The Washington Post recently told the story of Micah Conrad of Los Angeles, California. A kid in his late 20’s who was raised in evangelicalism and today producing videos for the anti-vaxxer movement. A deeper look revealed Conrad has links to the Radiance International in Hollywood, California as led by Jonathan and Sharon Ngai who are deeply involved in the New Apostolic Reformation Movement. This is the story of a lost individual and this post offers concerns about the New Apostolic Reformation movement. In addition you can read the entire Washington Post story in this blog post.
“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.“
“To the wise, life is a problem; to the fool, a solution.”
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6 NIV
Micah Conrad from Facebook
On August 31, 2020 in the Washington Post there is the story about Micah Conrad. Micah is a guy in his 20’s helping to edit and publicize videos for an organization propagating anti-vaccination material. The name of the story is called, “Infected by doubt.” This blog which is largely a documentation of my time in evangelicalism as well as my rejection of it and the journey from faith has written a few times about this topic. This blog is a strong supporter of science and you can read the problems with the anti-vaccination movement in, “The Anti-Vaccination Movement, Much Like Polio, Needs to be Eradicated; Plus the Center for Inquiry Confronts this Dangerous Faction.” Then this blog published the response by a U.C.L.A doctor to the Judy Mikovits plandemic conspiracy theory in, “A U.C.L.A. Medical Doctor Responds to the Plandemic Conspiracy and Explains the Problems with Conspiracy Theories.”
When I read the Washington Post article which you will see below I poked around and saw something more disturbing. This blog learned a little about the church tied to the story, Radiance International which is linked to the House of Prayer movement out of Kansas City, Missouri. Radiance has a Hollywood House of Prayer and is also linked to a New York House of Prayer. Radiance is led by Jonathan and Sharon Ngai who met at University of Southern California and who also attended Fuller Theological Seminary. Jonathan and Sharon Ngai also serve on the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders. Jonathan has written about Radiance on The Elijah List. The Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders believe that Jair Bolsonaro is God’s answer to turning Brazil into a Christian kingdom. Individuals in this movement believe that Donald Trump is the anointed one and sought to protect Trump from those who seek to bind the president during his impeachment for practicing extortion against the Ukrainian president. Inside the Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders you will find people like Rick Joyner. This blog has written about Rick Joyner. Joyner has claimed that the United States Constitution has come from the Bible. You can read about this in, “Rick Joyner on How Everything in the Constitution Comes From the Bible.” Then Joyner called on congregations to form militias and to train for the upcoming Civil War. You can read about this in, “Recalling When Trish Stern Pushed Rick Joyner. Plus Considering Joyner’s New Comments on Militias is Theo Williams’ Wooded Hills Outside Germantown, Wisconsin Preparing for the Next Civil War?” These are the circles that the Ngai’s move in. And that will help explain a little about Micah Conrad.
So before I turn you over to the Washington Post article let me reflect on a couple of issues with the New Apostolic Reformation movement from my perspective. I came from a hyper charismatic church outside Milwaukee that tried to raise a person from the dead. You can read about it in, “How Healthy was Wooded Hills Church? A Personal Reflection on the Issues which Existed; Plus Concerns about the Influence of Mike Bickle’s Kansas City International House of Prayer.”
Personal Revelation is Toxic and How Micah Conrad is a Spiritual Drunk Driver
In the story you learn of Micah who claims he is trying to find God’s will. Inside a movement such as the House of Prayer movement people are opened up to manipulation. You can never be spiritual enough and you have to totally lean on God. Personal revelation is everything. I myself heard of some crazy stories of people who invested everything and were selling out to the Lord. They walked away from their job, or they uprooted their family. After trying that myself I had to live with the ramifications myself. Today I wonder how many people destroy their life and their family when they seek that personal revelation.
But when that personal revelation supports conspiracy theories involving science the result is far deadly. So Micah is rejecting science around COVID-19 and playing a role in propagandizing the information. What he is doing in this blog’s view is the equivalent of standing in a movie theater and screaming fire. Its one thing to believe in a conspiracy theory yourself. But when your actions harm others and risk their life – that is where it stops. Its like drinking alcohol. You can drink alcohol. Heck you can drink alcohol to the point of getting drunk in the privacy of your home. Buy you do not have the right to get behind the wheel of a car, then drive and turn it into a weapon. In this blog’s perspective Micah is no different than a drunk driver due to the harm he is creating.
