Ed Priebe

My Story

My name is Ed Priebe and I was a member of The Family (formerly known as the Children of God) for nineteen years. I’ve written articles dealing with specific aspects of my time in the cult and exposing them after leaving, but have never written the entire story of my life in The Family and in the years following, all in one place. I wanted to also correct a few misconceptions and mention some details of my fight to bring the Family to justice, that I realize I have never talked about before.

In 1971 when I was seventeen and had just graduated from high school, I joined a Jesus People group in Vancouver, British Columbia, in Canada. Russel Griggs, the group’s leader, visited the Children of God colony in Los Angeles and was so impressed by their Scripture memorization and dedication that he invited them to send a team of teachers to Vancouver to teach us. About twenty teachers and musicians arrived in August, led by Deborah and David Z, and in the course of teaching, they worked hard to assimilate us. Griggs decided to join the Children of God, and led a hundred of us in the group with him.

I had been working as an artist for the Jesus People newspaper, “The Goad,” and was soon drafted to work on the Children of God paper, “The New, Improved Truth,” in Seattle. Like all new members, I took on a Bible name, picking Hart from Psalm 42. I later adopted the last name Inkletter. Hence, Hart Inkletter. From Seattle the NIT staff moved to a large colony at Burlington, WA, then in early 1972, to Dallas, and from there to a property the cult owned in Grapeland, Texas. When Berg wrote an ML entitled “The Great Escape” warning that God was about to judge America, the rest of the NIT staff flew to London, England and I went to New York City to provision art supplies for them.

After three months in NYC, I flew to London where I worked as an artist at Chinbrook Road. Not long after, Berg wrote “Wonder Working Words” and “Shiners or Shamers,” informing cult members that our job was no longer to witness the Gospel, but to litness (distribute his writings). I was sent with a van-load of others to the fledgling colony in Paris where I helped in French Pubs. In 1973, I hitchhiked to Geneva, Switzerland where I spent six months, then spent three months in Munich, Germany, during the “Forty Days” period. I then joined a small pioneer Home in Vienna, Austria, and for most of 1974 was on road teams litnessing throughout Austria.

In 1975, I was invited to come to Italy where I worked in Italian Pubs at Poggio Secco, near Florence, and later in Rome. That was the year that Berg (who was in Tenerife), started publishing his series of FFing Letters. Meanwhile, I spent the next two years in Italy litnessing and illustrating children’s books in Massa, Incisa and Perugia. In 1977, the RNR happened and with it came a push to illustrate Berg’s letters as TKs (True Komix), so I was invited to join a WS-sponsored Artist’s Home in Zoagli, Italy. We soon went to Madrid, Spain, and in 1978 we moved to Tenerife. Berg and all his staff had fled the island a year earlier and one of the cult’s properties, a small two-story house, was now vacant. This became the Artist’s Home.

In 1979, the Jonestown suicides shocked the world and Berg ordered Family members to pretend to disband, and to visit their parents to prove that The Family wasn’t a mind-control cult. The Children of God officially became The Family of Love (later The Family and later still, The Family International). The Artist Home disbanded and I decided to return to Austria to pioneer the East Bloc. I was sent first to Spanish Pubs in Madrid and it was there that I met Ana, a Spanish translator and we became a couple. Just before leaving for Canada, Ana became pregnant. I visited Canada briefly and afterward returned to Austria, where I subsisted by litnessing, street-painting and later by drawing a few KKs (Kids Komix).

In 1980, I was invited to return to WS in Madrid. I lived with the Z’s (Zebedee and Zorah, editors of the “Family News” magazine). By this time, Ana had given birth to our daughter, Susana, and I tried to make amends for having separated from them. Ana was mated to another Spanish translator, however, so I became mated with an American woman named Naomi. Justus Ashtree was in charge of the TK ministry, but when he left the cult in 1981, Berg appointed me head of The Family’s art department and I began overseeing some twenty artists. Berg’s vision was to have all his Letters illustrated as TKs, and soon the volumes began coming off the presses.

I started having run-ins with Berg when I started writing questions critical of his doctrines. As a result, I began receiving lengthy rebukes from Peter Amsterdam, his right-hand man. One day I did a study on Berg’s goddesses* and concluded that they did exist, but that some of them were spirits called daimonion (demons). After I sent my compilation off, I received a rebuke back from Peter telling me to stick to my art. During the following years, I received one letter of rebuke after another from Peter, some 4 pages long, mostly about my critical spirit. (* Spiritual beings who supposedly ruled nations and desired sex with Berg.)

