Tim and Sarah Gayman Discuss Growing Up in the Anti-Semitic Christian Identity Movement
For decades, Dan Gayman was a key ideologue of the racist Christian Identity religion. In an interview, his son and daughter-in-law describe life in Gayman's Church of Israel, and how they came to leave it.
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.
IR: What happened then?
SARAH: My parents returned to South Carolina, but I wanted to stay and they let me. I spent my last year of high school being home-schooled there. Then my parents moved out there at the end of the year and immediately saw it for what it was. They thought Dan was way too far out there.
But by that time, I was completely under Dan's control. There's no other way to say it: I was brainwashed.
Tim and I had already started dating. Basically, what Dan did was started pulling me over to his family more and more. Finally, he said, "This is a fork in the road of your life, Sarah. You can marry Tim and be a part of this family and have us forever, or you can leave here and never see Tim again and not graduate from high school."
This was a big thing for me. It was my last year of school, it was April, and I thought if I left, I'd have to repeat my senior year — how humiliating!
I thought, "Well, my parents are real right-wing and so they must be thrilled about this budding relationship between Tim and me." And, of course, they weren't. They were upset when they found out. In the end, it worked out beautifully. Tim and I are very close and we have four children. But for years, it was really hard.
IR: It was around this time that the two of you double-dated with Eric Rudolph [an Identity adherent and fugitive who has been charged with murdering a police officer while bombing an Alabama abortion clinic, as well as bomb attacks on the Atlanta Olympics, a lesbian bar and a Georgia clinic]. What was that like?
SARAH: Eric used to date Tim's sister, Julie. Dan was just beside himself. He just thought Eric was great. Eric's younger brother, Jamie, was also there at the time. We also met another brother, Dan, but he only came out there one time.
TIM: Eric lived with us for a short time, maybe three or four months, when he was 18. Eric, his mother and his brother had come out from North Carolina.
My dad thought he was going to mold Eric into whatever he wanted him to be, but Eric had a mind of his own. He saw through my dad, although he believed in that kind of stuff.
Eric was really charming, a charismatic type. But he was also different, a loner who didn't make a whole lot of friends.
IR: Were the Rudolphs already firm Identity believers?
TIM: Yes. Pat [Eric's mother] had been a strong Catholic and at one time she had been a nun. Then she got into this. She met [North Carolina Identity ideologue] Nord Davis, who passed away several years ago. Davis and my dad had their differences, but she had seen some of my dad's literature, so she came out.
SARAH: Pat also had a neighbor in North Carolina who was into Identity, and he was pretty violent. He had taken Eric under his wing.
TIM: Eric's real father had died, you see.
SARAH: Eric was real witty, but very troubled. He dated a girl named Joy Keller, the daughter of an Identity minister out of Eureka Springs, Ark., who had actually known Gerald L.K. Smith [a famous but now deceased extremist]. She was about my age and a really beautiful girl. Eric fell head over heels in love with her — she was really into Identity — and they were engaged for a while.
But they ended up not getting married. She eventually committed suicide after being married to somebody else. I think she was really screwed up by Identity and by Tim's dad. Dan spent probably 50 or 60 hours counseling her. He kept laying the guilt on, telling her she had demons and all kinds of things. A lot of tragedy comes from Identity.
IR: Are you the only ones in the family to break with your father?
SARAH: Tim is the only one in his family who has left, other than Connie, Tim's brother's ex-wife. Dan has them pretty well under control. They live to gain his approval, which they will never do completely.
TIM: My parents are so strong about what they believe that they have lost 11 of their grandchildren, two daughters-in-law and a son. They won't get to see those grandchildren ever again, and yet they still believe this stuff.
SARAH: It's my way or the highway. It's not like when we left they said, "We know you're going and we respect that." Instead, we have a stack of letters demanding that we bring him our children and castigating us for having a Christmas tree [apostasy, to many in Identity] and going to a denominational church.
IR: Were there any peculiarities to Dan Gayman's version of Identity?
SARAH: When I first met him, he had met this Anglican bishop and decided that he should be ordained as an Anglican pastor. He was on his England kick. He would wear this collar and he had a sign on his door that said, "Bishop Dan Gayman."
TIM: They felt like the Anglican Church was the early church, and that the early church worshipped the way they do because it was made up of white, Anglo-Saxons.
SARAH: He was in love with all that. He had big King Arthur and Stonehenge posters and he was into numerology for a long time. He's always changing, always on one kick or another.
In the late 1980s, he shifted into an evangelical mode. My brothers called it his "Anglo-evangelical racist pastor" mode.
IR: Did the Church of Israel share other antigovernment beliefs of the radical right?
TIM: At one time, they didn't believe in social security numbers and driver's licenses, but they would say they do now. Secretly, they probably don't.
SARAH: There is this deep distrust for the government.
