60 Minutes Australia: Sinful Acts

From XFamily - Children of God

Sinful acts

60 Minutes Australia/2005-10-16

Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producer: Stephen Rice

Video Watch video: 60 Minutes Australia: Sinful Acts (15:59, 64.8MB) 
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See also: 60 Minutes New Zealand: The Children of God — 2005-08-22

LIZ HAYES: Of all the great social experiments of the last 100 years, there's never been anything like this. A religion preaching free love — the Children of God they call themselves. Recruiting was called "flirty fishing" and thousands, many here in Australia, were hooked on the promise of a sexual nirvana. The cult's American guru, David Moses, even declared sex between adults and children was natural and healthy. Well, it's no surprise that it all went terribly wrong. Those children are now adults, their lives in ruins. And earlier this year, one young man, Ricky Rodriguez, the son of the guru, set out to take his revenge, leaving behind a video about his life in the cult, naming those he planned to kill and why.

RICKY RODRIGUEZ: I'm just loading some of my mags here. I hope you guys don't mind if I do that while I talk.

LIZ HAYES: Tonight, Ricky Rodriguez is on a mission, a mission to kill the people he says abused him as a child.

RICKY RODRIGUEZ: I think I'm just really f***ed in the head.

LIZ HAYES: One of his targets tonight — his own mother.

RICKY RODRIGUEZ: What about her? (Inaudible)

LIZ HAYES: Ricky Rodriguez grew up in a religious sect called the Children of God. Today, they are known as The Family, but this is a family fractured by accusation and violence, a second generation that has rebelled against the choices of its parents, a second generation that includes hundreds of young Australians.

TRACY: The first generation, they chose the values that they went with, where as the second generation didn't get that chance. We didn't get the opportunity to say, 'Hmm, do I want to be raped and molested?'

RICHARD: I used to be very angry for a long time, angry at my mother, angry at all the adults in the cult and angry at a society that sort of let this happen, you know.

NATALIE: Yes. I believe none of us were really able to grow up as children.

LIZ HAYES: Tracy, Richard and Natalie were all born into the cult. They grew up knowing no other life. For their parents, it began in the late 1960s, many of them hippies drawn to a Christian religion that promised love and sexual freedom. Their mysterious leader was David Berg, a man they knew as 'Moses David' or 'Mo', a self-proclaimed prophet who preached that any sex, all sex, was good.

MAN ON FILM [Simon Peter]: Love isn't love until you give it away.

WOMAN ON FILM: Oh, I love you, I love you.

EVA ST JOHN: When I met this group of very loving, happy, musical people — I was a musical person too — it just ... I felt at home.

LIZ HAYES: Eva St John was 16 when she joined the Children of God. She found a religion which used sex to hook new recruits, a practice known as "flirty fishing", or FFing.

MAN ON FILM: We have three of our beautiful FFers, from left to right, it's Cherie, Ellie and Shilo.

LIZ HAYES: And encouraged free sex between all members. But not free thought.

EVA ST JOHN: They had a saying, if you think, think, think, you'll sink, sink, sink because you stink, stink, stink. And they wouldn't even let you go to the toilet without someone standing outside quoting the teachings to you so you wouldn't start having any doubts or thinking.

LIZ HAYES: By the late 1970s, this experiment in free love was taking a sinister turn. Even children, David Berg decreed, should be introduced to sex.

MAN ON FILM [David Berg]: God created boys and girls able to have children by about the age of 12 years of age. God, now he's going to advocate childhood sex? Yes.

LIZ HAYES: Berg and his wife, Maria, wrote a manual on how it should be done using his heir apparent, Maria's son, Davidito, as the example.

EVA ST JOHN: So they documented his entire upbringing, describing how they were sexualising him from babyhood.

LIZ HAYES: This is what others were encouraged to do?

EVA ST JOHN: Yeah. That the women in the group were encouraged to sexualise the little boys.

