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National Guard class

Militant Cultists Train As Marksmen

The Detroit Evening News, January 7, 1979, Page 1A
by Michael F. Wendland, News Staff Writer
New Knoxville

Unfiltered Seven hundred members of a large but relatively unknown religious cult -- The Way International -- have received weapons training from the Kansas National Guard.

In Shelby County, in central Ohio, The Way has been given full police powers -- on the recommendation of a county prosecutor who is a key member of the cult -- over hundreds of permanent and transient members at its farm headquarters.

And a conservative ex-Maine state senator, and active Way member, is organizing a nationwide army of political activists with the avowed goal to "put men of God in government."

Across the country, a leading Way minister has circulated right-wing literature that talks of taking to the streets with rifles if religious freedom is threatened.

Headed by a 61-year-old charismatic evangelist, Victor Paul Wierwille, The Way is particularly active on high school and college campuses nationwide.

Although a group of parents and relatives of Way members accuse Wierwille and his ministers of brainwashing young recruits, The Way has avoided the notoriety of such cults as the Unification Church, the Hare Krishnas, and, more recently, the Peoples Temple.

While the national guard training, in the form of a hunter's safety and marksmanship class, has ended, it has been replaced with instruction at a privately owned Kansas gun range, The News has learned.

"It's an on-going thing," said Chip Stansbury, a spokesman for The Way in Emporia, Kan. "It's to give our people an idea what a gun is like and if you have a gun in your possession how to be safe with it."

Stansbury said the gun range used The Way was donated by "a friend," but he refused to identify the donor or reveal its location. He said the classes are taught by Way members, most of whom received the original hunter safety training in the Emporia armory.

"It's no big deal," he said.

But Sgt. Vernon Buck, who managed the Emporia National Guard armory and authorized the gun classes there, said the course spent considerable time teaching "marksmanship."

"It was much like the military," said Buck. "They used .22-caliber rifles, bulls-eye targets at 50 feet and a coach who told them what to do and how to do it."

The training was conducted during 1977 and 1978 for the students of a private college maintained by The Way with an enrollment of 400. The Way college in Emporia trains members of the "Way Corps," teams of which are dispatched worldwide to recruit members.

"They were very serious," Buck said. "Men and women -- the whole college -- turned out."

"We had no idea who these people were," said Col. Richard Eckert, chief of staff of the Kansas National Guard in Topeka. "The first we heard that they were a cult was a few weeks ago when there was a story in the media about them being like the Moonies.

"They're just like any other nonprofit group. We're a tax-supported institution and they're entitled to use of the armory."

Stansbury said the cult does not own weapons but some of its members do. "Some like to hunt," he said.

Besides the weapons training, critics cite The Way's own police department as an example of the cult's aggressive political philosophy.

Shelby (Ohio) County's prosecutor, who also is general counsel of The Way, sees no inherent dangers.

"I don't see even the appearance of a conflict of interest," bristles Scott Jarvis, 41. "But I do resent the fact that my religion causes people to question my performance as a prosecutor. I doubt that this would happen if I was a Lutheran or a Catholic."

Last year, Jarvis prepared the legal order, signed by a municipal judge, that gave police powers to The Way's "Bless Patrol," which safeguards the group's farm headquarters, near New Knoxville, Ohio.

The Way is one of several of the new religious cults linked to arms caches, weapons training and political activism:

  • Synanon, the California-based cult whose founder, Charles Dederich, facing charges of attempted murder, founded an "Imperial Marine Corps" to protect its members. It armed it with several hundred thousand dollars worth of weapons, police say, ranging from handguns to sophisticated rifles.

  • The Rev. Jim Jones had armed his Guyana commune sometime prior to the slaying of California Congressman Leo Ryan and the suicides and mass murders of more than 900 Peoples Temple members.

  • Recruits of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church must sign loyalty oaths to South Korea, pledging military service against communism, ex-members have charged. Former Moonies have also said they were told they would have to kill for the "heavenly father (Moon)" if necessary. But, there is no record that Moon members receive weaponry training.

[the article continues]

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