Thousands Flock to Bomb Shelters: Guru Ma Hints at April 23rd  for Armageddon
From around the world, thousands of followers of the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) are flocking to bomb shelters at Church headquarters in Livingston, Montana according to a front page story in the New York Times, (March 15, 1990).
The group's leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet (known to her followers as "Guru Ma") proclaimed that the world had entered "a dangerous period" in March and April of 1990 and according to the Times article is headed for "particular tension around April 23."
Members claim this tension may be interpreted as a thermal nuclear war instigated by a Soviet Union "first strike."
In response to this fear, "her believers, many of them heavily armed have been streaming toward the 33,000 acres of church property in rental trucks loaded with personal possessions," (Ibid).
Also known as Summit Lighthouse, this New Age-style cult began acquiring property near Livingston in 1981.
Since then they have constructed massive fallout shelters stockpiled with food and medical supplies in preparation for a Soviet missile launch that they see as imminent.
According to Murray Steinman, the CUT's spokesman, "Mrs. Prophet is not convinced that recent international events mean tension is abating in the world; rather, she believes they are a result of deception by the Soviet Union to lure the United States into complacency," (Ibid).
The Church's Spokesman Responds
In a March 16th telephone interview with Watchman Fellowship, Steinman downplayed the media attention and "misunderstandings" in the NY Times article and in his televised interview that had aired on NBC earlier that day.
"We believe that Armageddon is fought only in the soul and nuclear war is not the end of the world," Steinman told Watchman Fellowship adding that of the two or three thousand followers gathered near the Church's fall-out shelters, most were there long before Prophet's April 23rd warning.
"We are hoping for the best but planning for the worst," Steinman said explaining that Guru Ma had not predicted nuclear war for April 23rd only the "possibility" that it may occur.
Members Take "Possibility" Seriously
Devotees are not taking any chances. Guru Ma claims to base her information on cycles of Karma as well as messages received from the "Ascended Masters" who are also called "the Great White Brotherhood."
The New York Times interviewed members who had quit their jobs and moved from as far away as Europe and South America to join the swelling ranks of the faithful.
One typical member said she had withdrawn all her money from the bank and fled with her teenage daughter to Church headquarters saying that all of her most valuable possessions were being moved into her assigned space in a bunker located twelve feet underground.
Like many other members who have paid between $5,000 to $10,000, she purchased a space in the shelter that will be shared by 125 other members. The price also includes seven months of community food.
Merchants in the small town of Livingston reported increased sales on "survival-type gear" including aspirin, flashlights, batteries, and first-aid kits.
Other goods reported to be stockpiled by the Church included, "dried food, computers, medical equipment, blood supplies, and diesel generators," (NY Times, p. A-9).
Longtime Area Residents Upset
Recent activities have re-sparked conflict between the area's long time residences and Church members.
Comparisons have been made between the group and the late Bhagwan Rajneesh who with thousands of followers took over the small town of Antelope, Oregon, creating a New Age commune before being deported by US officials after followers attempted to poison local residents.
Local critics have also suggested parallels between Guru Ma and Jim Jones referring to the cult leader whose 913 followers committed suicide or were killed in the jungles of Guyana in 1978.
They think we're about [to] do a Jonestown," Steinman said, "Our whole orientation is different. A bomb shelter is about survival. We want to live," (Ibid).
Critics, however, question to what extent the group will go "to live."
Illegal Weapons Charges
Authorities are said to be watching the group closely noting that some devotees are armed with rifles, handguns and other weapons.
Also, media attention refocuses concern on the group's earlier problems concerning illegal arms when Prophet's husband, Ed Francis, who also serves as the Church's vice president, was arrested by Federal agents last fall.
Steinman told Watchman Fellowship that Mrs. Prophet's husband was acting on his own when he tried to purchase $100,000 worth of semiautomatic weapons, ammunition and handguns.
Arms confiscated by Federal agents were reported to have included vintage .50 caliber World War II anti-aircraft weapons, (NY Times).
"He was only trying to avoid bad publicity for the Church," by using a phony name while attempting to obtain the weapons, Steinman told the Expositor.
"The Church actually has a policy against firearms," said Steinman adding that the Church, however, cannot control any legal arms purchases made by the members.
Times reporter, Timothy Egan, noted that April 23rd was not the first time Prophet, "predicted the end of the world," pointing to a similar proclamation made last October as the most recent example.
Some members interviewed told the Times that even if nuclear war does not come in April, they would still continue to follow Guru Ma crediting the war's postponement to group prayers.
Christian Church or Religious Scam
"To me, the whole thing is a scam," declared local county commissioner, Carlo Cieri. "If we had stricter laws, this would have never happened."
One former member that may agree is Gregory Mull, who was awarded $1.56 million in damages from CUT.
The U.S. Supreme court recently let stand a California court's decision that Mull had been pressured by the Church to donate his life's savings, (Ibid).
In criticizing the Times article, Steinman told Watchman Fellowship that CUT was not the bizarre cult depicted by the press.
"We believe that the Bible is a holy book," he explained, adding, "We consider ourselves Christian, but we do incorporate some Eastern beliefs."