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The Trial


"She kept trying to cast demons out of me, and rebuking me 'in the name of Jesus'," I told Jeremy and Reinhard after hanging up the phone.  We were in Nashville, Tennessee, making our way back to California from the East Coast.   I had called my mother to tell her about the trial we were planning in Long Beach.  I told her we hoped the trial would be a way forward in our relationship, explaining that they would have a chance to give a defense, and to ask questions of us as well.  If they were found guilty, I said, they would have the option of letting one of us take the punishment for them.  Reinhard had even agreed to speak up in their defence if the case ever came before a civil court, providing they would go through with our trial. 

Sheila would not budge.  The police were not pressing charges, and so there was no need for her or the others to come and participate in a trial for something they had more or less been given freedom to do by the local law enforcement officials.  She, Jared, John, and Josh expressed no remorse for what they had done to Reinhard. They would die, it seemed, from the way she talked, before they would ever admit to any wrongdoing.  I was, in their eyes,‘demon-possessed’ for even thinking otherwise, which is why Sheila went through the exorcism attack over the phone.  

Still, we left it open at that time, for the four of them to attend the trial, or send statements in their own defense.  They made it clear, however, that their only reason for coming, if they did come, would be to disrupt things in any way they could.

Not long after we reached California, Dave and Cherry arrived in L.A. on their way back to the US from Kenya.  The two of them and the two U.S. teams all met together at a mall in the center of Compton.  We crowded into one motor home and shared together over avocado sandwiches and chips.

After a few trivial exchanges, conversation soon turned more serious.  The trial was only a little over a week away, and there were still things that needed to be worked out.  Among other things, Jose had never used a whip; he needed to practice giving lashes, even if it was just against a tree branch or a bench.  There were decisions to be made about how public the trial should be, and what to do about violence if it broke out.  We also needed to find a place to hold the trial.

Over the next few days things began to work themselves out.  Jayme found a middle school in Long Beach that was willing to let us use their auditorium.  Jayme was Jeremy's "older" twin brother.  He joined the group not long after Jeremy did, both of them having stumbled across the group as a result of a search for Christian communities on the web.

We decided to limit media coverage to Fox News (who had shown the most interest) and to keep information about the location secret from everyone but them.  Because my family was not interested in attending or in sending a statement, we decided not to tell them where the trial was to be held, but to offer them a speaker phone link-up during the actual trial, so that they could hear what we were saying and offer their own comments.  Anything more than that, we felt, could lead to further violence. 

Fox News arranged a few interviews with us and with the police before the trial.  

"I don't care if you're Satanists, the police had no business letting them get away with the assault," said Fox reporter Gina Silva when talking to us. This, we were to learn later, was an insincere effort on her part to convince us that she was going to give us a fair hearing.  

Her interview with the police did, in fact, stir them into pressing charges.  But Gina's final copy included fake tears for my family, as though it was a tragedy that the police would press charges for a murder attempt against a family who had suffered so much already... as though they had 'suffered' just because I had chosen to live my own life.  Ironically, Gina was the one who had embarrassed the police into pressing charges against my family in the first place.  So she was, in effect, stabbing both sides in the back at the same time.

Soon it was the day of the trial.  We Jesus Christians met at Compton College that morning, to do our weekly two-mile run.  It was called a 'phantom run', because members of the community all had similar runs around the world, with each runner starting at different times, based on their abilities.  Only when all of the results were calculated together would we know who won.  On this particular day it was a good way to run off some of our nervous energy before Fox News arrived for the final interviews.

It was risky to run at Compton College, because Jared used to work there.  It was possible that Jared or one of his friends would spot us while on campus, and start another attack.  We tried to be quick, and were in and out within about half an hour.

We drove to a park, next to the school where the trial was to be held.  This was where we were to meet Fox News.  I went inside the basketball gym and weight room to fill some time before Fox made it to the park.  Finally, they arrived.

Gina was a smoothy, promising us that she was going to do a balanced report on what we had been through and what we were trying to achieve through the trial.  We later learned it was an empty promise.  Her only interest from the start was to sensationalise the idea of a whipping, and to leave the public completely in the dark with regard to what it was all about.

Gina had us sit down, where she talked to Reinhard, Jeremy, and me about the attack.  A cameraman filmed the talks.

Then we went inside the basketball gym, where I was filmed shooting baskets with some of the other members of our group.  They knew that I had been offered basketball scholarships, and so they wanted to see what I could do.  I showed off a bit for the cameras. 

After that, we left the park for the school and the trial.  Just before we left, some of us spotted a few suspicious guys, watching us closely from a short distance away.  We would later learn just who they were.

