Apocalypse Now(ish): Irvin Baxter's End Times Empire
Endtime founder Irvin Baxter
Irvin Baxter doesn't dance.
It's a rainy fall night in Granbury, a small town about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth. On the stage inside the Calvary Church of Granbury, a young, clean-cut band is blasting a syrupy, guitar-driven ballad: "I'm gonna sing for You like nobody's listening, gonna dance for You like nobody's watching." The lyrics are projected onto a screen hanging behind the stage, so the audience of 250 or so can sing along. Everybody's elbow to elbow in the green pews. A row of folding chairs in the back accommodates the overflow.
It's barely five minutes into the evening, but nearly everyone is on their feet, many with their arms raised beseechingly, looking overcome. Pastor Jacob Stump, center stage, sways, his eyes closed, his head thrown back.
Baxter stands next to him. He's a big man in his late 60s, with a belly to match, a broad, acne-scarred face, a straight white smile and square silver-rimmed glasses. He's sort of shuffling to the music, arms by his sides, singing along and wearing a little half-smile. He has no rhythm. He looks like somebody's bashful uncle, perched on the edge of the dance floor at a wedding.
He's tonight's star, though, the reason all these people have packed Calvary on an inclement weekend night — to attend Baxter's "conference," as he calls it. It's obvious many of them aren't regular congregants. Calvary is a Pentecostal church, and its members are up front, the men in neat suits, the women in roomy dresses and high, stiff hairdos. Near the back, things get a little more disorderly: people in jeans, a pissed-off-looking guy in camo shorts and a "Stand With Israel" shirt, a biker-looking couple whose male half has a balding head of dreadlocks and what looks to be a homemade tattoo on his forehead. With the exception of an assistant pastor from Fiji, everyone in the room is white.
"It's an honor and a privilege to have you in Granbury," Stump tells Baxter, and the room erupts in applause and shouts. Baxter takes the podium, his awkwardness gone.
"It's my first time in Granbury," he tells the crowd. "Let's applaud three times as loud for Jesus Christ." Jesus gets a hearty round, and after a quick joke, Baxter gets down to business. He asks how many people subscribe to Endtime, his magazine. Not many hands go up.
"You probably should," he deadpans. "It's required to make the Rapture." Everyone giggles, slightly scandalized.
Out in the lobby, at a table manned by his adult daughter Jana, Baxter's DVDs await. There are more than a dozen titles, each going for $20. They've got cover art like something you'd see on a video game cover or a heavy metal album, and dramatic titles like World War III: Entrance Ramp for the Antichrist and Master Plan of the Dragon. As part of his four-step instructions to get ready for the collapse of human government and the return of Jesus Christ, Baxter recommends Understanding the Endtime, a 14-DVD set that costs $200. Tonight he's lecturing on "2012 in Bible Prophecy." There's a DVD for that too. Dedicated fans can also purchase Endtime University, a "six semester" set that contains 84 Bible lessons. It costs $595.
On stage, Baxter offers some good news: The world won't end in December 2012. All that stuff about the Mayan calendar or some "Planet X" hitting the Earth is wrong. He shows a few clips from apocalyptic movies; the audience watches tensely as L.A. and New York get wiped out repeatedly for several minutes by meteors, floods and nuclear bombs.
"You wonder why sleeping pill sales are up?" Baxter says, pausing the DVD.
Just because the Mayans were wrong doesn't mean big things aren't afoot. "We're just about in transition. That's what you feel. Even our president talks about a fundamental transition. I don't think he knows what he's talking about, but ..." Baxter starts to go on, but he's interrupted by whoops of approval and applause. He smiles.
"I didn't mean that quite how you took it," he tells them. "We got a loaded crowd here tonight."
How do we know what's really about to happen next? Easy, Baxter says. "It's in your Bible. You won't like it. It's the Battle of Armageddon." The audience doesn't seem fazed, though. Armageddon is what they came for.
