Subscribe to the Journal, call 505-823-4400

          Front Page

'Messiah' in Jail

By Vic Vela and Polly Summar
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Northern Bureau
    CLAYTON— The self-professed Messiah of a doomsday cult went from presiding over his compound to a cell at the Clayton/Union County jail on Tuesday, courtesy of the New Mexico State Police.
    Wayne Bent, aka Michael Travesser, was booked into the jail— where he turned down an offer of juice and a bologna sandwich— on multiple charges of sexual contact with minors.
    In an Internet posting before his arrest early Tuesday, he said he had committed no crime and compared his impending arrest to the persecution of Jesus.

[+] Click to enlarge
Handout photo

The booking mug for Wayne C. Bent, also known as Michael Travesser, leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church. He was arrested by State Police on Tuesday, May 6.

  • 'No Trespassing' at Strong City may 2
  • Bent Says 'End Of All Things' Near may 2
  • Doomsday Cult Hunkers Down may 1
  • Expert Says Women Seem 'Brainwashed' may 1
  • Former Church Member Feared for Girls' Safety may 1
  • State Seizes Kids from New Mexico Cult April 30
  • Slideshow: Strong City compound photos
  • Strong City Cult site web site
  • Strong City Cult video youtube.com

  • Bent, 66, had previously admitted having sex with adult followers and acknowledged "lying with naked virgins"— although he denied having sex with minors.
        He is being held on charges of criminal sexual contact of a minor, a second-degree felony, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a fourth-degree felony.
        The acts of which he is accused involve three young girls, including one who was 12 at the time of the alleged misconduct, according to a State Police officer's affidavit filed in Union County magistrate court.
        The 12-year-old was naked when she lay chest to chest with Bent, according to the affidavit. Two older teenage girls told police they also were naked with Bent and that he kissed them. One said he touched and kissed her breasts.
        But Bent's son told the Journal on Monday that his father is being persecuted by state agencies and that Wayne Bent's followers are now engaged in "spiritual warfare with the secular state power."
        "The mark of the beast is enforcing its will on the believers," Jeff Bent said in a telephone interview.
    'Very soft-spoken'
        Wayne Bent was arrested without incident by State Police agents at his Strong City compound near Des Moines in rural Union County, said DPS spokesman Peter Olson.
        Bent is the leader of The Lord Our Righteousness Church, which came to Union County in 2000.
        A magistrate judge who signed an arrest warrant Monday set Bent's bail at $500,000, cash only. He is scheduled to appear in court here at 11 a.m. Thursday for an arraignment.
        "He was extremely quiet, very soft-spoken," said Clayton Police Chief Scott Julian, describing Bent as he was taken by State Police to the old brick jail just off Main Street.
        Julian said Bent was very thin, weighing about 120 pounds on a 5-foot-7 frame. "He's refused water, juice and a bologna sandwich for lunch," said Julian. "He did say on his Web site he was on a hunger strike."
        Bent was allowed three phone calls but didn't make any.
        Bent was wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, and his only question was to ask why he was being fingerprinted.
        "We explained that it was part of the booking process," Julian said.
    'Appealing to God'
        Jeff Bent said Tuesday that he is not concerned about his father posting bail, saying that God will help his father be set free.
        "I don't foresee that the legal process will be our focus," he said. "Right now we are appealing to God."
        Wayne Bent, who believes he is the second coming of Jesus, posted a comment on his group's Web site Monday morning saying that he is guilty of nothing.
        "The current upheaval over me ... was the same for Jesus," Bent wrote. "Jesus had not committed any crimes, so the authorities had to invent some crimes to crucify him over. It is the same for me also.
        "I have committed no crimes, but many crimes are being imagined and concocted in the minds of men to try and kill me again. Men are so stupid, though, for they do not know that they cannot kill Spirit."
        Jeff Bent said his father has never had sex with minors but acknowledged Wayne Bent did have some contact with the children.
        "There were several times in which skin-to-skin events did occur," he said. "That's public knowledge."
    Minors interviewed
