The Tragic Legacy of the Children of God

On Jan. 7, 2005, 29-year-old Ricky Rodriguez recorded his final thoughts as he prepared to embark on a violent rampage of revenge.

"Some of the things I'm going to try to do are rather shocking, and maybe not right in a lot of people's books," he said on a chilling videotape. "I'm just loading my mags here. Hope you guys don't mind if I do that while I talk."

Raised to be a prophet and a savior, Ricky was about to become an executioner, and a grim lesson in religious fanaticism.

"There is this need that I have," he said on the tape. "This need. It's not a want. And I wish it wasn't. But it is. It's a need for revenge. It's a need for justice. Because I can't go on like this."

His attempt to exact justice led to two violent deaths, including his own.

Rodriguez was once in line to be the next holy prince in the infamous Christian sect Children of God, now known as the Family International.

San-Francisco-based reporter Don Lattin has been reporting on the sect since the early 1970s, and Rodriguez's chilling video pushed him to spend the last two years investigating the motives behind Rodriguez's violent legacy. The result is his just-released book "Jesus Freaks."

Lattin says he was intrigued by the video of Rodriguez, "the drama of loading the bullets and sharpening his knife. He loved action movies so, you think, he almost saw this as a movie. I just had to get to the bottom of this. What was really behind this?"

"What could turn a kid, who was raised to be prophet in this group that claimed to be Christian, claimed to have love and compassion for mankind … What could turn him into a kind of raging monster?" said Lattin.

Children of God

In the late 1960s David Berg -- the self-proclaimed prophet and Children of God founder -- began preaching a bizarre brew of sex and scripture. In writings and preaching, Berg advocated free love among his disciples, including adult-child sex.

"Berg was actually a genius because he would test drive these bizarre theologies, bizarre teachings, within his own inner circle," said Lattin. "So very early on, still in the late '60s, he would start having these sharing parties where he would go around naked with a bottle of the wine saying all things are pure and they'd have these orgies but no one knew that outside of the inner circle."

"These guys don't just drop out of the sky," Lattin said of Berg's appeal. "So why are people following this guy if he's a monster and a drunk and a maniac? [Because] Berg came directly out of the Christian evangelical tradition."

Though that notion infuriates most evangelicals, Lattin points to Berg's own mother, Virginia Brandt Berg, who was one of the first famous radio evangelists. Berg failed in the pulpit early on, spending years on the road as an itinerant minister. But when the tumultuous 1960s rolled in, Berg finally found his voice.

"There were these two very strong social forces going on," said Lattin. "There was the countercultural, the youth movement. All these people living on the street, in the road with backpacks, lot of drugs. And there was the beginnings of this evangelical revival in the country."

By the 1970s, Berg's following grew into the tens of thousands. His so-called "law of love" urged young women to win converts to the group by prostituting themselves, something he called "flirty fishing."

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