Many of the interviews were in-depth, and they often were adversarial in nature. The interview with Dan Gayman, the 63-year-old patriarch of the Church of Israel in Schell City, for example, took place after weeks of negotiation (no question was eventually deemed off-limits, but no cameras were allowed inside the church complex) and lasted nearly three hours. The transcript of that interview alone runs 52 typed pages.
The investigation started Nov. 14 with a probe into records at the Vernon County Courthouse in Nevada, where lead reporter Max McCoy began seeking property and court records associated with the Church of Israel. The Globe had learned that this Christian Identity group owned at least 700 acres in Vernon County, and that the site was considered one of the largest compounds in the United States. The search would show that the church and its associates owned nearly 1,400 acres.
McCoy's record search did not go unnoticed. A friend of the church inside the courthouse tipped the church leadership about the search. Two days into the investigation, pastor Gray Clark called Managing Editor Gloria Turner and demanded to know what had prompted the Globe's inquiry.
The answer was that an investigation into the Christian Identity movement and the subculture of the extreme right had been contemplated by the Globe for months, with the Church of Israel as the focus. The church already had been listed among the most racist in America by watch groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Gayman and the church have long been associated with shaping the belief systems of violent extremists such as members of the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord in Arkansas and accused Olympic Park and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, who remains at large.
The day before the Globe's records probe began, there had been a secret meeting to resolve a bitter split within the Church of Israel.
The meeting involved Gayman; a Texas millionaire by the name of Jerry Gentry, the church's leading patron; and Scott Stinson, a junior pastor who had become increasingly uncomfortable with Gayman's leadership. Stinson also had in his possession "misappropriated" and potentially damning church records. Stinson was given $20,000 in cash and the deed to the parsonage in exchange for the records, which were burned a few days later.
Some of the documents, according to Stinson supporter Gentry, involved the financial details of the acquisition of several pieces of church property. The agreement that all three signed included a promise to reveal nothing, especially to the press.
The church board of trustees, however, would later say that the agreement was "coerced," and would ask for return of the cash and property.
When news reached the church leadership that a reporter had arrived in Vernon County asking for property records, it was assumed that one of the principals of the secret meeting had leaked the details of the pact. Clark did not mention the split in his initial call to the Globe, but he did say the church was in "crisis."
Shortly after, the Globe learned of the split from one of the hate watch groups.
Although Gayman first refused all requests, citing a bad track record with the media, he eventually relented and granted an interview Dec. 7. After the interview, Gayman sent Gentry a message: "I do not know where the reporter gained his information. He knows all about Scott Stinson leaving the Church and was well-informed." In any event, I believe that I have it under control at this point in time."
The next day, Gentry called the Globe newsroom. Convinced that Gayman had put an unfair "spin" on the separation story, Gentry gave his own account over the course of several dozen telephone interviews - and backed it up with a copy of the original secret agreement and other documents.