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Religion News Report

December 6, 2000 (Vol. 4, Issue 293) - 2/3

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Rainbow


» Continued from Part 1

=== Jehovah's Witnesses
14. Jehovah's Witnesses demand alternative service, get jail
15. Georgian customs ordered to release literature seized from
Jehovah's Witnesses

=== Witchcraft
16. Women killed in PNG for allegedly practising witchcraft
17. New South African law targets old fears of occult

=== Hate Groups
18. Police withdraw from Klan cross display
19. Online Tips to Fight Neo-Nazis
20. With the Web, Midwest minister of hate gains a global reach
21. Swastika Symbol Cut Down in Forest
22. German Escapes Charges Over 'Adolf' Furniture
23. No way out

» Part 3

=== Other News
24. Indian astrologer killed by annoyed clients over wrong predictions
25. Red tape may force Salvation Army to retreat from Moscow
26. Battle of Prayers / With Philippine president fighting impeachment, faith emerges as political weapon
27. 1,000 minds aim to think alike in a telepathy test
28. Papua New Guinea/USA: US religious TV station to begin broadcasting

=== Death Penalty / Human Rights Violations
29. Activists urge Clinton to suspend federal executions
30. 17 Americans executed for crimes committed as juveniles since 1973

=== Noted
31. Fears media controls are a stalking-horse
32. Scholars question media treatment of `other' religions
33. Rasta Homeland
34. Innovators. Time 100: The Next Wave

=== Books
35. Unofficial aid adds to Harry Potter cult


=== Jehovah's Witnesses

14. Jehovah's Witnesses demand alternative service, get jail
Russia Today/Glasnost Foundation, Dec. 5, 2000
http://www.russiatoday.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Armenia. Despite promises to the Council of Europe, the Armenian government is still refusing to register the Jehovah's Witness sect in the republic on the grounds that Jehovah's witnesses refuse to serve in the army.

Police and security service raids on their prayer meetings have become regular events. Since the beginning of the year, 20 sect members have been sentenced to 4.5 years imprisonment for refusing to serve. Another four are in detention pending trial. All of them are seeking alternative service.
[...entire item...]


15. Georgian customs ordered to release literature seized from Jehovah's Witnesses
BBC Monitoring, Dec. 4, 2000
http://beta.yellowbrix.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Text of report by Georgian radio on 4th December
The Vake-Saburtalo court [in Tbilisi] has ruled in favour of Jehovah's Witnesses in their lawsuit against the customs department, filed on 30th August. The customs department was ordered to release 30 tonnes of religious literature belonging to Jehovah's Witnesses which it had impounded five months ago at the Poti and Tbilisi airport customs posts.

On 7th December, the court will decide on Jehovah's Witnesses' claim for compensation.
[...entire item...]


=== Witchcraft

16. Women killed in PNG for allegedly practising witchcraft
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Dec. 5, 2000
http://www.abc.net.au/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Fifteen women have been hacked to death with machetes in Papua New Guinea for allegedly practising witchcraft.

PNG Highlands MP Yauwe Riyong told Parliament the women were killed because they were suspected of being witches.
(...)

He said allegations of witchcraft had spread to urban centres and a woman from the highlands province of Chuave was recently hacked to death in the Port Moresby suburb of Six-Mile because she was suspected of being a sorcerer.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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17. New South African law targets old fears of occult
Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 6, 2000
http://www.csmonitor.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
For generations, the rainy season in this desolate land of towering cactuses and waist-high anthills signaled the time for plowing and sowing the fields, school vacation, and deadly witch hunts.

People considered witches are thought to control lightening and direct it against their enemies. So when summer skies open and lightening sets thatch-roofed huts ablaze, as it does with bewildering frequency this time of year, the search for a culprit begins - in village after village.

While this tradition of blaming unexpected misfortunes on black magic is found throughout rural Africa, in few places has it taken more victims than in South Africa's rural Northern Province. More than 500 people, mostly women, were accused of witchcraft and killed by mobs here between 1990 and 1995. Even more lost their homes and their possessions when they were either run out of town or had their homes torched.

But in a remarkable and little-noted law-enforcement initiative, the new South African government has almost completely halted the practice over the past three years.

Since 1997, only one person suspected of witchcraft has been murdered here.
(...)

Triumphant authorities credit greater police presence in troubled areas, aggressive prosecution of witch hunters, and a stern warning to traditional healers and village chiefs: If they accuse someone of being a witch, they will be held responsible if the person is murdered.