Once we were all inside the Stevens Middle School auditorium, I called Sheila on the speaker-phone so that she could participate if she wanted to give a defense.  Sheila's response when I invited her to listen in and participate was, "What thou doest, do quickly", after which she hung up.  She was quoting what Jesus said to Judas in the Bible before Judas betrayed Him and the disciples.  So she was calling me Judas.  She was calling me a traitor, because she knew I was going to tell the truth.  This was part of her perverse teaching about family loyalty, i.e. that we should lie for one another, to protect the family.  Bringing Jesus into her dishonesty was even sicker, like she was Jesus and I was Judas.

We moved ahead without contributions from her or any of the others, as it was clear that they did not wish to offer a defense.  Reinhard, Jeremy, and I read out statements about the attack, and we were asked questions by members of the group.  In the end, judgments were made, and punishments dished out one by one.

Jared, John, Sheila, and Josh were all found guilty of conspiring to kill Reinhard.  Because they did the beating, Jared and John were prescribed punishments of 25 lashes each, quite trivial in comparison to the beating that they had dished out to Reinhard.  Dave and Jeremy offered to take the punishment in Jared and John's places respectively.  

Dave also gave a short speech before taking the lashes, empathizing with Jared's role as a father and teacher, since he himself was both of those as well.  Still, he made it clear that trying to kill someone is wrong, and something that could not be tolerated by a civilized society, and especially by a Christian society.  He and Jeremy then went up onto the stage to take their lashes.

Cherry and I offered to take the punishment for Sheila and Josh.  

Someone had thought it might be good to offer Sheila another option as punishment, apart from lashes from a whip, since she was a woman.  So Sheila was offered (in her absence) a choice between five lashes, or shaving her head bald for a month.  Cherry, in Sheila's place, opted for the five lashes.

When it came time for me to take five lashes, Gina asked me why I was doing it.  I just told her that I felt it was the right thing to do.  I walked up the stairs, laid face down on the ‘whipping’ bench, and took my five lashes as best I could.  Before I knew it, it was all over.

But what was happening with the Fox News team was also interesting.  Before the lashes were dished out, it was clear that they were bored.  Tim Harrell, the producer, was actually sleeping as we read out our statements before giving a judgment.  The camera men set up their cameras to film straight ahead (if they were even turned on), and then started playing with their phones, and talking amongst themselves.  Gina fiddled with her iPod, and sent text messages via her phone.  But that all changed as soon as the whippings started.  That got their full attention.  And as soon as they were finished, Fox was rushing to ask demanding questions.  Any pretense at being sympathetic with us was suddenly dropped.

"Are you trying to embarrass the Johnson family?" Gina asked Dave.

"They embarrassed themselves," Dave replied.  That was enough for Gina to report that the trial was all about trying to hurt my family.  If there was any doubt about whose side Gina had taken, it was now crystal clear to all of us that it wasn't the Jesus Christians'.  She had done a good job of coming across as neutral until the final event, and that's when she showed her true colors.

"Do you consider yourself an apostle?" Tim asked Dave accusingly.  As the producer, it was not even Tim's job to be asking the questions.  That was Gina's job.  But Tim was obviously so emotionally involved, that he could not contain himself.  Hearing about what Reinhard had been through raised no sense of sympathy amongst these two professionals.   But seeing us demonstrate love for my family as well as hatred for the crime that they had been a part of sent the two media people into a self-righteous rage.

The questions kept coming, and we tried to answer them as well as we could, until it was time to leave.  Jayme and Jeremy left the hall first, with some of the props, to be put back into the motor home.

"Quick, close the door!" Jeremy shouted as they raced back into the auditorium.  "Lock it!  Fast!"

As soon as they had stepped outside, they had seen Jared, John, and the same guys they had spotted at the park, all guarding the front door to the hall.  Fortunately, the twins had gone out through a side door.  That was when Jared's thugs came racing towards them.  Tim Harrell had made a point of leaving the hall first, so he could get footage.  It seemed that he was the one who had informed Jared about the location of the trial in the first place, and that he had actually staged what could well have turned deadly, all for the amusement of his viewers.

"We're staying here until you come out!" someone shouted from outside the door.  It was one of John's friends, a guy we later learned was named Lamar.  He had come to the trial to steal me away if he could.  There were about six gangsters out there along with Lamar, Jared, and John.  Sheila, the brains behind it all, was neatly tucked away in her car a few yards down the road, almost out of sight.

The shouting continued.  We decided to call the police, as we would need help from the law if we hoped to make it out of the building in one piece.  After a few minutes, police arrived, and escorted us to our vehicles.

John's friend, Lamar, was saying that he had helped me growing up, that he went to all of my basketball games, and that he wanted me to leave the Jesus Christians as a favor to him.  It was all a show for the cameras.  I shouted, "I don't even KNOW you!" That was just the line that Fox News needed, and they later spliced it in with a picture of my father pleading with the police to hand me over.  Fox was saying I had shouted that to Jared, in an attempt to convince the viewing public that I had been so turned against my father that I had claimed to no longer even know him.  It was a huge distortion of the truth.

