult communes if they had been bene beneficiaries of targeted ‘loving’. Berg gave himself a new name: The Fisherman. The women called themselves God’s Whores. The Mo Letters issued telling them exactly how to behave included titles such as ‘God’s Love Slave’ and ‘The FF Explosion’. Posters were stuck up in communes showing a scantily clad woman writhing on a fishing hook with the caption ‘Hookers for Jesus’.
Eventually Berg was so enamoured with his new project that he had his disciples sign up with local escort agencies. The advantage of this technique was guaranteed income, although it meant that the FFs couldn’t pick their marks and had no right of refusal. Some questioned this arrangement, because it placed women in a vulnerable position and subject to violent attacks. Berg was not concerned. He compared the women to the Christian martyrs. They should take any injuries or trauma on the chin, for Jesus.
There were several other consequences. Berg’s ban on contraception meant thousands of children were born into the cult, most without fathers. There was also an outbreak of STDs. But the program was bearing fruit. Berg could claim thousands of compounds throughout the world. Some had as many as 400 people while others were living in houses as family units, carrying out Berg’s ‘good works’.
In 1982 a new and disturbing trend arose: institutionalised child abuse. Berg had great plans for his stepson. In 1982 the cult published a work entitled ‘The Book of Davidito’. This set the young man up as the future leader of the cult, destined to fight on God’s side in his chariot at the end of the world. It placed the young man in many different scenarios and became a seminal teaching aid for the youth growing up in the cult.
There were several disturbing chapters where his ‘Aunt’ Sara describes masturbating the boy even as he was an infant. This sex play extends through his youth and he is invited to watch and even partake in adult activities. Sara gave birth to a daughter and encouraged her and the Prophet Prince to carry on as adults and develop a sexual relationship even though they were not yet teenagers.
This ‘revolutionary sexuality’, as Berg liked to describe it, was soon being promulgated throughout the cult. Mo Letters with DAR written on the cover were distributed, urging adults to have sexual interaction with children. Glossy covers showed adults lying in bed with children, or children standing in fields witnessing adults copulating. Graphic illustrations of women ‘spooning’ with or masturbating young boys were some of the milder images. Second generation cultists were encouraged to experiment with their friends and stimulate sex acts even if they were not capable of intercourse. Videos, showing girls as young as four performing provocative striptease acts, were sent to the compounds with the request that they produce similar pieces and send them back to the Unit.
Children were ordered not to demonstrate any of these behaviours in front of systemites. The ongoing corruption of the young was to be a closely held secret. Predatory men and women used the new license given to them by Berg to move on young children and perform unspeakable acts. Children who are sexually abused are often reluctant to discuss the horrific acts perpetrated upon them with their parents or guardians due to shame and fear. Within the Children of God there was a whole new level of control, urging children to fight against their instincts and accept what was happening. Children that were removed from their families were particularly vulnerable as ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ gained sexual satisfaction by exploiting their young charges. Even within smaller units, children were routinely abused when cult members visited or boarded with the permanent residents.
Many adult members left the cult when they realised what was going on. Sadly, many did not, preferring to turn a blind eye to the abuse in order to maintain their standing within the organisation. Many survivors tell how innocent functions would turn seedy when 11 and 12-year-old children were asked to perform stripteases in front of adult audiences. Literature targeted children. Titles such as the ‘Basic Training Handbook’ sought to educate prepubescent teens in the arts of love, and ‘My Little Fish’ showed photos of a grown woman and a young boy embracing.
There is a clear correlation with the ‘Terror Teens’ and the rise of sexual abuse impacting the children of the cult. Seeking to escape the horrific conditions, children would act up, try to flee or descend into madness. As usual with the Children of God, Berg was at the centre of the exploitation. His granddaughter began, like Davidito, as an example to the cult’s children, but after years of abuse at her grandfather’s hands she became difficult and rebellious. Repeated beatings could not expel the ‘demon’ that took up residence in the 13-year-old girl’s body. A lengthy spell at several Victor camps led to her total breakdown.
Many second generation cultists fled as soon as they were legally old enough to do so. But this has not ended the torment. Many experienced, and still suffer from, what can only be termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They have difficulty forming relationships, are not equipped to operate in the outside world and often descend into lives of petty theft, substance abuse and prostitution. They are the lucky ones. At least 25 children from the cult have committed suicide. Some have leapt off buildings, others have taken overdoses and some have gassed themselves in cars.
‘Davidito’ Ricky Rodriguez left the cult. Years of abuse had turned the one time Prophet Prince into an extremely angry young man. Ricky was determined to take revenge and execute his mother, Karen Zerby, who by that time had taken over the cult following Berg’s death. Ricky lured ‘Aunt’ Sara to his at in Tucson, Arizona, on January 5, 2005. The Prophet Prince was hoping that she would reveal the whereabouts of his mother. She did not do so and was stabbed multiple times. Sara bled out on the floor of the cheap rental apartment. Ricky drove for 24 hours, stopped at an industrial lot near Blythe, California, and committed suicide with a gunshot to his head. He would no longer be able to fight the Antichrist at the side of God.
DOOMSDAY CULTS: DEATH, DESTRUCTION AND DESPAIR INSIDE THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS CULTS by Jonathan J Moore is published by New Holland Publishers, RRP$29.99, and available from all good book retailers or online at www.newhollandpublishers.com
BY JONATHAN J MOORE
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