Cults: Sordid Sex and Secrets?

They say incest, orgies and sex games ruined their lives.

CNN Larry King Live/July 31, 2008

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Raising us as kids like that, in that sort of environment, in that abusive environment, was very wrong.

KING: Did unspeakable abuse drive man to murder and suicide?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a need for revenge. It's a need for justice. Because I can't do go on like this.

KING: Former cult members tell their incredible stories. Is it the most scandalous cult ever?

Our guests, former members, make some shocking claims after the break.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Children of God were founded in 1968 in Southern California by a charismatic Baptist minister called David Berg. To the outside world, the family was a missionary organization spreading their word from Mexico City to Manila. But behind the closed doors of their communes, free love was their theology.

KING: OK. A strange story.

We begin here in Los Angeles with Davida Kelley, a former member of the Children of God. It's now called Family International. She was raised in the household of that sect's now dead leader, David Berg, whom she says sexually abused her.

Also here is Amy Bril, a former member of the Children of God. She was summoned to the household of David Berg as a young child and married to him at age 13.

What -- where do we start here, Davida?

How -- you grew grow up in this?


KING: Born in it?

KELLEY: Uh-huh.

KING: This was in Los Angeles?

KELLEY: This -- it was founded in Huntington Beach during the hippie era. And David Berg was initially like just a possessed fanatical pedophile that founded this entire cult.

KING: And you were raised in it?


KING: At what age were you first tampered with?

KELLEY: I -- my first memories of being exposed to any kind of sexual abuse whatsoever was probably as early as age five.

KING: Five?


KING: What was the point of the cult, Amy?

What were they saying to attract members?

AMY BRIL, FORMER MEMBER, CHILDREN OF GOD: Initially, it started out pretty innocently, as they were offering freedom from the church, the religious system that people were disillusioned with. The hippies were disillusioned with their families. They were dropouts.

KING: Offer you better things?

BRIL: Yes. And he was offering a way out, an escape.

KING: Did he have many members?

BRIL: It started out small, with his own personal family and it grew. One of those members was my dad, who joined when he was 13 years old in Huntington Beach.

KING: Your dad joined when he was 13?

BRIL: Yes.

KING: How big is it -- how big did it get?

KELLEY: I assume there's probably close to like between 8,000 and 10,000 members currently.

KING: Ten thousand members all over the world?

BRIL: Well, there's been all kinds of people coming through the group for the last 30 years. People have joined, left, joined, left.

KING: Is it easy to leave?

BRIL: Not for those that are born in the group -- into the group.

KING: Do you agree with that, Davida?

KELLEY: It's very difficult -- to leave?

KING: Yes.

KELLEY: Oh, you're allowed to leave at any point, but you have absolutely no support whatsoever when you leave, like because you're not integrated into society...

KING: Because you're out there.

KELLEY: You're not intrigued into society whatsoever. You don't have a formal education. So when you leave, you're just -- you're out there to face the world alone and you have absolutely no options in life. And you don't know where to start or how to begin your life or (INAUDIBLE).

KING: The children of God, now known as Family International, has been on and off the public radar for decades. We did a show on it in 1993. The January 2005 murder of a former member by the leader's son, Ricky Rodriguez, and Ricky's subsequent suicide generated headlines around the world.

Ricky, who had himself fled the group, made a video just days before he killed a woman who had been involved in his childhood molestation and he then took his own life.

We have a portion of it from a British documentary. A word of caution -- some viewers might be upset by this material. Watch.

RICKY RODRIGUEZ, FORMER MEMBER OF CHILDREN OF GOD: This is Rick and I'm making this video. I want there to be some record, my ideas, just who I was really.

Rick was born into a religious cult.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He would tell me I just want to die, I'm just tired of this life. I'll never be free from this pain and this past.

Rick was planning suicide and murder.

RODRIGUEZ: How can you do that to kids? How can you do that to kids and sleep at night?

