Sunday, November 27, 2022

MOVE, Cults, and Stone Soup

In the 1960s and '70s, the number of destructive cults absolutely exploded. As I began the process of intellectually leaving MOVE in 2007, I studied the histories of other cults in order to try to locate my own experience so that I could find a path forward. Two things struck me in this study: the exponential explosion of such groups all during the same era and the almost cookie-cutter-like quality of the structure and beliefs of the groups.

Episode three of the second season of "Murder at Ryan's Run" provides valuable food for thought about both of these issues. It's a fascinating episode that revolves around an interview with Tim Hayes recounting his experiences with MOVE as a resident of Powelton Village in the early 1970s. Before moving to Philadelphia in his early 20s, Tim was already an accomplished activist. He'd become involved in the Civil Rights movement while in elementary school and would go on to found Atlanta's chapter of the Black Panther Party. Tim moved to Philadelphia in 1973 to settle down with his family and that's when he came to know Vincent Leaphart, the man who would soon be known to most as John Africa. 

Tim describes how as he came to know Leaphart, Leaphart would ask him questions about politics and history, and Tim's answers would come to shape some fundamental elements of MOVE's practices and culture. Tim recounts how one day he was getting off the bus and Leaphart saw him with a reggae record in his hands. Leaphart had never seen dreadlocks before and asked Tim about them. Dreadlocks soon became fundamental to MOVE's aesthetic and belief. This is reminiscent of Don Glassey's wife, JoAnne, recounting in Episode 2 that MOVE members took the last name Africa almost by accident. As MOVE supporters, we were always taught that MOVE members took the last name Africa because all of humanity is originally from Africa. However, JoAnne remembers that Leaphart initially intended for MOVE members to take the places of their ancestral homelands as their last names. So many of the things that we were taught were carefully envisioned by John Africa were actually based on the coincidental encounters of Leaphart. 

When Tim encountered Leaphart, Leaphart would lean in and stand a little too close when he asked a question. Once he had obtained the information he was seeking he would move on, and often incorporated that knowledge into the corpus of MOVE's belief. Though I became a MOVE supporter over a decade after Leaphart died in the fire on Osage Avenue, this behavior is intimately familiar to me. Ria and Bert created a false intimacy in the same way. They often extracted bits of information, knowledge of history, etc., and used them as weapons to keep the children who were born into MOVE in their place. I never knew why I was being asked what seemed like an off-the-wall question until I saw my answer being used against someone else later. 

Tim goes on to recall how, not long after these initial encounters, he began seeing Leaphart surrounded by young people who seemed to be accepting every word he said as gospel. As the number of MOVE members grew, Leaphart receded into the background, while his young disciples followed his every direction. Both episodes two and three of this season of "Murder at Ryan's Run" illuminate how haphazard the foundation of MOVE was. This again leads me back to the question of why so many groups like this were popping up in that era, and why their structures are so similar.

Hundreds of groups followed this exact pattern in the late '60s and early '70s. I've come to think of the founders of these groups as pathological versions of the beggar from the folk tale, Stone Soup. In the folk tale, a hungry beggar hikes into a town and begins regaling the townspeople with tales of his delicious stone soup. He tells them that he has the most important ingredient, the stone, and that he simply needs a few additional things from each of them. After all of the townspeople throw in their contributions they're all able to enjoy a hearty pot of soup together and the beggar is able to take his stone and move on to the next town. A relatively harmless deception brings the community together, and the beggar-- a trickster figure-- navigates a moral gray area for what could be argued is the greater good. 

In the destructive cult version of this story, a person decides that they have all of the answers to the world's problems. However, they can't fully reveal all of their secret knowledge until those around them pledge absolute loyalty. Once a few dozen people fully devote themselves to this savior, incredible things begin to happen; community projects are started, houses are renovated, communal bonds are formed, and it feels like the group is on the verge of something incredible. The idea that the group possesses the answers to all of the world's problems is the stone that allows everyone to come together and pour their gifts into the pot. Functionally, it doesn't even matter if the beliefs of the group haven't been fully articulated, so long as everyone believes that the leader has the answers. In this version of the story, the cult leader isn't able to continue along to the next town because this would cause their psychological pyramid scheme to come crashing down. The founder knows that if they stick around too long, their lack of real solutions will be laid bare. In order to prevent this they often steer the group towards self-destruction through direct confrontation with the system they've set themselves in opposition to. 

The 60s and 70s were fertile ground for this pattern to emerge because the cultural revolution of the late 1960s dramatically weakened faith in the institutions that had been holding things together; the family, patriotism, the church, etc. There were valid reasons for trust in these institutions to be eroded, but when the institutions were destabilized they left voids that were filled by people like Leaphart. Of course, destructive cults existed before this era, but not nearly to the same degree as they did after the cultural revolution. I don't think that a figure like Leaphart would have been given the time of day by many Philadelphians if he'd been putting forth the same ideas only twenty years earlier. 

