Ramtha, New Age Cult Leader, Unleashes Drunken, Racist, Homophobic Rants to Large Following
YELM, Wash. — It’s March 2011 at the Ramtha School of Enlightenment (RSE) in this rapidly growing town just outside of Olympia. Hundreds of truth seekers pack into a converted horse arena to hear a 35,000-year-old Lemurian warrior speak the wisdom of the ages. The crowd is yearning for super-consciousness and enlightenment; what they get is drunken ramblings peppered with curse words. There’s no Kool-Aid served, just red wine, bottles and bottles of it. Wine ceremonies, which have been going on at RSE since 1996, are significant because students believe wine grapes were brought to Earth by extraterrestrials 450,000 years ago.
The blonde on stage is J.Z. (for Judith Zebra) Knight, a 65-year-old former rodeo queen and cable TV saleswoman. The words coming from her mouth aren’t hers, the assembled crowd believes, but rather those of the ethereal being she channels, Ramtha the Enlightened One. Knight goes back and forth between herself and the supposedly channeled Ramtha.
During the 16 or so hours the students spend in a spiritual drinking game (students must drink every time Ramtha/Knight does), Knight will disparage Catholics, gay people, Mexicans, organic farmers, and Jews.
“Fuck God’s chosen people! I think they have earned enough cash to have paid their way out of the goddamned gas chambers by now,” she says as members of the audience snicker. There are also titters when she declares Mexicans “breed like rabbits” and are “poison,” that all gay men were once Catholic priests, and that organic farmers have questionable hygiene.
These are not the kind of cosmic revelations that have drawn students to Knight for 38 years. For the most part, RSE students are thoughtful and well-educated, not apt to embrace a bigoted guru. For decades, the message had been more about finding the god within than disparaging minorities, and the blend of science and New Age Gnosticism made J.Z. Knight millions well before the drunken homophobic, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic racist rants began to make their way into her preachings.
What happened at RSE would have stayed at RSE had it not been for the Internet. In 2012, livestreamed videos of Ramtha’s hate speech were posted to the Web, first by ex-students Virginia Coverdale and David McCarthy, then by a libertarian-leaning think tank called the Freedom Foundation that is based in Olympia. The excerpts from that wine ceremony left Thurston County residents shocked and wondering if there was a more sinister side to their kooky neighborhood cult.
Was there a hate group lurking in “The Pride of the Prairie,” as Yelm calls itself? Knight blamed Coverdale, who had slept with Knight’s boyfriend, as a spurned lover, and the libertarian-leaning think tank, the Freedom Foundation, as politically motivated.
But the scandal caused by the videos embarrassed Democratic candidates who had taken a total of $70,000 in campaign donations from Knight. “I am appalled by Ms. Knight’s outrageous anti-Mexican, anti-Catholic raging,” said Thurston County (Wash.) Commissioner Sandra Romero. “These vile, racist, and divisive comments against responsible and caring people have no place in Thurston County, or anywhere else.” Romero ended up giving Knight’s donation to nonprofits benefitting Latinos.
Through it all, Knight has ignored requests for a retraction and maintained that the videos were maliciously edited and taken out of context.
Melissa and Steve Genson, farmers and restaurateurs who also operate an online newspaper, were equally outraged, and Melissa, a CPA and fraud investigator by training, began an intense investigation into activities at RSE. “JZ Knight shrieks abuse and ridicule at her followers, and hate speech against Catholics, Jews, gays, and others — all welcomed with audience cheers,” Melissa wrote in one of a series of critical articles on RSE for the South Thurston Journal.