Publishing the TK books cost a lot, so the project began winding down and in December, 1982, Naomi, and I and children were flown to a WS Home in Hong Kong, where she gave birth to our son, Jason. Naomi was also the guardian of an eight-year old boy, Ben Farnsworth. Ben was a very bright boy with an inquisitive mind and a sense of humor. I mention this because what happened to him later was a turning point for me. A few months after we arrived in Hong Kong the Home shepherd (who has since apologised), called me into his office, sat me down and shouted, ‘We know who you are!’ He held up a full-page drawing of Alexander the Evil Magician. My mind felt like it was shattering in pieces and for a moment I believed that I was not even human, but was literally a demon sent from hell to defy the words of God’s Prophet. I fell to my knees, the leaders performed an exorcism over me, and I wrote an apology to Berg and determined to be unquestioningly loyal.

In 1983, shortly after that breaking, we flew to the Philippines. There Naomi and I received a letter from Peter asking us to separate for the work’s sake, promising that she and the children would be supported by WS if we did. (It was WS policy to break up families. If they wanted one person in WS, they persuaded the couple to “voluntarily” separate.) We agreed and she and the children—including my newborn son, Jason—were sent to Macau. They were sent off within a day, before we could change our minds. I was torn up as I watched them walk away in the airport and I have never seen any of them again.

No sooner were they gone than I was driven across Manila to the Music With Meaning (MWM) home, and there I illustrated the new Kidz MOP and worked with the musicians, writing words to songs like “Kathy, Don’t Go,” etc. I also began writing suck-up poetry like “The Imperial Princess” describing Berg’s affair with a Chinese princess. While I was still at MWM, my talent for Endtime Bible prophecy was noticed, so when MWM disbanded in 1985, I was driven to Creations.2, the WS Pubs Home inside Manila that worked closest with Berg’s Home, Creations.1.

I began working on Endtime Bible Prophecy classes and that’s where the “Manila Military Ministry” began. When Marcos was overthrown in the People Power Revolution in early 1986, Berg learned that the army had used a disinformation campaign to demoralize the government. Zerby (Berg’s wife) gave me an assignment: look up every verse and story in the Bible that proved it was moral to deceive and lie for a “good cause” and type them out for our friends in the military. I did it but the compilation wasn’t given to the military. It would be used for another purpose five years later.

At this same time I began churning out stories urging Family members to tithe and be loyal and not believe the enemies’ “lies,” and these stories were eventually published in the Treasures and Daily Food (DF) booklets. Then in mid-1986, I met Berg and Zerby and Ricky (Davidito) for the first time. That was when myself and several other WS drones were shipped off to Creations.1, Berg’s Hilltop compound near Antipolo east of Manila, to work closer with Berg on the Military Ministry. I had been writing speeches for Filipino generals and newspaper articles for the “Manila Bulletin,” but now I was editor of the DF booklets and worked with Berg in his attempts to egg on military coups against the government. (I have fully documented this in the “Manila Military Ministry.”)

In 1987, a (non-Family) brother and sister in the States went public about having been sexually abused by their parents. It started a public awareness about abuse. Soon The Family was accused of advocating incest. There were Mo quotes that do that, but The Family angrily denied the charges in an April 1 news release. Eventually negative media coverage built up, forcing most Homes out of the Philippines. Berg, Zerby, Peter and closest aides left for the Heavenly City School (HCS) near Tateyama, Japan, leaving most of us behind. In late 1988, the rest of us followed them, only this time moving to a separate Creations.2 house—the Dorm, a small Japanese guesthouse near the HCS. It was there that I spent nearly one year working on the Word Basics book, compiling thousands of verses to show that The Family’s doctrines and way of life were scriptural.

Then I received another short, sharp shock. A couple years earlier Berg had a revelation that the heavenly city (New Jerusalem) was inside the moon, but I’d sent him a note proving that it was too big to fit unless he used a different measuring system. Berg was furious, but though Zerby had his rant typed up, she didn’t give it to me then. But now that I was starting to doubt again, I was handed the lengthy printout. I read page after page in a state of shock. Berg said I was like “a leering demon” and said, “It’s like Hart stuck a knife in my back and twisted it.” My heart began beating wildly and I could hardly breathe. I had to lie down to finish reading it. My shepherds then used my broken state to herd me back in line.

