Aloha Democratic Party of Hawai'i and ACLU Hawai'i! I hope the Democratic Party of Hawai'i convention is going well this weekend and that it brings a much-needed economic boost to the Big Island.
I would like to share concerns regarding U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and violations of constituents' First Amendment rights. My intent in exposing this is not to create a political rift, but to spark a needed discussion in the wake of Wednesday's federal circuit court ruling that Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking dissidents on Twitter. My concerns about Gabbard include and go far beyond Twitter.
I would like to disclose that I am impressed by Sherry Campagna, Gabbard's Democratic primary challenger, and I welcome her campaign. I am a resident of Hawai'i's 2nd Congressional District. I do not work for Campagna, and I was not involved in her decision to run for Congress. I am a member of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association, which endorsed Campagna earlier this week. I am not one of the leaders of HSTA. I played little to no role in HSTA's decision to endorse Campagna. I am a full-time teacher and part-time journalist.
Last year, I exposed Gabbard's deep involvement in the Science of Identity sect, which is led by Kris Butler (aka Chris Butler, Jagad Guru, etc.). I also exposed this sect’s ties to an international money laundering ring. I knew little about Gabbard and nothing about Campagna when I decided to research this interesting group in my community.
The First Amendment also, of course, protects freedom of religion. Gabbard clearly has the right to participate in this sect's activities, so long as those activities do not violate others' human or civil rights. Despite accusations from Butler disciples, I am not a religious bigot. I have defended both Gabbard and Senator Mazie Hirono against actual religious bigotry on social media.
For over a year now, I have experienced and witnessed harassment and violations of the First Amendment rights of Gabbard's constituents. I have six key concerns, which relate to 1) Twitter 2) a publicist being paid to discredit me as a journalist 3) cyberattacks 4) online defamation 5) Butler disciples coming to my home after a Gabbard town hall and 6) false reports to U.S. Capitol Police.
1. The Twitter Problem
A United States Representative's professional Twitter page is a public forum. People cannot be blocked from that forum unless they are engaging in threats or other speech not protected by the First Amendment. Please see this Knight First Amendment Institute lawsuit.
I was blocked from Gabbard's public Twitter page after simply exercising my intellectual freedom and using my critical thinking skills to ask questions. I chose to make my questions public on Twitter because Gabbard's press team has failed to answer all of my questions sent via email. Not one question has been answered. Other Gabbard constituents, who by no means threatened or harassed anyone, have also been blocked. In one case, a Gabbard constituent was blocked for simply sharing one of my articles.
2. The D.C. Publicist Paid to Discredit Me as a Journalist Problem
Gabbard's communications team also made a strategic effort to stifle freedom of the press in Hawai'i when they chose to pay a D.C. publicist, Chris Cooper of The Potomac Square Group, to discredit me as a journalist to a mainstream news editor here. This editor was interested in my work, and we had an agreement. I was careful to ask the editor if I could identify as a freelancer for her publication when questioning sources for an article on Gabbard and Science of Identity. She agreed that I could. Soon after I began doing so, the editor received the below email from Cooper. Gabbard's recent FEC records show she paid Cooper's The Potomac Square Group nearly $20,000.
Cooper's paid email contains multiple grammatical and factual errors. He has not actually worked as a journalist in nearly a decade. He is currently best known in D.C. for accepting money to spin Bahrain's human rights abuses and taking a job with Kremlin lawyer and informant Natalia Veselnitskaya (of Trump Jr. meeting fame). Cooper hung up on me when I politely asked him to confirm his email address. I recorded that conversation, because I had a legal right to do so.
3. The Cyberattack Problem
Soon after I launched my independent news site to publish my investigative series, the site was subjected to two DDoS attacks. I do not yet have definitive evidence of who was behind those attacks. The attacks are being investigated. There was only one article on my site at the time. It was about Science of Identity and the Gabbard family's involvement in the sect. A man who runs another news website in Hawai'i, Hawai'i Free Press, claimed he also experienced a DDoS attack after publishing articles about Gabbard and Science of Identity.
4. The Online Defamation Problem
This problem began when I participated in a discussion on The New Yorker magazine's Facebook page about Kelefa Sanneh's article on Gabbard. A "George Bacay" quickly chimed in to comment: "Christine Gralow has record of TROs with 4 different people so uh?! Temporary Restraining Orders People."
There has never been a TRO requested or issued against me.
On Tuesday, as I read comments on HSTA's Facebook page regarding their endorsement of Sherry Campagna, I saw this, from an "Aquino Purificacion": "Not surprising considering a TRO was filed against HSTA VP Justin Hughey by the owner of a small business on Maui after he entered the business threatening and harassing Tulsi's staff."
I checked Hawai'i's civil court records. There is no record of a TRO ever having been requested or issued against Hughey. Hughey and I are both special education teachers. The First Amendment does not protect libel.
(Update May 27 7:47pm: Someone just tried this TRO tactic again, in another Facebook discussion of Gabbard. See the third photo below. The Hawai'i civil court screenshot used by both "George" and "Kaleo" shows no evidence of TROs against me. Two of those civil cases involved me winning my deposit back from landlords who thought they could just keep it. One case involved a judge agreeing that my safety was at risk and that I needed a TRO against someone else. The fourth case was a misfiling of one of the landlord/tenant cases.)
5. The Disciples at My Home after the Town Hall Problem
I experienced retaliatory intimidation at my home shortly after I asked critical questions at a Gabbard town hall in Waianae, O'ahu, last year.
First, John Bishop, a long-time Butler follower and husband of Science of Identity President Jeannie Bishop, repeatedly photographed me at the town hall. I expect to be photographed and recorded when speaking at public town halls, and I have no problem with that. I am not a naturally paranoid person. But this was different. Bishop was not news media. He appeared to zoom in on me and photograph me dozens of times, not while I was speaking, but when I was just sitting there. Bishop appeared to do the same thing to LGBT rights activist and Democratic Party of Hawai'i Assistant Secretary Michael Golojuch Jr., who I happened to sit next to at the town hall. This photographer seemed hostilely fixated on Michael and me. I did not know anything about Michael at the time.
I was later able to confirm with former Butler disciples that Bishop has indeed engaged in odd surveillance jobs for Butler. One former Butler disciple I spoke with also admitted to infiltrating gay pride parades and tracking the activities of gay rights activists. He was under Butler's control at the time. Butler has taught his followers an extremist homophobic philosophy.
The night of the Waianae town hall, a clip of me asking Gabbard about her Syria trip funders appeared on Hawai'i News Now. The next day, two Butler disciples were parked immediately outside my home. As I left my home to walk my dog, I clearly saw their faces and quickly recognized one of them as a close personal and business associate of Gabbard Chief of Staff Kainoa Penaroza.
One week after this first lovely visit to my home, I observed two more Butler disciples parked immediately outside my home. One man stared at me as I again left my home to walk my dog. His wife tried to hide behind him in the passenger seat. I observed her taking pictures of me and the front door area of my home. I will refrain from publishing these young people’s names, because I believe responsibility for their actions ultimately lies with their guru.
6. The U.S. Capitol Police Problem
Gabbard's staff and/or close political supporters have also used the U.S. Capitol Police in apparent attempts to harass and intimidate critically thinking constituents.
Someone made a false report that I impersonated a Gabbard staffer. I did not. Two other Gabbard constituents say Gabbard's staff also reported them to Capitol Police and accused them of harassing Gabbard after they simply asked tough questions. The Capitol Police agent who called me after receiving the false report was nice enough and seemed to understand the situation. Since I had him on the phone anyway, I told him everything I know about Gabbard, Butler, and the Science of Identity Foundation.
A truly democratic election cannot be held when such tactics are being used to silence concerned constituents, journalists, and union leaders.
Mahalo for reading.
Christine Gralow, M.S.Ed., M.J.
Teacher and Independent Journalist
U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, '03
1. Butler's Web: Krishna, Politics, and QNET's International Pyramid Scheme
2. Butler's Web, Part 2: Who is Gabbard's Guru
3. Butler's Web, Part 3: Grooming the Second Generation
by Christine Gralow
The Hawaiian Kingdom Blog released a letter today written by United Nations Independent Expert Alfred deZayas to two Hawaii Circuit Court judges.
In the letter, dated February 18, 2018, deZayas wrote, "I have come to understand that the lawful political status of the Hawaiian Islands is that of a sovereign nation-state in continuity; but a nation-state that is under a strange form of occupation by the United States resulting from an illegal military occupation and a fraudulent annexation."
