With door-to-door sales tactics that targeted grieving elderly people and the cultivation of prominent political leaders, the Unification Church has spent decades establishing Japan as its most dependable profit center, according to investigators who study the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s many-tentacled spiritual and financial global empire.
The suspected shooter, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police that his mother had been financially ruined after being pressured to donate large sums of money to a religious group, according to Japanese news reports.
Tomihiro Tanaka, who runs the church’s Japanese branch, said at a news conference Monday that Yamagami’s mother joined the organization in 1998, then left for a time and returned to the fold this year. A church official said he did not have information about the mother’s donations to the organization and had no record of Yamagami himself having ever belonged to the church. Police have not yet named the religious organization.
On Tuesday, Japanese media outlets reported that bullet holes were found on the facade of the Unification Church building in Nara. The suspect told investigators he had tested his gun there before shooting Abe, according to the Japanese television station Fuji News Network.
The Unification Church controls dozens of ministries in Japan, including one in Nara, a few hundred yards from where Abe was shot Friday.
Abe, like many other world leaders, had appeared at Unification Church-related events as a paid speaker, most recently in September on a program that also featured former president Donald Trump, who spoke via video link.
In his remarks at the “Rally of Hope,” which was organized by Moon’s widow, Hak Ja Han Moon, who is known in Unification circles as “True Mother,” Trump called her “a tremendous person” and praised “her incredible work on behalf of peace all over the world.” He added thanks to both Moons: “The inspiration that they have caused for the entire planet is unbelievable.” Sun Myung Moon died in 2012, and his wife and children have battled over control of his businesses and other organizations ever since.
In the same program at which Trump spoke, Abe expressed to Hak Ja Han Moon “my profound thanks for your tireless efforts in resolving disputes in the world, especially in relation to the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.”
Sun Myung Moon, who called himself a messiah, preached that Jesus had instructed him to continue his work on Earth.
Throughout its history, Moon’s church and its affiliates have paid top dollar to attract world political leaders, celebrities and prominent clergy of other religions to speak at conferences, part of a long-standing campaign to win credibility by associating Unification organizations with famous and respected figures.
“They’ll pay for anybody who will give them legitimacy,” Larry Zilliox, a longtime researcher focused on Moon’s business and political initiatives in the United States and around the world, said Saturday. “The big names draw the smaller names, the people who can help them with their local ventures.”
In the mid-1990s, for example, former presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, as well as comedian Bill Cosby and former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, spoke at Moon-sponsored conferences in Japan and Washington. Bush spoke just months after a Japanese court awarded more than $150 million in damages to thousands of Japanese people who sued the Unification Church and a Moon-owned company, Happy World, after they were pressured to donate millions of dollars to guarantee their late loved ones’ happiness in the afterworld.
(After The Washington Post reported on his appearance, Bush decided to donate his speaking fee, which at the time generally ran about $80,000, to charity.)
For more than six decades, the Unification Church and its various offshoots have relied on Japan as the profit center that helped subsidize their operations around the world, including in the United States, according to several studies of the church by academic scholars and government investigators.
Even as some of Moon’s most famous initiatives, such as the Washington Times newspaper and media ventures in many other countries, lost money, the church could count on its Japanese arm to produce a strong revenue flow based primarily on what it called “spiritual sales.”
Church members in Japan “would scan the obituaries and knock on people’s doors and tell them that ‘your dead loved one has communicated with us and they want you to go to your bank and send money to the Unification Church so that your loved one can be elevated in the spirit world,’ ” Steve Hassan, a onetime Unification Church member who became a mental health counselor and author of books about destructive cults, said Saturday.
Despite the church’s roots in Korea, it was Japan that traditionally provided as much as 70 percent of the church’s wealth, according to historians who have studied the church. A former high-ranking Japanese church member once told The Post that Moon’s organizations had brought $800 million from Japan into the United States from the mid-1970s to the mid-80s.
“Moon sent bags of cash, big fat bags, stacks and stacks of hundreds, from Korea and Japan to Manhattan Center,” one of the church’s primary properties in New York City, a former Unification executive, Ron Paquette, told The Post in 1997. “Whenever we asked where the money was coming from, the answer was it just came ‘from Father,’ ” the term church members used for Moon.
In Japan, it was common for many years to see Unificationists selling ginseng products and religious items such as miniature stone pagodas made by Moon-owned companies in Korea. The church members’ hard-sell tactics, as well as their claims that their products held spiritual powers, led to class-action suits in Japan, with hundreds of claimants winning settlements.
Akihiko Kurokawa, the leader of a small political party in Japan, the NHK Party, said on a TV broadcast last month that the Unification Church was “an anti-Japanese cult” and blamed Abe’s grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, for the church’s initial move into Japan in 1958. Moon started his first newspaper in Japan in 1975 and brought his signature mass marriages of followers to the country soon thereafter.
In Moon’s theology, his native Korea is the “Adam” country, home of a master race destined to rule the world, and Japan is the “Eve” country, subservient to Korea, Hassan said. The Unification Church taught that Eve had had sexual relations with Satan, leading mankind to fall from grace, with Moon now appointed to bring humanity to salvation.
Moon’s widow now controls the official successor to the Unification Church, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. A rival group launched by Moon’s son Hyung Jin, also known as Sean, has also spread its operations into Japan. Based in Newfoundland, Pa., the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church, better known as the Rod of Iron Ministries, preaches that AR-15 assault weapons are an important part of religious ceremonies designed “to defend ourselves against an aggressive satanic world.”
Hyung Jin’s brother Kook Jin (Justin), known in church circles as “True Son,” owns an arms- manufacturing company, Kahr Arms, in Greeley, Pa., and was sent to Japan by his father in 2010 to push back against efforts to strip the church of its legal status there.
“It was a very difficult time,” Kook Jin said in a speech that year, “because the police were conducting quite an extensive investigation of our church. They actually have had nearly 10,000 law enforcement officers investigating our church. They were conducting arrests of our church members and they were raiding our churches — not just one or two places, but many, many.”
In the speech, Kook Jin denied that the church was pressuring Japanese people to make large donations to save the spirits of their deceased loved ones. He said he had interviewed many of the church’s big donors in Japan: “I asked them, ‘What moves you to donate so much money?’ And you will see that in so many cases, our brothers and sisters will tell you that their ancestors came to them and told them to do it.”
Julia Mio Inuma in Tokyo contributed to this report.