Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Madness of MOVE Continues

The madness of MOVE continues
By Monica Yant Kinney
Inquirer Columnist

If this week you find yourself reliving the 1985 MOVE nightmare, allow me to fast-forward with true tales of the West Philadelphia cult's more modern madness.

I was in high school in Indiana when dim-witted Philadelphia officials bombed MOVE's headquarters, but in the 1990s I helped put a halt to the lucrative Millions for Mumia Abu-Jamal campaign with stories about MOVE's efforts to free the infamous cop killer by flouting fund-raising laws and the IRS.

As a columnist, I've written at length about the unsolved 2002 murder of John Gilbride, the ex-husband of MOVE matriarch Alberta Africa. After enduring a vicious custody fight, he was gunned down hours before his first court-ordered visit with their young son.

Later, I shared the saga of Lori and Tony Allen, devout MOVE followers who broke free and provided a rare inside account of the inscrutable group's bizarre behavior.

Such as: MOVE guru John Africa apparently decreed that no Philadelphia sports team would win a championship until the MOVE Nine were let out of prison. Guess the 2008 Phillies didn't get the memo.

In response to my reporting, MOVE picketed my office, harassed me at home, and threatened to harm my newborn.

"In the end, it is not a MOVE child who is going to be hurt," Ramona Africa said icily one night in 2004 after a contentious interview. "You need to worry about your own child. Our children are protected."

Considering the source, I reported the exchange to the Haddonfield Police Department. When a baby-faced cop knocked on my door, I found myself apologizing.

How could I possibly explain MOVE to the unknowing when I still can't figure out the group myself?

If anything, the modern MOVE is weirder than ever. But officials look the other way, relying on the same hands-off approach that led to disaster 25 years ago.

Then, and now
If you thought MOVE was strange in 1985, you should see it now.

Back then, the militant collective favored raw food. Now, members gorge on junk food.

Back then, MOVE eschewed the finer things, pop culture, and technology. Now, members vacation in Europe, listen to opera, play video games, record rap propaganda, throw Harry Potter parties, and use the Internet to spew hate.

The same toughs who rail against the "system" live off hefty settlements wrested from the city that killed 11 MOVE family members, including five children.

John Africa's widow, Alberta, resides in Cherry Hill - no urban jungle. I haven't seen her lately, but she used to drive a Volvo - hardly the ride of a radical.

"They would say they use the things in the system in order to destroy the system," Tony Allen explained when I puzzled over the hypocrisies. "When you destroy it, you bring back natural order."

Alberta Africa had a son with Gilbride at age 48 after a costly in vitro fertilization using a donor egg. So much for keeping it "natural."

What about the kids?
Today, MOVE lavishes the teenager with the spoils of suburbia. He's taken tap and modeling classes and worn Ralph Lauren fashions. He's even been a competitive fencer.

If only his two dozen or so MOVE "siblings" fared half as well.

MOVE children don't attend school. Boys get rudimentary education at home, but girls are raised primarily as future baby makers - one reason the Allens, who had a young daughter, finally fled.

"Keeping children intellectually repressed is one of the only ways MOVE holds true to its old ideology," Tony Allen marveled. "It's oddly self-serving to the adults," but hardly surprising given that MOVE evolved into a cult of personality designed to maintain leaders' comfortable quality of life.

As part of his self-inflicted penance, Allen tried to interest police and prosecutors in MOVE's unorthodox parenting. I've mentioned concerns to city officials myself and been similarly brushed off.

Twenty-five years after an unforgivable tragedy, MOVE remains the bear Philly doesn't dare poke. I can sympathize with fearful resignation. But the grown-ups who have stuck with MOVE this long know enough to stay or go. Their children, however, have no choice.


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