Some locals, however, do not share the government's elation at this law-enforcement success story. The crackdown may have stopped the public lynching, burnings, and stoning of people accused of sorcery, but it also illustrates the difficulty of confronting age-old beliefs. Many people here are convinced that witchcraft, emboldened by the protection afforded by the government's new policy, is booming.

''The witches here have been freed by the government,'' says Joseph Lesoalo, a London-trained doctor who adds that he sees many witchcraft-related illnesses in his patients, illnesses for which modern medicine has no explanation. ''The result is that witchcraft is dominating this area.''

Even Sgt. Prince Makgoshing, head of the provincial police department's ''witchcraft desk'' shares this view. A university graduate fluent in more languages than one can count on one hand, Sergeant Makgoshing says that the government's new policy harbors ''witches.''

To illustrate the current system's unfairness, he recounts one incident from three months back.

An old woman had been found hiding naked under a bed in a house, 30 miles from her home. She admitted that she was indeed a witch and recounted how she flew to the village on a plate (the preferred form of transport for witches in South Africa). Finding the door and windows of her victims' home locked, she changed form and crawled in under the door. She then waited under the bed for her victims to fall asleep to cast a spell on them, she said.

Both the villagers and Makgoshing thought the woman should be punished. But a court psychologist and other officials said she was obviously mentally ill and released her from custody for treatment.

''We can't deal with these people by saying they're crazy,'' says Makgoshing. ''There are witches killing people and people killing witches. My worry is that we [the police] are only concentrating on people killing witches.''
(...)

Meanwhile, South Africa's House of Traditional Leaders is struggling to write a new law that will ban both the practice of witchcraft and the pointing out of witches.

''Witchcraft will be outlawed,'' says Matthew Bopape, Director of Community Policing in Northern Province. ''But I can tell you that it will be very difficult to prove something like this. In a court of law you need evidence. How can you tell that someone flew on a plate?''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Hate Groups

18. Police withdraw from Klan cross display
The Cincinnati Enquirer, Dec. 5, 2000
http://enquirer.com/eOff-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Cincinnati police officers no longer will stand guard over the Ku Klux Klan's cross on Fountain Square.

The monitoring detail was canceled Monday after complaints from City Council members, who said the assignment virtually rolled out the red carpet for the Klan.
(...)

Councilwoman Alicia Reece asked that council send the Klan a bill for the special work. Council will discuss the proposal Wednesday.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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19. Online Tips to Fight Neo-Nazis
Reuters, Dec. 5, 2000
http://news.excite.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
BERLIN (Reuters) - Organizers of a Web site launched on Tuesday aimed at offering tips on how to combat racist and neo-Nazi violence in Germany said it had attracted hundreds of visitors within hours of going live.
(...)

Under headings such as ''In the Pub,'' ''On Public Transport'' and ''In Pedestrian Areas'' -- places deemed potentially dangerous for foreign residents in Germany -- the site advises readers to enlist the help of other bystanders to stand up to perpetrators of racist crime.

The authors stress that passers-by who witness racial violence should try to reason with the attackers rather than resort to violence themselves.
(...)

The site, www.verfassungsschutzgegenrechtsextremismus.deOff-site Link, was launched following huge public demand for information on Germany's far-right problem and how to combat it, Hesse said.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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20. With the Web, Midwest minister of hate gains a global reach
The Inquirer/Hartford Courant, Dec. 4, 2000
http://inq.philly.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
EAST PEORIA, Ill. - At the headquarters of the World Church of the Creator, Matt Hale is hard at work on the white revolution, organizing his soldiers for the final struggle: RAHOWA, or Racial Holy War.

Hale has been preaching the gospel of hate for more than a decade and recently extended it via cable-access television, confident he will snap people out of their complacency and eventually turn America into a bastion of whiteness.

His vision for the future includes mass deportations of minorities, the execution of interracial couples, and strict loyalty to an all-white government.

On the television screen and over the Internet, his stern, angular face takes on a sinister quality. His diatribes evoke Nazi Germany.

But here, amid the cornfields of central Illinois, Hale has found little support for his grand schemes and few people to listen.
(...)

With a hint of acne still clinging to his 29-year-old face, the high priest, or ''Pontifex Maximus,'' as he calls himself, still lives with his father. Racism is his profession; otherwise, he is unemployed. And in his largely white, largely blue-collar town on the muddy banks of the Illinois River, he is viewed pretty much as a flake.

It is only technology - along with a dash of media savvy and a penchant for self-promotion - that has snatched Hale and his tiny band of bigots from complete obscurity. With the click of a mouse, he casts for converts and spreads his racist vision from coast to coast.

