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

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, 46, leased the 'Ghost Ship' warehouse
Almena was raising his three children with his wife, Micah Allison (pictured), inside the warehouse

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 .

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. 

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'

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'

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)

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

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

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

 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

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.