        According to the affidavit, agents interviewed four children beginning April 23. The children were recently removed from the compound by police and child welfare workers.
        The affidavit also states:
  • A 17-year-old girl identified as A.S. told agents she "lay naked" with Bent when he "kissed her lips like a husband and wife do" and also "touched and kissed her breasts" in August 2006.
  • A 16-year-old girl identified as L.S. said she was naked when she and Bent "had lain skin to skin" in July 2006 and that Bent also kissed her.
  • A 13-year-old girl identified as J.T. said that she lay "chest to chest" with Bent at the compound in April 2007. J.T. said "she was the only one naked" during the incident. The girl would have been 12 at the time.
  • A 16-year-old boy identified as D.D. told police that 10 people received letters from Bent as "chosen" virgins. Seven of the 10 were selected, and D.D. told State Police that Bent lay "naked with the seven virgins." He said he didn't witness the act but had heard about it from different people, including some of the "chosen." The boy also said people at the compound are considered to be married when they sleep together.
        Tuesday's arrest comes on the heels of a three-week investigation by State Police, the state's Children, Youth and Families Department and the Union County Sheriff's Department.
        CYFD removed the children from the compound beginning April 22 after the department received information they may have been subjected to inappropriate contact.
        The children have either been placed in state custody or released to parents who do not live in Strong City, a CYFD spokeswoman has said.
        Jeff Bent, a former San Francisco police officer, said he resents the state agencies that took the children from the compound.
        "These are children who have been a part of our church since they were babies," he said. "It's not easy seeing them be taken away, but the children have had ample preparation that the day would come that we would be persecuted."
        He said his father was notified Monday that charges would soon be filed and that he and other followers were able to give his father a hug before a dozen or so State Police officers took him away.
        "It was a little bit tense," he said. "We felt a bit nervous seeing (a large police presence). But we were calm, and our emotions were just focused on wishing our savior well."
        Jeff Bent said the "spiritual warfare" his group is waging with the state is not violent.
        "It involves prayer and speaking the truth," he said. "God is the one who makes the moves. He gives us instructions."
        The son also denies there was a mass suicide planned by cult members, an allegation State Police and FBI agents investigated in 2002.
        "Suicide has been a constant allegation," Jeff Bent said. So, too, is a report that his father predicted that the end of the world was supposed to come last year, he said.
        "The end of the world is a process," he said. "We don't know when these events will manifest themselves, but the wicked will be judged."
    Under the spotlight
        Julian, the Clayton police chief, said that in his four years on the job here, he has never had any interaction with Wayne Bent or other cult members.
        "But this has brought a lot of attention," Julian said. "We've heard from ABC News in New York, 'Inside Edition,' all the Albuquerque TV stations, two from Amarillo and the Associated Press."
        Union County has a population of about 3,800.
        An employee of the jail said she worked at a title company when Bent closed on the ranch land he bought eight years ago.
        "We thought it was a little old man gonna run some cows," she said. "All of a sudden, there's kids and modular houses and campers and pickup trucks."
        Kathy Dinkel, who was working at Clayton Petals Too on Tuesday afternoon, owns a ranch that borders the cult's land.
        "They wanted to come over on our land to do their Peace Walks— that's how they got tranquillity, I guess," Dinkel said, "but we said, 'You won't let us on your land, so we don't want you on our land.' ''
        Della Wetsel, who was having a smoothie at the Crossroads Coffee on Tuesday afternoon, said she was born and reared in Des Moines and that the uproar over Bent's group is the most exciting thing that's happened in Des Moines since 1969, when she was robbed at gunpoint while clerking at a grocery store.
        "I think the Texas (Mormon) thing sparked all this," she said. "It appears these things are popping up everywhere."
        Go 'Inside'
        National Geographic Channel is scheduled to air "Inside a Cult," about Wayne Bent and his group, at 8 and 11 tonight.