The Toxic Influence of John Eldredge
In the story below there are references to being a hero. Being masculine is also alluded to when it comes to hunting and fishing. Micah also comes out of the home schooling culture which this blog does not focus on but acknowledges it can be quite toxic. One of the people who influenced male masculine thinking in evangelicalism and who is popular in charismatic circles is John Eldredge. With books like “Wild at Heart” , “The Sacred Romance” and “Waking the Dead” the theology in those books played up and reinforced the idea that the man rescues the female and be the hero. How many men, myself included at one point, wanted to save the princess and reach the lost? The irony is that instead we evangelicals were lost. At the time period Micah was growing up in the early 2000’s John Eldredge and his theology was popular in these circles. For many people Eldredge is still popular. The overly masculine idea associated with hunting, fishing and guarding and winning over a female is flawed in many ways. Now note I am not opposed to hunting or fishing or like minded behaviors. I am opposed to a theology system that emphasizes them and then says this is what a man is.
Upon exiting evangelicalism and wrestling with all the problems here are some other questions I would ask Micah Conrad. Is is masculine to embrace lies? Is it masculine to attack the truth or to cut videos that mislead people? Is it masculine to bring people harm? Is it masculine to possibly play a role in contributing to the death of a person that can be avoided? Evangelicals are obsessed with sexual sin and porn. Can it be said that Micah is creating content that is just like pornography? Harmful, dangerous and false? Actually can you say that editing and releasing videos that legitimizes disinformation is worse than pornography. Why say that? Because at least with porn you know its fantasy. That is it not reality. Yet Micah Conrad is taking disinformation and passing it off as fact. That is not masculine in my book.
Conspiracy Theories and Evangelicalism
Here is another problem with evangelicalism that pops up at this blog from time to time. Part of the reason why evangelicalism is toxic is because it plants its flag in conspiracy theories. Evangelicals are addicted to them and this in itself is a unique problem. Catholics or the Orthodox church don’t embrace conspiracy theories. Neither do mainstream Protestants. Its only the evangelicals who embrace conspiracy theories. In addition add the component that evangelicals fall for new fads every couple of years and that only adds to the problem.
Conspiracy theories like the Plandemic which some evangelicals are promoting actually have an adverse affect. They backfire and reveal how many evangelicals lack faith. They also show how gullible they can be. In a highly charismatic movement like the NAR this kind of garbage abounds and it is everywhere. This blog wrote two blog posts about the problem with conspiracy theories. “Ed Stezter is Correct About Evangelicals Buying into Conspiracy Theories. Plus How Survivors of Harvest Bible Chapel Who Traffic Conspiracy Theories Can Empower James MacDonald” and “Recommended Read in the Religion News Service: Why Do American Evangelicals Fall For Conspiracy Theories?” Individuals like Ed Stetzer and Joe Carter have stated that conspiracy theories are slander and this blog agrees with them.
Evangelicals and Junk Science and Alternative Medicine
There is one final aspect to raise before I let you read the Washington Post article. The other day I was texting a friend from Wisconsin. I wrote a post about my old worship leader from my third wave church which you can read in, “When Church is Dangerous to Your Health: Kevin Byrum’s Uplink in Menominee Falls, Wisconsin Discourages Face Masks During a Pandemic.” Kevin Byrum was very much into clean living. Emphasize healthy eating, natural foods in his life. He followed regimens to purge “toxins” from his body and more. And yet he has also embraced alternative medicine that in itself is flawed. In the end I would propose his “healthy” lifestyle is a zero sum gain that means nothing. Viruses and infectious disease does not care how well you take care of yourself. Virus and diseases can level and destroy people and populations. The sad part is that the United States is a victim of its success. People like Micah Conrad have no idea how many people in the post World War II war years lived in fear of polio. His ignorance of the coronavirus is also showing. I have known both healthy people who have struggled with the coronavirus and also the elderly. As of this writing this blogger has a friend whose Mom is in a hospital in the Chicago area with her health declining. She thought COVID-19 was a hoax because Fox said so. Then she contracted COVID-19 and a medical crisis is playing out in their family. What is sadder then getting a disease that mostly likely could have been avoided? Well in this case this family fled the Eastern Bloc and Communism and rejected that Soviet propaganda in the 1970’s only to fall victim to other cable programming propaganda while living in the suburbs of Chicago.
