A Morning Thought @ 364

From the Guardian, a piece: UK Prisons Are A Disgrace. No wonder a Dutch court has refused to extradite - by Ben Keith

British jails have been inhumane, violent and degrading for years. Now other countries are noticing

The prisons are “inhumane and degrading”, in the words of a court in Amsterdam, as it refused an extradition request. The judges were referring not to a Russian penal colony, but to HMP Liverpool halting the extradition of a fugitive wanted in the UK on drug-smuggling charges. The cause of this damning judgment is the appalling conditions in prisons such as Walton (Liverpool), Bedford and Birmingham.

The Daily Mail may have been outraged by the judgment, but it didn’t surprise me. I have been arguing similar extradition cases regarding prison conditions in other countries – and often winning – in the UK courts for years. It was only a matter of time before European countries looked at our Dickensian prison system and asked the same difficult questions.

It was the stinging criticism of HMP Liverpool by the chief inspector of prisons that pushed the Dutch court to refuse extradition. It was the worst prison they had inspected – filthy, squalid and with little control over the violence that ruled it. The situation is so serious that the justice committee has discussed the issue in parliament. There is a list of matters that need to be resolved but little progress has been made; violence persists and guards have threatened to strike.

On top of this, prison overcrowding is becoming a real problem in the UK: we incarcerate more people as a proportion than any other western European state. This wrecking of the prison service is thanks to the former justice secretary, Chris Grayling. It was a deliberate and ideological attack on human rights by a man hellbent on crushing public service. It is the poison that he spread that now permeates the system.

Continue reading @ the Guardian,

UK Prisons Are A Disgrace

Eamon Sweeney writes of an Independent Commemoration to be held for IRA man George McBrearty killed by the SAS in 1981

The 38th anniversary of the SAS killing of Derry IRA man George McBrearty will be marked with a independent commemoration in Creggan this coming weekend.

On May 28, 1981 during the republican hunger strike of that year, George McBrearty and Charles Maguire approached a car on the city’s Lone Moor Road. The car was driven by an undercover member of the British Army who killed both men.

In recent years Mr McBrearty’s family have organised a commemoration in Creggan to mark George’s memory. As on other occasions the commemoration will be chaired by Martin Galvin, the New York based lawyer and former publicity officer for NORAID.

Mr Galvin said: 

There is something very special about this commemoration. It is a privilege to stand with the McBrearty family honoring a patriot and soldier who fought and died in his native city so that Derry and the six counties could one day be free of British rule. This commemoration also remembers Charles 'Pop’ Maguire.

It remembers all of the patriotic men and women, who in terrible times against great odds and British terror, Volunteered, meaning they came forward of their own free will and gave their lives so that others might live in freedom.

The McBrearty family each year gives a personal written invitation to many political groups in the city, along with publicly inviting anyone who wants to remember Irish patriots with pride. Speakers who belong to political groups do not represent those groups in this commemoration.

It draws together respected veteran republicans of various shades, ex-POWs, civil rights campaigners, with young people and independents.

This year I have been asked to wear an "England get out of Ireland" badge. There is a photo of me being arrested at Free Derry Corner, alongside Martin McGuinness wearing one in 1989.

I have been asked about those words which are carried on banners by many contingents in American St. Patrick's Day parades became controversial last March.

‘England Get Out of Ireland’ is an expression of support for a sovereign 32 county united Ireland, but the meaning goes far deeper. The reference to England recognizes that British rule from Westminster really serves English interests rather than Irish interests.

The words are based on Wolfe Tone's aim "to break the connection with England" by "uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter." Rather than attacking unionists it invites them to take equal citizenship in a united nation serving all Irish people, instead of giving allegiance to British hegemony based on sectarian privilege.

That is the real basis of reconciliation. That is what George McBrearty and all of those whose memory we honour today died to give us.

In 2017, a mural in honour of George McBrearty painted by well known Derry artist Kevin Hasson was unveiled at the junction of Rathkeele Way and Rathlin Drive and will be the assembly point for next Sunday's event.

George McBrearty's brother Danny, himself a former republican prisoner, said the event is organised solely by his mother, brothers and sisters.

Danny, a honorary member of the 1916 Societies said:

Regardless of recent happenings, this commemoration and the mural stands alone and separate from any republican organisation in this city and beyond. It is a testament only to George's memory and all of those who gave their lives to Irish freedom
The intention by the republican movement as represented by Sinn Fein has always been to wind down republican commemorations. But, the mural to George, painted on the gable wall of a private home on a neighbours house has received nothing but accolades and no one has ever complained.
We intend to hold our commemoration this year and every year for all of those who gave their lives. Everyone, no matter what political party they are involved with are welcome to attend.

All those wishing to attend the George McBrearty commemoration are asked to assemble at the mural at the junction of Rathkeele Way and Rathlin Drive at 2.30pm this Sunday, May 26.

⏩Keep up with Eamon Sweeney @ Derry Now. 

Independent Commemoration For George McBrearty

A Morning Thought @ 363

Anthony McIntyre reflects on a most powerful and evocative book.

