American Scandal

New episodes come out every Tuesday for free, with 1-week early access for Wondery+ subscribers.

Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.

Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.

The Hare Krishna Murders: The Fracture  | 5

The Hare Krishna Murders: The Fracture | 5

Tue, 26 Mar 2019 07:05

Steve Bryant is forced out of the commune at gunpoint and heads to California where he finds evidence that the Gurus are frauds. Berkeley Temple Leader Hansadutta has a meltdown that lands him in jail. An attempt to start a Guru Reform movement divides the movement and leads to death threats. A devotee attacks Keith Ham.

Support us by supporting our sponsors!

See Privacy Policy at and California Privacy Notice at

Listen to Episode

Copyright © © 2018 Wondery, Inc.

Read Episode Transcript

It's a winter day in early 1984. The air is crisp at Newverin Damen, the harry Krishna commune in West Virginia. Steve Bryant sits on the cold marble floor of Prabhu Pods Palace of Gold, the memorial shrine built for the founder of the harry Krishna movement. Steve's wife, Jane, is beside him, and at the front of the room, Kirtana Nanda, the commune's spiritual leader, sits in an ornately carved teak chair, smiling at his flock. Steve closes his eyes and chance, swaying on the tide of voices that chant with him. The palace of gold is spectacular and humbling. Crystal chandeliers and gold leaf glitter above, onyx and marble adorn the walls. Morning light will soon strain through the colorful stained glass windows, but not yet, because it's 430 in the morning. Steve opens one eye and glances at Jane. She swept up in the chant. It's clear she feels something spiritual. Steve is trying, trying to chant, trying to feel the same spirit, trying to be a good husband, father, and devotee. To promise he made to himself when he returned to Newverin Dobin a few months ago. He was willing to return because his wife was unhappy in California, but he feels like all he ever does is try. He never seems to succeed. As the chanting ends, Jane opens her eyes and a radiant smile spreads across her face. Even after five years of marriage and all they've been through, Steve's heart still skips a beat when he sees that smile. If only it was for him. Her adoring gaze is instead fixed on Kirtana Nanda. Jane never smiles at Steve like that. He sighs. What's the point of getting up at 4 in the morning to chant for hours just to end up feeling bitter and resentful? He tells Jane he'll meet her back at the apartment. Maybe if he takes a walk, he'll find inspiration. As the sun rise dust the tree tops with gold in light. He stops and reminds himself to feel grateful that he's not back in Detroit working in an office. He takes a deep breath. The air is so clean and cold it almost hurts. But then an angry voice rises. He turns and hears a second voice. And this one sounds scared. The voices are coming from a storage shed 50 feet away. Steve creeps towards it as the argument gets louder. Steve reaches the shed and flattens against the exterior wall. The door is slightly ajar. When Kirtana Nanda gives you an order, you carry it out without a question. I did follow his orders. What you cheated him. Steve inches his way till he can see through the crack in the door. There are three men in the shed. Two of them are Keith's enforcers. One of them has the third man in a headlock. Steve recognizes him too. He's a devotee who sells drugs for the commune. One of the many legal ways Keith funds the operation. The enforcer hauls off and backhands the drug dealer. The man's head snaps and spits blood. Steve staggers back. What kind of spiritual leader has a goon squat that beats up his devotees? He backs away from the shed and turns and runs. Normally he goes to the authorities. But on the commune, Keith's enforcers are the authorities. He feels trapped. He thought he was living in a peaceful refuge. But it's starting to feel more like a prison camp. He's got to warn Jane. He's got to make her see the truth. American scandal is sponsored by the new ABC drama Alaska Daily. When an indigenous woman goes missing in Alaska, it sparks new questions about other missing and murdered indigenous women. And that's where the thrilling new ABC drama Alaska Daily begins and where it's headed will have you on the edge of your seat. Two time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank stars as Eileen a veteran reporter who joins a team of local journalists working to bring the truth to light from Academy Award winning screenwriter Tom McCarthy Alaska Daily premieres Thursday October 6th on ABC and streams next day on Hulu. If you're into true crime, the generation why podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together. And we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Why podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. No wonder I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American scandal. In our last episode, a whistleblower went head to head with Keith and ended up paying with his life. Deputy Westfall tried to