Pennsylvania Opens Grand Jury Criminal Investigation Into Jehovah’s Witnesses; JW Survey Editor Subpoenaed

Pennsylvania Grand Jury Jehovah's Witnesses

In 1884, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was incorporated in the Court of Common Pleas in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The movement of Charles Taze Russell became an established religious business, a tax-exempt corporation that would go on to control the lives of more than 8 million devoted followers,

One hundred years later and four hours southeast of Allegheny, I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a tiled, heated baptismal pool in Crownsville Maryland. I was 16.

Thirty-five years after that, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania served me with a subpoena to testify in a Grand Jury investigation into alleged criminal activity by the very same religious organization to which I devoted the formative and working years of my life. Let me explain why this happened.

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, the only child of devoted Jehovah’s Witness parents who had embraced the religion following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the escalation of the Vietnam war. Jehovah’s Witnesses pounded the pavements of Baltimore, preaching the imminence of Armageddon.

Watchtower vice-president and oracle Frederick W. Franz famously came to Baltimore in 1966, delivering multiple conventions speeches, including the epic book-release of Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God. This 400+ page publication unveiled a shocking timetable of world events, including the revelation that 1975 would mark the most significant modern date in history.

From that moment forward, everything changed. Urgency over the date 1975 drove Witnesses into a subtle frenzy, with Organization overseers using these new revelations as spiritual cattle prods, driving many to sell their homes and preach the news of the ends of the world.

When I was 8 years old, 1975 came and went, but new predictions emerged, and the old ones were revised. As a child, I could not accept that I was being lied to, so I trusted Jehovah’s Witnesses and their appointed elders.

Among the most trusted elders was a man named Charles Brineshults. Charlie, as he was known, was a long-time appointed elder, a widower, and held the distinction of being one of the elite few remaining “anointed” Jehovah’s Witnesses on Earth. He was also a serial pedophile, but I didn’t know that.

Charles “Charlie” Brineshults, Baltimore Sun, August 20, 1966

Even as a child my instincts told me something was not right. Brineshults shuffled from family to family, latching on to the generosity of anyone who would take him in. Of course, the homes he selected and the families he embraced all had children. Vulnerable children.

It was not until about 10 years ago during a group vacation that a close friend and longstanding elder heard the name Brineshults in conversation, and he piped in “Oh yeah, he diddled kids, you didn’t know?”

“What?” I exclaimed as I shot a piercing gaze across the South Carolina beach resort, expecting to hear this was some kind of joke. But it wasn’t. As it turns out, it was an open secret among dozens of families and nearly all of the elders in the congregation circuits I grew up in.

I was horrified. At that moment I could instantly recall sitting in the rear of a Kingdom Hall after a meeting, watching Charlie approach me with my father nearby. “Mark is so polite when he answers the phone, I am very impressed He speaks to clearly and with such maturity.”

I was barely 10 years old. Like so many others, I was unaware I was being groomed, and were it not for the screen of my extra-protective mother, I would most certainly have been one of his many victims.

And then there was Ongsingco.

Louis Ongsingco was a charismatic Watchtower-appointed pioneer minister and self-declared pied piper of the local Jehovah’s Witness children. He was engaging, well-traveled, and he liked girls. Young girls.

Louis Ongsingco

Louis was a jet-setting flight attendant who frequently returned from Paris or London with expensive chocolates and other gifts for the kids he liked the most. He was also a massage therapist.

He had a smooth-talking way of conversing with teen girls, advancing his hands further and further from their shoulders to their backs, then finally crossing the lines between friendly conduct and full-on sexual assault. I saw this myself.

I was barely a teenager when I approached local elder Robert “Bob” Manke about Ongsingco’s behavior with girls. Where else would I go? My parents couldn’t control Louis, and I didn’t know that this was a matter for the police. How could I? So I trusted that Manke and the other elders would handle the situation.

