Lefkowitz Lists Charges On Sect
Says Children of God Group Is Tinged With Fraud and Abuses Its Converts
New York Times/1974-10-14
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
Attorney General Louis J. Lefkowitz charged yesterday that the ultraconservative religious sect known as the Children of God had become a fraud-tinged cult whose young converts had been subjected to brainwashing, sexual abuse and involuntary confinement.
In a 65-page report of an 18-month investigation of the sect, much of it based on the testimony of members, Mr. Lefkowitz leveled accusations of fiscal chicanery, obstruction of justice and alleged physical and mental coercion of followers.
But he concluded: "Despite the facts outlined, no direct action can be undertaken at this time against the Children of God because of the constitutional protection of the First Amendment. Continuing attention, however, should be paid to its activities."
Citing testimony by 74 witnesses — present and former members, parents and others with knowledge of the group — Mr. Lefkowitz described an "apparent metamorphosis of Children of God from a religious, Bible-oriented group to a cult subservient to the whims or desires of the Berg family and other leaders."
The sect was founded in 1969 by a preacher named David Berg, who, with other members of his family, still leads the organization, according to Mr. Lefkowitz. The sect is said to have tens of thousands of members, mostly teen-agers and people in their early twenties, who live in 120 communes in this country and abroad.
Members hold a strict Fundamentalist theology, regard existing social structures as corrupt, are obliged to surrender all worldly possessions to the organization upon joining, generally rely on donations from sympathizers and parents and spend much of their time proselytizing.
In recent years, many parents of members have accused the organization of various coercive acts, including the use of drugs, brainwashing, and hypnosis and censorship of mail and phone calls to encourage the alienation of converts from family, friends and the past.
A number of cloak-and-dagger efforts—some of them successful—have been made by parents and others to "rescue" members by force and to counteract the sect's indoctrinations by "de-programming."
Mr. Lefkowitz, in his report, recounted testimony by former members alleging that the sect used isolation fatigue and threats of force and confinement to inculcate its doctrines.
Among the results, he said, were decisions to drop out of high school or college, bitter hatred of parents, fear of leaving the commune "despite vicious brutalization" and a compulsion to "transfer all assets to the organization."
An effort to subpoena financial records of the sect proved fruitless, Mr. Lefkowitz said. Mr. Berg and other leaders have been living in Europe in recent years, he said, and other members are "not privy to the financial operations."
Children of God, Inc., a nonprofit Texas entity, was denied a Federal tax exemption as a religious institution in 1972 and has been dissolved, but another organization, Youth for Truth, Inc., is serving as a financing conduit, Mr. Lefkowitz charged.
Although no criminal action has been taken by the Attorney General's office, Mr. Lefkowitz said, "publication of this report should alert the public generally, particularly young people and parents, to the nature of this group as revealed in the testimony. "