DeZayas addressed this letter to Hawaii Circuit Court Judges Gary Chang and Jeannette Castagnetti. Chang presides over Hawaii's Land and Tax Appeal Court. Castagnetti presided over the contentious Nelson v. Hawaiian Homes Commission case, in which she ordered the Hawaii State Legislature to pay the Dept. of Hawaiian Home Lands $28 million in 2016.
"To call this (U.N.) document 'remarkable' is an understatement," David Keanu Sai told Hawaiian Kingdom Blog.
Sai, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from U.H., has led several international complaints regarding the legal status of the Hawaiian Kingdom. He explained in an email to Meanwhile in Hawai'i that his complaints aimed to expose "the continued existence of the Hawaiian Kingdom as an independent and sovereign State."
Sai said a relative of Routh Bolomet, "a Hawaiian-Swiss citizen," alerted him last week to deZayas' letter.
In the letter, deZayas referred to his review of a 2017 complaint from Bolomet to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Bolomet complained of "historical and ongoing plundering of the Hawaiians' lands, particularly of those heirs and descendants with land titles that originate from the distributions of lands under the authority of the Hawaiian Kingdom," deZayas wrote.
DeZayas served as the U.N. Human Rights Council's Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order from May 2012 through April 2018. He wrote the letter while serving in that position. He previously served as Secretary of the U.N. Human Rights Committee and Senior Lawyer with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is a Cuban-born U.S. citizen with a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He currently teaches at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Law.
Meanwhile in Hawai'i has reached out to deZayas to try to gain more legal context on the letter. This article will be updated as more information is received. Mahalo to Hawaiian Kingdom Blog for publicly sharing this document.
For independent, community-based photo and video journalism on the Hawai'i island lava flows and eruptions, see Lava News on Facebook. They are also helping people check on their homes and getting people needed supplies. They will likely be the first to report on any new eruptions or flows. Hope everyone stays safe!
Aloha. Readers might be surprised to see a hard news piece here this week about the Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency's siren testing in Kailua. After directly experiencing the confusion caused by this siren testing and realizing that no other news organization was on top of the story, I decided to cover it.
While I continue to work on another longform piece, the time between publication of longform stories is - well, long. I have decided to change Meanwhile in Hawai'i's tagline from "Quality Longform Journalism" to "Reporting from the Community, for the Community." The tagline will be updated here soon.
I will cover hard news and community events as needed, and I will begin accepting freelance submissions. Thank you for your patience as I balance this side job with my separate, full-time position.
To those new to this site, please check out my three-part investigative series on the Kailua-based Science of Identity sect and the Gabbard political family's involvement.
Part One - Butler's Web: Krishna, Politics, and QNET's International Pyramid Scheme
Mahalo nui loa.
by Christine Gralow
Kailua, HI - Just twelve days after announcing its new administrator and ten weeks after terrifying the public with a false nuclear missile alert, the Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency confused residents and tourists in Windward O'ahu with an off-schedule, emergency siren test at Kailua's Kalama Beach Park yesterday.
Most Hawai'i-based news organizations that received a HI-EMA press release about the siren test also failed to publish the information online before HI-EMA began testing the siren at approximately 9:00 a.m. yesterday.
HI-EMA Public Information Officer Richard Rapoza emailed a press release regarding yesterday's Kalama Beach siren test to Hawai'i's mainstream news organizations at 2:58 p.m. Tuesday. The press release was not posted on HI-EMA's website.
KHON2 was the only news organization to post an article that was accessible to the public online before the siren testing began. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser did not publish the information online until more than one hour after HI-EMA began testing the siren. No other news organization published information about the testing that was publicly accessible via online search engines.
"We probably should have done more," said Honolulu Star-Advertiser City Desk Editor David Butts, after hearing concerns about the community's experience.
Butts said he lives near Kalama Beach Park, and his wife contacted him at work at 10:20 a.m. yesterday, confused about why she was repeatedly hearing an emergency siren sounding at the end of the month. Her confusion was shared locally by mail carriers, students, teachers, and tourists, who said they had not heard news of the testing in advance. HI-EMA typically conducts siren testing at the beginning of each month.
“I listen to KSSK every morning,” Kailua resident Denise Fleming said, “and I did not hear (radio host) Michael William Perry say one thing about this test.”
KSSK is one of HI-EMA’s official Emergency Alert System broadcasters. KSSK's news department has not yet responded to two calls seeking information about when or if the station informed the public of the Kalama Beach siren testing.
When asked if the HI-EMA press release could be found anywhere on the agency's website, Rapoza acknowledged it could not. He then checked the Twitter feed on the agency’s home page and found a tweet about the Kalama Beach siren test there. The Twitter feed appears in small print on the side of the website, next to an eye-grabbing March 12 headline about the agency’s new administrator, Retired U.S. Navy Captain Thomas Travis.
HI-EMA did post information about the Kalama Beach siren test just after 4:00 a.m. yesterday on its Facebook and Twitter (#siren) pages, but only 18 people total shared HI-EMA’s two Twitter posts, and 25 people shared the Facebook post.
There were no information signs posted about the siren test at Kalama Beach Park or in the surrounding area yesterday. An on-site HI-EMA employee announced the test via loudspeaker, but the announcement could only be heard in the parking lot and bathroom/shower area. It could not be heard from the beach. The emergency siren, however, could be heard from several miles away.
The siren was clearly heard at Kainalu Elementary School, which is one mile from Kalama Beach Park. Students and school employees were alarmed. Administrators said they were not contacted by HI-EMA about the testing. Parents and teachers called the school’s front office with questions about the siren.
In the wake of the January 13 false missile alert, and after hearing three consecutive, monthly nuclear siren tests, Hawai'i residents now associate emergency siren noise with the threat of a nuclear attack.
HI-EMA reinstated use of Hawai'i's state-wide emergency sirens for nuclear alert monthly testing on December 1, 2017. The agency abandoned use of the nuclear alert test (a wailing tone) on March 1, after public outrage and national media scrutiny of the false missile alert. HI-EMA has returned to testing only the natural disaster siren (a steady tone).
“If HI-EMA had just waited until next week (April 2) to test the siren, no one would have been confused,” Butts said.
Featured Story, Part Three of a Three-part Series
Butler's Web, Part One
Butler's Web, Part Two
By Christine Gralow
Kailua, HI - When current Hawai'i State Senator Mike Gabbard was 29, he sent a letter from American Samoa to a temple in Bombay. It was January 1977, and Gabbard was then Assistant Dean of Instruction at American Samoa Community College. He sought spiritual guidance from A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) - better known as the Hare Krishna movement.
In the letter, Gabbard described how he was first exposed to ISKCON in 1973, through a chance meeting with a man named Vijay, who stopped in Samoa while on a mission to spread Krishna Consciousness in Fiji. Gabbard wrote that Vijay stayed at the Gabbard family's home in Samoa for a week, introducing the family to ISKCON tenets. Soon after, Gabbard began regularly chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, selling Spiritual Sky incense, and distributing ISKCON's Back to Godhead magazine at Mike’s Sport Shop, his family business in Samoa. Gabbard also described for Prabhupada his travels to ISKCON temples in California, Colorado, Hawai'i, and New Zealand.
"The four years since my meeting with Vijay has been a roller-coaster ride," Gabbard wrote in the letter. "By roller-coaster ride: I mean that I can understand why Lord Caitanya and you stress association with devotees."
The genuine soul-searching Gabbard expressed in this letter marked an early stage of his family's journey into the dizzying world of Kris (aka Chris) Butler’s Science of Identity Foundation (SIF), a secretive sect headquartered here in Kailua, on O'ahu's Windward Coast.
As covered earlier in this series, the SIF network is a complex web of political grooming, shady international financial connections, and alleged cultism. Three long-time, high-ranking Butler followers who have served as SIF financiers – Allan Tibby, Joseph Bismark, and Patrick Bowler - have faced international criminal allegations of money laundering, syndicated estafa (racketeering), and drug smuggling, respectively. In 1977, Honolulu Advertiser investigative reporter Walter Wright uncovered Butler's underhanded involvement in a Hawai'i political party called Independents for Godly Government, which Butler's followers financially floated with mysterious funds.
The Move to Hawai'i and Early School Days
Prabhupada mailed a reply to Mike Gabbard from West Bengal, India, dated February 18, 1977.
"Your idea for starting a Krsna Conscious center in American Samoa is very good," Prabhupada wrote to Gabbard in a letter filed at the Bhaktivedanta Archives in Sandy Ridge, NC, "but first you must be well conversant with our philosophy."