bring the killers to justice, but the prosecutor refused to take the case and Steve Bryant began to suspect Keith as a fraud. So he left Newverin Robin, but now he's back and he's on a collision course with Keith. This is episode five, The Fracture. Deputy Thomas Westfall pushes a shopping cart towards his car, wondering how he always manages to pick the cart with the rattling wheel. To stay off, he's vowed not to think about work. But as he loads his groceries into the backseat, he sees Deborah Gears standing next to a battered old truck with blue boy nursery stencils on the side. Deborah is a living reminder of his failure. A few months ago her husband, Chuck St. Dennis, was murdered at Newverin Robin. They both know who did it, tear to the community enforcer, along with an accomplice. But he suspects the killers were just following orders. It's Keith Ham that rules Newverin Robin, like a mafia boss, and Westfall has made it his mission to bring Keith down. He thought Chuck's murder would topple Keith's golden palace of cards, but the body was never found, so the prosecutor wouldn't take the case. Nobody, no trial. Westfall catches Deborah's eye. He smiles and nods, but she doesn't smile back. Instead, a look of pain flashes across her face. She stares down at the cracked asphalt of the parking lot for a few moments. And she gets into her truck and drives away. Deputy Westfall has a 312 square mile county to worry about. 40,558 residents to protect and serve. He knows he can't solve every case. Sometimes the bad guys do get away. That's just part of being a cop. You accept the failures, move on. At least that's what they tell you in the academy. 15 minutes later, on his day off, Westfall is back in his office, on the phone to one of his informants. Over the years, he's gained the trust of a few devotees who will pass along what they've heard. But all his informant can offer is that, tear to left the commune shortly after Chuck's murder. He and his wife are on the road, but no one knows exactly where. This fall hangs up in size. He's not moving on. Not as long as Chuck's murder remains unsolved. He's size. He never even wanted to be a cop. And he never imagined he'd be investigating a hurry Krishna commune, not in rural West Virginia. But here he is, in the office on a Sunday. No, he's not moving on. Not as long as Keith Ham is running New Vryndavan. Steve has spent the day trying to focus on his work, on chanting, on anything he can do to try to erase those horrific images from his mind. But as he makes his way home, he's has wound up as he's ever been. He bursts into the basement apartment he shares with Jane and their children and starts to tell her what he saw. But Jane shushes him, saying she just got the baby down for a nap. But Steve's too rattled to contain himself. I need you to listen very carefully. He says, I don't think we're safe here. But Jane just laughs and tells him she's never felt safer or happier. New Vryndavan is their home in Kirtananda is their spiritual master. He loves them, even Steve. In fact, she tells Steve he wants you to thrive. Did you know he wants you to be manager of the lodge? Steve is surprised and flattered. From the beginning, all he wanted was acknowledging that he can contribute more than menial labor, that he has talents and is respected. That would be a good job. I'd be good at it. He says his smile spreads across his face. The news is almost too good to be true. Steve asked her to repeat it. Kirtananda really said that? Yes, Jane answers. You just have to focus on the positive. Good things only happen if you're open to them happening. Steve feels like Charlie Brown with the football. He's tried to be the perfect devotee in Detroit, Los Angeles, London and California, but he screwed it up everywhere. Now he's back in New Vryndavan again. He looks at Jane and the baby impossibly still asleep just a few feet away. He may not have much, but he's got a family and there what's important. He decides to make one final try and give it his all. He'll be a good worker, a good husband and a good father. He won't criticize Keith in front of Jane and he'll keep his temper under control. He knows it won't be easy. Steve spends the next few weeks trying to forget what he saw and focus on his job. He works now as a tour guide at the Palace of Gold and he enjoys it. He used to be a friendly easygoing guy and he sees his job as a good opportunity to become that guy again. The tourists like him and that makes him feel good. One afternoon as he says goodbye to a group of tourists and walks back toward the temple, he sees Keith's cheap approaching. Keith likes to drive around the commune, stopping for brief chats with devotees. Keith pulls over and Steve seizes the opportunity to promote himself. He's thrilled when the Keith compliments him for putting smiles on the tourist faces. Steve gushes about how he loves sharing the beauty of life at New Vryndavan. Then he delicately brings up the large manager job. Keith is encouraging but noncommittal. He says Steve would be a good fit but there's still some work to be