WOMAN: I love you so much, Dad, and I would love to show you how much I do love you right now.

LIZ HAYES: Cult members all over the world would send sexually explicit videos back to David Berg, tapes that have remained hidden for years. This is the first time many of these images have ever been shown in public.

MAN: We would especially like to thank you and the Lord for the latest letters on Australia, which have been such an encouragement as well as challenge.

LIZ HAYES: In this tape, a father tells Berg how he's just shared his new wife with his young son, Joe, standing behind him.

MAN: And it was a really a blessing too for Joe and Hobo because they had a good chance to share also with Sally.

WOMAN: Amen. (Giggles)

MAN: So the Lord is really setting us freer and freer to obey and to be free.

LIZ HAYES: You had your first sexual experience at a very young age. How old were you?

RICHARD: About five years old, maybe even a little bit earlier than that.

LIZ HAYES: How old was she?

RICHARD: She would have easily been in her 20s. Yeah, I just remember kissing, cuddling naked, oral sex, performing oral sex on her and also having oral sex performed on me, and, you know, stimulated penetration, that sort of stuff.

LIZ HAYES: Richard is now 28 and has been out of the cult for many years. But his childhood was blighted by a lack of formal education, no contact with other children outside the cult and brutal beatings.

RICHARD: I'm talking open-palmed slaps to the face so that my face would swell, black eyes, bruising, you know.

LIZ HAYES: How did you feel when you stepped outside of that cult?

RICHARD: Lost. Completely lost. I had no idea of the outside world. I didn't even know what football was except that it was a sport that Moses David illustrated in a couple of magazines as being an evil sport, you know.

LIZ HAYES: Sex was an everyday part of Natalie's childhood.

NATALIE: I was about four or five, maybe.

LIZ HAYES: And what did that involve?

NATALIE: Well, I remember that I was going to close the door of a bedroom and as I was walking back to my bed, a teenage boy pulled me by my nightgown and got me into his bed and he told me he was going to teach me, "how a man and woman make love," were his words. They had orgies where they would have what they called naked dance nights, where people would dance and everyone was naked and kids were allowed to be there.

LIZ HAYES: You danced?

NATALIE: Yes. We'd all have to take turns and dance, basically with a shawl, and then it was naked.

LIZ HAYES: By this time, you may be asking, where were the parents while all this was going on? Well, terrible truth is they were letting it happen. Eva St John had four children while she was in the sect. Did it occur to you that this could have been happening to your children, or did you know it was happening?

EVA ST JOHN: There was definitely a real confusion I would go into when a woman would go to bed with my five-year-old son, and I would pace up and down outside, biting my nails, going, 'I'm supposed to allow this. This is a good thing. He will grow up with no issues around sex,' blah, blah, blah.

LIZ HAYES: How would it happen? How would a woman come into your home and say, 'I'm sleeping with your son tonight,' your five-year-old son?

EVA ST JOHN: Um ... (sighs) It would just occur ... because sex was such a subject just like anything else, like playing, even the children would ask, "Aunty so and so, can I make love to you?"

LIZ HAYES: But it gets worse.

EVA ST JOHN: The most horrific thing that horrified me the most was when a baby was taken to hospital and diagnosed with gonorrhoea. That was a real shock to me, and that really freaked me out.

LIZ HAYES: That baby is now a woman.

TRACY: I know that I was diagnosed with VD when I was 18 months old. So I was treated for that at that age. The first sexual experience that I remember I probably would have been about four, three or four.

LIZ HAYES: With an adult?


LIZ HAYES: How do you view that now?

TRACY: Sick. Very sick.

LIZ HAYES: Tracy is 26. When you realised what you had been exposed to, how did you feel about your parents?

TRACY: Um, very torn, very torn up. There's a certain amount of hate that you feel for someone that will let you be exposed to that. There is a certain amount of vengeance that you want, in some senses.

