Tue | Dec 10, 2019

Sect brainwashed believers, ex-member says

Published:Thursday | November 7, 2019 | 12:28 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
The Qahal Yahweh religious compound. File
The Qahal Yahweh religious compound. File

WESTERN BUREAU:

The Qahal Yahweh sect in Norwood, St James, wooed followers with a benign message that soon evolved into a toxic cocktail of “mind control” that entrapped believers with scaremongering dogma, says a former member of the religious group at the centre of a police probe into human trafficking, child neglect, and sexual offences.

Gary McIntosh, who worshipped with the group for 11 months, along with his 44-year-old wife and daughter, unmasked the religious group’s strategy of proselytising and retaining membership as a classic case of brainwashing – even to the point of limp acceptance of wife-swapping.

“The first thing you have to do once you become a member is to cut off any type of communication with your family. If you have brothers or sisters, you cannot speak with them anymore, neither your parents,” said the 48-year-old who was also appointed an elder, if only for a week.

“It is their way of controlling. When they tell you to cut off your family, they start controlling you, and you have no one to go to, but them. They say everybody must make it through them to get into the kingdom.”

McIntosh eventually found the strength to leave what he said had become a cult after two young brothers, Omar and Javaughn Thompson, took over the reins. However, by then, he had lost his 17-year-old daughter to the “brainwashing delivered on a daily basis” and a man she took on to herself as a husband.

He said his naive faith began to wane when he and his wife were punished as dropouts for a week, having gone to visit a friend who was ill in hospital. Because they were deemed “unclean”, McIntosh said, they were not readmitted to the sanctum of the temple until they were purified in religious rites.

The sect has Old Testament-style doctrines limiting movement of menstruating women and banned them, initially, from giving birth at hospital – a decision that was reversed because of the incidence of miscarriages, McIntosh told The Gleaner.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for him was what he witnessed during a Shabbat.

“I was told that the Holy Spirit had again spoken, and one of the member’s wife was to be replaced. So they took a 60-plus-year-old woman and placed [her] in front of the man and declared them as man and wife,” he revealed, the shock in his voice hard to disguise.

“When it happened, I told my wife it was time to leave, but because we were dropouts, we were forced to leave our daughter,” McIntosh confessed. Later that night, he went back for his daughter but was told that she had already been married off.

McIntosh said that he was eventually allowed to leave the compound with his daughter but not before being peppered with curses and threats.

“They have been praying for my death because they have a way of praying for the death of those who leave. A man who used to be there, who had stopped talking to me, started talking to me again because he saw that I had not died,” he said.

Phones taken away

The apostate, who left Qahal Yahweh in November 2018, said that although there has been an exodus of believers, those left behind have had their phones confiscated and SIM cards destroyed to prevent them from contacting family and friends.

Members, he said, were forced to turn over their assets, a claim corroborated in the narrative of 75-year-old Clifford Preston, who said he was beaten, stripped naked, and shaved from head to toe by leaders of the sect. McIntosh said the members are not necessarily uneducated.

“Even a woman from Cayman who has a big job left her job, cut off her mother, and is living under the tent set up to house members. She is pregnant and she has given away her 15-year-old daughter to a man while she herself is pregnant for a married member,” said McIntosh, also referencing a blind man from Hopewell, Hanover, whose wife was offered to another man.

A policeman with whom The Gleaner spoke said that prior to the two security operations – last Thursday and two days ago – law enforcers could not confirm any abuse at the Qahal Yahweh complex, which they had visited before to investigate complaints.

“When we went to the compound, it seemed like a homeschooling facility,” said the police inspector.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com