Monday, February 11, 2008

Food Not Bombs Learns The Dangers Of Democracy

I’m sure Andrew Stankevich is a nice guy. He started a Food Not Bombs chapter in Rochester, NY several years ago with the aim of feeding the poor persons of that city. Mr. Stankevich’s operation became successful enough for him to open a distribution center/store called Friends Helping Friends. Everything went swimmingly until members of a violent black separatist cult called the Nation of Yahweh (NOY) began attending the organizational meetings. Apparently, the cultists were offended by a white activist running a non-profit institution in a predominantly black neighborhood. As Friends Helping Friends is run under a democratic model of organization, it was fairly easy to force Stankevich out. The NOY members simply packed the organizational meetings with their themselves and their supporters, then voted him off of the managing board based on bogus charges of embezzlement and attempted murder (!). If Stankevich was more familiar with how extremists operate, he might have seen this coming. The old Communists Party USA had a long history of taking over unions and other leftist organizations using this method, and recently the Sierra Club had to fend off an effort by anti-immigrant extremists trying to do the same thing. Stankevich has probably wisely decided to move on with his life and not challenge the NOY takeover. This whole episode however might serve as a good lesson for those trying to start grassroots organizations: Sometimes, democracy is overrated.


Blogger Zappalorti said...

A non-legal narrative written in a dramatic, testimonial style.

-- Andrew S.

How Learning to Trust the Lord Jesus Christ Saved My Life From a Dangerous Cult!

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18: 16-19; NIV

I tried to reason with the officer as he became angry and seemed about ready to arrest me. “You’re starting to make me mad. You need to leave right now,” said the police officer.

“That’s right, we’re taking over,” jeered Bahti’ Yah Yisrael, member of the notorious Nation of Yahweh cult, “we’ll work with anyone to get what we want!”

“Oh my God! She’s having you arrested,” said the lady from across the street who wandered in to get a couple loaves of free bread. I told her not to worry about me and I quietly left the warehouse. My portrait on the 36 ft. mural on the building’s front shed a tear as I said good-bye to my fellow volunteers for the last time and fled Rochester, New York.

* * *
I was 21 when I moved to Rochester in 1998 after my car broke down while I was visiting my brother. I stayed for almost 10 years; I started a nonprofit free meal program that went on to provide a variety of services to the urban poor. I motivated other young adults to volunteer to cook free meals for the homeless in city parks. I quickly became a weekend warrior fighting against hunger for over four years until I got laid off from my day job at an emergency shelter for teenagers. In 2003, I leased a warehouse and allocated all of my personal resources, dedicated every waking moment to launching my food distribution program. Through sacrifice, repeated media exposure and hard work, I began to make progress: my small trucking operation provided over 10,000 lbs. of groceries to over 500 people per week and bought a warehouse to launch a bike recycling program for kids. I even secured federal funding for “Friends Helping Friends” through the “faith-based” initiative for excellent grassroots nonprofits.

I was an ex-Catholic that was anything but “saved” when I began my ministry. I was an out-of-control atheist that flaunted my lack of faith and dissolute lifestyle; I gravitated towards humanitarian work to fill a void in my life. As I worked exhausting hours for no pay, I wondered why was I doing this? I often fell asleep feeling confused and lost. After talking with a neighborhood pastor, she told me that even though I didn’t believe in him, God controls me like a marionette puppet; this was the most reasonable explanation I had ever heard and it made total sense to me! One day the pastor took me to bring a small shipment of groceries to a single mother whose daughter had been shot
several times and couldn’t afford to buy the groceries they needed for her to heal. As I watched the pastor talk with the mother, I saw God working through her and I’ve been a believer ever since. Even though I became “saved,” I still didn’t understand much about God or how to listen for his instruction. Little did I know, my life would soon depend on my ability to discern and follow God’s will.

In 2006, I couldn’t secure the needed funding for the organization. I had purchased two warehouses; one warehouse was for receiving and redistributing food products, as well as coordinating a thrift store, other warehouse was for receiving, repairing and redistributing hundreds of old bicycles. The organization relied on my fundraising efforts; overwhelmed with work, a series of controversies and personality conflicts had prevented me from securing funding to pay for the organizational expenses. Our board members resigned as the mortgages for our warehouses became delinquent and the lenders began to threaten foreclosure. As I recruited and assembled a new board of directors, a cult member, saw her chance to seize the company’s assets.

* * *

We worked in Rochester’s infamous “crescent,” the highest crime and poverty area in the City. We would regularly clean up drug paraphernalia and bullets, while watching the sales of crack-cocaine. When I met Ms. Bahtiyah Israel, who presented as a hard working, clean living, community-oriented black lady who lived in the neighborhood, I thought I’d found a great person to work with.

