Tuesday, March 28, 2006

MOVE's Co-Founder

"They could come and kill me. They're raving lunatics,"
-MOVE co-founder, Donald Glassey commenting on the group after May 13th 1985

Once one abandons a set of beliefs, it is natural that you seek out others who have done the same. It is, at least in part, a way to validate yourself, as well as to appease curiosity, and for some, a means of attaching oneself to a new community, one that understands where you come from and vice versa.

If you are somebody who has left MOVE and are inclined to search others who have left the group the first name that pops into your head is Donald Glassey.

To be frank, without Glassey, there would be no MOVE Organization.

For it was he, with John Africa (who was than still known as Vincent Lephart) who formed MOVE around 1972. It was Glassey who became Africa’s first convert and it was Glassey who first put Africa’s message to paper, (the latter of the duo being effectively illiterate).

I must confess, that until I began to do some research for this particular article that I have had a sense of ambivalence concerning Glassey, a man whom I have never met. On the one hand, he and I share the commonality of once being under the influence of MOVE, while on the other I have to hold him accountable for his role in the genesis of a group that has wrought so much havoc on the lives of so many people.

I can now say that my antipathy towards Glassey has dissipated immensely as I have looked deeper into his motivations and his life and the things he has done and said to counter MOVE’s violence.

Like nearly everyone else who comes into MOVE’s orbit, Glassey entered with a great sense of empathy and desire to right wrongs and stand against injustice. According to an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer article written right after the May 13th calamity, that Glassey was interviewed for:

“Glassey said the dream was lost and the philosophy perverted by John Africa into a violent, vulgar movement that the gentle social worker with high ideals could neither understand nor support. He broke with MOVE and his former friend - "the so-called Mr. Africa," he says bitterly now - in 1977 and later turned government informant. At the 1981 federal weapons and conspiracy trial of John Africa and MOVE member Alphonso Robbins, Glassey was the main prosecution witness”

Now, it should be noted that Glassey’s departure from MOVE was at least partially self serving and it was not the better self of Glassey that I am speaking of. He had been arrested for federal gun violations and began working with the ATF, who was at the time attempting to put together a case against MOVE in general and John Africa in particular. Due to his cooperation, Glassey was able to avoid prison and received only two years probation.

Despite the assistance of Glassey, the Federal Government failed to make it’s case against John Africa and Alphonso Africa and the two were acquitted. Another former MOVE member who was set to testify against John Africa and his co-defendant, William Whitney Smith, who had not followed Glassey’s lead by going into the witness protection program was found dead under “suspicious circumstances” before he could testify. In a twist of irony, MOVE would blame Smith’s death on the government, just the same as they would many years later after John Gilbride was found dead. (For more information on the 1981 case against John Africa, visit my website under the John Africa section.)

Although it took an “intervention” of sorts on the part of the government to wrench Glassey from MOVE, he had begun to have doubts of his own long before he actually left the group. This is hardly a rarity in cult situations and I can attest from my own personal experience that sometimes it takes years of doubts to overwhelm the fear of leaving the group that you have grown so attached. According to Glassey, as MOVE grew, so to did John Africa’s authoritarian tendencies:

"People start getting power over people's lives," he said. "It feeds their egos. The more you get, the more you want. He wanted absolute control over everyone.”

Moreover, Glassey was not surprised back in 1985 when John Africa ended his life and dragged 10 of his followers with him, the conclusion of Africa’s “suicide by cop” confrontation with authorities. Again, according to Glassey, who had observed MOVE’s metamorphosis from a sect purportedly dedicated to protection of life to a terroristic cult:

"They're insane. They're out of touch with their senses," he said. "The strongest instinct is survival, and they were even out of touch with that.”

I, at first, wanted to speak with Glassey in preparation for this article. But as I have chosen my own path of healing the wounds of cult involvement, so to has Glassey. And at what he has done he has done successfully and he has done it without uttering a word publicly about MOVE for a very long time. This despite being deemed a “Judas” by MOVE and told by his former comrades that his life would be nothing without the cult that he helped to find. Mr. Glassey has done quite well for himself. So that all being the case, I think that he has told enough of his story, and deserves to live the rest of his life without being hounded by me or anyone else about MOVE.

As for MOVE, when the issue of Glassey or anyone else who leaves the group comes up, one gets nothing but an earful about “traitors” and “infiltrators” and on and on...But what nobody in MOVE can dispute is that Glassey and everyone else who has left MOVE in the past two decades has done far more with their lives above ground than their venerated leader, John Africa, has below ground. And that is something that nobody, not even MOVE’s most zealous followers can deny.


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