Years after the Catholic Church was found to have systematically harbored and protected child-sex abusers while punishing victims for seeking justice for their horrific ordeals, a new feature-length Vice TV documentary sets its sights on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Aaron Kaufman’s film Crusaders—released as part of Vice TV’s “Vice Versa” nonfiction series—eviscerates the Jehovah’s Witness faith in which he was raised, giving a public platform for former members to speak out about the scourge of pedophilia within the church, and about the elders who are committed to keeping it a secret.
Premiering on Vice TV on July 28, Crusaders builds upon Douglas Quenqua’s 2019 Atlantic article about a secret database of thousands of Jehovah’s Witness child-sex offenders that’s been assembled, and concealed from prying eyes, by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the nonprofit organization that governs the church. This damning list of molesters was created on March 14, 1997, when—in response to prior whistleblower complaints—a questionnaire was sent to all 10,000 nationwide congregations asking members if they suspected any fellow Witnesses of being a pedophilic predator. The church received information on many monsters in its midst, although the precise number of names remains unknown.
Most of those individuals’ identities are also a mystery—but not all of them. That’s because, as Crusaders reveals, two ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses (who in Kaufman’s film go by “Judas” and “Jezebel”) broke into a local Massachusetts headquarters and stole some of those incriminating files. Moreover, they leaked one document on Reddit, and then sent many more to a kindred ex-Jehovah’s Witness activist named Mark O’Donnell (who operated online under the alias “John Redwood”). This, in turn, led to Quenqua’s article, which made national headlines and shined an accusatory national spotlight on Jehovah’s Witnesses, who didn’t take too kindly to being outed as an organization that, in principle, condemned child abusers, but in practice made sure to keep their crimes under wraps, lest the faith get a black eye as a haven for the worst of the worst.
Crusaders works hard to slam Jehovah’s Witnesses, which also entails examining the belief systems and control mechanisms used by the religion to manipulate and dominate its adherents. The core notion embraced by Jehovah’s Witnesses is that Armageddon is imminent, and that the only way to be saved from a terrible end-times death is to abide by their tenets, which are dispensed by the Watch Tower Governing Body—a ruling council of male elders who function as God’s Earthly conduits. By toeing the line that they set forth, Witnesses will be granted access to the New System, a post-apocalypse paradise where they can begin their real lives, as opposed to their current New System-prologue existences in the here and now. Follow the rules and you’re golden; disobey—or even question—them, and you risk excommunication from friends, family, and the only community you’ve ever known.