In the case of Micah Conrad reality hits hard. Or it will hit hard. One of the reasons why I rejected evangelicalism is due to its rejection of science. I respect and follow scientists and listen to them. Individuals who attended Yale, Cornell , UCLA, University of Washington, etc… and work in medicine deserve our respect. When a vaccine for COVID-19 is available what are the chances that organizations like the SBC and the EFCA are going to require their missionaries to have a vaccine before going out into the field? Its also likely that European, African and Asian countries will probably require a vaccine before getting a Visa. We’re not at that stage yet but I can see it on the horizon. How sad is it that individuals like Micah Conrad reject science, and yet embrace junk science. How sad is all this happens while he still speaks of faith? Jesus said that he is the way and the truth and the life. How can you be into truth it you are up to your eyebrows in conspiracy theories? How can you be into truth if you embrace discredited claims that vaccines cause autism, of the COVID-19 pandemic was planned by the government? No wonder evangelicalism is a sick and cancerous movement.
All I can say is thank God I am done with evangelicalism. This article in the Washington Post and the references to evangelicalism just make me grateful I am done. If I lived in Los Angeles and Micah wanted me to come to his church I would decline. There is nothing appealing to the faith of Micah Conrad. Instead there is a legacy of harm, which is what evangelicalism does in the end. As a “faith” movement ultimately it hurts people.
It began as a freelance job. Micah Conrad would wake up midmorning, check his email and begin downloading videos that had arrived while he slept. He would brew coffee, drinking it on the narrow patio of the small apartment he shares with his wife in a sun-bleached building near the intersection of Hollywood and Sunset boulevards in Los Angeles. Then it was back inside, where he would edit footage for the next 10 hours at a standing desk in the corner of their bedroom.
A 26-year-old aspiring filmmaker clinging to the lowest rungs of Hollywood’s hierarchy, Conrad often took work as it came. The virtual conference whose presentations he was now polishing provided at least a week of steady employment at a time when the coronavirus pandemic had cut off many of his regular sources of income.
Then, on a Sunday night in late April, he went on Facebook to announce that the conference was providing him with something else: a revelation that challenged his understanding of his body, his government and — above all — the infection that was ending and changing lives across the country.
Conrad had been editing videos for an event called the Health Freedom Summit. The faces he was studying for so many hours on his computer screen belonged to some of the world’s most influential anti-vaccine activists and coronavirus skeptics.
There was Andrew Wakefield, the British ex-doctor behind a fraudulent study linking autism to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine; Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose transformation from crusading litigator to anti-vaccination firebrand had outraged other members of one of America’s most storied political dynasties; Judy Mikovits, a disgraced virologist who would soon become famous for her starring role in “Plandemic,” a video that promoted conspiracy theories about the pandemic while attacking Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert.
Conrad was unsure what to make of these speakers, he told his 600 Facebook friends. But he believed they deserved a fair hearing.
“I’ve had countless moments where I completely stopped work, and just listened to what these people had to say about topics like COVID-19, the government setting America up for mandatory Vaccinations, and how we are so brainwashed by what the mass media is telling us day in and day out,” he wrote, including a link to the summit’s Facebook page. “Before you make a potential life changing decision about your health and personal freedoms, ask yourself WHO and WHAT ultimately convinced you. Challenge your own facts and reasoning.”
The reaction from his online social circle was swift — and divided.
“Yeah boii! Lots of people waking up,” one friend enthused in a comment on his post.
“This is not ‘health freedom,’ this is stoking paranoia for the purpose of political gain,” another warned. “These people do NOT have your best interest at heart.”
