Two Podcasts About Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada

apparently based on Henry’s books Killing For Krishna and Gold, Guns and God

Bhaktipada wears a gold crown and admires a mace crafted by master jeweler Mother Ishani (Ellen Schramm) given to him at his 49th birthday celebration (New Vrindaban, September 1986)
Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada wears a gold crown and admires a mace crafted by master jeweler Mother Ishani (Ellen Schramm) given to him as a surprise gift during his 49th birthday celebration (New Vrindaban, September 1986). I (Henry Doktorski) was there and witnessed everything. At first, Bhaktipada refused to put the crown on his head (although six years earlier he had put a golden crown on the head of Prabhupada’s murti at the Palace), but he relented under pressure from his adoring disciples and followers. He put the crown on his head for a few seconds (long enough for a photographer to get one photo), then took it off, gave it back to Ishani, and humbly ordered, “Please give this to Shrila Prabhupada in his Palace. I do not deserve to wear this.”

March 5, 2019: The Parcast Network and iHeart Radio released two podcasts in their “Cults” series about Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, the ISKCON guru who established the New Vrindaban community in Marshall County, West Virginia in 1968 and ruled over it for 26 years. The two-part series, which appears to have been based in part on Henry’s book Killing For Krishna, and Chapter One from a forthcoming book Gold, Guns and God, focuses on the pyschological profile of Swami Bhaktipada and the crimes and immoral activities he promoted and committed while serving as leader of the Hare Krishna farm community.

While the story is fascinating and horrifying in its own right, unfortunately the script writers apparently did not consult with a competent authority on New Vrindaban history, and therefore they made many errors, major and minor, in their podcasts, as well as blatantly inventing erroneous details. 29 errors appear in episode one and 35 errors appear in episode two. However, if one is aware of the errors, one can still learn a lot about Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada and the psychology of a pathological narcissist. Despite the errors, the podcasts are nevertheless somewhat valuable, to a certain extent.

New Vrindaban, Kirtanananda Swami Podcast: Part One.

Errors in Part One

0:35 “Sprawling farmland.” Actually, little was farmland at New Vrindaban. Most was forests and steep ravines and gullies.

1:35 Prabhupada’s Palace WAS NOT built in the center of Richard Rose’s land. It was built on property some miles away which was purchased in 1973.

3:55 “For nearly twenty years.” Kirtanananda ruled at New Vrindaban for 26 year.

8:50 “He seemed to be constantly sick, though nobody knew from what.” Keith was diagnosed with hepatitis. Later, during the summer of his Junior year in high school, he got polio. This took several months for the doctors to diagnose.

19:00 “But after seeing a demand for new spiritual thinking amongst the counterculture of the 1960s, Prabhupada traveled to New York City.” This is incorrect. Prabhupada came to New York, but he did not discover the interest of members of the counterculture until NINE MONTHS later. It was quite accidental that he found his first followers and disciples.

19:05 “The 70-year-old guru endeavored to create a new religion that would resonate with the spiritually bankrupt youth who were searching for a higher purpose.” This is total bullshit. The 70-year-old guru was simply preaching the tenants of Gaudiya-Vaishnavism. He didn’t tailor his religion to please the young members of the counterculture. They were simply attracted by his charisma, and his teachings.

28:15 “And then a year later.” It was only a month or two later.

28:25 “Pursuing the advertisement.” It was simply a letter to the editor.

29:35 “Kirtanananda spoke to Prabhupada on the phone.” I heard they corresponded by letter.

29:30 “Prabhupada was not thrilled to hear from his former pupil.” Prabhupada was extremely happy to hear from his former pupil.

29:55 “Kirtanananda and Hayagriva were remiss to find that Prabhupada would not meet with them before they both groveled profusely.” Where did the script writer imagine this? Of course, ANY DISCIPLE would grovel profusely. K and H undoubtedly expected this.

31:25 “Kirtanananda and Prabhupada were happy to use each other to further their own agendas.” I think perhaps Prabhupada may have been simply happy that his disciple had returned to the flock.

31:30 “Prabhupada signed on to the 99-year lease on Richard Rose’s farm.” It was Hayagriva who signed the lease, not Prabhupada.

32:10 “Monotheistic?” Rose was not opposed to monotheism. He was opposed to sectarianism.

33:05 “Among his subjects were those he had harassed two years before.” Who? This is nonsense. Those who came to New Vrindaban in 1968 were not important or senior devotees whom Kirtanananda had harrassed.

33:25 “Twelve hundred acre commune.” It was 132 acres.

