THE REEK OF THE 39 DECOMPOSING Heaven’s Gate members had scarcely begun to waft over the hills of San Diego County before TV crews were stampeding into the West Texas environs of Abilene, where it was believed that the House of Yahweh might be the next cult to engage in a show of fatal one-upmanship. Circumstantial evidence of this was in abundance, beginning with the media’s certainty that they had come to the right state—to death wish—happy, compound-crazy Texas, the home of not only David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and Richard McLaren’s Republic of Texas but also Heaven’s Gate guru Marshall Herff Applewhite, whose birthplace of Spur was 110 miles up the road from Abilene. And, ah, yes, Abilene: a town like Waco only more so, the true buckle of the Bible Belt, so starched and earnest that there simply had to be something abominable oozing out from its strait laces.
But the House of Yahweh brought peculiarities of its own to the table. Its basic tenet—that the heavenly rewards promised by the Savior in the Bible could be won only through rigid adherence to the laws laid forth in the first five books of the Old Testament—was unapologetically dour. A wife (or wives, since the Scriptures sanctioned polygamy) must obey her husband; a man must grow his whiskers; a righteous person must not eat seafood that lacks fins and scales; and, of course, the proper name for the Creator was not “God” or “Lord,” but the holiest of all appellations, “Yahweh.” The House of Yahweh took such verities at face value. Yet it also retranslated—some would say rejiggered—the ancient texts, with sometimes alarming results. Satan, for example, was a woman. The pope was her beastly puppet, and by orchestrating the 1993 Israeli peace accords, he would usher in seven years of tribulation, until October 2000, when a nuclear holocaust would lay waste the planet and usher in the coming of the Messiah. Until that glorious reckoning,