Later that year, Prabhupada died in India at age 81. He had wildly succeeded in spreading his Krishna Consciousness movement in the West, even reaching pop culture through George Harrison and The Beatles. His movement had spread especially quickly here in Hawai'i, among the counterculture hippie crowd.
After Prabhupada's death, Butler declared himself one of Prabhupada's pure devotees and true disciples, despite having had a brief and rocky relationship with the Indian spiritual leader. (As detailed in part two of this series, Prabhupada actually denounced Butler several times and accused him of criminal activity.)
Butler, who has gone by many names, began going by Srila Prabhupada soon after the ISKCON founder's death.
In 1983, the Gabbard family moved from American Samoa to Hawai'i, where they became deeply involved with Butler and SIF. Within SIF, Mike Gabbard became known as Krishna Katha das (also spelled Krsna Katha das), and his wife, Carol, became known as Devahuti dasi. Their daughter, current U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawai'i) was just two when the family relocated to Hawai'i.
By this time, many of Butler's earliest and most devoted followers had young children. Butler strongly advised against sending the children to public schools or even allowing them to associate with non-SIF children. As a professional educator, Mike Gabbard was charged with running a private SIF school on O'ahu for children of Butler's disciples, the Ponomauloa School. Gabbard's deep spiritual devotion to Butler also soon led to his position as Butler's secretary of personal affairs. Carol Gabbard helped run her husband's Ponomauloa School, and she served as the secretary of a SIF branch in Arizona.
In 1984, when SIF's private schools were just starting up, Butler delivered a lecture on education to his disciples in Honolulu. A transcription of this lecture was widely circulated within SIF and leaked to Meanwhile in Hawai'i - along with dozens of other internal SIF documents - by a former Butler disciple who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. Three men who grew up within SIF say they recall repeatedly listening to a recording of this lecture as children at SIF schools. Another former Butler disciple confirmed her presence at the lecture and identified others named in the lecture transcription.
In the rambling lecture on education, Butler discussed his broken childhood dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player. He claimed his family was driven out of Louisiana and tracked by the CIA when he was a "baby," due to the family's communist and civil rights stances. (As covered in part two of this series, his father, the late Dr. Willis Butler, was, in fact, a far-left political activist with communist sympathies.) Butler also railed against public school teachers in the lecture and discussed his father's disappointment in him when he failed classes as an adolescent.
"The teachers aren’t interested in teaching," Butler said in the 1984 lecture. "They’re simply going for their paycheck, which of course you can know by the fact that they go on strike if they don’t get enough money, right? F**k the kids, we want our money, more money, we only make $22,000 a year. You know how hard it is to live with $22,000 a year when you’ve got three cars and four houses?"
Butler advised against allowing children to watch television, and he lectured against teaching evolution and history.
"Screw the history book," he said.
Butler also discussed his interest in politics, addressed "Krsna Katha das" (aka Mike Gabbard) directly during the lecture, and encouraged the children of his disciples to go into politics.
"What you’ve got to do is get one of these kids to run for office," Butler said. "Find out why you have to be a certain age to run for office … or a school board."
Dark Days - Inside the Baguio Boarding School
In the late '80s, in addition to Mike Gabbard's school on O'ahu, SIF began running a remote boarding school for the children of Butler's disciples in Baguio City, Philippines. The school was modeled loosely after traditional Indian gurukuls, where children studied directly with a guru away from home. Unlike traditional gurukuls, however, Butler – the guru – did not reside at the Baguio school or have any direct interaction with the children. In place of direct spiritual and educational guidance from their guru, the students listened to Butler's recorded lectures and bowed to pictures of Butler. Children of Butler's followers from the U.S., Australia, the Philippines, and New Zealand were sent to the school.
Butler was "never there," said Ian Koviak, who attended the Baguio boarding school for over four years, from ages 12 to 16.
"My mother joined SIF in late 1989 in New York City," Koviak explained in an email to Meanwhile in Hawai'i. "It was not long before we moved to LA, Malibu, where Butler was at the time, and not too much longer after that I went to the Philippines school."
Koviak, now 38, said he listened repeatedly to Butler's lectures while at the Baguio school, including the 1984 education lecture.
"Some lectures bashed scientists like Carl Sagan and other modern thinkers," Koviak wrote. "Then there were the private tapes that were only for his disciples and close followers. Those went into graphic detail about homosexuality and male on male intercourse."
Koviak said the students also watched a video produced by Mike Gabbard's Stop Promoting Homosexuality organization, which included footage of men having sex in public. Koviak said he began seriously reflecting on this school experience and reconnecting with old classmates in 2011, when he started a blog about the school.
"I started the blog because I was feeling odd about what we went through," Koviak wrote, "I wanted to see if this was the feeling others shared."
Koviak and four other former students of the SIF boarding school all say they were regularly hungry and sleep deprived while at the school. They also all say they spent at least four hours a day chanting, often in a dark room. They say Butler disciples Ramon "Toby" Tamayo and Allan Tibby (aka Acharya das) led the school. The former students emailed school pictures and old school newsletters to Meanwhile in Hawai'i. In one of the newsletters, Patrick Bowler – a long-time Butler disciple and SIF financier who was arrested in 1997 for running a major international hashish smuggling ring – is listed as a cash contributor to the school.
While the former students all say their school days involved some traditional classes taught by outside teachers - such as math and grammar – they say the main focus of the school was the SIF philosophy and worship of Butler. Per Butler’s 1984 lecture, they did not take history classes, learn about evolution, or watch television. The men all painted a strikingly dark picture of their experiences at the school, and they all say they have struggled psychologically as adults. Four of the men used the term “indoctrination” when describing the school experience.
Only Koviak and Rama Ranson - who has become a vocal anti-Butler critic online - wished to be publicly named. The three other men requested anonymity, because they wish to remain in contact with relatives who still worship Butler, and they fear retaliation. Meanwhile in Hawai'i confirmed these three men’s identities, their parents' status as Butler disciples, and their attendance at the SIF Baguio school.
Ranson, also now 38, said his parents sent him and his younger brother to the boarding school in 1993, when he was 14 and his brother was 12. Ranson said he felt "a deep impulse to get out of that school immediately."
After two weeks at the school, Ranson said, he exaggerated an illness to "escape," and he was eventually allowed to return home to his father. He said his younger brother, Sudama, stayed at the school, was raised by non-relative SIF members for the remainder of his childhood, and currently closely serves Butler in Kailua. Ranson now runs the website Rama Ranson vs. the Cult.
A third man, who attended the Baguio school for four years from ages 11 to 15, said, "We were taught to follow the teachings and words of Butler as if they were the holy divine word itself."
"At first it was kinda' cool to go to a new place," the man continued. "But soon I did not like it. We were always hungry. I almost committed suicide when I was there. I really wanted to go home but was told that my parents did not want me to go back home."
The students were taught that, "Fag**ts are taking over and doing disgusting things," the man said. He also told Meanwhile in Hawai'i that he reported sexual abuse at the school and was accused by school leaders of lying about it.
A fourth man, who attended the school for a year in the early '90s said, “We were taught Butler and [his wife] Wai Lana were the only true messengers of God, and serving them would be the ultimate mission in life."
"They strip you of your individual identity," the fourth man said, recalling his memories of the SIF boarding school. "They humiliate you, try to figure out your strengths and weaknesses. You weren’t allowed to talk to any outsiders. You were not allowed to contact your family."
"Everything we did there was in preparation for whatever they wanted us to do next."
A fifth man who attended the Baguio school in the early '90s said he suffered from depression and addiction as an adult after realizing that his guru, Butler, did not love him.
Three of the men also attended Mike and Carol Gabbard's SIF school on O'ahu, the Ponomauloa School. They said the O'ahu school was "more mellow" than the Baguio school. Children lived at home with their parents while attending the Gabbards' school, the men said, but they were still taught to worship Butler, and they were repeatedly exposed to sexually graphic, anti-homosexual material.
One former student said the Gabbards were at times good teachers, but all school lessons essentially tied back to Butler's philosophies.
"I know nothing of U.S. history or world history," one of the former students wrote in an email to Meanwhile in Hawai'i. "I am just now reading poems and books, like Catcher in the Rye, one would normally read in school."
The men all say they believe SIF's schools in the Philippines are now run more responsibly, but one man said there is still a "full on indoctrination school" in Bukidnon, Philippines, called Madana Mohana Academy.
The Madana Mohana Academy's website advertises its service to underprivileged children from preschool through 12th grade. The school claims to be "non-sectarian." The website includes a quote by Jagad Guru (aka Butler) and refers to him as "a renowned philosopher and educator." Children can be seen bowing in front of a large, framed picture of Butler in a video shared publicly on the Madana Mohana Academy’s Facebook page.
