Miranda Derrick wants you to know she’s doing better than ever. She has 1.3 million Instagram followers. Her tan is deep and even, her blond hair sleek and bobbed, her bags Prada and Louis Vuitton. In one recent Instagram post she dances across the white marble floor of a megamansion in patent-leather stilettos and a curve-hugging dress, shimmying to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” with her famous dancer husband. They’re glowing, backlit by the setting Southern California sun and smiling at each other. Derrick’s caption reads: “Chasing the☁️away☀️Dance partners for life!”
In other posts, Derrick is popping and locking in front of the Hollywood hills. She’s twirling on the Santa Monica pier. She’s strutting alongside dance-world heavy hitters like Matt Steffanina and Montana Tucker. She’s part of a tight-knit community of dancers who call one another “brothers” and “sisters” and pepper one another’s posts with supportive comments and emojis. To the casual observer, Derrick is happy — radiantly, unapologetically happy.
She credits all this to her new management company, 7M Films. The small organization, founded in Santa Ana last July, has taken off, booking its dancers on everything from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and Toyota commercials to the Super Bowl halftime performance.
But hints have emerged that Derrick’s storybook life may not be what it seems. Brands she has tagged in what seem like sponsored posts deny having any involvement with her. Her already slight frame appears to grow thinner by the day. She’s blocked friends on social media and cut off contact with her family. In December, desperate to see Derrick, her sister, Melanie Wilking, bought a ticket to 7M’s “Hip Hop Nutcracker Christmas” revue under a fake name, a friend who accompanied her said. When Wilking sneaked backstage, members of 7M’s management team tried to keep her and Derrick apart.
In February, Wilking and her parents published a tearful 40-minute video claiming that Derrick and her fellow 7M dancers had joined a mysterious religious group that was isolating and exploiting them. “Someone else is controlling their lives,” Wilking said, “and they’re all victims.”
Other friends and family members of 7M dancers have told Insider similar stories to the Wilkings’, including accounts of dramatic changes in their loved ones’ behavior and appearance, strained or inconsistent communication, and, in a few cases, large sums missing from shared family bank accounts. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity in the hopes of protecting their relationships with the dancers. (Insider is aware of their and other anonymous sources’ identities.)
At the center of the controversy is 7M’s CEO, Robert Shinn, a charismatic pastor who claims to have a direct line to God. In 1994 he founded a small nondenominational Christian ministry called Shekinah Church. Over the past 13 years, Shinn, 63, has spent his time away from the pulpit trying to make it big in Hollywood. In addition to 7M, he’s launched a record label and a production company that put out a slew of D-list films including “Random Encounters,” starring Meghan Markle.
But this year, Shinn has finally gotten a taste of fame. After Derrick’s family posted their video, the internet buzzed with conspiracy theories about a “dance cult.” 7M pushed back with a statement insisting it was working in dancers’ best interests. Paparazzi followed Shinn and his family, catching the pastor cruising Southern California in his Bentley and hitting the gym for racquetball.
The spotlight is new for Shinn, who has operated in the shadows for years. Insider spoke with 10 former church members who also requested anonymity, fearing retribution from Shinn and his group. They said Shinn didn’t simply ask for devotion from his congregants — he asked for control over their lives. These members said they’d come to believe they were “brainwashed” by Shinn through a careful process of isolation, restriction, and intimidation. They said he taught them to monitor one another and report transgressions as small as using too much toilet paper, and that he oversaw marathon prayer sessions where they were expected to run in place and speak in tongues. Some said Shinn persuaded them to hand over control of their personal bank accounts and doled out allowances as diminutive as $15 a week for a married couple. He even restricted their diets, former church members said, encouraging them to lose weight so as to appear godly.
In return, he promised them prosperity on earth and salvation in heaven. “I thought that when I left, I was going to hell,” a church member who left in 2004 said. “That’s how much they make you believe that this is the only way.”