Baxter looks around the room and smiles big. "I'm so glad I'm alive right now," he confides. They should be too, he says. They're privileged, special, a chosen generation. They won't be "asleep at the wheel" when the big things hit.
"God put me right where I want to be," he tells them. "To see this whole thing wrap up."
"If you're not ready when it comes, it will sweep you away," Baxter says one morning, about a week before the conference in Granbury. "And so we've been updating our structure. Our purpose is to reach the world with our message."
Time is growing short, though.
"There's a horrific war coming. I wish it would never happen, but it is going to happen. The prophecies never miss." In that war, Baxter says, more than two billion people will die, and the United States will suffer greatly. "I wouldn't be surprised if we lose 25 million."
He's sitting in his office at Endtime Inc.'s headquarters, an unadorned off-white building on President George Bush Parkway in Plano. The lobby has dusky purple walls and a large, gold-trimmed mirror hanging on one wall. Opposite the receptionist's desk are Baxter's DVDs, copies of Endtime magazine and several pamphlets he's written, all displayed on glass shelves. In the next room, a dense cluster of cubicles holds some of Endtime's 40-person staff. A six-foot-high banner in one corner is patterned with an American flag, superimposed with an image of a bald eagle and a message: "Reclaiming America: One Mind at a Time!"
Baxter's office is filled with heavy wood furniture; he nods at an enormous bookshelf that takes up an entire wall. "That's my education right there," he says. A flag of Israel is folded neatly on a ledge, and a menorah sits on the shelf above.
He is largely self-taught. He finished high school but never attended college or seminary. But since age 20 or so, he's been developing and preaching his particular vision for the end times, in which this massive war will kill a third of humanity, and Jesus Christ will return and whisk his followers heavenward after vanquishing the Antichrist.
Plenty of Christians believe in the end of days. But in Baxter's reading of the Bible and world politics, the whole thing will happen very soon. More unusually, he claims that the United States will play a heroic and central role in opposing the forces of the Antichrist.
If Baxter's followers get educated fast and get right spiritually, he tells them, they can expect to rule and reign with Jesus after he returns, in the thousand years of peace that follow. But things are going to get pretty hairy first, with the looming specter of "socialistic one-world government," "rampant homosexuality" and Islam.
Although it's quiet this morning, Endtime HQ is an exciting place to be these days. Last year, Baxter became one of the newest stars of Trinity Broadcasting Network, the most popular Christian TV station in the country. TBN is a juggernaut, with a main studio in Southern California, eight auxiliary studios around the country and five subsidiary broadcast networks. It doesn't subscribe to the Nielsen ratings system, but its popularity is better gleaned from its reported annual revenue anyway: $175 million in 2010, including some $92 million in donations from devoted viewers. And while a series of nasty lawsuits and public scandals have pitted TBN's founding family against itself, a spot on the network is still a ticket to the big-time for Baxter. He pays to be on the network, according to Endtime; they don't pay him. But the number of potential new viewers he could net is staggering.
"He's hit the jackpot," says Rusty Leonard, who runs a nonprofit watchdog group called Ministry Watch.
Even more impressive is where Baxter has landed on the lineup: After just a few years on the Church Channel, TBN's minor leagues, he was recently promoted to a primetime slot on Wednesday nights, 6:30 Pacific, right before TBN founder Paul Crouch's own show, Praise the Lord.
It's an enormous jump for Baxter, who until 2005 was a small-town pastor and traveling evangelist in Indiana, like his own father, Irvin Baxter Sr. "God has been so good to us," he says. Endtime also recently began raising money for another huge effort: a "prophecy college," to be located in downtown Jerusalem.
"What I want to do is to teach the Jews the prophecies of the Bible, so that they're not operating blindfolded," he says. "Because more prophecy will come to pass in Israel than in any other place on earth over the next seven, eight or 10 years," if not sooner, he says. "We're entering the time of the most rapid prophetic fulfillment. So between our television effort, sending magazines out and our prophecy college, we're hoping we can be instrumental in teaching those prophecies to those who will listen."
