Video he left behind sheds new light on his split with cult
Oakland native David “Moses” Berg, the founding seer of the Children of God, put forth a prophecy about his new wife and new son on May 2, 1978.
“Davidito and Maria are going to be the end-time witnesses. They are going to have such power they can call down fire from Heaven and devour their enemies,” the sect leader proclaimed.
“They are going to be killed. Then, after only 3 1/2 days, Jesus is going to raise them from the dead.”
Not only did Berg fail as a prophet, but some now say his miscalculations will have a devastating effect on the group and its followers.
Ricky “Davidito” Rodriguez, whom Berg anointed the future prophet of the secretive cult, is dead. So is Angela Smith, personal secretary and “the eyes and ears” of his mother, Karen “Mama” Zerby, also known as Maria.
Twelve days after Rodriguez slit Smith’s throat, then shot himself in the head, a haunting videotape he left behind sheds new light on the battles still raging within the remnants of the Children of God, now known as the Family International.
On the profanity-laced video shot in his Tucson apartment, Rodriguez, 29, makes it clear that his original intention was to torture Smith to get information as to the whereabouts of his mother and her current husband, whom he blames for allowing widespread sexual abuse against him and other children who grew up in the cult.
“It happened to thousands of us — some worse than others,” he says on the tape. “My mother is going to pay for that. If I don’t get her, and life goes on (after death), I will keep hunting her in the next life.”
Founded in 1960s
Founded by Berg in the late 1960s, the Children of God attracted a small army of hippies, leftists and Jesus freaks drawn to a strange brew of Bible prophecy and sexual license. Berg died in 1994 and left Zerby as chief prophetess of the self-styled sect. The Family keeps secret the whereabouts of Rodriguez’s mother.
Rodriguez left the Children of God in 2000 and soon began working with a growing number of other second-generation members trying to hold sect leaders responsible for the alleged abuse.
“We’re in a war here,” he says on the videotape. “I’ll get one person, that’s for sure — the source of my information (Smith) … . The goal is to bring down those sick f — ers, Mama and Peter (her husband) … . If I don’t make it, hopefully someone else will pick up the torch.”
Former members of the sect say the war between Rodriguez and his mother – – and the obvious failure of Berg’s end-time prophecy — could have a devastating impact on the sect.
“This is such a monumental event — the death of one of the prophets,” said John LaMattery, a leading second-generation defector.
“They are waiting for Jesus to come out and say something about it, and Jesus hasn’t spoken,” he said. “The Family is going to spin it and somehow make it look like prophecies were fulfilled in the spiritual realm, but right now, they are in damage control.”
Family spokesman Claire Borowik downplayed the importance of the 1978 prophecy about Zerby and her 3-year-old son.
“The Family has known for many years that Davidito wasn’t fulfilling that prophecy,” Borowik said. “We believe that prophecy is conditional on people’s choices. It is dependent on man’s choices.”
In a memo sent last Friday to the Family International’s 12,000 devotees around the world, Zerby’s husband, Peter Amsterdam, urged members to avoid media reports and Internet postings about the murder-suicide.
“There is a lot of confusing information floating around about this situation,” he said. “There are some people who are exploiting this tragedy and trying to use it to their own ends to hurt Mama (Zerby) and me and the Family, and tear down our work for the Lord.”
Amsterdam told sect members that Rodriguez was “overcome by the enemy and forces of darkness,” while Zerby is “the sweetest, most loving person I know.”
Throughout much of the tape, Rodriguez loads dozens of bullets into magazines for his Glock 23 semiautomatic pistol and indicates that he expects a big shootout when he proceeds to his next target.
“As I go on my merry way, I am going to try to not hurt enforcement,” he says. “It’s going to be hard to do this without doing that, (but) I respect law enforcement.”
Rodriguez also displays a large Kabar knife along with duct tape, a drill and a soldering iron he intended to use as implements of torture.
Tucson police Detective Ben Jiminez said Smith was stabbed several times in the arm, indicating that she put up a struggle before Rodriguez slit her throat, but said there was no evidence that she was tortured.
“We saw the drill,” he said, “but it didn’t have blood on it.”
There have been conflicting reports about Smith’s status with the Family.
Borowik said last week that Smith — a member for 30 years and the longtime personal secretary to Zerby — had been on an “extended furlough” from the sect.
Earlier this week, it was learned that Smith had recently moved to Palo Alto and had gotten a job at the Restoration Hardware store there.
But former members point to documents showing that Smith was still very much involved in Family business and remained on the board of directors of the Family Care Foundation, a charity in the San Diego area with close ties to leaders in the sect.
Smith was just 18 years old when she joined the Children of God in the early 1970s.
In the book “Story of Davidito,” she is photographed with the toddler prophet, and in another photo lies naked and seductive in a bathtub with another of the child’s teenage nannies.
Jan. 20, 2005
Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer