A gun church that glorifies the AR-15 and is led by the son of the 'Moonies' church founder has been making alliances with far-right figures

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Pastor Sean Moon (L), followers of his Sanctuary Church (R).
Pastor Sean Moon (L), followers of his Sanctuary Church (R). Bryan Anselm/Getty Images (L), Don Emmert/Getty Images (R).
  • The Rod of Iron Ministries is a far-right church founded by the son of accused Moonies cult leader. They worship carrying AR-15s.

  • Earlier this month, an event held by the church featured top MAGA speakers, including Steve Bannon and Dana Loesch.

  • Sources told Insider that the gun-centric church could be training for an impending civil war with the "deep state."

Wearing his signature crown of gleaming bullets and with a gold AR-15 often strapped to his chest, the 42-year-old Pastor Sean Moon is a bizarre religious leader.

Sean Moon is the founder of the Pennsylvania-based The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church, also known as the Rod of Iron Ministries.

He is the son of Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed Messiah who founded the controversial Unification Church, widely described as a cult. (Its followers are the so-called Moonies.)

On October 9, Moon took to the stage at his church's annual "Freedom Festival," which brought together a medley of far-right figures and gun enthusiasts at the Kahr Arms headquarters in Greeley, Pennsylvania.

During his keynote speech, Moon warned the crowd, in a video seen by Insider, that a coalition of far-right bogeymen, including big tech companies, George Soros and Bill Gates, aimed to "utterly kill America and eradicate freedom from the face of the earth."

"If the torch of liberty is snuffed out in America, the world will enter a kingdom of hell on earth," he said.

The event also laid bare Moon's relationship with top MAGA figures. Other high-profile figures advertised to speak were former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who called in on a crackly phone line, and former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch.

The founder of the far-right group Patriot Prayer Joey Gibson was billed as MC for the event's music festival and awards ceremony. 

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The speeches primarily revolved around popular right-wing talking points; false claims about the 2020 election was rigged, anti-vaxx commentary, fervent warnings about a nefarious deep state plotting to take away American liberties.

The younger Moon established the offshoot Sanctuary Church in 2013 following a dispute with his mother over who should assume leadership of the Unification Church following his father's death.

He established the new church with the support of his older brother, Kook Jin "Justin" Moon, the owner of gun manufacturing company Kahr Arms.

Although Sean Moon's church is reported to only a few hundred followers (many of whom are former members of his father's church), he has widened his base by forming alliances with prominent far-right figures in the US. The group's annual Freedom Festival attracts thousands of attendees every year, according to local news reports.

Sources told Insider that the group's anti-government rhetoric coupled with their zealous, gun-toting following could be a recipe for disaster.

"This is a powder keg," Steven Hassan, a former Moonie, and author of several books about mind control told Insider. "When you combine fanatics with people who own a gun factory, I'm very worried."

MAGA politics, guns, and impending civil war

The Rod of Iron Ministries bears many similarities to the original church, but its politics and teachings are more radical.

Moon is a devoted supporter of former President Donald Trump and attended the Capitol insurrection on January 6, which he recorded on Instagram.


The new church has also incorporated guns heavily into their religious ceremonies. Their name, Rod of Iron Ministries, is a reference to the AR-15 itself.

Sean Moon, who studied theology at Harvard, has often said he was inspired after reading a passage in the Book of Revelation, which referred to Jesus using a "rod of iron" to protect God's Kingdom, which Moon interpreted to be a gun.

Reverend Hyung Jin Moon, the church's pastor and the son of the late Sun Myung Moon, participates in a ceremony at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania on February 28, 2018.

The church first gained notoriety in 2018 when they held a blessing ceremony in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, shortly after the Parkland school shooting, for married couples who were carrying AR-15s. Armed church officials looked on while clad in fuschia and pink robes.

The Moon brothers are staunch defenders of Second Amendment rights, and the group offers firearms and paramilitary-style training for "patriots" across its various properties.

In his sermons, which he calls "The King's Report" and live-streams on platforms like Rumble and Twitch, Sean Moon often implores his followers to prepare for impending civil war with the "deep state."

"The internationalist Marxist globalists are trying to start a civil war here so that they can bring in the U.N. troops and Chi-Com Chinese military to come in and destroy and kill all gun owners, Christians, and any opposition, i.e., Trump supporters," Moon said in a sermon earlier this year.

The church offers courses on gun use and other paramilitary-style training as part of their armed Peace Police Peace Militia. Moon claims that the activity is purely for self-defense purposes.

The church has been expanding, this year purchasing several large properties around the country. They bought a 130-acre property in Tennessee this month, Vice News discovered, intending to build training centers and a divinity school.

The new property will serve as a spiritual retreat and will train future MAGA politicians, the outlet reported.

It adds to the 40-acre compound the group already has in Texas, known as "Liberty Rock," which is described as a safe haven for "patriots" fearing imminent war with the deep state.

In his sermons, Sean Moon frequently invokes fire-and-brimstone imagery, warning his followers of an impending war against "political Satanism."

"Our True Father [Rev. Moon] taught us to vigorously protect God's gift of liberty, always to be willing to die to fight communism, socialism, which he defined as political Satanism," Sean Moon said in his keynote speech.

Thomas Lecaque, an associate professor of history at Grand View University with an interest in apocalypticism, told Insider that apocalyptic rhetoric had become mainstream among Trump supporters.

Apocalyptic imagery raises the stakes, Lecaque explained, turning political differences into an existential battle between good and evil.

'Politics makes for strange bedfellows'

Descending from the so-called "Messiah," Sean Moon has big shoes to fill. He echoes many of his father's teachings and calls himself the "Second King."