That brings us to the second question of why these groups follow such similar forms. I believe that there are natural patterns in the human psyche and that when healthier ways of meeting these needs aren't available, cults can feel irresistible. I think about it like the rock candy experiment that many of us did in middle school; sugar is added to hot water and it's stirred vigorously, a string is placed in the center of the jar, and as the sugar water cools the sugar clings to the string in a consistent crystalline pattern. We all have similar needs and desires for safety, familial love, community, meaning, etc. When the larger social structures that used to provide for at least the base level of needs of the majority of the population break down, this is the rapid stirring of the sugar water. Figures like Leaphart become unstable strings that people can cling to when nothing larger and more stable is available. 

The interview with Tim, in episode three, and the interview with JoAnne, in episode two, demonstrate that MOVE had no fixed structure or plan. Leaphart was simply putting out feelers and going where he felt drawn. This process created an interesting hybridization of a diverse array of philosophies and religions, and this syncretic philosophy worked to draw followers. As Leaphart gained power he increasingly believed in his own divine mission and was blinded to his own inner demons. Once he came to believe that he was a perfect being he had to project any imbalance inside of himself out onto the outside world. He was blinded to his own capacity for evil. 

Cult leaders in Leaphart's position become intoxicated by the blind allegiance of their followers and begin believing that nothing they say could possibly be wrong. Their counter-cultural critique pushes back against social mores, often justifiably. But because they have lost sight of their own capacity for evil, they fall into the basest and darkest of human desires while claiming to challenge the status quo. In episode three, Tim discusses witnessing adult MOVE members force children to have sex with each other. His window looked directly into the yard of MOVE headquarters, and he is very sure of what he saw. Tim's account supports the claims made by many of the survivors who came forward last year. This sexual abuse, which is common within cults, is a good example of important social protections being disregarded with horrific results. 

Tim also discusses how Leaphart faded into the background once MOVE was fully established. Last summer I talked to an early MOVE member who said that they almost never saw Leaphart. Leaphart and Alberta had their own well-furnished apartment in Powelton village and they mainly kept to themselves.  There are many close supporters who were at MOVE headquarters regularly from the late '70s until 1985 but never met Leaphart. Some members only met him a few times. Leaphart was careful about who he allowed in his presence for extended periods of time. He had to ensure that those who spent the most time with him were the type of people who could justify his own inconsistencies while still believing that he was God. In my experience, the MOVE members who spent the most time directly with Leaphart are those who have the most clearly recognizable psychological issues. 

I appreciate the way that Tim points out that no matter how wrong MOVE was, nothing can ever justify the bombing on May 13th, 1985. He also points out that as a result of the horror of the bombing, everything else about MOVE, including the information on this blog and in "Murder at Ryan's Run," will always be a footnote. I've argued many times that what happened on May 13th is exactly what Leaphart intended to happen. On May 13th, Philadelphia officials played into Leaphart's apocalyptic vision, with tragic results. Leaphart predicted that the death and destruction on May 13th would help to trigger a global uprising that would eventually topple civilization and lead to an Edenic world. With this last move, Leaphart fulfilled the final pattern of most destructive cults. May 13th was Leaphart's way of ensuring that his name would live on and that he would not have to live up to his own self-created mythology. 

Vincent Leaphart/John Africa

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Prayers for the Dead

 *Season two of “Murder at Ryan’s Run” began last week. Here are the first two episodes - Ep1 - Small But Deadly and Ep2 - Guidelines and Guns*

 From late June through October of 2021, I posted to this blog 73 times. In the last year, I've posted twice. I didn't intend for the dropoff to be so extreme, but it became difficult to hold it all in balance. When we launched this blog it felt like a matter of life and death. This week I listened to the first episode of season two of “Murder at Ryan’s Run” and the visceral feelings of immediacy and danger came rushing back to me. 

Towards the beginning of the episode, there’s a clip of a recording from early June of 2021, a few weeks before we began our public campaign. In the clip, June is laying out our plan; for me to release the first blog posts, for the first teasers of “Murder at Ryan’s Run” to be released, and for June and her kids to go into hiding while MOVE leadership was already disoriented by the onslaught of inside information about the group being released publicly. Those were difficult months, and we really didn’t know if things would end peacefully. We had significant concerns that June could be killed for publicly exposing MOVE, based on MOVE's leader, Alberta, telling her that this is what would happen if she ever told anyone the truth about her life.