“These allegations are false and defamatory,” a representative for 7M and Shinn told Insider. “At no point has Dr. Shinn isolated anyone, restricted anyone’s diet, required anyone to run, or had control of anyone’s bank account.” The representative added that “Dr. Shinn does not believe, support or encourage the prosperity doctrine” and denied that Shinn claimed to have a direct line to God.
Watching the 7M media frenzy unfold, former Shekinah members wonder whether they are witnessing the culmination of Shinn’s yearslong plan.
“Maybe at first he had wholesome intentions,” a former church member said, “but when he saw how easy it was to manipulate and control, evil overtook him. He grew into this monster.”
Since Shinn began preaching, his rule has been strict and absolute, according to former Shekinah members who spoke with Insider. They said he instructed members of his church to cut family ties to dedicate themselves more fully to serving God. Several recalled being denied permission to attend family birthdays and events. Some even adopted new names — a gesture that represented their willingness to forsake their former selves. One congregant with no relation to the pastor’s family changed his last name to Shinn. Daniel Pappagalo, one of Shekinah’s earliest members, legally changed his name to Daniel Joseph in 2017, listing as his reason: “my new identity.” The next year his father was hospitalized following a heart attack; Joseph refused to visit.
(The representative for 7M and Shinn told Insider: “No one affiliated with Shekinah Church has ever had to ask permission to do anything or been assigned new names. Neither Dr. Shinn nor any of his affiliated businesses are involved in the personal decisions or family dynamics of anyone.”)
The pastor exerted control in other ways. Committed congregants were encouraged to move into gender-specific group homes in the Los Angeles suburbs with names like the Mighty Girls house or the Eagle’s Nest and instructed to renounce most of their possessions, often “sowing” them to senior members of the church, people said. Each house had a “captain” who supplied necessities and monitored residents’ activities. In addition to offering 20% of their salaries to the church, members were instructed to give at least 10% of their incomes directly to the Man of God, as Shinn was known. And some former congregants say Shinn’s sister and second-in-command, Catherine Yi, had control over their bank accounts and wrote checks without their permission.
One former member recalled giving a “first fruit” offering to the pastor when she got a new job. “You would give your ENTIRE paycheck (cashed) to Bob so that your job/career would be blessed/fruitful,” she wrote in a text message. (The representative for 7M and Shinn told Insider that “giving tithes and offerings” is “a routine practice for churches all over the world, since the beginning of time.”)
A woman who left the church in 2008 says what’s happening to 7M dancers is “history repeating itself.”
Take Miranda Derrick. One of the first times the Wilking family began to suspect something was truly wrong was last year when Derrick told them she wouldn’t attend her grandfather’s funeral.
The mother of another 7M dancer and Shekinah church member told Insider she began to notice a drop-off in communication with her son in 2019. All she knew at that point, she said, was that he had joined a church whose membership was “by invitation only.” When he did send text messages, she saw a change in his speech pattern that led her to believe he wasn’t the one writing them. Then he informed her that he no longer identified with his given name. (“7M does not communicate with its clients’ families on their behalf,” the representative said.)
“We were a very close-knit family,” the dancer’s mother said. “I mean, we weren’t perfect, but we supported our son’s dream. We never, ever thought that the church would change his trajectory completely.”
Public records show that many of the dancers are living in the Los Angeles suburbs with Shekinah congregants.
In 2021, a small group of dancers’ parents began communicating about similarities in their children’s changing behavior. They banded together to file complaints with California’s attorney general and the IRS, accusing 7M of draining their children’s bank accounts without their children’s knowledge. “We have knowledge of 2 dancers who have handed over saving accounts. One of which had $10,000 and the other had $80,000,” the complaint filed with the attorney general says. These complaints are pending. The representative said that 7M dancers had “never handed over their savings or surrendered their bank accounts to 7M or the church” and that the church and 7M had no knowledge of such complaints.
The mother who noticed a drop-off in communication with her son said that last spring he called to ask for the password to a Roth IRA his parents had set up for him when he was a teenager. The next time they checked the account, it had been cleaned out. “I believe that they have full and complete access to all his finances,” she told Insider.
