I watch a lot of weird TV shows. I grew up on The X-Files and staying up too late to hear the whackos on Coast to Coast AM open lines with Art Bell. I’m no stranger to a nutcase but flipping channels recently I landed on ID‘s Dangerous Persuasion and launched myself into another stratosphere of crazy.
The series interviews a new cast of characters each episode focusing on cults and people who were believes in extreme ideologies. One of those real life people is Kerry Noble, a man who calmly explains over the 43 minute episode how he got so deep into a cult that he brought a live bomb to a church full of gay worshippers in Kansas City before thinking better of it and simply getting up and going home to his extremely right-wing racist, misogynistic military commune.
In Dangerous Persuasion‘s fifth episode Noble recounts his experiences with The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord, a far-right militant organization that came about in the U.S. in the 70s and 80s. Kerry Noble explains that when he joined the group in 1977 it was a peaceful Baptist Christian commune. He describes himself at the time he joined as a “non-violent, non-racist, Christian man” who was in his second year of a 2-year training program to become a Baptist pastor. Kerry and his wife, Kay Noble, joined the group after a short visit when they witnessed the son of the group’s leader survive a deadly car accident and decided not to return to their lives outside the commune.
Noble himself gives off big Dylan Klebold energy and talks repeatedly about the group’s leader, Jim Ellison, was the dominant leader he felt he had been searching his whole life for. Because he was desperate for Jim’s approval, Kerry Noble became a militant believer in whatever Ellison told him to believe, no matter who those beliefs hurt, including Kerry’s own wife. He describes himself as a frog in boiling water.
Interestingly, when Noble and other members of his cult heard about the 900+ men, women and children who died at Jonestown, they laughed and thought those people must be stupid to believe Jim Jones.
Noble recounts how in 1984 he went to a park in Kansas City known as a meeting spot for gay men. He brought a gun and planned to lure a gay man over to his car, shoot him, and speed off. When Kerry was unable to find a gay man at the park to murder, he and another cult member brought a bomb to a local church. When the church filled with 70 gay and lesbian Christians, the two felt it was their duty to mass murder the group of “sinners”. However, Noble felt guilty after seeing the congregation worship and decided to leave without detonating the bomb. Of event, Noble said:
“In the summer of 1984, I went to Kansas City to murder gays at a park and to blow up an adult video store. Those were unsuccessful also. But the next day I took a bomb into a gay church with the intention of blowing it up during the Sunday service. Because of the actions of the gay community at that church, I decided not to set the bomb and walked out. The gay community unknowingly saved my life and began my own transition away from hate.”
What the show is missing, is an a psychology expert (or several of them!) to give context to Kerry’s feelings and how they played out. It would be helpful to know how someone who relates to Kerry Noble (or Dylan Klebold) can find and form healthy bonds before someone like Jim Ellison or Eric Harris finds them and manipulates their need for a dominant leader for an evil purpose. It’s also important that while Kerry views himself as a victim of Jim Ellison, many others (who are never interviewed on this topic) were victimized by Kerry himself, who was a “high priest”, one of nine men who were considered leaders in the cult. Noble admits he used his training as a Baptist pastor to create propaganda and convince countless others that Christianity was “actually about” misogyny, racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and white nationalism.
It would also be nice if there was any kind of voice of reason talking about how the commune’s misogynistic view of women is the #1 most common gateway to terrorism for all kinds of terrorist groups. Viewing women as subhuman, which is how you view women if you have insane rules in your cult like practicing polygyny and requiring women to refer to men as “Lord”, is the known stage that comes right before beginning to see other groups of humans as subhuman. Theology from far-right organizations like The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is the first step for white men who want to start using their Christian beliefs to gain power by dehumanizing others. Sure enough, Kerry Noble recounts that soon after the cult adopted increasingly complementarian theology, they started adopting racist and antisemitic theology as well. Here’s an interview from 1985 where he talks about the cult a lot less apologetically, even laughing at the idea that white supremacy could be considered dangerous. He maintained the idea that the liberal media is what is “truly” dangerous to Americans:
I love books and shows that show how predators think and I think Kerry Noble’s openness to talk about why he joined The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord and how he got so brainwashed is good. It’s helpful to know how someone who thinks of himself as a “good man” can, within the span of a few years, become a terrorist willing to mass murder innocent people. However, I think it’s negligent to allow those people to construct the story about what happened themselves without also presenting information from people they have harmed.
Relying on the people involved in the story to give the full context of what happened fails to take into account how their actions affected others. Even Kerry’s wife, Kay Noble, who is interviewed for the series, is given secondary billing. Her firsthand accounts of how the cult’s misogyny and abuse of women affected her is barely present in the episode. Jim Ellison’s daughter says sexual abuse was common in the cult. There is no mention of how Kay and Kerry Noble were able to reconcile or failed to reconcile their relationship after the abuse Kay endured. There is no mention of their children and what abuse they lived through. Did Kerry ever even apologize to his family? Did he ever try to make amends to gay people, who because of Kerry’s actions have to live with the knowledge that people out there want to mass murder them?
When Kerry brings a bomb to a gay church, the show gives him a redemption arc because he realized he was about to bomb a room full of human beings and thought better of it. He did not leave his job as “propaganda minister” for the cult or do anything other than decide to not commit mass murder. To me, that’s not redeeming and the redemption arc is ill-fitting. This a troubling way to present a story about a budding domestic terrorist.
The Wikipedia article for The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord doesn’t even mention that at one point the group was mere moments away from committing what would have been at that time the biggest domestic terrorist attack in the U.S. ever. That doesn’t sit right with me. Kerry Noble says he didn’t even leave the group after he decided not to bomb the gay church. He only left (by force) a year later because the commune was raided by the FBI and ATF. The small militant group had illegally amassed $50,000 worth of guns and military equipment. Noble was arrested as part of the raid and spent 2 years in prison for weapons charges. Jim Ellison also served only two years in prison. When he was released, Ellison joined another far-right Christian cult and is rumored to have struck up a close friendship with Timothy McVeigh.
After Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and injuring 680, Kerry Noble wrote a book about his experiences called Tabernacle of Hate: Why They Bombed Oklahoma City. In his own words the book is “the only book written by a former cult-leader who has abandoned the racist and violent philosophy of the Christian Identity Movement. He explains how a deeply religious man could be seduced into extremism.” He has supported himself in the years since taking speaking engagements about domestic terrorism.