Table of Contents
PART I: Grievances That Give Rise to Holy War
PART II: Holy War Organizations
6. Inspirational Leaders and Their Followers
7. Lone-Wolf Avengers
8. Commanders and Their Cadres
9. The Ultimate Organization: Networkers, Franchises, and Freelancers
10. Conclusion/Policy Recommendations
This chapter tells the story of a group of alienated individuals who joined a religious fellowship in rural Arkansas. After the leader received a “revelation” that the Endtimes had begun, the cult began “fusing together in one body” as directed by a prophetess living on the compound. They burned family photographs, sold their wedding rings, pooled their earnings, and destroyed televisions and other “reminders of the outside world’s propaganda.” They also began stockpiling weapons to prepare for the “enemy’s” anticipated invasion. But the Apocalypse — and the battle between good and evil forces — failed to materialize on the appointed hour. Each failed prophecy was followed by a revised forecast. Instead of giving in to despair that their dream of the Endtimes might not materialize, cult members’ confidence grew stronger. They intensified their military training, acquired more powerful weapons, and purified themselves to prepare to vanquish the forces of evil.
By examining this cult, we learn how leaders develop a story about imminent danger to an “in group,” foster group identity, dehumanize the group’s purported enemies, and encourage the creation of a “killer self” capable of murdering large numbers of innocent people. This chapter focuses on the evolution of a cult member named Kerry Noble. We observe how the leader cunningly capitalized on Noble’s need to feel important inside the group, and how, over time, Noble was transformed from a gentle but frustrated pastor seeking transcendence to a terrorist prepared to countenance “war” against the cult’s enemies — blacks, Jews, “mud people,” and the U.S. government.
On April 19, 1985, two hundred federal and state law-enforcement agents staged a siege at a 240-acre armed compound in rural Arkansas inhabited by a Christian cult called the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA). The cult had long been expecting an enemy invasion, and members had laid land mines around the periphery of the property. They had stockpiled five years’ worth of food. James Ellison, the commander of the cult, wanted to shoot it out with the feds. Danny Coulson, head of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, eventually persuaded Ellison that the cult would lose such a battle. Coulson said he had a Huey helicopter, just over the hill, which would level the place if a cult member fired a single shot. He also said that an aircraft circling the property was equipped with heatseeking devices. “We can watch your every move, day or night,” he said. He told cult members that he had an armored personnel carrier around the bend, and weapons so advanced and new that the military didn’t have them yet. “Your organization is considered by the government to be the best-trained civilian paramilitary group in America. That’s why we’re here. We’re only sent against the best,” he told the cult’s second-in-command, Kerry Noble, who had been sent to negotiate with the enemy.
The FBI asked the Reverend Robert Millar, a leading cleric of the American racist right, to help negotiate with the cult. Millar reports that he saw 150 men in camouflage, plus FBI and ATF agents, a SWAT team, and “a few Mossad agents,” scattered in the woods around the compound, whom he blamed for provoking a “tense and dangerous confrontation.” “If it comes to a fight, hand me a gun, show me how to use it, and I am with you,” he says he told Ellison.
Three days after the siege began, the Covenant’s “Home Guard” surrendered. The Reverend Millar was disappointed. “It ended with the whole group walking out, the womenfolk carrying their Bibles and singing, the men handing over their carbines.” When government officials searched the compound, they found a large cache of weapons, including fifty hand grenades; seventy-four assault weapons; thirty machine guns; six silencers; an M-72 antitank rocket; a World War II-era antiaircraft gun; three half-pound blocks of C-4 plastic explosives; an unfinished, homemade armored personnel carrier; and a large drum of cyanide, which cult members intended to use to poison major-city water supplies.
The cult hoped to hasten the return of the Messiah by “carrying out God’s judgments” against unrepentant sinners. They believed that humanists, communists, socialists, and Zionists had taken over the U.S. government. They knew for a fact that Jews, Satan’s direct descendents, were working closely with the Antichrist, whose forces included the United Nations, the IMF, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Illuminati, and the “One-Worlders.” They had discovered, through their intelligence channels, that the aim of this cabal was to create a world government, a clear sign that the forces of Satan were at work. The cult planned to poison residents of major cities — far more people than any modern terrorist group has killed before. They had joined forces with other right-wing groups in the hope of destroying what they called the Zionist Occupied Government (ZOG). Cult members and their coconspirators were eventually tried for sedition, but in the end, the government lost the case.
Kerry Noble was a “God-anointed elder” of the cult and, by the end, its second-in-command. I first contacted him by telephone in March 1998. He was living in Texas, now released from prison. He told me that the group had started preparing for “war” because there were signs of Armageddon. “We believed that once those signs were there, it was time for us to act, to make judgments against those who were doing wrong or who refused to repent,” he says. “The original timetable was up to God, but God could use us in creating Armageddon. That if we stepped out, things might be hurried along. You get tired of waiting for what you think God is planning.”
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