The intensity of the situation, of trying to get enough information out there to protect the survivors who were coming forward, demanded all of our full attention. Once things settled a bit, it was difficult to continue to think about MOVE-related things while keeping the other areas of my life in balance. I was well aware of this danger going into this project, and it's something I worked hard to avoid. People who leave cults often develop a cult-like obsession with exposing the cult and getting justice. It's an understandable response, but one that often ensures that they will waste more years of their life fixated on the cult, rather than living their life in liberation from the group. 

In the second post I made to this blog, I wrote about how one of the purposes of the blog was to provide a first-hand account of what it's like to leave a cult, in the hope that it might be helpful to another person who finds themselves in that situation. Finding that balance is part of the process, even all these years later, so it seems worth at least mentioning that here. If I’m not careful, it's easy for my own obsessive tendencies to rise up and get the best of me, causing me to miss the things in my life that are most important. 

I regret that I didn’t prepare a blog post acknowledging the 20th anniversary of John Gilbride’s murder on September 26th, 2022. I intend to keep this site active in order to keep John’s memory alive, to acknowledge the experience of children who were abused within MOVE, and to work toward justice. The fact that John Gilbride's murder remains unsolved, and that the abuse of children in MOVE has still largely gone unacknowledged, provide valid reasons for me to want to continue to write. I’m hoping to begin posting occasionally again, so long as I can do it in a balanced fashion. I have no foreknowledge of what information will be released on this season of “Murder at Ryan’s Run” and I’d like to use this space to process that information, as well as to reflect on some other MOVE items that have been in the news since I was last writing regularly. 

Episode two of “Murder at Ryan’s Run” is mostly an interview with JoAnne, the woman MOVE’s co-founder, Donald Glassey, was married to at the time of MOVE’s formation. There’s a lot to comment on in her stories, but one of the things that stood out as I was listening was just how absurd much of MOVE’s history is, and how much coincidence and happenstance went into the making of a group that has led so many to destruction. As MOVE supporters, we were taught that everything Vincent Leaphart/John Africa did was strategic and brilliant. Hearing JoAnne reflect on how Leaphart originally wanted MOVE members to take on the last names of their countries of ancestral origin, and only later prescribed that all MOVE members should take the last name Africa, highlighted the degree to which he was just making it all up as he went along. 

Everything looks so different in hindsight, at the age of 39, than it did when I first encountered MOVE when I was 14. Hearing JoAnne talk about how Leaphart was 44 when he began MOVE with Glassey, who was 24 is a good example. As a young MOVE supporter, I viewed Leaphart as a wise old man. Now, as I imagine him, it seems so sad that a man in his mid-forties was spending all of his time with teenagers and people in their early 20s, LARPing at being a revolutionary while causing little but destruction. As a father now, reflecting on the ways the children were put in danger and used as props in order to advance an agenda aimed toward nihilistic chaos is more and more difficult to think about.


When I reflect on MOVE’s history my mind often toggles back and forth between seeing it as one of folly; the story of a man with charisma, and some degree of poetic genius, but without the wisdom to navigate the power he gained, or the story of a man who grew increasingly evil as those around him submitted their will to him. Hearing the first-hand accounts of the children raised in MOVE, some of the patterns are so diabolical that no other word but evil can describe them. The murder of John Gilbride, the deaths of the children on Osage, the suspicious deaths of other MOVE members, and the patterns of manipulation and control, all clearly support this interpretation. When I reflect on the leadership of Ria and Bert I feel the same duality. At times it seemed like the destruction that follows them is the product of incompetence and delusion. Much of the time I simply think of them as having been possessed by evil. Being certain that you alone possess all of the answers to all of the world's problems seems to open individuals to this path in ways that almost nothing else can.


One consistent feeling that arises as I reflect on MOVE’s history is that of grief. My wife, Maiga, and I have had our own experience of deep grief and loss this past summer. This, and the events that led to that loss, is one of the reasons for the radio silence from this blog. In working with grief, I've found nothing to be as helpful in feeling grounded and connected as offering prayers for the dead. Even before our personal loss this summer, I often found myself praying for peace for the soul of John Gilbride, or for the children who died on Osage Avenue. Lately, I even find myself offering prayers for the souls of those who were complicit, not in order to exonerate them, but in recognition that we’ve all been a part of a pattern much bigger than ourselves, and in the interest of healing as we continue to seek justice and reconciliation.

As I finish writing this first post in several months and begin attempting to reflect on these histories while keeping my balance, it feels appropriate to start out in this way; Delisha Orr, Zanetta Dotson, Katricia Dotson, Tomaso, Little Phil, John Gilbride, Life Africa, Vincent Leaphart, James Ramp, Conrad Hampton, Raymond Foster, Theresa Brooks, Rhonda Harris Ward, Frank James, Ted Williamson, William Whitney Smith, (and many more, known and unknown), eternal rest grant unto them…..

