Victor Arden Barnard’s reign of sexual terror dates back to 2000, when, as the head of a religious community in Minnesota, he began requesting intimate encounters with female children among his followers. Now, after a two-year investigation into the matter, Minnesota police have brought 59 charges against the Pine County cult leader last week after it was uncovered that Barnard, 52 had been sexually abusing girls as young as 12 years old for at least a ten-year period.
The religious group led by Barnard near Finlayson, Minn., is known as the River Road Fellowship. Around 2009, it is believed that Barnard moved some of his followers to Washington State, where he most likely remains at large. At the time of the group’s division Barnard had come under scrutiny for allegedly sleeping with wives of other members of the so-called congregation. However, this has only proved to be the tip of the iceberg for Barnard. The River Road Fellowship is considered part of a religious Christian faction known as The Way International, often referred to as a cult.
It was roughly two years ago when one of the girls who had been subjected to Barnard’s abuse came forward with allegations of grave misconduct. Now, the hunt is on to find the cult leader, charged with 59 counts of child sexual abuse. According to the anonymous woman, who came forward in 2012 at the age of 24, she was part of a subgroup of young female worshippers known as “Alamoth” or “The Maidens.” To these young women, Barnard had compared himself to Jesus. He told them they were to remain permanently under his watch and never marry. Barnard also told the “maidens” that they were to remain virgins, yet sex with him would not be considered a violation of chastity.
Why many parents of these young girls allowed them to remain in his care is a concerning question. However, at the time many apparently believed it was more of a temporary situation, similar to a summer camp, and that nothing inappropriate occurred. In a subsequent statement of the father of an abused child, he referred to Barnard as a man who was great at manipulation and used fear as a way to keep his followers obedient. Even now, authorities in Minnesota and Spokane – where it is believed cult leader Barnard is hiding – are having a hard time getting witnesses or members of the religious group to come forward with pertinent information.
The anonymous woman who came forward has since had her story corroborated by yet another “maiden” who claims she was abused by Barnard during her time in “Alamoth.” Both women were 12 and 13 at the time the initial abuse began. With the assistance of Minnesota officials, Spokane authorities had attempted to locate the sought after “man of God” back in 2012 with no results. However, now that this cult leader has been charged with 59 counts of child sexual abuse, there is certain to be a greater effort on the part of local authorities and residents to help locate and bring to justice Victor Arden Barnard.
Opinion by Josh Taub