APpa 09/29 0151 Krishna Battle
By RAY FORMANEK Jr. Associated Press Writer
The nation's largest Hare Krishna community is urging supporters to "stand
and fight" against what devotees allege is religious persecution by the FBI and
West Virginia authorities.
"We're just trying to make people aware that we're not a criminal
community," Garga Rishi Das, editor of publications at New Vrindaban, a Krishna
encampment near Moundsville, W.Va., said Monday.
"There's been a lot of allegations made against us. We also want to let
people know that there's been some persecution going on."
The sect kicked off its campaign with a half-page advertisement containing
an open letter by Garga Rishi in Sunday's editions of the Wheeling
Similar ads are planned this week for newspapers in Moundsville and
Charleston, W.Va., with Pittsburgh and other cities to follow.
The ads were prompted by a federal indictment of Keith Ham, also known as
Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, the spiritual leader of New Vrindaban, and
Thomas Drescher, a Krishna swami serving a life sentence for murder, on charges
they torched a building near the community to collect $40,000 in fire
Both swamis have denied the charges.
Under the headline "Armed With Religion, Stand And Fight," the advertisement
notes the two-year probe into the sect's operations at New Vrindaban amid
allegations of murder, prostitution, child abuse, and drug trafficking.
"If it is true that this army of capable federal, state, local officials and
their informants have been wholeheartedly investigating the New Vrindaban
community for years and have produced only a handful of light-weight
indictments, isn't it time someone demand a stop to their investigations at a
cost of millions of dollars -- put up or shut up -- and admit their failure to
find any major crimes in New Vrindaban or Swami Bhaktipada," the letter says.
In addition, the letter criticizes local police and the Marshall County
sheriff for failing to investigate the burning of eight buildings in New
Vrindaban during the past 10 years.
It also alleges that 50 FBI agents illegally harassed members of group
during a dawn raid in January in which computers, printers and files were
The agents in the raid, part of a federal copyright infringement probe,
later returned the equipment amid charges by the Krishna community that they
merely had been on a "fishing expedition."
The National Football League and the distributor of the "Peanuts" comic
strip filed a lawsuit against Bhaktipada and the community June 24, alleging
that the group illegally used insignias and cartoon characters on hats and
shirts for profit.
No court date has been set in the case, pending in federal district court in
"We are not going to remain quiet anymore," said Gadadhar Das, a spokesman
for the New Vrindaban community. "We are going to communicate with people on a
regular basis -- local, national, international leaders as well as the public.
"We'll use letters, brochures, newspaper ads, mass mailings, anything we
need to, to get the message across."
Drescher, 39, was convicted in December 1986 in the 1983 death of Charles
St. Denis at the New Vrindaban community. He received the maximum penalty under
West Virginia law, a life term without parole.
He also faces a murder charge stemming from the May 1986 killing of Krishna
dissident Steven Bryant in Los Angeles. Drescher is appealing a court order to
have him extradited to stand trial on the charge.
New Vrindaban, a 4,000-acre settlement tucked ino the rugged West Virginia
hills, is the home of Prabhupada's Palace of Gold -- one of West Virginia's
most popular tourist attractions.