Story Behind the Story 01
Witness Underground - short synopsis
Witness Underground reveals artists born into the high-control Jehovah's Witness culture who attempt to strike a balance between seeking scriptural truth and artistic self expression. They push the boundaries of creativity and suppression until they expose the bars of the cage they are in.
As their bond grows they challenge cultural norms, learn science, and seek mental health. Although severely restricted they create over 30 obscure albums under the label Nuclear Gopher of earnest and personal music that spans: pop, psychedelic rock, EDM, shoegaze, and singer/songwriters. 42 carefully curated songs punctuate coming out stories of deep loss and personal growth.
Motivation to create this film
I’m very excited to announce that we have finished our feature documentary film Witness Underground. There’s an interesting story behind this film that may enrich your viewing experience. In this new series of posts I will give you some background on my life, this religion, and what eventually resulted in the inspiration for Witness Underground and its creation. If you like this come back for more.
Witness Underground was inspired by my own experience with shunning. As a musician and visual artist who grew up in this faith I personally grappled with the loss of my entire family on my dad’s side (17 members) once I realized I no longer believed. This is a work of activism for human rights as much as it is a true story for millions of former Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world. The way they treat people who commit thought crimes, from their perspective, is extreme abuse at minimum. They weaponize love and family relationships in an effort to get you to conform and submit to their authority. That on its own is worthy of the label cult and should be viewed as criminal. The effect of shunning is that they rip families apart through this practice of ostracism and incitement to hate by family and friends who remain inside. The TV evangelists who run the religion continue to deny that they require this of their members, even in a court of law, and in their publications but I assure you they do and it negatively affects millions of people who live literally in every country on the planet.
This religion’s big sell is that you will gain immortality on a perfect earth with a perfect body surrounded by other perfect people after a massive global genocide of non-witnesses that is "Imminent.” They usually start the conversation with the sell and simply don't mention their genocide unless you ask follow up questions. Their Jesus does all of the dirty work. Most christian religions have a positive Jesus, more of a hippy character, not the Witnesses. Their Jesus has a bow and arrow, red skies, an army of armed angels, and they murder women and children from horse back while flying around in the sky. The art they create to show this is haunting. At all costs they selfishly want to keep this hope of survival of what they call the end of the world, the last days, or Armageddon. According to their teachings that's what they fear losing the most. They rest all of their hopes and dreams and some even postpone their hobbies now to wait to do them in their version of paradise. Really it's an abstract concept but they talk about it so much that it seems real to them in their little echo chamber.
“The receptivity of the masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.”
― Adolf Hitler
Granted it's cheap to invoke Hitler and in no way am I advocating for him, nazis or what fascism stands for, far from it. I'm simply attempting to illustrate that this religion uses the same basic tactics to create a simple repeatable message. They do it masterfully and they use coercion and Orwellian tactics to keep people in control of their speech, thoughts and actions. It's dark and it goes deep.
"You Can Live Forever On A Paradise Earth" mic drop
― Watchtower Bible and Tract Society
In common language when someone leaves the faith of their culture or youth, that person is simply called an apostate. Witnesses have attempted to redefine the word apostate to mean that the person is spreading a contagious disease. “The Bible says that apostates are mentally diseased.” - Watchtower 2011 Jul 15 Study Ed. (Simplified) p.11 The Bible says nothing of the sort. They hope that the common believer will be successfully manipulated to never communicate again with anyone who confesses that they don't agree with some aspect of doctrine. They live in fear of this person even if they are family. They demand of all followers the worst torture our prisons offer, solitary confinement, restricting all forms of communication from those we love without end or exception even with family matters such as funerals.
Some people break or bend these rules in secret. Strict conformity to this teaching is definitely not shared by all members to the same degree but they will never voice their non-compliance out of fear of being reported and of losing social status or being punished for that thought crime. Teens who live in the house might get some special treatment but most are kicked out of the house and never spoken to again. One guy I met was disowned as a young teen and raised by other family outside of the religion.
I have experienced some momentary lapses by family members such as my little sister reached out and added me on facebook after years of silence and then as quickly as she appeared and apologized for her actions she disappeared again and it’s been five years since I’ve last heard from her. I stopped expecting to have any relationship with her, our baby sister, my two brothers I was close with growing up, my parents or even my 90+ year old grandparents who still believe. They and extended family cut me out of their lives without explanation or discussion. They did so out of fear of losing their friends and social status. In the present they fear being treated like an outcast as they treat me. In the abstract they fear being murdered by Jesus with the effect of losing their ticket to paradise.
You'd think they'd come around eventually. I'm an atheist for crying out loud. The Bible cannot be invoked to control me. I'm never going to suddenly believe in a deity again, definitely not their murder king in the red clouds. But alas, that's not how it works. They likely will never come to their senses or allow themselves to feel love. They demonstrate hatred very effectively.
That is the fuel that just keeps on giving. I think of my family often but the pain of loss was mourned long ago. It's from a healthy, loving place that I decided it was important to tell a story that is very close to my heart. My childhood was in many ways idyllic. My family was fabulous. We had countless adventures. I had many great friends and fun experiences that shaped my life positively. One of the more interesting things was that we were allowed a lot of freedom within this strange restrictive cult. One of those aspects of great freedom was to be able to listen to, play and create whatever music we wanted. I was completely dedicated to writing and playing guitar in bands over pretty much everything else from 14 to 23 years old. I was in a band in high school and later fronted my own band with other witness musicians.
Fast forward 15 years...I got an inspired idea to reconnect with some old friends from inside the religion. They were a part of this group of Jehovah's Witness artists that I met in my early twenties. After talking with some of them I knew that they could be the vehicle to tell my story. I could create something very close to my story through their lives and experiences. There was this creative community of very active witnesses in good standing in the religion who wrote, performed, and recorded music under the label, Nuclear Gopher. They created this incredibly vibrant art scene. This documentary actually celebrates the Jehovah's Witness culture that I got to experience personally and follows the artists at the heart of the scene as they grow.
I couldn't be more thrilled to share my first documentary feature film with you and the world.