Baxter is a bona fide news junkie, especially where the Middle East is concerned. His radio show, "Politics and Religion," often delves into ruminations on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process or detailed explanations of troop movements in Syria. He says he reads the Economist regularly, three different English-language Israeli papers, and Drudge Report and Israel's DEBKAFile, two far-right blogs. "I try to read both liberal and conservative sides, try to stay as balanced as I can," he says. But he is deeply conservative, and believes that "religious tolerance" is driving the United States into ruin (along with gayness).
A particular worry is "one-world government" — aka the United Nations. He warns that President Obama may allow the U.N. to take over the United States and somehow prevent Christians from worshipping freely. In a thriller Baxter wrote a few years ago, titled Dark Intentions, the Antichrist is from the former Soviet Union. But a recent writing speculates that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon could potentially be the Antichrist (although he concedes it's "unlikely").
Baxter is also concerned with government surveillance; like many evangelicals before him, he's constantly looking out for the "Mark of the Beast" referenced in Revelation 13. The chapter refers to a strange, monstrous animal, and says that anyone without its mark won't be permitted to buy or sell.
As with everything in Revelation, it's not clear whether the book's author, John of Patmos, was referring to events that had already occurred or future prophecies. Baxter prefers the latter interpretation. He's warned that the Mark of the Beast might be ID cards to be issued under the Real ID Act of 2005, which mandated U.S. drivers to submit to ID checks to get or renew their licenses. False rumors circulated that people would be forced to have microchips implanted in their hands or carry a card that would allow them to be traceable by GPS.
In 2006, Baxter launched a "No National ID" campaign, and sent magazines on the issue to "every senator, congressman, governor and the President of the United States," he says. His website claims that "as a result of these and other efforts," the implementation of the bill was postponed until next year. (The Department of Homeland Security, facing boycotts from many states and complaints from civil liberties advocates, did delay the implementation of the bill, but there's no evidence Baxter had anything to do with it.)
Baxter also says that the Mark of the Beast could potentially be tied to President Obama's health-care mandate. A recent issue of Endtime claimed that language in the bill provides "a small, hidden back door that could be used to test a device like an implantable RFID chip on a small percentage of the population." In fact, the bill's language talks generally about the possibility of instituting electronic records or "patient-based remote monitoring systems," and doesn't refer specifically to microchipping anybody.
"The time is coming when you'll be forced to pledge allegiance to the one-world government," Baxter warns the Granbury crowd. But it may be possible for the United States to fight one-world government oppression and to oppose the Antichrist.
"I can't promise you, but I think we got a real good chance to opt out" of the Antichrist's reign, he tells them. Scripture says that in the last days, the Antichrist is still fighting wars, he explains. "I hope one of 'em is against us. I hope we'll say, 'We're out of here. We're one nation under God!" He has to stop at that point, engulfed in a prolonged wave of applause and shouts of "Glory!" and "Preach it!" from the audience.
The underlying message of Baxter's ministry is that all of this — one-world government, the reign of the Antichrist, the tumultuous last battle and the return of Christ — is set to happen imminently. "I would be guilty of criminal negligence if I did not warn in the strongest of terms that we are now in an unprecedented danger zone," he writes in Endtime's most recent issue. But he's also learned over the years not to get too specific, or make promises he can't keep. In 2006, he told The Dallas Morning News, "We have either just entered or we are just before the beginning of the seven-year period that will end in Armageddon."
These days, when talking to a reporter, he's a little fuzzier on the details. "I definitely could not do that today," he says, when asked whether he can pinpoint an exact date. "Once the final seven years begins and we know it begins, we have specific time-frames." At that time, he says, his math will be "pretty exact, within 45 to 75 days. At some point, we will be quite accurate."
