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They told me my heart was evil. I tried to push back, but they yelled and told me that God would abandon me if I continued to live in sin. I wish I could say I stood up for myself that night, that I ran out of the room and never came back, but the truth is I stayed. I stayed for what felt like hours, crying and letting them pray for my sins. I finally drove home in a blur, my body spent. I knew in that moment I had lost my faith. I moved on with my life without much talk about those fiery Jesus years, as if pretending they never happened made it so.
It was years before I began to talk about my experiences in the church and process them for what they were: The more distance I had from the church, the more I could see how brainwashed I had been by fundamentalism. During my teenage years, I lived exactly how Jessa told me to — down to how I dressed and what music I listened to and what friends I was allowed to spend time with and how I spoke and how I approached the world.
I believed that by following Jessa and Jacob, I was following God. They had the final word on salvation, eternal life and objective truth. They leveraged my normal human fear of death, and my desire for connection, as power over me. While it hurt at the time, I now look back at their cruelty with gratitude because it was the catalyst for me to claim my freedom. I ran into an old friend from youth group while visiting my parents for Christmas, and she asked me if I attended church.
No, I said, quietly, shifting my weight from one leg to the other as we stood in the produce section of my childhood grocery store. I saw sadness in her eyes. I remembered what it was like to be in that world. For years, I believed that people who walked away from their faith would suffer eternally for it. I used to judge the backsliders, and now I was one. The words of my pastors that night so many years ago had been seared into my mind: You have the Spirit of Rebellion.
Most of them come from those spiritual legacy families that I used to long for. Often, they are the first to break away from generations of religiously devout people. Some of them have been disowned by their parents, while some are constantly pressured by their family members to come back to the fold, complete with warnings of impending judgment. Compared to their journeys, I had it easy. My rebellion was church. M ichael Bates was caught off guard by a newspaper item he read in late July He and his parents, a retired couple residing in the seaside county of Essex in southeastern England, were being connected to the murder of Italian fashion icon Gianni Versace.
Michael, then 44, is a stocky man with close-cropped hair and a tough demeanor. He runs a business harvesting cockles, an edible mollusk found in the North Sea near where he grew up. He squinted at the paper and continued to read. The newspaper laid out the puzzling circumstances of the case.
On July 15, , Versace was leaving his opulent Miami Beach mansion when he was gunned down on his front steps by year-old Andrew Cunanan. Allegedly distraught that a rich benefactor had cut him off, Cunanan embarked on a kill rampage across four states, murdering four people before coming back to Miami and shooting Versace for seemingly no reason.
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When police finally tracked him down eight days later, Cunanan led them on a chase, broke into a houseboat, and shot himself. Reineck was a socialite who loved showing off his Sealand passport and was said to have diplomatic plates from Sealand on his car. Located in international waters and technically outside of the control of Britain, or any other nation, the country straddles a line between eccentric experiment and legal entity of uncertain definition. Formerly called Roughs Tower, Sealand was one of a series of naval forts built seven miles off the coast of southeastern England during the Second World War to shoot down Nazi warplanes.
The British government left the forts to the elements following the end of the war, and in the mids a group of enterprising DJs moved in and set up illegal radio stations. The BBC had a monopoly on the airwaves at the time and pirate radio was the only way to get pop music to the masses.
One day while taking the train to work, Roy had a moment in which he realized he was done with the 9-to-5 routine; instead, he wanted to enter the pirate radio fray. Roy decided to set up his station, Radio Essex, on Knock John, one of the naval forts. The forts were a hot commodity, and violent struggles for control of them sometimes broke out between competing stations.
A decorated soldier who had once had a grenade explode in his face, Roy stepped up to the occasion and resolutely defended his fort.
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If ever there was a true buccaneer, it was Roy. His long-term intention was to turn the fort into some kind of lucrative enterprise, such as an international casino or independent television station. He declared Roughs Tower the Principality of Sealand on September 2, , and installed himself as prince and his wife Joan as princess.
