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 ran for and 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.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard posing in Atlanta in 2014 with Vijay Jolly, a senior leader of India's far right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Photo released Aug. 23, 2014, on Jolly's public blog, vijayjolly.blogspot.com (blog banner pictured above). Rep. Gabbard has spoken and fundraised at BJP events in Atlanta and Los Angeles.
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 opposed U.S. efforts to hold Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi accountable for alleged human rights abuses against religious minorities; tweeted in support of Vladimir Putin's military campaign in Syria and against the Obama administration's Syria stance; traveled with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi; and - perhaps most infamously - traveled with Syrian Social Nationalist Party escorts to meet with Syrian President 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 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.