Relatives of cultists fear worst

Rocky Mountain News, December 26, 1999
By Charlie Brennan

The clock is ticking down and the fears are mounting. Family members of more than 80 missing Colorado members of the doomsday cult Concerned Christians worry that the end of the year could be the culmination of a nightmare.

Cult members severed their ties to their possessions, jobs and families in late September 1998 to follow the teachings of former Denver resident Monte Kim Miller.

Miller, 45, claims to be one of two divine witnesses foretold in Chapter 11 of the book of Revelation. He has told followers it's his destiny to preach in the streets of Jerusalem in the final days before the return of Jesus

Christ, and die there as a martyr on Dec. 31.

And, periodically lapsing into what he says is the voice of God, Miller has said he will be resurrected three days after he's martyred.

Relatives of his followers fear the worst: When the apocalypse doesn't come, Miller would create the scenario for his own martyrdom and take his flock -- which includes infants and a 69-year-old widow -- with him.

The group also includes Miller's own son, Matthew, a 10-year-old boy. For Tom Clark of Boulder, this was the third Christmas in a row that he did not see his daughter, Robin Malene Malesic, his stepson Steve Malesic and his four grandchildren.

"My heart aches, because I think she's in mortal jeopardy, but until she says something to me, I can't do anything for her," Clark said. "She's a grown-up woman, and I'm her father and I love her. But I can't come charging into her life to rescue her."

Sherry Clark, Tom Clark's ex-wife, who lives in Carbondale, also is spending her third consecutive holiday season with no clue as to her daughter's location.

As an unofficial spokeswoman for the relatives of the missing, Clark speaks with family members three or four times a week. "There's fear. Anxiety. Sorrow beyond belief," she said.

"Like I've said before, it's a living death for some of these people. There's a lot of anger. Embarrassment. Blame. They blame themselves, some of them."

There are several grandmothers -- Sherry Clark is one -- who have yet to hold, or even see, grandchildren who have been born into the Concerned Christians in the time since they disappeared. Sherry Clark has never met her youngest granddaughter, a toddler named Grace. And, she presumes her daughter might well even have a fifth child by now.

But that's just guessing.

Dr. Richard Landes, director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, has been following the Concerned Christians saga closely. Despite his expertise on millennium groups, he admits he is mystified about the whereabouts and agenda of the group -- and specifically, its leader. "Can we expect to see something between now and the end of the year? I certainly wouldn't count it out," Landes said. "Or, maybe he'll just lay low.

"If we see Kim Miller again, it will probably be in a context in which he is trying to provoke, if not his martyrdom, then persecution -- his persecution.

"He probably wants to show that Waco was just the tip of the iceberg -- and not just a mistake that the FBI is desperately trying not to repeat again." Two countries in the past year have shown in dramatic fashion that they don't want to serve as a stage for Miller's next act. Israeli authorities rounded up 14 of the Concerned Christians -- eight adults and six children -- in Israel on Jan. 3, alleging they'd uncovered a plot by the group to bring on the apocalypse by starting a gunbattle with police.

Then, on Dec. 3, news came out of Greece that authorities there had rounded up 16 of them where they were living in the seaside community of Rafina. They were deporting the group for the most mundane of offenses -- expired visa documents.

Within a week, the number of Concerned Christians booted from Greece had reached 25.

With the exception of several foreign nationals, the rest were flown to New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport on Dec. 5. There, they jumped into cabs and vanished into the metropolis -- but not before one of their members read a statement to the press calling America "Babylon the Great."

Since that day, they have not resurfaced in any public way. Nor are they in touch with their families. It's also believed that many more remain in Greece.

Betty Chavez of Arvada is the younger sister of group member Jan Cooper, who 13 years ago married John Cooper, the Boulder man who court records indicate is a primary financier of the group.

Chavez is not among those fearing the worst.

"I'm not thinking that anything is going to happen on the 31st for them," said Chavez, who first met Miller through her sister 13 years ago.

"I actually think that they have been misquoted, and that they are not violent. And I don't think they are suicidal." That is despite the 1997 affidavit of Cooper's own estranged daughter, 17-year-old Nicolette Weaver. She wrote in an affidavit filed in her Boulder District Court custody case, "My mother told me in August '96 that we have only 40 months left on Earth.

"And, my mother said I had to do only enough schoolwork to satisfy Colorado state laws, but no more was needed because I would not be on Earth long enough to have a job."

The one person Chavez does worry about is Miller.

"I have some concerns about Kim," she admitted. "All of my concerns surround Kim, and not these people. Because these people have the best intentions, I think. They're just misguided."

Several family members have at least had some e-mail contact with loved ones in the group, but they all believe that personal e-mails to group members are routinely routed through many of the membership. They suspect that replies purported to be from the intended recipient are actually composed by, or with input from, others in the group.

For that reason, Chavez said, she has blocked her sister from writing back to her -- although she sent Jan Cooper a note last week.

"What used to come back is not really from her," she said. "It's so diluted (by others' input) by the time it gets back, I don't want to hear it." There are probably as many predictions about the fate of the Concerned Christians as there are people they left behind.

Tom Clark worries that what Miller prizes above all is simply the total devotion of his followers, making Concerned Christians more of a "personality cult" than a religion.

He recalls how similar groups -- such as David Koresh's Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, or Jim Jones' Jonestown settlement in Guyana -- ended in mass tragedies.

"The leaders of these groups had to have the adulation of their members," Clark said.

"It seems as though they constantly demanded a little bit more from them, until finally the only way their egos could be satisfied would be to demand everything they had -- including their lives."

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