A sign at Eden Cemetery marking the resting place of some of the children who died on Osage Avenue in 1985.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Historical Document: MOVE Letter alleging that MOVE's founder may have murdered three people

The pages of the letter I've posted below are from the same letter that I referenced in this previous post. The letter is long, and these are pages I have not previously released. In order to contextualize the letter, I'll quote directly from my previous post: "Written on the top-left corner of the first page is "Copy of info Bert Brought back 12/83" and in the top-right corner, it's dated 2/84. In the 70s and 80s, it was common practice for a MOVE prisoner to talk to Vincent Leaphart on the phone, take notes, and then write out the notes long-form. This "information" given by Leaphart (John Africa) was passed on to another MOVE prisoner who was expected to copy it out by hand (often multiple times) and then pass it along to other members. There are thousands of pages of documents written in this way. These notes were originally taken by Alberta in December of 1983, but this particular copy was made in February of 1984."

As with most inner-circle MOVE documents, this one can be difficult to understand unless you know the multiple names of each person. In this letter, Vincent Leaphart/John Africa is referred to as "The Co.," which means "The Coordinator," and "Baul." Baul is also sometimes spelled "Ball." I've heard many stories about how he came to have this name. The most common is that Leaphart took on the name Bill when MOVE was underground in Rochester, NY and that Ria's son, Tomaso, mispronounced Bill as Ball. "Mama" is one of MOVE's words for God or Mother Nature. 

There is a lot to untangle in these pages, and at some point, I'll expand on the strange details in the first few pages. For now, however, I will focus on a section that appears in the last two pages. It's worth reading through the entire document, but for ease of reading I've typed out the section I'm referring to here:

“The Coordinator said when he was young he did everything like an animal, instinctively, he only know one way then - Mama’s way. One day he was in the park with the dogs and he seen these people fishing. It was 2 men and a woman, the Coordinator was about 11 at that time, and when he saw them people hook that fish he went off on em! He attacked em, him and the dogs, but the Coordinator did the most to them. When he got finish, all three of them people was laid out. The Coordinator just left ‘em there. He said they was most likely dead, he didn’t stay to find out. He just left em but he said they was fucked up, and all layed out like they was dead. The Coordinator at that time when he was young didn’t know nothing about why people do what they do. He ain’t know nothin about reconditioning, or this system. That’s why he attacked them three people like that. All he saw was wrong and he dealt with it, and that’s how he was until he got a little older, and something just came over him, and he just knew how he had to handle people. From then on, he understood about this system, the reconditioning in people, and what he had to do to deal with the situation, and get rid of it ultimately. But until that came over him to reveal that to him, the Coordinator was like a wild animal, and he did things like a wild animal. What we see in the Coordinator is what he allows us to see based on our understanding cause we would not relate to him otherwise.”

In the above story, an 11-year-old Vincent Leaphart stumbles upon two men and one woman fishing in Fairmount Park and is so enraged by their violation of nature that he beats them, possibly to death. For my purposes here it doesn't matter whether or not there is a shred of truth to this story, the important thing is that this is a story that is told within MOVE. Keep in mind that for the author of this letter, and for the letter's intended audience, Vincent Leaphart/John Africa is the only perfect being (more information on that here). Within MOVE, it is taught that John Africa never made a mistake. He was born as a perfect channel of Mama nature, completely in touch with his instincts, and sent by God to destroy civilization and return the planet to Edenic harmony.

The fact that this story is told within MOVE, and that many similar stories are told in a jovial and boastful fashion, demonstrates how little value is placed on human life within MOVE. The crime that the God-man, Leaphart, may have murdered three people for was attempting to catch fish. The insanity of this story is typical of the insanity and inconsistency that runs through every facet of MOVE. Contrary to MOVE's curated public image, MOVE has never been a vegan or vegetarian organization. During my 20 years around MOVE, there was never a member who was consistently a vegetarian for more than a year. Vegetarianism isn't even a goal within MOVE.

If one is going to eat fish, then what could be a less destructive, more natural way, than catching it yourself? Yet, this story was widely circulated within MOVE and no one dared to question it. This is important because it demonstrates that within MOVE, justice is whatever Vincent Leaphart said it was. That's a key to understanding how John Africa could intentionally lead his people to die in the house on Osage Avenue on May 13th, 1985, murdering Delisha, Zanetta, Katricia, Phil, and Tomaso, who were children and had no choice. During my time in MOVE, justice was whatever Alberta and Ria said it was. The murder of Alberta's ex-husband, John Gilbride, could be justified in a similar fashion.

