Two Childhood Rape Survivors Just Ended a Cult Leader’s Terrifying Reign

New York Magazine

By Catie L’Heureux

Of all the abuse, manipulation, and horrifying crimes that religious cult leader Victor Barnard committed, no one could have predicted his youngest victim would wield the most damning evidence against him. In court documents, her name is C. When she was 13, she started drawing a tiny X on her calendar every day Barnard raped her.

Wedged into corners of her calendar’s white boxes, alongside notes about music practice or play dates with friends, the ink charted what would become the driving force behind 59 counts of sexual assault that C and her friend B, another victim, ultimately filed against Barnard. Years after he first abused them, the two women spoke directly to Barnard in court on Friday.

Barnard, now 55, rose to power in the 1990s as the charismatic leader of the River Road Fellowship, an offshoot Christian sect he founded and later transformed into a cult. He convinced 150 people to sell their homes and move to Shepherd’s Camp, an isolated 85-acre campground in Finlayson, Minnesota. Life was simple and entirely self-sustaining: Families sewed their own clothing, planted gardens, and traded goods and services like butchering, cabinet-building, and soap-making. There was no internet, no cell phones.

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