I first came across the name Phil Scraton while studying with the Open University as a republican prisoner in the H Blocks of Long Kesh. He was part of the team on D102, a social science course. It was distance teaching so I never got to meet him. I had no idea or reason to know that we had a shared passion: Liverpool FC.

He has been a Liverpool FC fan for 60 years, a frequent presence at games until the 1980s by which time he had “grown weary of the often-appalling treatment meted out to committed fans whose hard earned money supported their clubs … disillusioned with being aggressively herded and policed.” He did not attend the ill-fated 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield’s Wednesday’s ground where 96 Liverpool fans from across England were crushed to death. He took up the cause of those who were, and vented his sense of outrage against the type of injustice described by the novelist and slave abolitionist Lydia Maria Francis Child: “we first crush people to the earth, and then claim the right of trampling on them forever, because they are prostrate.”

From shortly after the disaster, appalled by the way the fans had been treated in public discourse - maligned, smeared, lied about, denigrated - Scraton committed “to research and tell the story of Hillsborough with thoroughness, rigour and authority.” He succeeded and, with his work done, in December 2016 he refused an OBE, simply stating:

I could not receive an honour on the recommendation of those who remained unresponsive to the determined efforts of bereaved families and survivors to secure truth and justice.

The crime of unlawful killing was inflicted on one single day in April 1989: the crime of cover up and institutional lying continued for decades before being knocked off its lofty perch by a long process that culminated in the 2016 inquests. Phil Scraton was central to that, having “researched Hillsborough from 1989, publishing reports, articles and the first edition of Hillsborough The Truth in 1990.”

Crucially he served on the ground-breaking Hillsborough Independent Panel and ultimately “did more than anyone to expose the institutional deceit that hid the truth of why 96 Liverpool fans died at Hillsborough.”

Hillsborough The Truth, in its fourth and final edition, takes the reader to the point where the second inquest concludes in 2016, and the verdict of unlawful killing delivered. South Yorkshire Police were indicted, and the fans exonerated.

The book is an unrelenting blitzkrieg on the well-fortified ramparts of institutional lying and systemic resistance to truth recovery. Step by step the author advances into the citadel of power and bit by bit rescues truth from its midst. Then brick by brick he builds an edifice that towers over all before it, diminishing and overshadowing completely the phalanx of batons that so steadily sought to beat down the truth behind the crush at Hillsborough. 

As Andy Burnham, MP, would put it:

The full truth about Hillsborough would never have been known were it not for Phil Scraton's meticulous efforts over many years - he has done a huge service not just to the Hillsborough families but to this country.

Over the course of my 61 years I have read thousands of books. Lengthy imprisonment tends to lend itself to voracious reading. To have gone so far before finding the best book I have ever read might in other circumstances be described as joyous. Every word absorbed, allowing for no meandering where the text is read but fails to make it beyond the cornea, and then have to be revisited in order to maintain the thread. There is no joy in this book. The satisfaction derived from the restorative accomplishment whereby the reputation of the tarnished Liverpool fans is rebuilt from the rubble of police, media and government lies, is not pleasurable. If pleasure can be compared to sustenance, there is not one calorie or nutrient to be drawn from this book. It is abundantly rich in many things, a literary tour de force, but justifiably impoverished in the delectation it serves up. It surpasses everything that has gone before because of its power to convey raw, ragged, painful truth. Engaging, absorbing, it draws the reader into a dark place where there is no redemption from a terrible knowledge about power and its willingness to crush human dignity.

There is only one light moment, if I dare to call it that. It is in the words of a father of a 14-year-old boy crushed to death in his arms as he tried desperately to save him, calling to a police officer yards away to open a gate so that his child might again breathe and be saved. The cop ignored him.

Eddie Spearritt slipped into unconsciousness. When he came to, he was in hospital, his son Adam, dead, and placed in the makeshift mortuary – the gymnasium at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground. Nobody accounts for Eddie Spearritt getting to hospital. It has never been explained. His survival would become crucial to unearthing the truth that the coroner in the first, and subsequently quashed, inquest, Dr Stefan Popper had suppressed. Too close to the police for either comfort or objectivity, Popper ruled that everybody had died by 3:15. This was demonstrably wrong. Many had survived the immediate crush and medical evidence would later show that 41 might have been saved but for inadequate and tardy medical intervention. The myth of 3:15.

Eddie Spearritt, now dead, was fortunate, in a sense. In a dry comment he said he "could have crawled, unconscious, to the hospital. That would've taken about two hours:" the gap no one else has accounted for. Had he not regained consciousness in the hospital, instead slipping away to join his son sometime after 5 o'clock, the coroner would then have ruled he had died two hours earlier, so that the institutional lie could be protected. 

It would take a book the size of Hillsborough The Truth to properly review it. There is so much to say. The reader will get little from this review other than an impressionistic account of the most powerful book I have ever had the sorrow to read. 