Within 48 hours, two people were dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, everything was backward, the way we were going at absolutely everything. And everything that was wrong, we were taught was right. Everything that was really evil and wicked and perverted was done in the name of Jesus.

KING: And Ricky, Davida, he killed, what, the person who was his nanny?

KELLEY: Yes. She was one of many nannies who... KING: Tampered with him.

KELLEY: Yes, when he was a child.

KING: Did you know Ricky, Amy?

BRIL: I did.

KING: Did you know this was coming?

BRIL: Well, I met him about six months before this happened. I was able to actually spend some time with him reuniting. And he was very troubled. And those of us who knew him at the time were deeply concerned about his state. He was very disillusioned with the fact that his mother, a current leader of the family, had never apologized or made amends with those that she had had a hand in abusing.

KING: And he couldn't just leave? He couldn't just leave?

KELLEY: Yes. You're allowed to leave at any time, but with no support whatsoever.

KING: What's...

BRIL: He did leave, in fact.


BRIL: He did.

KING: He did?

BRIL: He tried.

KING: Davida, what's the story of Davidito Berg (ph), Davidido (ph) or whatever that is?

KELLEY: Davidito Berg?

KING: Davidito Berg.

What is that?

KELLEY: It's a series about the upbringing, how we raised as children and it's like a volume. But it, you know, just explains our lifestyle and kind of depicts it. And it's like a sort of a catalog or a standard by which the rest of the family members were sort of expected to live by.

KING: It was like your bible?

BRIL: It was a sort of a child care bible put out by Berg and Maria to teach the current members at the time how to train and bring their children up.

KING: And the cult, again, is trying to tell people they're benefiting them by doing all this, is that right?

BRIL: Oh, everything that came out or was published by David Berg or Maria was considered to be the word of God. So, of course, it was considered to be instructional and something that would liberate them and teach them how to live better lives.

KING: Were there orgies, as well, Davida, many men and women together?

KELLEY: Initially, yes, during the first generation that both myself and Armandrita Berg (ph) grew up in. Yes, that was a policy by which everybody was expected to, you know, abide by and participate in.

KING: Where was this done, in homes?

KELLEY: In the communities. In the communities...

KING: In the communities where they lived?


KING: You mean they would live at home and then go to this place?

KELLEY: No. This happened in the homes, in their own communities. Like there's many, many communities -- hundreds of communities all around the world. And communities just meant like different families -- several different families all living together communally in a commune.

BRIL: It's a commune -- like a commune or a community of believers who (INAUDIBLE).

KING: We, of course, by the way, invited Family International to take part in tonight's discussion. They did not respond to that request. However, they posted a lengthy statement about all this on their Web site already and we'll get to some of that later.

Some of our guests have relatives that are current members of the Family International.

Are they in danger?

They'll tell us, ahead on LARRY KING LIVE.

KELLEY: This is all done in the name of God. You were raised and disciplined to be a Christian. And to find out finally that Jesus had nothing to do with it, it was really the sick mind of a pervert and a pedophile who just used it to manipulate an entire cult to believe in him and support him and his beliefs.

KING: That was the infamous late David Berg, right?

Davida Kelley remains with us. So does Amy Brill. We're joined now here in Los Angeles by Juliana Buhring, a former member of the Children of God and co-author of "Not Without My Sister," a first-hand account of the sexual, physical and mental abuse she and her sisters suffered. One of the executive directors of Rise International, which works to protect children from abuse in cults.

And in London, Celeste Jones, a former member of the same cult. She and Juliana are half sisters. They have the same father. She's co-author of that book, "Not Without My Sister," a project worker for NCH. That's a major children's charity in the United Kingdom. She's also a director of Rise International.

Juliana, did you grow up in this cult?

JULIANA BUHRING, FORMER MEMBER, CHILDREN OF GOD: Yes, I was born and raised in the group.

KING: When did you start to think something was wrong?

