An insider's look at Family Radio and its leader Harold Camping

Contra Cost Times, California/May 21, 2011

By Matthias Gafni

Walnut Creek, California - Harold Camping's longtime landlord is not the least bit worried about next month's rent check.

The doomsday prophet's radio station lease expires in 2023, more than a decade after Camping and his followers predict their ascent into a rent-free heaven Saturday night.

"He's got the money in the bank," said Charlene Key, speaking from her Texas ranch. "He'll take care of that."

Key, who lives among oil fields in tiny Conroe, near Houston, has known the president of Family Radio since the 1950s. She speaks highly of her late husband's business partner, but Key says she's doubtful of Camping's proclamation of Judgment Day on Saturday.

"I don't know whether I do or don't," she said in a Texas drawl. "But he's not a pusher, like some of these religions."

Like other Camping associates who spoke to Bay Area News Group, Key speaks reverently about the 89-year-old evangelist.

"He has never one time asked me for a personal donation," said Key, who has donated "quite a bit" to Oakland-based Family Radio over the years. "He's extremely sincere in his beliefs, but he's not one of those Tammy Faye Bakker types.

"He gives every nickel he collects to charity."

And the money spent on a fleet of RVs and more than 5,000 billboards worldwide espousing Camping's rapture prediction?

"How he does it is his business," she said.

Current and former employees, believers and non-believers all speak fondly of Camping, who runs Family Radio, an empire of more than 70 stations worldwide that has collected more than $100 million over the past seven years from listener donations. The nonprofit, worth $72 million in 2009, has spent millions advertising Judgment Day and created a worldwide media and Internet sensation.

The former dean of Camping's Bible school balances a tremendous respect for his former boss with grave concerns for his followers this weekend.

Gabriel Otero said that one former parishioner quit his job, sold his property for next to nothing and moved with his wife to Arizona for the last days before the Day of Reckoning.

"I'm concerned for the emotional make-up of these people," said Otero, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Morgan Hill. "It is sad that on Sunday, when they find out nothing happened and they have nothing."

Camping fired the former dean of Family Radio School of the Bible in 2006 after 34 years when the nonprofit president decided to remove organized religion from the nonprofit, Otero said. And yet, the 61-year-old speaks fondly of him.

"He's a nice man. A wonderful fellow. Simple, clean as can be and very trustworthy," he said. "Mr. Camping is unique in that he doesn't see through the theology of Christianity."

Camping began predicting Judgment Day would be Sept. 6, 1994 and wrote a book. When the world continued, Otero said, Camping stayed mostly quiet about his miscalculation but told Otero that the Lord did return to Earth on that date - in a mystical way - taking the Holy Spirit back to heaven.

Otero expects another excuse come Sunday.

"I'm very sure he's going to come up with another date ... He'll say we need to refine the study here and there."

All was quiet Friday at Family Radio's headquarters in Oakland except for an animal rights group representative dressed in a chicken suit trying to deliver a vegan Last Supper to Camping.

Family Radio's president gave his employees a paid day off Friday, said former employee Michael Allen.

The 72-year-old Internet security specialist quit Family Radio two weeks ago. Although he does not subscribe to the End of the World beliefs, Allen said he quit to tend to his wife, who has cancer, and to save money on his commute.

A current employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said Family Radio is a legitimate Christian radio station.

"It's not at all a cult," she said, adding that she has never been pressured to believe in his doomsday prediction. As for her future employment?

"I plan to go to work on Monday and so do a lot of people and then there are those who won't know what to do," she said.

"He never asks anyone to sell their home or donate their money," she said. "It's entirely up to the person."

Allen, however, had concerns about donors. In the weeks leading up to the predicted rapture, one longtime donor stopped her monthly contributions and sent a note to the station that she wanted to send a bulk payment of $10,000 instead, Allen said.

"I was wondering, 'Is someone trying to buy their way into heaven?'"

The still standing donors experiencing believer's remorse on Sunday might not have a legal basis for a refund.

"As a general matter, the courts tend to step in if people are being tricked more than if they think people are being foolish," said Eric Talley, a UC Berkeley law professor. "So, if someone is collecting money to erect an 80-foot-high homage to Justin Bieber in their backyard, the courts will not stop you from doing that."

Attempting to prove Family Radio knowingly misled or claimed false credentials, might be a basis for suit. However, a false advertising claim based on the thousands of billboards would have a snowball's chance in ... well, little chance.

"As long as there's a genuine belief by the sponsors, even if it's wrong, it wouldn't necessarily be false advertising it would just be an incorrect prediction," Talley said.

Camping's landlord quoted her attorney on post-rapture monetary issues.

"Any time there's cash and debt there's the devil in it."

How it will happen

At 11 p.m. PST Friday, New Zealand will be the first country to feel the enormous earthquake that will slowly make its way around the globe, before finally striking California at 6 p.m. PST Saturday. Believers will ascend to heaven and non-believers will die some time before Oct. 21.

Source: Harold Camping and Family Radio

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