completed. Steve tries to pin Keith down about a start date but Keith only says sometime this summer. Keith drives off leaving Steve feeling hopeful. At least he's got something to look forward to. Maybe Jane is right. He needs to be open to the positive. In the meantime he'll focus on his jewelry business. He built a workshop in the attic of a community building, spends quiet hours making pendants and necklaces with picture of Hindu deities in lockets to sell to devotees. He's skilled and the items he makes are pretty but it's not going to bring in enough cash to change their lifestyle. He needs a better job. On June 24th, 1984, Steve stands in line outside Keith's office waiting for an audience with a spiritual master. When he's called in he drops to his hands and knees and presses his forehead to the floor. He rises and keeps his gaze down so as to appear properly submissive. He tells Keith how happy he is to live at New Vryndavan. How his only regret is that he can't do more for the community. How he loves giving tours and tending to the needs of visitors which is why he's anxious to start the job as manager of the lodge. He holds his breath and glances up. Keith is smiling but it's more of a smirk. Keith leans forward, looks directly into Steve's eyes and says, I've changed my mind. I don't think you have what it takes to do the job. Steve presses his palms against the floor to keep the room from spinning. There's a roaring in his ears and he feels his face burning with rage. It's definitely a smirk on Keith's face and now Keith is waving at him, little backhanded flip of the wrist that says, you are dismissed. When Steve blasts through the door of their apartment he doesn't care if the baby cries. He doesn't care if the building explodes. All he cares about is getting as far away from Keir Tana Nanda as he possibly can. He yanks a suitcase out from under the bed and toss it close into it. Jane tries to speak but he cuts her off snapping pack. We're leaving right now. Jane tries to get Steve to sit down but he's too agitated. He paces around the cramped apartment as he spits out the details of his encounter with Keith. He tells her he's done. He's tried and tried and tried but he's been a fool. A sucker. But today was the last time. They're leaving Newford, Dobin and they're never coming back. But then Jane says something she's never said to her husband before. She says, no. Steve has stopped in his tracks. Jane plants her hands on her hips and says she's not going anywhere. And neither are the children. Steve can do whatever he wants but he'll be doing it alone. Steve turns and sees Keith's mocking face looking directly at him. Jane hung Keith's picture above their bed, above their bed. How did he ever allow it? He angsts the picture off the wall and throws it across the room. The baby starts crying and Jane looks at him with disgust. She picks up the baby and rocks it in her arms. Steve finishes packing the suitcase. Then he gets his guns and walks out the door. But he's back a moment later. He snatches the baby out of Jane's arms, grabs his young son by the hand and walks out to his homemade camper van. Jane follows him demanding to know what he's doing but Steve stays silent. He straps the children into their car seats, turns back to Jane and stares. Finally he speaks. Well, are you coming? Jane stands defiant. Steve clearly has no idea where he's going and she's not going traveling around the country to beat up old van with three kids and a maniac husband. She doubts he wants to live that way either. So she's calling his bluff. Steve gets behind the wheel, starts the engine and drives off. But instead of turning onto the road that leads out of the commune, he circles back, hoping that Jane has changed her mind. But she hasn't moved. She's still standing with her hands on her hips, shaking her head at Steve's dramatic behavior. Steve makes two more loops, driving even more slowly, waiting for Jane to flag him down to come to her senses and be the obedient wife that Krishna demands. But Jane does not back down. Finally, Steve turns onto the main road and guns the engine. Jane gasps. Steve looks in the rear view mirror and sees Jane fall to her knees. He makes the determined smile. No more surrendering for him. It's a busy afternoon on the commune. Devotees milk the cows and tourists pose for pictures in front of the palace of gold. But the green atmosphere is shattered by a woman's screams. Jane runs to Keith's house as fast as she can, sobbing and praying that Keith is there. As she gets closer, she's relieved to see a line of devotees waiting to see him. She pushes past them in bursts into the office without knocking. Keith is startled. Jane is sweating to shuffled and hysterical. She catches her breath and tells him what's happened. Keith immediately calls the communes and forcers. Then he tries to calm Jane, telling her, let him go. I'll take care of you. Jane sobbs that she doesn't care about Steve, but she's terrified of losing her children. Keith looked at her solemnly and says that Krishna will protect her and the