In , Michael and Roy Bates appeared in British court after firing across the bow of a Royal Navy vessel that got too close to the fort. The family elected to stay at the fort after the British government green-lit commercial radio and brought pirate radio to an end, and the Principality of Sealand quickly became the foremost micronation in the world, influencing people on every continent who now claim their bedroom, neighborhood or disputed territory as a country of their own. As they built up the reputation of the concrete-and-metal statelet, the family issued coins, stamps and other trappings of statehood, including passports.
The Sealanders had issued around of them over the years, but only to trusted compatriots, and certainly not, Michael Bates was sure, to anyone who would commit cold-blooded murder. His head was spinning when he finished the article. O n April 4, , a trim, handsome year-old man named Francisco Trujillo Ruiz made a few adjustments to the odds and ends in his office at Paseo de la Castellana, a street in a fashionable part of Madrid, before sitting down to speak with a newspaper reporter. Trujillo Ruiz jumped up in surprise, and the officers promptly made their way around desks and chairs to where he was standing, boxing him in.
He was under arrest, they announced, for allegedly selling more than 2 million gallons of diluted gasoline.
Trujillo Ruiz was momentarily nonplussed, but as the police closed in, he pulled out a diplomatic passport and claimed immunity. The police had no right to be there, he said, as they were actually on territory belonging to another country — his office was the Sealandic consulate in Spain. The passport was superficially quite legit, with a rubber coating and foil-stamped seals, and it gave the officers some pause when considering how to handle the arrest. Far from being a diplomat, Trujillo Ruiz was one of the prime movers and shakers in a gang of scam artists operating throughout the world.
At least 20 fake diplomatic passports, hundreds more blank passports, and 2, official documents were seized in the raids, as were two vehicles with Sealand diplomatic license plates that had been escorted through Madrid by Spanish police on more than one occasion. While the Versace incident in had alarmed them, the Bates family had been oblivious to the extent of the problem with Sealand passports. Michael scratched his chin. Sealand did have a website, but it was in its infancy.
The site was how he had left it. He then searched around and turned up a Sealand site with a much more manageable domain name: Lo and behold, it was a website purporting to be the official mouthpiece of Sealand, and one could indeed buy a number of Sealandic documents.
Spanish investigators unraveled the web and found that the scams associated with the fake Sealand paperwork involved more than 80 people from all over world. The scams were impressively wide-ranging: We knew nothing at all about it or the people involved.
They intended to sell the arms to Sudan, which was under embargo by many governments of the world for being a terrorist state. How disgusting can you get?
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Trujillo Ruiz reportedly first learned about Sealand while working in Germany for a man named Friedbert Ley, who had launched his own Sealand fan website in and asked Trujillo Ruiz to set up a Spanish branch office of the Sealandic government. When confronted by investigators about the fake passports, Trujillo Ruiz conceded that they were made in Germany but said he had been appointed acting head of state by the royal family of Sealand and been given authorization to issue Sealandic passports. Roy Bates was of course fine.
The Germans had once visited the younger Trujillo Ruiz in Spain, and they appeared to be a bad influence on him, the father said. I n the early s, Roy Bates had prepared to turn the fort into a much larger ministate with a group of Belgians and Germans who had offered to go into business with him. The Germans were led by Alexander Gottfried Achenbach, said to be a former diamond dealer who was planning on a quiet retirement raising rabbits in Belgium until the Sealand opportunity sucked him back in.
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The Germans were remarkable busybodies, drawing up a constitution and legal decrees and bombarding embassies all over the world with requests for diplomatic recognition. Nevertheless, the petitioning continued in earnest and their zeal was infectious. Roy Bates had long intended to make the fort into a profitable business, and the plans he and the Germans cooked up were grandiose.
Back in Sealand, however, Michael was working on the fort alone when a helicopter landed. Out came some of their German associates, who claimed Roy had given them possession of the fort. Michael was extremely uneasy about the situation — and completely outnumbered. Roy and Joan were similarly uneasy when a friend back in England alerted them that he had seen a helicopter hovering near Sealand. Their sinking feeling was justified. Michael tried to wrench himself free, his hair falling in his eyes as he was dragged into the room and shut behind a steel door.