A cult leader who describes himself as the reincarnation of Jesus has reportedly been arrested in Russia.
Sergei Torop, 59, will be charged with organizing an illegal religion and extorting money from his cult members, whom he allegedly subjected to emotional abuse, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.
Russia’s federal security forces conducted a special operation involving helicopters and armed officers to storm the cult in Siberia and arrest Torop, a former trafficker known to his thousands of supporters as Vissarion, and two of his assistants.
The country’s investigative committee accused Torop, who has long hair and a beard, of “using supporters̵
After losing his traffic officer gig in 1989, Torop said he experienced an “awakening” that inspired him to start a movement called the Church of the Last Testament, which mixes Christianity with the environment and other values, according to The Guardian.
“I am not God. And it is a mistake to see Jesus as God. But I am the living word of God the Father. Everything God wants to say he says through me, he told the Guardian in 2002.
The cult has about 20 settlements deep in the southern Siberian wilderness, where about 4,000 followers – or “Vissarionites” – live, according to the Moscow Times.
Authorities also arrested Vadim Redkin, Torop’s alleged right-hand man, and another employee named Vladimir Vedernikov.
It is not immediately clear what made the authorities move into Torop. The Russian Orthodox Church has criticized the cult in the past, although the organization has been largely unhealed, according to The Guardian.