MAY 12th, 1990 NEW YORK, NEW YORK LOURDES ON LICHFIELD, CONNECTICUT CATHOLIC.
New York. The church of St. Agnes on 43rd street. Next to the pilgrims' bus Father Shelley waits for a group of elderly ladies. All dolled up in scarf and soft little hat. They ignore the hundred or so black men lining up on the other side of the street for a free hot meal. To he photographed by me is something that does interest them, though. Having also taken a picture of the black people in front of the welfare kitchen I almost get beaten up.
My fellow travellers on the bus recite the rosary until we have left sinful New York. Once we are in the country the bus driver takes a wrong way. We arrive too late in Lourdes. The mass is finished. But we can still enjoy lunch and a lottery. A lady wins a stone heart with a German inscription which I being a foreigner must translate: "Give us our daily bread". Applause.
By general request we do get a Way of the Cross and a mass, introduced by a tape with bell ringing and hallelujah. The priests come out of a Tyrolean chalet across a small concrete wooden bridge towards the kneeling ladies. These drop each at least 10 $ in the collection plate; all churches here are self-supporting. After the 'harvest' comes the Way of the Cross. With a totally unnecessary megaphone the priest enforces his words.
Afterwards we visit the souvenir shop. The ladies fill their bags with enamel Maria figures, calendars full of sunsets and overpriced wooden boards with a proverb. The priest blesses all purchased goods and receives another few bucks.
Outside the property two overweight ladies kneel next to their Cadillac. "My sister and I come here every day to pray at the gate. We watch the nice ladies come and go by bus. We are not good enough ourselves to dare go inside. We sinned a lot in our life."
On the way back Father Shelley takes the microphone and easily 'entertains the whole bus with a beautiful collection of popular American songs. From 'My Way', over 'New York, New York', and 'Yankee Doodle Dandee' to 'God Bless America'.
The sun sets impressively beautifully above New York where no holds are barred.
MAY 18th 1990
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
CRYSTAL CATHEDRAL, DOCTOR SCHULLER
A colossal glass cathedral looms next to Disneyland. Everywhere I look I see attendants in formal dress and with a big smile. Bonnie, a volunteer, receives me. She tells me about her depressive son and how he was healm
ed the moment she bought him a golden stone with a proverb from the cathedral. Two thousand dollars, to help pay for the window cleaning of the cathedral.
I attend mass, a show in the finest American tradition. You are not allowed to miss anything here. Extra speakers in the most remote corners amplify the gigantic organ and the heavenly singing choir, while a huge Sony jumbotron videoscreen shows every detail of the spectacle in close-up.
Everybody is welcome here but the better dressed LA citizenry is obviously in the majority. 'Taken in by the show and the preaching they arrive at the one real climax: writing the cheeks. After a short silence, ladies open their purse, look around and fill out an amount.
Only then the guest of the day appears. This time he is a burly football player with a lovely bride who comes to honor his belief and his God. The story is redundant, the effect is all important. Following is a sermon by Doctor Schuller, published in book form, and for sale at the shop.
During the Gulf War an American flag of at least twenty by thirty meter hung above the stage. At Christmas and Easter great spectacles are set up with live camels, elephants, lions and flying angels.
MAY 22nd 1990 LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA HOME MASS WITH FATHER JOE CATHOLIC.
A garden party around the swimming pool of some religious souls outside L.A.. Everybody has brought something to eat and to drink, but Father Joe first celebrates mass to enforce the spirit.
The service is informal and personal. Strong stories about touching acquaintances with Jesus cause some emotional turmoil. Tears and embraces. After the joint spiritual orgasm the pool lighting is switched on and the meat gets grilled.
Now they want to hear my story. Did anything special' happen to me today? I hesitate but eventually tell them the story of Tracy, the female high priest living further down the road who manages a brothel-church to take care of the spiritual welfare of local males. One becomes a member on payment of a nice fee for which one can make a monthly confession during a compulsory night in Tracy's bed. She has about two thousand members.
After my story they still invite me politely but unenthusiastically for dinner. I decline with thanks.
MAY 29th 1990
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
BLESSING OF THE MISSISSIPPI
I'm on foot looking for a small black church in Religious Street, in the heart of the ghetto. Walking between burnt-out cars and nailedup houses I soon become aware that I am the only white man around. A few black guys look on in amazement or even shake hands with me. Is it my daring or my naivety that surprises them?
But I feel much less threatened here than I did in say Calcutta or Bombay, even while I know that the apparent peace and quiet in the American ghettos can be a lot more explosive than the hot-blooded commotion in Indian cities.
An armoured van stops right next to me; the white grocer swears and tells me to stay away from this neighborhood, especially with a camera around my neck.
"It's a miracle you even got this far. Don't you dare do this again, it's pure suicide. I hardly dare to drive here. I just drop my goods at the local store and send the bill later."
He gives me a ride and drops me at a Mac Donalds where I notice only black customers. Yet the vivid colors give me a - to American standards - safer feeling.
My faith in the black race will be tested, though. W-hen I want to take a picture of some choir boys in front of the Church on Jackson Square in the center of New Orleans, a black violinist, who thinks I immortalized him too, threatens me with his bow: "You dirty white mother fucker. I'll kill you. Pay or die."
I ignore him by looking dead in front of me and following the catholic procession and the bishop who is about to bless the Mississippi River. Half out of religious respect and half out of shame the shabby violinist stops his death threats. But only minutes later I see him snap at a baffled German tourist. With success. The German forks out.
MAY 9th 1990 - NEW YORK, NEW YORK JULY 13th 1990 - PALMYRA, NEW YORK AUGUST 10th 1990 - SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH THE LATTER DAY SAINTS, THE MORMONS HILL CUMORRAH PAGEANT. [11, 55,56,59,70]
Looking for a record shop called Tower Records I happen to pass by the Visitors Center of the Mormons. My subject is staring me right in the face. I must go in.
Behind a double electric door I come across two superfriendly gentlemen in formal attire standing in some kind of heaven with plush lounge chairs. I accept their proposal to watch a video about the whys and wherefores of The Latter Day Saints.
Supported by expensive scientific acrobatics the movie tells about Jesus who after his resurrection arrived as the White God among the Maya Indians in South America. Historically, very doubtful! This new Jesus' prophet was Joseph Smith. In a forest he saw the Light and found the book of Mormon.
In order to get to know Joseph Smith a little better, I'm invited to Palmyra a few months later. Here some hundred Mormons yearly stage Bible stories, scenes from the book of Mormon and the life of Joseph Smith, their prophet. The spectacle takes place at the foot of Cumorrah hill where Joseph found the book of Mormon, in the shape of golden or stone tables. After reading them, he immediately returned the tables to the angel in charge so that no one has ever found them.
At my reception I get to see once again a video film about the history of the Mormons and their hill. It is a heavenly movie, with lots of trumpets, violins and shots taken into the sun. At every hard-to-explain change an angel appears or someone happens to see a light in the woods. It is like 'The Bible, part two' with plenty of special effects.
Meanwhile they make preparations for the live spectacle. Around the 'enormous plastic stage I see children at play in white dresses and young men wearing a tie talking admiringly.
They are rehearsing the resurrection of Christ. A young Mormon hanging with his
arms outstretched on steel cables is going up and down a few times to determine the right
When I want to take a picture of the Golgotha-crosses-with-hinge offstage Fin sent off the grass field. This zone is prohibited. Only technicians with a badge are allowed here.
(No wonder that the Reagan administration counted many Mormons. They have got a good sense of duty and work very efficiently).
The incident draws the attention of Todd, a handsome fair-haired fellow who speaks Dutch perfectly. My scepticism and irony do not put him off. He will and shall he my willing guide. Before going to Flanders and the Netherlands he studied at the Mormon University where several hundred languages are taught on behalf of the future missionaries.