When Tim and I got married, Tim's dad married us without a marriage license. Then my parents just insisted. I said, "Why do I have to get a marriage license?" And finally my mother said, "I will not recognize your child as my grandson unless you do." So we went behind Dan's back and got a marriage license to please my parents.
But most of those children who have been home-birthed up there don't have social security numbers. I know, because I had to go down to Springfield [Missouri] with [Sarah's sister-in-law] Connie [after she quit the church] because two of her children didn't have birth certificates or social security numbers. I had to witness that they were her children so she could get social security numbers.
IR: What about the role of women? Did you work outside the home while you lived at the Church of Israel, Sarah?
SARAH: I wasn't allowed to. One of Tim's sisters substitute teaches in a local town, and maybe some of the other women do part-time work, but it is definitely frowned upon. I was not allowed to do anything, and I was bored out of my mind. They just wanted me to get pregnant and have babies constantly.
They all live like 20 miles from the nearest town and they promote home birthing. Really, you're not allowed to have children in the hospital, or at least it's really looked down upon.
At one point, they tried to force me to have a home birth. With Jared, our second child, [Dan's wife] Deloris refused to take me to the hospital. She said, "Get into the bathtub, you can have this baby at home. You can do it."
Tim came home and I just looked at him. I probably gave him a desperate look, like, "Please help me!" She finally said okay after Tim said, "Let's get her to the hospital." I almost gave birth in the van — I had Jared within 30 minutes of getting to the hospital. And they were furious with me.
IR: What about other medical emergencies?
TIM: Well, the medical profession is looked down upon because...
SARAH: ... it's Jewish.
TIM: That, and they feel like doctors don't really heal, that they just write a prescription but are not really healing people.
IR: Did these beliefs affect you directly?
SARAH: I had sick children and they refused to take me to the doctor. I finally got one of Tim's aunts to take me with Jared, when he was a baby. It turned out he had a double ear infection and the doctor was ready to hospitalize him, he was so sick.
Their idea was if you take him to the hospital then the doctor might do something bad. Like they don't believe in immunizations.
IR: Both Dan Gayman and the Church of Israel generally seem very well financed. How did they find enough money to continue growing?
TIM: My dad would roll out the red carpet for people with money. One guy named Gerry Gentry gave something like $500,000 in a matter of six years, to the church, to different things.
And there are countless others who have given. There is one man who was very faithful and would come every feast day and even between feast days. He would give about $900 a month to the church.
SARAH: There was this very elderly man from California named Harry Uridge. He'd been saving his money his whole life and getting the Watchman from Dan. He went out there right before he died. Dan does not value older people, and this man was almost completely deaf, but Dan realizes that this is a big tither.
Dan sent his brother to buy earphones for this man right away, so he could hear the sermon. Next thing I know, Harry is living there with one of Tim's uncles. He's buying tools for them, buying farm equipment for him. Then he's buying farm equipment and tools for the church.
Then he's buying land and he's putting it in some kind of trust. He's giving land to Tim's brother and Tim's parents and Tim's uncle.
Then Harry moves in with another couple, he dies and leaves all his money to the church. And so they build this big building and they call it "Harry's Ark" for about a year before they call it something else. This man was just used.
IR: In the end, both of you decided to leave. How did that occur?
SARAH: I left before Tim, and it was very, very tough. But there were things that had bothered me a lot. There was a family who came to the church who had two Native American kids who were dark-skinned. They were the most sweet, obedient, well-mannered kids. After a while, Deloris told them that they couldn't bring their children any more.
And I just agonized over that. I could not believe it. I realized that's what these people are all about. I was really having a crisis, spiritually and emotionally. It made me really examine what I believed.
Dan was saying to Tim, "Do you think she has demons? Maybe she's having a nervous breakdown or is a schizophrenic." There was no basis for it, except that I was real unhappy. But that's the way they are. What they can't control, they destroy. All women who disagree with them are insane or possessed by demons.
It was a slower process for Tim because he'd been raised in it. But after I moved out, he joined me in Springfield, where we lived in a liberal neighborhood with Jewish families. They were nice normal people, and they weren't going to sacrifice our children. Tim got to be friends with a black guy and a Jewish guy he worked with. So we both changed.
You are sometimes forced by your circumstances to realize that these other people are human beings.
IR: And how did the church react?
TIM: When somebody leaves, they just trash that person.
SARAH: A lot of people who have left the church are real intimidated and scared. I know I was. I remember thinking Tim's dad was going to hire a hit man to take care of me.
IR: Do you think now that any of those fears were realistic?
TIM: They just want to scare and harass us. They might talk like that, but they have got too much to lose — too much land, too many assets, that they would lose if they had a bunch of people with guns storming around there and the authorities came out.
They want for it all to look legitimate. But the reality is a little different. It's like, "I'm a Christian and I know who I am and I hate everybody."