“He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”
—Life of Brian
The following day I called Bob Emmerzael on the telephone, having found his number online a week earlier. I waited until Sunday to increase the chances of catching him at home. He picked up and I introduced myself and told him I was writing a book about de Ruiter. I talked for several minutes while Bob listened silently; my heart was beating fast and I was short of breath. Bob seemed open and friendly, and eventually I relaxed. Our conversation lasted about half an hour but Bob didn’t say much. He asked me about myself and I began to feel hopeful that he would be willing to talk. I gave him a condensed history of my life, leaving out the period when I’d believed I was one of “the two witnesses” described in Revelation, and later on when I’d fancied I was the One. Emmerzael said that he wasn’t interested in cooperating with an “exposé.” He informed me that he had left de Ruiter around seven years before and that they hadn’t been in communication since then. He said that leaving had been his “initiation,” and that he’d left because he didn’t feel the direction de Ruiter was going in was “right for him” (Bob). Very tentatively, I asked if it was only because de Ruiter’s change in direction wasn’t right for him, rather than it not being right for de Ruiter. After a pause Bob replied, “No, I don’t think I would put it that benignly.” I waited for about thirty seconds and then Emmerzael said that he didn’t want to say any more. He gave me his email address and I thanked him for his time and hung up. The conversation made a strong impression.
The next day I took a bus to meet with Hal Dallmann and spent some time traipsing through the icy backstreets before I found his house. When I arrived, Hal was out of sight and his wife, Candy, seemed surprised by my arrival. Hal emerged from the living room looking dazed and I wondered if I’d woken him up. He had a gray beard and he was overweight. He led me into a little office while his wife stayed with another woman. I asked if it was okay to record our conversation and he agreed. After our talk, we moved to the other room and sat at the kitchen table with Candy and the other woman, who apparently knew a lot about de Ruiter and wasn’t deterred when I said that we would be discussing some “sensitive material.” Candy sat opposite me. I talked for a while about my experiences with de Ruiter and why I was writing the book. Candy was especially curious to hear how I had fallen under de Ruiter’s spell and how he did what he did. I asked her if I could record our conversation but she was against it, so I took notes instead. Candy was probably in her fifties, but she was fresh-faced and attractive, with clear blue eyes and a warm laugh. She struck me as a sincere person and I didn’t get the impression that she was bitter about the experiences she was describing, though she obviously thought poorly of de Ruiter.
She described how she had been through a period of crisis in the year or two leading up to 1986, when de Ruiter first arrived at Bethlehem. She had been very “vulnerable,” she said, when de Ruiter approached her and told her there was something he knew about her that he wanted to share with her. He was offering “some kind of healing,” she said, and since she felt in need of healing she agreed. She and Hal met up with de Ruiter in one of the offices, but de Ruiter wanted to see Candy alone. Candy was wary at first but Hal reassured her. De Ruiter took Candy down into the church basement, where apparently Rousu had a larger office. He sat opposite her and began to speak. With little or no preamble, Candy said, de Ruiter “virtually told me I was a whore.”
At the time, Candy had an adopted daughter who was “on the streets” (I presumed she meant soliciting, though she didn’t spell it out), so when she heard de Ruiter’s accusation, she immediately felt responsible. On the other hand, she assured me that she had always been faithful to her husband and never even looked at other men. When she told de Ruiter the same thing, he told her that her goodness was “a cover up for [her] harlotry.” She had “the heart of a harlot,” he said.
Candy was extremely upset and over the following days she underwent a crisis of faith and experienced “anger and hatred towards God.” She described it as being “under the oppression” of John. It was only when de Ruiter accused her husband of something of which she knew he was innocent that she “came to her senses.” Once she experienced righteous anger on her husband’s behalf, she realized, “who does [de Ruiter] think he is?” In the meantime, she had told Hal what de Ruiter had said, and he went to the elders and complained. They believed this was the reason de Ruiter was asked to leave the church (or at least a contributing factor). If the Dallmanns’ account was accurate, it was possible that, when de Ruiter leveled charges at Dallmann and spoke with Reeder about Dallmann, it was with the aim of strengthening his own position at the church. That was one interpretation, at least, but it was far from clear, especially since no one seemed to remember the exact sequence of events.