Close to the holy woods where Smith once found the tables, Todd gets nervous. His Dutch gets worse. I get to know that most Mormons hand over ten percent of their wages for the benefit of their impressive'social structure. But they still have to pay for the university separately; people without a job may work in the orchard of the church. Financial aid for medical care is limited to the most urgent cases. The church gets richer and richer.
On our way we stop for 'Mormon Chicken'. For the local grocer these are golden days. With his Mormon chicken and Mormon T-shirts he takes advantage of the large money
making business that religion has become here. An American sect that would renounce materialism, would be doomed to fail. Anticommunism is something most churches feel very strongly about.
Before the show portraits of Jesus in expensive four-color print are handed out. The 20,000 spectators come for the show and the visual effects. The message and the attempts to convert are something they have got to take or leave. Even Episcopal priests and their families come here for an evening out. Or do they come to keep an eye on the competition? A Lutheran priest even brought candles and real wineglasses.
Yet some people yield to the friendliness, solidarity and the Disney effect of the missionaries in their biblical costume. A Vestal beauty predicts my conversion within a week.
Salt Lake City, Utah. This is the town and the state of the Mormons. After many persecutions and long hikes the early Latter Day Saints arrived here. Joseph had his last visions here. Only when the Mormons said goodbye to polygamy was the inhospitable state of Utah recognized.
An enormous cathedral the architecture of which was apparently influenced by European churches dominates Salt Lake City. This building also houses the extensive Mormon archives holding all registrable souls. The computers and gigantic registers store the names of almost all people alive or dead. Indeed, anyone who becomes a Mormon can convert all his ancestors at the same time. With retroactive effect. It suffices that their name is registered. Many countries come here to get information about their own population.
Mormons also come here to he married. Today as many as seventy-five weddings is on the agenda! The yard in front of the cathedral is full of waiting couples in white wedding gown and tuxedo. Inside the church they will line up before one of the fifteen wedding altars.
JULY 21st 1990
HECTOR, NEW YORK
THE RAINBOW GATHERING
THE RAINBOW PEOPLE
The paper announces the coming of four thousand neo-pagans and old hippies to Hector woods. A local journalist will accompany me, as he wants to write a story on a Magnum photographer in action. He knows the way but because he is interviewing me we nevertheless drive in the wrong direction.
Two hours later we arrive at a sign 'Welcome Home'. Two peace-loving hippies have decided right here and now to beat each other's brains out with a bottle of whisky. Drugs are permitted on the estate as they improve the imagination. Alcohol on the other hand is prohibited as it turns people aggressive. As a consequence they drink at the entrance.
One of the bantams gets a blow, blood splashes around. He flees into a bus but is immediately followed by his love brother who smells blood and victory. Clothes, household items and clay pots fly around; blood runs from the window and along the bodywork. A respected older brother tries the soft approach but eventually has to separate them with by force.
We present ourselves as 'press'. Panic! The image of the Rainbow People! Only accompanied by the wise 'Sunbear' are we allowed to enter.
Here euphoria reigns. Back to nature. No violence. And no bathing. As a family of lions a group of naked hippies is wallowing in the mud under a tree. Only my camera gets them to move a little. They treat me to an intellectual discussion about the invasion of one's privacy.
An astrologer sits and talks incredible nonsense about the position of the stars and its relation with the fate of Eastern Europe. Others take part in endless ritual massages and feet washings. Here and there someone preaches the Word of Christ. People listen willingly but listlessly.
A few older couples come to visit the camp as if it were a zoo. Without any reserve. While a pipe-smoking father in a tweed jacket talks to a naked man covered with mud, about twenty boys and girls all equally naked celebrate sunset in a ritual way. In the mud, of course.
The reputation of the Rainbow People led to the supermarkets in the area spontaneously supplying free provisions, if only to keep those weirdoes’s out of the town.
AUGUST 10th 1990 ~ SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH PRESTON TENT REVIVAL FIREBALL PREACHING BAPTIST.
Invited by four Baptist churches Preacher Preston pitched his tent in this den of Mormons. Preaching here about no other than Jesus is a real challenge. But the Baptists need new members and that is where good old fashioned fireball Preston comes in.
A Jesus singer, accompanied by an organ on tape and an aunt who plays the piano slightly false and against the beat opens the show. Next Preston pours out his fire-and-brimstone sermons complete with hell-fire and lightning from heaven over the fifty listeners. Small kids cringe in fear. The only military man present is taken as an example; he must rise.
"In the army deserters are shot and that is what should be done with religious renegades," says Preston.
The conversions make up the third and most important part. First come the, mentally handicapped; they let themselves be converted every night; if nothing else,- it reduces the initial resistance of newcomers. There are about ten candidates. One convert has brought her boy friend, a hard-rocker wearing a T-shirt with 'I'm the Christian Satan warned you about'.
My turn is next. A disciple asks me what I find most important in life. I think of answering "wife", "kid" or "camera", but answer "Jesus, I guess".
"Would you like to be sure?” he asks.
I have to kneel down while two preachers lay their hands on my shoulders and another opens a Bible right in front, of me. He recites stories of conversion and eternal faith. Then I have to read aloud a few striking passages along with him. He does not wait for a result but looks me right in the eyes and implores me with a prayer full of emotional intonations.
I try only half to listen and think about the fastest way to get out of here. But meanwhile the whole tent already stands around- me praying. To convert a foreign reporter at this very place, that would be what one calls a success. To the question whether I am ready to receive Jesus I say sanctimoniously I’d rather wait a while. But the preacher reminds me that I could be dying tonight or tomorrow and my soul wouldn't be saved.
I rise. The show is, over. My case is not hopeless, but I can feel disappointment around me. The preacher insists on writing down my name and address on a piece of paper. Below it are some multiple-choice questions, about my grade of conversion. He asks me if he can tick off 'salvation'. "Go ahead", I say.
Relief. Another one for the statistics. Preachers present their number of salvations to churches to find work.
When I'm leaving, Preston asks if I really feel saved now. "I'm not sure", I, say. In this way I can come back tomorrow. But I will pay for my hypocrisy: at night a thunderstorm approaches and I dream of demons coming after me.
AUGUST 12th 1990
TWIN FALLS, IDAHO
THE BILL GLASS CRUSADE
Bill Glass, once a celebrated football player (quarterback) is one of these American stars who at the end of their career return to the faith. For twenty-three years he has been travelling around with his retinue in order to bring the Gospel to all that can pay for his group. Usually, in order to be able to hire him as- image-maker and recruiter several churches put their money together.
These travelling priests do not belong to one particular faith; they call themselves 'nondenominational' as so many modern churches in the USA. In this way they avoid tricky theological disputes and try to appeal to everyone. This is also the attitude of most large TV churches.
Bill Glass has long stopped being an ex football player. He is now a star preacher inviting other stars. Last month it was Miss America '87, tonight it is a female basketball wonder that can juggle several basketballs, at the same time.
On the sports field of the college the children's choir practises religious songs with a Glen- Miller sound. The small stands get barely crowded. Here as everywhere in American business the hard laws of supply and demand apply.
I receive a friendly welcome. Later I am questioned but I'm beginning to get used to that. The fact that I am a born catholic seems to make less and less impression. Here you are a true Christian only when you are reborn.
Bill is not a fire-and-brimstone preacher. Once in a while he makes up intelligent, modern biblical stories and he often makes his audience laugh. Such lighter tone is most often followed by a moral to sober them up again.
Iraq is a rewarding subject. America has finally found its bogeyman. Hussein is the new Hitler. And this time the Americans were the first to get involved. This is a war they will not loose.
