Former Packers player Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila now heads controversial religious group

At La Bête Quotidienne, writer Kelly Weill wrote a story that seems tailor-made to get its readers to do a series of double takes – especially if they followed the Green Bay Packers in the 2000s. There’s a lot: fringe religious groups, a Christmas spectacle gone wrong and references to the movement of “sovereign citizens” all make appearances. And in the center is former Packers player Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame team in 2013.

It began in mid-December, when two men in their twenties, Jordan Salmi and Ryan Desmith, were charged with “trespassing, disorderly conduct and carrying concealed weapons” after reporting to a police officer. Christmas contest hosted by Providence Academy in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Salmi and Desmith said the leader of the religious group they both belong to, Gbaja-Biamila, asked them to record the event.

Their subsequent defense involved invoking ideas associated with the “sovereign citizens” movement – an idea that Gbaja-Biamila also cited in interviews cited in Weill’s article.

As Weill describes, Gbaja-Biamila’s time as a religious leader was not without controversy – to say the least.

Gbaja-Biamila is the chief of Straitway Praiseland, a Wisconsin offshoot of Tennessee’s Straitway Truth Ministry. The church is called “Hebrews Israelite” and claims to preach a literal reading of the Bible.

The school that held the competition? The children of Gbaja-Biamila are enrolled there; his ex-wife is Catholic. But Gbaja-Biamila’s religious beliefs hold that women should be submissive to men – her Instagram presence features a few posts espousing this belief. And so, his objections to the participation of his children, which led to the events which prompted two gunmen to attempt to record a Christmas performance.

Gbaja-Biamila’s time as a religious leader isn’t the former player’s only foray out of football; he also spoke to an event in support of then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz in 2016. This current case is a disturbing glimpse of where marginal religious beliefs and questionable political theories converge; it is one with many threads, none of them are easy to disentangle.

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