Mike Gabbard did not respond to inquiries from Meanwhile in Hawai'i. Neither did the Science of Identity Foundation.
Tulsi Then and Now
The five men who attended the boys' boarding school in Baguio City all say there was also a SIF girls' boarding school in the Philippines at the time. They all believe Rep. Tulsi Gabbard attended the SIF girls' school as a teenager in the '90s. Two of the men say they also grew up around Rep. Gabbard on O'ahu. Male and female students were strictly separated at the Philippines boarding schools, per Butler's instructions, the men say.
Rep. Gabbard has been strikingly evasive with journalists and constituents regarding her continued close discipleship with Butler and her teenage years in the Philippines. Though it seems she has removed mention of the experience from her official biography, several articles referencing her "two years spent at an all-girls missionary academy in the Philippines" can still be found online.
A Nov. 2017 article on Rep. Gabbard in The New Yorker also mentions that, "as a girl, she spent two years in the Philippines, at informal schools run by followers of Butler." (It is also clear from the The New Yorker article that Rep. Gabbard was less than forthcoming with the reporter regarding her relationship with Butler and SIF.)
Other than these two mysterious years in the Philippines, Rep. Gabbard was home-schooled as a child by her parents. Her ex-husband, Eduardo Tamayo, is the nephew of Ramon "Toby" Tamayo, who ran the Baguio City boys' school. Her current husband, Abraham Williams, is also a second generation Butler disciple. So are at least three of her current, key Congressional staffers, including Chief of Staff Kainoa Penaroza, whose father, William Penaroza, chaired a Butler-connected political party in the '70s called Independents for Godly Government. At least two of Rep. Gabbard's current Congressional staffers are first generation Butler disciples, including her mother-in-law, who manages her Honolulu office.
Rep. Gabbard did not reply to multiple inquiries from Meanwhile in Hawai'i.
Mike, Carol, and Tulsi Gabbard all began their political careers at roughly the same time, in the early 2000s, ostensibly following Butler’s advice to go into politics – "or a school board." They all demonstrated strong anti-gay and pro-environmental agendas at the time, reflecting Butler and SIF's views.
Carol Gabbard won a seat on the Hawai'i State Board of Education in 2000. Her agenda as a school board member included supporting private schools and opposing efforts to protect gay students from harassment in public schools. Tulsi Gabbard supported her mother's apparent effort to whitewash the school harassment problem, telling The Honolulu Advertiser in 2004 that figures released by her mother proved, "our schools are not rampant with anti-gay harassment."
Mike and Tulsi Gabbard both won local elections in 2002 – Mike as a Honolulu City Councilmember and Tulsi as a member of the Hawai'i House of Representatives. At 21, Tulsi Gabbard was the youngest legislator in Hawai'i's history.
In 2004, Mike Gabbard ran as a Republican and lost the race for the Congressional seat his daughter now holds. He campaigned heavily against same-sex marriage, and his daughter vocally supported his efforts at the time. He won a seat in the Hawai'i State Senate in 2006. In 2007, he switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party, causing significant controversy within the Hawai'i Democratic Party.
Tulsi Gabbard joined the Hawai'i Army National Guard in 2003 and served two tours of duty in the Middle East. She ran successfully for her current Congressional seat as a Democrat in 2012, and she won re-election in 2016. She began publicly stating that she supported same-sex marriage equality during her 2012 Congressional race. Her voting record on the issue has since been consistent with that stance.
Rep. Gabbard raised eyebrows within Hawai'i's LGBTQ Caucus, however, when, in 2015, she reportedly told an Ozy journalist that although she officially supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, her "personal views haven't changed" regarding homosexuality.
And just last month, The New Yorker reported, when asked about Butler, Rep. Gabbard said, "I've never heard him say anything hateful, or say anything mean about anybody."
To former Butler disciples like Koviak and Ranson - who say they grew up repeatedly hearing profane, hateful comments from Butler - that statement is hard to stomach.
"It's silly to even conceive that she never heard her own guru's rants and raves about 'fag**ts and homos,'" Koviak wrote.
On the campaign finance front, Federal Election Commission data show Rep. Gabbard's 2012 Congressional campaign received significant backing from individuals within Butler's SIF network – many of whom also donated to her father's 2004 and 2006 Republican campaigns.
Rep. Gabbard's more recent campaign finances suggest a move away from financial dependence on the SIF network and toward a network of individuals tied to India’s far right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Rep. Gabbard spoke and fundraised at Overseas Friends of BJP events in Los Angeles and Atlanta in 2014.
Rep. Gabbard gained national popularity within progressive Democratic circles – including calls for a 2020 Presidential run – after she resigned from the Democratic National Committee in early 2016 to support Bernie Sanders' Presidential bid. She has also, however, faced recent criticisms for her perceived Islamophobia and support of foreign dictators, a perception fueled by her international activities and social media posts.
In the past four years, Rep. Gabbard has been criticized for opposing U.S. efforts to hold Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accountable for alleged human rights abuses against Muslims in India; tweeting in support of Vladimir Putin's military campaign in Syria while criticizing Obama for not taking military action in Syria; insisting that Obama use the phrase "Islamic extemism"; traveling with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi; and - perhaps most infamously - traveling to Syria with Syrian Social Nationalist Party escorts to meet with Bashar al-Assad.
Curiously, this reporter also learned last month that D.C. publicist Chris Cooper of The Potomac Square Group was hired to write a letter on Rep. Gabbard’s behalf in July 2017 to a mainstream news editor here in Hawai'i. The apparent intent of the letter was to discredit this reporter and prevent this series from being published in Hawai'i's mainstream news media.
Incidentally, in 2016, the same Chris Cooper was hired by Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya’s Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGIF) to promote a Russian docudrama aimed at reversing U.S. sanctions against Putin and his financial associates. Veselnitskaya and HRAGIF also happen to be at the heart of the U.S. Justice Department’s current Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.
While this may simply be a coincidence without nefarious connections, it seems an odd professional choice - considering recent questions about Rep. Gabbard's loyalties - to hire a publicist with such ties. Neither Rep. Gabbard nor Cooper responded to questions about the letter.
Note: Sen. Mike Gabbard did not respond to two emails from Meanwhile in Hawai'i regarding his January 1977 letter to Prabhupada. Meanwhile in Hawai'i confirmed the factual contents of the letter. Two sources with deep inside connections to SIF and Sen. Gabbard also confirmed the authenticity of the letter. The letter was leaked to Meanwhile in Hawai'i by a former Butler disciple. As mentioned above, Prabhupada’s letter of response to Sen. Gabbard is on file at the Bhaktidevdanta Archives in Sandy Ridge, NC.
Featured Story, Part Two of a Three-part Series
See: Butler's Web, Part One
by Christine Gralow
KAILUA, HI - To his disciples, Kris Butler is a bona-fide Bhakti yoga guru who has helped them live healthy, God-centered lives free of drugs, meat, and sexual deviance. To his detractors and former disciples, he is a deeply homophobic cult figure who has misappropriated ancient Bhakti tenets to achieve financial and political power.
In the Bhakti yoga tradition, which stems from India's Southern Tamil Nadu region, yogis practice loving devotion to a personal God. The practice reached Hawai'i in the late 1960s with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), to which Butler briefly formally belonged in his 20s.
As detailed in Part One of this series, Butler's disciples have included at least five elected officials in Hawai'i, and his Science of Identity Foundation (SIF) maintains legally questionable international financial ties. Butler's most politically successful disciple, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, grew up deeply within SIF's fold and remains actively involved. Her father, Hawai'i State Sen. Mike Gabbard, ran a SIF school and served as Butler's personal secretary in the 1980s. At least five of Rep. Gabbard's current, key Congressional staffers are also Butler disciples.
While Butler and SIF have remained largely unresponsive to local press inquiries amid Rep. Gabbard's national political rise, former Butler disciples have grown increasingly vocal about negative experiences, and mainland reporters have begun to ask questions.
Gabbard's political supporters – including those hoping she'll make a 2020 U.S. Presidential run – argue that her relationship with Butler will prove no more politically significant than Barack Obama's relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, proved. Reporter Kelefa Sanneh, who has explored both relationships in articles for The New Yorker, wrote in his Nov. 2017 profile piece on Gabbard, "But Wright represented only a small slice of Obama's life, whereas Gabbard's life would be unrecognizable without Butler's influence."