children. Jane's not so sure about that, but she never wanted to believe anything more in her life. As Steve reaches the border of the commune and turns onto the state highway, he feels a rush of relief. He starts singing at the top of his lungs, encouraging his oldest son to join in. He tells him that they were going on a fun trip to Michigan where they'll visit Grandma and Grandpa. He makes up a story of Grandma's legendary cookie baking skills and soon his son is smiling and the baby is dancing in his car seat. But all the talk of cookies has made his son hungry and Steve realizes that in his rush to get away, he didn't pack any snacks and even worse, he forgot diapers and the baby desperately needs one. They cross the river into Ohio and he pulls into the parking lot of a supermarket. His son wants to come in but Steve is anxious to get back on the road. He tells him to wait and watch the baby. A few minutes later, Steve emerges from the store with a bag of groceries. He has diapers, some healthy snacks as well as a few candy bars. They have a long drive ahead of them and he might need to bribe the kids into compliance. He whistles as he walks across the parking lot. He can't believe how happy and free he feels. But as he gets closer to the van, he stops in his tracks. There's another van parked right next to his. Jane is inside and she's holding the baby. Their son sits beside her. Three men stand in front of the van. Steve recognizes them immediately as the commons and forcers. He drops the groceries and rushes towards them. Give me back my kids. One of the enforcers pulls a gun and addresses Steve by his Hindu name. Back off to Lakhon. Steve looks into the enforcers van. Jane won't meet his gays. But his son stairs had him terrified. You can't take my kids. Neither can you. What you've done is kidnapping. So you can call the cops and go to jail or you can drive away and never come back. At least hug my kids goodbye. The man aims his gun at Steve's chest. I give you two options. One. Steve's legs feel ledden. The short walk to the door of his van feels like an eternity. His handshake as he puts the key in the ignition and starts the engine. He takes one last look. Jane rocks the baby who kicks and cries in her arms. His son stairs crying. Steve puts the van in gear and drives away. Five minutes ago, he was making a fresh start. Now he's lost everything. But he's not ready to give up. He's going to get his family back and no one especially keeps him will stand in his way. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion? Or you woke up in the morgue? Or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. The next question is, while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives. Even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple podcasts or on the Wondry app. Steve Bryant takes his hand off the wheel to take a swig of coffee. He's been driving 14 hours straight. After spending a week in Detroit at his parents home, he's come to the realization that the only way to get his family back is to prove that Keith violated the Swami Prabhupada's original rules that a husband must give his permission before his wife is initiated and Keith didn't do that. He initiated Jane while Steve was in India. Keith told him he was equal to the Swami and could change the rules as he saw fit, but Steve doesn't believe him. Unfortunately, the only way to prove it is to read Swami's letters himself and they're kept in a book trust in Los Angeles. That's where he's headed. In Nebraska, he calls Jane from a pay phone. He tells her he'll soon have proved that Keith brainwashed her, but she tells him she wants a divorce, slams down the phone. The Bhaktivedanta book trust is headquartered in a simple, nondescript building in West Los Angeles, but it serves very important purpose. The trust publishes Swami Prabhupada's books and pamphlets and it's the repository for all his diaries and correspondence. On a sweltering summer day, Steve walks through the door and politely asks for a copy of the Swami's letters, especially the ones relating to initiation of married women. The devotee behind the desk raises his eyebrow. The Swami's letters aren't just handed over to ordinary devotees. He asks what Steve wants them for, and Steve naively tells the truth, saying, I'm going to expose Kirtanana Nanda as a fraud. I can tell you things about him you wouldn't believe, so if you can make me a copy of the letters, I'll come back tomorrow and pick them up. The devotee forces his smile and says he'll get right on it. Predictably when Steve comes back the next day, he's told he's been permanently banned from the premises. On an August night in Berkeley, California, Humsaduta drives through town with a windows down and music blaring. It's been a rough few months for the local heart Krishna temple. Humsaduta is the temple leader, but he's disgrace himself through a series of scandals. He amassed an arsenal of weapons at the temple's North California farm because he thought Armageddon was at hand. Luckily he was tipped off that the farm was about to