A postcard the Rev. Sun Myung Moon sent Annie Choi in the mid-1960s. Courtesy of Samuel Park
Choi stayed in the United States to be near her son, who was born Samuel Pak, but went by Jin Kyung (a combination of the name Moon requested and the character "Jin," often used in Moon family names) or the American name Sam Park. At the time, not even the Pak children knew Sam was not their biological brother.
Choi dropped by periodically and lavished the child with affection. When Park was in elementary school, she also began inviting him for dinners and sleepovers at her place, a colonial-style townhouse on a quiet Northern Virginia cul-de-sac. But Moon took pains to distance himself from Park. While he regularly visited the Pak home, especially after moving to the United States in 1971, he avoided conversing with the boy. "He never asked me anything: How old are you? How's school going?" Park recalls. "It was as if he was making a point of not showing an interest."
Along with raising Moon's son, Bo Hi Pak—a former Korean military officer with Korean Central Intelligence Agency ties—oversaw much of Moon's US empire, and promoted the Korean messiah's grandiose goals of vanquishing communism and uniting all nations and faiths under Moon's dominion. Pak was founding president and publisher of the Washington Times, which launched in 1982. He also headed Unification Church International (now UCI), the holding company for a constellation of Moon-owned companies that were collectively worth billions. And he directed several of Moon's influential political groups, including CAUSA International, which aided anti-communist rebels in Latin America and promoted Moon's theology as an antidote to communism among congressional staffers.
"[Moon] never asked me anything: How old are you? How's school going?" Park recalls. "It was as if he was making a point of not showing an interest."
When Park was about 13, Choi finally told him who his parents were. "When she said it, it made so much sense," Park recalls. "Of course, she's my mother! How could I not have seen if before?" Park continued living with the Pak family, but gradually Moon's 13 other children began to figure out that he was their half brother. Not all of them took it well; Park says that the eldest of Moon's sons, Steve, once pointed a gun at him and threatened to rape and kill his mother. (Steve, who had a taste for cocaine and high-caliber weapons, was famously prone to violence. He would die of a heart attack in 2008, at the age of 45.)
But Moon's second oldest son, Heung Jin, who was about Park's age, embraced him as family. During his high school years, Park regularly visited Heung Jin at the Moons' estate in New York's Hudson Valley, where the pair spent their days hiking and talking about girls (a forbidden subject). Park, who longed for acceptance by the Moon family, recalls this as the happiest period of his youth.
In the winter of 1984, Heung Jin, who was then 17, smashed his car into a jack-knifed semi on an icy New York road and died. Park was so crushed he could barely pry himself out of bed—even today, he breaks down crying when the topic arises. "It was probably the most devastating thing that ever happened to me," he says.
The Rev. Sun Myung Moon's lover, Annie Choi (right), and his wife, Hak Ja Han (left), at the airport in Seoul just before Choi's departure to the United States in 1964 Courtesy of Samuel Park
Shortly before Heung Jin's death, Park had moved in with his mother. Most of Moon's followers still believed that Park was the Paks' son. To avoid raising questions, Park and Choi kept largely to themselves. "I let very few people close to me," Park says. "There were ramifications for a lot of people if I didn't maintain that identity. It shaped how I related to others in that I became guarded and private." Initially, Bo Hi Pak continued playing the father role; he bought Sam a car and paid much of his tuition at George Washington University, where Park earned a bachelor's degree in history. Park, meanwhile, clung to the hope that Moon would one day acknowledge his existence. "I remember Sam saying, 'I just want him to recognize me publicly as his son once before he dies,'" recalls one member of the Pak family, who confirmed many details of Park's account.
In a bid to win his father's love, Park married the daughter of a church elder at a Moon-officiated mass wedding in Seoul in 1992. The couple celebrated with a lavish reception at a South Korean hotel, complete with ice sculptures and floral mosaics—all underwritten by the Pak family.
After the wedding, Park's wife moved in with him and his mother in Virginia, where he was a partner in a small money management firm. But Park says she and her parents, who knew Park's family secrets, treated Choi coldly, which created friction in their marriage. According to Park, his wife eventually admitted that Mrs. Moon had approached her before the wedding and asked her to spy on him and his mother—an allegation his then-wife denies. (The Unification Church and lawyers for Mrs. Moon declined to comment.)
Park says his marital woes destroyed what was left of his faith. "Suddenly, the blinders came off," he recalls. "I could see how strange life inside the movement was—the things we did, the way we thought. When you begin to break free from that kind of brainwashing, it's almost like an out-of-body experience." Eventually, Park's marriage crumbled. In 1999, he and his wife divorced (a taboo in Unificationist circles). Afterward, he left his firm and moved with his mother to Arizona. Park began period of soul searching. "He was looking for a father figure," says Donna Orme-Collins, a former church member and close friend of Park's. "He would get overly excited by different schools of thought that would help him find peace."
"I could see how strange life inside the movement was—the things we did, the way we thought. When you begin to break free from that kind of brainwashing, it's almost like an out-of-body experience."
By this time, changes were afoot in Moon's movement. With the collapse of global communism in the late 1980s, Moon's focus shifted increasingly to promoting family values. He launched the American Family Coalition, which quickly became one of the nation's leading religious conservative organizations. And he worked with religious conservative leaders and the lobbying group Christian Voice on a grassroots campaign to nudge the Republican Party toward social conservatism. These efforts, and his political largess, earned him plaudits in high places. Speaking on the Senate floor in July 1993, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) urged fellow lawmakers to celebrate True Parents Day—a holiday honoring the Moons—in the name of family values. "It is in the interest of society and government to adopt policies strengthening and sustaining fathers and mothers," he said. The following year, Congress passed a bill designating Parents Day a national holiday.
While lawmakers were lauding Moon's family values message, his own family was unraveling. In 1998, his ex-daughter-in-law, Nansook Hong, published a devastating expose of Moon family life, which claimed that her husband, Steve, blew huge sums of church money on cocaine and beat her during her pregnancy. Hong and Moon's estranged daughter, Un Jin, went on 60 Minutes, where they presented a litany of allegations about drugs, sex, and corruption inside Moon's church. They also disclosed that Moon had an illegitimate son named "Sammy."