Rick Alan Ross, who runs the New Jersey-based Cult Education Institute (CEI), says he rarely receives complaints about leaders of Hindu-based organizations, but he has received many complaints about Butler. CEI's discussion thread on Butler and SIF contains significantly more posts than other threads, and the discussion has been ongoing for 14 years.
While some posts on the CEI discussion board contain inaccurate information, others include verifiable documents detailing the history of Butler's activities. Former SIF members have joined the CEI discussion forum to express concerns about Butler's political involvement, his treatment of disciples, and his hatred of homosexuals. Current SIF members have joined the discussion to claim religious bigotry and defend Butler as a benevolent spiritual leader. Locals here in Kailua - where SIF is headquartered - have chimed in with evidence of Butler's apparent eccentricities, such as the aluminum foiled walls in his home and his requirement that disciples wear respirator masks in his presence.
"I think it would be easier if he wore the mask," suggested one CEI discussion forum user.
CEI's Ross began researching fringe religious groups in the 1980s, after he learned his grandmother had been targeted for recruitment by Jews for Jesus missionaries at a nursing home. Ross has since served as an expert witness in court cases involving accusations of cult indoctrination, and he controversially consulted with the FBI on the siege of the Branch Davidian Waco complex. Ross said he differentiates between benign and destructive cults, and he has concerns about SIF, which he called, "the fringe of the fringe."
"Objectively speaking, Butler has become a very powerful man in a fashion not unlike [the Unification Church's] Sun Myung Moon," Ross said in an interview with Meanwhile in Hawai'i. "Subjectively, some people consider him a psychopath."
Childhood and Sibling Rivalry
The son of a plantation doctor, Butler was born in Louisiana in 1948 and spent most of his childhood on Moloka'i and O'ahu islands. Though born Kris Butler (no middle name), he has often spelled his first name Chris. His father, the late Dr. Willis Butler, was well-known locally for his far-left political activism and his staunch opposition to U.S. involvement in foreign regime change wars, which he considered counterproductive. Dr. Butler was particularly concerned about U.S. funding of groups in Central America that he viewed as terrorists.
Childhood classmates and his older brother Kurt say Kris was an average student, a solid surfer, and a star Little League shortstop. He may have taken his first guru name (Sai Young) from professional baseball pitcher Cy Young. He told the Honolulu Advertiser in a 1977 interview that he got into a lot of trouble as a teenager and was expelled from Kailua High School. He attended Kalani High School for his junior and senior years, graduating in 1966.
Maui resident Kurt Butler says his younger brother Kris was "a playboy type" in high school, "very popular with the girls."
"Popular with the wahines," agreed an old Kalani High School classmate and current O'ahu resident, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. "I remember when Kris showed up, I lost my best buddy. She was just fascinated by him. She pretty much disappeared. Everything was suddenly all about Kris. He had these piercing eyes and this intense way of looking at you."
After high school, Kris Butler began classes at U.H. Manoa. He became deeply involved in the late-'60s psychedelic counterculture scene in Honolulu, heavily exploring hallucinogenic drugs (as documented in his 1970 booklet, Sai Speaks). He also explored yoga and meditation for a few years before he dropped out of college, started going by Sai Young, and declared himself a guru in his early 20s.
Kurt and Kris Butler have long been estranged, and Kurt says they are "philosophical polar opposites." Kurt said in an interview with Meanwhile in Hawai'i that he believes Kris rebelled against their non-religious, communist-minded father by embracing religious fundamentalism and right-wing politics. Kurt said he disagrees with his brother's portrayal of himself as a guru, and he expressed concern for his brother's followers.
"He is indoctrinating his followers into a life of know-nothingism and ignorance, while giving them the delusion that they know everything that really matters," Kurt Butler said of his brother.
Kurt also said his "biggest beef" with Kris - back when they still communicated - was Kris’s staunch anti-science stance.
"He used to believe there is abundant life on the moon, because the scriptures say so," said Kurt. "Ergo, the U.S. moon landings must be a hoax. I don't know whether he still believes such nonsense."
Despite calling his organization "Science of Identity," Kris Butler has, in fact, delivered dozens of decidedly anti-science lectures. In one recorded lecture, he mocked Carl Sagan and science experiments. In another, he stated, "There is no evidence that life has ever been created from matter."
Though the lectures are from the 1980s and '90s, SIF still actively promotes them online.
Early Guru Days
In 1970, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's movement to spread Western love for the Hindu deity Krishna was four years old and spreading quickly in Hawai'i; men in orange robes with shaved heads and tiny pony tails chanted "Hare Krishna, Hare Rama" on the streets of Waikiki; George Harrison released his ISKCON-inspired hit single, "My Sweet Lord"; Kris Butler was a self-proclaimed guru at 22; and Janice Wolf was a 23-year-old religion writer for The Honolulu Advertiser.
As Butler's following approached about 50 young adults living communally on Maui and O'ahu, he crossed Wolf's radar. She found Butler and his early devotees living in a Quonset hut in Sunset Beach, on O'ahu's North Shore. In her July 1970 article, Wolf called Butler the group's "dictator."
The headline read, "Absolute power over devotees … One man rules Haiku Krishnaites."
Wolf, who later became an attorney and the administrator of Hawai'i's courts, interviewed two of Butler's young, female followers. She reported that they told her they did whatever Butler instructed them to do, they did not ask why, and they said they would kill anyone who attacked Butler. Wolf also reported that Butler had arranged the marriage of an 18-year-old (coincidentally named Tulsi) to a man who did business for Butler on the mainland.
In response to Wolf's article, several Butler followers wrote letters to the Advertiser defending Butler and criticizing Wolf as close-minded and uptight.
In an interview with Meanwhile in Hawai'i, Wolf, now a children’s rights attorney in Nevada, asked, "So is Kris Butler still around?"
When told Butler now claims thousands of disciples, including a Hawai'i State Senator and a U.S. Congresswoman, Wolf replied, "You're kidding me. I totally didn't see that coming."
Wolf said she recalls having "no preconceived notions" about Butler’s group when an Advertiser editor assigned her to write about them in 1970. She said she "didn’t expect to express negativity," but when writing the article, she "kept coming back to cult."
"He was very good looking and knew it," Wolf said of Butler. "Very charismatic, a chick magnet. All these young people just worshiped him. He was the center rather than the religion. I remember walking away thinking, 'There’s something icky about this.'"
"I didn’t see Butler as a spiritual person." Wolf added. "I saw him as living the good life with all this power and control. I never expected to hear he had thousands of followers. I guess I really underestimated that one, but I didn’t see how they could support themselves."
Two months after the Advertiser published Wolf's article, a reader who identified as "Mrs. Joseph Ryan" expressed further concern about Butler in a letter to the editor. Mrs. Ryan critically compared two talks she reported having attended – one by ISKCON founder Prabhupada, the other by Butler. Mrs. Ryan wrote that she enjoyed Prabhupada's talk and found him to be wise and well-versed in Sanskrit passages from the Bhagavad Gita. She wrote that a week later, she attended a Butler talk, where she reported encountering a group of teenagers - some she thought to be as young as 15. She described her attempt to discuss the Bhagavad Gita with Butler.
"Apparently, he hadn’t read it," Mrs. Ryan wrote.
And, just two months after that, in November 1970, Prabhupada wrote a letter from Bombay to one of his disciples in Honolulu, named "Govinda dasi." Prabhupada discussed his fondness for Hawai'i, and he instructed Govinda dasi to widely circulate a letter about Butler.
"I authorize you to print them profusely and distribute to the public so that the misunderstanding created by [Butler] may be dissipated," wrote Prabhupada in the letter historically preserved at the Bhaktivedanta Archives in Sandy Ridge, NC.
It was a denouncement. The next month, Wolf reported that Butler's group was disbanding and joining ISKCON.
"The Swami recently wrote a public letter denouncing [Butler's group] and disclaiming any affiliation with them," Wolf reported in December 1970. Wolf also wrote that the event "marked the end of a growing rivalry between two Hare Krishna groups here."
Butler promptly renounced all of his disciples, gave a reported $28,800 to Prabhupada, and flew to California to join ISKCON’s San Francisco temple. Wolf reported that at least 35 of Butler's early followers also joined ISKCON at the time, and they were sent to various cities around the world as ISKCON missionaries.
Soon after Butler joined ISKCON, Prabhupada encouraged him to recruit lost hippies.
"In your country there are so many confused young men and girls known as the hippies," Prabhupada wrote to Butler in 1971, "and if you work very steadfastly I am sure a tremendous advancement can be done in our missionary activities."
By 1972, Prabhupada and Butler's relationship was already on the rocks again, with Prabhupada accusing Butler of being "detrimental" to the "disciplic succession."