Earlier this spring, in a rare phone call, her son told her the dancers’ computers, phones, and homes would be increasingly monitored for security concerns.
“It felt like a warning,” she told Insider.
At first glance, Shinn is an unassuming father figure, with a nasal voice and a modest way of dressing. But those who knew him say his appearance belies an extraordinary charisma.
When he’s preaching, “it’s like he believes it so much that it makes you believe it too,” said Daniel Joseph’s sister Leah Pappagalo, one of Shekinah’s earliest members who has since left the church.
The details of Shinn’s early life are murky. He grew up in Canada, where he was the valedictorian of his high-school class, and he obtained his medical degree from the University of Toronto. He’s said he worked as a doctor for seven years.
His personal stories often had a larger-than-life quality. One former congregant recalled Shinn telling them how the nurses and staff members at his old hospital treated him “like royalty,” encouraging them to do the same. Lydia Lee, a former congregant, said Shinn bragged he was so good at martial arts that “people called him Bruce Lee,” an anecdote the representative for Shinn and 7M called “false.” (In 2009, Lydia Lee, née Chung, sued Shinn, Yi, and Shekinah, alleging that they “exerted undue influence, mind control, coercive persuasion, oppression and other intimidating tactics” to defraud her out of more than $4 million. Her suit was dismissed in 2011 after a bench trial found no evidence of “undue influence,” though the judge said that the church “had practices that bordered on coercion” and that he disapproved “of what defendants did to Ms. Chung.”)
Shinn wrote on Shekinah’s original website that in 1992, God called on him to go into ministry full time, prompting him to move to Southern California.
For his new life as a pastor, Shinn adopted the name Israel, though he still often went by Robert. In the future, his congregants would call him Doc, Prophet, and the Man of God. (He also added the second “n” to “Shinn” as part of his naturalization process in 2005.)
He founded the Shekinah Church in 1994, holding services for about a dozen congregants in an office in Santa Fe Springs. By 2000 he’d relocated to a white spiral building in Norwalk, California, that Shekinah rented part time.
Former church members told Insider that Shinn used his medical expertise to justify an unusual level of physical intimacy, offering to cure stomach aches or uneven posture with a touch. (The representative said Shinn had “never made these claims, nor does he believe to have such capabilities.”)
One congregant recalls him popping worshippers’ pimples; others said he would come up behind them to rub their shoulders and would greet certain young women with a kiss on the lips. “He kind of grooms them to be like, ‘I am a dad, so this is not inappropriate,'” explained one woman who said the pastor often kissed her.
Shinn’s congregation was mostly people in their early 20s — something former worshippers argue was strategic. “He wanted young, moldable minds,” a member who left in 2004 said.
In many cases, new members said they were drawn in at a vulnerable moment — following the death of a loved one or a family dispute, or while their immigration status was uncertain. “They said, ‘We can protect you,'” said a member who joined shortly after arriving in the US illegally. The representative for Shekinah said the church “has never claimed an ability to ‘protect’ anyone’s immigration status.”
“I grew up in a home without a lot of love,” another member who joined as a college student said, “so I sought love elsewhere.
“You know how people join gangs? I joined a cult.”
Though Shekinah’s website proclaimed it was “born with the calling of saving one billion souls,” former congregants say Shinn kept membership small to maintain control.
Every weekday, parishioners woke at about 5 a.m. to carpool to morning prayer. They often started with popular songs like the 1970s hit “We Are Family” rewritten with lyrics about their devotion to Shekinah. Then they’d launch into an hourlong ritual in which they spoke in tongues and shouted phrases like “Money, cometh to me now!” while running in place. Shinn sat in the pews behind them, watching them sweat.
Shinn was exacting about his congregants’ appearance. The idea, one former congregant said, was “to be God’s image.” According to the pastor, being thin and therefore attractive to prospective worshippers was just another way to promote the gospel. Some former members recalled being chastised for eating too much in front of him. “When I look at pictures back then, I’m so skinny,” one woman said.
