EXCLUSIVE: Inside the ‘cultish’ world of the Oakland inferno warehouse organizer as tenants tell of mind control, threats of violence and ‘bloody rituals’ at the ‘collective’
- Derick Ion Almena, 46, leased the ‘Ghost Ship’ warehouse where 36 died as fire swept through it during an unlicensed party on Friday night
- Now former tenants and court documents paint a picture of the sinister and controlled world inside the Oakland venue
- Ex-tenant calls him ‘cult leader’ and says: ‘It was a cult if you believed what Derick had to say.’
- Almena used Hindu symbolism as part of his ‘art’ – although there is no evidence he was actually a member of the Eastern religion
- Sinister account reveals how one of his sidekicks was accused of using ‘blood’ in a ‘ritual’
- Almena faces criminal investigation; one friend defends him and tells DailyMail.com: ‘We’re a family, he’s a father’
Details of the sinister and sometimes cult-like atmosphere around the ‘artist’ who ran the Oakland warehouse can be revealed.
Derick Ion Almena was in charge of the illegal enclave, described variously as a collective or a commune, where 36 died in Friday night’s devastating fire.
He is facing a criminal investigation into the lead-up to the fire, which happened in a warehouse filled with junk and where Almena was raising his three children with his wife, Micah Allison.
Now details can be disclosed of the power Almena exercised over those who lived in the space he illegally rented to them, to the extent that one described him as ‘a cult leader’.
Almena, who appeared on NBC’s Today Show on Tuesday in a testy exchange with Matt Lauer in which he ranted about being ‘sorry’ but offered no explanations for the conditions in the warehouse, was accused of using threats of violence to get his way, and being able to flip from charming to threatening in a heartbeat.
SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO
Cult-like: Derick Ion Almena’s art appeared to use elements of Hindu mysticism – such as the statue of Shiva in the center and items taken from other religions with two statues of Mary, the mother of Christ from Christian tradition surrounding it. There are two minor Hindu deities in the foreground
Derick Ion Almena (left), 46, leased the ‘Ghost Ship’ warehouse. Almena was raising his three children with his wife, Micah Allison (right), inside the warehouse
Symbolism: The way in which Aleman mixed religious imagery and other items is clear. The swastika (center) is a symbol of good fortune .
Sinister: Skulls and skull figurines, a bow with arrows, unicorn statues and candles filled a crowded space in one room.
He even attempted to take a restraining order out against a tenant who complained about conditions in the warehouse.
The tenant, Shelley Mack, fell out with him in an angry dispute over the unsafe and unsanitary conditions in the ‘commune’.
In return he went to court, documents show that he went to court, alleging that she was illegally squatting at Ghost Ship and had falsely accused him of stealing a car, and also that she ‘repeatedly called CPS [child protective services] on fake accusations’.
Mack told DailyMail.com it was a lie to discredit her and described the strange atmosphere in the venue.
Describing him as a ‘cult leader’ she said Almena threatened her several times and one of his followers pulled a gun on her.
‘It was a cult if you believed what Derick had to say, but I didn’t,’ she said.
‘But there were people who did believe him though. If you didn’t follow him then they would threaten your life, pull guns on you, turn your electricity off.
‘They would block you from the bathroom, call the police and lie and make up reasons for you to get arrested
‘I had one friend in there who was a diabetic and Derick stole his medicine and his truck and kicked him out and called the police.
‘If you didn’t show that you were willing to do whatever he wanted you to do, you were on the out.
‘If you didn’t buy in to the way things were run they ostracized you, kicked you out and kept your money and your things.
Mysticism: Almena displayed what appear to be items from a Hindu temple on the left mixed with African tribal masks and a portrait of Christ. He described himself as ‘spiritual’
Association: The Ghost Ship – which also called itself Satya Yuga, went out of its way to appear associated with religion, including this picture on its website of what appears to be an Indian sadhu – a Hindu holy man (right). Almena called himself a ‘yogi’
Mixed-up: A typical display from the Ghost Ship’s website showed how elements of Christianirt (the candles) were mixed with an apparent Buddhist prayer flag (top peft) and Hindu items (the garland and the larger flag)
The Ghost Ship building is littered with statues sinister-looking painted skulls and other religious symbols from Western and Eastern traditions – items collected by Almena and his wife Micah Allison during their travels
‘They would make it incredibly difficult, I had to call the police to get an escort out of there.
‘Derick would say this is a collective, we are building this spiritual, creative world, you had to buy in to that.’
Almena called the warehouse alternately the Ghost Ship or the Satya Yuga collective.
Jewelry designer Shelley Mack told DailyMail.com how she wrote to Almena to complain earlier this year
Satya Yuga is a reference to Hindu theology, which sees it as the golden age at the start of time.