By 1987, the media began to expose that Berg had written letters promoting the sexual abuse of minors. Berg and Zerby began to realize that The Family might self-destruct over this issue: Homes would be raided worldwide and all the children be taken away, so in 1988, WS came up with a four-page denial of child abuse. Paul Theophilus had joined our Home, so he and I were given copies of first draft of this denial and told to proofread it. It was a despicable publication, and I am thoroughly ashamed that I had anything to do with it.

Some months after proofreading that denial of child abuse and finishing the Word Basics project, I wrote Zerby and Peter asking for permission to write a book about Jesus’ death and resurrection. I received a rebuke from Peter, saying: ‘You really let the Devil in this time!’ As a result, in early 1989 I was demoted from the Creations.2 Home and sent to live in the Fountain House at the HCS.

By now Family adults knew that the official line was to deny that sexual abuse had ever taken place. But in 1989 many SGAs (second generation adults) were still children and children inevitably tell the truth and even teens sometimes “slipped.” Berg and Zerby decided that Family children needed to be indoctrinated with the righteousness of “lying and deceit for the cause.” Years earlier she’d had me research Scriptures for military disinformation campaigns. In October 1989, I received a message telling me to use that research for the text of a comic called “Deceivers yet True.” There’s no excuse for what I did, and after I left The Family, I confessed to the media. In 1993 when I was interviewed by NBC, I held up a copy of the Deceivers Yet True comic and said, “This comic was created to teach Family children to lie—and I wrote it.”

I left The Family in June, 1990, and after I woke up to the magnitude of the evil I’d been part of, I spent years dedicating nearly every spare minute to exposing The Family. I confessed that I’d been guilty of promoting Berg’s perverted doctrines and policies and stated that I’d been one of The Family’s top editors. That was a large part of my motives in speaking out: I was guilty for helping create pubs that covered the abuse the second generation had suffered and I wanted to set the record straight.

Something else that spurred me on was that in 1992 I learned that Ben Farnsworth had been sent to Macau where he had spent months as a ‘Detained Teen’ (DT) in the Family’s first retraining camp. I didn’t hear any details except that Ben finally committed suicide by leaping off a building in Hong Kong. While in Macau he’d been singled out for especially harsh treatment: angry rebukes, hard physical labor and had been locked in a small attic for three days at a time. When I heard of Ben’s death I became so enraged that I determined to try to bring The Family down.

In late 1992 I flew to the Philippines with two objectives: to get documentation for The Family’s involvement in the military coups and also to find Amy, a Filipino disciple whom I’d known before. Pretending to be a Family leader, I got the phone number of the Home from a close Family friend (B.R., editor of the nation’s largest newspaper, the “Manila Bulletin”), then had Samson Warner phone the Home, imitating Berg’s voice and telling the shepherds to pick me up at the airport. The shepherds drove me to the Home where they informed me that there were some hot videos in a storage depot. It turns out these were the last remaining videos proving children had been sexually exploited in the Family, so I asked them to give them to me. I removed a total of sixteen trunks of videos, tapes and literature.

To make a long story short, I was arrested by the Family’s contacts in the NBI (Philippine secret police) and an NBI officer pulled out his gun and loaded bullets in it while questioning me. I was released, however, and Amy made the decision to leave The Family and marry me. They had locked her in a room to keep her from getting out and “talking,” so she had to crawl out a bathroom window and run for the front gate. To stop her from escaping, a Family member named Gabe slammed the heavy iron gate in her face, injuring her. When she attempted to climb over the gate, he seized her legs and began pulling her down. She screamed out to the police and only then did Gabe let her go.

I was released for the NBI station and left the country, but Family leadership soon regrouped and charged me with stealing $3,000,000 worth of “Christian books and audio-visual materials” and had the NBI issue a warrant for my arrest. In December 1992, a Family lawyer sent me a letter stating: “While the matter of your actions has been submitted to the NBI, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s office, the FBI, the Los Angeles District Attorney and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, The Family still has the right to request that they drop any further investigation and to request that all charges against you be dismissed.” They would only do this, he specified, if I “returned the trunks full of personal property” and agreed “to cease and desist in [my] activities to discredit The Family.” In closing, he warned, “In the absence of a settlement, The Family will continue to vigorously pursue their criminal cases against you.”