They didn’t. Instead, they told Ongsingco that I had outed him, which led to severe chastisement from Louis himself. It was frightening. Meanwhile, Louis kept up his behavior, and decades passed. After leaving the Witness religion in 2013, I wanted to see what happened to this man.

After a brief investigation, I discovered that Louis Ongsingco went on to sexually assault multiple women, both Jehovah’s Witnesses, and non-Witnesses. By 2001 at least seven different women filed two lawsuits against Ongsingco.

These lawsuits are independent of additional allegations against Ongsingco, including those of two women who claim that Ongsingco placed his hands down the front of their shirts when they were teenagers.

One of those women came forward to the Atlantic in 2019 and was interviewed by journalist Doug Quenqua, who investigated Jehovah’s Witnesses in his article The Secret Database of Child abuse.

The Atlantic Article

In 2018 I was introduced to Douglas Quenqua, a respected writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, CNBC, Buzzfeed, and other periodicals. Doug had learned that I had received hundreds of pages of child abuse case documents from several Jehovah’s Witness congregations, and he wanted to learn more.

Over the course of 2018, we spent a number of days discussing these documents, and why Jehovah’s Witnesses had not reported these cases to the police. The incidents were horrifying, and worse yet, they revealed that most of the perpetrators were still at large, and were in contact with children.

On March 22nd, 2019, the Atlantic released Doug’s article. 24 Hours later, two elders rang our doorbell before 10 AM. We did not answer. When we checked our security camera later, it was apparent who these men were. They were church elders from the Perry Hall Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Maryland.

One of the two elders is the father of a woman who was sexually assaulted by not one, but two Jehovah’s Witness men. The men were Brineshults and Ongsingco.

Two Church Elders at my door, seeking to disfellowship

I remember thinking how pathetic it was to be chased down by the very men who have been covering up child abuse for years, and whose children were among the victims.

On April 14th, 2019, Watchtower representative and local church elder Joel Raniolo mailed two certified letters to my home, demanding that we attend a judicial hearing at the Perry Hall church. When reached, Raniolo refused to divulge why he had sent the letters, and how he had obtained our personal information.

On May 14th, 2019, another Church elder announced to the Perry Hall congregation that Mark and Kimberly O’Donnell are no longer Jehovah’s Witnesses. It had been 35 years since my indoctrination and baptism back in February 1984.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury

In the weeks following the release of the Atlantic article, national and global attention became focused on the Jehovah’s Witness religion. In particular, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General took notice of the allegations of corruption within the Witness Organization.

The State of Pennsylvania is no stranger to the cover-up of abuse within religious organizations. In 2018, the Attorney General’s office released the results of a two-year investigation into the Catholic church, following multiple substantiated reports of child sexual abuse and corresponding cover-ups.

On July 2nd, 2019 I was interviewed in my home by the Deputy Assistant Attorney General of Pennsylvania, along with a Special Investigator for the State. For more than three hours I provided documentation and details concerning the policies and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially in connection with child abuse.

On July 29th a Special Investigator arrived at my Baltimore home and served a subpoena for me to appear before the 45th Investigative Grand Jury of the State of Pennsylvania.

Finally, on August 22nd, 2019, I arrived at the State Capitol before 7.30 AM and was sworn in by Judge J. Wesley Oler in his chambers. Moments later I entered the large Grand Jury room, where 23 grand jurors and approximately 12-15 alternates were stationed at their desks, positioned to take notes and record their questions on paper.

A Grand Jury is a special tool used by state and federal governments to investigate criminal allegations against persons or institutions. The powers of grand juries are wide-ranging and potent. They include the ability to subpoena and compel witnesses to testify, and those witnesses are encouraged to speak freely and without fear of reprisal.

Any form of retaliation is taken seriously by the office of the Attorney General and the presiding judge. Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses had already executed retaliation on my wife and me in response to our efforts to shed light on the epidemic child abuse problem within the religion.

My testimony lasted more than two straight hours as I sat facing the Grand Jury and the Deputy Attorney General, together with several State Attorneys and Special Investigators.