Bill usually converts about sixty_people a night. Here again the handicapped and mentally ill must break the ice. The really convinced are taken away and further worked on by a counsellor of Bill's.
A radio-amateur with an American flag on his transmitter registers the whole happening for local radio stations. The children's choir is treated to hot dogs and Coke. Bill invites me to go out and have spaghetti with him and a Maecenas. I am presented as Rumanian and as such deeply Christian.
AUGUST 13th 1990
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
ECHOES OF FAITH CHURCH - LAVERNE
The PearIblossom Highway. After an impressive ride through the Nevada desert Las Vegas and its casinos emerge in front of us.
'Joan Collins was married here', reads a sign in front of one of the many wedding chapels in the city. An industrial looking church complex has a huge Hallelujah neon sign. The adjacent fast food restaurant is aptly called 'Church Chicken'.
The Echoes of Faith, Church stages a show by the Laverne Tripp Family denouncing the casinos and the sinful life on the Strip.
Only after a thorough religious examination by the priest am I allowed to take pictures: "Why was it that God let the angel Michael fight against the devils in his name?" and "Why the devil did not attack during the wedding of God's daughter?"
My innocent look and surprised expression (did God have a daughter?) reassure him. He gives me a bear hug and grants me the honor of meeting Laverne Tripp.
Laverne is a marvellously dolled up crooner in glittery costume and sporting ski goggles. He is a professional and extremely reticent. No pictures during his performance. "It would disturb the people in their religious experience", he says. Besides, two members of the Tripp Family are missing.
With both a slow and a fast religious song a local singer warms up the church to the performance of 'The Crusher of Satan'. After one number Laverne already becomes aware of Satan. He crushes him under his Texan boots and the weight of his one hundred and fifty kilograms. What is left of the devil is kicked into the audience. "Hallelujah" and applause. Laverne's wife comes tripping and warbles 'I love him so'., Son Tripp apologies that his PA and lighting installation have not arrived in time or he would have set up a Jesus show none would lightly forget.
Laverne was several times number one, on the religious charts. Once he even won “the Angel Award for the best TV-performance.,
AUGUST 23d 1990
LIVINGSTON, GLASTONBURY - CORWIN SPRINGS MONTANA
THE CHURCH UNIVERSAL AND TRIUMPHANT. CLAIRE PROPHET. [3,.65.1
In the mountains near Yellowstone Park lives the sect of her holiness Claire Prophet. Once in a while she is seen or heard of in the press because of her prophecies about the approaching end, of the world and her, books about Jesus' stay in India.
The end of the world was again foreseen in April, so members of the sect from all over the world came to Corwin 5prings to wait for doomsday in the atomic -shelters. If the end did not come after all, Claire declared that she had actually meant the beginning of a new astrological age.
The ranches where all crops for the atomic shelters are grown are managed by her holiness herself. The same is true of the lucrative publishing company and 'The Ranch Kitchen' restaurant, where old-fashioned American musicals and vaudevilles are, performed at night.
"Is this that horrible sect I read about in the papers that stages such beautiful all-American shows?” I hear a tourist ask.
It soon becomes clear to me why the sect has trouble with the media. It costs me days and many telephone calls to make an appointment. Kathleen, the PR-lady, approves of my book on India. I may enter. Having seen all the patriotic, literature and the gun magazines in a local supermarket, I'm smart enough not to show her my book on Russia. Entering I also saw a car with a licence plate reading NO COMMI. The sect once got itself talked about in a matter of weapon smuggling. They should be able to protect themselves in their shelters against intruders when the bomb has fallen.
Linda, an ex-Broadway singer who gave up her career to sing in 'The Ranch Kitchen', is my guide through the estate. But I don't get to see much more than a lovely small school, some well-equipped farms, the publishing company and the macrobiotic kitchen. The church is occupied and the large shelter for staff members is temporarily closed. I ask if I may take a picture of a service, but I need to put in an other request for that. A conversation with Claire Prophet herself seems entirely out of the question.
At the ranch I meet Olav, a Dutchman who after ten years' living with the sect, is happy to have a chance to talk some Dutch. In the ranch chapel he shows me the statues of Shiva, Buddha., Jesus and Saint Germain a reincarnation -of Christopher Columbus. He talks about Jesus making far journeys to India between his twelfth and thirtieth year. About the fact that, he was eighty when he died and had a family. About karma and ascension, about- angels and Rosicrucians. Somehow he makes all names and prophets fit into his story.
"The fact that the sect encounters so much resistance, proves they are right," he says.
"If I want to buy a knife but my body offers resistance, I will force myself to buy that knife anyway, because there are- dark forces busy trying to keep me from doing so and those are the ones I have to conquer"., he pontificates. And that the sect made it- clear to hi-that Russia is truly the Empire of the Evil *
At Esther's on the south ranch I get a delicious lunch of vegetables, buckwheat and spaghetti sauce.
The next day I visit Glastonbury, the village of members with a private atomic shelter. They are each allotted a plot for 99 years but they must take the building of the atomic shelter upon themselves. Some of these are equipped with satellite dishes and all modern conveniences., which sometimes -leads to jealousy among neighbors who don't have all that. One lady decorated her house as a real Museum of All Possible Gods. Her husband painted the portrait of Claire Prophet that hangs in the large chapel where I am not allowed. When Claire did not like the hairdo any more, he had to repaint that part.
After a week of exemplary behavior I am eventually allowed to attend mass. The chapel is a large, guarded TV-studio with spots, video cameras, and portraits of Claire Prophet and of her father, the founder. A large neon-eye watches the disciples who are obediently sitting and waiting for the service to begin. Not Claire herself, but her son and successor lead the service. He stands behind mother's wooden throne, between statues of again Jesus, Saint Germain, Shiva and Buddha.
The service consists of incessant droning of texts with I AM as a filler. All do their best to
keep their posture when I am flashing. They know very well who I am and why I have come here, but none shows any emotion. I can take pictures of anything I want. Without meeting any resistance. I had to exercise patience for a week, but now I shoot 10 films in twenty minutes.
SEPTEMBER 9th 1990
THE PEACE MISSION MOVEMENT
FATHER AND MOTHER DIVINE. [14,45,461
In preparation of my trip I wrote to six hundred religious organizations out of a list of three thousand five hundred. One of the nicest answers I received was surely that of Mother Divine. I am kindly invited to join the consecration' and dedication of the Woodmont estate ~ as House -of the Lord on September 10th, 11th and 12th. This House, a castle with many acres of land, was donated to the movement by a rich widow.
The movement was founded before WW II out of pacific and anti-Communist ideals. It was American and charitable. Many of the properties granted to it - among-which were hotels, restaurants and churches - were mostly used to provide the needy with meals and shelter.
In the castle now being consecrated reigns a different atmosphere. A black friar welcomes me with 'Peace' and shows me into the impressive foyer. It is filled with pictures of the black Father Divine and the beautiful white Mother Divine. Father, the 'founder and the only black who ever dared to call himself the son of God, preached harmony between black and white and after his first wife's death., married both spiritually and legally the white Mother Divine. After his death a few hundred of his followers carried on the movement. Father left all properties to the members, requiring them to stay together in order to have something. The shrinking group manages with difficulty the also shrinking number of properties. In order to keep up the charity work they are forced to sell some land now and then.
Once in a while aged ladies in red dresses saunter in and out of the castle, with a smile as if they have known me for ages. I hear songs from the grounds and I walk in that direction.
Some hundred elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen, carefully separated according to
sexes by the garden path sit on folding chairs in front of an open pyramid. Up front, in a
coat, the only white person: Mother Divine, listening to the songs of the Rosebud Choir,
comprising some virgins for Father Divine. Chants alternate with Father's old speeches
emanating from the pyramid, his vault. His amplified voice reverberates over the estate.