Candy described how she would “feel guilty when John preached.” “He would lay guilt on you,” she said, “make you feel guilty about yourself, and he was the one who would lead you out of yourself.” It was an odd choice of phrase. When I made a comment about how de Ruiter might have been corrupted over time, she replied that he had been corrupt from the beginning. Predictably, Candy then said that de Ruiter had “a whole horde of evil spirits” and Hal concurred. (He also mentioned a curious detail: John used to listen to Bible tapes speeded up, believing he could absorb the information even when the words were unintelligible.) I found myself taking their statements more seriously than I would have in the past. I was in an odd position, because in the past I had been judged by small-minded Christians and branded as a “witch” or sorcerer, and my response had been only contempt. Now I found myself sympathizing with the Christian point of view!
Candy’s account seemed like a minor incident, but the context (it happened at the major turning point in de Ruiter’s career as a spiritual leader) suggested otherwise. Candy described John as “laying guilt on people and being the one to take them out of themselves.” Maybe that was still his modus operandi as a “non-dualist” teacher and guru? My experience had certainly been similar: I had felt more acutely than ever my “uncleanness” and lack of “straightness” as a result of taking on de Ruiter’s teachings, and I had seen him as the way “out” of my “sinful” state of “sovereignty.” I was also beginning to suspect that—as with most men—de Ruiter’s attitude to women was a key to understanding him. Reeder—who had been very fond of Joyce—told me he had seen de Ruiter treating her very badly, bullying her and so forth, and he seemed to think that it was indicative of his treatment of women overall.
Candy had been very well thought of at Bethlehem, and as both a “minstrel” preacher and a young and beautiful woman, she had a powerful influence on the congregation—perhaps especially the men. De Ruiter’s closest ally in the church, Don Rousu, had allegedly become romantically infatuated with her around at that time, and there was some suggestion that she had been mentioned in some apocryphal prophecy about a “light-haired woman minstrel who would lead him [Rousu] astray.” It’s possible de Ruiter felt threatened by Candy, and hence a need to degrade her. According to Reeder, many of the other women at Bethlehem were practicing direct revelation at that time, and direct revelation was de Ruiter’s specialty. Allegedly, de Ruiter not only disparaged Candy, he cast dispersion on all the women there by stating that only one of them (Sandra Budinsky) was “clean.” When I asked Candy about de Ruiter’s view of women, she said it was “disgusting.” Yet he was counseling women at the church, even though the accepted rule was for male preachers to counsel men and for women to counsel women. So how did that happen? I left the Dallmanns’ with more questions than I’d arrived with.
Later that same day, I took the gumshoe initiative and paid an impromptu visit to Benita’s house. It was on the outskirts of town and it took three buses to get there. Having tramped through several feet of snow in my sandals I eventually found the house and rang the doorbell. A fit-looking teenage boy with blonde hair opened the door. It was Benita’s son, Felix, whom I’d read about in the affidavit. He was friendly and when I explained what I was there for, he said he was sure his mother would want to talk to me. She wasn’t home, however, and he didn’t expect her any time soon. I asked for a telephone number and after some hesitation he gave me his cell number and said I could call him later, once he’d told Benita about me. He asked if my book was going to be positive or negative and I told him it would be the truth. “So probably pretty negative then,” he said. He said then that he considered de Ruiter to be a conman, adding that he had spent time with him growing up and that he liked him. He called him a “manly guy” and indicated that they had done the usual father-son stuff together. He was sorry that his mother and his grandparents had “wasted ten years of their lives on this guy.” I tried to get him to talk about his experiences but he obviously didn’t feel comfortable so I gave him my number and email, thanked him and left.