Grand Juries can be cathartic experiences for cooperative witnesses who testify on the side of civil justice. That was my experience.

For the first half of my initial testimony, I recounted my personal history within the Jehovah’s Witness religion, beginning with my religiously isolated childhood. It was an opportunity to share my experiences with a large group of citizens who will ultimately make important decisions when they vote on the choices presented to them.

There were moments of levity amidst the proceedings, including a curious exchange in which I discussed the history of the Witnesses’ custom Bible, the New World Translation. I explained how the translation was largely the brainchild of Frederick W. Franz, whose linguistic education was limited to a maximum of two years study of Greek, and no training in Hebrew.

The irony of this information was not lost upon the investigating members of the Grand Jury.

The Grand Jury and the JW Organization

As the morning progressed, my testimony turned to the driving force behind the reason these people were assembled in this room- to comprehend whether the religious hierarchy which drives this religion is responsible for the failure to report the crime of child abuse.

A large whiteboard was placed to my left, facing the grand jurors. At the very top, the letters “GB” were written in large letters, then circled. It was clear that the Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania understood that the decisions and power of this religion lay at the top of a complicated network of corporations, congregations, Circuit Overseers, and churchgoers.

I spent some time attempting to explain the spider web of mechanisms used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, describing the difference between their view of the spiritual and the legal.

Branch Committees, Corporations, Circuit Overseers, Congregations, Elders, Ministerial Servants, Pioneers, Publishers- all of these found their way to the diagram of the Witness organization. Lines were drawn connecting all of the organizational machinery which comprises the Jehovah’s Witness religion. In the end, all roads terminated at the Governing Body.

After testifying for more than two hours, I was excused and held in a waiting area while the Grand Jurors scribbled their questions on paper and handed them to the Deputy Assistant Attorney General, after which I was brought back into the room, and given the opportunity to respond to the questions.

The process was dignified, thorough, but clearly an incremental process. Four months later, I found myself escorted once again into the halls of Pennsylvania justice, this time in a brand new government complex even more secure than the prior Strawberry Square location.

Grand juries are most often 18 months in length, with citizen jurors obliged to comply with the civic duty once per month for several days at a stretch. In some cases, grand juries are extended another 6 months. So it was no surprise that I returned 4 months after my initial testimony, this time to discuss documents.

Documents

The smoking gun of certain crimes lies in the creation of a paper trail of evidence that substantiates repetitive negligent or criminal behavior. If there’s one thing the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not lacking, it’s documents.

From the inception of Watch Tower Pennsylvania in 1884, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been in the document business. As the religion branched from printing Bibles and books to buying and selling real estate, the global corporations expanded, and so did the need to maintain centralized control over a growing member base.

By the 1970s, the Witnesses had tightened controls over congregation elders, formed Governing Body Committees, and published letters to all Elders on various corporation letterheads. They even began publishing a secret elder’s manual with strict instructions that it be concealed from anyone not an elder.

The expansion of congregation elder bodies meant that members trusted local elders to handle certain matters which would otherwise be best handled by law enforcement. Elder bodies became the police department for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As the organization became further centralized, policy letters became the norm. While many documents dealt with routine activities for the church, other letters started to emerge which seemed to border on matters best left for law enforcement.

On July 1st, 1989, Watchtower New York issued a now-famous six-page letter to all congregation elders, labeled “confidential.” This letter warned elders not to divulge confidential information to “unauthorized” persons, including the police.

It was clear that the rising number of child abuse cases in the Organization needed to be addressed, but Watchtower insisted that their New York Legal department act as first point of contact for any elders who learn of abuse.

This letter served as the opening salvo in a policy of obstruction of justice for victims of child abuse and the law enforcement agents who could have helped them.

On December 18th, 2019, I sat before the Pennsylvania Grand Jury, listening to the reading of the entire six-page letter from 1989.

