Control freak: Founder David Berg
Charismatic leader who preached paedophilia
Press » Western Daily Press » 2007-07-18
The Children of God cult started in the hippy culture of southern California in the late 1960s and was founded by David Berg, the son of a celebrated Christian evangelist.
Berg believed he was the successor to both King David of the Bible and the prophet Moses, who had led the Children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt.
He called himself the last prophet of Endtime and adopted the pseudonym "Moses David", or Mo for short. He also crowned himself and his second wife Karen Zerby, aka "Maria", the King and Queen.
Berg was warped and manipulative but also very charismatic; a control freak who demanded total obedience from his followers and exerted an enormous influence over them.
As his power grew, he began revealing his own paedophiliac and incestuous predilictions in increasingly bizarre directives, or "prophesies", to cult members, and subjected his own daughter and granddaughter to extreme sexual abuse. Central to his beliefs was his "Law of Love". Berg believed that everything done in love (including sex) was sanctioned by God - including adultery, incest, extramarital affairs and paedophilia.
Children growing up in the cult not only regularly witnessed members having sex but were encouraged to have sexual contact with each other, and were also abused by adults from a very young age.
Children were also often beaten mercilessly in brutal physical punishments for misdemeanours and were often separated from their natural parents for long periods of time, living instead in big households led by foster parents, or "shepherds".
At the same time, Berg taught that the outside world was evil and its people possessed by Satan; cult members lived in fear of being excommunicated and cast out into the world.
After increasing concerns were raised in the United States about the cult's activities, Berg and Maria fled to Europe, arriving in England in 1972. It was the start of many sudden moves as the increasingly paranoid cult members not only fled the authorities but also spread their message across the world.
In 1986, growing pressure forced the cult to officially renounce adult-child sex, though survivors say the abuse continued in many cases, albeit more secretively.
Berg died of natural causes in 1994 - one year after he had predicted the world would end - and the cult, now called the Family of Love, or simply The Family, is led by Zerby.
It claims no longer to practise adult-child sex or brutal beatings, but it remains very secretive and isolated from the world.
Its membership has greatly diminished from tens of thousands of people at its height to just a few thousand now, as many of the second generation followers have left in despair.
Even Berg's own adopted son Davidito (Ricky Rodriguez, son of Zerby) cracked under the pressure.
In 2005, he stabbed his father's former secretary and cult member Angela Smith to death, then shot himself, having first recorded a video describing himself as an avenger for children like him and his sisters who'd been subjected to rapes and beatings.