The Butler/ISKCON rivalry was apparently not yet over.
Other letters on file at the Bhaktivedanta Archives detail how Butler traveled to New Zealand and Australia during his time with ISKCON. In New Zealand, Butler began what would become a long-time business/spiritual partnership with David Muncie, aka Tusta Krishna das. Around this time, another New Zealander, Patrick Bowler, also began a close relationship with both Muncie and Butler. Bowler, aka Paramahamsa das, would later become SIF's primary financial supporter in the '80 and '90s. (Bowler would also, incidentally, get arrested in 1997 for running a major, decades-long international hashish smuggling ring.)
In 1973, Prabhupada wrote that Butler and an associate had stolen and sold ISKCON's Hawai'i temple and "went away with all the money without taking any permission from me." Prabhupada seemed equally upset by Butler's abandonment of "the beautiful Tulasi plants" at the temple.
This was "a great fall down on their parts," Prabhupada wrote of Butler and his associate in 1973. "It is actually a criminal act … anyone who follows them will also fall down without a doubt."
Later letters suggest Butler and his associates appeased Prabhupada financially.
"Whenever they see me they give me money," Prabhupada wrote in 1975. "So they are not against me. It is a natural thing for the brothers to fight."
On their side, Butler and his associates claimed threats were made against them from within ISKCON's leadership. Prabhupada dismissed the claims. The archived letters do, however, refer to ISKCON "strong men."
Independence and Political Organizing
By the mid-'70s, Butler was back to running his own guru show in Hawai'i. He and his followers began cultivating land on Kaua'i and the Big Island, creating impressive fruit and vegetable farms. Despite Prabhupada's multiple denouncements, Butler continued to expand and tighten his following in Hawai'i. To some, the ISKCON controversy only boosted Butler's reputation as a maverick guru, free of bureaucracy and stifling traditions. Others recall the mid-'70s rift between Butler and ISKCON becoming overly dramatic in Hawai'i, with each side harassing the other and taking paranoid measures to protect themselves.
Not long after Prabhupada's death in 1977, Butler’s followers began calling him Prabhupada.
Also in 1977, Honolulu Advertiser investigative reporter Walter Wright was on Butler's trail. Through the course of his investigation, Wright began to see clearly what had eluded his Advertiser colleague Janice Wolf in 1970 - that Butler's group had staying power. While Wolf had certainly seen the intense hold that Butler had on his followers – a hold so strong they were willing to do anything for him - she never imagined they would organize and enter politics.
In a hard-hitting, three-part investigative series, Wright exposed Butler's close ties to a new political party called Independents for Godly Government (IGG). Wright uncovered how IGG candidates William Penaroza and Kathy Hoshijo were Butler disciples, as were the other IGG candidates. Although none of the IGG candidates won election that year, Wright was struck by the group's political ambitions.
"It is just the beginning," Wright reported of the Butler group's political movement in 1977.
Wright also wrote that the IGG party's significant connection to Butler had gone unreported during the 1976 election, because, "The news media didn’t dig hard enough, and several candidates skillfully ducked and dodged the questions."
Regarding the IGG candidates' 1976 campaign finances, Wright reported that an unusually high percentage of the strikingly few people who had funded the campaigns were connected to a budding health food business called Down to Earth (the same store now owned by QI Group, covered in Part One.) Wright's campaign finance analysis also found that the legality of Hoshijo's campaign contributions fell in the "mathematically impossible" range.
"The Advertiser was no more successful this year than last in determining precisely where the major contributors to Hoshijo and IGG got their money," Wright reported.
Wright, now retired, recently discussed his 1977 reporting in an interview with Meanwhile in Hawai'i. He went straight to the mysterious finances.
"What struck me was the small, very tight, intricate network of business and politics," Wright said. "Almost all the money was coming from about 20 people."
Wright also recalled how, as a reporter, the Butler/IGG story felt, "so big and had so many tendrils," and he commented on the "worrisome cult aspect."
"And just soaring right out of that stuff now is Tulsi," Wright added.
When given copies of his investigative articles from 40 years ago, Wright read them and replied, "Damn I was good."
And he was.
Butler's Web, Part 3: Grooming the Second Generation
Note: Neither Rep. Gabbard nor Butler responded to requests for interviews. Last week, Meanwhile in Hawai'i reviewed a letter purportedly written by a Washington, D.C., publicist hired by Rep. Gabbard. The letter is signed by Chris Cooper of The Potomac Square Group. It states that if Cooper has "anything to say about it, Tulsi will not cooperate with Ms. Gralow."
Cooper also claimed in the letter that Gralow "is not a reporter." The rather mysterious letter contained an odd number of grammatical and factual errors, yet Cooper emphasized his eleven years of experience with the Wall Street Journal. Gralow has taken the position that if Rep. Gabbard actually paid for this letter, she deserves a refund. Cooper was apparently trying to convince an editor at another news organization not to publish Gralow's work. Meanwhile in Hawai'i attempted to contact Cooper twice and received no response.
Meanwhile in Hawai'i continues to welcome all perspectives and has a policy of swiftly correcting and apologizing for any errors. Meanwhile in Hawai'i encourages readers to report typos or factual errors when found.
Mahalo for reading.
Featured Story, Part One of a Three-part Series
by Christine Gralow
KAILUA, HI - Toward the end of Hawai'i's plantation economy and the beginning of the psychedelic counterculture movement of the 1960s and '70s, a charismatic, young yogi named Kris Butler developed a small following of surfers, drifters, and chanters.
Heavily influenced by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the group lived for a while in its early days under Lunalilo Freeway, near U.H. Manoa. In September 1970, Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter Nadine Wharton found 20 of Butler's young followers living together in an oversized tent, freely chanting the Hare Krishna mantra "at the top of their lungs" and beating bongos beneath the traffic. At the time, Butler went by Sai Young and was "very familiar with mind expanding chemicals," as stated in the biographical section of his self-published, 1970 booklet, Sai Speaks: Pleasure is the Goal.
By the mid-'70s, after formally joining then bitterly breaking with ISKCON amid allegations of a stolen temple, the once free-spirited group grew increasingly organized and protective of its leader. Butler claimed ISKCON's "big men" were plotting to kill him. ISKCON founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada dismissed the claim as "childish."
On Kaua'i and Maui, Butler's loyal devotees – now at least a few dozen - began organizing a vast political and financial network, centered on Butler as their spiritual master and earthly conduit to the Hindu deity Krishna. Initially amateurish, the group's political arm - formally started as Independents for Godly Government (IGG) in 1976 – became a major force in Hawai'i's politics, reaching the U.S. Congress in 2012 with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawai'i).
A key part of the Butler group's financial arm, rooted in Hawai'i's Down to Earth vegetarian grocery chain and the QNET international pyramid scheme, is currently being scrutinized by the Supreme Court of India. QNET executives, including two men who currently serve as the Butler group's primary financiers, have been arrested or are wanted by police in at least half a dozen countries for alleged organized financial crimes.
Historical documentarian and Kaua'i resident John Wehrheim recalls the Butler group running "a beautiful farm operation" in the '70s on the North Shore Kaua'i land that is now owned by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. Wehrheim said the success of the farm was due partly to the free labor of Butler's devotees. He got to know Butler and his group while documenting the lifestyle at Taylor Camp - another Kaua'i North Shore hippie group - for the Kaua'i Historical Society.
Wehrheim said he and the Taylor Campers regularly attended events at Butler's farm for the free vegetarian food, or prasadam (food offered to Krishna). He recalls that Butler was "extremely charming, but he also had a massive ego."
Wehrheim, who is married to former Kaua'i Mayor and current Kaua'i Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura, said he also observed Butler's early interest in politics. He said Butler unsuccessfully attempted to recruit Yukimura. (Yukimura declined to comment.)
Butler's "MO was to recruit influential locals who could run for office," Wehrheim said.
Though the IGG party that Butler's followers founded in the mid-'70s did not formally last, the group's heavy involvement in Hawai'i's politics did. Elected officials who have been Butler devotees include former Hawai'i State Sen. Rick Reed, former Maui County Councilman Wayne Nishiki, current Hawai'i State Sen. Mike Gabbard, former Hawai'i State Board of Education member Carol Gabbard, and current U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
Rep. Gabbard celebrated Butler (now Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupanda Paramahamsa) as her "guru dev" in a video presentation for a 2015 ISKCON anniversary event. She has been recognized as the first Hindu U.S. Congressmember, and she co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. She identifies as a Vaishnava Hindu, Karma yogi, and Bhakti yogi. She is the daughter of early Butler followers Sen. Mike and Carol Gabbard.