Disaster at big sporting events were not a new phenomenon. There had been enough learned over the years but ignored in terms of implementing preventative measures. After Spurs fans had narrowly escaped with their lives in 1981 in the Leppings Lane end of the Wednesday ground, Hillsborough no longer qualified as a FA Cup semi-final venue. Restored in 1988, the then match commander was suspended from duty three weeks before the 1989 semi. 

This is the backdrop to a narrative which takes the reader from the build up to the game, the dangerous congestion outside Leppings Lane occasioned by the dearth of turnstiles, the crush, and the immediate aftermath where the cover up was being crafted while the dead were still warm. It traces the failures of Sheffield Wednesday and its safety consultants who paid scant if any attention to the fact that the ground’s safety certificate was out of date, the "inefficient and dilatory" - terms employed by Justice Taylor - attitude of Sheffield City Council’s to the certificate. It carries on to South Yorkshire Ambulance Service’s dire response, the grossly insensitive police treatment of the bereaved in the makeshift mortuary, the lies of the Sun and South Yorkshire Police, the amending of police statements to shift the blame from cops to fans, the despicable decision of the coroner at the behest of the police to test all the victims including children for alcohol, the Taylor Inquiry that blamed the police but left so much unsaid, the Popper inquest which did to Liverpool what Widgery did to Derry, the Scrutiny by the Jack Straw appointed Justice Stuart-Smith, the failed private prosecution of two senior police officers, the perennial disappointment of relatives endlessly denied justice, many dying short of the goal. At times the narrative is painstakingly told though the voices of the bereaved. It was not ticketless, late or drunk fans who caused this disaster. The police did, and have lied about it ever since.

The match commander gave the order to open the exit gate, having earlier failed to filter the fans safely on the approach. Crucially, he negligently overlooked the dire necessity of blocking off the tunnel leading into the middle pen with a police line. A human tsunami, totally unaware that anything was wrong, surged into the pen from which there was no escape, only up for those lucky enough to be hauled into the stands by fellow fans. On the very same day the match commander blamed the fans, accusing them of forcing the very gate he had ordered to be opened. The lasting smear had begun. 

Revenge is said to be a dish best served cold. This book shows how the concept could be applied. Scraton did not resort to it. His clinical approach was cold not vengeful. Although Scraton depicts match commander David Duckenfield as the bĂȘte noire of Hillsborough, "in public discourse, despised in print and song", he never actually takes advantage of the deflated hubris to target the disgraced police commander even further. It is destruction without degradation, the false narrative blasted, the real man not belittled gratuitously. His treatment of Duckenfield is dispassionate but fair. Duckenfield, whose response to people dying was to send in the dogs, emerges from the book as a match commander rookie out of his depth, undertrained, arrogant, limited, mendacious, but not as a hate figure. The forensic focus is on the institutional.

Such is the evocative power of Hillsborough The Truth that I found my sleep disturbed by it on more than one occasion. Once I dreamt about being in the crowd, relief washing over me as I hauled myself out of the crush and to consciousness. I never kept it beside the bed for fear that I might, on one of those occasions when I wake up, reach for something to get me back over. Bedtime reading it is not. The Kindle was kept downstairs and out of reach, zipped into a work bag. I read it on buses and planes, often pausing to take in the effect of what had just been said: the enormity of the institutional lie, the arrogance of entitlement that led to an expectation that the lie should be accepted, the truth discarded, the fans and families told to suck it up and let go: time to leave the parochial Liverpudlian self-pity party and start to boogie with Britain.

Phil Scraton, when in search of the truth about 96 people who entered a football stadium with no possible comprehension that they were stepping into a death chamber, was threatened in the most chilling manner by an anonymous caller, and menaced by Norman Bettison, now a former police chief with more to answer than he ever will. Resisting the Sinclair Lewis observed practice whereby “every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile”, Scraton remained undaunted. Hillsborough The Truth is the result of his fortitude, a courage that was matched by his readiness to confront the emotional volcano that he would have to descend into in order to complete an odyssey from which society would benefit immeasurably.

I have often taken my son to big football matches and held onto him tightly as I guided him out of the ground in the midst of milling fans, Hillsborough always in my mind. Everything can turn on a second. When he stumbled outside the Aviva but far enough removed not to be trampled on by an unsuspecting throng converging on him, two female American fans had him on his feet in seconds. At Hillsborough the fans were so pinned in they could not move their arms to help the person dying next to them. Now thirteen, a year younger than Adam Spearritt, Philip Hammond, Paul Brian Murray, Lee Nicol or Tommy Howard when their lives were crushed, I took him aside recently and spoke to him. It was April, the thirtieth anniversary of the crush, and his interest was stirred. I told him that every time he goes to a match, or in later years brings his own children to a venue where they are not penned in like caged animals, where their safety is increased immeasurably,  he should remember a man called Phil Scraton for his very real part in making that possible.

A day or two later he asked me the name of the man again. I had got through.

Phil Scraton, 2016, Hillsborough The Truth. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN-13: 978-1910948019

Hillsborough - The Truth

Many Christians are facing severe criticism across Ireland for their traditional Biblical views, but religious commentator, DR JOHN COULTER, argues that society maybe needs some Scriptural-style discipline to combat anti-social and criminal behaviour in the modern day community. He devotes his latest Fearless Flying Column today to this contentious debate.