It began to hit me how serious these letters were, and how vital they are to the investigation into Jehovah’s Witnesses. Every line, every paragraph was dissected and scrutinized. And then more letters were introduced.

On March 14, 1997, Watchtower released yet another directive to elders, and this time they asked for documentation of known child abusers serving in any congregation. It was, in effect, an official announcement of a secret database of child abusers.

On Page two, the letter stated:

“However, the body of elders should discuss this matter and give the Society a report on anyone who is currently serving or who formerly served in a Society-appointed position in your congregation who is known to have been guilty of child molestation in the past.”

This single sentence has formed the basis for a series of civil lawsuits in California in which attorney Irwin Zalkin and his team have worked many years to expose, knowing that Watchtower is harboring the names of thousands of child abusers in its database. Many of the abusers are still at large and serving in positions of authority among Jehovah’s Witnesses.

These were just a few of the many letters I reviewed and certified as authentic for the Pennsylvania Grand Jury.

What Effect Will the Grand Jury Have?

I cannot speculate on the full nature of this investigation, as these proceedings are sealed off from the public and the press. The Office of the Attorney General cannot confirm or deny that there is an investigation. They cannot confirm or deny that they will seek to investigate and subpoena specific individuals, such as victims, attorneys, experts, active elders, or members of the organization who serve at the highest level.

Subpoena for the 45th Investigative Grand Jury

Only those who testify, and who have not been placed under a gag order from the presiding judge may discuss their testimony, if they choose to do so. Otherwise, until their investigation is complete, they will not comment.

There are a number of possible consequences of this Grand Jury investigation, and it may take some time before we see the results. One outcome is a presentment- a recommendation that charges be filed against a person or organization. Another outcome is a formal report, like the Catholic Church report released in 2018.

Whatever the case, the Office of the Attorney General has the power to issue search warrants and subpoenas, to compel testimony, and may even cross state lines to accomplish their work.

After a lifetime in the Jehovah’s Witness organization, having seen the damaging effects of child abuse and the cover-up of these crimes, I am thankful that the Government of Pennsylvania has finally turned its attention to the organization which silenced the voices of survivors and those who champion their rights.


Mark O'Donnell

Mark O'Donnell is a former Jehovah's Witness turned whistleblower after discovering the disturbing child abuse epidemic within the religion. His story, along with the revelation of a secret database of child molesters were featured in the March 2019 online issue of the Atlantic Magazine: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/03/the-secret-jehovahs-witness-database-of-child-molesters/584311/ O'Donnell continues to investigate allegations of child abuse within the Witness organization, and works with law enforcement, attorneys, and survivors of abuse, writing about his findings on jwsurvey.org and other outlets.

29 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Opens Grand Jury Criminal Investigation Into Jehovah’s Witnesses; JW Survey Editor Subpoenaed

  • February 8, 2020 at 12:29 pm
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    Wow, this is a major step forward, thank-you Mark O’Donnell for your continued determined efforts to shine a light into the darkest recesses of this CULT.
    With all that has been reported on in just the last month, the Netherlands Criminal Investigation & the documentary in the States tonight & the inquiry here in the UK next month, Watchtower sure is having a dreadful start to 2020. AND LONG MAY IT CONTINUE.

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  • February 8, 2020 at 1:29 pm
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    It is about time!!
    How I have prayed for this day to come!
    WE have suffered under the hands of the elders in active positions who are pedophiles with no help from the outside because we were taught that it stays in the congregation no need to bother the police with it. Disfellowship, Reprovement etc. will take care of the issue. All the while they violate others! Not just sexually but mentally, emotionally and sometimes physically!
    I wrote it all out for the world to see a few years ago and am so glad that vindication is HERE!!
    Thank you God!!

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  • February 8, 2020 at 1:44 pm
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    Thank you for your clear, lucid testimony and your evident commitment to revealing truth and unearthing the dank secrets of an abusive, self-serving organization.

