compared the conversions to the ones you see the Rev. Billy Graham of Montreat, N.C.
doing. There were stories of “browbeating.”
God knows what went on in Iowa City, Iowa where our crying N.C. farmer sent
$20,000 of plow money to get his daughter deprogrammed, but what happened afterward
was a tragedy.
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads” - Henry David Thoreau.
I was beginning to disinfect this blemish of humanity through journalism, the same way
I clean the brown mung caked around the white, ceramic drain of my shower bathtub.
Spray a little unwatered-down bleach on it and it will clean itself. Sunlight is supposed to
be the best disinfectant.
Freedom of religion is a constitutional right respected by the Rev. David Long of First
Presbyterian Church in Boone. To find a clear, level-headed response and explanation of
cult groups, I figured the reasonable place to start was with a Protestant officiant.
“We have to allow and protect, under the law, a group like The Way,” Long said. “I’d
describe it as a very dangerous cult by what I know and what I’ve read - it’s very
dangerous. They accept the scriptures, but they variate from them. Pretty soon, they have
you off out here. The church doesn’t have all the truth about the scriptures.”
Long described the personal susceptible to a cult: “the person who has biblical or
religious or Christian training, the person who has a church background, the person who is
not the most popular person, but who needs approval of friends...a rather strict
upbringing, a so-called sheltered life, a person who is lonely, lonely from family, lonely
from friends, and they really lack a personal relationship with God.”
Later when I asked Long about speaking in tongues and exorcism, he said he saw an
exorcism in Africa and believed one could speak in tongues. Durn. I never realized
that Presbyterians believed in exorcism and towers of psychobabble.
Long described brainwashing. I knew what it was. For several months I was on an in-
patient unit in Pinehurst, N.C. after flunking out at ASU and becoming extremely
“Hit the wall! Put all your anger into your fists and strike the wall!” The old lady
counselor should have had better sense than to allow me to go into the padded room on
our hall. Over and over I’d turn my neck and tell one counselor that I couldn’t stop doing
it. Finally, my parents and shrink told me I’d better snap out of it or I’d go to Dix
Hospital, “Dix Hill,” as the rednecks called it, in Raleigh. After a counselor screweded me late
one night in my room after closing hours, I showed a remarkable, timely recovery, and I
think the medication should receive no credit. It was strong stuff. New on the market. I
forget what it was.
I knew what deprogramming was like. “It would be cleansing the mind of all previous
conceptions and placing in their place those conceptions that are desired by the one who
brainwashes or by the one who modifies behavior. You don’t wash the brain. You don’t
have a mental breakdown. You don’t just pull a brain out and scrub it and put it back in.”
That’s probably what had happened to me the night before, or maybe it was the 10th
Miller at Clyde’s in Blowing Rock and the first lobster I’d ever eaten in my life,
microwaved. I faintly remember a female who, on a dare, lifted up her skirt to her chest,
revealing to all bar patrons that she was wearing no panties while music of The Dillards
blasted over the Bose speakers.
Presbyterian Long concluded, “We have to allow and protect, under the law, a group
like The Way.”
Michael Van Dyke, N.C. Way Director in Greenville, N.C., told me, “One man’s cult is
another man’s religion, and one man’s religion is another man’s cult.
Ms. Nelms asked me to print that she loves her parents and has not tried to do anything
to hurt them. The next time I saw her was with Edwards in our front office buying a
classified ad for the sale of a $175 flute.
The Nelms experience is not new in North Carolina. “No, it’s not the first case I know
of,” said an anti-cult spokesman. “They are in every state.”
Colonization of Way groups had evolved into a network encompassing all 50 states
and 50 foreign countries since Wierwille, born in 1917, quit his ministry at United Church
of Christ in Van Wert, Ohio to inoculate his own herd. He studied at Mission House
College, Moody Bible Institute, the University of Chicago Divinity School, getting his
masters of theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and his doctorate from Pike’s
Peak Seminary, an alleged “degree mill.”