The controversial Unification Church gained notoriety for arranging mass weddings between strangers. Many former members have since made allegations of brainwashing and abuse.

Thousands of couples take part in a mass wedding ceremony at Cheongshim Peace World Center on February 17, 2013 in Gapyeong-gun, South Korea.
Thousands of couples take part in a mass wedding ceremony organized by the Unification Church in 2013. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Reverend Moon also built a thriving business empire, including founding the right-wing newspaper The Washington Times newspaper, which the Unification Church still owns.

His power and influence led to him befriending several Republican presidents, including R​​onald Reagan and George W. Bush.

At its height, the church claimed to have millions of followers worldwide, although it is believed to be significantly smaller today.

Earlier this year, former President Donald Trump spoke at an event in praise of the church on the anniversary of 9/11.

The Moonies' links to the political establishment and Christian conservatives defy Reverend Moon's controversial teachings.

Reverend Moon claimed that Jesus failed in his mission on earth, did not live long enough to produce children, and that he had selected Moon to finish his work and become the "True Father" of all humanity.

"For a lot of Christians, this is more than heretical. It's profoundly offensive," Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst at think tank Political Research Associates, told Insider.

Clarkson said that conservatives have historically been willing to overlook the church's more unorthodox views because of the influence of the Moon organization- and that the same applies to Sean Moon and his congregation.

Like their father, Sean and Justin Moon continue to rub shoulders with high-profile political figures, including the Trumps.

Eric Trump attended the grand opening of Justin Moon's gun shop in 2016, and Donald Trump Jr. has also attended its events.


"Sean Moon may look crazy, but on the other hand, he's one face of a big wealthy complex international, political and financial and industrial empire," Clarkson said.

Clarkson said that many who attended this year's Freedom Festival are people who "operate within the milieu of anti-governmentists."

"Politics makes for strange bedfellows," Clarkson said.

"The old aphorisms apply- the enemy of my enemy is my friend. If you see a creeping, tyrannical federal government that's going to snuff out your religious freedom, you're going to be looking for some friends and hopefully, they have guns," he said.

Stoking the flames

Observers worry that the group could be preparing for armed stand-offs with the government.

The Rod of Iron Freedom Festival 2021: A man holding an automatic rifle poses in front of a Three Percenter flag, which is a far-right anti-government militia movement.
The Rod of Iron Freedom Festival 2021: A man holding an automatic rifle poses in front of a Three Percenter flag, which is a far-right anti-government militia movement. Aimee Dilger/Getty Images

Steven Hassan said that he was sleep-deprived and brainwashed during his time at the Unification Church and told by Reverend Moon to prepare for a looming armed conflict.

"I was trained in my mind as a Moonie leader to die on command and kill on command," Hassan said.

"Moon himself told us that democracy was Satanic, that a theocracy had to be put in place. We were told we need to infiltrate the government."

Hassan said that from what he can see, the Moonie splinter cults, including the Rod of Iron Ministries, are "very much still carrying on the modus operandi of what I knew as the cult."

"They apparently are training for armed conflict in the streets," Steven Hassan said. "It's very concerning."

Thomas Lecaque takes a more nuanced view, arguing that Sean Moon knows better than to attempt any armed uprising.

"Sean Moon does not strike me as someone who wants to either end up in jail or dead," Lecaque said.

A more likely prospect is that the church's anti-government, apocalyptic rhetoric could radicalize individuals who are already prone to conspiratorial thinking, said Lecaque.

"The thing I find dangerous about groups like Rod of Iron is the normalization of this kind of rhetoric and ideology," he said.

"It could then spread beyond the actual organized group of this church and give other people a religious, cultural, intellectual scaffolding to engage in violence they want to engage in."

It's a legitimate concern. Far-right domestic terrorism has significantly outpaced other types of terrorism in the US in recent years, according to a report by The Center of Strategic and International Studies.

One of the main sources of far-right terrorism is anti-government extremists, who view the government as corrupt and a threat to freedom and rights, the report said.

Family feud

Sean Moon and his mother, Hak Ja Han, are embroiled in a court case over the leadership of the Unification Church and its associated businesses.

Moon does not mince his words about his mother- he now frequently refers to her as the "Whore of Babylon."

Neither the Sanctuary Church nor the Unification Church responded to Insider's request for comment, but representatives for the Unification Church have previously said they have nothing to do with the breakaway church.

Former church members who have spent time with the Moons describe the family dynamics are complicated.

Reverend Moon and his wife Hak Ja Han at a blessing ceremony in 1998.
Reverend Moon and his wife Hak Ja Han at a blessing ceremony in 1998. Jeff Christensen/Getty Images

Reverend Moon was accused by former church members of sexual abuse, which he denied. The wife of the eldest Moon son, Hyo Jin, wrote a tell-all book called "In the Shadow of the Moons" about the abuse she faced at the hands of her supposed drug-addict husband. Another Moon son died by suicide.

Teddy Hose, who grew up in the Unification Church before deciding to leave as a young adult, told Insider that he was not surprised to see the "narcissistic" Sean Moon starting his own congregation.

When they were children, Hose said Sean Moon had a reputation for being a bully.

"He would lock kids in closets until they cried. He would make them fight each other for his own entertainment," Hose said.

"He was just a total bully. Parents had to let him get away with it because he was seen as spiritual royalty."

Hose says that it's important to view Sean Moon in the context of the Moon family and their legacy.

"I think a lot of us could see this coming because they're just all toxic, power-hungry people, and they're doing what they do to sustain themselves," Hose said.

"It's just a lot of delusional power, backed by a lot of money and businesses."

Read the original article on Business Insider