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  • February 8, 2020 at 2:29 pm
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    Thank you Mark for exposing the truth about the Watchtower. I salute you.

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  • February 8, 2020 at 4:49 pm
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    slowl..y slowl..y catch the monkey……

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  • February 8, 2020 at 6:45 pm
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    Thanks Mark you did what is right.Government of any state has its own dark sides too so how will the story ends life will show.best to all and keep up your good work!

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  • February 9, 2020 at 5:31 am
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    Wow; All I can do is echo what has been posted above, in that I applaud your bravery for exposing the subterfuge of the WTBTS.

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  • February 9, 2020 at 5:40 am
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    A huge thank you for persisting with the slog of uncovering the crimes of this foul, killjoy, doom mongering, misery making and money grabbing cult, and bringing them to the attention of the legal authorities. Like ex JWs worldwide, I wish your campaign every success.

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  • February 10, 2020 at 8:06 am
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    Thank you Mark for all you are doing. I hope some lasting good comes from the courts with regard to these crimes.

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  • February 10, 2020 at 10:25 am
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    Wow!! Thank you for your incredible coverage and hard work getting those who can actually force the hand of the WT to listen!

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  • February 11, 2020 at 8:26 am
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    We’ll be praying for you Mark, and thank you for your outward “Boldness” against the enemy that puts the organization above God. Because, IT IS NOT “GODS” Organization, how could it be? When they turn their heads to these abusive atrocities to children. Jesus Christ put a child on his knee, and said if any of you stumble one of these,” you’d be better to put a millstone around your neck, and jump into the deepest part part of the ocean. May the holy spirit guide you to the justice purveyed, and to pray for all people who did the right thing, but get caught up in their “SECT” stupidity, spiritual cattle prodding, and worse, the perversion of GODS word. Anyone who knew, and didnt say anything, is as guilty as the person who did it (in my eyes). Thank you Brother!!!

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  • February 13, 2020 at 10:34 am
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    THIS IS A HEART-FELT DEEP THANK YOU. I TOO WAS A VICTIM DURING 1960’S AT THE HANDS OF AN ELDER WHO LATER ON SHOT HIMSELF IN THE HEAD. I AM NOW 57 AND HAVE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES THAT GO WAY BEYOND ANYTHING I WOULD EVER IMAGINE. I HEAR VOICES. ITS PRETTY MESSED UP BUT THANX TO YOU AND LLOYD EVANS, THESE VILE HUMANS ARE GETTING EXPOSED. THANK YOU THANK THANK YOU.

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  • February 13, 2020 at 11:30 am
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    ANY ONE OF YOU WHO ARE CONTEMPLATING LEAVING THE TRUTH, YOU WILL FIND A BETTER LIFE.

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  • February 13, 2020 at 5:43 pm
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    Great read and well put together Mark, very much appreciate the hard work you and Lloyd put in, to shed light on this darkness. I pray that something really does come from this Grand Jury Investigation, so that children are properly protected from these monsters. The end of Watchtower cannot come soon enough, things are hotting up here in the UK too, 2020 is not going to be a good year for Watchtower.

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  • February 13, 2020 at 6:53 pm
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    Excellent Article Mark, look forward to the demise, oh what its just more Lies