During the flower child movement of the 1960s Wierwille had mustered up a flock in
the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, later moving to his family’s homeplace, a
147-acre farm in New Knoxville.
The 197-acre Way College of Biblical Research was in Rome City, Ind. My notes and
manuscripts from covering The Way are brown, yellowed, torn and out of order. Some of
the original pages were thrown in the trash that day in Perkinsville, a small borough on the
east side of Boone, when my landlord instructed employees to throw all my personal
belongings out of the apartment in which I was residing. Once when “Big E” and Rusty
visited me from Laurinburg, it was about 15 degrees in my apartment even with the
electric heat turned full blast. Electrified by the Crown Royal and other chemical additives,
I jumped up from my seat, kicked open the flimsy wooden door as cold air rushed in.
“Close that damned pneumonia hole!”
“What’s got into you?”
Hoisting the 20-inch black-and-white Zenith television set to my knee, I pressed it to
my chest and then over my head as my friends stopped drinking after our conversation
about the next day’s skiing at Beech Mountain and were transfixed upon my steps to the
second floor balcony.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” I said as traffic lights streamed by the
green stoplight on U.S. 321.
“What’s he going to do?”
The set had been on the fritz for several months, and I kept it because it spruced up the
place along with the painting reproduction my artist friend Chris Rust had done of the first
Dire Straits album cover of the out-of-focus woman on a parking deck.
We will always remember to our dying day the tiny spark that clicked on somewhere in
the 3-D inner dimensions of that zenith as it made like a wounded phoenix and mustering
all its remaining static and hidden electricity currents in its white shell.
“I HATE TVS!” I said, hurling the television set off the deck as it twisted and turned
slowly in transition before gravity pulled it from its lofty position and its tube and cathodes
jolted from impact, plastic flying and making the most unforgettable noise an electronic
appliance can produce.
“I can’t believe you just did that!”
“I got it! I got it on film!”
Turning to close the door and reenter the room in an anti-climactic 180, I grabbed the
decanter and sucked its amber innards like it was a teat and I was a starving refugee.
There was a weird, drunken student that I knew through a friend. This guy would come
up to smoke a joint every once and a while, and after a dozen such episodes he asked me
about the story I had queried with Rolling Stone about on The Way. “John’s” father
was a judge from Morganton. The judge told me he’d rather not discuss The Way.
His son later decided to ask me not to use any of his quotes, but changed his mind so
many times I wasn’t quite sure what he wanted. He told me of when he was 22 six years
ago and traveled to the Rock of Ages Festival The Way sponsored every year.
“I had just graduated from college,” he said. “I went with two girls and another guy,
Nancy, Lisa and Steve. We went in a VW bug. It was fun. I had a good time. A lot of
pussy. Itis. We all camped out up there. Everybody walking and saying, “Jesus loves!” All
these Jesus freaks. It was wild as hell. It took us, I believe, 16 or 18 hours. We just
partied, you know, drove on down the road, drank beer, smoked pot.”
This guy was funny to John and I because he was a friendly fellow who would
sometimes lapse into a state of quiet oblivion, but the thing that tickled us about him was
the fact that most of the time he would not be looking at you when he talked.
“I wanted to see what it was like and what they did. She said that I’d like it. I went, I
guess, because of her. We all just slept in one big tent. It was a big old fairground deal, a
bunch of parking spaces. They had tents all around, mobile homes, trailers and all. There
was about 100,000 people there.” He said there was a band and stage and people singing
“Jesus Loves You This I Know.”
Music could feature groups like The Joyful Noise or The Good Seed.
“They’d say, “Yeah, you want to be with The Way,” you know. Most of them were
real straight, real flower children. There were a lot of hippies and crap. A lot of people
walked around with cups with beer and liquor. A lot of them were smoking. You could
walk around and smell it everywhere.”
