The façade of the temple of the Defenders of Christ sect in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico.
She joined to find solace after her baby had died – instead, she was forced into extortion, mental torture and sexual depravity. "Olivia" is just one of the thousands of victims that fell prey to the Defenders of Christ cult, whose members were subjected to forced labor or sexual activities.
Last month, law enforcement officers raided the sect's house near the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo: twenty-four sect members were arrested, 14 of whom were foreign nationals, including its Spanish leader Ignacio Gonzalez de Arriba, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. The sect offered classes in 'bio-programming' and other pseudoscientific health care to attract followers.
For the first time, "Olivia", a women in her 30s whose name is changed to conceal her identity, tells about her ordeal at the hands of those operated in the name of Christ.
Metro: How did you come to join this sect?
Olivia: It began in 2008: a friend of my ex-husband invited me – it was at that time when I was passing through a period of severe depression over the loss of my baby boy. I was emotionally devastated. Then I heard how much you can do [in the sect] to get better so I decided that I wanted to take some of the classes on offer in the sect. I felt really well at the basic level and also with the second one, the intermediate level, which allowed me a sect volunteer. By April of 2009, I was hired as their assistant.
At what point did the pressures set in?
Two of my bosses [in the sect], José Arenas Losanger Segovia and his wife, were very strict. From the beginning I started to suffer from workplace violence, which was also psychological. For the smallest mistake they would punish me without pay. And the reality is that I paid for my technical classes with my work. They had told me I had to be a good servant and obey.
When did the cult's leader, Ignacio Gonzalez de Arriba, come into the scene?
In the summer of 2009, I started to hear about Ignacio's arrival to Mexico from Brazil. At that time, we were told about the 'Defenders of Christ', but I was told that it was not so much a religion as a different way of thinking. What's more, they started asking us to pay tithes.
What was the mechanics of the contributions?
Systematically, they planted in our minds the idea that we had to pay up once a week, and then it was every day. They received tithes through Western Union from places like Paris, Spain, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile. By then, they made us believe Ignacio was the master, a great being of light. Over time, they wanted to establish the Defenders of Christ as a religion, but in Mexico it could not have been possible because Ignacio is a foreigner.
Ignacio arrives and what happens?
He began running more classes, which became more expensive, and in the end he started to openly tell us that he is the incarnation of Christ. As part of our training as "apostles of the Defenders of Christ", he would provide us with 343 different precepts (commandments): on this he would start talking about polygamy and how women's bisexuality was seen as something good, and how the apostles could each have seven women and Ignacio up to ten. From that he began talking about supernatural powers, about magic – catalyzed with sex.
Was that moment the peak of it all?
They told us that we should have sex with women, and not with men. Then prostitutes started being brought in because they said that Ignacio had a heart condition and he was losing magic, so he asked for some women.
How close was your relationship with Ignacio?
We shared a close empathy, but I had no privileges at all – he was telling me that I should obey everything that was said. By obeying the 343 precepts I was such a good servant and showed great loyalty to be on his right-hand side. But when he arrived, Ignacio also became the worst for me.
What were you forced to do?
I had to go out to the bars or clubs to find prostitutes, seduce them and take them to Ignacio to have sex with him. I lost my dignity and my family fell apart. There were times when Ignacio gave me something I had to drink and he'd tell me, "This is poison" and then laugh out loud, all to test my loyalty.
How did you realize the gravity of your situation?
In 2010, it was a night when I went out in search of women, but I had an accident that kept me in bed. However, I had enough strength to turn my back and escape [the sect]. It has been very difficult because I realized I didn't even had something to eat, or means to live. I was alone.
How did you feel when you heard Ignacio was arrested?
I was happy, I felt relief. However, I still have a feeling tingling in my spine: I hope that the authorities would be smart enough to know what they face because those cult leaders can manipulate your mind. I am worried in a particular way because the people who were closest to Ignacio are going to defend him no matter what. [Other leading cultists] José Losanger and Tito Shoucri are going to blame themselves just to get Ignacio free.
What would you like to request from the authorities of the countries some of the sect members are from?
Please do not take this case lightly – they are comparable to very dangerous criminals, even psychopaths. Just think about it: they brainwash you so much that we even sold our bodies to pay them and, even worse, they showed us how to die or kill for Ignacio.
• The "Defensores de Cristo" (Defenders of Christ) was present in 80 countries, with 4,000 victims in Mexico and 10,000 across the rest of the world, according to the Argentina-based Victim Support Network (Red de Apoyo a Víctimas de Sectas).
• For online courses in 'bio-programming', members were charged up to $130,000.
• After paying the maximum fee, members would be conferred as "Apostles of Christ" and purportedly received supernatural powers, like the ability of resurrection and curing of diseases by touch, the network added.