Lee’s lawsuit and several other former members who spoke with Insider said Shinn and Yi developed a “reporting system” in 2003. Every week, members emailed Shinn to update him on which Bible verses they had read. These emails, some of which were reviewed by Insider, also included confessions of bad behavior, as well as reports detailing any infractions by their fellow congregants. Former Shekinah members recalled being reported by one another for using too much toilet paper, taking the last slice of pizza, or questioning church leaders. They even reported on their spouses. “It was like there were three people in my marriage,” one member said. “It was me, my husband, and then there was the pastor.” Shinn’s representative denied his involvement in any such reporting system.
Over the years, the surveillance grew more sophisticated, according to both Lee’s complaint and sources who spoke with Insider. In about 2005 or 2006, Lee’s complaint said, Shinn and Yi installed an “internet monitoring system.” (The representative for 7M and Shinn said there “is not and has never been an ‘internet monitoring system.'”) One congregant recalled being asked to give her passwords to the church’s IT person.
“Someone is always watching you,” another ex-parishioner said. “If you said anything that opposed them, it would get back to them somehow.”
One former congregant who believed that Shinn disliked him because he didn’t “submit” said he was subjected to a six-month “restriction period” during which he was not allowed to speak in church settings and other congregants ignored him. “It was almost like I had leprosy,” he recalled.
Yi, who was known as the Woman of God, was particularly feared by some for her temper. She regularly visited group homes to check their cleanliness, one former congregant said. Two members said they were fined $20 for leaving jackets behind in the church’s sanctuary.
When reached for comment, a family member of Yi’s responded and told Insider that Yi wasn’t to blame for what happened at Shekinah. “She was under his control and instructed and told by him on what to do and how to lead people,” the person said, referring to Shinn. “She was also a victim of him and is still very hurt and traumatized by all of this.”
Shinn idolized celebrity televangelists like Kenneth Copeland, thought to be the wealthiest pastor in America, worth an estimated $760 million. Shinn even preached on his own public-access TV show called “Millionaires Club” (later retitled “Billionaires Club”), a former Shekinah member who worked on the show said. Four people said Shinn gave so much money to Copeland, who has a fleet of private jets, that Shekinah was allotted a special block of seating at the front of Copeland’s annual Believers’ Convention.
A key part of Shinn’s path to riches was free labor. Shekinah congregants performed tasks such as babysitting and house cleaning for Shinn and Yi without compensation. At one point, a group of Shekinah members even landscaped both of their properties without pay. One congregant who wasn’t a US citizen told Insider he was paid $100 a month to work full time for Shinn and Yi’s businesses, once for 30 hours straight.
By the mid-aughts, Shinn and Yi had four real-estate and mortgage companies and two flower shops staffed largely by Shekinah members. “We didn’t get paid or anything,” a congregant who worked in the flower shops said. “We worked endlessly.”
“If anyone has performed any work without financial compensation, then they would have volunteered or offered to do so as most human beings volunteer or help others at some point in their lives,” the representative said.
In Lee’s lawsuit, she accused Shinn of improperly moving church donations he had solicited from her into his corporate entities. Financial records presented in the suit showed a three-day period in which Shinn received more than $320,000 in donations from various employees, on top of the salaries he was paying himself. (In a court filing, Shekinah denied any improper use of donations.)
Lee said that at one point Yi instructed her to move with her two daughters to a nearby apartment building to be “obedient to God.” Yi then moved into Lee’s nearly $1 million house, which had a grand spiral staircase and sweeping views of the hills around La Habra.
By the late 2000s, Shinn and Yi were driving Mercedes-Benzes and dressing in designer clothes. Several people said they occasionally rewarded their favorites with designer hand-me-downs or shopping sprees at Nordstrom and Banana Republic.
“Everyone else is a bunch of worker bees contributing to a very select few’s prosperity,” one former member said.
Shinn might have kept his numbers small, but over three decades he built a significant operation that made him millions. According to former congregants, Shinn considered himself a genius businessman, but by some accounts his success was built on exploitation: Break people’s spirits, pit them against one another, and get them to question everything they believe in. He sold the American dream, but he was the one who profited.