BUHRING: I don't think I ever truly believed in the doctrine. I always thought that something was wrong. But because we were told that everything that we felt was our wrong or evil was our problem or our fault as opposed to the doctrine's fault. I thought that I was the one that had a problem with it, therefore I was the one that was wrong, not the doctrine.

KING: When were you sexually abused for the first time?

BUHRING: From the time I was born, sexual abuse was all around us. My earliest memories are watching adults in orgies, being paired up with other children my age to being taught sex by adults.

KING: At what age?

BUHRING: My earliest memories are 3-years-old. So it would have been from three on that I remember that.

KING: And the benefit, this was explained to the group, was what?

BUHRING: OK, David Berg came out with a doctrine called the Law of Love where he believed that everything done in love was good and fine. And he reasoned that because children could orgasm, therefore they should be able to participate in sex. So then he started his experiment on Ricky Rodriguez, the son.

KING: Who killed himself.

BUHRING: Who killed himself. And in this manual, the book which he showed, it showed or told adults how to do that. And then adults followed those instructions and it propagated to all the children in the group.

KING: Celeste in London, did you grow up in the same circumstances as your half sister?

CELESTE JONES, FORMER MEMBER, CHILDREN OF GOD: Yes, I did. I grew up with Amy as well. We grew up as children together for many years.

KING: How did you get out?

JONES: It was difficult. I know they're saying you're free to leave at any time, but the psychological barriers are huge. And they keep you in as a virtual prisoner. The fear is the main thing you have to get over. Because all your life you're told that the outside world is scary and bad and that if you left, you would be struck by lightning, you would be killed. There is this mistrust placed from I can remember. And so I think having to break that fear was huge.

KING: Other than maybe adults looking for sex, Celeste, what's the attraction of this group?

JONES: I wish I could say because I was born into it. So it's not like I ever saw any attraction. I was told what to think and what to feel. And I found it difficult after leaving and being an adult myself now thinking, what was the attraction for my parents?

I don't think I can answer that for them. It's very difficult. Actually I remember thinking as a child, and definitely as a teenager, if I was never born into this, I would have never joined. And that was a thought I always had.

KING: Were your parents in the group?

JONES: Yes, they joined in England. My dad was a hippie, he was looking for sort of alternative religion. He ended up taking drugs, he dropped out. Yes, so I think he was ripe pickings for the Children of God when they came over from the states to the U.K.

KING: Cult leader David Berg exhorted his followers to his words, glorify God in the dance. This resulted in video tape performance of nude or scantily clad women, teens and girls.

We have a tape showing a very young Celeste Jones, our guest. Again, some may find this disturbing even though it's been edited well for content.

KING: Were you eventually nude there, Celeste? What's the point of this dance?

JONES: Yes, well, I think they were told us that come -- all the adult women were doing it. And so we watched it first of all. Then do this dance for Davidito, who was David Berg's son. However, it was really for David Berg. And those tapes were circulated to all the communes and all the adults watched them. It's very uncomfortable for me to see that because there's an innocence there, but also I was really exploited. And that was very, very troubling for me. That wasn't the only dance I did. I did nude dances all the way up until I was 12-years-old.

KING: Can't the law do anything about this, Davida?

JONES: I wish they would.

KING: I'm asking, Davida can't they do something?

KELLEY: I'm not sure because for instance, they don't practice it anymore. They do not sexually exploit and abuse their children anymore because they can't. Those of us in the first generation have alerted the authorities and alerted the media and drawn attention to this abuse that happened in our generation. So it doesn't occur anymore. And the statute of limitations might have run out, however the pedophiles that have done this to our generation are still in positions of leadership to this day.

KING: That's terribly damaging.

Celeste, thank you very much.

