Claude Vorilhon, head of the worldwide Raelian movement, warns he's been targeted for death by the CIA and the French secret service for leading his dangerous "atheistic religion."
Sun Media reporter Brigitte McCann and photographer Chantal Poirier infiltrated the bizarre sect over a nine-month period and were put to the test of their loyalty
Constantly surrounded by bodyguards, Claude Vorilhon is convinced that he's the target of numerous assassination plots. The prophet known to his followers as Rael wants his disciples to share his paranoia that George Bush and Jacques Chirac themselves want his skin.
"There's a strong chance I'll be the next victim of an assassination attempt," proclaims Vorilhon in the weekly Contact magazine published for Raelian members.
"And the fact that we're talking about it here today is one of the means of trying to avoid it," he continues.
Vorilhon is a former race-car driver and journalist who created the Raelian Movement, which he calls "an atheistic religion," in 1973. He says he was visited by aliens in France who told him they were the "Elohim" mentioned in the Bible and had created the human race through cloning. Today his movement boasts 55,000 members in 84 countries.
Vorilhon claims the secret service of France and America's CIA have been trying to eliminate him because he's dangerous. The name of their secret extermination operation: The Abraham Project.
According to his theory, the mentally ill would be used as agents to assassinate him and carry out other crimes. Schizophrenics would obey voices emitted by audio systems secretly installed in their homes.
That would explain why a mentally ill person ransacked the Raelian church campground in November 2002, according to the guru. It was a test of their methods.
The former journalist goes as far as citing an alleged directive of U.S. President George Bush: "I want the skin of this Rael who preaches atheism at all costs."
"If I'm assassinated next by a mentally ill person," concludes Rael, "you must cry out loud and strong what's behind all that and that you've made investigations that unmask those responsible who are extremely high-placed in France and the United States."
The Raelians don't bat an eye hearing about such presumed plots. There is even one who hopes that it will happen.
"That would be good if one day Rael was killed or died," says Pierre Bolduc, a friend of Rael's since his arrival in Quebec 25 years ago.
"Because if he died, there wouldn't be any further chance that one day he would deny all that he's taught the last 20 years -- his meeting with the Elohims and all that. Jesus wasn't crucified for nothing!" he says.
The Raelian movement already shows signs of going off the rails which brings to mind the deaths of 10 members of the Order of the Sun Temple in Quebec in the 1990s.
That's the opinion of Dianne Casoni, a renowned psychologist and criminologist who specializes in religious sects, after reviewing material gathered by Sun Media.
"Generally, it's the mental health and the moral judgment of the leader that's the greatest protection against loss of control," says the University of Montreal professor.
Rael is already showing signs of paranoia anxiety -- security guards are omnipresent and he has written about his fear of assassination.
"What worries me the most is when conspiracy theories develop," Casoni explains. "The group says to itself, 'We're in danger, we have to protect ourselves,' and sometimes it becomes, 'We have to fight back' and that's when things can go on the skids."
She recalls that religious cult leader Jim Jones constantly obliged his disciples to move before his paranoia resulted in the collective suicide of 912 members of his sect, the Temple of the People, in Guyana in 1978.
Another disturbing fact is Claude Vorilhon, Rael, is tightening his hold over his disciples more and more. The creation of the Order of the Angels, the women in his service, is an example.
"From year to year we see an increase in the assertion of Rael's authority," says Alain Bouchard, a sociologist observing the Raelian movement.
"He's really starting to take himself more seriously," he adds. "His ego's growing."
"It worries me to see that there's a growth in the level of control and Continued from previous page unreasonable demands," says Mike Kropveld, director of Info-Sect.
Claude Vorilhon himself admitted the potential danger of a movement going in the wrong direction, following the first collective suicides of Sun Temple in 1994.
"No one is protected from a loss of control," he told Le Journal de Montreal at the time. "Jesus said: 'Love one another' and Catholicism produced the Inquisition. We shouldn't be shocked by anything then."
Seventy-four members of the Order of the Sun Temple were killed or committed suicide in three countries from 1994 to 1997.
Ten died in Quebec.
For now, the effects on the members of the leader's paranoia of the leader is limited to the sort of feelings you'd get from a horror film, according to Bouchard.
"The members are afraid; it's created a thrill and a cohesion in the group so everyone is satisfied," he says. "When they begin to construct bunkers, that's when we should be worried."
But things could become complicated the day the leader faces the crumbling of his movement, warns Casoni.
That could already be happening, for in spite the pretensions of Rael, "the membership of the movement has been stagnating for the past 20 years," Bouchard points out.
The leader will then have two choices -- to accept the dissolution of his group or to adopt the hard line, only keeping the core of his group.
"In the end with the Order of the Sun Temple, only the most committed members killed themselves," recalls Casoni.
The elite Angels of Rael have the obligation of more than serving their prophet. They must die for him if necessary.
A statement entitled "Last Messages" is entrusted to all Raelians interested in joining the Angels of Rael. It eloquently indicates they must be ready to be of service to the Elohim (extraterrestrials) and the prophets (Rael) without any restrictions, including sexuality.
"The privilege of being near them" is reserved to those who want to give everything, "including their own lives if that is necessary to protect them," says the statement.
The document even demands those senior among the Angels to fill in a new form of adherence to make their choice.
"For the Angels of Rael, the Elohim and their Messenger come above everything. These are the individuals who are ready to sacrifice everything for them ... even their lives," we can read in a second document given to the Angels.
An Angel for the past five years, Sandrine, 40, takes her commitment very seriously. When asked if she is ready to die if the security of her prophet is put in danger, she answers without hesitation.
"Absolutely!" replies the slim brunette when questioned at UFOland this past summer by an undercover Sun Media reporter.
"And I would do it for you, too, if there was an injustice," she adds eagerly and convincingly.
In principal, only Rael can decide if such a sacrifice is necessary or not, since in the eyes of his disciples, he is the only one in contact with the Elohims.
Could he proclaim one day that the Elohims asked him telepathically for a sacrifice?
"Before getting to that point, it would be necessary to first have preliminary signs," asserts Alain Bouchard, sociologist of religions at the University of Laval.
For now, everything supports the belief that it's only about a symbolic commitment.
Some are concerned the lives of these women could, however, be put in danger in the future.
"If things start going downhill, that which was symbolic could be required," warns Dianne Casoni.
"It's disturbing to make this type of demand on people," says Mike Kropveld.
Curiously enough, Kropveld tends to think that there's nothing to be alarmed about. "It's one of the most transparent movements that I know," he says.
Throughout this series, our three experts on cult organizations will provide their views on what our journalists have discovered. They will analyse the activities, attitude and philosophy of the Raelian movement, as revealed by our investigation.
Dianne Casoni, a specialist in cult groups, asserts the Raelians use various methods to control and intimidate their disciples. She's a psychologist and professor at the Department of Criminology of the University of Montreal.
Alain Bouchard, an expert on the Raelian movement, says the organization needs scientific assertions, be they true or false, to establish its credibility in the eyes of the public and of its disciples. He teaches religious studies at Laval University in Quebec City.
Finally, Sun Media met with Mike Kropveld, director of Info-Cult, an organization focused on sensitizing the community to cult thinking.
According to Kropveld, Rael uses provocation to maintain the cohesion of his group.