Ex-prosecutor: ‘Aum made preparations to topple the government’

The Aum Supreme Truth cult could have toppled Japan’s government and taken power, even only for a short period, by committing mass murder in Tokyo with 70 tons of deadly sarin gas and 1,000 automatic rifles, a former Supreme Court justice said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun:

Tatsuo Kainaka, 71, led investigations on Aum-related crimes as deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office before becoming a Supreme Court justice.

As the last of the Aum trials finally ended Monday, Kainaka discussed lessons learned from authorities’ failure to crack down on the cult earlier and how the cult’s plan to control the capital was prevented.

The following is an excerpt of comments Kainaka made in the interview conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Akihiro Ishihara.

The Yomiuri Shimbun carried an exclusive story headlined “Residual product of sarin detected in Kamikuishikimura, Yamanashi Pref.” on the front page of its Jan. 1, 1995, issue.

The article suggested a connection between the Aum Supreme Truth cult and a sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. The cult bristled at the suggestion.

The group destroyed part of its Satian No. 7 facility, where sarin gas was manufactured, in Kamikuishikimura (now part of Fuji-Kawaguchikomachi) to disguise the building as an authentic religious facility, and stopped sarin production.

At that time, the cult was planning to overthrow the government. The group planned to commit mass murder by aerially spraying 70 tons of sarin gas around the Kasumigaseki area and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Then, amid the confusion, Aum followers armed with automatic rifles would take control of the capital, according to the plan. The Yomiuri’s article was published just before the cult was about to start mass production of sarin.

You could say that the story derailed the group’s mass production of sarin gas and plan to topple the government.

The Yomiuri itself could have become a target of the cult’s sarin gas attack in retribution for publishing the article. I think the company needed courage to run the story, but thanks to the report, lives of many people were saved.

If you were just hearing about Aum’s plan now, you might get the impression that it is absurd. But the cult bought a helicopter for spraying sarin, and succeeded in making a prototype of an automatic rifle. They had trained their followers.

If the plan had been actually carried out, Aum could have controlled the capital, perhaps even for a few days.

At that time, the National Police Agency was the only law enforcement organization with information linking Aum with sarin gas.

On March 20, 1995, Aum Shinrikyo cult member released Sarin, a deadly nerve gas, on five subway trains during Tokyo’s early-morning rush hour.

After the 1995 gas attacks committed by Aum Shinrikyo, two Americans notorious for defending cults confidently, and erroneously, declared that the group could not have produced the Sarin poison gas.

J. Gordon Melton and James R. Lewis accompanied Los Angeles lawyer Barry Fisher — then chairman of the bar American Bar Sssociation’s subcommittee on religious freedom — on an Aum Shinrikyo-funded trip to Tokyo — to warn that the Japanese police were threatening the group’s religious freedom.

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, professor of psychology at the University of Haifa, Israel — and recognized as a scholar on New Religious Movements (NRMs) — later revealed the cult apologists said that the trip to Japan was initiated and financed by AUM ‘dissidents,’ shocked by the acts of their leaders:

The reality is that the trip was initiated by the NRM scholars involved, who contacted AUM to offer their help, and that there are no AUM dissidents. As of 1999, AUM Shinrikyo is alive and well, one and indivisible, the members united in their loyaly to Shoko Asahara, and this includes the alleged dissidents who hosted our collegues in 1995.
– Source: Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Collaborationism and Research Integrity, Part 1, Chapter 1 of Misunderstanding Cults (University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 36

Hallahmi also wrote

Reliable reports since 1995 have shown that Japanese authorities were actually not just overly cautious, but negligent and deferential, if not protective, regarding criminal activities by Aum, because of its status as an NRM. “Some observers wonder what took the Japanese authorities so long to take decisive action. It seems apparent that enough serious concerns had been raised about various Aum activities to warrant a more serious police inquiry prior to the subway gas attack” (Mullins, 1997, p. 321).

The group can only be described as extremely violent and murderous. “Thirty-three Aum followers are believed to have been killed between …1988 and …1995…Another twenty-one followers have been reported missing [and presumed dead]” (Mullins, 1997, p. 320). Among non-members, there have been 24 murder victims. One triple murder case in 1989 and another poison gas attack in 1994 which killed seven have been committed by the group, as well as less serious crimes which the police was not too eager to investigate (Beit-Hallahmi, 1998; Haworth, 1995; Mullins, 1997).

So it is safe to conclude that religious freedom was not the issue in this case. Nor is it likely, as some Aum apologists among NRM scholars have claimed, that this lethal record (77 deaths on numerous occasions over seven years) and other non-lethal criminal activities were the deeds of a few rogue leaders. Numerous individuals must have been involved in, and numerous others aware of, these activities.

Some NRM scholars have suggested that the trip to Japan, as reported in the media, caused the field an image problem (Reader, 1995). Let me make clear right away that my concern here is not with images, but with the reality of scholarship. I am afraid that in this case, as in many others, the reality may be actually worse than the image. How do we react to the Aum episode? Do we raise our eyebrows? Do we shrug our shoulders? Is it just an isolated case of bad judgment? Are we shocked by the alleged involvement of NRM researchers in this tragic story?

Given the climate and culture of the NRM research community, and earlier demonstrations of support for NRMs in trouble, we are not completely surprised. Much of the discourse in NRM research over the past 20 years has been marked by a happy consensus on the question of the relations between NRMs and their social environment.
– Source: Dear Colleagues: Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research, Benjamin-Beit Hallahmi

Research resources on Aum Shinrikyo
Cult Apologists / Cult Defenders
Cult Experts
Cult FAQ
Religious Freedom, Tolerance, and Intolerance

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday November 23, 2011.
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