Well, the weed church story got unfathomably strange

Slurs, slaves, and an astonishing week at Lion of Judah.

Slurs, slaves, and an astonishing week at Lion of Judah.

Imagine thumbing your nose at authority, distributing weed—in Madison!—and still making as many enemies as the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari has managed to make over the past two months. It would require a spectacular series of fuck-ups, and a worldview that combines the reprehensible with the just plain deranged.

Lion of Judah is apparently heading for eviction from its space at 555 W. Mifflin St., so pretty soon we can all take a break from talking about this purported Rastafarian church whose main activities seem to be “giving” people “sacramental” cannabis “for a donation” and sharing transphobic, homophobic, and sexist memes. But talk we must, if only to cope. In just the past week, this bizarro-world story has escalated far more than I would have expected.


A dozen-odd people held a protest outside Lion of Judah on Wednesday. Our Lives‘ Emily Mills reported that LOJ staff “called one young man a ‘fa**ot,’ and referred to the others ‘baboons.'” Mills also tweeted that LOJ defenders at the protest assumed she was a man. So enlightened are these folks, they somehow can’t process the sight of an unconventionally-presenting queer person in 2019. Mills, who also contributes to Tone Madison, offers a lot of good context in her piece on the legal issues surrounding the place’s pot distribution (in short: claiming a religious exemption is not the magic thing they seem to think it is) and Rastafarianism’s relationship to sexism and homophobia.

But if you really want to dive down a howling wormhole of bizarro goddamn fuck, you’ll need to catch up on the story Nicholas Garton and Robert Chappell published Thursday on Madison365. They capture what it’s like when LOJ founder Jesse Schworck tries, at length, to justify his behavior and explain how a white guy from Wisconsin comes to have a Jamaican accent and appropriate a religion based in black liberation. In the 365 story, Schworck insists that he is not white, that he is “black-hearted,” and that Lion of Judah is doing good things for the community. Apparently he gave Garton and Chappell too much noteworthy material to cram into one story (and this, like Mills’ report, is a good and thorough story):

365 also discovered that Schworck’s ambitions go beyond an extremely cursed storefront at Mifflin and Bedford:

He did say, however, he intended to go to Africa to buy slaves.

“We want to do like certain fundraisers that we can take the money and use money to go buy slaves,” he said. “So we want to get a big, huge, bigger money and go buy slaves somewhere. Anybody ever do that before? Do you see any churches doing that? What we want to do with the slaves, we want to go buy the slaves and then we want to go free the slaves and go send them back to their countries. Go, somehow get into the market, different slave markets, whether it’d be Libya or other places and spend our money to go over there and actually free people from their circumstances in one way or the other. That’s something realistic we can do.”

Buying slaves! But in a nice way! It’s realistic, just like it’s appropriate to discuss casually in the racial context of the times! Heard any good Daenerys jokes lately?

I’ve heard it argued that protesting Lion of Judah is wasting a lot of energy on a handful of hapless dummies. Maybe so. I, for one, am glad to see a heated and public reaction to their reprehensible behavior and ideas, if whatever brain activity they experience can be called “ideas.” What other crazy shit might we learn by the time this is all over? How soon until the slave-buying adventure starts?

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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