Conrad had never given much thought to politics or public policy. But he had stumbled into a debate that could reshape a country reeling from the worst pandemic in a century. When he wrote his Facebook post, covid-19 had killed at least 52,000 people in the United States. Since then, the death toll has more than tripled and almost 6 million Americans have become infected. Amid inconsistent, incomplete or incompetent state and federal efforts to contain the virus, many Americans have placed their hopes in the breakneck quest for a vaccine.
But even if a safe and effective vaccine is developed, its universal embrace is not assured. The haste with which vaccines are being pursued, bungled messaging by public health officials and President Trump’s politicization of the science surrounding the virus have all contributed to doubts about inoculation against covid-19.
Those doubts are also being fueled by anti-vaccination activists, who are seeking an unprecedented victory for their movement by undermining confidence in a drug that could end the pandemic.
For months, they have spread messages rejected by an overwhelming majority of scientists and doctors. Among them are the ideas that common vaccines are inherently dangerous, that the coronavirus can be conquered by spending time in the sun and taking vitamin supplements, that Gates is plotting to profit from the pandemic and even that covid-19 symptoms are caused by plutonium from exploding satellites.
Scientists don’t agree on the threshold for herd immunity, the percentage of the population that must become resistant to the virus in order to halt its spread. But most do agree that a vaccine will have greater odds of success if large numbers of people are immunized — and that outcome is in doubt.
A CNN poll in mid-August found that 40 percent of Americans said they would not try to get a coronavirus vaccine if it were widely available at a low cost. In a literal sense, the fate of the virus and the country it has crippled hang on American public opinion — on the opinions of people like Micah Conrad.
Before he began work on the Health Freedom Summit, Conrad had accepted health officials’ warnings about the threat of the coronavirus and their advice for reducing the risk of contracting it. But he had also been raised, like many Americans, to question authority. Behind the heavy curtains that blocked Southern California’s sunlight from his bedroom-cum-office, that skepticism was being stoked. Here were men and women whose names were followed by PhD and MD, saying that face mask recommendations were the first step toward a new age of tyranny and that the coronavirus was no more dangerous than the common cold.
“These are knowledgeable people,” Conrad said, “and they’re saying stuff that’s very, very different than what’s in the media right now.”
When Conrad wrote his Facebook post in the spring, he was still sorting out whether he would get a coronavirus vaccine. But the simple fact of his uncertainty posed a challenge for the doctors, scientists and politicians trying to beat back the pandemic.
Conrad had received his early childhood vaccinations. He had little exposure to the fringe figures who for decades have promoted anti-vaccine ideology. In 2016, he voted for Hillary Clinton.
If someone like him could be persuaded to reject a coronavirus vaccine, how many others might follow?
‘Every dude can be a hero’
Tanned, tall and lean, Conrad blends in among the aspiring creative types drawn to his adopted city. He lives in Los Feliz, a fashionable neighborhood north of downtown L.A., where young people can be found at odd hours of the work day picking at pastries alfresco along Hillhurst Avenue or testing their legs against the hills of Griffith Park.
But he passed his formative years in a very different environment. Conrad grew up on the rural western shore of Michigan’s lower peninsula. His family home was on several forested acres above a ravine; a creek running across the property empties a half-mile west into Lake Michigan. His dad was a salesman. His mom, an art teacher, left her job to care for and eventually home-school Conrad and his sister. Life was insular and could feel remote.
Conrad loved it.
“It was just a boy’s heaven,” he said. Like many home-schoolers, the Conrads found that lessons could often be completed by lunchtime, allowing Micah to wander the woods by afternoon. He hunted deer and fished in the backyard creek for steelhead trout. But Micah was not a budding Marlboro Man, according to his mother, Sue Conrad.
“When he saw his dad clean a fish for the first time, he just about lost it,” she recalled.
Gentle and inquisitive, Micah — along with his sister, who would go on to become a professional ballerina — also showed artistic tendencies from an early age. A pivotal moment in his life-defining obsession with film came when he and his dad watched a movie not universally hailed as high art: “Rambo III.”
Action and superhero stories would remain Micah’s preferred genre. Beneath the explosions and schlock one-liners, he believed, these movies revolved around timeless and important themes: the power and consequences of individual choices, the possibility for even the most ordinary person to do something extraordinary. A Batman poster adorns the walls of Micah’s apartment today.
