Another doomsday prediction proven false

The Toronto Sun/September 13, 2006
By Thane Burnett

Finally some good news - the world did not end yesterday.

However, for the man once called Buffalo Bill Hawkins, that may not have been such a wonderful thing after all. Because the self-made prophet had predicted, and built a religious calling, on his belief that a nuclear war would begin yesterday.

Lots of people claim the end is nigh. In fact, many religions teach their congregations that the world will eventually end.

But Hawkins actually stamped an expiration date on it.

And the power of that belief -- though not its bone burning realization -- was felt on the other side of the world.

"A nuclear war Sept. 12, 2006 -- mark it on your bathroom mirror," Texas preacher Yisrayl Hawkins -- who changed his name from Buffalo Bill Hawkins -- dutifully advised believers seven months ago.

Changed names

People did take note of his Old Testament-style "House of Yahweh." In 1996, hundreds of followers changed their last names to Hawkins, to honour their leader, a former Abilene, Texas, police officer. Many also changed the spelling of their first names, to contain at least one "y" -- "Debryah," for example.

In the days leading up to Hawkins' prescribed day of infamy, followers in central Kenya braced for the end. Some took refuge in shelters, believing they would be part of a one true faith, which would be re-established in the last days of man.

"We want to follow each and every word that proceeds from Yahweh's (God's) mouth," Dominic Karichu, a sect member in Kenya, told the BBC before the clock ticked down.

But when the deadline was finally reached yesterday, there was relief and lingering fear. In neighbouring Uganda, just six years ago, hundreds of people were killed when another group's dire predictions failed to come true.

News reports yesterday noted that the House of Yahweh's elders in a village, west of Nairobi, were arrested and set free on bail, with the condition they stop inciting fear.

How did the doomsday teachings of an uncharismatic, small-town Texas preacher resonate this way? The answer may have to do with the far reaching need for people to believe they will be divinely saved. But it also has as much to do with Hawkins' use of mass communication.

While his local followers recently stuck flyers under the wiper blades of cars at the University of Texas, the sect leader himself has relied on the power of the Internet.

His assurance on just when Armageddon would begin, made him a pop-culture celebrity.

Over the years the faithful and curious have tuned in to his 24-hour-a-day, rotating Internet sermons -- especially on the popular self-broadcast site. They've all watched his small doomsday clock wind down to yesterday.

From his Abilene base, Hawkins claimed the Bible -- specifically, the book of Daniel -- predicted nuclear war would begin yesterday, around the Euphrates River. Or in the US. Or Europe. It seems to have changed over the years.

As well as endless pages of scripture references, Hawkins also included a guide to "Recognizing a nuclear explosion."

He pointed out: "When a nuclear bomb hits, a loud explosive boom is heard, depending on one's distance from the explosion.

"There is no doubt that a very real danger exists. The best thing that we can do for ourselves in the event of nuclear war is prepare our bodies now and plan a fallout shelter or safe room for later."

He suggested followers should take plenty of calcium, salt and honey, saying: "Some believe that once a nuclear bomb hits, it's all over. Not so."

Especially if people could get to his Texas compound, where -- unlike four-fifths of the world's population -- those inside would survive wars which would rage for the next 13 months.

While before his clock wound down, officials at his compound told me Hawkins might grant me an interview, yesterday, he ran for seclusion. Even followers in other parts of the U.S. weren't returning calls.

An e-mail yesterday from Hawkins' right-hand-man, Shaul Hawkins, said their leader was too busy trying to come up with a new web broadcast.

Which doesn't surprise Phillip Arnn, a cult expert and a thorn in the side of the mistaken prophet.

"(Today) we'll turn to his site, only to find he's found an excuse why the end of the world didn't happen," said Arnn. "That man could stand under a hot Texas midday sun and convince followers it was the pitch black inside of a cow."

Wives and money

He recalled Hawkins -- who is said to have amassed many wives and a great deal of silver and gold coins -- once told followers that cow milk was impure. And that they should only drink unpasteurized goat milk, from his store.

"He once sold them ... scented oils, saying 'God could smell his own,'" Arnn, of the Watchman Fellowship, recalled.

While the rest of us may have been saved from the end of the world yesterday, Arnn doesn't have faith that Hawkins' followers will now have seen the light.

"I doubt many will be leaving him," Arnn predicted.

Almost as frightening as doomsday, he said, is people's ability to be misled when it comes to those who claim to know what God's thinking.

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