It's been many months since I've written here, and I don't plan to resume frequent posting, but the anniversary of the May 13th bombing has caused me to think about this subject even more than usual. I'm aiming to publish a few posts in the coming weeks. In the meantime, this platform is available for guest posts from former members or close supporters of MOVE, or anyone who has been harmed by MOVE. I plan to continue to keep this blog up as a resource, and hopefully a place people will stumble upon as they research MOVE. I can always be reached at

Saturday, November 13, 2021

John Africa's desire for control, even in death (including a Historical Document)

In the last episode of Season One of "Murder at Ryan's Run," former MOVE member, Mario Hardy talks about how John Africa/Vincent Leaphart intended for everyone to die in the house on Osage Avenue on May 13th, 1985 (I also write about that here). For those unfamiliar with the psychology of cults, this may be difficult to believe. The 1983 MOVE letter that I've posted below provides supporting context demonstrating the inner dynamics of MOVE leading up to the tragedy of May 13th. It shows that the death drive that led to that tragedy was not unique to that event and that Leaphart had an almost unimaginable degree of psychological control over the adults at 6221 Osage Ave. 

Written on the top-left corner of the first page is "Copy of info Bert Brought back 12/83" and in the top-right corner, it's dated 2/84. In the 70s and 80s, it was common practice for a MOVE prisoner to talk to Vincent Leaphart on the phone, take notes, and then write out the notes long-form. This "information" given by Leaphart (John Africa) was passed on to another MOVE prisoner who was expected to copy it out by hand (often multiple times) and then pass it along to other members. There are thousands of pages of documents written in this way. These notes were originally taken by Alberta in December of 1983, but this particular copy was made in February of 1984. It's worth noting that the original recipient was Alberta, as the first section of the letter justifies violence against enemies of MOVE. 

The beginning of the letter references infamous events in MOVE's history; two occasions when MOVE's Naturalist Minister, Frank Africa, physically attacked his mother, Louise James. Frank, also known as Nick, is viewed within MOVE as the strongest and most committed MOVE member other than John Africa. He was the example that all of us, members and supporters, were told to follow. Frank was Leaphart's nephew and was known to have submitted his will to John Africa more than any other MOVE member. 

The events in question are well summarized in "Let it Burn" by Michael and Randi Boyette. In my opinion, this is the best book on the history of MOVE. I'll quote at length here:

"The violence on the street was matched by increasing violence within the home itself. One day in early December neighbors watched in alarm as Louise ran down the street chased by her son, an ax in his hands." (pg. 147)

"In a police report filed later, Louise said that John Africa had once ordered Frank to beat her after Sharon Sims, her niece, refused his order to marry Jerry Africa. She told police that one day in October (1983) Frank had seen her slip a letter into her pocket and confiscated it. John Africa had called the other MOVE members into Louise's bedroom and ordered her to read the letter out loud. It was from a MOVE member in Muncy prison, and it attacked Louise virulently. After reading a few sentences of obscenities and rants, Louise refused to go on. 

Vincent, she told police, had turned to Frank and ordered him to beat her until she started to vomit. Then Frank took a pillow and put it over her face.

"Do you want her cycled (killed)?" he asked, looking at Vincent. "No," he said. "Not this time." (pg. 148)

MOVE has always done everything they could to downplay these allegations. In a recent podcast episode, Mike Africa Jr. disingenuously characterizes the event in question as simply the result of a MOVE member with bad judgment that in no way implicated Leaphart or MOVE as a whole. Here's a quote from the letter which is posted below. In the quote Frank is called Nick (the most revered MOVE member), Lou is his mother Louise (who is also Leaphart's biological sister), and M's stands for mothers. 

  "People will say they can't do what Nick did to Lou cause they say they love they M's and cant hurt em (this is what reds and greens be sayin) but what people gotta understand is the same way they feel about they M's is the same way they feel about cooked food, that socall feelin can be compared to any distortion and it will come out as the same way they feel for they M's, and it can be proven that it (them so call feelins) aint valid just like any other distortion can be proven invalid. If people say they care about they mothers then they are sayin they cant hurt em cause they see that as wrong, so if people are sayin they cant do wrong (which is what they sayin when they say they cant hurt mothers cause they see it as wrong) If people are sayin they cant do wrong, that they concerned about right, then why do they eat cooked food, if they concerned about right they got to be concerned about health - so why do they eat cooked food - they eat cooked food for the same reason they are now sayin they love their M's - cause that is what they been TAUGHT! If they love they M's how can they turn against MOVE LAW  which is right, they gotta substantiate  that." 

If you're not used to reading MOVE documents this can be a bit difficult to understand. Essentially it's saying that MOVE members only have a problem with Frank attempting to kill his mother because they have a systematic attachment to their mothers in the same way that they have a systematic addiction to cooked food (MOVE believes humans liberated from "the system" would only eat raw food). If they were as committed to John Africa as Frank was then they would not have a problem doing what Frank did (brutally assaulted his mother based on the orders of John Africa, and stopped just short of killing her, also on John Africa's orders). Louise James’ only crime was questioning her biological brother and speaking out against her niece being forced to marry another MOVE member against her will. 