There is no evidence Almena was himself practicing the Hindu religion, but he appears to have picked from elements of it in his ‘art’ and his father-in-law had previously told DailyMail.com that he spent lengthy periods in Bali, the majority Hindu Indonesian island.
‘He wanted you to believe the whole Satya Yuga philosophy, spiritual, lyrical. He was into all this spiritual Yugi, Yogi bulls***,’ she said.
‘It wasn’t a religion but it was a belief. He’d give these big speeches, on and on and on. It was all poetic, a lot of it didn’t make any sense.
‘He would speak in lyrics a lot of the time, he would say we’re a family, we care about each other and we’re living off this vibe in this wonderful, beautiful artistic thing.’
Mack, who lived in the warehouse for four months, leaving in February 2015, said Almena considered himself a Yogi – a person dedicated to yoga practice and the tantra traditions of Hinduism.
Mack said Almena had a close circle of people around him who followed his commands.
Weird: The art in the warehouse was apparently inspired by Almena’s interest in mysticism even if some of it had unclear references such as the picture on a wall seen above
Almena called the warehouse alternately the Ghost Ship or the Satya Yuga collective. The Ghost Ship building is also littered with statues of Shiva, Kali and other Hindu gods, like the one pictured center above
‘He provided the appearance of a positive vibe, there was the words and the music and the art. He gave these people a place to stay and a space for their art and their creativity,’ she said.
‘We had meetings, he would have his own long dialogue or he would send out three or four pages of texts, stuff that was so bizarre you couldn’t understand half of what he was saying, it was like somebody being on drugs and talking to you.’
Mack says Almena’s wife Micah Allison was always by his side.
‘Don’t forget his wife, she was there co-signing everything,’ she said.
Allison is self-described as the group’s ‘Mother Superior’ and in a May 2014 Facebook post, she described the Ghost Ship as ‘the true crossroads of culture and revolution in Oakland.’
She added: ‘Within the walls of the most beautiful temple living tribute tied bound nailed erected and held together with love and blood. It is the center of the universe.’
Mack said a man called Max Ohr – nicknamed ‘Warlord’ – was Almena’s right-hand man and would regularly do the leader’s bidding.
She added: ‘Derick would tell him [Max] what to do and he’d do it, he had a devout group around him that still believes in him and is still lying for him.’
It’s believed Ohr, who escaped the blaze on Friday, was running the door for the rave that night.
The violent side of the Almena’s group has also been exposed in court papers and by the testimony of other tenants who lived under Almena’s rule and visitors to the warehouse.
Junk piled up: The Hindu god painting in one of the rooms in the warehouse is at the center of the sort of clutter which made it a tinderbox
Travel: Almena appears to have used traditional masks from Indian theater to make this display. His ability to control others was part of life in the warehouse, one ex-tenant claims
Last year Almena was accused by artists and events producers of stealing equipment, breaking contracts, and making violent threats, according to court documents.
Philippe Lewis said that he rented the Ghost Ship for an event on January 3, 2015, but that Almena demanded extra money for the space.
When he refused to pay more, he says Almena became violent and stole his sound system ‘hiding it in the space.’
During the incident, it was claimed, Almena locked individuals into the converted warehouse and held them captive.
In a petition for a restraining order filed with the Alameda Superior Court, Lewis alleged that Almena threatened him.
‘I’m going to get my gun,’ he allegedly told Lewis, who had seen a box of new bullets while in the property.
He also claims he was attacked, sustained a dislocated shoulder and was kicked in the head by Almena’s henchmen – who assaulted Lewis on their leader’s orders.
He also says claims he saw evidence of a gun and bows and crossbow weapons on the property.
A friend of Lewis’, who asked not to be named, told DailyMail.com: ‘Philippe doesn’t want to have to deal with Almena any more than he has to, they are a violent group. He’s trying to protect his family right now.’
Another man who was at the party for the same dispute wrote in court documents that: ‘I was robbed of my iPhone & Philippe’s property at Derrick’s (sic) direction & beaten by his staff.’
Almena called the warehouse alternately the Ghost Ship or the Satya Yuga collective. Pictured above, several masks are on display at the home
The collective’s website features photos of who appear to be group members selling goods at festivals and fairs (pictured above)
Speaking to DailyMail.com, the man who asked not to be named, said: ‘I was at a party with a friend who had set up an event. I had never been there before.
‘There was an argument over money and Almena tried to beat my friend up and I videoed it on my phone. Almena ordered his people to attack me. They beat me up as well. I called the police but nothing was done.
‘It was very sinister and I spent a lot of time telling people not to go back there.’
The man claims Almena made threats after the incident and that’s why he filed a restraining order, which ultimately wasn’t granted.