“Whatever he said, you did,” a former congregant said. “You were trained to obey.”
Serving Shinn and serving God had come to feel like one and the same, former church members said. So when the pastor, an avid racquetball player, began asking certain congregants in 2007 for massages to soothe his sore muscles, it was a duty they were happy to fulfill.
A congregant who said he was chosen to give these massages for his strength said they were “nothing weird” and functioned mostly as another opportunity to report on his peers. Still, he said that at the end of their sessions, which took place in the back room of one of Shinn’s flower shops, Shinn would sometimes ask him to send in one of the young female congregants for “private time with the Man of God.” (Shinn’s representative denied this allegation and denied that Shinn had asked to be massaged.)
Another congregant recounted one day being called with another woman to Shinn’s home for a massage session. He told them to put on blindfolds and come into the living room, where he was lying on his back on the floor. The woman said he encouraged her to take off her bra, which she declined to do. When she started to touch the pastor, she realized he was nude.
At one point, she said, Shinn reached out and put his hand on her chest. She said she hoped he would notice her heart racing and end the session.
Instead, she said, he directed her to massage his “center,” telling her to move higher and higher until she was near his “private area.” She recalled, “I was so brainwashed, and I’m just thinking, ‘How would that be sore?'” She said she “tiptoed” around his groin, trying to get as close as possible without actually touching his genitals.
Afterward, she said, Shinn ordered her not to speak about the experience with anyone else — not even the woman who’d been in the room with her.
Lydia Lee said she had a similar experience when she was asked to give Shinn a massage in July 2008. “Robert told me, ‘Target my testicles,'” she said. “That moment I knew something was really, really wrong. It was the moment I woke up from this brainwashing.”
The representative told Insider: “Two congregants offered to massage Dr. Shinn, not at his request, because he was in pain. There was no nudity or inappropriate touching.” Of Ms. Lee’s account, the representative said that “Lee unsuccessfully sued Dr. Shinn and likely harbors animosity. Dr. Shinn never asked to be, and never was, massaged by Ms. Lee.”
One Saturday in October 2008, the woman who’d given the blindfolded massage was urgently summoned to Yi’s home. About 20 other church members had gathered there, and the mood was tense. Yi and her allies had been calling the group’s young women into a small room one by one. Some had emerged in tears. When it was the woman’s turn, two women sat her down and asked her the same question they’d asked the others: Have you ever been inappropriately touched by the pastor?
Several former congregants who spoke with Insider said at least five women shared stories that day of inappropriate sexual advances by Shinn. As they spoke openly for the first time, these former congregants said, the women appeared to experience a crisis of faith. “We started sharing stories, and our eyes started to open up,” the woman who’d given the blindfolded massage said.
The next day at church, Yi barged in with her followers and demanded that her brother come down from the pulpit. Those who were there that day described a chaotic scene as Shinn’s defenders encircled him, fending off Yi’s followers, who were begging them to wake up.
After the incident, which Shinn called a “rebellion” and a “hostile takeover,” about half of his 70 followers left the church, according to a 2011 deposition in Lee’s lawsuit. Shinn, through the representative, denied that he made sexual advances toward his congregants and said the group of defectors consisted of 20 “disgruntled members.”
Shinn’s defeat didn’t last long. With Yi gone, two fiercely loyal young congregants named Hannah Lee and Shirley Kim stepped up to fill the void. Kim had joined the church as a teenager, and, in 2009, after paying for Kim’s law degree, Shinn married her.
Hannah Lee, who former congregants believe originally joined Shekinah to try to persuade her sister to leave, took on many of Yi’s old responsibilities managing congregants’ finances and monitoring their daily lives. After Shinn divorced Kim in 2011, he started dating Lee. Former congregants say they are now married.
Meanwhile, Shinn focused his energies on bringing Jesus to Hollywood, a former congregant said. A former member of Shekinah’s “media team” told Insider that Shinn often spoke about placing “sleeper agents in every industry” and infiltrating secular spaces with strong subliminal Christian messaging. (The representative called this claim “absurd.”)