The reason he didn’t want me to include his comments was that his sister had been in
the group, and his father, the judge, wanted her out.
One of the photocopied documents I got from the Citizens Freedom Foundation
involved a 25-year-old guy rescued from The Way in Norfolk after he was approached by
a couple in the local shopping mall. He was later deprogrammed
“When I first became a member I didn’t think it was a cult. But it is a cult that uses
mind control techniques and the issue is not doctrine but mind control,” he said Dec. 3,
1980. His father exploded and his mom “just sat there and wanted to listen to what I had
Melloril, that was the crap I was on...strong stuff, Daddy. I could relate to how deeply
the farmer had been hurt. I’ll never forget the day I ran away from home as a teen for a
brief day or so, and my father came to where I was at, a home, with tears in his eyes,
pleading with me to come home because my mother was crying. I’ll go to hell for that.
Satan’s crimson, satin fork is in a corner for me to stoke the coals in the “Run Away From
Home” room of Hades.
“I read that deprogramming was holding you against your will, for a long period of
time, trying to convert you to believe a different belief system and that is not true. What is
true is that a deprogramming shows you in a very defined way how hypnosis, self-hypnosis
and brainwashing techniques operate.”
“A lot of the teachings are what I would consider very good teachings. But even still,
though Dr. Wierwille has changed a few basic doctrines around and he knows he has to.
because he will not defend his position. He will either become very angry with you and
not defend himself or he will remain calm and quiet and act real peaceful.”
“While you were in The Way did you know about the anti-Semitism of The Way
“No, I hadn’t been aware of that until my deprogramming where it was made known to
me that a book that they have on the shelf of the library at the international headquarters
teaches that the six million Jews were not killed by the Germans.”
“Did you know that when a person makes a contribution to the Nazi Party that they are
sent a pamphlet written by Dr. Wierwille?”
“No I did not know that until right now Where did you find out your information from
Sue Martin at Keuka College is described as a student intern at the NEC center. “From
an Ex-Way member.” “The Myth of the Six Million” was the publication in question, a
document abhorred by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith along with “The Hoax
of the 20th Century.” “How do you feel about the people in The Way now that you’re
“Oh, I have nothing against them at all. I think that the time we spent together was
pretty good. They’re still my friends, but we have one less thing in common. May be more
than one thing, but I’m no longer a member and they are.”
“Have any of The Way members tried to harass you?”
“Well, I know they don’t call it harassment, but I know that when you are invaded,
your own privacy, that it’s not right, I believe that they are doing what is called “God’s
will” all the time and even if it means they will break man’s laws, to do God’s will.”
“And what God’s will is, is Dr. Wierwille’s will?”
In “Cults, World Religions and You” there is a chapter on The Way International,
stating its college in Emporia, Kan. was established in 1975, and that before the senior
year, students had to spend a year as missionaries. There are retreats and “advances” and
prison outreaches. The Minuteman Program dispatches PFAL grads to cities for the
summer to create twig groups and enroll new students in the PFAL course. I used to go to
the Boone Police Department and talk with Phyllis, the secretary, for hours about The
Way and what people thought of it, and when we weren’t talking about The Way, we’d
talk about the existentialism of Jason in the “Halloween” series. Most of the small
mountain churches were scared crapless of a cult group in town, and any such talk was d
deemed as a social threat against the crux and cornerstone of “Our Town.”
The publication accuses The Way of coordinating and developing businesses owned by
members and providing work for members and a larger financial base. There is a 10
percent tithe. The tapes students listen to are described as involving singing, praying and
speaking in tongues. Female ministers are ordained along with males. Christmas or Easter
are not the most important day for The Way which the publication says Pentecost tops the
Zealous enthusiasm is highlighted, and drugs, alcohol, premarital sex and slothfulness
Wierwille wrote a book called “Jesus Christ Is Not God,” “The Bible Tells Me So,
“The Word’s Way,” and “Receiving the Holy Spirit Today.”