be raided by the authorities, and they removed most of the weapons before the cops arrived. But then, during a routine traffic stop, the police discovered a custom built machine gun in his trunk. When Humsaduta avoided arrest when a local devotee took the rap and said the weapon belonged to him. Now the other gurus who control the how Krishna movement think Humsaduta is a liability. He thinks they're all fools. They don't understand him. They feel to appreciate his brilliance refuse to acknowledge all the contributions he's made. He's angry, and he's high as a kite. Yes, followers of Krishna aren't supposed to do drugs, and yes, he's addicted to barbituets and cough syrup, but as he sees it, that doesn't matter. He's not a mere follower of Krishna. He's a guru, and gurus are not to be questioned. If anyone dares to challenge him, he quotes the founder of the how Krishna movement. Swami Prabhupada said, the spiritual master cannot be subject to criticism and should never be considered equal to a common man. Even if a spiritual master goes to a liquor shop, he is not a drunkard. Rather, he must have some purpose in going there. Humsaduta pulls to a stoplight and a group of students step into the crosswalk. He leans out the window and yells, I am not to be questioned. The student shrug. Whatever. It's Berkeley. The light changes, and he turns onto San Pablo Avenue. He passes a Cadillac dealership and slams on the brakes. Rage boils inside him as he looks at the cars in the showroom, glistening like polished pigs. They are everything that's wrong with America. Empty materialism, conspicuous consumption, status of spirituality. Someone should do something. He should do something. So he does. He reaches into the glove box, yanks out a 9mm barretta and takes aim at the sedan de Vil in the window. He fires, shattering the plate glass windows and terrifying nearby pedestrians. And he keeps firing, hitting the coupe de Vil, the elder auto convertible, and the fleet would roam. He fires 19 rounds and peels out. But he's not done. He turns onto University Avenue and spies ledgers liquor, even worse than Cadillacs. He thinks of all the lives that have been ruined by alcohol and drugs. Doesn't include himself, of course. He's a god. He pulls over and reloads the barretta. But unlike the Cadillac dealership, this store is open for business. A moment later, the customers inside hit the floor as bullet shatter bottles all around them. The store's owner gets a good look at Humtsadoos's car and calls the police. A few blocks later, squad cars screened down the street from both directions blocking Humtsadoos in. He gets out of the car with his hands raised, wondering what all the ruckus is about. The cops order him to empty his pockets. He pulls out a tightly wound water cache. Then another, another, and another. The cops counted out $8,627. A search of his car yields a Winchester 12 gauge shotgun, a fully automatic 9mm pistol, a 22 caliber cult semi automatic, and dozens of boxes of ammunition. They cuff him and put him in the back of the squad car. Humtsadoos wandered into the Swami's New York storefront temple nearly 20 years ago and rose to become one of the most powerful gurus in the movement. But tonight, he's hit rock bottom. Two weeks later, Keith Ham's phone rings. He's surprised to hear the voice of his old rival, Humtsadoota on the other end. But Keith's surprise turns to a saccharine sympathy when Humtsadoos explains that he kind of had a meltdown and is in rehab. Keith heard Humtsadoota had gotten in trouble, but now that he's getting the details, he has to bite his hand to keep from laughing. Keith gently suggests that maybe it's time for Humtsadoota to go quietly, but Humtsadoota cuts him off. He's got a plan. He believes the devotees at the Berkeley temple will support him no matter what he does. He brags to Keith, I could sit on an altar with a glass of wine and puff on a cigar, and they'd still be loyal to me. Keith doesn't disagree. He's done far worse things than shoot a Cadillac, and he's still in power. But Humtsadoota's meltdown was in public, and the police were involved. Keith urges him to step aside, but Humtsadoota cuts him off again and spells out his plan. He'll tell his loyal board of directors to oppose whomever is named to take over the Berkeley temple. Instead, he'll have them vote to give the temple to Keith. Then when Humtsadoota gets out of rehab, Keith will give it back. Keith has to smile. It's the kind of absurd and audacious plan that he thought only he could come up with, and it could actually work. But Keith has no intention of giving the temple back to Humtsadoota. He hangs up the phone and smiles. He'll have temples on both sides of the country. Praise Krishna. Steve Bryant is still in hot pursuit of evidence of wrongdoing among the Krishna leaders. He taps into a network of ex devotees who are angry and disillusioned, who share hair raising stories, women and children who have been abused and molested, a guru who took daily doses of LSD, tens of thousands of dollars disappearing, and temple leaders who live