Some of the elderly complete with fur coat and cane who appear to know his speeches by
heart are entranced and have to be helped back on their chairs. "Aren't you glad!",
Father keeps repeating, with booming voice.
After the ceremony, everybody pays a last respect to the sepulchre, in front of the sculpted portal, which will close within a week for another year. With my camera ready, I wait at the top of-the stairs, seeing Mother Divine coming straight at me with a total disregard for the sisters' tribute. She stops in front of me and poses so intentionally, making me almost forget to squeeze. Her eyes burn with desire and curiosity. Am I the first journalist in twenty years? Am I to make her grand comeback? She invites me to diner. And after half an hour of yearning looks 'she also volunteers for an interview. I express my astonishment, but never get around to deep journalistic questions.' When I become too nosy and expressly ask about the financing she walks out and leaves me with two brothers. They teach me that members never utter the word Satan. They call him STN, DVL or "the other guy".
I get permission to spend the night in the Divine Tracy Hotel in Philadelphia for 25 $. No alcohol, no visits, no women. Men and women sleep on different floors.
SEPTEMBER 10th 1990 LANCASTER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA THE AMISH.
The legendary Amish who live without electricity, TV, telephone and motorized transport are difficult to find. I really have to search around for them in Lancaster County before I notice some black buggies driving in the landscape. It must be them. I immediately follow them in my white Cadillac.
The sign saying 'AMISH FARM' also tells me to pay 8 dollars entry fee. I ignore it and drive on. Instead of men with beards and women in long dark blue dresses I find present-day Americans driving their buggies between carefully ordered haystacks and plastic pigs. In front of the wooden shed, near a haystack with a fork and a pig there is a special spot for taking pictures.
Behind a wooden counter sits a man wearing a straw hat. I ask him whether real Amish live here. Not being from here, he does know.
As far as he knows they have one genuine Amish in service for the tourists. But he is available only after lunch.
A little further I notice a genuine one with beard wheeling a black buggy up a yard. I drive towards him and park my Cadillac aggressively next to his horse and carriage. I also happen to forget to take off my flashy sunglasses. Puzzled he comes out of the barn in his blue suit, his fork in his hand. He inquires about the purpose of my visit, remains friendly while I answer, but refuses to have anything to do with my project.
I realize that I will not make much headway in this manner. A colleague lived with the Hutterites for six months, was finally allowed to take some pictures and was then brought to court for having photographed a boy peeing in the middle of the yard.
I decide to leave the Amish, in peace. I gas up someplace. At the gas -station a black buggy with a horse stops right next to me. A farmer gets out, takes the nozzle, and to my amazement walks towards his horse where he fills some jerry cans that stand in the front of his buggy.
Although I forget to get gas myself, I do remember that the Amish talk a German Dutch dialect and I decide to, give it a try in Dutch. The man responds in some Anglo Dutch-German from which I gather that they get together every two ~ weeks in a church without any ornamentation or altar. Neither do they have preachers. Yes, strangers sometimes visit them. Making pictures is totally excluded.
I ask him for his phone number, which he does not have as they have no electricity.
The legendary Amish who live without telephones and electricity really have neither telephone nor electricity. I'll 'never be Sherlock Holmes.
SEPTEMBER 18th 1990
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK
BILLY GRAHAM CRUSADE - NASSAU
Billy Graham is the cleverest and most influential evangelist in the USA. Over the years he succeeded in winning the confidence of most presidents. In periods of crisis, such as the Gulf War now, he is asked for advice.
During a crusade against sin he, makes a halt in New York. He once called this city the Sodom and Gomorrah of the USA. Now he comes to partially withdraw that curse; his tone is a lot milder. The biggest evil is now situated in Iraq. Hussein is the devil incarnated who must be fought with all means, if necessary with the help of the Russians. These are no longer that bad. Billy has experienced' this himself in a personal encounter with Raisa Gorbachev. She told him she believes there must be something up there. After Billy Joel (the singer) Billy Graham is the first to draw a full Coliseum. Twenty thousand people. But the audience is requested not to applaud extensively as Billy is charged one thousand dollars a minute for TV rights.
SEPTEMBER 25th 1990
DES MOINES, IOWA
LUIS PALAU CRUSADE, VETERANS
Luis Palau is a preacher the size of Billy Graham. He too, organizes crusades. This afternoon he starts a series of rallies with a business lunch for officials and managers. For ten bucks they get a small ordinary salad, cold tea and a sermon. He smartly refers to the business successes of the people present, but at the same time raps their knuckles. Without really hurting the five hundred men (and one lady), he knows how to touch upon their sore spots. His sermon results in seventy-five conversions and a great many cheeks. The starting capital is secured, the crusade can begin. The first rally takes place on the university campus. But most of the young people I meet there look as if they are going to a rock concert instead. And they actually are. Palau meets with competition. A hard rock group called Poison will be on stage here tonight. The headbangers showing up for the concert look fairly innocent, yet the Palau followers hand out leaflets with the rhetorical question: "Should you die tonight, would you be sent to heaven or to hell?"
Professionally I choose the Palau show. With religious rock, followed by the umpteenth confession of a one-hundred-and twenty-kilogram weighing ex-football champion who at the end of his career was almost ruined but fortunately returned to the faith. What Palau tells next is even more boring and predictable. I have a feeling Poison will have sounded a little more exciting.
The grand rally takes place at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Luis Palau is seated on a large stage surrounded by house-plants and a large choir. The texts of modern religious songs, are scrolled on, two immense video screens. The place is not full but I estimate there are about ten thousand candidate converts.
The PR-man is a photo amateur. He has heard of Magnum and is honored with my presence. I get carte blanche. The show is run along the same lines as Billy Graham's: singing, speech, singing, sermon, singing, collection, singing, and conversions. Palau gives it his all to convert this sinful city. As such it doesn't bother him to admit that to do so requires a lot of money. So far they have only two hundred thousand dollars and they need three hundred. It occurs to me that not once
I have heard any of these preachers tell that they had enough, that all bills were settled - thanks all the same.
Meanwhile Palau, attacks fallen angels like Donald Trump, American, versions of Icarus falling off their financial ladder. His listeners spoon it all up like gravy. Some two hundred converts are registered. Among them are many young people who although clearly bored let themselves be baptized in order to please their parents. And once converted, they'll remain converted. This being done, they can safely go ahead and sin some more.
OCTOBER 13th, 1990 HAYDEN LAKE, IDAHO THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST ARYAN NATION. (THE NEO-NAZI CHURCH OF IDAHO).
Hayden Lake, the eagle's nest of the neonazis, is situated in a wooded area in the heart of redneck country. The supermarkets sell gun magazines and on the barely asphalted roads the pick-up trucks, steer past me, like hunted buffaloes leaving me behind in a cloud of dust.
The owner, of a motel proudly shows me the way to the nazi ranch. Above the entrance hangs a swastika and a sign reading 'NO TRESPASSING'.
The wooden church with traditional cross sits in an open area in the woods. Exactly the concentration camps of WW Il. On top of the tower I see some skinheads hoisting the naziflag whereupon a row of their younger brothers below salutes the flag. They look at me suspiciously, but with this hairstyle an old GI in Chicago gave me, I seem a redneck myself. So, I think I am OK.
One of Hitler's old speeches comes from the
Loudspeakers on the tower. The words are hardly understandable, but no one speaks German here anyway. It is the effect that counts.
