Eighteen years ago today was a D-day of sorts: October 2, 1989 was the day Elizabeth Clare Prophet (as “Saint Germain”) had told her followers in Church Universal and Triumphant on the same date in 1987 “ere 24 months have passed, take care to be sure you are in your right place,” by which she meant they should be ready to survive nuclear war.Townspeople held their “end of the world parties,” but as it turned out, Saint Germain’s “day of reckoning” was postponed several times from October 2, 1989 to March 15, 1990. On the “ides of March,” with equipment, fuel, and food packed to the gills, and Prophet expecting war for real, (though people were mostly told it was a precautionary drill until they were inside) over 700 people spent a night underground in the barely completed shelters.
The next morning, shocked and relieved CUT staff members emerged from the shelter to a sunny day and a world little changed from the previous night. Soon after, they began the arduous task of cleaning up the mess of spilled fuel around the shelters, facing crushing debt they had thought they’d never have to repay, and resuming lives and careers they’d forsaken. CUT as an organization was never quite the same.
It’s been a long eighteen years since then, and most people have moved on. But the real story of that project, the families and children involved, how and why it happened has never been told from a solid insider perspective, which just a few people were privy to. There’s a lot of information that still hasn’t come out–enough to fill a documentary.
Though I was one of the select few who knew many of the details, I can’t tell this story all by myself. To that end, I’ve already started conducting interviews and already have compiled a growing list of people who would like to talk about their shelter experiences on camera. I can’t predict what the ultimate distribution will be for this documentary, but I’m confident based on interest I’ve received that it will be widely seen.
I want to make one thing very clear to church members and others alike: This is not a cheap-shot hit piece on the organization nor on the people who participated in the project. After all, I was one of them. I was out there on March 15, 1990 running around with a bullhorn trying to get people to come into the shelters before midnight. So this project is as much about me trying to figure out what I was doing there as anything else. I want to reclaim that history.
I felt then as I do now that the effort to build the shelters for 756 people was nothing short of heroic. The people involved sacrificed immensely. The prospect of impending war was psychologically very real. They thought (as I did) they were fighting for their lives and the lives of their families. Men and women, young and old, worked 12-16 hours a day six or seven days a week for more than two years out of a combination of spiritual duty and desire for self-preservation.
For those who don’t know, in the Mol Heron Creek drainage, just outside of Yellowstone Park, we built one of the largest and highest-quality private blast and fallout shelters in the country. The fact that no one working on shelters in the Paradise Valley was maimed or killed (as far as I remember) during years of heavy construction by novices is a testimony to the luck of the do-it-yourselfers, as well as the experience and skill of the engineers and foremen of the work crews on the larger projects. Though church members bought an arsenal of high-powered assault weapons, no confrontation with the government occurred such as happened in Waco, Texas. If it had, CUT would have been seared into the national consciousness much like the Branch Davidians were, and I wouldn’t be writing this.
All such irony aside, work in the CUT Engineering and Planning department was a lot of fun and a great learning experience. I miss the friends I had there. It was easy to forget we were preparing for the end of the world. It was more like working on a top-secret government project. Our meetings bristled with excitement. But finding out afterward that the shelters were not needed was a lot like finding out we’d been climbing a mountain for two years, getting to the top of the mountain and realizing we’d climbed the wrong one. Not only that, but our supplies were exhausted and our morale was destroyed, and people thought we were insane. Even though we were ecstatic the world didn’t actually end, it was the mother of all letdowns.
So that’s my focus for the documentary: How did we decide to put the equivalent of $53,000 per person–that’s $40,000,000 in 2006 dollars, not including the all-volunteer labor–into building shelters? How did we follow a leader up the wrong mountain? It’s especially ironic that the same amount of money, human drive and sacrifice we all poured underground could have easily built each of the 756 people who had berths in the shelter a modest but comfortable home on church property–with money left over to put toward the schools, chapels, and community centers originally planned by the church. Why did we put our lives on hold and feverishly misdirect our resources in such a self-destructive manner? Hundreds of people had joined the church staff over the years hoping to one day build a serene and happy spiritual community. Why did their dreams have to be entombed in intricate but useless tubes of concrete and steel? Why did we move forward with a morbid shelter project right at the very moment when the state had approved our community EIS and was in the process of overturning the environmental groups’ last challenge to it? Those are the burning questions that remain in my mind nearly 20 years later.
The simple answer is that the decision to build shelters came as a result of unambiguous and urgent “divine revelation.” I’m on the record with my Black Sun Journal audience and in several newspaper interviews as denouncing that type of message as a fraud and a delusion. I’m not wavering from that stance here at all. But still, I accepted the revelation at the time, and obeyed it, and so did thousands of others.
VERY IMPORTANT: I’m not just talking to people who now think it was all a big lie. I’d like to hear from people who may have left the church after the shelter period, but still believed in the teachings. Even if you still think the shelters were a good idea, I want your perspective. I plan to talk to current church members to get their view of that period in their history. I’ve already scheduled some interviews with people who were children (now mostly in their 20s) and had parents who were on staff or working on the project. If you were a teenager during 1989-1990, and your family was involved in a bomb shelter, please get in touch with me–I want to know how this has affected your life. I’m interested in stories from anyone who built a private shelter in Glastonbury, Montana or elsewhere. (I actually need Glastonbury shelter info more than CUT’s own, since I already have a lot of documentation on CUT’s project.) I’d like to talk to you if you were in the church in 1989-1990 and did NOT have a shelter space–how did you reconcile it with your beliefs? That’s almost a more interesting story than those who obeyed. Finally, if you feel you were substantially wronged by the church or its members as a direct consequence of shelter building, I’d like to know about it.
Above all, I’m deeply sorry for some of my behavior and the people I treated badly and for whatever negative role I played in the unfolding of events. I’m sorry we caused such a ruckus for the people of Montana. I was young and inexperienced–which of course doesn’t absolve me of responsibility. This film will represent my homage to everyone who was affected and an apology that will hopefully mean more than mere lip service.
Something grabbed us all and captured our attention. “El Morya” spoke and most of us listened. We got off on fighting his incessant epic spiritual battles (“The Labors of Hercules,” etc.). What was it that convinced us? For those who are still in the church, what IS it that convinces you now? Paraphrasing Christiane Amanpour from her brilliant series “God’s Warriors,” we cannot and should not ignore these stories nor the people who lived them. With this documentary, I’m going to try my best to explain them.
So PLEASE–get in touch with me. Forward this article to anyone you know who was a part of this history or had any connection to it. I’m looking for all levels of participation. I will be traveling as necessary to conduct the interviews. If you have a story but don’t want to be on camera, send me tips or background details you think might be relevant. If you’d like to be interviewed but are worried about social or professional repercussions, I can disguise your identity (silhouette interview with vocal processing). The more people who are willing to go on the record openly, the better the film will be. But I’d rather have parts of this story told anonymously than not told at all.
Please send me email addresses and phone numbers of people you think might have something to say. If you have photos or newspaper clippings and can scan them, that would be greatly appreciated. If you have audio or video of the seminal dictations from “Saint Germain” and “El Morya” about the shelters (or any other relevant event of that period), those would be extremely helpful. Any other records of shelter committee meetings, contracts, sales literature, or events would be useful in rebuilding the chronology. Also I need photos or video of people inside the shelters during drills. Please contact me privately with any and all inquiries about this project or proposals for participation at sean at seanprophet dot com.
This is your chance to tell your bomb shelter story and complete the historical record. Please help me make this happen! Thank you.