Days after the church split in 2008, Shinn founded a production company, Imaginating Pictures. His D-list films focused on wholesome outsiders trying to break into the soulless world of Hollywood, including 2013’s “He’s Way More Famous Than You,” with cameos by Jesse Eisenberg and Natasha Lyonne, and the romantic comedy “Random Encounters” with Meghan Markle. Shinn also dabbled in music, founding a record label to help support the musical career of his daughter Chloe, who performed under the name Kloë Julynn.
In the end it was Shinn’s fourth and youngest child, Isaiah, who finally cracked the industry. Working primarily in commercials and dance videos, he developed a kinetic, high-energy shooting style well suited for social media. Over a few years, Isaiah went from being a teenage production assistant on his father’s films to founding his own company, HiFreq Films, in 2018.
Through this work, Isaiah connected with two dancers named James Derrick and Kevin Davis Jr. who were fresh off a successful run on NBC’s “World of Dance.” The dancers, who performed as BDash and Konkrete, got their start in Krump, a street dance movement known for its aggressive, unapologetic style. Before long, Isaiah was making videos with Ceasare “Tight Eyez” Willis, a cofounder of Krump. (Willis has since changed his stage name to Tighteyex.)
Over the next year, Isaiah expanded his network, building a roster of nearly a dozen collaborators who had performed with Beyoncé and Janet Jackson and appeared on shows like “So You Think You Can Dance.” Many were couples. Beyond their talent, these dancers seemed to have one thing in common: a growing curiosity in the Christian faith.
Isaiah’s timing was key. The pandemic had yanked many dancers’ livelihoods out from under them as live events, tours, and classes were canceled. They had raw talent, but they needed capital and connections to move forward. Isaiah and his father offered a beacon of hope. Not only did the Shinns provide them resources, but they also gave them something to lean on when they might have been feeling particularly lost and isolated.
In July 2021, the Shinns made their partnerships with the dancers official, founding the management company 7M Films. To dancers who’d been making videos in their parents’ living rooms, 7M offered expensive camera equipment, lights, hair, makeup, costumes, and access to a $14 million mansion in which to film. (7M briefly tried to hawk the property in video captions until viewers pointed out that it’s illegal to advertise real estate without a license. The listing agents told Insider they partnered with 7M for one or two shooting days but have no affiliation with Robert Shinn or his real-estate operations.)
The connections between 7M and the church ran deep. Daniel Joseph, now Shekinah’s associate pastor, became 7M’s main producer. Shinn’s daughter Chloe provided soundtracks and musical coordination, and she even released a single alongside Tighteyex in October. Hannah Shinn, the new Woman of God and Shekinah’s chief financial officer, managed dancers’ schedules and bookings. Robert Shinn and Shirley Kim cosigned 7M’s corporate filings. The representative said “7M and the church are run and operated as separate entities apart from each other.”
7M’s dancers, many of whom had been fixtures in the Los Angeles dance community, grew withdrawn and sometimes even hostile, former dance colleagues told Insider.
Onlookers have expressed concern about several of the dancers’ physical changes, including what some call “the cult cut” (a blond bob that some 7M women have) and significant weight loss. 7M’s dancers frequently take photos and record videos in the same Fullerton gym where Robert Shinn plays racquetball, and they often post about dieting and fasting.
The dancers’ increasingly religious content, whether captions citing Bible verses or interpretive dances set to worship songs, also raised eyebrows. And then there were the pioneers of Krump, suddenly dancing to oldies and pop, using disco- and swing-inspired steps. “To see them dancing to the Spice Girls wearing dumb outfits, everybody is like, ‘Yo, dude, what the fuck are you guys doing?'” said Joey Turman, who came up with BDash, Konkrete, and Tighteyex in a Krump dance crew called Street Kingdom.
A Los Angeles dancer recalled meeting Robert Shinn once while working with BDash and Isaiah at Shinn’s North Hollywood home. She said he lectured them at length about God, money, and the need to keep churning out content.