When I called a few hours later, Felix was cool and sounded suspicious. He said his mother didn’t want to talk to me and when I asked if she would at least give me her reasons, he said, “What’s in it for her?” He said that I was obviously getting money to write this book, so I set him straight about that. I told him that it might be in everyone’s interests to get to the truth about de Ruiter, but I knew I was wasting my breath. Felix was not just cagey, he was hostile, presumably because of whatever Benita had said to him. I guessed she was angry I had shown up at her house uninvited and spoken to her son. I felt doubly deflated, because a couple of hours before that, I had received an email from Bob with a single line, stating that he was not interested in talking to me.
The next day was my last day in “Demontown,” and I went back to Queen’s Bench and managed to get the details of the new case against de Ruiter. Apparently Benita, undeterred at having her previous case thrown out by the judge as being “in poor taste,” and at having her appeal denied, had armored up and launched a new attack. Her charges against de Ruiter this time were “oppressive, prejudicial and unfair conduct which includes, but is not limited to, departure from proper accounting principles, failing to file and manage the company, failing to file annual returns, failing to account, failing to advise, failing to have annual meeting and engaging in conduct not authorized by the shareholders.” This time she was asking for $3.5 million in damages or a share in the property (not including minerals), $2 million in “punitive damages,” and an “injunction against defendant enjoining him from aggrieved conduct” (whatever that meant). At the very least, the documents established roughly what de Ruiter’s estate was worth: somewhere in the ballpark of $5.5 million. That begged one more question: why had Oasis needed to mount a gala auction to raise a measly $50,000?
That was my last task in Edmonton. The trip had proved both a success and a failure on various levels, pretty much exactly as I had expected. I had paid around $1000 basically to look de Ruiter in the eye, tell him what I was doing, and say, “Do what’s right.” It seemed like a fair deal.
A Thorn in His Side
(Brian:) “I’m not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!”
“Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.”
(Brian:) “What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!”
“He is! He is the Messiah!”
(Brian:) “Now, fuck off!”
“How shall we fuck off, O Lord?”
—Life of Brian
Having completed a first draft of the book in early 2011, I put it aside, uncertain about the implications of publishing it. Despite everything, I still hadn’t reached a satisfactory understanding of de Ruiter. Maybe I never would. A couple of months went by and I sent out a proposal to a few publishers. I received several rejections, and for a short while I thought I wouldn’t publish. Then a few minor incidents convinced me it would be worthwhile, and I started looking into self-publishing. I went over the manuscript and reworked it, and got to revisit my experiences one more time. I was struck by how I still found myself swinging back and forth between appreciating de Ruiter, and thinking of him with that same under layer of admiration, possibly affection, and viewing him as a corrupt and dangerous individual. It wasn’t simply that I couldn’t make my mind up. It was as if I was literally in two minds.
I read through my own writings and the accumulative evidence overwhelmed all my doubts and I felt secure in the knowledge of what de Ruiter was. But as soon as I stopped looking at that evidence, the old perspective started to creep back, a devil whispering in my ear, trying to convince me that I needed to look again, look deeper, that John was good and true and none of the evidence mattered. It was exactly the kind of “reasoning” his followers used, and although it no longer worked for me, it was still going on internally. I was like a person in love who couldn’t accept evidence of infidelity. To whatever degree, I was still afflicted. I was the lover spurned. After preparing the manuscript, I abandoned plans to publish. It wasn’t time.