LIZ HAYES: So what became of Davidito, the little boy offered up by the cult leaders as a shining example of how to raise children in a sexually charged environment? Well, he was anointed the chosen one, the man who would take over the cult from his parents, David Berg and Maria. But like so many of the second generation, Davidito rebelled. Davidito grew up to be Ricky Rodriguez, the angry young man who is about to go on a killing spree.

RICKY RODRIGUEZ: I have a Glock now. But the truth is this, this is my weapon of choice.

LIZ HAYES: In January this year, Ricky set out to hunt down his mother, Maria, who took over the cult after the death of David Berg.

RICKY RODRIGUEZ: My own mother, what an evil little ... how can you do that to a kid? How can you do that to kids and sleep at night? My mom is going to pay for that. She is going to pay dearly, one way or another.

LIZ HAYES: But his mother was in hiding, and so his first stop was her best friend, Angela Smith, the woman pictured here with the three-year-old Ricky, a woman, he says, abused him.

RICKY RODRIGUEZ: And I want to keep going until somebody gets her, I get her. Justice will be done, believe me.

LIZ HAYES: Ricky Rodriguez stabbed Angela Smith to death, then headed out into the desert, apparently in search of his mother. He never found her. Instead, he stopped his car in this parking lot and put his gun to his own head.

RICHARD: I think what he did was criminal, but I sympathise with him completely, you know. When I watch that tape, it's heart-wrenching, you know, to see him in that much pain, you know, just to see the pain.

LIZ HAYES: Perhaps because you can relate to it?

RICHARD: Definitely because can I relate to it. And I can relate to the anger he was feeling, you know. I can definitely relate to that sort of ... that wanting to take it out on somebody. You want somebody to pay for what happened to you, you know. And I can see how come he got to that point, how he got to that point, you know, yeah.

LIZ HAYES: The Family still exists in Australia, with several hundred known members.

PAUL HARTINGDON: We do have a positive outlook about sex. We believe it's a God given.

LIZ HAYES: Their leader, Paul Hartingdon, refused our request for an interview, but earlier this year, told New Zealand television that any sexual abuse within the cult occurred long ago and that David Berg's teachings on child sex had been outlawed.

PAUL HARTINGDON: We don't believe that sex between children and adults is right and ...

NZ REPORTER: But he did preach that at the time?

PAUL HARTINGDON: He made some ... he made some, um, statements that have been recanted and have been removed from our publications because ...

NZ REPORTER: So he was wrong?

PAUL HARTINGDON: He was wrong.

LIZ HAYES: The Children of God officially renounced child sex in 1986, but reports of abuse kept filtering through. In 1992, child welfare authorities raided cult homes in Melbourne and Sydney, taking away more than 140 children. No member of the sect was ever convicted and the children denied any abuse.

TEENAGE GIRL: I know myself I've never been abused and nor have any of the other children.

TRACY: I had friends that I knew in the cult and that I saw having sex with adults.

LIZ HAYES: You saw that?

TRACY: And I saw them on TV saying, "Nothing like that has ever happened. That's not what happens. Never." And I was crying watching them on TV.

LIZ HAYES: Did it surprise you that they were denying it?

TRACY: Not at all. And I know if it would have been me in the raids, I would have said the exact same thing.

LIZ HAYES: Thousands of children who grew up in the sect have now left. For this lost generation, it has not been an easy road. Do you get a bit fearful about how your life is going to be?

RICHARD: Oh, definitely, yeah. I fear turning out like some crazy old bum in the street in a cardboard box, I really do, you know. I fear that.

LIZ HAYES: For some in the second generation, that fear and anger has been too great to bear.

RICKY RODRIGUEZ: Some day in some way, someone is going to be around. Literally or figuratively, they're going down. With that happy thought, I shall leave.

RICHARD: I want to talk to any kids out there that are of my age group that are thinking, you know, the way Ricky thought, you know. And there is help. Don't let what happened to Ricky happen to any more of us, you know. That's about it.

Source: ninemsn: 60 Minutes Australia