The FBI raided three churches across the Southern United States on Thursday morning, including the Assembly of Prayer Christian Church in Killeen, TX. All three churches are near U.S. military bases.
“I can confirm the FBI was executing court authorized law enforcement activity today in the vicinity of the intersection of Massey St. and E. Rancier Ave., in Killeen, Texas. No additional information will be released at this time,” FBI Special Agent Carmen Portillo said in a statement to KWTX.
Videos posted to social media show a significant presence of federal agents outside the Assembly of Prayer Christian Church in North Killeen. At least eight law enforcement officials can be seen on site with a Killeen police vehicle blocking the church’s parking lot in the video.
Despite a Killeen police department vehicle being seen on video, the department refused to confirm its involvement in the raid.
“I was advised that was the FBI,” Killeen Police Department spokeswoman Ofelia Miramontez said. “You will have to contact their office for assistance.”
Dozens of Google and Facebook reviews of the Killeen church, also known as the House of Prayer Christian Church, refer to it as a “cult” that targets Fort Hood soldiers, according to the Killeen Daily Herald.
The House of Prayer Church in Hinesville, Georgia, was raided by FBI agents and police on Thursday morning. Fort Stewart, the largest U.S. Army base east of the Mississippi River, is located in Hinesville. Local news station, WTOC, reports that the FBI conducted a court-authorized search warrant, and no arrests were made.
The Hinesville church has been the center of controversy and protests in its community. Many protesters against the church believe it is a cult, according to WTOC. There are also many posts and allegations about the church on a forum named the Cult Education Institute website.
In 2017, former church members gathered to share their personal stories of abuse from the church. Members of the crowd directed insults at the church leader, Rony Denis, and told stories of how the church separated them from their families.
“The concern is that he has made us merchandise. It’s no longer a church. It’s just a fraudulent, money-making empire. It used to be a church,” former church member Jenessa Wright said.
Another FBI raid occurred at a church in the Augusta, GA area near Fort Gordon. FBI agents were seen at the Assembly of Prayer church on Old Tobacco Road. WRDW-TV, a news station in Augusta, Georgia, reported that former church members have also accused Assembly of Prayer Church of being a cult that targets military service members.
“Most of the people, they cut off communication with their family,” said Gladys Jordan, whose son is still a member of the Augusta church.
She said her son has not spoken to her since she left the church six years ago.
“I miss him,” she said through tears. “It’s been six years. I don’t know anything about him. If he gets sick, if he gets in a car accident, I don’t know anything about him.”
It is unclear if the raid in Killeen stems from the same investigation that led to the raids of the Georgia churches.