Disciples, 1980s religious group, still together

The Post-Bulletin/January 12, 2005
By Matt Russell

An understanding of American culture in the 1970s and early 1980s isn't complete without looking at a wave of new religious groups that popped up around the country at that time, many becoming centers of controversy.

One such group not only attracted followers in Rochester, but also wound up in the middle of two of the more sensational stories this area has seen after members were abducted in Rochester in 1976 and in Winona in 1982 in apparent attempts by their parents to "deprogram" them from the group's beliefs. The group, The Disciples of the Lord Jesus, and its leader, who was known at the time of the 1976 and 1982 abductions as Brother Rama Behera, repeatedly denied that they practiced mind control.

According to news reports, Behera, 64, is a native of India and a former Hindu who said he converted to Christianity in 1966 while studying nuclear engineering at Columbia University. Behera is said to have formed The Disciples of the Lord Jesus, a group whose beliefs reportedly came to encompass Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism, in 1974 after marrying a woman from St. Charles. Behera met the woman in Jamaica, according to an October article in The Shawano Leader newspaper.

Today, the Disciples keep mainly to themselves on a property near Shawano, Wis., the entrance of which is watched by a guard whom area teenagers often drive by and harass, said Shawano County Sheriff Bob Schmidt. "Everyone knows it's there, and they come from far and wide to do it," he said.

Schmidt said many people from Rochester used to come to meetings at the Disciples' property, but he thinks fewer people do so now. "We do see Minnesota plates there on occasion, and it used to be heavily," he said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he said he didn't want his name connected with Behera's group, a Rochester man who said he belonged to the Disciples for 16 years said the group no longer holds meetings in Rochester. He added that there are still "quite a few" members in this area, adding that it's possible local members still make trips to the Disciples' property near Shawano.

Since 2000, the Disciples have purchased several properties in the Shawano area and started running businesses including a gas station and a fudge shop, Schmidt said. In response to a perception of public concern about the purchases, The Shawano Leader published a weeklong series of articles in October aimed at separating facts from rumors about the Disciples and the group's future plans.

In one article in the series, Kal Gronvall, a representative of Behera (Behera has changed his name to Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy), was quoted as telling the Shawano Common Council in July that the Disciples' businesses will help the local economy while also helping the group raise money to start a boarding school called the Samanta Roy Institute for Science and Technology.

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