Afterwards they all step inside the church for the service. The opening speech, under the cross of Christ consists of merciless insults and dead threats uttered against Negroes, Jews, Asians and all scum. Next comes a preacher who in a mere ten minutes distorts the whole story of the Creation to the advantage of the white people. The ultimate proof of their superiority: only white people blush... His whole argument is totally unfounded so that even some of the fervent skinheads seem no longer - to understand. They nevertheless shower him with applause and nazi salutes. And he spoils his youthful disciples with a beautiful promise: "The holocaust you can enjoy through books and films only. But the, end of the world you will experience yourself. We have seen nothing yet. The army of the Third Reich was the only army that was one hundred percent Christian. I consider you future leaders".
After lunch at Burger King an older man whom I spontaneously associate with Dr Mengele, played by Sir Laurence Olivier in 'The Marathon Man' gives a speech. He says President Kennedy used to consider him the most dangerous man in the USA,., a title he treasures like a medal. His talk is indeed extremely vicious and he gives me a scare. Still, the gaps, the repetitions and the slips of the tongue indicate that he is getting old. What he has not forgotten, of course, is that he has slain many niggers. That was his most heroic deed. But he advises the young to be _careful. (He does not say so explicitly but obviously he refers to the judicial proceedings going on in the, area against skinheads who supposedly killed two black people).
Outside, the dogs suddenly start barking. Three skinheads rush out. False alarm.
Ostentatiously looking at me 'Laurence Mengele' goes on talking about the traitors of the white people. Aryan traitors are even worse than niggers and Jews. They 've got to be eliminated first. I feel the devouring eyes of young skinheads on me. I swallow. Only minutes before a Pastor wanted to throw me out. Pastor Butler, the leader who helped me and allowed me to stay, now supports the speaker and says that from now on no one will he allowed whom they do not trust one hundred percent.---(Some members are in jail after being tapped by the FBI.)
Finally, history is being rewritten. Hitler is a direct descendant from Adam. The gas, chambers never existed. The skinheads swallow it all. They think_ of Aryans and SS men as of heroes in a European comic.
Sunday. On the day of the Lord- neo-nazis too take it easy. No wild speeches today. Let's watch some video films then. Some old movies about the Third Reich are recovered and rather partial documentaries on South Africa. A black man who brutally murders another black -man is- received with a murmur of approval. See, they are only animals-after all.
OCTOBER 30th 1990
LIBERTY UNIVERSITY - JERRY FALWELL
Lynchburg used to be an insignificant place in the Appalachian Mountains, but thanks to Liberty University it grew into a middle sized town. Everything revolves around the campus. And the first person I ask for directions, is of course a Liberty student. He takes me to the Visitors Center, where a PR-boy jumps up at the words "journalist" and "Europe". His name is Nathan.
Nathan shows me to the reception hall and has a video do the introduction.
In the seventies Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, a movement which aim it was to stop the corruption of traditional American values. With the growing success of the movement, the University boomed. But over the years the emphasis was shifted. Before, they desperately wanted to save the country from fall, now they merely want to raise young Christians. These will later be recruited into business and politics. As such they can in a practical manner go on with their fight against socialism and communism which the University still feels very strongly about. Founder Falwell, who helped Reagan and Bush win votes, turns out to be visiting Bush today to talk about Iraq. (After the video a student comes towards me and asks whether Belgium is still a communist country.) ,
Nathan drives me around the campus. He is engaged to Falwell's niece. He tells me that the National Geographic once wanted to run an article on Falwell, but it was called off. The story of the TV-evangelists appeared to be too charged. At the time of the scandals involving Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart Falwell dismantled the Moral Majority Club as an organisation and stopped preaching on television. Yet, his message is still being spread, for on my farewell Nathan offers me Falwell's Collected Works.
I walk around for a while in the 'School of Religion'. A painting of the -founder-cowboy on horseback hangs next to a poster featuring ten Asians under the caption: 'Find the Muslim'. You read the answer a little further: 'They are all Muslims and they all need God.' Next to the announcement of a students' Halloween party a sign warns: 'No Satanic, occult or witchcraft costumes!'
When I leave, there is a note on my car. A parking ticket. To be, paid to the praesis in charge. A sticker on the next car tells me: 'If you want to be sure to, go to heaven, turn right and. keep straight!'
NOVEMBER 16th 1990 AFRICAN VILLAGE, 0YOTUNYI KINGDOM, YARURA VILLAGE. SHELDON, SOUTH -CAROLINA VOODOO.
Somewhere deep in South Carolina forty blacks live in exactly the same manner as do their very distant and remote relatives in Africa. In huts, under the authority of a king and following age-old traditions. Back to the roots and the times before slavery.
A sign along the road takes away any doubt I might have whether I am close to my destination: AFRICAN VILLAGE, AS SEEN ON TV. A couple of Cadillac’s are parked in front of the entry where another sign says: YOU LEAVE THE USA AND ENTER THE KINGDOM OF YARUBA. BLOW YOUR HORN. I do, but nobody shows up. Well, let's walk then. Apart from the cars and the ghetto blasters this looks a genuine village. And the trash bins tell me it is really lived in. Still there is nobody to be seen. I enter a hut. Ten men and children in blue garments look at me dazedly first, then angrily. "You cannot do that, walking into someone's hut like that!"
But they don't have the time to get real angry. They have to he in Miami for a Voodoo celebration and that's a day's drive. When they hear I am from Europe, they get curious: "Is it far from Africa? Do you also speak two languages?" They do too. They learned the language of a Nigerian village, called Yaruba. I must say something in Dutch and they answer me in Yaruba. Then they grab their ghetto blasters and get in their Cadillac’s.
"You want a tour?" One of those who stayed behind gives me a prize-list. Three dollars for a. tour, ten for a, lecture, fifty dollars for an audience with the king and fifteen to talk to one of the queens. I tell him I am a journalist. The queen on duty will receive me. The king is already in Miami.
After half an hour Her Royal Highness Iya greets me, in African apparel but wearing heavy American make-up. "Everybody is in Miami she says, "so nothing is happening here." Next week I can attend a dance ceremony.
"For tourists?" I inquire shamelessly.. "We don't do things for tourists here, everything is done according to Yaruba tradition." She gives me -a card with a telephone number. The talk is free.
A week later, together with fifteen black visitors, I attend the ceremony of the new food. Bananas, oranges, Milky Way and Mars bars still in their supermarket wraps are laid on the altar. A guest, a New York Voodoo priest in traditional dress, with sneakers, cassette recorder and a large video camera, starts the parade, followed by the king and his retinue. The queens dance in his honor. Somebody holds an African parasol over his head. The ceremony takes two hours. Two of the villagers tape it on video.
Everybody is then shown around. We are explained about voodoo statues and about old traditions. "We were no savages and we did not need to be christened. Everything else is crap." I can't prove them wrong. After the tour all kinds of voodoo powders against ailments and afflictions are sold.
The next day I try to catch the villagers in their village spending a colorful authentic African Sunday, but I've made a journey for nothing. The village is empty; the chief sits in front of his hut and tells me dryly to hit the road.
FEBRUARY 11th 1991
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
RELIGIOUS PARADE ON THE EVE OF
Tonight, as m antidote for the sinful happenings of Mardi Gras, a religious parade starts from Jackson Square. At 7 p.m. the square is well filled with preachers and their banners. A man carries a cross with built-in running lights on batteries. His electronic message board flashes alternatively: 'God is Love', 'Jesus is King' and 'Jesus is real'.
An hour later some fifteen hundred people are gathered in the square. 'The Sound of God', men sporting speakers on top of their heads, are protected by some heavyweight 'Soldiers of Christ'. As a warming-up exercise before the real parade the speakers are turned all the way up. The banners are raised and everyone kneels.
People clutch my arm saying they are reborn. The crowd is speaking in tongues and is entranced; men and women are rolling over the pavement. In the meantime a religious bodyguard watches me closely. Only when I bow and kneel in reply to the repeated requests for prayer and conversion and after I have flashed in the air, does he grant me a smile.
