In 1977 and 1987 police raided a Waipara commune called Camp David — which flourished from the 1970s until the late 1990s — after learning firearms were being stockpiled there.
Douglas Metcalf, the leader of the Full Gospel Mission (better known as the God Squad), was regarded as the Messiah by the sect’s several hundred members, who shunned contact with non-believers.
Dr Metcalf’s death in 1989 and later revelations about his adultery with women followers led to the collapse of the sect.
But one former member of the Full Gospel Mission, John Turton, who later became a Presbyterian minister at Reporoa, said the sect members marched as a military group “basically preparing for what I consider was anarchy”.
Police raids on the camp and members’ homes throughout New Zealand in 1977 blunted its military capacity. Firearms and ammunition were confiscated and charges were laid against several sect members, including some against Dr Metcalf that were later dismissed.
Mr Turton later said the police action prevented a siege in the style of the shootout in Waco, Texas, where a 51-day stand-off between a religious cult led by David Koresh led to the death of Koresh and 85 of his Branch Davidian followers.
Police raided Camp David again in 1987, but — without the powers conferred by the Terrorism Suppression Act, which only came into force in 2002 — a glitch with the search warrant gave cult members 48 hours to bury their arms along the highway between Waipara and Murchison and in forests, said Mr Turton.
Today’s raids and seizures of guns were carried out under both the Firearms Act and the Terrorism Suppression Act Firearms, and Police Commissioner Howard Broad said they resulted from an investigation into suspected weapons training camps held over the past year in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.
At Camp David, a 48ha property, the community collapsed in 1996 after it was revealed Dr Metcalf, the man cult members believed was Jesus, was actually an adulterer. He died in 1989.
Mr Turton was kicked out of the camp, after writing a 15-page paper questioning the teachings and interpretation of scriptures at Camp David. He said that while people loved and supported each other in the community, women were treated as second-class citizens and children ran riot while their parents were tied up with strict regimes of work and scripture meetings.
Former community members and trustees for the mission are due to settle a dispute over the sale of its land when they meet at the High Court at Christchurch on November 29. The disputes are not solved, the case could go to a formal High Court defended hearing.