33:45 “As a child, Keith’s family owned a small farm.” They did not own a farm. They owned a house. The chickens were kept in a coop behind the house.

35:00 “In the early days, Kirtanananda gave Hayagriva the esteemed position as community president.” Prabhupada gave this position to Hayagriva.

37:35 “Motorcycle gang.” This is a myth created by Kirtanananda. It was actually two men. One was searching for his runaway 15-year-old daughter.

37:45 “Beat him with the butts of the gun.” Where did the script writer hear this?

37:50 “Forced Kirtanananda to dig a hole which would serve as his own grave.” They never got all the way up the hill. The father only threatened that Kirtanananda would dig his own grave, IF his daughter was found buried first.

38:00 “Local police cruisers who had been called by the devotees broke up the fight.” This is incorrect. The police arrived AFTER the two men left.

38:10 “The message was clear: New Vrindaban was in danger.” That is not the message at all! The men were simply trying to find their runaway daughter!

39:05 “Drescher found himself a resident of New Vrindaban in 1973.” Huh? He lived in Buffalo, New York at that time!

39:10 “He became the enforcer for the Hare Krishna compound.” Drescher didn’t become the enforcer until 1980!

39:15 “Thomas Drescher trained the devotees how to use the guns and how to protect themselves.” The New Vrindaban devotees began building an arsenal BEFORE Drescher arrived.

40:10 “And named the twelve followers who would hold the esteemed position as initiating gurus.” Incorrect twice! There were eleven followers, and Prabhupada appointed them not as initiating gurus, but as ritvik acharyas.

40:45 Regarding the death of Kirtanananda’s father, Kirtanananda was not adrift! He didn’t care for his father. This is pure speculation.

41:55 “Although he was likely eyeing it [Prabhupada’s Palace] as his own personal residence.” Nonsense! There was NO ROOM in Prabhupada’s Palace for Kirtanananda. The Palace is really quite small. No functional bathrooms. No office for Kirtanananda. This is incorrect.

New Vrindaban, Kirtanananda Swami Podcast: Part Two.

Errors in Part Two

2:55 “In 1966, 29-year-old Keith Ham became a devoted follower of Prabhupada.” He was 28.

3:33 “Kirtanananda leased 5,000 acres.” Hayagriva, not Kirtanananda, originally leased only 132 acres from Richard Rose. Later, more properties were purchased. In the mid-1980s official New Vrindaban propaganda publications reported total acreage as 5,000 acres, but more recent scholarship has shown that the maximum land holdings at the community’s peak was only about 2,000 acres. If there was one thing Bhaktipada and New Vrindaban liked to do, it was exaggerate their achievements.

3:50 “Kirtanananda was renamed Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada.” He took the name Bhaktipada in 1978, not 1968.

4:50 “After Prabhupada’s sudden death in 1977.” Sudden death? He was ill for months.

8:28 The description of the 1973 “motorcycle gang” attack is incorrect, based on a myth created and propagated by Kirtanananda Swami. There were only two men and they arrived in a gold Cadillac. There was no attempt to “murder” Kirtanananda, although one of the men suggested he should “dig his own grave” if his runaway daughter’s body was discovered buried at the Govindaji temple site. “They were only stopped when cops arrived on the scene.” Incorrect, the Marshall County deputies arrived some time AFTER the two men left.

9:00 “Drescher taught other devotees how to guard the property, how to defend themselves from attack, and how to properly use a firearm.” I don’t think this is correct. New Vrindaban residents armed themselves with firearms years before Drescher moved to the community.

9:20 I don’t think Jerry Williams was a farmer. His property had no arable land. I suspect he worked at some trade, such as an auto mechanic, or something.

10:34 I never heard that Dan Reid asked Drescher for “permission” to kill Chuck Saint-Denis. I heard Dan simply talked about murdering Chuck.

11:50 I never heard that Charles Saint-Denis accidentally “walked in on Bhaktipada and Hayagriva while they were being intimate.” Where did the script writer get this? I don’t believe Bhaktipada and Hayagriva were intimate anymore at this time. They liked teenage boys. They much more preferred sex with the young dark-skinned Mexican homosexual laborers which Hayagriva had selected during his trips to Mexico. Charles Saint Denis heard, from either Hayagriva (while intoxicated) or his wife Paurnamasi (Susan Joseph), that Bhaktipada had been attending parties at the Frazier House with Hayagriva and the Mexicans and having sex. The podcast script writers called them “orgies.”

12:00 “Based on rumors that he had overheard, Bhaktipada was convinced.” I heard that Charles Saint Denis confronted Bhaktipada personally with allegations of sex with the Mexican laborers.