The group starts moving, going downtown, where evil resides. Women, - crosses and preachers in the middle, the men around them for protection and the real heavies up front. The speakers are turned off as their sound would be drowned in the music and the noise of the bars and peepshow-joints.
We reach Bourbon Street, the heart of New Orleans, the belly button of the amusement district and the belly of the Mardi Gras festivities. A-bout two thousand crusaders against evil wade through the throng of merrymakers who are - whether they like it or not - driven up I against the bars and into the cabarets.
I notice many scared faces amongst the walkers. Some hide their face in their hands, others close their eyes or weep at the sight of so much evil. Satan himself makes them shudder.
And the merrymakers can't get enough. Men spray beer over the procession or even pee against it. Women take, off their clothes and are carried naked in front of the procession.
The agitation is such that I fear getting trampled. I walk into a side street. I reach Jackson square where the procession started and now ends. Many are still shaking from the emotions and the ordeal they endured. For the finale, the group collectively goes into trance, although at a calmer pace than at the beginning. Probably to catch their breath.
FEBRUARY 22nd 1991 ATLANTA, GEORGIA CHAPEL HILL HARVESTER CHURCH EARL PAULK NON-DENOMINATIONAL.
The Chapel Hill Harvester Church consists of three churches. The first one is the pioneer church of founder Earl Paulk. The second has a luxurious atrium, bookstores, a restaurant, a TV studio and a marble pillared lounge. The third part, a huge cathedral, is still under construction.
In the bookstore I notice that the three main American church fathers sell well here. Books by Jerry Falwell (Liberty University, Moral Majority), Robert Schuller (Crystal Cathedral) and Earl Paulk are heavily promoted. The great are not really competitors; they even quote each other in their books.
Tricia, the PR-lady, tells me the new cathedral is not paid up yet. Every Sunday they collect about 70,000 $ for that purpose. But time is of the essence. Shortly the Messiah will come and the cathedral must be completed by then. Although unfinished, it already serves. Fifteen thousand chairs are already in place, the giant monitors have been hung up.
Before the service I get announced gloriously. A photographer of GEO, -the European National Geographic, no less, has picked their church! This must surely be a sign of God. The one-hundred-people-strong choir breaks into a hallelujah. And I am allowed to photograph everything. Yet, before I get a chance to photograph them, Tricia seemly casually positions herself between me and a poor woman with a kid without socks and a man ~ in a rocking chair at the door. We both put on a big, big American smile and each go our own way, conscious of our position.
About half of the churchgoers are black. What was only a dream for Martin Luther King, has been realized here, even though the majority of priests is white. But together with the discrimination, the religious black exuberance has also disappeared. They wear the same elegant clothes as their white brethren. Their religion is obviously no longer part of their fight for freedom. They all share the same American Dream now.
The service itself is very emotional. The cathedral is supposed to be finished and consecrated next week, although a lot of money is still missing. While the heavy measures are used - giant video, speaking in tongues, hands in the air, Islamiclike mass bowing and kneeling - outside the storm breaks out. Lacking doors and windows the cathedral is majestically lit up by the lightning. Another sign of God, according to the priest. The Holy Spirit has entered! The end of the war between Bush and Saddam Hussein was the first indication, this is another one. The cathedral will ring in a new era! And just like the American soldiers have shed their blood for God and Country, we must pay for our cathedral with our blood. Green blood, the preacher explains. Green, the color of money.
LAKELAND, FLORIDA. DALLAS, TEXAS
THE POWER TEAM. [10, 411
The Power Team, a group of bodybuilders for Christ, perform in a church looking very much like a concert hall. T-shirts reading 'THE LORDS GYM' are sold near the entry.
After a hard-rock group has warmed up the audience, the Power Team members come running one by one from the corners of the hall to work their way through a stockpile of ice, concrete and brick. Using their heads, hands and elbows. This is some powerful demonstration of the strength of faith. Everything is torn down in the name of the Lord. The Power members smash fifty baseball bats, shoulder burning logs, break free of handcuffs and play Jesus doing push-ups with the cross on his back. Seems like Monthy Python.
Mainly kids make eyes at this free performance. Later they will not escape the begging round. The Team needs money to go and convert poor Russians in Russia. Yesterday, Jon Jacobs, the leader, prayed for fifty children each to get one hundred dollars from their parents. He even uses me as bait: I am supposed to have flown over especially from Paris to present the Team to -the European press.
A few weeks later I see the Team again at the 'Pierce the Darkness': festival in Dallas. After their performance I meet Bart, the Belgian Power-member. He comes from Roeselare and feels only hate for Belgium. He came here because at school in Belgium they called him stupid and because someone told him that in America you could be whatever you I wanted.
He will hand over the first twenty- five thousand dollars he makes to the team. But this does not bother him, on the contrary. He radiates. He wears a new silvery suit and is being announced as a major foreign performer.
Converted John Fenholt, previously singer of Black Sabbath, does the opening act. This is again followed by stunts for the Lord: walking through a three-meter-thick wall of ice, tearing up the impressive Dallas telephone directory, bending steel bars.
Plastic buckets are passed around. Fifteen thousand dollars to be collected. When they do not succeed in doing so, it is explained that the devil is very active tonight. Yet, hundreds of children complete the form for saving and conversion. I complete one using a good friend's name. My goodness has no bounds.
MARCH 23rd 1991 EASTLAND, TEXAS KENDRICK'S RELIGIOUS MUSEUM. PASSION PLAY.
Every year at Easter, the Eastland religious museum stages 'The life of Christ'. Mister Kendrick himself welcomes me into his dilapidated museum. He tells me how the Passion play was created almost thirty years ago and put on stage over the pool in his back yard.
But I'm too early, the performance only starts at nine. I will have something to eat first. A square right out of 'Back to the Future' has a drug store and a post office. A bit further, I find a fifties restaurant with Elvis' songs playing, from -the jukebox. Everyone in the restaurant stares at me, but nobody seems surprised when the owner tells me that the bill for my pizza is taken care of by Mister Kendrick.
In his bible museum Mister Kendrick shows me his scale model of Noah's Ark holding live animals. This should become a zoo with a restaurant, in the form of a cross. Considering the poor success of his present museum, it will probably never get beyond the planning stage. Even for his epic, he only has seventeen actors remaining. Once he had more than a hundred. This obliges the actors to get in and out of costumes all the time. A good thing he has a sufficient number to depict the Lord's Last Supper. Mother Kendrick diligently plays the organ in the dugout. Mister Kendrick handles the light effects and the portable cassette recorder amplified by huge speakers.
But, square in the middle of the Crucifixion something goes wrong with the special effects. Too much smoke has been blown and for minutes the actors run around unrecognizable. When the smoke has lifted, Jesus has already risen again.
APRIL 14th 1991
THE PENTECOSTAL TEMPLE, THE, CHURCH
OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. 
Of all towns Memphis is definitely the town of black Pentecostal churches. I pick the largest. For a black church I would even call it extremely large. It is the only one of its kind with a TV-studio.
The public, though, is comparable to that of the small southern Baptist churches. Women with hats and flower patterned dresses from the thirties, men in suits with their late father's gold tie clasp. Even the choir and the wooden altar are typical. But the business of religion and the video cameras have put a stern face on this community.
There is not enough light to take pictures and I am not allowed to use the flash. So I go downtown, following Beale Street with its legendary dilapidated blues cafes. On the borders of the Mississippi & hill-billy party is in full swing. White cops have closed off the street and keep an eye on the merrymakers.