It is through the Web that this digital David Duke resurrected an organization that almost vanished before he picked up the mantle in 1996.

The group has produced one of the slickest pages on the Internet devoted to white supremacy. It is a racist's delight: women with flowing blond hair, crude smears against every group, and even a children's page with bigoted crossword puzzles.

Unlike most of his competitors in the supremacist movement, Hale has used the medium to reach out to women and youth. Viewers who e-mail Hale receive a prompt response. Teenagers starting to dabble in racial politics can pick up a copy of the White Man's Bible, or read reams of ''facts'' the government and media allegedly do not want anyone to know.
(...)

The actual strength of the World Church is almost impossible to gauge. Hale claims to have several dozen chapters worldwide, including at least five in prisons. He estimates that 30,000 people in the United States agree with the teachings, but he declines to say how many actually belong.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, says only 203 copies of the church's monthly newsletter, the Struggle, are mailed to members. And many of the chapters that Hale touts as evidence of growing support consist of a ''lonely kid'' at the post office.

''Essentially, it is an Internet group. It doesn't really exist in reality,'' said Mark Potok, a spokesman for the center. ''It's a personality cult centered around Matt Hale.''

The World Church is not a ''church'' in any sense that most people understand. Members do not believe in God. Hale lumps Jesus in with a host of other international conspiracies. Their creed is simply white superiority. They worship the white race. The church was founded in 1973 by Ben Klassen, who committed suicide 20 years later.
(...)

Last year, Benjamin Smith, a zealot for the cause and a former confidant of Hale's, went on a shooting rampage in Illinois and neighboring Indiana. By the time he was done, Smith had killed two people and wounded nine. All his victims were minorities. Smith then killed himself.

Hale has summed up the killings this way: ''As far as we're concerned, the loss is one white man.''
(...)

Hale's days in Illinois are probably numbered. He cannot practice law here.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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21. Swastika Symbol Cut Down in Forest
Reuters, Dec. 4, 2000
http://news.excite.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
BERLIN (Reuters) - German authorities chopped down dozens of russet-colored larch trees that had been planted to form a giant swastika in a forest of evergreen pines.

The larches were planted in 1938 by a devoted Hitler follower and their message only becomes visible -- from the air -- when the leaves turn yellow in Autumn.

Spurred by a wave of public protest after a Reuters aerial photograph of the 200-by-200-foot swastika was published in local newspapers, state forestry officials moved in with chain saws early Monday to obliterate the Nazi symbol.

But a dispute over land ownership on part of the property meant that only about half of the swastika could be cut down.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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22. German Escapes Charges Over 'Adolf' Furniture
Reuters, Dec. 4, 2000
http://news.excite.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
BERLIN (Reuters) - A furniture-shop owner who named chairs and sofas after Adolf Hitler and other Third Reich leaders was guilty of bad taste but not of breaching Germany's anti-Nazi laws, a state prosecutor said Monday.

Store owner Franz-Georg Schwetje outraged Jewish community leaders in Lower Saxony state by advertising special offers for sofa suites with names like ''Adolf'' and ''Hermann'' in a local newspaper.

Michael Fuerst, leader of Lower Saxony's Jewish community, urged state prosecutors in Hanover to charge Schwetje with violating strict laws against glorifying the Third Reich.
(...)

But state prosecutor Bernd Seemann ruled out pressing charges against Schwetje.

''Not everything that is in bad taste can be punished,'' Seemann said. ''As long as you can call your child Adolf or Hermann, you can give a sofa the same names.''
(...)

Schwertje insisted there was no Nazi connection.

''I simply passed along the names that my suppliers provided,'' he told Reuters. ''I'm not a Nazi and I don't want to have anything to do with such people. Those right-wing extremists should be locked up.''

Schwetje, 57, added that he could not remember writing the adverts because he takes pain-killers for bone cancer. He nevertheless said the names were harmless -- and that he had relatives in mind rather than Nazi leaders.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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23. No way out
The Spokesman-Review, Dec. 3, 2000
http://www.spokesmanreview.com/Off-site Link
[Story no longer online? Read this]
Severing ties with white supremacists can get former followers blacklisted, threatened
(...)

Joining the skinheads was easy. But leaving them hasn't been.

White supremacy in the Inland Northwest took a huge hit recently when Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler lost his North Idaho compound in a lawsuit backed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. But that court victory hasn't, unfortunately, made it any easier for a skinhead to walk away from a movement that considers dissenters Enemy No. 1, says Benson.