The document goes on to explain that MOVE members have no right to question Leaphart/John Africa, who throughout the rest of the document is referred to as "The Coordinator."

"You are not at liberty to question the Coordinator once you have said that MOVE Law is right. When a person says that MOVE Law is right, when they admit that and really see it, accept it, then they are not at liberty to question the Coordinator because you are contradicting yourself if you do once you have admitted that he is right. People think they have the liberty to question things based on they personality cause that is the way people are taught in this system and they used to doin it, but once you have admitted that MOVE Law is right you don't have the right to turn around and question the Coordinator"

I've written in a few places about how John Africa never intended for the MOVE 9 to get out of prison, and about how Ria and Bert continued this legacy by sabotaging the legal avenues for their release. However, this document provides the philosophical grounding, within MOVE's belief structure, for why they, and the other MOVE prisoners, should stay in prison. 

"We in jail becuz we guilty and we got to understand that, it aint got nothin to do with the courts, if the courts is decidin thing then the Coordinator would be in jail. We in jail though, cause we are not innocent, the Coordinator is innocent and thats why he aint in jail only guilty people go to jail, we are guilty and our personality is the cause of our guilt!"

According to John Africa/Leaphart, John Africa is the only person on earth who should not be in prison. He's the only person who is not guilty of "violation" (sin). In MOVE's worldview, all things are coordinated by John Africa, so if the MOVE prisoners were not meant to be in prison then they would not have been found guilty. The fact that Leaphart was found innocent at his 1981 Federal trial, despite mountains of evidence, significantly bolstered his point. 

Based on other internal documents it's clear that the psychological health of many MOVE members was severely compromised by 1983. Many who had joined in the mid-70s as idealistic young people were trapped by psychological control, prison sentences, poverty, or by their children being essentially held as hostages. It's clear that many MOVE members were desperate to find a way out of the psychological torment they were enduring. In this era Leaphart begins to focus heavily on how there's no way to escape "MOVE's work" and he repeatedly emphasizes that not even suicide gets them out of the work they've committed themselves to as MOVE members. 

"People think suicide is the solution but it aint, goin in the ground is a cop out and its a violation because suicide is goin against the Coordinator. Only the Coordinator know when we should cycle, not us, we dont have that understanding. The Coordinator is the only one who can coordinate our goin in the ground, he knows exactly when we are supposed to do that activity and to go the way of suicide is to challenge the Coordinators wisdom"

After explaining that Leaphart himself is the only person with the authority to decide when a MOVE member dies, he goes on to explain that "violators" (anyone other than Leaphart) can feel everything that happens to them after they die. His claim is that a person remains completely conscious after death and can feel everything that happens to them during an autopsy. According to Leaphart, if a body is not allowed to decompose it will be preserved in a state of pain forever, and this suffering is even greater for MOVE members who kill themselves. 

"People better realize that nothin dont stop once we go in the ground, that is not the end as this system teach, as a matter of fact it is the beginning of your most intense sufferin if you go in the ground thru suicide, you really wont even get to the ground becuz the coffin, the embalmin fluid will interfere with that you will be aware of everything happenin to you too, but there will be nothin you can do about it except just lay there and see them people, them doctors, scientist, lookin down on you talkin about doin things to you and in your mind you'll be screamin "I aint really dead!" but them maniacs wont hear you, and they will fuck you up, stagnate you, suffocate you, you will suffer, if you do your work and go in the ground when the Coordinator coordinate you to go in the ground, you will be right, and sufferin, pain does not exist in righteousness."

In closing, the letter touches on MOVE's stance on homosexuality by saying "That monster is a faggot, whenever he comes at you think of Mama, John Africa." The monster being referenced here is "personality," which is essentially any aspect of individuality, any part of the psyche that is not under the control of John Africa. 

For those who've peripherally supported MOVE the contents of this letter bear little resemblance to the MOVE that they know. However, for first-generation MOVE members, none of this is a bit surprising. Similar documents have regularly circulated amongst members throughout MOVE's history. The internal workings of MOVE are burdened with fifty years of dark secrets. That's why it's so infuriating to me that first-generation MOVE members are silent, and that those who have acknowledged the MOVE reckoning at all are only doing so in the interest of protecting themselves. 

Pam and Ramona were on Osage Avenue and knew full well that Frank was ordered by John Africa to beat his mother nearly to death. They saw how the children at Osage Avenue were treated. Carlos, Eddie, Janet, Janine, Debbie, Mike, Ria, and Bert know that the story they've told about the murder of Life Africa is a lie. They know that the entire pretext for the August 8th, 1978 confrontation was a fabrication. Ria, Alberta, and many of the other first-generation members know that what happened on May 13th of 1985 is exactly what Vincent Leaphart intended to happen, and I'm fairly certain they know exactly what happened to John Gilbride. Any first-generation MOVE member who claims they didn't know about the rampant abuse of children within MOVE is lying.