Trusting my luck I enter the Temple of Faith-The friendly pastor is clearly glad to see me. He is new here and, already has, a reporter visiting him! I get the run of the place. The service is black and Pentecostal, without the speaking in tongues. There is nevertheless a lot of enthusiasm. The women's choir sings till everybody is up and then continues for another three hours. Women are entranced and in ecstasy, physically and verbally supported by the whole community. Hands are laid on and people get sprinkled with holy water from plastic bottles.
Between ecstasies the preacher tries to enlarge my vision. I have to go through the ecstasy and the noise in order to see the spiritual dimension. "Our visitor from Belgium should know that he has witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit. Not the pictures he so willingly makes of me, nor our presence are important. The Holy Spirit is what matters. Black people do not dance because of their culture, most of them can hardly slow dance. The Holy Spirit makes them dance."
APRIL 25th 1991
Oral Roberts was the first of the major preachers who saw the benefits of the use of television as religious medium. It made him tremendously rich. Although still huge, his empire is dwindling. He was the man who in his hay-days on television said that he would die unless millions of dollars were transferred to his account. The money came immediately. The City of Faith consists of huge buildings covered with gold painted panels. From a distance it resembles a golden Disneyland with constructions that once must have been very modern, but now start to look dated. Two massive praying hands decorate the hospital entry, where a combination of modern medicine and laying on of hands is practised. Because the hospital didn't get that many patients and is now closed, the hands will be moved to the entry of the estate. They are so large, that even trucks can drive under them.
The University is still visited frequently. Displayed ostentatiously in the middle stands the Tower of Prayer, erected in a style that could best be described as somewhere between Star Trek and Russian Futurism. At the top a star patterned room serves as Oral Roberts' praying room. The Garden of Eden around the Tower is a fairly modern g-den featuring many fountains. Exemplary student couples are walking around carrying bibles and wear pastel dresses, white shirts and ties. The glaring- sun and the reflection of the surrounding buildings do the rest. This is paradise on earth. Even gardeners drive around with carts reading 'JESUS IS LORD'.
Roberts' life is made into an attraction inside, the Tower. The show is a pre-programmed display in separate rooms that automatically open one by one. The Lord at each new step in his life inspires oral.
Each time a vision camouflages the fraud. Next I try the Bible museum. But, that is limited to a modest Disney-like imitation of the story of Adam and Eve and the snake. Plans for future expansion - the walls of Jerusalem tumbling down and the parting of the Red Sea - are displayed on the wall. I am the sole visitor.
Richard Roberts, Oral's son, follows his father's steps. He got his own TV-studio, next to daddies.
In order to have at least some audience, they have chartered a few small school busses. A few ladies are already, seated and keep their purse and cheek book ready. The broadcast serves to finance the purchase of new books and computers for the library. There is a brief show with religious singers and a choir, but the main part of the program consists of begging. A team of telephone operators writes down the names and addresses of all donors. Each gift of over 1,000 $ elicits a cheer of 'Glory to God' from the clean Richard Roberts.
But this is merely a, warming-up to the big work: the computers. They need 25 times 4,000 $. Richard and the VIP's start with four cheeks of 4,000 $ each, enough for 4 computers. At each phone gift of 4,000 $ Richard has a vision. After a while he must have trouble to distinguish his own thoughts from the visions God offers him. An organ and a choir singing hallelujah intensify the atmosphere. More and more cheeks are written out. A woman in the stand keeps shaking her head: she would like to give more, but she can't. As so many others who monthly hand over a fixed part of their wages to a TV beggar. Or who even have a pledge on their house and their car in favor of such- a man. A girl from Norway comes and talks with me. She studies media techniques here and will later get a job with one of the new religious broadcasters in Europe. God save us. Though, I wonder whether our housemothers would be that easy to persuade.
MAY 4th 1991 FORTH SMITH, ARKANSAS KU KLUX KLAN MEETING IN CREEKMORE PARK.
The Ku Klux Klan is well represented in the area. That is why, with city hall's approval, they stage a meeting against the removal of the last confederate flag in a school.
Loudspeakers stand between displays with White Power T-shirts and skinhead magazines; above the stage hangs a large KKK standard. A black family is still lunching nearby. Seated on a Batman towel a man plays with his two-year-old boy, both in white KKIK shirt. I don't see any white gowns or pointed caps. A few skinheads are lying quietly on a confederate flag under some trees. A mentally handicapped black man sits next to them. The skinheads willingly pose with the flag and the Klan’s emblems. They introduce me to Grand Wizard Tom Robb, the big chief and the only in a tailor-made suit.
The small groups of sympathizers that come to the meeting are usually from underprivileged families seeking refuge in racism. They are politically helpless and as such easy prey for sweettalkers like Tom Robb. But even a woman reporter interviewing Robb for local television doesn't try to make' it difficult for him.
By the time the speeches, start, a few counter demonstrators have arrived. They are usually well dressed young blacks, who are not afraid of speaking out. Robb sets off with the well known KKK slogans: back to the old traditions, blacks out or north, the current politicians are wimps, Jesus was white and thus are we the chosen. God wanted it to be so. Still, his comments on blacks remain remarkably reserved. Except for once he always uses the term 'Negroes' instead of 'niggers'.
A cameraman sees his chance when a mentally retarded black man enters into a senseless discussion with a Klansman in uniform. A black and a white man, eye to eye with each other in a grotesque discussion. Close-up. It's a beaut. It's recorded. "I got it. I got it all", he says to the woman reporter and flashes a crude victory sign. There is some commotion near the stage when a group of blacks pushes its way forward. The police positions itself between blacks and whites.
A white girl whom I photographed together with her black friends asks me please not to publish the picture in the paper. Her black friend asks her whether maybe she is ashamed. "No", she replies, "but my father would not understand. He is terribly prejudiced."
MAY 12th 1991 PHOENIX, ARIZONA HALL DELIVERANCE CATHEDRAL, FRANKLIN AND HELEN HALL HEALING CATHEDRAL, 100% PENTECOSTAL.
Plaster statues and decorations, a horn of plenty, crosses with mirrors, a globe and a sign warning Satan to stay away welcome me to the cathedral. That's promising!
The interior exceeds my wildest expectations. It is just unimaginable! In the middle of the dome a hole is enclosed with neon lights. God enters that way. His sunlight falls in a beam on the altar, which stands on a red carpet in the middle of converging lines.
Everywhere I look hang some kind of medieval banners with proverbs relating to Jesus and God. Behind the altar Helen Hall plays the organ. Her instrument is decorated with a luminescent peacock and bright blue Christmas balls. The preacher is seated on a large velvet lounger. A Mongolian plays the accordion, behind him drums and a grand piano.
Only seven people populate this any church. But I do like the atmosphere. Compared to the formal, almost military ceremonies of 'many of the large churches these followers adopt a much more vulnerable attitude.
The service itself is, as usual, a long introduction to the conversions. But as most people present are well in their seventies, that part of the ceremony seems a waste of time. So they proceed to a healing. Lisa, ninety-one years of age, gives her testimony: everyone prays for her and there she starts doing fitness exercises again Right there and then. Praise the Lord. The Hallelujah that follows soon dies down- when it turns out that Lisa has strained herself somewhat while bowing.
It just occurs to me that Phoenix really produced some odd birds. Even New Age started here. The sun can really -beat down in Phoenix.
MAY 12th 1991 PHOENIX, ARIZONA CAPSTONE CATHEDRAL, NEAL FRISBY PENTECOSTAL.
This church was founded on photography. Its members say they have' succeeded in photographing angels and ectoplasm’s. I tell you, I'm curious.
Capstone Cathedral with its green crystal steeple used to be standing lonely in the desert landscape. However, when times got bad, Frisby managed to sell surrounding lands, so that now you find supermarkets and gas stations around the church.