I’d love to see society return to the happy days when I lived at my grandmother’s home in Stewartstown’s North Street.

Then, Gran could leave her front door open wide, dander up the street to a friend’s house for a cuppa and a chat; then dander back to find the house as safe and secure as when she had left it.

There’s no way that would happen in today’s violent society. If the elderly didn’t get mugged on the way up the street, they’d probably come back to find their homes ransacked.

There’s even been cases of sick perverts who raped or abused elderly women. But these days can return provided the authorities stop taking a pussy foot attitude with thugs and hoods in our communities.

For a start, we need the death penalty back again for convicted murderers. DNA testing has advanced considerably so the chances of someone being wrongly sent to the electric chair would be minimal.

Convicted child killers should automatically fry in the chair. Prisons today resemble more like Continental holiday homes than jails. Too much cash is being wasted on keeping convicted thugs, hoods and other assorted criminals amused behind bars.

An American system should be adopted where prison life is a hard grind so the criminal leaves never wanting to return.

The sad reality is that many working class criminals have a better lifestyle behind bars than when they ‘enjoyed’ their lives on crime in the back streets of some town or city.

Think of the taxpayers’ cash which could be saved and invested in cutting the waiting lists or employing more nurses if education and sports facilities were chopped from prison budgets?

How many potholes in the roads, public parks maintained and dog poop scrapped from pavements if inmates were formed into American-style chain gangs to work 16 to 18 hour days making our urban and rural communities better places to live?

And as for the convicted sex offenders and paedophiles, there is far too much emphasis on their supposed human rights. What about the human rights and dignities of their victims?

It is right that every convicted sex offender should be placed on a register – but for life. People, too, have the right to know if a convicted sex offender who has served his or her sentence, is being relocated in their communities.

More importantly, such convicted rapists, sex offenders and paedophiles should be chemically and medically neutered so that physically they no longer pose a threat to potential victims upon their release.

But what about the teen tearaways and the primary school thugs who terrorise many a community, but seem untouchable because of the law? The hard fact is, the so-called Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) and restorative justice schemes are a waste of time.

For many of these young bucks, an ASBO at 11 is a badge of honour. Many are too immature to understand what they’ve done. So the answer to make the parents pay.

Every time your kid does a crime, the mums and dads do the time or pay the fines. Hit these irresponsible parents in the pockets with stiff fines and they’ll soon start to take a keen interest in what their brats are doing on Friday evenings after 11.30 pm.

Another essential problem is that many of these primary and teen brats know their rights. Just try challenging these pig-ignorant little vermin when they are throwing water bombs at your home or shooting BB guns at your front windows at midnight.

The chances are, you will be visited by the police for threatening behaviour, or else you’ll have near-psycho parents banging on your front door complaining how their wee Micky was left traumatised by you shouting at him.

The fact he was running a screwdriver up the side of your new car of course does not matter to these thick parents who see their kids as a Golden Child.

There’s an answer to this dilemma, too. The establishment of Neighbourhood Watch Schemes with powers to make citizens arrests of local yobs without landing the ‘Watchers’ in court on assault charges.

And its high time the police revived the long-since defunct Manx policy of administering the birch to troublesome thugs. A ticking off from a copper or a judge doesn’t fizz on their pea-brain mentality – six of the best by a birch across the bare backside would make them think again about urinating in a pension’s garden on the way home from the pub.

Many churches in society try to tackle the problem head-on by providing youth clubs, coffee bars and drop-in facilities for the local yobs, who claim their vandalising and terrorising streaks are caused by boredom.

But again the trouble is many of these church-run groups don’t enforce a strict code of conduct and the young hoods run rings around the do-gooding Christian workers or Bible thumpers.

But the situation needs to be urgently tackled before frustrated, tax-paying, good-living citizens decide to bypass the forces of law and order and begin hiring professional vigilantes to crack a few skulls among the teenage gangs.

Yet again, once you bring professional vigilantes into an area, it is only a matter of time before the political paramilitaries want in themselves to get a piece of the lucrative protection racket business.

The real worry is – how long does society have to wait until the authorities get really tough with these young hoods? Are we waiting until another granny suffers a fatal heart attack because yobs are pelting her roof with stones?

Will they wait until another young child takes their own life, or has a nervous breakdown because of bullying teenagers, or will they wait until a frustrated dad takes an iron bar to a teen thug bullying his handicapped son? Whatever your thoughts, the clock is ticking and the community pot bubbling.

In the early 1990s, I frequently drove through Tyrone in my then role as Director of Public Relations for the Sandown Group of Private Nursing Homes. As a son of the Presbyterian Manse, I’ve always had an eye for the design of the clerical home.

But one thought always struck me – Tyrone has some of the most dreary parochial houses in the North. Surely, the time has come to allow priests, nuns and all those in Catholic Holy Orders the choice of marriage.

In the past few years, the Catholic Church has taken a real pasting over paedophile priests and abusive nuns. This has resulted in many areas of Ireland in the dilution of the power of the pulpit, especially among the younger generation.