“What I love about him is that he’s just a normal guy like everyone else. He’s just a dude,” Micah said. “But he reminds us that every dude can be a hero.”
Another powerful influence shaped Micah’s life from an early age: religion. The family regularly attended a nondenominational Christian church in the nearby town of Holland, and he remains a believer. His mother said she sought to instill in him a desire to understand God’s will and to follow his conscience when making decisions.
It was her own conscience that led Sue Conrad to embrace alternative diets and health care. She believed that a healthy, well-nourished immune system was often more important than the interventions of modern medicine. Although she vaccinated both her children, Micah received fewer inoculations than his older sister. The last was a tetanus booster after he cut himself playing outside at age 5. Vitamin supplements accompanied a family diet that revolved around wild game and fresh fruits and vegetables.
“I’m not going to say we didn’t run through Taco Bell when we needed some fast food when we were out,” Sue said. “But by and large, their food was as natural as we could get it.”
It was this idiosyncratic mix of influences — sermons and Stallone, venison and Taco Bell — that Micah brought with him to L.A. in 2013 after completing an associate degree at a film school in Grand Rapids, Mich. He worked as a production assistant, a visual-effects artist, a teleprompter operator. He fell in love and married. He both embraced and distrusted the profoundly secular, liberal culture that held sway in Hollywood.
So when a series of speakers appeared on his computer screen challenging that culture’s received truths, Micah sat up and listened.
‘The dark side’
As the pandemic worsened this spring, some health experts believed it would spell the end of the anti-vaccine movement by showing the danger of a virus for which no inoculation is available.
Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist and professor at the Kent State University College of Public Health, knew that optimism betrayed unfamiliarity with the tactics of those who challenge vaccine safety. And she knew that far from crippling the movement, the pandemic provided it with a rare opportunity.
The same public-health establishment long reviled by anti-vaccination activists was now urging strict limitations on Americans’ freedom to shop, eat in restaurants or gather for religious worship. Vaccine opponents rushed to join forces with Trump supporters holding demonstrations to reopen the economy in defiance of expert advice.
“I’m not surprised at all that these combined into a new flavor of science denial,” Smith said.
Anti-vaccine messages have at least tripled from their pre-pandemic level, said Joe Smyser of the Public Good Projects, a health policy nonprofit that tracks vaccine information in social media, blogs, online news publications and other sources through an initiative called Project VCTR.
“Just from a research point of view, it’s fascinating to watch,” Smyser said. “Whereas public health is very disorganized in our approach to the pandemic, anti-vaxxers are extremely organized and are hosting online summits and doing advocacy training.”
One effort that caught Smyser’s attention was the Health Freedom Summit. Released online in late April, it ultimately drew approximately 35,000 registrants, said Alana Newman, one of the organizers.
Newman, who lives in Louisiana, praised Conrad’s editing work for the summit, which included sepia graphics and an ominous soundtrack that begins and ends the presentations. “Any idea he suggested, he implemented it, and went beyond my wildest dreams as to how beautiful the results were,” she said.
The conference’s recurring message was that government officials were exaggerating the threat of the coronavirus in an attempt to violate individual liberties, culminating in a program of forced, universal vaccination that was possibly tied to a plan for worldwide population surveillance.
“We are seeing a destruction of the economy, a destruction of people and families . . . and unprecedented violations of health freedom,” Wakefield said. “And it’s all based upon a fallacy. ”
Mikovits — who would reach millions in “Plandemic,” which was removed by Facebook, YouTube and others for misinformation that could put people at risk — warned that wearing masks would actually make people sick.
“Viruses don’t float through the air,” she said. “You can’t spread it the way they’re saying it’s spreading, so the masks are hurting the people wearing them, and I can’t say that enough.”
Such statements are contradicted by data and broad scientific consensus. Not only is the coronavirus airborne; many researchers now believe that it spreads even more easily through air than initially known. Since reopening its economy, the United States has experienced an explosion of infections and deaths.