In July 1979 when Wierwille was 62 Ohio Magazine published a story by Michael
Harden that begins, “From a farm in Western Ohio, an international multimillion dollar
religious cult pulls the strings for its army of tens of thousands of disciples. Many have
gone through a religious boot camp, many have received small arms training, all are
fiercely loyal to one man.”
Wierwille grew up on a Shelby County farm, the article reports, where the international
headquarters were built. He was called to be a minister of the Evangelical and Reformed
Church in Van Wert and Payne, Ohio. The PFAL course began in 1953. He resigned in
Van Wert in 1957 at the United Church of Christ. Wierwille reportedly began with the
help of a disc jockey named Steve Heefner who assisted in The Way’s canonization in a
seven-page LIFE magazine featured entitled “The Groovy Christians of Rye, N.Y,” a story
written by Jane Howard in May 1971. LIFE said Wierwille called Rye a “very dark town
in a very dark county.”
Ohio Magazine claimed The Way’s East group in New York raised $100,000 in 18
months, and the group was growing.
The price of the Power For Abundant Living Course had been free, increasing to $15
and then to $100. There were even groups in Little Rock, Ark. “Blind allegiance,” Ohio
Magazine called it. Training for The Way Corps training required one to keep one’s
marital status, incorporate a low-protein diet and get to bed around 12:30 a.m, awaking by
It was supposedly “okay to sleep with somebody else (other than your spouse) as long
as it honors God or builds the ministry or some kind of clowny stuff like that,” a guy is
One publication reported The Way denied the Trinity and Christ’s divinity and
incarnation, adding that Jesus was resurrected on Saturday and that four people instead of
two were crucified next to the Lord. The Way believed only believers after Pentecost
would be saved, and they must remain dead until the final resurrection. Water baptism was
discouraged, and speaking in tongues was taught with members practicing 30 minutes
Way Corps trainees supposedly were punished for being five minutes late for dinner or
forgetting a name tag by missing a meal. Fasts included only vitamins, water and Colo
Cleanse, a “volcanic ash product.”
In the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette Tom Jenkinson, director of The Way College of
Biblical Research in Rome City, said trainees are free “within the restrictions of the
program and within the restrictions I think you would experience, I assume, in most any
other training program, be it your first year of college or the Marine Corps.”
Bubbling underwater, I emerged from the baptismal pool of First Baptist Church of
Laurinburg a saved individual, experiencing the same stifling sensation of drowning the
church pest behind me was about to get. It was the scariest moment of my life. There was
a painting on the wall behind the pool with the scene of a mountainside that you could slip
into during a boring sermon. If you sat close to the front row, you could glimpse a girl’s
breast and nipple through the wet white choir robes as they emerged from the pool as
Christians. Breathtaking. I wore underwear on my submerging trip underwater. I felt like
Lloyd Bridge on “Sea Hunt.” Got water in my ears. It felt good dribbling out that night.
Marksmanship and weapons handling and safety courses were offered at the National
guard Armory of Emporia over two years, Ohio Magazine reported.
The article said The Way had a police force of three people at its headquarters under a
105-year-old Ohio law which first permitted Chautaugua gatherings to have event
“The Bless Patrol” was the squad’s name Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart had to
“It is hard to guess what legislators were thinking in 1874,” the sheriff told the
magazine, “but this law has the potential of being really abused. They would have police
powers to conduct investigations, as I understand it, any place in the state of Ohio.
Anybody you can think of could start their own police agency, carry firearms, conduct
investigations, and I don’t think that’s healthy. There’s no checks and balances. There’s no
mayor they answer to, no town council that hey answer to. It’s the type of thing where
they could have five officers today and 500 tomorrow.”