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  • February 14, 2020 at 8:32 am
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    Just wanted to add my expressions of admiration and thanks for all the hard work you do towards exposing the dangerous policies of this organization and in keeping us all informed. Also, you are probably already aware of this, but I just want to express my disgust at the utter hypocrisy they have shown over the years. The organization has had no problem whatsoever in lambasting the Catholic Church and exposing it for not reporting abusers to the authorities. The Watchtower November 15, 1962 pages 691-695 is a prime example. It contains an article entitled: “The Benefits of Subjection to Authorities”. One sentence says: “Religious organizations in Christendom have been guilty of opposing God’s arrangement. How? By opposing the permitted authorities rather than being in subjection to them. How? By meddling in politics and trying to get on top of the State and to dominate it.”
    But perhaps the most disturbing quote from that article is this:
    “Worldly authorities render a judgment and punish persons, whether they are inside the congregation or outside, if they violate the laws of decency and good order. The violators have no right to complain at such punishment, as Paul showed by his words before Caesar’s judgment seat. (Acts 25:11) Hence the Christian congregation cannot protect any of its members if they steal, smuggle, commit bigamy, murder, libel, defraud, and so forth. The congregation must release such guilty members to punishment by worldly authorities. Since the guilty break the laws of the land and thus oppose the “authority,” they are taking a stand against God’s arrangement.
    10 The Christian congregation has no orders from God and has no right to protect such opposers and lawbreakers from the due punishment by the “authority” of the land. We cannot hinder, oppose or condemn the execution of the krima or judgment by aiding or shielding lawbreakers. To do so would put the Christian congregation also in opposition to God’s arrangement. Besides letting the krima or “judgment” take its course upon offending members who bring reproach upon God’s people, the congregation may disfellowship such lawbreakers. The congregation does not want to deserve a krima or “judgment” with the lawbreakers by siding or cooperating with them and opposing the worldly “authority.” It also wants no reproach.”
    How dare they????
    Are they that blind?
    Or are they that wicked?

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    • March 26, 2020 at 7:10 pm
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      They are that wicked.
      As for their blatant HYPOCRISY, indeed, would they apply the same “2-witness” rule to a thief or a murderer or a rapist, especially, say, a JW who stole from another JW? Or even something as simple as 1 JW seeing another JW smoking a cigarette. I was once reprimanded for buying a $2 Lotto card at the convenience store, on the testimony of just ONE witness. Shows how demented their priorities / mindset are.

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  • February 14, 2020 at 12:45 pm
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    I’m confused, Mark. Why did those elders show up to disfellowship you? What did you do that required disfellowshipping?

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  • February 18, 2020 at 9:05 pm
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    Nice work, Mark. So glad that a “mentally-diseased apostate” – LOL – got the chance to participate in such a high-profile arena.
    … And one more thing:

    KARMA’s a BITCH !!!

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  • February 22, 2020 at 7:11 pm
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    I’ve been watching some of those “Kingdom Hall crashes” videos on YouTube, and the thing that struck me was the relative sparseness of the audience. So many empty seats. Not how I remember KH meetings. Is this a sign of something? Fewer attendees means fewer donations. Fewer donations means less $$$ for lawsuit payouts and expensive booze for the Governing Bimbos. Tony Morris may have to switch to Ripple.

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  • February 22, 2020 at 11:50 pm
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    How wonderful! Jesus said that nothing hidden would remain hidden. You were the perfect person to be the voice for us all who have left this organisation knowing how corrupt and cruel it is and having to tread carefully and watch our family members wile away in it’s evil clutches. Good on you Mark.

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  • March 2, 2020 at 10:57 pm
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    The Governing Bastards fancy themselves ascending to Heaven one day.
    Donald Trump has just established a “Space Force”.

    Am I missing something?

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  • March 10, 2020 at 8:12 pm
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    I’m glad I left Jehovah’s Witnesses!

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  • March 26, 2020 at 7:01 pm
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    Just for sh*ts & giggles, I found a BBC radio parody of 1984, done by the Goon Show (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe) in 1955. It was called 1985, it’s rather silly, and some parts are hard to make out, but for anyone who’s interested, it’s on YouTube, and it’s about 18 minutes long.
    The funniest line was the propaganda catchphrase “It’s great to be alive in 1985”. Reminds me of Witch Tower’s relentless insistence that “we are the happiest people in the world”, living the “best life ever”. LOL

    Reply
  • April 5, 2020 at 7:20 am
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    Am I to understand (according to puppet Lett) that “we’re living in the final part of the last days,undoubtably the final part of the final part of the last days shortly before the last days of the last days”?(2:06 in cast).Best laugh I’ve had in two months

    Reply

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