The big task facing the Catholic hierarchy in the remainder of this decade is how to restore trust in the clergy. The answer is simple – making the priesthood and Holy Orders more appealing by allowing them the choice of a celibate life, or marriage.

Let’s make another thing clear; if the Catholic Church wants to initiate a rebirth of family values, would blessings for civil partnerships be the solution? Fundamentalists and evangelicals within the Christian theological spectrum can be very quick to remind folk what our Lord did to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament?

Likewise, look how the issue of gay clergy has split the world-wide Anglican movement. The Catholic Church does not need a war with openly gay priests on top of the issue of what defines the institution of marriage.

Just think of the caring family perception the Church could give if parishioners saw the priest with his wife and children playing in the gardens of parochial houses?

Gone forever would be the farcical image of such houses as presented in the popular Channel Four sitcom, Father Ted.

Such a move on marriage would be about freedom of choice – we’re not forcing priests and bishops to marry. If they chose to remain celibate, that’s okay. If they meet the woman of their dreams and marry – why should Catholic clergy be denied the emotion of love?

And another way it would restore confidence in the Catholic clergy is avoiding the ridiculous situation of single virgin priests in their mid-20s trying to offer sexual advice to married couples in their 40s!

The same debate is about to be reignited within the broad Presbyterian family in Ireland. The mainstream Irish Presbyterian Church is staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage, whereas the smaller Presbyterian denomination, the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church (also known as the Unitarians) largely favours same-sex marriage.

Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s slot, Call Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, as part of the ‘At The Table’ show. 
Listen online at  www.thisissunshine.com 

Scriptural-Style Discipline Needed

A Morning Thought @ 362

Anthony McIntyre describes his apprehensions about reading the best book he has ever encountered.

I took the plunge. After years of advising others to read a “great” book, Hillsborough The Truth, I finally found the cojones to do so myself. It was easy to recommend on the grounds of it being "widely accepted as the definitive account of the disaster." The biographies of Liverpool stalwarts populate the bookshelves of my home and workplace. After reading Alan Hansen’s A Matter Of Opinion, which included his account of that horrendous day in April 1989, I read no more apart from an autobiography of Bill Shankly. He had died in 1981 so I knew it was comfortable to tread there.

Throughout my imprisonment I promised myself that I would one day stand in the Kop. I eventually did but I have been at the monument to the 96 dead outside Anfield more often than I have attended games inside. Invariably, I found my equanimity jostled by the push and pull of complementary emotions. They were similar to those undergone when at the graves of those dead republican hunger strikers I had journeyed with during the H Block blanket protest, when we did not walk alone but with each other. Anger, hostility, sadness, empathy, loss, all rotated as they displaced each other at the uppermost branch of the Injustice Tree conjured up in my mind.

I had followed the progress of the campaign for Justice for the 96 but at a safe distance, declining to become immersed in the detail or ever watching live footage of the disaster. Shortly after the unlawful killings I wrote a piece for a local South Belfast Sinn Fein paper. It's title was Albert The Imbecile. Albert had ventured on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback the baleful opinion that God had visited the disaster on Hillsborough as divine retribution for the Anglo Irish Agreement having been signed in a town by the same name just outside Belfast. No hatred like religious hatred.

Still, there was always some reason, that never convinced me but which I thrust out in front of me like a shield, for not going too close. Like a crash watched from a distance, the blood and the wails could be dealt with by the first responders. The words of Kenny Dalglish’s daughter, Kelly, might offer a window of understanding:

It brought home to me that what I’d witnessed was more than names and a number in a death toll. These were people with families who’d loved them.

Best, perhaps not to test the Jungian notion that “there's no coming to consciousness without pain." Easier to maintain a safe distance and a calm mood that would easily shatter upon descent down among the dead men, women and children of Hillsborough.

There is something visceral that rages into life upon contact with the April ‘89 horror that Hillsborough has become a byword for. I no longer try to reason with it because any explanation defies me. Reaching for it results in the accomplishment of Tantalus. Some things in life hook us and others not so much. Enough to say that out of all the tragic events in living memory it is the one I find to be the most unnerving, the most emotionally disruptive, the one that fractures and fragments the sense of control and detachment we like to assume when approaching these matters.

Even more so than the hunger strikes eight years earlier, caused by the same Thatcherite mindsight that stripped context from complex social and political issues so that they might be reframed as a law and order problem, best dealt with by a baton rather than investment and justice. The hunger strikes are easier to deal with because we were combatants with a knowledge of the risk. The Liverpool fans were civilians, many of them children, with absolutely no awareness of the consequences of their wholly innocent actions.

On the evening of the thirtieth anniversary of the event I began the journey into the 9th circle of hell. Just over a month later, it is 0418 on Saturday morning. I cannot sleep. Why Me? Surviving the Hillsborough Disaster 1989 by Robert Lynch, a short account which I almost completed on a bus from Dublin yesterday, unsettled my nocturnal rhythm. Put the sleeplessness to good use and get my thoughts out on Hillsborough The Truth, the first amongst equals, the most powerful book I have ever read.

