River Road cult came between family, daughter

A lifelong Lutheran, nothing quite prepared Dale Bates for the River Road Fellowship and cult leader Victor Barnard -- the man who he said came between his family and his daughter. 

Bates' daughter, Laura, joined River Road 25 years ago, shortly after she married Michael Lester, who would become one of Barnard's most trusted acolytes. The couple even lived with Victor Barnard and his wife Stephanie before moving to Pine City, Minn., and later, Shepherds Camp.

Bates said he played along for his daughter. For a year, Bates attended services and watched as Barnard would selectively stitch together scripture; a line here, and phrase there, creating his own theology. It was faith that would even justify cutting off one's family.

The investigation: Maidens of River Road
The charges: Cult leader charged with molesting "Maidens"
The arrest: Cult leader captured in Brazil

Bates said he was excommunicated and, in turn, cut off from his daughter and two granddaughters. The family moved to Washington with other cult members 5 years ago. Then, last year, when the Fox 9 Investigators exposed the sexual abuse of young girls in the group, he called Laura, who quoted scripture.

"Absolutely brainwashed. They've all been brainwashed," he said of his daughter.

His son-in-law recently wrote to say they no longer wish to have contact, but Bates hopes now that Barnard has been caught in Brazil, maybe he will no longer have the same psychological hold on his followers. Maybe Bates can get his family back.

"They're completely behind him. They say he saved their lives and they owe their lives to him," Bates said.

Bates said one of the reasons he was asked to leave River Road is because he wouldn't give the group 15 percent of his earnings. He said the group was obsessed with money. They also wouldn't allow him to sing "God Bless America" on the Fourth of July because they didn't believe God would indeed bless America.


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