Candy had said that de Ruiter put her “under the oppression,” made her feel guilty for who she was and then let it be known that he was the one who would lead her out of herself. (“I am the door, the way, the light.”) In Candy’s case, de Ruiter knew her weak spot and targeted it, bringing about the corresponding crisis for her. Conviction of sin creates guilt or an awareness of existing guilt, and that paves the way (prepares the “mark”) for receiving a way out. It is the oldest spiritual-political game there is: Problem-Reaction-Solution. The tactic backfired on de Ruiter, however, and he wound up getting expelled from Bethlehem. When he left, he took with him a group of followers who did come to see him as the way, the truth, and the light, and who were willing to enter into the door that he was opening to gain respite from their guilt-wracked selves. They were all Christians, and this was the same period in which de Ruiter informed Joyce he was the Messiah. The net result was something that distinctly resembled a man assuming the role of Christ for some very desperate people, placing them in perpetual service—or psychic servitude—to his person.
On the one hand, de Ruiter has created a great deal of mystery about what enlightenment actually is; he has talked about repeated “deaths” and a never-ending “cost,” and so on. On the other hand, he has made it clear that, whatever it is, enlightenment is not for everyone. It is “only for those who are tenderly okay with endless suffering.” In his online bio, de Ruiter describes the two-year period prior to his final awakening as “a state of what seemed to me to be never-ending pain.” Yet, in a 2012 interview, he said, “I didn’t have anything of the suffering or pain or difficulty. Things just opened up very unexpectedly.” Minor discrepancies in de Ruiter’s story or teaching can be overlooked, but this is hardly minor, so why the drastic change of tune? On other occasions (for example on the tape “Bob’s Story,” already quoted) he has stated that he only became enlightened due to the purity and cleanness of his heart, and to his willingness to surrender and pay the price. Enlightenment, for de Ruiter, has to be earned. To all appearances, de Ruiter’s system is a reward and punishment system—just like Christianity.
De Ruiter has said, “If you want to know where you’re at, look around you.” It’s the tenet of existential psychology as well as mysticism, so what happens if we apply it to de Ruiter? Since we can’t look inside his mind to find out where he is at, if we look around him, what do we see? If de Ruiter truly believes he is a Messianic stream of pure goodness, and that his devoted followers have got it right, shouldn’t his outer life reflect that?
Whether de Ruiter is consciously allowing the darker aspects of his (and the collective) psyche to materialize, through his action and inaction and through the Frankenstein’s monster that is Oasis, or whether he is truly possessed by that darkness, the end result is the same. And in either case, it will all come out in the wash of John’s personal Armageddon.
Throughout the process of finding (and eventually exposing) the flaws in de Ruiter’s edifice, one thought has continued to play around in the back of my mind: I wanted to help him. Maybe it was only because that would be the final, uncontestable proof I was his equal, and even the better man. But there was also genuine compassion, even if only for moments at a time. As de Ruiter self-inflated on the ether of his archetypal calling, his avatar-sphere moved inevitably into the path of thorns, and I was those thorns. I was the horns he had tried to surgically remove and the tail he kept tucked away inside his tailor-made trousers. Tenderness and tact combined with ruthless honesty, I was only telling my story, and he was the false hero inevitably revealed as the heavy to restore balance in my own psyche. After that, he became what he always was: a supporting character who temporarily succeeded in stealing my thunder.
By wanting to be like de Ruiter—most especially by believing it was what my wife wanted in a man—it was inevitable I’d wind up competing with him. Whatever test John represented to me—a test not of faith but of knowledge and discernment—and however close a call it was, I can now say without hesitation that, by knowing him, I gained a stronger sense of my own truth. Knowing him and falling prey to the illusion he generated—the illusion of spiritual superiority—was a unique opportunity for me. I am able to say that, now I have passed through the disillusionment of seeing his humanness. As long as I saw de Ruiter as a god—or a superior man—I remained lost inside my own infantile projections of the father I never had. The moment I saw he was just a man like myself, I came of age. I couldn’t have done it without him; and yet, the final realization, paradoxically, is that I never needed him, or anyone, to define my reality. The greatest truth John taught me was that he was, for me, untruth, because any truth not sourced within myself is only a shadow of truth.