By the way, as we said, we invited the Family International to respond and here's what they say: "The Family International has a zero tolerance policy in regards to the abuse of minors. The family will immediately expel and excommunicate any adult member deemed guilty of physically or sexually abuse behavior towards children. Family members are advised to conduct themselves in conformance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which they live and to cooperate with the justice system of the land. The family's policy for the protection of minors was adopted in 1986. We regret that prior to the adoption of this policy, cases occurred where minors were exposed to sexually inappropriate behavior between 1978 and 1986."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would think that somebody would say in the family, well, something is wrong here, our children are killing themselves. And the only response we get is well, they weren't all suicides, some of them are still alive or they're inflating the numbers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many people need to pass way before something happens? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the consequence of what they've reaped upon us. So I don't know how this story is going to end.

KING: That clip is from an HBO documentary. And by the way, when I read that disclaimer from the group, that was not sent to us. That was on their Web site today.

Our panel remains with us. And joining us is Miriam Williams Boeri. She's a former member of the Children of God. She joined the sect rather than being born into it. She's author of "Heaven's Harlots: My 15 Years as a Sacred Prostitute in the Children of God." She's an assistant professor of sociology, Kennesaw State University.

Why did you join?

MIRIAM WILLIAMS BOERI, FORMER MEMBER, CHILDREN OF GOD: I was hippie, 18-years-old, 17 when I first heard about them and they were a Christian commune and I think you might have been around at that time. You know, the period of hippies were looking for communes, they were looking to change the world. There was the Vietnam War.

KING: This was this L.A. then?

WILLIAMS BOERI: No, I was actually in New York City.

KING: And there was a commune there, too?


KING: What did you think of all the sexual activity?

WILLIAMS BOERI: There wasn't that sex when I joined. In fact, we weren't even allowed to kiss or hold hands.

KING: What changed?

WILLIAMS BOERI: Moses David changed. But one thing that I think should be clear is that there were concentric circles around the leaders. And the further away you were from those leaders, the less you participated in the sex. All of us had some sexual activities that were going on that would not be considered normal in mainstream society. But the further you're away from the leaders, the more that you could choose for your children what they would do and what they would not do.

KING: How long did you remain in the sect?

WILLIAMS BOERI: I left in 1981 for the first time. And then my husband, who had been in the group, wanted to go back. But we always remained again, these concentric circles, outside the furthest circle. We were pretty much on our own, pretty much. And then I left again when people came from, I was in Europe that time. And people came from India, where some of these girls lived. And as soon as this family came from India and they lived with us, I saw immediately that the father was probably abusing his child and I left immediately after that.

KING: Juliana, you were saying that during the break when we read their statement that it's not true. You think they're still practicing?

BUHRING: I think that because all the pedophiles from that era are still in the group and because the group refuses to hand them over to the law or to prosecute them, I believe that pedophilia is a sickness. And it's not something that you do one day and the next you don't. It will come back sooner or later eventually.

And these people are still protected within the group. The group does not have a firm child protection policy. And in their charter, they state that members want to go to the police, they have to leave the group to do so. Which means that most people, if there is a crime committed, I've heard of many cases all the way up into the early 2000s where kids are still suffer some form of abuse, but they deal with it internally like the Mafia, like the Catholic Church until they began to be prosecuted.

KING: Amy, do you agree?

BRILL: I actually do agree that who knows what goes on in each individual community. I think there's a big range, a difference between the communities.

KING: Do you keep in touch with old friends in the group?

BRILL: I used to. Less and less now.

KING: You don't miss it, I gather.

BRILL: I do not miss it, absolutely not.

KING: Amy, we thank you and Juliana for being with us. Davida remains and so does Miriam and we'll have more with when we come back. Don't go away.

KING: Welcome back. Before we get back to our topic, let's check in with Wolf Blitzer sitting in tonight for Anderson Cooper. He'll host "A.C. 360." How nice to see you when it's dark out.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to see you, Larry. Thanks very much.

Coming up right at the top of the hour, finger pointing and pushing back. John McCain is accusing Barack Obama of playing the race card. Barack Obama says John McCain is trying to scare voters. You're going to hear for yourself what's going on and you decide.

