The cult watch is on

Chicago Sun Times, December 31, 1999
By Ernest Tucker

The approach of the millennium has authorities and experts on alert for religious cults that may view the year 2000 as the start of the apocalypse. While both the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League have issued reports on possible links between extremist groups and the New Year, there are no indications of any potential problems in the Chicago area.

Still, quasi-religious hate groups might use doomsday prophecies to justify illegal acts anywhere, several experts cautioned.

"There are some who genuinely believe that Scripture predicts the end of days. Some may also want to usher that in as a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Harlan Loeb, Midwest civil rights director of the Anti-Defamation League.

"There are those like the [East Peoria-based] World Church of the Creator which seize any opportunity to gain a public pulpit for their racist beliefs," Loeb continued. "I'd be surprised if there weren't mischievous activity somewhere in the state."

Tim Martin, Illinois director of the national Watchman Fellowship, a faith-based group that monitors some 4,000 cults nationwide, said, "if [violence] happens, it would be someone from a fringe group. Larger groups have learned the difficulty of predicting an end."

Aside from a handful of groups in Utah, Texas or Denver, it is difficult to pinpoint anything because most splinter groups are tiny.

"Nobody knows what's out there. They may be only a few people. That makes it difficult to track," said Phoenix-based cult expert Rick Ross. "I'd be very surprised if at least one group doesn't implode or explode by 2000. I hope I'm wrong."

Such extreme groups often are under control of a single leader whose psychological state determines what followers do, experts said.

As a precaution, all local law enforcement agencies were given access to the FBI's 40-page "Project Megiddo," named after a Hebrew reference to Armageddon. The document, now available on the FBI's Web site, analyzes possible criminal actions by groups that may advocate violence. Ross Rice, spokesman for the FBI's Chicago office, declined to comment Tuesday on preparations for the millennium except to confirm that all police agencies had the report.

This weekend is not the only time that agencies will be watchful. "We do not know of any direct threats to the the Jewish community, which tries to be security-aware at all times," said Myrna Shinbaum, spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League, which recently released "Y2K Paranoia: Extremists Confront the Millennium."

The ADL, she said, will monitor religious extremists who "could be a concern down the road" if "they do not see expectations filled" at the stroke of midnight Friday.

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