The Chinese government is cracking down on a group known as the Church of Almighty God, which believes a woman exiled in the United States is a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Chinese state media announced the arrests of nearly 1,000 members of the cult this week for various crimes, including fraud and murder.
Chinese state outlet Xinhua reports that the nearly thousand suspects “are allegedly involved in more than 500 cases,” including “suicides and murders” as well as general con artistry. “Quannengshen [the Chinese name for the cult] cheats people, illegally collects money and violates the law under the guise of religion,” said a spokesman for the Chinese government. Among the thousand arrested, nearly one hundred are considered “high-level organizers and backbone members.”
The Almighty God group rose to prominence in China several years ago, when its members claimed the Apocalypse was inevitable in 2012. Beijing then arrested one thousand members, as well, The Guardian notes, but has not been able to reach the group’s leaders, founder Zhao Weishan and his wife, Yang Xiangbin, who the group considers a manifestation of Jesus Christ. Both fled to the United States in 2000.
The group’s resurgence in 2014 followed an attack on a woman in May who refused the group’s advances. At a McDonald’s in which the group was attempting to collect phone numbers, a woman standing in line with her seven-year-old son refused to give her phone number, and was allegedly beaten to death with chairs and a metal mop holder. Five members of the Almighty God group are currently awaiting trial for participating in the incident.
While the Chinese government insists their crackdown on the group is due to a legitimate threat to public safety, the BBC notes that much of the Almighty God’s rhetoric directly attacks the Chinese communist party for its oppression of religion. “Since the Communist Party came to power in 1949, religious faith has suffered from full-scale crackdown and persecution by the Communist Party – the red dragon – in mainland China,” reads the group’s website.
Opposition to the “red dragon” and the elimination of “demons” appears central to the cult’s faith. While their website emphasizes the love and forgiveness of God– “We are such a group of ordinary people with the corrupt satanic disposition, are people predestined by God before the ages, and are needy ones lifted by God from the dunghill. We have ever rejected God and condemned God, but we have been conquered by God.”– those who have lost family to the group describe it as a violent cult.
In an extensive BBC report, a number of anonymous relatives tell with fear how the group pushed family members to hurt others or themselves. One victim says his sister beat his father to death because she believed him to be a “demon.” Others tell of the group’s ability to convince vulnerable individuals to donate money or even kidnap in the Church’s name.
This sort of behavior, if true, makes for a prime target for the Chinese government. President Xi Jinping recently launched a campaign against terrorism that includes, in large part, many religious groups. The Chinese president has called upon the United States to jointly “combat all forms of terrorism” and launched a major crackdown on Islamic groups in the nation’s west.