By this time, however, we realized that several of the videos proved that children had been sexually exploited in The Family, so instead of allowing the evidence to be destroyed, I spoke with ranking friends in the RCMP, got legal counsel, counseled with the ex-members I was working with in the States and decided to fight. My first action was to do a filmed interview with the Japanese media, the Shukan Bunshun. (Note: the trunks of videos have not been in my possession since the day I removed them, but have been guarded by a trusted friend who has done a good job of keeping them safe, as well as making them available to expose The Family.)

Meanwhile, Amy didn’t yet have a visa to leave, so began speaking out in the Philippines. I had obtained a full mailing list of Family contacts and she went to them, delivering an exposé I had written. The Family then tried to track her down. They had contacts in the military, the police, the Senate, Congress and an outside disciple, V. L., a lawyer in a leading law firm. He was a close friend of F.D., Head of the Dept. of Justice. Amy went to the leader of the Catholic church, Cardinal Sin, and he arranged for her to be the speaker in a joint meeting of Congressman and Senators. The guest of honor was F.D., head of the Department of Justice, and Amy boldly exposed him in front of everyone. Since F.D.’s nickname was “Mr. Killer” and his men were guarding that very building. When the meeting ended, Amy was quickly escorted out. (A congressman warned her, “If you get killed now, we’ll know who did it.”)

Amy was taken to a secret location and forced to move again and again as the net closed around her. She was hidden in friends’ houses, in a halfway house for recovering prostitutes, she was even given refuge in a Catholic convent. Since the head of MIA (Manila International Airport) was a longtime Family “fish” (FF’d friend), she had to be smuggled out of the country right under his nose. An anti-cult official supplied Amy with two bodyguards and a VIP diplomatic escort who took the stamp from the airport official and gave her passport an exit stamp himself. After she arrived in Canada and we were married, we continued spending every spare moment speaking out about what we knew.

Immediately after her escape, Amy’s TV interviews were released and the newspapers began telling the story. From Canada, she and I spearheaded a campaign working with lawyers and were filmed for a new TV interview. We spent endless hours testifying, writing affidavits and statements and arranging for videos and other evidence to be sent. A special Senate investigating committee was convened and The Family was forced to appear and defend themselves. They outright lied, denying that the videos were theirs, and in the end, the attempt to bring the Family to justice fell short. One reason was that The Family had many powerful friends. During a TV talk show, the Head of the Military for the Philippines—the president’s right hand man—Gen. A., personally (!) appeared on TV to defend The Family as “good Christian missionaries.”

During the following years the videos ended up as evidence in the British court case; they were given to police and were aired in the media worldwide. I became so obsessed with fighting the Family that for years I spent every spare moment exposing them in the media and writing articles about them. In 1993, I flew to Argentina and gave a deposition in the legal case there. A Family spokesperson wrote, "Priebe must have a private jet to fly around the world causing us trouble." I spoke out about the cult on the radio and appeared on Canadian TV broadcasts as well as doing interviews for national TV in the Philippines, Japan, the United States and Canada. I was interviewed by papers such as the LA Times, the Washington Post and Christianity Today. I have worked with three divisions of the RCMP (Canadian police), and given testimony to CSIS (Canada’s intelligence branch) as well as the FBI.

The period of the raids was in the early 1990’s—with raids in Spain, France, Australia and Argentina—and ended in 1993. I cooled down after some time, realizing that I didn’t want to hurt individual Family members, the innocent along with the guilty. And as my wife and I had children, we became busy with raising them and earning a living. I did, however, continue writing articles exposing the cult’s practices and policies. I spent many hours researching and typing out the anti-Semitic quotes from Berg’s letters to document his hatred for the Jews. In 2000 I wrote my three-part article exposing The Family’s involvement in military coups in the Philippines and in 2005 wrote about my personal involvement in WS publications.

Like many of you, I wish I had never met the Children of God/The Family, and had never been part of them. The 19 years I spent with them are wasted and worse than wasted. Because of what I have seen and experienced, I have felt an obligation to set the record straight, and after I left and came to my senses, I have been able to speak out and expose the cult. Another good thing is that out of all this I met my wonderful wife and we now have three beautiful children who make life worth living.

Ed Priebe

Articles by Ed Priebe:

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