LAS VEGAS: He was a Mormon, which means he belonged to the church known as Latter Day Saints. But now he is a human rights activist, fighting for the rights of those who suffer under the abuse of power within religious organizations.
«This is a battle we fight with transparency as our tool. What we do, is to remove the curtain of secrecy surrounding religious power» says Ryan McKnight, founder and director at the Truth and Transparency Foundation.
The foundation is based in Las Vegas, USA. McKnight and his colleagues first published leaked documents and videos from the Latter Day Saints at a website they called Mormonleaks.
It began with 15 video files where ’apostles’ of the Mormon church expressed their opinions on a series of controversial issues. Later, a number of documents were added to the leaks, covering a range of topics spanning from the inner life of the church to highly political issues. Some of the documents were about missing funds and what had happened with them.
«It took a while before we heard anything from the leadership at the headquarters in Salt Lake City. But one day, following the publication of a powerpoint presentation which had been held at a meeting by the 12 apostles, we received a sharp letter from their lawyers» Ryan McKnight tells us.
The blue envelopes
It was a so called DMCA takedown notice. DMCA is short for Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The letter demanded that documents belonging to the church, should be removed from the internet.
McKnight had no intention of complying.
«We are publishing these documents because we believe this is information people have the right to know about. The documents have information about how people’s lives are governed. Our lawyers said we have the right to publish. They refer to other legislation and to the First Amendment of the US Constitution»
But there was a problem. Mormonleaks used a third-party, a company that provided server space to store the documents McKnight had published. This company responded to the DMCA takedown notice and removed the documents without further discussion with Mormonleaks.
Wants to grow
«We learned a lesson back then. We received more leaked documents also from the Jehovah’s Witnesses , and we created the website Faithleaks. Both our projects Faithleaks and Mormonleaks now have their own IT infrastructure» McKnight says.
Jason Wynne in Galway, Ireland, as well as other people who remain anonymous, contributed with leaked internal documents exposing the inner workings of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bodies of Elders, Branch offices and other institutions.
These leaks made possible Fædrelandsvennen’s exposure of the Judicial Committees of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as the story about «The Blue envelopes» with sensitive personal information concerning disfellowshipping processes.
«We have received contributions from a number of people with other backgrounds. Some come from a Catholic background, some from Scientology. Many are of course Mormons, some are Witnesses. What we desire most, is to receive more documents. »
«What are you hoping to achieve?»
«Our aim is increased transparency within religious organizations. We believe that a more open mindset will result in fewer untruths, less corruption, and less abuse. If people from other churches, even other religions, want to use our platform, then we will be happy to share it. »
Their own servers
Ethan Gregory Dodge works on the IT infrastrucure of both Faithleaks and Mormonleaks. Following the experience with the thrid-party who deleted documents from their server, all the documents have been moved.
«Now it is under our control. We have secured it, here and in Switzerland» says Dodge.