Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon’s childhood was, to put it mildly, far from typical.
He grew up cloistered in his family’s 19-acre church compound in Westchester County, outside of New York City. Because of security threats his family faced, Moon recalls in a 2018 book, he was “not permitted to wander the neighborhoods, hang out with friends, or ride our bikes outside.” His outlet from bitter isolation — home, he writes, “seemed like a prison” — was self-defense training, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, of which he’s now a blackbelt, and, eventually, firearms.
Sean’s father, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, was the founder and leader of the Unification Church, the conservative global religious movement founded in South Korea. The elder Moon presented himself as a biblical messiah, and famously presided over mass “wedding” events in which believers were purportedly absolved of sin. For the elder Moon, homosexuality was a grave trespass against God, and he compared gay men to “dirty dung-eating dogs.”
In the United States, the elder Moon overcame legal troubles — he was once sentenced to 18 months in prison for filing false tax returns — and founded the conservative Washington Times, which he used to cultivate political power inside the Beltway, including forging close ties to the Bush family. In a bizarre 2004 ceremony, Moon was coronated inside the Dirksen Senate building, declaring himself God incarnate in front of more than a dozen members of Congress.
When the patriarch died in 2012, it sparked a bitter succession battle for control of the Unification Church and its vast business enterprises. Moon’s wife, Hak Ja Han, known to followers as the “True Mother,” consolidated control. She boxed out her son Sean, who’d trained at Harvard Divinity school and insists he was his father’s handpicked successor.
Feeling betrayed by his mother, whom he now likens to the “Harlot of Babylon,” Sean launched his own sect in 2013. The younger Moon’s church has evolved to fetishize AR-15s, rebranding in 2017 as “Rod of Iron Ministries.” The church burst onto the national consciousness with a 2018 ceremony in which members were invited to bring their assault weapons to church, held just days after the school massacre in Parkland, Florida.
Moon, who wears a crown of polished bullets made for him by a religious follower, preaches that the AR-15 is the biblical “rod of iron” — an instrument of divine power. This bizarro reading of the bible springs from passages like Psalms (“You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery”) and Revelations (“And He shall rule them with a rod of iron.”)