Archive | April 2010

Undercover Operatives, Aerial Photography and an Apocalyptic Church

The Exponent’s Controversial 1988 Investigation of the Church Universal and Triumphant

An aerial photograph taken by then-Editor-in-Chief Chet Uber, showing the construction of fallout shelters made by burying two Burlington Northern rail cars. From the March 3, 1988 edition.

An aerial photograph taken by then-Editor-in-Chief Chet Uber, showing the construction of fallout shelters made by burying two Burlington Northern rail cars on their land near Corwin Springs, Mont. From the March 3, 1988 edition of the Exponent.

By Brent Zundel
For the MSU Exponent
April 15, 2010

Author’s Note: This article, originally published as the feature of the April 15, 2010, edition of the Exponent, was the first in a two-part series that examined the controversy surrounding the Exponent’s reporting on the Church Universal and Triumphant during spring 1988.

With the spring semester ending, the Exponent is taking a hard, introspective look at, arguably, one of the most controversial periods of its 115-year history. The year was 1988. The Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) had been in Montana for nearly three years, and Chet Uber was the editor-in-chief of the Exponent. The church and the Exponent were about to clash in a way that would leave a lasting impact on both.

Reacting initially to what he believed was an attempt to recruit Montana State University students, Uber began an extensive investigation of the church that included secret attempts to infiltrate them, aerial photographs of the CUT compound, and subsequent censorship by the ASMSU Senate. As a result of purchases Uber made to support this and other investigations, the issue also raised controversy over the Exponent’s budget.

The Church Universal and Triumphant

Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Image from tsl.org

Elizabeth Clare Prophet. Image courtesy tsl.org

CUT is a New Age religious movement, founded originally as the Summit Lighthouse, by Mark Prophet, a traveling salesman from Wisconsin. Prophet met Elizabeth Clare Wulf in 1961. They had, she claimed, met before — in an earlier incarnation — in King Arthur’s Camelot: She was Guinevere, and he was Lancelot. Shortly after the 1961 meeting, they each left their spouses and married.

When Mark Prophet died, or “ascended,” as followers believe, in 1975, Elizabeth Prophet assumed control of the organization and renamed it the Church Universal and Triumphant. In 1981, Prophet married Ed Francis.

After stays in Colorado and later California, CUT purchased Malcolm Forbes’s 12,000-acre ranch in Paradise Valley in 1981. The organization sold its property in California and moved to Montana in 1986.

Apocalypse Now

Rumors and controversy have followed CUT everywhere it has moved, but at the time many Montanans were particularly leery of the organization. Elizabeth Prophet began to predict a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States, because of “accelerated negative karma.”

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An aerial photograph taken by then-Editor-in-Chief Chet Uber of one of the fallout shelters being constructed by burying a Burlington Northern rail car. From the March 3, 1988, edition of the Exponent.

In order to survive the impending nuclear apocalypse, the group began constructing a number of underground bomb shelters and stocking them with food and survival equipment on its ranch near Corwin Springs, which they named Glastonbury. After the nuclear exchange did not occur, Prophet claimed that group members’ prayers had averted disaster.

In 1989, Francis, Prophet’s husband, pleaded guilty to conspiring with fellow CUT member Vernon Hamilton to purchase $130,000 worth of weapons, including armor-piercing assault rifles, and 120,000 rounds of ammunition. They were arrested for using false identification to buy the arsenal. Read More…

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