And the Muslim myth. Barack Obama has repeatedly said he's a Christian, so why are there still parts of America where large numbers of people don't believe him? And a mother's plea, bring my little girl home. Heart-wrenching new developments in the strange disappearance of Ray Starra Boss (ph) and her shadowy father. All that and large chunks of sound from the two presidential candidates, sharing their thoughts on what America needs to do about the energy crisis. All coming up on "360," right at the top of the hour. Larry, back to you.

KING: Thanks, Wolf. That's at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific, hosted tonight by my friend, Wolf Blitzer.

Joining us now is Rachel Bernstein, the psychotherapist and expert on cults. She runs a support group for former cult members. And Stephen Kent, professor of sociology, University of Alberta, writing a book on child sexual abuse within the Children of God.

Rachel, what's your read on what we've heard?

RACHEL BERNSTEIN, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: Well, it's been very interesting and unfortunately a very sad story. What you have people that have been damaged, really terribly hurt by being exploited, by being in a situation that was supposed to be a spiritual community but was instead a place of great perversion.

KING: Why do people do this to people?

BERNSTEIN: Sometimes it's because they truly believe that this is something that's useful for them, necessary for them. And other times, it's just because they like the power that they are able to develop over these people. And they like to have the people show them how much they are devoted by seeing how much they are willing to do for them.

KING: They deny they are a cult, Stephen. What is a cult?

STEPHEN KENT, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA: The definition of a cult varies. Some people just say it's a group that holds unusual beliefs. A lot of people however talk about cults in the context of harm. A cult is a group with an intense belief system that is often harmful to its own members and also members outside of that particular group.

KING: Harmful according to society, but they don't think it's harmful?

KENT: They probably don't. But when you talk to people who have been in and then come out, a lot of people's eyes get open about what happened.

KING: What are you doing now, Davida? Are you married?

KELLEY: No, I'm self-employed.

KING: Are you working?

KELLEY: I'm a fetish model.

KING: You're a what?

KELLEY: I'm a fetish model.

KING: What is that?

KELLEY: It's part of the adult entertainment industry.

KING: Oh, you appeal to..

KELLEY: Yes. Honestly, I didn't have much options when I left.

KING: You appeal to prurient interests.

KELLEY: Yes. When you leave the cult, you have a basic education and you're not integrated into society. So when you leave, your options are very slim, which is why so many children have committed suicide because they don't have a college education. They don't have anywhere to turn to and they don't have any options in life.

KING: Well said. What are you doing, Maria?

WILLIAMS BOERI: When I left the family, I went back to college as a freshman with four kids. I was 38-years-old and I stayed in school until I got my Ph.D.

KING: And you're an assistant professor. Are you married now?

WILLIAMS BOERI: I am married to someone that was not in the group.

KING: Children?

WILLIAMS BOERI: I have five children that were born in the group and they are all out with me.

KING: What is post group like, Rachel?

BERNSTEIN: Post group is when people really are depending on their experiences, are really suffering a lot of after effects.

KING: Do you need a rehab?

BERNSTEIN: Very often it helps to have a good therapist and a good support system, either through your family or through other former members who really understand the very singular and individual kind of experience you've had in a group like this.

KING: Biggest danger in a group, Stephen?

KENT: Biggest danger has to do with the kinds of harm that people can inflict upon themselves and upon their loved ones.

KING: As the boy who killed himself?

KENT: Sure. And with this group, there have been a lot of post- group suicides or even some suicides of young people while they were still in the group. And the issue that Davida brought up about what these people do when they leave, there are countless stories about people leaving this group and at least having to go through some forms of the sex trade in order to get out, because they have little skills and they grew up in a highly eroticized environment.

KING: Does it depend, Rachel, on a charismatic leader?

BERNSTEIN: If a group is dangerous in this way, yes. The leader has to be someone people want to listen to and people feel the need to please. And so if a leader is charismatic in that way, he can get away with much more than he should.

KING: Are the former members religious in any way today? That's next.