like kings. And it's not just happening at Newverin Daabhan. It's happening all over the world. For the first time, Steve starts to think he's been part of a worldwide cult. And then he hits the jackpot. An ex devotee has a copy of the Swami's letters and he gives them to Steve. The letters are on microfiche, so Steve has to go to the local library to read them. He loads the first film into the machine, adjust the focus, and begins reading. A few minutes later, he lets out a loop of victory, earning a stern look from the librarian. But he doesn't care. The Swami's letters are more damning than he could ever have imagined. There are several passages where the Swami criticizes Keith. In one letter, he even calls Keith a crazy man. But then Steve discovers something huge. The Swami never intended for the 11 gurus he appointed to be equal to him. They've lied and scheme to increase their power. And it's not just Keith, all of the gurus are frauds. And Steve is going to expose them. Steve spends the next few months working on an expose he calls the guru business. He knows the information he's compiled, makes him a target, but he's being careful. When he meets someone in a cafe, he always sits where he can watch the door. He moves his van to a new location every few days in cases being followed. And he also practices his markmanship by shooting at targets with Keith's face on them. On October 11th, 1984, Steve Ryan stands in line at the post office on Austin Way in Berkeley. It's a grand building with high ceilings and marble counters. To Steve, it feels bit like a courthouse, which is appropriate because the stack of Manila envelopes he's holding contains explosive allegations. He approaches the counter and hands the first of the envelopes to the clerk. She weighs it and calculates the postage. There are eleven envelopes in all, each address to one of the gurus on the governing board commission. Inside are damning excerpts from his book. It's still a work in progress, but his allegations are enough to put all of them on notice. His heart pounds as he counts out the money for postage and watches the clerk toss the envelopes into a bin. Steve suspects his life will never be the same after this moment. And he's right. The Harry Christian temple in Tahuaco, New Jersey is a stately white mansion on three peaceful acres. In September 1985, the North American temple presidents hold a routine meeting there. It's supposed to focus on organizing preaching strategies, but instead it's become a soul searching debate about the role of the eleven gurus that run the governing board commission or GBC. When Swami Prabhupada started the movement, there was no GBC. The temple presidents were more autonomous and had more power to run their temples as they saw fit. Now, many of them have deep misgivings about the gurus who have seized control. They have too much power and they abuse it, especially Hum Seduta, still in rehab after his public and violent meltdown. The GBC has had enough of his antics. So when he gets out, they'll do what they can to ensure he doesn't get his temple back. In attendance at the meeting is the president of the Philadelphia temple. Ravindra is a scholar with a PhD in religion. He's been troubled by the actions of the gurus. Now that he knows other leaders feel the same way, he takes action. When he returns to Philadelphia, he writes an essay laying out his concerns about the conflicts between the gurus and the temple presidents. He calls it the next step in the expansion of Iskhan ending the Fratricidal War. But he's reluctant to share it widely. He's afraid there will be repercussions if he's branded as a troublemaker, so he discreetly slips it to four senior disciples that he knows well and trusts. They are so impressed with the essay that they each make ten copies to share with their most trusted colleagues and those colleagues share it with other colleagues. And within weeks, Ravindra receives hundreds of replies. Almost all of them are very unhappy with the GBC. It's the beginning of what will come to be known as the guru reform movement, but not everyone agrees with it. Many devotees blindly support the gurus and refuse to hear them criticized in any way. At temples around the country, heated arguments break out. Devotees take sides and the movement begins to split into pro and anti guru factions. Ravindra gets death threats. This isn't the result he wanted. In an attempt to heal the movement, Ravindra opened wounds. Instead of bringing peace, he feels he's started a war. Ravindra By March of 1985, Steve Ryan's book The Guru Business is nearing completion. He continues to meet with disaffected members, but the book's primary focus remains personal. He wants to convince Jane that Keith is a fraud. If Jane comes to her senses, he'll finally get his family back. But then Steve learns that Jane has met another devotee and plans to remarry. He's always held out hope that Jane will come back to him. Now he has to face the fact that he's lost her forever. But he can't. He still blames Keith, and he comes up with a new way to convince