Vincent Leaphart controlled through manipulation and fear. He used children as pawns. He made his followers believe that he could even control them in death, that they would never escape. However, it's only been a few decades since his death and his entire enterprise has come apart at the seams. There are very few MOVE members left and they appear to be living in a bubble

When we launched this project in late June I hoped that at least a few first-generation members would do the right thing and speak out about what they know. I hoped that conscience would compel them to support the survivors coming forward and that they would feel a responsibility to tell the truth to the Gilbride family. That hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, there are many of us who will not allow these issues to be forgotten, who feel a responsibility to Delisha, Zanetta, Katricia, Tomasso, and Phil (the children who died on Osage Ave), to John Gilbride and his family, and to all of the second and third generation MOVE members who were denied educations, neglected, and abused. As the seams of John Africa's creation continue to tear apart hopefully some light will be let in. 

(L to R) Louise James (sister of Vincent Leaphart), Vincent Leaphart/John Africa, Frank James/Nick Africa (Louise James' son)

Friday, October 22, 2021

What the survivors of MOVE deserve

When June (formerly Pixie) and my wife, Maiga, started messaging in March, the conversation developed rapidly. It was the first time Maiga or I had been completely honest with someone in MOVE about how we’d come to view MOVE as a cult. It was also the first time June had shared many of her stories about the horrors she’d endured as a child in MOVE. When June found out that I was participating in the “Murder at Ryan’s Run” podcast she was scared for my family. She reported that, in the past few years, as Bert and Ria had lost power they were talking about M-1 more frequently, and insinuating potential violence against those whom they’d deemed traitors. 

When the MOVE 9 started coming home, power within MOVE fractured. It became obvious to many of us that Bert and Ria had never intended for the MOVE 9 to get out of prison at all. Mike Africa Jr. was pivotal in pushing for the release of the MOVE 9, and Bert and Ria turned on him and his parents for actually working towards freedom. Those within MOVE who had sympathy for Mike Jr. were seen as disloyal to Bert and Ria. The absurdity of a group who had publicly claimed to fight for the release of the MOVE 9 for four decades turning on other members for actually trying to make that happen was just too much. Fractures and distrust within MOVE became more severe and Bert and Ria were losing power and control over internal narratives. 

June worried that in this climate that Bert and Ria may respond to my speaking out with violence. I pointed out that Lori and Tony Allen had not been physically harmed when they left MOVE and started speaking out in 2004. June countered that Ria and Bert had not lost control over the group at that point. She reiterated that they’d been talking about M-1 (the underground, military faction of MOVE) with increasing frequency, that they were rapidly losing touch with reality, and were capable of absolutely anything. This was disconcerting to hear, and definitely made Maiga and I pause and evaluate the position we were taking. I felt strongly about speaking out about what I knew about the campaign of character assassination against John Gilbride that preceded his murder. I also took June’s concerns very seriously. 

The next day June let us know that she wanted to record everything she knew for the “Murder at Ryan’s Run” podcast. She decided that exposing the abuse of children within MOVE may give her the needed exposure to escape MOVE with her own children. She’d attempted to leave MOVE with her children on other occasions and Alberta had threatened her with murder if she ever tried again. She was told that she could leave, provided she never opened her mouth, but that her children belonged to MOVE. Now that June had decided to speak out our fates were intertwined and we began the process of planning the safest escape with the most possible exposure. We began reaching out to others within MOVE who might be ready to take the same steps. We had to be careful not to reveal too much, or to trust the wrong person. Such a misstep could be fatal, especially for June. Whit and Josh soon joined in on the plan and a date was set. 

The three and a half months from when Maiga and I began communicating with June until I launched this blog were the most stressful months I hope that I ever live through. They were a hundredfold more stressful for June, Josh, and Whit. I vividly remember a night in April when I was up late preparing documents for this blog. I'd also been messaging back and forth with June as she was telling me more about the specific threats Alberta had made against her. As I walked up the stairs to bed around 1 a.m. all of the power in our house went out. I had an intense panic attack and froze in place. I had difficulty breathing and tunnel vision. I feared that when I went into my basement to check the circuit breaker that I’d be shot in the head by a member of M-1 trying to prevent what June had revealed about the inner workings of MOVE from becoming public. It turned out that all of the power had gone out on our whole block. 