Shelby County Prosecutor Scott Jarvis was listed as a Way member and The Way’s
legal counsel, and as saying they should refrain from making vehicle stops near Wierwille
Road. A “Mrs. Moore” with First Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C. told me, “It’s just an
evil group. I’ll tell you that. It’s a sad situation.”
Boone Way fellowship meetings were held at 8 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday night,
so on April 29 before a spokesman had invited me to attend, I went with my cousin, Jeff,
who lives 45 miles away in Newton. He’s husky like me, and we look and feel like
brothers. I asked him to go, and he was hesitant, but agreed when it looked like we would
go chasing women in Blowing Rock at the bars afterward. He still wanted to just hit the
bars, but sheepishly accompanied me.
Twig leader Pat Yaconis was preaching out of the book of Acts and Ephesians, talking
about change and how those who persecute might be converted. No way, Jose. It was a
nice house on a respectable street above The Flick theatre. Prayers were uttered, and a
reed horn of plenty was passed around, so I gave Wierwille a buck. Didn’t even ask for
compensation at work. There are a lot of invisible costs for journalists. Karen Nelms had
been contributing 10 percent of her waitress money to the group. I’m just not a 10-
percenter at heart. One of my stories quoted estimated Way assets at $10 million or near
I thought I’d melt from embarrassment when we started singing some corny oldie-but-
goldies from the Sing Along The Way songbook, but everyone else chimed in with laughs
“Again, what you saw is not different from anything else we do,” The Way spokesman
reminded me later.
The merriment subsided into a serious conversation when I told them I was a news
reporter. Somber indeed.
Yaconis said he’d have to refer questions to New Knoxville, but he did say, “David is
“THOU SHALT NOT STEAL.” - God
Mark Edwards, sitting next to Way member Karen Nelms, said that the group had
contacted the FBI in Hickory to report that the group was being railroaded, but no
assistance was given. The life of Reilly was in jeopardy. Reilly was a Boone twig member
who was in trouble in the court system.
On New Year’s Eve David Michael Reilly, 23, of Methuen, Mass., found himself facing
charges of felonious breaking and entering and larceny because of an incident in
November 1982 at a Japanese steakhouse restaurant where he worked. A vandalized
cigarette machine was smashed, and money was stolen. Boone Police Department officers
had arrested him at the twig’s $450 a month home, charging that he stole $6,767.77 from
the restaurant on Saturday, Nov. 21. Over $5,000 damage was sustained at the location of
our newspaper’s company Christmas party, where the showboat chefs feigned translation
difficulties until they had captured a fair maiden customer following the flaming shrimp
ritual and the miracle of catching a yellow rind of lemon behind the back on the second or
third try. Sometimes they did it the first time. Our parties were fun. My last Christmas
bonus was great, about $400. The Coffeys were generous. The Jehovah’s Witness
photographer flatly refused a Christmas bonus, but he would accept it only as an incentive
bonus. Praise the Lord.
The company safe was found opened on the lobby floor.
After David Michael Reilly, was by the Boone Police Department and went to court,
Henry Upchurch of Sugar Grove, eight miles from Boone near Vilas, made his $10,000
bond. Reilly received a three-year sentence. After a Watauga County jury deliberated
about four hours April 15 before convicting Reilly, he got a three year active sentence.
During his trial, Reilly’s attorney argued fiercely when the judge allowed the
prosecutor’s questioning to ramble way out of bounds into The Way’s financial
transactions and to a crazy little thing called deprogramming. A Boone detective testified
that Reilly protested when he was arrested, and that during questioning the suspect stated
that “he had no damned business around that cigarette machine.”
Prints found on the cigarette machine were “fresh,” the officer testified, having been
applied within 48 hours of the break-in. The prints were identified as Reilly’s.
“He has no prior record, to my knowledge,” he said.
During the trial I had a rather strong attack of gas and tried to squeak out a silent
emission, but all was for naught. The triple treblo horn sounded, and thankfully no one
sitting near me in the press box, including the cops, issued any signal that my transgression