'Inner Circle Privy to Parties'

Lake County Record Bee/April 12, 1985
By Walt Neary

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series presented as part of the Record-Bee's continuing coverage of the Johannine Daist Communion. The sect was headquartered in Lake County until recently, and some members still live in the group's Seigler Springs resort on Cobb Mountain.

Lake County ­­ In 1983 Jaclyn Estes wrote a letter to a New York school board about the Johannine Daist Communion. A New York newspaper reprinted her allegations of abuse, sex orgies, drug use, and rape.

Cult officials vehemently denied the charges, as they have done recently in response to a $5 million lawsuit by a Marin County woman.

Angelo Druda, a sect spokesman, said that members of the JDC experimented with sex, wild parties, and drug use during a two month period in 1976, but none of it was at the insistence of Franklin Jones, also called Da Free John, the group's guru.

"We concluded that drugs and promiscuity were of no use in spiritual life. Since 1976 we have been more sedate; we began to resume a more orderly life," Druda told The Mountain Eagle newspaper.

Until this week, cult members insisted the stories of promiscuity and drug use came from the 1976 period. Cult leaders continue to insist no one was forced to do anything against their will.

"The parties never ended," said Neil Lupa, the JDC's in house attorney from 1979 to 1983. "They just learned the lesson of privacy. They started to make more and more misrepresentations to the community."

The community to be deceived included the general public, ex­members said. Mark Miller, a former member, said he was ordered to burn 1,000 copies of the book "Garbage and the Goddess," which revealed Jones' early side.

"Jones said he was becoming a renunciate, but the things continued to go on. It's just fewer people knew about them.

"Anyone who denies the stories had better review the laws of perjury," Lupa said.

Ex­members draw a distinction between the JDC's inner circle and outer circle. They say the inner circle, including Jones' nine wives and other people he liked, were privy to the parties, the good living, prestige within the cult.

The outer circle ­­ the majority of the group's estimated 1,000 members- provided the money and the work to support the JDC, ex­members said.

These members continue to have the most contact with the general public, and many have no idea of what goes on within the inner circle, former members said.

Members are expected to pay anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of their income, and to support appeals for special projects.

"One of the goodies that was held out was the access to Da Free John," one former member said. "If they didn't pay their certain amount a month, then they couldn't see him and they wouldn't have use of the sanctuary (in Lake County)."

At least some of the money was used to buy an expensive art collection, including many Disney originals, a favorite of Jones and also a plush home on the Lake County property, said Miller, former director of public education for the group.

In 1977, married couples reportedly were told not to have sex with each other for six months. In other experiments, couples were told to "engage" for three hours in bed, but not complete their sexual act, a former member said.

In 1978, Jones told a group of men that they would resume using marijuana "though we knew it was already being used," an ex­member said.

In 1979, the group held large gatherings at the sanctuary, and collected money. One former member recalls that there was a lot of peer pressure to give money.

"It was a continual problem -the church was always in financial straights, but there seemed to be an incredible income coming in," he said.

The church eventually obtained another sanctuary on the Hawaiian island Kauai. Jones' sanctuary was adjacent to a property belonging to another guru, Master Subramunya.

The two gurus waged a two year battle over noise. "Master Subramunya's followers would ring bells, I think as a call to prayer," Lupa said. "And Da Free John didn't like the sound of the bells. They bothered him."

For two years, legal war was waged, and both sides turned to local governments. "I remember in the end there was some reduction in the bell ringing," Lupa said. "But I got the feeling, this is insane. I just was not seeing evidence of a teacher practicing his teaching. He was identified with vengeance and hatred."

"I had been working 18 hours a day. I was exhausted with dealing with the contradictions. I couldn't do it anymore," Lupa said.

Another former member, who asked his name be withheld, said he was disgusted by accounts of the battle. "Some guys came up with a scheme. They decided to throw a big party on New Years Eve, and just go berzerk. They would make so much noise, Subramunya would agree to support a local noise ordinance.

"But it didn't work. The noise went unnoticed during the holiday. Jones went completely livid, swearing and criticizing them for coming up with the idea for this, when he himself had endorsed it."

"He always preached that people shouldn't come up with a strategy or plan to life. Here he was, demanding 'Give me a strategy' to get this guy," the ex­member said.

"Something struck me ­­I thought, What a hypocrite. He's not even a good neighbor," the former member said.

In 1983, Jones moved to an island in Fiji, which the church purchased from actor Raymond Burr. Neil Lupa said he found the island for Jones, and helped conduct negotiations for a permit with the Fiji government.

"They were very leery of what happened at Jonestown," Lupa said. "At first, they were not told of the teacher. We stressed we had a mature group of practitioners ­­ lawyers, writers ­­ who wanted a retreat."

Jones remains on the island with his wives, and a small following. The Marin County lawsuit accuses the church of engaging in the same sort of activities it conducted in Hawaii and Lake County.

The JDC is currently based in San Rafael. A spokesman denied allegations in the suit. Since the suit was filed, and media publicity multiplied, cult members have said the ex­members are trying to extort money, and that no one was forced to do anything illegal.

Earlier this week, a church spokesman conceded that sexual experimentation did not cease in 1976, as had been claimed before.

However, the sexual activities have been by willing participants and for the spiritual benefit of those involved, the spokesman said. Every member of the JDC interviewed by the Record­Bee insisted no one had been coerced.

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