Already the review is writing itself in front of me.

Primus Inter Pares

Lishka Klein viewed a movie set in a Mormon community and found it horrifying. 

Image credit: Polyvictimization.org
Warning: this movie will simultaneously boil your blood and break your heart. Don’t watch this without having a box of tissues and a punching bag on hand. Skip the popcorn as it’s a choking hazard. You’ll thank me later for that.

I’m not going to focus so much on the movie as you just need to watch it yourself and have your own head explode. I honestly have no words for this atrocity. Rather I’m going to focus on how religion played a huge part in this epic failure of humanity.

Mormonland USA

This horror show took place in an unexciting town in southeastern Idaho called Pocatello. Despite being home to a state university, the population is about 90% Mormon. Mormonism is inescapable. It infiltrates schools, the courthouse, local businesses, and at just about every public function there is some reference to Mormon teachings, or at least religious invocations using Mormon verbiage. At least you can still buy beer on Sundays, unlike other towns in the area.

Despite the obvious theocratic tendencies, there are nice people who live in Pocatello, just as there are at least some nice people everywhere so don’t get too giddy. The Broberg family was known and respected in the community as kind and honest business people. In other words, they were the perfect target for a psychotic child rapist.

Robert Berchtold and his family went to the same ward¹ as the Brobergs and they became friends. Long story short, Berchtold (unfortunately a victim of sexual abuse as a child himself) found them to be an easy target, manipulating the parents into allowing inappropriate long-term contact with daughter Jan and even managed to entice both parents into sexual relationships. Yes. Both parents. And he kidnapped Jan. Twice.

During the first abduction, Berchtold brainwashed Jan into believing that she had to have his baby to save the planet before she turned 16, quoting some crackhead alien conspiracy. During the second abduction, he manipulated her into protecting him, what he was doing and where he was hiding. And abused her the entire time.

You have to watch the movie to see the nightmare this family lived, and how brave they are for banding together and telling their story years later and admitting their mistakes to the world. That takes a lot of courage, especially when the threats of punishment from the church were so real to them, never mind the onslaught of criticism from a planet-sized peanut gallery. You may want to drop your phone or open a tab for Netflix in your browser right now and watch before finishing this article. Please do. Grab tissues and a punching bag and… GO!

Welcome back. Hope you have a push broom to clean up the brain bits splattered all over your house.

Now I’m sure the intent of this documentary was not to expose the Mormon cult for its miserable teachings and failures, but that’s what we here at the Atheist Republic do: we air the dirty laundry that religions likes to keep hidden and claim it doesn’t have in the first place. Just a public service we offer. Happy to oblige.

Let’s break down the Mormon influences in the situation that facilitated the depravity of this monster:
1/ In typical cult/corporation fashion, sex offenders are never reported.
2/ The Mormon Corporation feels it’s above the law.
3/ Cults always teach blind support of cult leaders and even fellow cultists without question. Mind control in the extreme.
4/ Cultists, regardless of rank, feel they are something special, somehow untouchable and privileged. That’s one of the classic traits of narcissistic personality disorder, and it’s taught to everyone in this cult. That’s pretty toxic.
5/ Not allowing questions keeps people naive to the world around them, and makes them easy prey for predators.
6/ Religions prime the brain to believe fantastical bullshit — despite the fact people who know better say: Snakes don’t talk, feeding children to bears is not ok, sending friends off on “missions” and marrying their wives behind their backs is a dirty trick, etc.
7/ The concept of “missionaries.” The grand plans they promote for the good of the world must be spread to the entire world. No exceptions, unless the missionaries die because their “grand plans” aren’t welcome by the natives who have their own grand plans.
8/ The image of perfection is more important than being human. The facades Mormons put on to impress and outdo each other is astounding, and couldn’t be more mentally unhealthy. Some of these families are complete wrecks but as long as fellow churchgoers don’t know, it doesn’t matter to them. Financial ruin? No problem as long as we show up to church in expensive clothes and a nice rig!
9/ Naughty bits belong to the church: no premarital sex, no sex for fun, and above all else don’t be gay. The mormon church hates gays despite their weak attempts to pretend otherwise. Gays can’t breed more Mormons anyway.
10/ Raping children is totally ok though. Joseph Smith “married” underage girls, so in the minds of fundamentalist believers, they can too. The non-fundies just wave the underage issue away as if people who criticized the policy of child rape were delusional.
11/ Mormonism is very much a theocracy, at least it would be if it hadn’t been invented in a secular country that threatens its tax-exempt status unless it steps into line, with changes usually involving a “new revelation” by the prophet at the time.
13/ Families are forever (15:00-16:58). If one person leaves, it ruins the whole possibility for the family to get into heaven, the highest level being reserved for married people only. One person leaving the church threatens the entire family’s “salvation.”
14/ Apostasy nullifies marriage as far as the Cult is concerned (25:00-26:05).
The practice of “bishops” questioning children about sexuality is another setup for children to be exploited. They train children that pornographic conversations with adults is totally ok. They train adults to be pedophiles.
15/ The shameless victim blaming, as if anyone really asks to be abused. Siding with abusers and claiming that it’s the victims’ fault that they LET the abuser abuse them is complete bullshit.
16/ The utter rejection of secular psychological help, educational materials, and resources outside the church (at 13:00). It’s all “of the devil!”
17/ “Truth is anti-mormon” (17:02). Cults actively DENY reality and truth. The fact that they are so open about it is astounding. Even more astounding — the fact that people believe it. It’s so sad.
18/ “Doubt your doubts, or you’re a defective idiot” (19:15).

