My small home town of about 37,000 in upstate New York has been in the news over the last month. Clifton Park, a suburb about 25 minutes north of the state capital of Albany, was the home of a cult that is currently the topic of an HBO docuseries “The Vow.” The cult revolved around a local man, Keith Raniere, who through exploitative therapy would rope people into his manipulative web. He would have people work for him for free while only allowing them 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night. The cult was able to pull many Hollywood actresses into joining the group NXIVM and some of them even moved to Clifton Park.
One of the worst parts of NXIVM was an all-female group called DOS, which members were told was formed by a woman but was actually formed by Keith himself. Young attractive women inside NXIVM were asked to join a female empowerment group, in which they would have a person who was their “master.” This “master” was supposed to help them live the life they wanted and complete goals. The women were told that this master/slave relationship was only metaphorical and nobody was actually a slave except it wasn’t true. Women had to provide “collateral” to their master, embarrassing photos and damaging information to be used as blackmail if they ever attempted to divulge the group’s secrets.
The women were branded with Keith’s initials, manipulated into starving themselves and forced to have sex with him under constant threat of their “collateral” being released.
The group worked on a never ending hierarchy with each master having several slaves who each had slaves themselves. And every master was also a slave to another higher up woman going all the way up to Keith. Each slave had to text their master for permission to eat, communicate with others and when they were allowed to sleep. Corporal punishment was also used on the women who didn’t follow the rules set by their master.
To recap, this was a cult in which each woman had a “master” who would make decisions for them, and who required they ask for permission to do things in their own life. It was obviously a cult to anyone watching from the outside.
All of this brings me to another group that I had never heard of before today: People of Praise.
According to a 2017 New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein, “Some of the group’s practices would surprise many faithful Catholics. Members of the group swear a lifelong oath of loyalty to one another, called a covenant, and are assigned and accountable to a personal adviser, called a “head” for men and a “handmaid” for women. The group teaches that husbands are the heads of their wives and should take authority over the family. Current and former members say that the heads and handmaids give direction on important decisions, including whom to date or marry, where to live, whether to take a job or buy a home, and how to raise children.”
Sound familiar? Both groups require lifelong vows to their “master” or “handmaid.” Both groups have a designated person in charge of each member who is then required to ask permission from the person in charge.
So what’s the connection to RBG? On Friday night, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at 87, leaving behind a vacant seat on the court. Trump has vowed to replace her before the election, and coming from many sources his top pick is Amy Coney Barrett, a United States Circuit Judge. She was Trump’s second choice after Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 when replacing Anthony Kennedy’s seat.
But most importantly Amy Coney Barrett is a member of People of Praise. That’s right, our next justice on the highest court in the land may end up being a member of a religious cult and has a woman in her life who she calls “handmaid.” No, this is not a joke, although I really wish it was. Apparently, a book/TV show about what happens when a crazed religious group takes over the country is no longer fiction. I mean, my God, they literally called these people handmaids. With conservatives about to have a 6-3 majority in the court I’m not just worried about Roe v. Wade, I’m worried about them trying to overturn the 1st Amendment or for that matter the 13th.
When Barrett is deciding on such important cases do you think she’ll have to ask her handmaid how she is allowed to vote? I mean, if you need to ask permission to buy a house I think deciding on one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in the last 50 years would require at least a phone call to her handmaid. What sort of opinions do you think a handmaid will have on abortion? I don’t think you need to be Margaret Atwood to know.
Now in fairness to Barrett’s cult, in the last few years the handmaid name was changed to “woman leader.” But seeing as her father and father-in-law were some of the founders of this group, she has still lived her entire life within a system in which women were required to ask their handmaid what to do regarding life decisions and even smaller ones. Do we think a group that “believes in prophecy, speaking in tongues and divine healings…” would rule favorably on marriage equality? Call me crazy, but I don’t. During her hearings somebody should ask her if she is branded à la the NXIVM cult.
With Trump getting to pick yet another seat on the court, especially this close to the next election, and everything at stake, would it really have been too much to ask for Chuck and Nancy to play a little Weekend at Bernie’s with RBG? I mean, put some cool shades on her, and Speaker Pelosi could even take her to that salon that everyone at Fox News has been talking about. It worked out pretty good in the movie; I mean they even made a sequel. Yes, things are really that bad.
But is there reason for hope? In February of 2016 Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died. With almost an entire year left in President Obama’s second term, he nominated Merrick Garland to take his place. But Republican Senator Mitch McConnell just made up a rule that had never existed before where you aren’t allowed to replace a Supreme Court Justice in a Presidential election year. As Senate Majority Leader he wouldn’t even let the Senate take hearings on his nomination. The next year Trump got to seat his own pick, Neil Gorsuch.
Not to worry, then, as 2020 is also a Presidential election year so Mitch McConnell will make sure that the next President decides who will replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Because that’s the rule and I fully expect McConnell to honor his word on what he said in 2016 and make sure to do what is fair especially considering that we’re only 46 days from the election. Just kidding, we are all extremely f*cked. I’d start looking at apartments in Winnipeg now, while were still allowed to leave.