Tim and Sarah Gayman Discuss Growing Up in the Anti-Semitic Christian Identity Movement

For more than 30 years, Dan Gayman has been one of the leading ideologues of the racist and anti-Semitic Christian Identity religion, associating with nearly every major figure on the radical right.

After a struggle over control of his church in Schell City, Mo., that culminated in 1976 with Gayman and another leader of The National Emancipation of the White Seed occupying the building, Gayman began publishing a journal called Zion's Watchman and a host of other stridently racist writings.

Since that time, Gayman has built his Church of Israel into a rich collection of rural buildings and farmlands. It was during the 1980s, while growing up on the compound, that Tim, one of Dan Gayman's six children, met Sarah, his future wife. In 1991, after much agonizing, Tim, now 36, and Sarah, now 34, left the church and abandoned their Identity beliefs.

The Intelligence Report interviewed Tim and Sarah about their experiences, including double-dating with accused serial bomber Eric Robert Rudolph and finally rejecting the Identity faith.

INTELLIGENCE REPORT: Tim, what was it like growing up on what's come to be one of the more famous Identity compounds in America?

TIM GAYMAN: I was very sheltered, living in a very rural area on a farm. There was not a lot of contact with the outside world. We were home-birthed and home-schooled. We didn't have a TV — AM radio was about all we had — and I didn't see a black person until I was 16 or 17, in Kansas City. I was like, what's that?

In the early days, when I was really young, there was a lot of activity there — the Klan and [anti-Semitic] Posse Comitatus people and tax protesters. And there have been some big names out there, like [neo-Nazi Aryan Nations leader] Richard Butler and [Identity hard-liners] Col. Jack Mohr and James Wickstrom. That was back in the 1970s and early 1980s.

By the mid-'80s, my dad did a turnaround, because the government was cracking down on that kind of thing. He started preaching more like a fundamentalist, a Jerry Falwell type. Now he says he doesn't hate blacks or anything. But his writings say otherwise.

SARAH GAYMAN: He's only telling the media that he doesn't hate blacks. But that's not what was said in his home, or in his writing. We have letters from him and some of the others that show that he doesn't really believe what he's saying.

IR: Tell us a little more about life at the Church of Israel.

TIM: The whole family lived around the church, but there were people scattered in a 30-mile radius who attended. Also on feast days, three times a year, people would come from all over the nation to attend.

Basically, we had a farm life — hard work from dawn to dusk. We had cattle and milked cows and put up hay. It was a really hardworking environment. Most people had day jobs, and many of them had other farms around here. When I was a kid it was 40 acres here and 80 acres there.

Now, there's hundreds and hundreds of acres they have bought over the years. And the technology has come so far that work now is probably not nearly as hard as it was then.

SARAH: After I left and read about cults, I realized that that was the point — keep everybody busy so they don't ask questions, so they're too exhausted to cause trouble. All we did was eat and work and gossip. That was all.

I got very depressed. What was this all for? It just seemed like drudgery to me.

IR: And what was the rest of the family like?

TIM: My dad has five brothers and he always had them under control. They would do whatever he wanted. I mean, there would be Hatfield-and-McCoy type of fights, but it was always stick up for each other in the end.

So when I was growing up, there was this sense of security and a lot of pride. I was a Gayman. I felt secure, but at the same time I felt there were things that weren't right.

But being my family and being as strong-minded as they were, I didn't put up a fuss. When I finally did leave, I had a lot of guilt because I was leaving the family and my father had always drilled into me that this is the church, this is your heritage, don't leave it. Don't leave the faith. I carried this guilt for years.

It was all based on Christian Identity. White Caucasian people were the chosen people of God, and blacks and Jews were something else. My dad preached the separation of all the races. Everything we did was related to the theology.

SARAH: It's not like we sat around cleaning our guns all the time and talking about Jewish people and black people. It was more like there was this sense of pride.

Still, Identity people don't necessarily like one another. It was more like group evil. It gave them a sense of belonging and direction. They're all living there together and talking about how great they are, these great white people.

IR: Sarah, how did you come to the Church of Israel?

SARAH: My parents had a friend who kept raving about the church. I don't know what they were thinking, but they were seeking something. They were definitely very right politically, very, very conservative. I was probably 15 at the time, and they started listening to Dan Gayman's tapes.

The tapes he sent were not way out there in right-wing-fringe land — more like conservative Christian tapes, so they thought at first that Identity was like the PTL [fundamentalists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's Praise the Lord] Club.

Anyway, when I was 16, my parents took my two younger brothers and I up there from South Carolina, where we were living at the time.

We were all so impressed with Tim's dad. He was so charming — very, very charming. We were honeymooned. Dan had his children all in uniforms, navy pants and white shirts, and they got up and sang. My parents were thinking, "What a wonderful family!" That's how I first got involved.