"It's cause he got hurt, and can't ball no more," John shouted, as his contribution to the drama.  John thought of everything in terms of basketball, and must have thought I had joined the Jesus Christians because I had injured tendons in my knees earlier in the year.  But just in case, he offered another theory as well, still related to basketball:  "He got too proud to listen to me after I beat him, and went off and joined a 'cult'."  I wondered if John actually believed any of this.

"Joseph! Joseph!" Jared shouted, pleading for me to leave the JCs and come back home with him and Sheila.  As with Sean three months earlier, I felt that Jared was mostly there under instructions from Sheila.  His 'plea' lacked the compelling nature that it might have otherwise had.

"They brainwashed him!  They brainwashed him!"  Lamar continued as I walked past.  A policeman was on the ready, in case Lamar made a movement toward grabbing me.  I opened the front door of the RV and jumped in just as Jared started his grand finale for the cameras.

He put his hands together like he was praying, and addressed the policeman, while the cameras rolled:  "Sir, my son, my son, he's been brainwashed.  His mother -- She's so 
hurt."  This was just the sort of stuff that Tim Farrell and Gina Silva had been looking for.  They carefully avoided any evidence of the fact that we were under siege, but included Jared's plea, made even better by splicing in my shout at Lamar ("I don't even KNOW you!"), and telling the TV audience that it was my response to Jared.  

We left the school parking lot, and hopped onto the freeway.  There was no way of knowing how long the police would keep any of them from driving off after us.  Based on the way John's thugs had chased us into the building before the cops came, we knew we had to be quick if we were to lose them.  Nevertheless, twenty minutes later, confident that we were on our own, we pulled off the freeway and into Carl's Jr. in Lynwood, relieved to have it all behind us.  We were a bit high on adrenaline for more reasons than one.  

It was dark outside and we had not yet had dinner.  Suddenly everyone felt starved.

"How about we each have a limit of, say, $10!" Dave suggested.  The trial was over, and it was time to party.  I don't recall us ever spending that much money each on a meal before.

"That would be $100 to feed all ten of us," Simon remarked.

"It's a special day," Dave said.  "What do the rest of you think?"  There were no objections and more than a little enthusiasm about plotting what to get for that much money.  (At that time, we would normally spend only about $2 each for takeaway meals, by shopping the bargains.)

We shared excitedly about what had just happened, and our various thoughts and responses to it.  On the whole, people felt it went as well as could be expected, even if my family did not participate.  We knew it would be misunderstood by most and probably distorted even more by the media; but we had taken a stand in solidarity with Reinhard, and that was something worth celebrating in itself.

"Let me guess -- you guys must be Christians."  It was a slick guy dressed in a sharp suit standing near the wall, smoking a cigar.  He had been watching us talk for some time.  We had no idea how much he had understood of our conversation, but he must have picked up a reference to God somewhere.

"You're right," Dave answered.  "How'd you guess?"  The guy said it was ten people of mixed gender, race, and age, all laughing and sharing together in unity.  He was so impressed that he said he wanted to give us a gift.

"You deserve this," he said as he handed Dave a $100 bill.  It was exactly enough to cover what we had just squandered on the celebration... kind of a mini-miracle.

"Thank you," we all shouted, as Dave gave the money to Reinhard, our treasurer at the time.  Several of us hugged the man on our way out of the restaurant.

The first ones to leave the restaurant struck up a conversation with a guy in the parking lot while the rest of us were talking to our generous benefactor near the door.  Excited exchanges outside caught our attention and we rushed out to meet this guy too.


"So you're the people who wrote Survivors!" said a middle-aged man in shabby clothes.

"I'm afraid so," Dave replied with a smile.  "Why do you ask?"

"Man, you cannot guess how much time I've spent trying to find you," the stranger said.  His name was Mark.  He had found a copy of Survivors in a trash can a few years earlier, while he was out ‘dumpster-diving’.  He had started reading the book, and could not get enough.  

"That's great," Jayme said.  Jayme had only been in the group for a few years, but he was a natural leader.  He had a quiet spirit that others trusted.

Mark then went on to share how he especially liked the part where people in the book survived by getting stuff that had been thrown out in dumpsters, since he had been living that way for years.  He pulled a huge four-man dome tent and a leather jacket out of the back of his pick-up and gave them to us.  "Just some of the stuff I've found," he said, "but I don't have need of them myself."

We gave Mark a few of our other books and our contact details before we said goodbye and drove to our next destination.

Click here to Read Part 7 of Joe's Story

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