Years after the Catholic Church was discovered to have systematically harbored and protected child sex abusers whereas punishing victims for seeking justice for their horrific ordeals, a brand new feature-length Vice TV documentary units its sights on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Aaron Kaufman’s movie Crusaders—launched as a part of Vice TV’s “Vice Versa” non-fiction collection—eviscerates the Jehovah’s Witness faith during which he was raised, giving a public platform for former members to talk out in regards to the scourge of pedophilia inside the church, and in regards to the elders who’re dedicated to protecting it a secret.
Premiering on Vice TV on July 28, Crusaders builds upon Douglas Quenqua’s 2019 Atlantic article a couple of secret database of 1000’s of Jehovah’s Witness baby intercourse offenders that’s been assembled, and hid from prying eyes, by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the non-profit group that governs the church. This damning listing of molesters was created on March 14, 1997, when—in response to prior whistleblower complaints—a questionnaire was despatched to all 10,000 nationwide congregations asking members in the event that they suspected any fellow Witnesses of being a pedophilic predator. The church acquired info on many monsters in its midst, though the exact variety of names stays unknown.
Most of these people’ identities are additionally a thriller—however not all of them. That’s as a result of, as Crusaders reveals, two ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses (who in Kaufman’s movie go by “Judas” and “Jezebel”) broke into an area Massachusetts headquarters and stole a few of these incriminating recordsdata. Furthermore, they leaked one doc on Reddit, after which despatched many extra to a kindred ex-Jehovah’s Witness activist named Mark O’Donnell (who operated on-line beneath the alias “John Redwood”). This, in flip, led to Quenqua’s article, which made nationwide headlines and shined an accusatory nationwide highlight on Jehovah’s Witnesses, who didn’t take too kindly to being outed as a company that, in precept, condemned baby abusers, however in apply made positive to maintain their crimes beneath wraps, lest the religion get a black eye as a haven for the worst of the worst.
Crusaders works laborious to slam Jehovah’s Witnesses, which additionally entails inspecting the idea programs and management mechanisms utilized by the faith to govern and dominate its adherents. The core notion embraced by Jehovah’s Witnesses is that Armageddon is imminent, and that the one strategy to be saved from a horrible end-times loss of life is to abide by their tenets, that are distributed by the Watch Tower Governing Physique—a ruling council of male elders who operate as God’s Earthly conduits. By toeing the road that they set forth, Witnesses shall be granted entry to the New System, a post-apocalypse paradise the place they’ll start their actual lives, versus their present New System-prologue existences within the right here and now. Observe the principles and also you’re golden; disobey—and even query—them, and also you danger excommunication from buddies, household, and the one neighborhood you’ve ever identified.
At common intervals, Kaufman’s documentary supplies white on-screen textual content playing cards defining key Jehovah’s Witnesses phrases, akin to “disfellowshipped” (i.e. expulsion for insubordination), “PIMO” (quick for “bodily in, mentally out”), and the “Two Witness Rule,” a scriptural decree which states that no Jehovah’s Witness may be formally accused of committing a sin with out two corroborating eyewitness accounts. That final stipulation is of specific significance, because it principally negates fees of sexual assault, which very not often happen within the presence of others. Crusaders lays naked this monstrous apply by way of official Jehovah’s Witness movies of elders preaching this doctrine as sacred—their cocky authoritarian firmness on this situation reeking of clear self-preservation, if not outright deviance—in addition to through testimonials with a lot of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been molested by their true-believer comrades.
Within the tales of Mark and Kimmy O’Donnell (the latter of whom was terrorized for years by her mom, who suffered no repercussions for her reported offenses and nonetheless has contact with youngsters), Kameron Torres, Asher, Judas and different ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, Crusaders supplies wrenching first-hand accounts of sex-abuse ordeals. In nearly each one in every of these instances, stress to adapt and keep silent was demanded not solely by church officers but in addition by mother and father, grandparents, buddies and colleagues, all of whom have been so satisfied of their righteous path that they believed the act of slicing off their family members was truly a merciful gesture designed to ensure their eventual salvation. Such was the case with Barbara Anderson, a Jehovah’s Witness for 43 years till she broke with the group after studying about its behavior of sheltering pedophiles—a call that price her a relationship together with her son.
“That final stipulation is of specific significance, because it principally negates fees of sexual assault, which very not often happen within the presence of others.”
Director Kaufman confidently enhances his heartbreaking interviews with information headlines, Jehovah’s Witness literature and paperwork, and illuminating movies of elders preaching to the digital camera and being surreptitiously recorded by Kameron (throughout which one bigwig states in regards to the molestation suffered by Kameron and his personal sons, “You simply be taught to stay with it and put it behind you. Attempt to not deliver it up, strive to not dwell on it”). Whereas a few of his dramatic recreations may be clunky and stilted—be it staged sequences of Judas and Jezebel breaking into their native HQ to steal database paperwork, or filler photographs of Mark O’Donnell typing away at his pc—his general method is easy and clear-sighted, explicating the canny strategies employed by Jehovah’s Witnesses to exert and preserve authority over their followers.
The principal portrait that coalesces is one in every of a extremely structured and immensely harmful cult. There’s little distinction between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientology—or, for that matter, Heaven’s Gate. A scare-tactic outfit that preached that the top of the world was nigh, and that they alone possessed the data wanted to flee loss of life and damnation, Heaven’s Gate additionally required members to distance themselves from non-believers, do exactly what leaders mentioned, and go to any size to show their loyalty. Within the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the worth paid by many for getting into this excessive spiritual dogma has been years of sexual abuse, and emotions of disgrace and powerlessness born from not with the ability to do something about it. In that regard, Crusaders isn’t simply an exposé, it’s a rousing name to arms.
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