13:30 Saint Denis was shot first. When Drescher and Reid ran out of bullets and Saint-Denis had not died, only then they smashed his head with a hammer and stabbed him with a screwdriver.

15:55 “They buried his body in the woods.” Actually they buried his body under a creek in the woods.

19:30 “[After the Christmas marathon in early January], every devotee would present their earnings to him, in huge envelopes. Bhaktipada would sit before a huge pile of cash.” Incorrect. Every week (on Monday) of the year we “pickers” would take our cash to a bank and purchase a cashier’s check which we would mail to the sankirtan leader. Sometimes devotees might make a garland of hundred dollar bills for Bhaktipada for the big sankirtan party, but I never saw him sitting before a huge pile of cash. It would be very foolish and dangerous for us to hoard a year’s worth of collections (normally $100,000 to $200,000 dollars) in our vans, as sometimes thieves stole our money from us.

20:05 “Bhaktipada pocketed almost all of it [millions of dollars of sankirtan collections.]” Not true. In the 1980s the money was used to purchase construction materials to build New Vrindaban. Huge 40 foot statues, a new temple, a guest lodge, heavy construction equipment, two man-made lakes and much more. Bhaktipada didn’t start pocketing money until around 1990 when he needed it for legal defense.

21:30 “His acid-eaten bones were lying a few hundred yards from where Bhaktipada stood.” More like a few miles.

21:50 I don’t remember anyone at New Vrindaban “spying on each other.”

24:30 “Police State?” I certainly did not think New Vrindaban was a police state, but perhaps some did.

26:45 “Steve was uncomfortable with the way women were treated at the compound.” Where did this come from? Steve bought totally into the idea that women were eternally subservient to their husbands.

27:00 “Steve grew truly upset when he heard from a fellow devotee that Bhaktipada told him to hit his wife.” This is total nonsense. Steve often slapped his wife on the face for no reason except to display his dominance.

28:10 “He drove without stopping as far as his gas tank would take him.” Actually he drove about ten miles and stopped at a grocery store in Martins Ferry, Ohio to get diapers and snacks.

31:35 Randall Gorby was not a “senior devotee.” He was a non-devotee neighbor and friend.

33:10 Devotees did not pull Shockman off of Bhaktipada. After smashing Bhaktipada’s head with the pipe, Shockman ran away where he was tackled by the temple president on the lawn near the parking lot.

33:20 “Bhaktipada emerged from his coma after three weeks.” No, he was ten days in coma. He was released from the hospital after three weeks.

34:10 Bhaktipada did not order Bryant’s execution by Drescher. The execution was ordered, planned, funded and carried out by New Vrindaban senior managers and the hit men. Yes, Drescher in court claimed that Bhaktipada ordered him to execute Bryant, but later Drescher admitted he made up the story. If the script writers had read Killing For Krishna, they would have known this.

34:25 “Thomas Drescher tailed Bryant the whole way [from Michigan to Los Angeles].” Not true! Drescher flew to Los Angeles on May 20th, 1986, only after New Vrindaban management received reports that Bryant was in Los Angeles, and after funding for Drescher’s plane ticket was procured.

34:55 “[After the murder] Drescher flew to Dallas where he rented a car and drove to Ohio.” I wonder where the script writer found he rented a car and drove to Ohio?

36:10 “Drescher was quickly convicted in the murder of Steve Bryant.” Not at all. The first trial dragged on and on for months and ended with a hung jury. He was not convicted until the second trial.

38:00 Gorby was found dead in July, 1990, not in 1989 as alleged in the script.

39:00 “Bhaktipada was found guilty of conspiring to murder Bryant.” Not correct. The jury was hung on that charge.

40:15 “Bhaktipada sent his driver to the airport to pick up a young Malaysian boy he had hired for the weekend.” Hired? The Malaysian teenager was Bhaktipada’s disciple. Gurus don’t “hire” disciples. Disciples serve the guru for free.

40:20 “Soon after, the driver walked in on Bhaktipada and the boy while they were intimate.” No. The driver saw the intimacy while driving down the freeway and looking in his rearview mirror.

40:40 “Bhaktipada retired to a lodge in the town of Little, West Virginia.” The town is Littleton.

40:50 “That same year, in 1994, Bhaktipada faced a retrial.” The year was 1996.

41:20 “Bhaktipada was released early from prison on good behavior.” Not true. He was released because his health was so bad, the judge didn’t want him to die in prison.

41:55 “He died utterly alone.” I doubt this. He died in a hospital in Thane, India, but I’ve seen pictures of his disciples with him.

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