The church itself is not even one tenth full. The records and books they are selling date back from the golden sixties. That was also the time of the famous ectoplasm pictures.Those are pure fraud. Any possible photographic stupidity was considered to be a picture of the invisible. A photo that went wrong because of backlighting, reflections, a thumb in front of the lens. the last negative of a film., overexposed photos, all got interpreted as 'angels, God or the devil. And people believed it! The pictures of glowing wings of angels were on the cover of a great many magazines and records. Those editions were in turn full of predictions about earthquakes and of astrological bible interpretations.
In one of these books, dated the end of the sixties, Frisby was going too far and there was a scandal as a consequence of which he lost many followers. Yet, he -still goes on with a small flock. The church has become a sect that keeps believing its own lies against its better judgement.
I don’t get to see Neal Frisby. His wife receives me and forbids me to take any pictures. I refer to their own photographic tradition. And that I wish I was that lucky to be able to photograph an angel zipping past. But to no avail. "These pictures used to be taken for our own use, not for that of the press. Besides, we long stopped doing that. Neal doesn't want, to be interrupted during services."
As supporting act of the service he projects a video he has made himself. Thanks to heavenly gismos, I see Neal Frisby's head in close-up flying over snow-covered fields, moon landscapes, rivers, woods and craters, while he's babbling the greatest nonsense. It is beyond description. This man is a genius who belongs in the Documenta at Kassel. And that he believes in what he is doing appears from his explanation afterwards in which based on the bible and the positions of the planets he predicts whatever suits him.
Meanwhile I discover some spies next to and behind me who see to it that I do not take any pictures. After the show Frisby heals some ill people. When a neon light says 'Leave now', we all leave. Outside I want to take a picture of the lighted green tower by night. But a strong hand of a rather beefy man grabs me by the shoulder: "THEY told you not to take any pictures and you will do as THEY say". He keeps an eye on me until I drive away.
JUNE 7th 1991
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES, DODGERS STADIUM.
The yearly 'Lovers of free Convention' takes place in Los Angeles' largest baseball stadium. I estimate that there are some 35,000 people. Because of the blazing sun, the stands with innumerable parasols look like Santa Monica Beach.
But I do not feel at ease. Among these stylishly dressed people I’m much too obviously the unbelieving outsider. I can still hear the president of the convention saying he can pick those out just like that. "If you don't see it by the way they dress (I’m wearing sneakers and a T-shirt!), you'll see it by the magazines they are carrying along or by the stickers on their car."
A tent decorated with flower arrangements stands on the field. That's where the endless pedantic tirades come from. At homebase - where they score in baseball - they have installed a small swimming pool. Tomorrow in this pool hundreds of people will be baptized in the name of Jehovah. I assume that they will not go so far as to use the electric scoreboard.
The speeches are about how a witness should live and how a husband and especially a wife should behave. Their morals are at least one century behind the modern morals of Los Angeles. Meanwhile I see observers everywhere; they must correct the slightest deviant behavior of the brothers and sisters. I 'm constantly spied on and harassed in spite of the leader's approval of my presence.
When a new publication about the origin of the universe and of mankind is handed out, the thirty thousand 'sheep' get a little excited. Each new interpretation of the Bible is an interesting parable, as the witnesses do not believe the evolution theory. In the new version black people are treated well for a change. They make up one third of the whole stadium and it must be clear now once and for all that they do not stem directly from the apes and are thus indeed, also a creation of God.
The supervisor on duty makes me promise again that I will not be critical. Why would 1? Besides, I hardly find anything worth photographing. They all read quietly in their Bible or listen, with half an ear to the speeches. Lunch -is visually more interesting. In spite of the teachings prescribing proper and inconspicuous clothes, it strikes me that many women are garishly dressed and even provocatively made up. And the men too do not look very modest.
But it appears I have again seen too much. I'm interrogated and my passport is taken.
After two hours I'll get it back with many excuses. "You see", says Bud, my personal
supervisor, "we have not yet reached the kingdom of God on earth and we must correct
a few things once in a while. He winks at me hoping to get my biblical understanding.
The next day I wear my suit to come here. After some - palavering I'm allowed at the swimming pool side. Under supervision, though. Candidates lie up in bathing suit to be baptized in the pool. Before, they have to answer about eighty questions.
He who becomes a witness, promises never to lie, never to sue another witness, not to involve in politics, to pay taxes and to obey the government of his country.
Five baptizers wearing a white T-shirt stand in the pool. They used to wear swimming trunks only but this led to the rumor that they were naked when baptizing. The bathing suits give the candidates another chance to be conspicuous, to look even sexy..
That afternoon nine hundred people are baptized, some of them amid loud cheering from the stands. A supervisor counts them and takes notes. Some of the newly baptized put up their hands and fists in victory.
JUNE 29th, 1991
KU KLUX KLAN RALLY. [48,49,501
Grand Wizard Tom Robb told me at the previous KKK meeting where and when they would have one of their rare cross burnings.
Or rather cross lightings, as the cross is a shining beacon for a world astray.
I arrive in Hico, a small town in the heart of Texas, a day early. The legend has it that Billy the Kid lived here, but that is something every town asserts. There is one gas station and one motel. Without really knowing why, I decide not to stay the night, and I cheek into a motel twenty miles from there. In the morning I learn that the Hico motel was full of Klansmen and that someone emptied a double-barrelled shotgun from a riding pick-up truck on it.
At a few miles from the rendezvous police cars wait near a hamburger restaurant. The rally is to be held in some fields, on private property. A large KKK RALLY sign serves as entry. A thirty-foot-high cross--- wrapped, in burlap, lays on a hilltop. Jerrycans filled with gasoline are ready.
In a clearing in, the woods near a stage decorated with riding Klansmen a few tables covered with KKK souvenirs. There are no horses available tonight. They will make do without cavalry.
Half of the public consists of young skinheads in black T-shirts decorated with skulls and SS insignia. I recognize a few skinheads from the Nazi church in Idaho and from the Forth Smith meeting. They sure travel around a lot. Or is it that the Klan bas no more, members?
Usually I wear black duds, but for the occasion I put on a white shirt. Just so as to avoid a misunderstanding. But it appears that some of the heavies, a kind of supervisors, are dressed as I am in white shirt, black pants and black shoes. I am even requested to pour gasoline on the cross. I turn them down.
Later, I get into some trouble with the Grand Dragon of Texas who feels I make too many pictures of the public during the, speeches. He wants to smash my camera and take out the film. Fortunately Grand Wizard Tom Robb intervenes. I talked to his son earlier, who thinks I am an OK-guy. To make it up to me, they present me with a KKK pin.
The speeches are mainly directed against gays. They are the new scapegoats. The annual Gay Parade in San Francisco with a quarter of a million of participants in particular arouses a lot of contempt. They don't fulminate against blacks any more, as they have left the area for some time.
At dusk a few campers and motor-homes drive up the field. After a while, genuine Klansmen get out, clad in white gowns with pointed caps. The cross is pulled upright with a tractor and all the gowned Klansmen enter the woods. After waiting half an hour in complete darkness I see them - there are about a hundred - returning in group from the woods. Every one of them in white with pointed cap. Only the Grand Wizard and the Grand Dragon wear black.
The torches are drenched with more gasoline and fire is passed in a circle around the cross. The Grand Wizard lights the large cross and sets the group moving in a large circle around the mighty torch. The ceremony is simple but fairly impressive .The circle changes directions a few times and once in a while torches are waved. A quarter of an hour later the cross has almost gone.
Now they all turn towards me and I fear the worst, as I have flashed a lot during the ceremony. But instead of knocking my camera away, they give me their own pocketsize cameras and pose before the cross. All the left arms are raised together - not the right one like the Nazis, the left one is closer to the heart - and. remain upright until all the pictures are taken. Even when I load up a fresh roll of film they keep, standing for minutes without moving.