The End of the World Cult: Michael Travesser

[Documentary broadcast on Channel 4, UK, Dec. 12, 2007, 10pm]

Michael Travesser says he’s the Messiah and that God has told him the world will end with an apocalyptic event at midnight on 31 October 2007.

As leader of a cult in a remote corner of New Mexico called Strong City, this 66-year-old former sailor, previously called Wayne Bent, has spent nearly 20 years preparing his 56 unquestioning and devoted followers for Doomsday. They say they are all preparing for death, to go to a better place.

In this Channel 4 programme, filmmaker Ben Anthony goes into the heart of the cult to discover how Michael exerts his influence. He hears teenage girls talking about desiring sex with their leader, discovers that this sexual activity extended to Travesser’s own daughter-in-law, and meets parents who have left the cult and are desperately trying to prise their children from his grip. Strong City has come to the attention of the FBI, who are keeping a watchful eye on the group.

As the programme delves into the world of Strong City, Ben Anthony asks whether Michael Travesser is about to lead his cult to suicide. Will this be another tragedy like Jonestown or Waco? Or is Travesser just a skilful manipulator, who undermines his subjects before convincing them that he is the route to all wisdom? Our world did not come to an end on 31 October 2007 – but did theirs?

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