This may seem paranoid, but in the previous weeks I’d learned that June had been threatened with death on numerous occasions, as had other MOVE members. We were also spending a great deal of time discussing the murder of John Gilbride. June voiced concerns I’d already considered, that MOVE had contacts in law enforcement who were in cahoots in some way. To someone who buys MOVE’s official narrative of being at war with “the system” this would seem crazy, but when you understand what MOVE actually is it seems much more reasonable. When you look at the fact that MOVE has gotten away with child abuse, sex crimes, forced marriages, financial crimes, and likely a few murders its easy to believe that there might be people in law enforcement who allow this to continue. This could be because of the mandate MOVE gained as a result of the tragedy of May 13th, 1985, but June had been told for her entire life that MOVE had members of M-1 working in law enforcement who ensured that MOVE would be protected. Is there any possibility this was true, or was this just another lie told to children in MOVE to keep them from speaking about their experiences?

When information about the inner workings of MOVE started being released on the “Murder at Ryan’s Run” podcast and on this blog in late June/early July I expected it to get much more attention than it did. Considering all of the positive attention MOVE had received in mainstream media in the previous year I hoped that more journalists would take interest in the story and start digging. I felt that this would provide an added level of protection for June, Josh, and Whit, and Maria, Salina, Sara, and Rain who followed soon after. But I understand how difficult this story is to tell, and how it cuts so sharply against a narrative that would be so much more convenient, if only it were true. The survivors of MOVE, though, are owed so much more.

First, I would like more people to understand how truly incredible they are; to recognize how much they put on the line to protect their children, their younger siblings, and to heal themselves. I’ve spent 14 years studying cults, and what they’ve done just doesn’t happen. I’ve never heard of another time when people who were raised in a cult left in such a united front despite believing that they could be killed for doing so. Cults specialize in keeping people isolated and scared. The events that have occurred during this MOVE reckoning are far from the norm and will hopefully serve as an example for others leaving similar groups. 

The other thing that's so incredible about Josh, Whit, June, Maria, Sara, Salina, Rain, and many who have privately left MOVE, is how empathetic and compassionate they are despite the torture they’ve endured. The first time I talked to Josh he said that he’d be willing to do whatever he needed to do to protect June. Whit is one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever had the honor to know. All of them are brilliant, witty, strong, or courageous in their own ways. When you really understand the physical and psychological torture they’ve endured their psychological survival is miraculous, and they deserve to be celebrated for that. 

Second, I hope the journalists will do a far better job of reporting on MOVE in the future. Reporting on MOVE in the ‘70s and ‘80s was likely more accurate, but was often so infected by the racism and prejudice of its day that it played directly into MOVE’s claims about media bias. Early reporting on MOVE often discredited itself by caricaturing MOVE and glorifying the police. As the winds of public opinion have shifted, reporting on MOVE in the last year has largely painted MOVE as heroic, and many media outlets have adopted the MOVE narrative whole cloth. Neither view of MOVE is correct and both equally obscure the realities of life for children born into the group. It’s my hope that journalists, historians, and documentarians become much more careful in telling the story of MOVE, and that the experiences of children born into MOVE are always included in their narratives. 

Third, I hope that Ria and Alberta, and all of those who assisted them, will be held responsible for their crimes against the children born in MOVE, the Gilbride family, and anyone else who they’ve harmed in their desires for power and money. It’s telling that in the nearly four months since this has gone public they haven't publicly uttered a word. They’re silent in an attempt to protect themselves. Now that MOVE members are speaking out publicly they have no idea when the next shoe may drop and I’d guess they’re hoping that if they stay quiet this may all eventually blow over. 

Fourth, I hope that first generation MOVE members decide to publicly disclose what they know about the fifty years of secrets within MOVE. What’s been disclosed thus far by second and third generation MOVE members is just a small fraction of what’s been hidden. The survivors who've come forward so far have stated the following:

  • We’re also asking other current and former MOVE members to speak out about the real history of MOVE in order to protect June, Josh, Whit, Salina, Sara, Maria, Rain, and many others who have suffered as a result of being born into MOVE. We recognize that many MOVE members will be uncomfortable with inner circle knowledge being revealed publicly. However, continuing to promote the romanticized past of MOVE creates the conditions that allow for the ongoing suffering of many who were born into MOVE, as well as other victims of MOVE such as the Gilbride family.

  • We are calling on MOVE members of good conscience to begin to tell the truth about MOVE history, including the events that led up to the 1978 and 1985 confrontations, the treatment of children, and any information related to the harassment and/or murder of John Gilbride.

This and so much more is owed to the children who were born into MOVE. They deserve to be given the truth, and the support and space to heal. I have no idea where, if anywhere, all of this will go from here. I’m grateful to have been included in this important work and plan to continue to push for support for the survivors and justice for the Gilbride family. I hope that in the coming months more of the truth will be revealed, that the action of the MOVE survivors will be given the recognition it’s due, and that their courageous example will inspire others seeking freedom from similar groups. The survivors of MOVE have demonstrated that incredible things are possible when truth and solidarity are prioritized. Now I hope that they get all that they deserve. 

Second and Third Generation children born in MOVE