Most readers have probably heard of Scientology, the Branch Davidians and the FLDS Church, but what about the Apostles of Infinite Love in Canada, the Pinnacle Rastafari in Jamaica and Hikari no Wa in Japan? These are among more than 30 new and nontraditional religious communities that governments have raided in the Americas, Western Europe, Australia and Japan over the past 70 years, according to new research by Stuart Wright.
Wright is professor of sociology at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and co-author of the forthcoming book Storming Zion: A Comparative Study of Government Raids on Religious Communities due to be published in mid-2014. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Brian Pellot: You say you’ve documented more than 80 raids on new and nontraditional religious movements (NRMs) since 1944. How do you define a raid?Stuart Wright: Raids are usually used when states think they might encounter armed resistance or want to achieve an element of surprise. They’re high-risk operations. These raids have become more militarized and more aggressive. It’s not a couple of police officers walking up to the front door with search warrant asking to speak to someone. These are raid teams operating on basically the same protocol you’d see with counterterrorism units going after terrorists or a drug cartel. They expect to encounter an armed group, but most of the time there’s no real evidence that these groups present any harm. They’re overwhelmingly benign. Raiding inflates or exaggerates the alleged threat of these groups, usually for partisan reasons or ulterior motives.
BP: Talk me through some of the most famous or noteworthy government-sponsored raids you’ve come across in your research.
SW: My co-author Susan Palmer and I have identified case studies that are especially spectacular in terms of size, scope and intensity. We have chapters on the Branch Davidians, the FLDS Church, Scientology, Twelve Tribes and the Nuwaubians. These are groups that have been subject to overreaching raids where the evidence was flimsy or weak and charges were sometimes trumped up to justify a raid.
I’m not saying there’s nothing illegal going on in these communities, but often the charges or allegations reach way beyond what the real violations might be, with allegations of brainwashing, mass suicide, armed encampments with stockpiles of weapons, underground tunnels, enslavement, forced labor. Oftentimes authorities won’t act on a single charge, so claimsmakers or accusers up the ante to get official responses or to create moral panic.to read more click here: brianpellot.religionnews.com
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