everyone that Keith is a fraud. In early April, Steve sends Keith excerpts from his book. He includes a letter challenging Keith to a debate about the Swami's writings and Hindu scriptures. He believes Keith knows nothing about the sacred texts, and if Steve exposes his ignorance, Keith's followers will abandon him. His letter continues, I hope you will realize that you stepped on the wrong person when you stepped on me. This book and challenge, totaling approximately 100 pages, will be mass mailed if the following does not happen first. Steve lays out a list of demands. The Keith and several other gurus resign. The Keith beg Jane to return to him, and that Keith give him $10,000 in damages. Most damning ball though, he claims to have statements from former Newvrindaban parents saying their children were molested while they lived there, and he threatens to send the information to the press. He ends the letter, needless to say, I'm not just going to go away, and you will not be able to find me to kill me, for I'm now working in complete seclusion. No one knows where I am. This book contains enough filth on the new gurus to burn their little kingdoms to ashes, the fire starting at Newvrindaban. As a result of Revinjra's reform movement, the governing board council and the temple president meet at Newvrindaban on September 16, 1985. Keith has ignored Steve's letter and decides to ignore all three days of the meeting as well. The guru reform movement has gained traction, and Keith is afraid that people may speak out against him. He declares that the meetings are anarchy and not worthy of his presence, and none of his followers at Newvrindaban attend the meetings. While Keith may be boycotting the meeting, Steve isn't. If Keith won't debate him, he'll still show up and make his case, but it's too dangerous for him to go to Newvrindaban. The enforcers will turn him away or worse, they might even kill him. He has to figure out a safe way to deliver a dangerous message, and within a few days, he's come up with a detailed plan. Deputy Westfall tries to have as little a do with his boss as possible. As far as Westfall's concerned, Sheriff Borden cursor is a politician, not a cop. The Sheriff's two main interests are not making waves and getting reelected, so Westfall is surprised when the Sheriff walks briskly to his desk and slaps down a flyer. Deputy, we've got to do something about this. Jones Town in Moundsville, the truth behind the palace of gold. What the hell is this? You tell me, you're the one we call the Krishna Cup. As the Sheriff paces, Westfall scams the flyer further. Blow the headline or a series of bullet points. Corruption in Krishna land, Hama sends his throne to Claire's himself superior to Christ, torture of children, the dark side of Newverendob and... Where'd you get this? You ever hear of a guy named Steve Bryant? Westfall nods. What he wants to say is, of course I have. I've got a file on him, and if you did your job, you know all about him too. But Westfall keeps his mouth shut and he rereads the flyer. He has to admit it's unsettling. All right, so where'd you get this? I just got off the phone with Steve Bryant. He made a thousand copies, sent them to the media, the locals and the Krishna's. The Sheriff puts his palms on Westfall's desk and leans in for emphasis, and he's on his way here. He wants me to put him in protective custody. He says there's going to be a holy war. Westfall is on his feet before he even realizes it. Holy war. What the hell is this guy got planned? Westfall arrives at the commune and immediately notices a change. There's a lot of security. Every car that enters the commune is being searched. The devotees who have been pressed into security service are clearly scared and way out of their league. One struggles to put on a bulletproof vest, another tells Westfall he's heard all sorts of terrifying rumors that armed gangs are going to show up and that a bomb has been planted under the palace of gold. Westfall gets on the radio and immediately arranges for extra patrols. For years he's dreamed of bringing down Keith Ham but not like this. He doesn't like this one bit. Steve Bryant arrives in Moundsville one day before the governing board is scheduled to meet. He's afraid that his funky old van is too conspicuous so he arrives by bus and goes immediately to the Sheriff's station. It's strange but once he's behind bars he feels safer than he has in months. His flyer has been very effective. The day after his arrival news crews descend on the jail. Deputy Westfall watches closely as Steve tells the reporters about the criminal activity at Newvrondomin. Steve is speaking the truth but Westfall sees he's got a personal vendetta that's left him with a raw wound. He's twitchy and overly eager. Exactly the kind of person that Keith Ham will calmly dismiss as a spurned abusive husband who can't face his own failures. But more than that he's worried about Steve Bryant's safety. And for the first time Keith Ham is worried about his safety. Steve's actions cause shock waves at Newvrondomin. He knows Steve is