How these shortcomings of morality apply to the movie (numbers don’t necessarily correspond to the numbers in the list above):

1/ Berchtold was already known to the church/cult/corporation as a child molester, and no one reported him. Not even average churchgoers would speak up.
2/ Church/cult/corporation policy is to not report its sex offenders, so no help from them.
3/ Berchtold certainly thought laws were for chumps.
4/ Neither the Mormon or Catholic corporations respect secular law and only answer to their imaginary friend. Cowards.
5/ The Brobergs were very trusting and forgiving people, quite naive really. They even begged the court to let Berchtold off easy, astoundingly enough.
6/ The Broberg parents were so obedient to the vile cult that they didn’t even allow themselves to follow their own good judgment.
7/ They went to church. The mind control works.
8/ Jan believed the pervy POS’s claims to “save the world” for a very long time, and wanted to protect him from legal action. Classic Stockholm Syndrome, and clearly a victim of religious brainwashing: encouraged to believe complete nonsense.
9/ The Broberg parents were terrified of the humiliation that would undoubtedly come when Berchtold exposed their affairs with him to the church, much to the detriment of daughter Jan.
10/ See Shortcoming #6, and put extra emphasis on the gay encounter Dad Broberg had with Berchtold.
1l/ See Shortcoming #6 again, this time with extra emphasis on Mom Broberg and the months-long affair she had with Berchtold, After He Raped Her Daughter.
12/ Fear of being salaciously grilled about every dirty detail of the affairs by, not just one bishop, but a snarling pack of 12 perverts (28:00-29:00), only to be shamed for stepping outside of cult-approved vanilla sex.
13/ Christianity and its bastard child Mormonism both support the sexual abuse of at least girls, and Joseph Smith himself was a child rapist. Berchtold was a victim himself (or so he claimed, narcissists love to fabricate stories like this where they are the victims in all situations, even situations they create), and he went on to hurt children himself.
14/ The courts and psychiatric facility let him off easy.
15/ Berchtold’s wife bullied the Brobergs into not pressing charges. Mrs. Berchtold was quite the flying monkey. She was his victim too but she’s an adult and I have an impossible time feeling sorry for her. And she’s a victim of cult mind control, terrified of not going to heaven because she wouldn’t have a husband anymore.
16/ Berchtold’s wife stayed with him even though she had to have known he was out raping children and having affairs with men and other women. “Families are forever” and all…
17/ Perverted adults have no business grilling and shaming young children about sex. Their agenda is a far cry from a clinical and secular sex education class taught to teenagers.
18/ Victims are blamed for how they dress or act, and are always female. See “Porn Shoulders.” Odd how male victims get to be victims, even if they are ignored for several years, male victims are never told they are “whores” or “deserved it because [they] were drunk.”
19/ The overwhelming denialism. Hiding crimes and putting on a shiny happy face for the world is the MO of the cult.

To expound on a few of these points:

Mom and Dad Broberg were too concerned about being exposed for their mutual liaisons with toxic narcissist Berchtold than they were about protecting their kids. The FBI agent pointed this out, and I’m sure by now the parents realize that a little bit of embarrassment would have been worth it to save their daughter.

Threatening the Broberg parents with ratting them out to the church was a pretty big gamble for the child rapist, but narcissists do that. He risked exposing his own church-disapproved activities but as it turned out that outrageous stunt worked well for him. The church is so superficially squeamish when it comes to sex in general that I would have been surprised if this filthy rat would have had the hubris to expose his part in the extramarital affairs, especially the homosexual encounter. The church would have frowned on that, seriously. But then, Berchtold would have put some outrageous spin on it accusing the Brobergs of seducing him or whatever, because narcissists ALWAYS manage to be the victims.

Dad Broberg stated that the most horrendous thing he had ever done was cheat on his wife. Sure he feels horrible about what happened to his daughter but to claim that the worst mistake of his life was giving a guy a hand job? Did he really mean it that way? If so, how could that possibly be worse than letting his child get repeatedly raped and kidnapped?

Oh. Mormon scripture, and “prophet” Ezra Taft Benson trying to equate “sexual sin” with Murder. Did it not occur to him that the degenerate raping his daughter was committing a crime that he equates — because of cult programming — to murder? Or does he not think that rape is a “sexual sin”? Well, considering the LDS cult has taken a page from the Catholic Rapist Guide to Escaping Secular Justice manual, it’s no surprise that the victims are considered the real sinners and shamed into silence and rapists are just poor defenseless little things led astray by nasty sinner women and girls. The Corporation isn’t very good about drawing the critical line between consensual sex and rape, and doesn’t want to understand the motivation of rapists to better protect their children and women.

