Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities

Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities

Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities

Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities

Synopsis

While scholars, media, and the public may be aware of a few extraordinary government raids on religious communities, such as the U.S. federal raid on the Branch Davidians in 1993, very few people are aware of the scope of these raids or the frequency with which they occur. Inspired by the Texas State raid on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints in 2008, authors Stuart A. Wright and Susan J. Palmer decided to collect data on all the raids of this kind that have taken place in Western-style democracies over the last six decades. They thus established the first archive of raided groups and then used it see if any patterns could be identified. Their findings were shocking; there were far more raids than expected, and the vast majority of them had occurred since 1990, reflecting a nearly exponential increase. What could account for this sudden and dramatic increase in state control of minority religions? In Storming Zion, Wright and Palmer argue that the increased use of these high-risk and extreme types of enforcement corresponds to expanded organization and initiatives by opponents of unconventional religions. Anti-cult organizations provide strategic "frames" that define potential conflicts or problems in a given community as inherently dangerous, and construct narratives that draw on stereotypes of child and sexual abuse, brainwashing, and even mass suicide. The targeted group is made to appear more dangerous than it is, resulting in an overreaction by authorities. Wright and Palmer explore the implications of heightened state repression and control of minority religions in an increasingly multicultural, globalized world. At a time of rapidly shifting demographics within Western societies this book cautions against state control of marginalized groups and offers insight into the reasons why the responses to these groups are often so reactionary.

Excerpt

Raids are by no means a recent phenomenon. The word rade can be found in Middle English, as in a riding, or a road. In Old English, rād meant “the act of riding” or “the act of riding with a hostile intent.” This noun (or verb) seems to belong to more primitive, lawless cultures of the past; for example, the creach (Gaelic for plunder, pillage, rob) in the 16th-century Highlands, where cattle rustling among the MacGregors and other rival clans was a common practice. In the 18th century we find the term used to refer to the killing and scalping of French settlers in Nova Scotia by native militias from the Wabanaki Confederacy. In the mid-19th century, razzia (Arabic for raids or military attacks) were carried out by Moorish slave hunters in North Africa. Sir Walter Scott, in his 1817 novel Rob Roy, uses the term “raid” to describe a military expedition on horseback.

“Religious raids”—raids on minority religions deemed pagan, infidel, or heretical—have often marked the turning points in national histories. In France, one can find a reference to a raid in the slaughter of the Cathars at Carcassonne in 1209. In Greece, Mount Athos has been a target of frequent raids over the centuries, attacked by pirates, Saracens, and Russian fleets. From 1307 to 1309, the mercenaries of the Catalan Grand Company raided Mount Athos, sacking its monasteries and plundering its treasures. Recently, in 2013, the Greek government sent riot police to storm Mount Athos, in a futile attempt to forcibly remove a group of monks from Esphigmenou monastery. The monks threw stones and Molotov cocktails at police and judicial officials as they attempted to climb the steep heights of the monastery. The conflict began in 2002 when Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople declared the monks of Esphigmenou an illegal brotherhood and ordered their eviction (Bernardelli, 2013). In the German Reformation the most famous raids ended in the 1535 siege of Münster, where John of Leiden reigned over his “New Jerusalem” commune (Williams, 2000).

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