After that encounter, the dancer said, BDash started to echo Shinn’s religious messaging in conversations and eventually cut off all contact with her. She said other longtime friends of hers had joined 7M, adding, “What is happening is really sad.”
In early 2019, BDash started dating Miranda Wilking, one-half of the TikTok dance duo The Wilking Sisters. Friends of the Wilkings remember BDash as quiet and religious and said they didn’t see any red flags at the start. The couple even spent part of the pandemic living with Miranda’s family in Michigan, making lighthearted dance videos with her parents.
When the sisters returned to Los Angeles, however, Shekinah began recruiting them, Melanie Wilking said in the video in which she accused 7M of being a cult. After Melanie Wilking missed a service to pick her boyfriend up from the airport, she stopped attending church and lost touch with her sister.
In August 2021, BDash posted a picture on Instagram that suggested he and Miranda Wilking had gotten married. Their family and friends said they were not invited to the wedding.
Through a representative for 7M, Miranda Derrick wrote to Insider, “My family reacted to my independence and my personal and professional choices by publicly attacking me, my husband, my faith and my management. 7M represents me as their client and treats me as any other talent manager treats their clients. I am an adult and pay my own bills and taxes and I control my own finances. I feel blessed to have friendships with other 7M clients who share my faith and love of dance and am grateful for the opportunities to collaborate with other dancers and pursue my career.”
James Derrick added through that same representative, “Every talent management company in the industry manages their clients’ schedules, bookings, appearances and logistics and my relationship with my management is no different. The accusations that have been made about my management, as well as myself and my wife, are false and ridiculous and we have refuted them many times.”
The Wilkings say they won’t rest until they’ve reconciled with their daughter. But 7M has gone on the defensive, painting them as a bitter family upset about their white daughter’s relationship with a Black man. On April 5, 7M filed a lawsuit against Katherine Manske Paulson, a YouTuber who has covered the group extensively on her social-media channels. Shinn’s lawyers claim that Paulson defamed him and 7M by broadcasting allegations of sexual and psychological abuse, human trafficking, and fraud. Paulson has since filed a motion to dismiss the case.
Some brands have pulled out of partnerships with 7M dancers, but the performers have continued to rake in followers and affiliate-marketing cash. Internally, the criticism appears to have only pulled their ranks tighter. 7M has spun “cult” accusations into more content, filming defiantly cheerful videos and skits accusing critics of being conspiracy theorists. Some families are supportive of their children’s affiliation. The mother of the 7M dancer Kendra Oyesanya, Tighteyex’s wife, told Insider: “My daughter is smart and knows right from wrong and is able to make her own decisions. She knows what she’s doing and is with the person she loves. She’s looking better, dancing better, and I’m proud of her changes. I do not fear for her safety nor do I believe that she is in a cult.”
As for Robert Shinn’s network, it’s more sprawling than ever. He and his associates have incorporated more than a dozen businesses, according to records reviewed by Insider, including a plant-based-protein retailer, film-production companies, and a women’s-garment manufacturer. The church also appears to be laying the foundations for an expansive future. In July 2020 the group sought approval to build an “outreach and internet-based Christian ministry” that would be “centered around reaching the entertainment industry” at a $4.4 million, 2.1-acre site in Sunland-Tujunga. While the church is still awaiting permit approval from the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, the group has already established a production wing there called Studio on the Mount and shoots many of 7M’s dance videos on the construction site.
One member who left in 2004 said she understood that sharing the story of her time with Shekinah “kind of makes you look crazy — like, why wouldn’t you leave something like that?” Today, she said, “I pray every day all of this comes to light.”
Former members are quick to point out that since leaving Shekinah they have found their way back to what they consider to be a healthier relationship with Christianity, which they say has nothing to do with Shinn’s teachings. They hope that speaking out against Shinn will help families of 7M dancers reunite with their loved ones.
“It pisses me off that it’s still going on and that he’s taking the best years, critical years, of these young people’s lives,” one former member said.
It’s “almost like when you see mold growing,” Lydia Lee added. “You don’t really recognize it at first, but suddenly it’s slowly coming out from behind the wall.”