Leaked '80s Letters
More than 60 pages of internal letters leaked by former members of Butler's Science of Identity Foundation (SIF) chronicle a period in the 1980s when SIF faced organizational conflict and a negative cash flow. In one letter, a SIF disciple who served as Butler's personal secretary urged Butler's “disciples around the world” to “take whatever steps necessary to ensure that we do not run out of cash --- it is imperative.”
Other letters document Butler's abusiveness toward disciples and his view that SIF money belonged to him personally. An internal memo describes how Butler became angry and cursed at a disciple because the disciple used SIF money to buy a lei for Butler. The disciple wrote in a September 1987 letter that Butler was "extremely displeased" by the lei incident "and gave the following message to me and the other people involved: [CAPITALIZED EXPLETIVE] YOU!" (The disciple typed the actual expletive.)
A December 1987 letter details how SIF money was used to charter a private jet for Butler from Hawai'i to the U.S. mainland. The letter describes how Butler complained that there was not enough room for him in the private jet cabin, so he threw the air filters that had been custom installed for him off the jet, then griped about the poor air quality on the jet. May 1988 letters describe how Butler accused disciples of poisoning him through light bulb fumes and blamed "90 percent" of his personal health problems on the behavior of his disciples.
Former Butler followers leaked the letters and asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. The subject of one message from an ex-Butler follower, who wanted to share information with journalists but expressed fear, was, "The Retaliation is Real." News tips from this person consistently factually checked out. Details in the internal letters, including phone numbers and mailing addresses, are factually verifiable. Details in the letters also correspond with the independent accounts of four men who grew up deeply within SIF and have since taken steps to leave the group.
Ex-Followers and SIF Schools
Two of the men who grew up within SIF - Ian Koviak and Rama Ranson - have been publicly critical of Butler and SIF online. Meanwhile in Hawai'i confirmed the identities of the other two men and their previous deep involvement in SIF through communication with the men over periods of six and nine months respectively. They asked not to be named for fear of being cut off from relatives who still follow Butler.
Three of the men attended a SIF boarding school in the Philippines, and two attended Sen. Gabbard's Ponomauloa School in the late '80s in Wahiawa, O'ahu. (One man attended both schools.) They all said they were taught at the schools to worship Butler and his wife Wai Lana as messengers of God. They also all said they were repeatedly exposed as children to Butler’s sexually graphic, deeply homophobic lectures.
In an interview with Meanwhile in Hawai'i, the man who attended both schools discussed Butler's "secret," tape-recorded lectures. He said these lectures were repeatedly played for children at the SIF schools. The lectures were "full of vitriol and hate," he said. "So much hate towards gays, and basically anyone else who doesn't follow the path."
"These tapes don't make it out to public for obvious reasons," he added.
The men all stated that they did not celebrate Diwali or identify as Hindu while growing up within SIF. Rather, they said, they practiced Butler’s unique interpretation of ISKCON tenets, combined with some Christian traditions.
"We did not identify at all as Hindus growing up in Butler's group," wrote Koviak, who attended the SIF boarding school in the Philippines for four and a half years. "That's a new thing that really fits in with the Tulsi agenda."
"We sang Christmas carols like you wouldn't believe," said another man, who attended Sen. Gabbard's Ponomauloa School. "So many Christmas carols."
The men are all of the same generation as Rep. Gabbard, and - like Rep. Gabbard - grew up with parents who followed Butler. One man provided class pictures of himself and other children wearing SIF uniforms at both the Philippines and Hawai'i schools. In the Hawai'i school photo, Carol Gabbard stands behind the female students on one side, and Sen. Gabbard stands behind the male students on the other side. Sen. Gabbard's official website still lists "Ponomauloa School, Wahiawa— Headmaster/teacher (7/83 to 6/87)" as professional experience.
All four men say they clearly recall growing up around Sen. Gabbard, aka "Krishna Katha das" (sometimes spelled Krsna Katha das), in the '80s. None recalls anyone other than Sen. Gabbard going by Krishna Katha das within SIF.
The leaked internal SIF letters from the '80s repeatedly refer to Krishna Katha das/Krsna Katha Das as Butler's "Secretary for Personal Affairs." A July 1987 letter states, "Krsna Katha das is no longer Secretary for [Butler's] Personal Affairs due to the stupid or extremely unresponsible [sic] things that he has done."
In addition to Sen. Gabbard, those heavily named in the internal letters as Butler's close personal assistants include Down to Earth CEO Mark Fergusson (aka Mahabhagavat das) and Sunil Khemaney (aka Syamasundara das.) The letter regarding the call for Butler's disciples to do whatever necessary to ensure SIF did not "run out of cash" was signed by "Syamasundara das" (Khemaney).
Khemaney now works for Rep. Gabbard, assisting her with fundraising and political relations with the Hindu American community on the U.S. mainland. He facilitated her talk at an August 2014 event in Atlanta hosted by Overseas Friends of BJP, a group that supports India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Khemaney also traveled with Rep. Gabbard to India, where she met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in December 2014.
At the Overseas Friends of BJP event, Rep. Gabbard described Khemaney as her "team member," and said, "He’s been like an uncle to me since I was a child. And he didn’t have any involvement in politics until I ran for Congress, and now he cannot escape. He's in this."
One of the men who grew up deeply within SIF and requested protection of his identity described Khemaney as, "Butler's ninja. His right-hand man." The man said he clearly recalls Khemaney from the '80s and early '90s.
"He was always running around with a big phone, and we all knew he was talking to Butler," the man said of Khemaney. "He didn't chant at the [SIF] events like the rest of us. He had a different status."
Khemaney can be seen sitting to Butler's immediate left in an old episode of Butler's 1980s TV show, Jagad Guru Speaks. Sen. and Carol Gabbard also appear in the episode, titled, "Sex I Can't Get No Satisfaction," which was dubbed in Polish and recently shared on YouTube by SIF's European affiliate. (Note: The episode was deleted from YouTube shortly after publication of this article. An account of SIF's activities in Poland from a mother whose son joined SIF can still be read here.)
Trouble in India
Another Butler follower repeatedly named in the leaked letters is New Zealander Allan Tibby (aka Acharya das). One letter describes how Tibby, Sen. Gabbard, Khemaney, and Down to Earth's Fergusson were all part of a committee in the late '80s that aimed to organize SIF to better serve Butler.
As Butler has become increasingly eccentric and reclusive, Tibby - a jet-setting international businessman with continued close ties to the Gabbard family - has served as SIF's public spiritual teacher, marriage officiant, YouTube face, and international tour speaker. Tibby has led Kirtan (devotional chanting) sessions at Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu and the Bhakti Yoga Shack on Kaua'i. Former SIF members Koviak and Ranson both say Tibby was also an administrator of the SIF boarding school they attended in the Philippines.
Tibby has been wanted by police in India on money laundering charges since 2009. He is prominently named as "absconding" in a police document filed by the Chennai City Prosecutor's office. Chennai police charged Tibby with financial fraud under India's Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes Banning Act.
Chennai-based attorney Mahesh Kanna, who has spearheaded legal action against white collar crime in India, says Tibby's legal status in Chennai remains "absconding accused." Tibby did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations.
Chennai police accused Tibby of conspiring with QI Group (aka QNET) Chairman Vijay Eswaran, in a case allegedly involving over US$170 million earned through an illegal pyramid scheme operated in India's southern Tamil Nadu state. QI Group has repeatedly changed names after facing legal trouble. The company has operated as QNET, GoldQuest, QuestNet, Vihaan Direct Selling, V Dimension, etc. Tibby and Eswaran are accused of attempting to launder and diversify the pyramid scheme money through resort and construction front companies. Police froze Tibby's Indian bank accounts.
QI Group owns the Down to Earth vegetarian grocery chain in Hawai'i and Down to Earth's parent company, Healthy's, Inc. SIF, which is officially registered in the U.S. as a 501(c)(3) religious charity, is also heavily financially tied to Healthy's, Inc. Although publicly available SIF tax information is limited, a 2012 return shows SIF earned 96% of its profit from a sale of Healthy's, Inc. stock. In 2004, SIF reported receiving a donation of Healthy’s, Inc. shares worth US$929,256.
Tibby and Eswaran's close business partner, QI Group Managing Director Joseph Bismark, is a long-time Butler devotee who owns two homes in Kailua, O'ahu. Those homes are used by Butler and his disciples for residential and business purposes. Bismark listed "The Science of Identity University" as his education on his Google Plus page. He said in a 2012 interview that he came from a "broken family," ran away from home at age nine, and ended up at a "seminary type of school" in the Philippines, where he was a vegetarian "monk" until age 17. Bismark was also identified as "a student of Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa" on a SIF flyer for a July 2017 meditation event.
