The not-so-peaceful Hare Krishnas

Swami Bhaktipada, Ex-Hare Krishna Leader, Dies at 74


Rooted in ancient Hindu scripture, the movement was begun in New York in the mid-1960s by an Indian immigrant, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It advocates a spiritual life centered on truth, simplicity and abstinence from drugs, alcohol and extramarital sex.

But by the mid-1980s, New Vrindaban had become the target of local, state and federal investigations that concerned, among other things, the sexual abuse of children by staff members at its school and the murders of two devotees.

The resulting federal charges against Mr. Bhaktipada, a senior spiritual leader of the movement, and the ensuing international publicity did much to contravene the public image of the gentle, saffron-robed acolytes who had long been familiar presences in American airports.


In the mid-80s, former members began to accuse Mr. Bhaktipada of running New Vrindaban as a cult of personality. The Hare Krishnas’ governing body excommunicated him in 1987 and New Vrindaban itself the next year. But, proclaiming the community independent of the larger movement, he refused to step down.

In May 1990, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Bhaktipada on six counts of mail fraud, including using the mail to send followers the counterfeit souvenirs they were to sell, and five counts of racketeering. The most serious racketeering charges centered on the murders of the two devotees, Charles St. Denis, killed in 1983, and Steve Bryant, killed in 1986.

According to court records, Mr. St. Denis was believed to have raped the wife of a New Vrindaban member and to have been killed in retribution. Mr. Bryant, the most vocal critic among the community’s ex-members, had publicly accused Mr. Bhaktipada of condoning the molestation of New Vrindaban’s schoolchildren and of having had sex with under-age boys.

A New Vrindaban member, Thomas Drescher, was convicted of murdering Mr. St. Denis. (Another member, Daniel Reid, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for testimony against Mr. Drescher.) In a separate trial, Mr. Drescher was convicted of murdering Mr. Bryant.

Comment: Remember when the Krishnas would swarm in the airport concourses ... looking for handouts and selling religious junk!? Swami Bhaktipada (birth name = Keith Gordon Ham) was the son of a Baptist minister. Website of the Palace of Gold (mentioned in the article). Wiki for Palace of Gold

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