‘I showed up in court but it didn’t work out,’ he said.
Danielle Boudreaux, who has known Almena and his wife Allison for eight years, said Almena was charismatic and easily influenced those around him.
But she said she saw a ‘change’ in him due to drug use.
‘I knew Derick very well. The drugs made a big change in him. He was always this polar opposite person. One hand could be charming, making you feel you have great ideas, very able to persuade people in that way. There was always this dark vicious side underneath. That was never not present.
‘He was like a cult leader, he has that sort of charisma, draws people in.’
Almena promoted himself as a spiritual man and says on social media he’s a ‘student of the shadows’.
He purported to worship the Hindu gods Shiva and Kali.
In Hinduism our present time is Kali Yuga – ruled over by Kali, the demon who is the source of all evil.
Victims: The lost of the warehouse tragedy. Top row L-R Donna Kellogg, Nick Gomez-Hall, Travis Hough, Nicole Siegrist aka Denalda Nicole, Chelsea Faith Dolan, Barrett Clark. Second row from top: Feral Pines, Micah Danemayer, David Cline, Chase Wittenauer aka Nex Iguolo, Pete Wadsworth, Jonathan Bernbaum. Third row from top: Ara Jo, Cash Askew, Sara Hoda, Draven Mcgill, Michela Gregory, Johnny Igaz. Fourth road from top: Alex Ghassan, Hanna Ruax, Edmond Lapine, Em Bohlka, Jennifer Kiyomi Taouye, Jenny Morris. Fifth row from top: Ben Runnels, Alex Vega, alana Kane – Jennifer Mendiola, Amanda Allen (Kershaw), Griffin Madden, Joey Matlock aka Joey Casio. Bottom row: Vanessa Plotkin, Nicholas Walrath, Jason McCarty aka Jalien Adrian, Billy Dixon, Wolfgang Renner, Michelle Sylvan.
Carnage: The aftermath of the fire in which the official death toll has reached 36, with warnings it may well increase further
Kali wears a garland of skulls and a skirt of dismembered arms, holds a sword in one hand and a severed head in the other.
The group’s Facebook page – presumably with Almena’s input – displays a drawing of Kali as its profile picture.
‘An unprecedented fusion of earth home bomb bunker helter skelter spelunker shelters and indonesian straw huts rolling into valleys and down alleys,’ is how Satya Yuga describes itself on the social media site.
In fact it was a warehouse near the railtracks, stuffed with junk and violating safety codes.
The Ghost Ship building is also littered with statues of Shiva and Kali and sinister looking painted skulls and other religious symbols from Western and Eastern traditions – items collected by Almena and his wife Micah Allison during their travels.
Shiva – the destroyer – is often depicted with four arms and a serpent around his neck.
The imagery raises questions over exactly what was happening in the building.
In a document seen by DailyMail.com in which Mack logged her grievances as a tenant at the time, she records a complaint about a fellow tenant called Lisa – a woman she says was close to Almena – saying she carried out ‘blood rituals’ in the warehouse.
She wrote: ‘Lisa is complaining about the TV but I’m not coming to you complaining when she is dripping blood in the sitting room after coming back from one of her rituals?’
Investigators said they have told the fire and sheriff’s departments to treat the area as ‘a potential crime scene’. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said Monday her office has just started its probe and has not yet determined whether a crime even occurred. This photo shows inside the warehouse just days after the deadly fire
Blood rituals and animal sacrifice can be used in Hinduism, which Hindus see as a way of honoring the Gods, but it is unclear if this was what ‘Lisa’ was doing. Mack declined to expand on her complaint.
Almena’s response to the fire has included language which suggested he saw himself as a father-figure.
‘They’re my children. They’re my friends, they’re my family, they’re my loves, they’re my future. What else do I have to say,’ he told San Francisco’s KGO-TV.
One of them defended him in an interview with DailyMail.com – using language which suggested Almena remained convinced he was leading a ‘family’.
Artist Anthony Perrault, 27, who ran a studio inside the building for over a year, has spent time at the Marriot hotel in Oakland with Almena and other friends in the aftermath of the fire.
He said Almena is ‘absolutely devastated’ by the tragedy and had expressed ‘warm and compassionate words’ to everyone involved.
‘We’re a family, he’s a father, they [Almena and Allison] felt safe enough to allow their children to grow and thrive in their creation.
‘That place was absolutely safe, he’s a very strong man. The level of compassion comes out to anyone he invites into the warehouse, from taking people in off the streets and feeding and clothing them for a night, to doing what he can to create this whimsical world for imaginations to grow, he’s an amazing man, Micah is an amazing woman, they’re children, great, absolutely great.’