Victor Paul Wierwille founded The Way International, a Christian group based on idiosyncratic readings of the Bible, in 1942 on a 147-acre tract in rural New Knoxville, Ohio. It just happened to be his birthplace.
Wierwille founded what would become The Way after receiving what he claimed was a message from God.
"He spoke to me audibly, just like I am talking to you now," Wierwille explained in a Way biography. "He said he would teach me the Word as it had not been known since the first century, if I would teach it to others."
Wierwille began teaching unusual beliefs, which most mainstream Christians find disturbing, such as Jesus Christ is not God; today's Jews are actually an impostor tribe from Siberia, not the Bible's chosen people; the Jewish Holocaust is a myth; much of the Gospel doesn't have any real meaning today; and others.
In 1953, Wierwille began teaching "Power For Abundant Living" (PFAL) classes, which evolved into a 36-hour taped introductory course to The Way.
He defined The Way as "a Biblical research and teaching ministry." Critics have called it a cult.
Wierwille organized The Way around the structure of a tree. Individuals are Leaves, local home fellowships are Twigs, state advisers are Limb Coordinators, headquarters is the Root.
The group attracted media attention in the 1970s as it grew rapidly. Followers were easily recruited from high schools and colleges. Throughout the country, the Twigs generally met twice during the week and on Sunday mornings to sing, pray and listen to teaching tapes by Wierwille.
However, media attention began to focus on other aspects of The Way. Rumors of survival training and the buildup of a military stronghold circulated. Students attending advanced classes were required to learn how to shoot a gun. They were advised to bring a Bible, Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and "a rifle or shotgun (handgun also if desired,)" according to several publications.
Wierwille also warned followers about the Illuminati, supposedly a world cartel of powerful individuals secretly planning to overthrow the U.S. government.
Charges of anti-Semitism brought more unwanted publicity. Followers were urged to read books that cast doubt on the Holocaust. Members alleged that Wierwille and other Way leaders
taught that the Holocaust was a myth concocted by the Jews.
In 1982 Wierwille passed leadership to L. Craig Martindale.
The church was beset by infighting and tax troubles after Wierwille died in 1985, and membership fell from an estimated 100,000 to 20,000.
Insiders have reported instances of weapons stockpiling, kidnapping, wife-swapping and other sexual misconduct, and financial scandal -- with varying degrees of documentation in personal testimony, and in the press.