Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Sad Legacy of a "Guru of Sadism"

File under: Hands Where They Don't Belong and Gurus Doin' Time

[Ed.Note: While we've already covered the opening up of Frau Schäfer's pedo-dominion, we've decided to leave Bruceji's post as an additional analysis of what was a very sorry state of affairs.]

One never knows what will turn up when one summons up the patience to search Google News for the word "Guru." Yesterday, we stuck it out long enough to find a week-old New York Times article by Larry Rohter about what an elderly fellow named Paul Schäfer (unrelated to TV bandleader Paul Shaffer) left behind in the Andean foothills of Chile when he was arrested in March after several years as a fugitive.

The 84 year old Schäfer became a cult-leading lay minister in Chile after his years as a medic in Hitler's Luftwaffe during the Second World War, and has been likened to Jim Jones and David Koresh -- albeit with a distinctly German accent and a weird admixture of apocalyptic prophecy with staunch Nazi-style anti-Communism and anti-Semitism. Schäfer, who was called "Permanent Uncle" by his followers, had close personal ties with the reviled former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, whose wife had visited the cult's settlement -- then known as "Colonia Dignidad" -- to attend performances by the cultists' children.

Apparently, his fear mongering and bigotry weren't enough for Schäfer -- to compound the tragedy of Colonia Dignidad, he also had a sexual itch for prepubescent boys and was quite possibly responsible the murder of a visiting American academic. Now that "Permanent Uncle" is permanently gone, the settlement of 300 has been renamed "Villa Baviera" and its new leaders are trying to heal the wounds and pick up the pieces while continuing to trade the fruits of their labors -- mostly farming and traditional German-style baking -- with their neighbors via their general store.

Recovery has been halting at best -- some residents still flee at the approach of outsiders and turn their backs to photographers. Although there is no overt public denial, the community generally avoids discussion of Schäfer's sexual predation, even though the current temporary council is of an age that some of them were no doubt victimized.

If there is a lesson in all this, it's that false-guru cultism is very widespread and is often ignored or underreported in major international media -- and that connections in high political places can protect even the most despicable of spiritual leaders. Kudos to the NYT and Mr. Rohter for telling this particular and particularly sad story -- look it up via Google News under "Guru of Sadism" for an excellent if heartbreaking read.

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