BAMBI GADDIST, CNN HERO: Here in South Carolina, HIV is a problem, particularly among African-Americans. After 27 years of AIDS, we are still combating a mentality of fear and shame. I'm Bambi Gaddist and I'm fighting to stop the spread of HIV-AIDS in South Carolina. Our organization has the only HIV testing mobile unit in the state. Our goal is to be in the community, testing at a nightclub. We're there when young folks are out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was my very first time, very, very first time. I'm glad I did it. She takes time to explain things, actually break it down.

GADDIST: Have you been tested yet?


GADDIST: And you're waiting on your results?


GADDIST: You already got them?


GADDIST: OK, I sure appreciate you coming out. When it's my time, I want my obituary to say that I made a difference for someone and that I saved somebody's life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: July is the last month to nominate someone you know as a CNN hero for 2008. Go to

KING: Davida, are you a member of my religion? Are you religious? KELLEY: Oh, I'm absolutely religious. Yes, I still believe in God. I still am saved, I still believe in Jesus. And I don't blame Jesus or God for any of this. I'm agnostic, though.

KING: What about you, Miriam?


KING: Not at all religious. You had the idea for a foundation?

WILLIAMS BOERI: I think that one reason I'm here is in any way that I can to -- Juliana has a Web site number. If people could donate to a foundation and children that are coming out or adult children that are coming out can either get some mental help, mental health service help and also go back to college. I think all of these children could get their GEDs and go back to college. America is wonderful because everybody can get an education. That's why I came back here and I got it.

KING: Do you know Juliana's Web site?

KELLEY: Isn't it Rise International?

KING: Rise International.




KING: Do you think this can help?

WILLIAMS BOERI: I think so. Anyone that wants to make a donation, Juliana will make sure that it goes to the right children that are coming out.

KELLEY: For that matter, just for any children to know that there's lots of children probably in the cult that would like to leave but don't have any options or don't know where to turn or who they can go to. And if anybody out there is a relative of any members that have family in any kind of cult whatsoever, please reach out to them and like make sure that they know that you can --

KING: You've had two sisters who left as well?


KING: How are they doing?

KELLEY: Well one for instance is in Africa right now and she's trying to come back to the U.S. but she can't even afford her own plane ticket. And I can't afford to support her. I wish that we knew - could ask our relatives.

KING: What's the other one doing? KELLEY: The other one lives in Houston, Texas. She's a model. And then I have my two younger sisters that are still in the family, in the Children of God.

KING: You were saying during the break that this cult is enormous.

KENT: Well, in the 1980s, it may have been the largest globalized pedophile organization in the world. There are some other pedophile religious groups, like the Devdasi Temple Prostitutes in India that have larger numbers. But child abuse, child sexual abuse was the central doctrine in this group's theology and the group was global.

KING: Any country that does not have any cults?

BERNSTEIN: I think they exist everywhere. I think the fact that cults exist is because there is something about human nature that allows for this to happen. And so..

KELLEY: Which is why relatives that have any members in cults need to reach out to them and check in on them and make sure that they know if they want to leave, that they have an option. Because a lot of these children don't know that they have any options. They haven't been exposed to society. So they have nowhere to go and nowhere to turn.

KING: You're raised trapped?


BERNSTEIN: Raised trapped.

KING: You were a prisoner?

BERNSTEIN: Right and also in a system like this, your family who was supposed to be protecting you typically are the ones who are letting the monsters come in at night.

KENT: And one of the big issues now is as these monsters hit 50, 60, 70-years-old, they're going to go back to their second generation kids who have left and made it in the world wanting help. Because they have no pension system, they have no retirement, they have no Social Security benefits. It's a real crisis.

KING: We're almost out of time. Are these people bright?

KENT: Oh, yes, very smart people. Many of the ones that I've talked to, both current and former members. I mean, there's a range of course, in any group.

KING: But it's not that this is appealing to the lowest common denominator?

KENT: Oh, no, very talented, very smart people.

KING: I'm very impressed and we have to do more on this, thank you, thank you all. Juliana's organization by the way, can be reached as,

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