Ever since Benson, now 22, shredded his Nazi flags, former buddies keep warning him to watch his back. He's been blacklisted as a ''race traitor'' -- an offense sometimes punished by death, say hate group experts.

Once a loyal believer, Benson didn't hesitate to cover his body with racist tattoos. Now each etched line is a trap he inadvertently helped set. The swastikas chase away potential new friends and employers. They also send up a flare for the racists he wants to avoid.

''It makes me nervous when I'm on the street,'' Benson says, ''having to watch over my shoulder all the time.''

When white supremacists go looking for new recruits, guys like Benson make easy targets, say those who study the movement.

They've had rough childhoods. They're angry. And they're struggling to find their place in a world where they don't fit.

''A lot of these boys come from families where the father is gone,'' says Randy Blazak, a sociologist and hate crimes researcher at Portland State University. ''I can predict that a mile away.''

Skinheads offer a one-size-fits-all solution to the nagging question: Why can't I get ahead in life? Simple. They claim that a Jewish-run government is turning over the God-given rights of the white men who built this country to minorities.
(...)

In Portland, skinheads recruit near homeless youth shelters. In Spokane, they score in places swarming with disenfranchised kids, such as the STA bus plaza, street corners, sometimes schools.

''The primary risk factor is low self-esteem,'' says Spokane Police officer Larry Saunders, who works with the department's gang unit.
(...)

Benson was living on the streets when the skinheads came his way. At first, he stayed on the sidelines, but within weeks he let a buddy shave his head. Benson loved the attention when he swaggered down the street and considered himself important when police who track gangs photographed his tattoos.
(...)

Benson describes house parties featuring whiskey and beer, racist music and impromptu ''preaching.'' Drunk, indignant and angry, partiers took to the streets in search of beating targets -- usually black men standing in parking lots or on the sidewalk.

That's how skinheads earn the red bootlaces and suspenders they call braces. Benson had both, and bloody stories to go with them.

Benson, who long struggled to control his anger, now had a way to vent it. He called his buddies ''comrades'' and collected racist flags, brochures and jewelry.

Some of his fellow skinheads attended church at the Aryan Nations compound and marched in the Coeur d'Alene ''white power'' parades, Benson says. He attended an Aryan Congress but shied away from the church because he isn't religious, Benson says.
(...)

Law enforcement officials don't know how many racist skinheads are in the Spokane area, because groups fluctuate and are often loosely organized by design. Police Sgt. Greg Harshman estimates there are a few dozen ''hard-core,'' active skinheads. Many others stay on the fringes.
(...)

Benson says he began doubting his racist beliefs after he married and had a daughter.

''I want her to have freedom of choice,'' says Benson. ''I don't want to teach her to throw out her right hand'' in a Nazi salute.

He also met black people he liked and began to feel like a hypocrite.

It's a realization many skinheads reach in young adulthood, when their world views expand, experts say. People who aren't deeply immersed in the racist lifestyle can sometimes just walk away. Others face more pressure to stay.

When Benson revealed his ambivalence, other skinheads ''started to get on my case,'' he says. After his marriage broke up last year, Benson says he decided to get out.

His ex-wife, Rhianna Benson, doubts he's sincerely given up white supremacy. She figures he just doesn't want those beliefs used against him should he try to get partial custody of his daughter.

''You can make (racism) invisible, but you can't take it away from the person himself,'' she says.

Courts issued a no-contact order last December keeping Benson away from his ex-wife after he shattered her glass figurines and had a friend leave them at her home.

Last spring, Benson says he shredded his racist paraphernalia so skinhead associates would know he was serious about changing.

They apparently got the message. Benson has been featured on a skinhead Web site under the words ''TRAITOR ALERT!'' The site details his tattoos and favorite hangouts and offers this summary: ''Dresses like a Skinhead/biker but acts more like an anti-racist commie.''
(...)

Stroud and Blazak say skinheads despise so-called race traitors above all.

''For them, the worst enemy, greater than Jews, greater than blacks, is the race traitor,'' says Blazak. ''Not only do they know the secrets, they also know it's all (wrong).''
(...)

Stroud, also branded a race traitor, says there unfortunately isn't much help for young people in Benson's situation. Stroud helped form Oregon Spotlight after realizing Portland had organizations to help minority youth leave gangs, but nothing to assist those wanting to leave white supremacist groups.

''Turning our back on these kids when they want to get out . . . is making yourself no better than the Nazis are,'' says Stroud.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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» Part 3