Bismark and Eswaran were charged in the Philippines with syndicated estafa (racketeering) in a 2007 case allegedly involving US$90 million. They narrowly legally escaped extradition from Indonesia to the Philippines on an INTERPOL warrant. The maximum penalty for syndicated estafa in the Philippines is death.
QI Group has also faced legal trouble in at least ten other countries, including Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. The Pyramidal Mirage, a documentary aired in 2010 on Iran’s PressTV, covered QI Group's (then GoldQuest's) devastating economic impact in Iran. The documentary alleges that the GoldQuest scam was "one of the largest economic corruption cases in Iran's history," costing the country "eight billion dollars." PressTV also reported in December 2009 that "at least 120 GoldQuest agents" were arrested at an Iranian airport after arriving there from Bangkok.
The Times of India covered arrests earlier this year of QI Group representatives in Mumbai, Delhi, and Pune. In a 10-page summary of its 2012 investigation of QI Group, India's Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) called the company's activities "purely cheating apart from being outrightly illegal."
The SFIO investigators reported that pyramid schemes in India have caused "social, financial, psychological, and economic sufferings" to "millions of people." SFIO also warned India's leaders that pyramid schemes are a "potential threat to National Security."
The Chennai police document naming Tibby reported over 32,000 financial fraud victims in India's Tamil Nadu state alone. The Tamil Nadu region is the historic center of the Bhakti yoga movement, which Tibby and SIF purportedly promote. The Chennai police document also reported QI Group's recruitment of "young rural boys and girls."
In Indonesia, a July 2017 story from Bisnis.com reported police evacuation of a shelter that housed dozens of rural teenagers, who were recruited to work as QI Group representatives.
QI Group whistleblower Gurupreet Singh Anand, a computer consultant from Mumbai, said he began dedicating his life to legally fighting the company after his wife fell victim to the fraud.
"They are laundering money out of poor third world countries and breaking up families, destroying lives of common people," Anand wrote in an email to Meanwhile in Hawai'i.
Anand told Moneylife India that his wife was lured into the pyramid scheme when a QI Group representative claimed a product could cure their son's brain disorder. Anand has since testified in several legal cases against QI Group in India, including an ongoing case in India's Supreme Court. Moneylife India has extensively covered QI Group's activities in the country and has publicized events to assist fraud victims.
Meanwhile in Hawai'i reviewed the financial statements of Tibby's organization, The Pukaki Trust, which is registered as a charity in New Zealand. In 2009, the company reported total assets of just US$671. Total reported assets climbed to over US$650,000 in 2010 and stayed relatively stable until 2014, when The Pukaki Trust reported total assets of nearly US$5 million. It is unclear from the reports how exactly the company gained the funds.
The Pukaki Trust appears to have changed its accounting method in 2016. Total assets were not reported in a method consistent with previous years' reports and were difficult to decipher. It is clear, though, from the Trust's 2016 performance report - obtained from New Zealand’s Charity Services division - that money was moved between The Pukaki Trust and Tibby's five other businesses registered in New Zealand. Money was also exchanged between The Pukaki Trust and Bismark, as well as between The Pukaki Trust and the Australian School of Meditation and Yoga (ASMY), which is SIF's Australian non-profit organization.
ASMY, run by long-time Butler disciples, reported total assets of over US$21 million in 2016. A review of ASMY's annual financial reports from 2014 through 2016 found that it is unclear how this money was obtained. QI Group's Bismark also ran a SIF affiliate in Singapore, the Singapore School of Meditation and Yoga, with a model nearly identical to ASMY's.
Tibby is currently spearheading a land development project in New Zealand’s Lake Pukaki region, where he and Butler were involved in a local community conflict in the '90s. Former Member of New Zealand Parliament Alec Neill publicly suggested that Butler's group was a cult and that its film company, Ti Leaf Productions Limited, was a front for criminal activity. SIF sued Neill, and Neill told New Zealand journalist Bevan Hurley in 2015 that the suit "just about destroyed [him], both financially and otherwise."
Neill stated in an email to Meanwhile in Hawai'i that he was unable to comment for this story.
A review of data available through OpenCorporates found that Ti Leaf Productions Limited was registered in Hong Kong in 1993 as Megastar World Trade Limited. Butler disciple Khemaney, who now works for Rep. Gabbard, was one of the company’s directors, along with four other Butler disciples.
QI Group is currently registered in Hong Kong as EB Services Limited.
The Kailua homes owned by Bismark include a multi-million-dollar, oceanfront mansion in the exclusive Lanikai neighborhood and a relatively more modest, hillside home in the Enchanted Lake community. Among the Butler disciples who have lived in these homes are Rep. Gabbard’s current Chief of Staff, Kainoa Penaroza, and his wife, Alana Penaroza, who has served as Rep. Gabbard’s Finance Director. The Penarozas lived in and ran their business, Tag Aloha, from Bismark's Enchanted Lake home. Bismark has also used the Enchanted Lake address as a QI Group business address.
Kainoa Penaroza's mother - Barbara Penaroza - is one of Butler's head cooks. She has lived in Bismark's Lanikai home. Kainoa's father - William Penaroza - was one of Butler's first followers and the IGG political party’s founding chairman in 1976. Both William Penaroza and Sen. Mike Gabbard ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congressional seat now held by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Mike's daughter). William Penaroza has since distanced himself from Butler and SIF. Kainoa, Alana, and Barbara Penaroza remain deeply involved with SIF, as do Mike, Carol, and Tulsi Gabbard, per individuals with close inside connections to both families.
Bismark, Eswaran, and Khemaney are all directors of Healthy’s, Inc, aka Down to Earth, which has stores in Kailua and four other locations in Hawai'i. Khemaney has also been an agent of about a dozen other businesses closely tied to SIF and Butler.
Far from being loosely connected to this SIF/Khemaney business world, Rep. Gabbard has a documented history of direct involvement. Multiple business directories list Rep. Gabbard - who legally changed her name from Tulasi Gabbard Tamayo to Tulsi Gabbard in 2011 - as a former agent of several SIF businesses, including Healthy's, Inc., Sunset Studios, and 3 Kicks Productions.
Multiple directories also document Rep. Gabbard's use of a Kailua P.O. Box for various SIF-connected business purposes. Business and postal directories indicate that the same Kailua P.O. Box was used by at least ten other Butler disciples, including Rep. Gabbard’s current campaign treasurer and former in-law, Talia Tamayo Khurana. Many of the business names assigned to this P.O. Box have no official business registration history. Khurana is also listed in several domain directories as the owner of the domains www.chrisbutler.com and www.chris-butler.com (neither website is currently functioning).
Bismark and Tibby's long-time, close financial involvement with Butler and SIF is well-documented, as is Tibby's continued close ties to the Gabbard family. In September 2012, the Honolulu Star Advertiser described Tibby's wife, Linda Tibby, as an "avid campaigner" for Rep. Gabbard. The article covered a gathering of Rep. Gabbard's close supporters, including her parents and other Butler disciples, at Kailua's Big City Diner. They watched Rep. Gabbard's televised speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The speech signaled Rep. Gabbard's early rise within the Democratic National Committee.
Rep. Gabbard, Sen. Gabbard, and Carol Gabbard all participated in a small wedding of Butler disciples, officiated by Tibby on O'ahu in October 2016. A framed picture of Butler can be seen next to Tibby in a video of the wedding, which was shared publicly on Facebook by a Butler disciple. Tibby publicly thanked Sen. Gabbard on Facebook for his performance at the wedding.
Sen. Gabbard, Rep. Gabbard, SIF, and Healthy's, Inc. did not respond to inquiries from Meanwhile in Hawai'i. QI Group responded with a demand to know the "editorial direction of the story."
It is not known if any illicit money reached political campaigns.
Butler's Web, Part 2: Who is Gabbard's Guru
Note: This article was updated on October 29, 2017, to add subheadings and a detail about a Science of Identity video that was removed from YouTube after publication of this article. The location of the wedding mentioned in the article was also updated from "Ka'a'awa, O'ahu" to "O'ahu" after a reader provided information that the wedding may have been held near - but not in - Ka'a'awa. Readers have also expressed concern about the spelling of Butler's first name. While he has often gone by Chris Butler, a sibling and a high school registrar reported his birth name as Kris Butler (no middle name). Meanwhile in Hawai'i found no evidence that he legally changed his first name to Chris.