And why in the world is rape not a crime? Do they not even see rape as a sin by their definition of the word? Or is sexual assault only a crime when the victims are boys?

From Benson’s speech in 1987:

If Dad Broberg’s cheating on his wife weren’t “sin equal to murder” enough, that he cheated on his wife with a man is even more of a no-no-no-no-No. These mental gymnastics excusing away their bigotry by trying to draw lines between attraction and behavior are over the top. But again, how is this worse than letting a predator “commit [repeated] sexual sin” by abusing his own minor child? Why is there no specific and rightful demonization of rape? Oh yeah, the supposedly godly books say it’s ok to rape children...

Jan was at an age where she was likely already being harangued about sex by her bishop. This can be quite the uncomfortable topic for most people, even in secular societies. Considering we have age of consent laws, it means that sexual behavior is not an activity for children, nor should it be up for discussion in a pornographic manner:

Fathers bully their daughters about dressing “modestly” and all over town you’ll see dress shops advertising “modest dresses” for prom. Wear those shoulder hijabs with pride, ladies! Especially horrendous is that girls and women get blamed for drinking alcohol but rapists do not. BYU has a real problem with this. The entirety of Mormonland is all about slut-shaming, even when the girls aren’t sluts. Boys are never shamed for sex or rape, just for masturbation and watching porn. This cult even had the unmitigated gall to try to equate boys struggling not to masturbate or watch porn to men fighting for their lives in an actual war zone. This is absolute batshittery.

No wonder Mormons have such a warped view of sex.

Child “marriage” damages children physically and mentally. Religiots of many brands like to claim that puberty somehow means adulthood, but modern consensus is that humans aren’t fully developed physically until at least reaching maximum height (even later for some) and mentally until about age 25. Children Are Not Spouses Or Baby Factories . Children Cannot Consent. But “holy books” such as the Talmud, the Bible, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon all support the sexual abuse of children and forcing young girls to marry older men. Women and girls are property according to the books, not human beings. Civilized society does not allow women and girls to be traded for two cows and a goat. Or even money. We even have a term for this “livestock for livestock that can cook” exchange: Human Trafficking.

Guess we shouldn’t talk about the child exchanges that take place between fundamentalist Mormon cult colonies. And I’m pretty sure Brigham Young University, named after the second so-called prophet in the cult, doesn’t want us to know how they further victimize already devastated victims of sexual assault. How about that, a major university named after Brigham Young, a notorious child rapist and theocratic psycho. Utah must be oh-so proud...

Rape is a horrendous crime even when adults are victims. Children especially cannot handle it. I once asked a counselor how child victims of sexual abuse could possibly grow up to be rapists themselves, since they of all people should know better, and he said something to the effect of “they think they turned out just fine and assume their victims will too.” I’m still gobsmacked by this excuse. Getting abused as a child then going on to abuse children is somehow “just fine”???

The court system in Mormonland protects the LDS Corporation and rapists. They want to protect their image, which they arrogantly think is pristine, and will throw any and all victims under the bus. If for no other reason, they try desperately to protect their own delusions. It’s quite a racket really, with literally millions of dollars on the line in addition to their colossal yet fragile egos. Money and appearances. Even in minor cases, inappropriate religious bonds are formed between judges and litigants, and the other litigants get railroaded. It’s so bad that the people getting thrown under the bus aren’t even protected by their own lawyers. It’s really appalling.

To the Mormon corporation: your twisted teachings lead to the exploitation of and crimes against women and children; crimes against Humanity. So far the vast majority of perps are men, your “exalted” men. Your “bishops” and “heads of families.” So this is your gold standard? Sex offenders? Is that the best you can do, offering rapists as “moral and spiritual leaders”? I guess that explains why Utah has the highest rate of child sexual abuse in the country. Yes Mormon “church,” I’m calling YOU out. Send out your flying monkeys and rabid apologists. I’m ready.

And you know what? The world is listening, even as far away as New Zealand. The cat is out of the bag. You can’t hide your crimes anymore. It’s only a matter of time before tax evasion charges kick in as well… You may think you’re a shining beacon of morality, but you aren’t. You’re an colossal embarrassment to the human race as a whole.

I still feel horrible for the Broberg family. As if being exploited and set up for failure by a cult weren’t bad enough, to be targeted for such heinous crimes and to have their religion, something they truly believed was good, used to manipulate them into even more traumatic situations is unthinkable. Yes Mom and Dad Broberg are responsible for themselves and their actions, and inactions; but I’m pretty sure that no one is more painfully aware of their own mistakes than they are. I have a hard time condemning them further, though I have no problem eviscerating the cult and the psychotic teachings that helped facilitate this tragedy. I would like to commend the Brobergs for bravely exposing this abomination. I shall also place the ultimate blame on the cult leaders and congregation members who refused to turn Berchtold into the police which would have prevented this catastrophe in the first place.

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Abducted In Plain Sight