unstable and lose canon. He convenes a meeting of a few trusted advisors and they debate what to do. Though the GBC has excommunicated Steve high agree with the declares that Steve needs to be silenced. Adding, after all we've been through I'm not losing you to some madman. Keith is touched. He and high agree with certainly have been through a lot. They met in college and became lovers. Dropped out to avoid a sex scandal, moved to Grennitch Village together. Went to the Swami's little storefront temple when the movement was just starting. High agree with him has always been protective of him. But killing Steve seems awfully extreme. One of Kirtanananda's other advisors insists that high agree with him is overreacting and the only gunplay will be when Steve shoots himself in the foot with his unhinged rants. The final consensus is that Steve is more crazy than dangerous. So Keith goes back to business as usual, running the commune and building his empire. On Sunday October 27th, Keith leads the community in a brick laying marathon to build a new parking lot in front of the temple. Michael Shockman is on hand to help. He's a new devotee who arrived to observe the governing council meeting and decided to stay. The other residents think he's creepy. He often talks to himself. Tonight, Shockman hangs back while the others work. His eyes dart and he mutters, but then focuses on a large steel pipe. He picks it up and swings it gently. He looks at Keith, barking orders and demanding perfection. No one pays attention as he walks up behind Keith. Then Shockman quickly races the pipe and brings it down full force on Keith's head. Keith collapses to the ground unconscious. Blood pours from his freshers skull. Shockman hits Keith twice more before a devotee tackles him and pins him to the ground. The hysterical devotees load Keith into the back of an SUV and climb in around him, chanting as they race to the hospital. Keith goes in and out of consciousness. When he speaks, it's only to utter the name of Swami Prabhupad, the founder of the movement whose changed Keith's life when he initiated him almost 20 years earlier. When they reach the emergency room, the doctor quickly realizes Keith's injuries are too serious for them to treat. He orders him to be taken by ambulance to wheeling, where surgeons perform an emergency craniotomy and an attempt to save his life. Four days later, Keith is airlifted to Pittsburgh, where doctors perform a second operation. Ten days pass and Keith remains in a coma. Devotees camp out in the hospital, chanting day and night, waiting for news of Keith's condition. But each update from the doctors is the same. Keith may never regain consciousness. I agree with you. It's on a plastic chair in the corner of the hospital waiting room. He hasn't been able to sleep for days. One of the senior devotees walks over with two cups of coffee and sits next to him. Howard doesn't even look up. It's the guy who insisted Steve Bryant isn't dangerous. Howard shakes his head. How are you holding up, Hayakriva? Any news from the doctors? Same story. Nobody knows anything. But I'll tell you this. If Kirtan and Honda recovers, we're beefing up security. That's probably a good idea. You still think Steve Bryant is more crazy than dangerous? Because I think he's just plain dangerous. How do we know he's not behind the attack? I bet he recruited Shockman. He's already left town. I don't think he's coming back. You don't think? What do you know? Do you know where Steve Bryant is right now? Do you know if he's armed? Do you know what he's capable of? I'm just saying we probably don't need to worry about him. Probably isn't good enough. We need to take action. What do you mean by take action? But the Devotee knows exactly what Hayakriva means. If Keith lives, Steve Bryant needs to die. The attack on Keith has changed everything. Guru's and temple leaders around the world are running scared. Plenty of them have committed abuses and most of them have their own Steve Bryant. The angry guy with an axe to grind, who's vowed revenge. They say they're leaving it up to Krishna to protect them. But they're also not taking any chances. They're beefing up security and watching their backs. Peace and love have given way to paranoia and fear. From Wondery, this is episode 5.8 of the Harry Christian Emerters for American Scandal. On the next episode, Steve Bryant is targeted for assassination and Deputy Westfall finally gets the evidence he needs to shut down criminal activities at Newver and Domen. If you'd like to learn more about the Harry Christian Emerters, we recommend the book, Healing for Krishna, the danger of deranged devotion from Henry Doctorski. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details. And while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American Scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by me Lindsey Graham for Airship, sound assigned by Derek Barrett's. This episode is written by Steve Chivers, edited by Andrew Stelser. Executive producers are Stephanie Chenz, Marsha Louis, and her nonlopest for Wondery.