In Florida, one of the states that has been ravaged by covid-19 since efforts to contain the virus were relaxed, Michael Green was dumbfounded by Conrad’s tentative endorsement of the Health Freedom Summit speakers on his Facebook page. Green, a 31-year-old visual effects artist and film editor who worked with Conrad in California before moving to Tampa, was among those who pushed back in the comments section of Conrad’s April post.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m really good friends with Micah, but I’ve hung out with him on multiple occasions,” Green said in an interview. “To see somebody that you do care about end up being persuaded into this — whatever you want to call it — it’s frustrating. Because you want to just be, like, ‘No, dude, don’t do it. It’s the dark side.’ ”
Newman — whose interview with a Washington Post reporter was interrupted when a police officer confronted her at a store where she was shopping without a required mask — defended the views espoused in the conference, saying federal and state officials’ response to the pandemic had been excessive. Regardless of the merits of the arguments made at the summit, she said, people should be able to hear them and reach their own conclusions.
“What’s the threat,” Newman said, “of people considering ideas?”
A few days before the summit went live at the end of April, Conrad said, he was on a call with Newman and Stephanie Lind, the event’s co-host. Lind was a friend of Conrad’s who had brought him on board for the project. Conrad asked how publicity for the conference was going. Was word about the summit getting out?
There was a problem on that front, Lind admitted: Facebook had shut down their ads.
Conrad was confused. Was there a copyright problem?
No, Lind told him: The summit had been tagged as coronavirus misinformation. Facebook was in the midst of a crackdown on false or misleading material that could abet the spread of the virus.
“It took me a second to process that,” Conrad recalled. “I was like, ‘Wow. So Facebook is deciding to label what we’re doing as misinformation. Where are they getting that story from? And is that their right?’ ”
Amid those questions, Conrad felt sure about one thing: By helping to spread messages others were trying to suppress, he was doing the right thing.
“It didn’t make me concerned about what I was doing,” he said of the social media Goliath’s censorship. “It made me motivated to get it out.”
His conviction grew in the days and weeks after the summit during discussions with his 29-year-old wife, Dasha, an aspiring actress. The pair had met at church and married in 2018. Dasha Conrad, who immigrated from Kazakhstan to Texas with her mother as a child, had heard about the Illuminati, an 18th-century secret society founded in Bavaria that has been grist for countless conspiracy theories. The notion of a shadowy network of elites directing the course of history made sense to her. Assertions that powerful people had orchestrated the pandemic did not seem far-fetched.
“The whole system is corrupt,” she said. “I don’t know the whole answer. I just know that we have to be awakened to it.”
The Conrads talked about what was being said in the videos Micah edited. Why were social media companies and public health officials going to such lengths to stop those voices? Were they afraid of what might happen if people were allowed to decide for themselves what was true and what was false?
And so the Conrads made their own decision. They might not be able to verify all the Health Freedom Summit information. But they saw plenty of reasons to distrust the authorities pushing for a coronavirus vaccine.
A vaccine that Micah and Dasha Conrad would not be getting.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to put that into our bodies,” Micah said. Instead, the couple would focus on boosting their immune systems through exercise and healthy food, with diets that include intermittent fasting and a regimen of homemade juices.
Micah said he is not opposed to all vaccines and acknowledges the benefits they have provided to many. He and Dasha weren’t rejecting every mainstream medical suggestion for combating the coronavirus. They continued to wear masks in public places out of respect for those around them.
But Micah’s trust in some of that guidance was continuing to erode. He was asking more questions and scouring the Internet for answers. On June 24, about 10 weeks after he had first urged his friends on social media not to trust what they were hearing about the pandemic from the government and the media, he again went on Facebook, quoting from a widely circulated post that cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks.
“Ooo, this is interesting,” Conrad wrote to his friends. “What are your thoughts?”
The debate did not get far. Facebook removed his post, telling him in a notification that it violated the company’s standards on “misinformation that could cause physical harm.”
Micah still believed he was just exercising his right to free speech, asking questions that encouraged people to think for themselves. But to those patrolling social media for coronavirus falsehoods, it was clear which side he was on.
Story editing by Lynda Robinson. Photo editing by Mark Miller. Video editing by Peter W. Stevenson. Design by Tara McCarty. Graphic by Emily Guskin. Copy editing by Emily Codik. Scott Clement and Emily Guskin contributed to this story.