Bahtiyah would always talk about the Nation of Yahweh, an intentional community that she used to live at in Miami, FL. I found a number of disturbing stories about the Nation of Yahweh on the internet; websites told the story of a bizarre black supremacist cult that amassed a business empire of hundreds of millions of dollars before the leaders were abruptly convicted on charges of orchestrating many grisly counts of murder. When I confronted her, Bahtiyah responded that people in the government wanted to seize their assets, so prosecutors framed the leaders of the Nation of Yahweh and threw them in jail on false charges based on circumstantial evidence and gave me propaganda describing a virtuous religious sect that had been wrongly persecuted. Since Bahtiyah seemed kind-hearted and appeared to like the company of white people, I figured Bahtiyah was telling the truth; after all, the negative accounts seemed so outlandish and macabre. Bahtiyah and I seemed to run the large volume food distribution program together at times and I’d grown to rely on her presence. After two and half years of working together, Ms. Israel changed the spelling of her name, became mean-spirited and seemed to seethe with anger; the cheerful and polite lady whom I once knew had disappeared. One day, Bahti’ Yah came into the food cupboard and called some of the other volunteers to witness her performance: she accused me of trying to kill her by cutting her brake line (in a van I gave her), and began to pray for me, a demonic force in her eyes, to leave.

Her anger seemed to pass after we discussed the matter, until we began having board meetings where Bahti’ Yah began lashing out in an irrational rage against me. I couldn’t understand what was going on Bahti’ Yah’s head until one night I found on the internet an “intelligence report” on the Nation of Yahweh from a legal advocacy group. As I read the report on a NOY conference that Bahti’ Yah had just attended, I saw a video clip of a speaker who the NOY members thought was the Son of God. Bahti’ Yah’s God preached about how white people were the root source of injustice and evil. The speaker reminded me of a Nazi agitator denouncing Jewish people; I had a sinking feeling after I realized that I had been duped all along. I saw a profile for one of the Nation’s leaders, a fanatical murderer named “Job Israel” that developed his own hair care products. A few months ago, Bahti’ Yah briefly put me on the phone with one of her friends who had a business tip for me. “His name’s Job, he’s a brother from the Nation AND he owns his own line of hair care products,” she told me. Even though a $20,000 grant I had secured was ready to disperse, I now knew that Bahti’ Yah was deeply involved with a ruthless cult; I turned down the funding and began to make plans to leave town.

Before I could wrap up my affairs, the police responded to a call from Bahti’ Yah. She had made up a board resolution to remove me from the property. I was inclined to go to the police department and dispute what I knew to be a false board resolution (Ms. “Yisrael” had stopped using her legal name for her new, assumed “cult” name), but something inside of me told me to leave town immediately. I knew God was giving me direction and I packed up everything I could fit into my van that night and left Rochester for good. As I left everything behind, I could feel God looking down on me with joy; I knew he was happy that I had made it out alive. I traded all of my worldly possessions to really know God’s awesome love and I can say without a doubt that I made the best business transaction of my life.

However, after I finished relocating, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had acted rashly. I got ahold of Khalil Amani; formerly known as “Yehudah Israel,” Mr. Amani had been a devout member of the Nation of Yahweh, but later defected from the cult and enrolled in a federal witness protection program as the “#1 disgruntled ex-member” who had recently published his memoir, detailing the horrors he witnessed in the Nation of Yahweh. I called Mr. Amani, and I told him my story and how I left Rochester on an intuition. A soft-spoken, avuncular voice on the phone replied, “someone was looking out for you, because I know Job Israel and I know the Nation of Yahweh. She introduced you to Job to set you up to be murdered, in case she wanted to take your life. If you didn’t leave Rochester when you did, you’d be dead.”

8:55 PM  
Blogger bloggacious said...

'Had been hearing about the Rochester group from the early days of this episode. Mostly because of their having been successful at seeking granting. Other branches of FNB won't even get that organized or ambitious, if that's the word to use. But even then, the vulonerability of Stankevich's vision to being exploited, scammed and worse were inherent if the conditions were recognized. Their rhetoric seemed soft-core liberal. Their potential for being victim of some extremist group was obvious enough. The Nation Of Yahweh has been getting a lot of notoriety as fomenting the sort of scenario that did actually occur; and that was tame compared to other connections. They have been credited with the polemic that produced some fanatic extremnism. Stankevich would have needed to have an extremist perspective himself, to accurately perceive the deception and deliberate malice that was there. Then the other FNB-ers would not have known what he was talking about, as they typically have only a specious idea about political theory; most of them wouldn't know Vladimir from John, or Karl from Harpo. So he wouldn't have gained there, but at least he could have been at a better vantage when that nefarious character did eventually present herself as the incarnation of her extremist ideologies.'

10:17 AM  

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