Former Packers Player Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila Now Leads Controversial Religious Group

Two members of the group were recently arrested for their behavior at a Christmas pageant

Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila
Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila spent most of the last decade playing for the Green Bay Packers. Now he runs a controversial religious group.
Harry How/Getty Images
By Tobias Carroll / January 12, 2020 12:29 pm

At The Daily Beast, writer Kelly Weill has written a story that seems tailor-made to make its readers do a series of doubletakes — particularly if they followed the Green Bay Packers in the 2000s. It has a lot: fringe religious groups, a Christmas pageant gone wrong and references to the “sovereign citizen” movement all make appearances. And at the center of it is former Packers player Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

It started in mid-December, when two men in their early 20s, Jordan Salmi and Ryan Desmith, were charged with “trespassing, disorderly conduct, and carrying concealed weapons” after showing up at a Christmas pageant held by Providence Academy in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Salmi and Desmith said that they’d been asked by the leader of the religious group they both belong to — Gbaja-Biamila — to record the event.

Their subsequent defense involved invoking ideas associated with the “sovereign citizen” movement — one which Gbaja-Biamila also cited in interviews quoted in Weill’s article.

As Weill describes it, Gbaja-Biamila’s time as a religious leader hasn’t been without controversy — to put it mildly.

Gbaja-Biamila is the leader of Straitway Praiseland, a Wisconsin offshoot of Tennessee’s fringe Straitway Truth Ministry. The church calls itself “Hebrew Israelite” and claims to preach a literal reading of the Bible.

The school that was holding the pageant? Gbaja-Biamila’s children are enrolled there; his ex-wife is Catholic. But Gbaja-Biamila’s religious beliefs contend that women should be subservient to men — his Instagram presence features a few posts espousing this belief. And thus, his objections to his children’s participation, which led to the events that prompted two armed men to attempt to record a Christmas pageant.

Gbaja-Biamila’s time as a religious leader is not the former player’s only foray outside of football; he also spoke at an event in support of then-presidential candidate Ted Cruz in 2016. This current case is an unnerving glimpse at the place where fringe religious beliefs and dubious political theories converge; it’s one with numerous threads, none of them easy to untangle.

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