A few years and a few thousand miles from Baxter, an English-Irish priest and theologian named John Darby could also see that the end was approaching. In the 1840s, Darby was particularly scandalized by the telegraph, which he saw as an invention of Cain and a harbinger of Armageddon.
Darby didn't see the events in the Bible, particularly the book of Revelation, as having happened in the past. He preached that many were yet to come, particularly a pair of verses from Thessalonians: "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus, we shall always be with the Lord."
Darby might have been the first to articulate the idea of the Rapture as a future event. But he was far from the last. In 1970, a Houston preacher named Hal Lindsey wrote The Late Great Planet Earth, which predicted that Armageddon would come to pass in the 1980s. The book sold 28 million copies by 1990, a year which Lindsey had seemed certain would never arrive.
Lindsey is still creaking around on TBN talking about prophecy, after a protracted absence brought about by a fight with founder Paul Crouch. Another prophecy show was on until this May, when its host, Grant Jeffrey, died. Jeffrey too sold DVDs and pamphlets about the end times, though his theories didn't age very well. Before his death, he was warning, for about 20 years, of a possible "Russian-Islamic" invasion of Israel.
But the biggest difference between Baxter and his predecessors — between Baxter and anyone else, really — is his claim to have found a reference to the United States in the Bible. This has always been a huge sticking point for many prophecy types, something they struggle to explain: If the book of Revelation accurately predicts both the conditions of our time and an imminent apocalypse, wouldn't it mention the U.S. in there somewhere?
Baxter believes he's found the answer. He describes it as his "first major breakthrough," which he discovered when he was 20 and working as a traveling evangelist with his wife, Judy. There are beasts described in Revelation that are widely believed to represent nations. Baxter noticed that one animal is a lion with eagle's wings. The lion, he concluded, represents England. The eagle's wings represent the United States. The wings are later "plucked" from the lion, Baxter points out, foretelling the Declaration of Independence.
It's all a little obscure for non-prophecy types, but for Baxter, it was a lightning bolt. At the time, he and Judy were holding a revival down in Louisiana. "When I saw these things, I went home to my wife and said, 'Babe, I think I found the United States in the Bible.' I found absolute proof. That became the first chapter of my first book."
That book was A Message to the President, which came out in 1986 and warned Ronald Reagan of the imminence of the end.
In Baxter's interpretation, after the massive war there'll be a climactic final battle, fought in Jerusalem between Jewish soldiers and the forces of the Antichrist. Just as the Jews are losing the fight, Baxter says, Jesus will return.
"All those Jews that have been fighting, they're going to rush out to him," Baxter says in his office, his voice hushed. "They're going to know their messiah's come to save them. They're going to bow before him. And Zachariah 13 says they'll notice these scars on his hands and feet, and they'll say, 'Messiah, where did you get your wounds?' And he will say, 'These are they that I received in the house of my friends.'"
The Jews will then realize the falseness of their doctrine, and understand that Jesus is the true messiah. "Two thousand years of Jewish blindness will come peeling off the Jewish mind," Baxter says. He wipes a hand before his eyes, to symbolize the scales falling away. At that point, he adds, the Jews will know to enroll in his own prophecy college, conveniently located right there in Jerusalem. They're still raising money to buy the building, but they hope it will be open "in the fall of next year."
Meanwhile, Baxter and the other faithful will have been Raptured.
"I'm back here behind them on my white horse watching all this happen," he says, miming the way he'll hold the celestial reigns.
This, too, is noteworthy. Baxter is teaching his audiences that the Rapture won't occur until after the enormous war. In other words, Christians will have to suffer through a period of terrible desolation down here with the sinners. This is not a popular or reassuring point of view. The massively successful Left Behind series, for example, is premised on the idea that believers will be air-lifted out before the really unpleasant stuff hits. Baxter seems to share a bit of tension with Left Behind author Tim LaHaye, whom he's faced off against in televised discussions.
He also displays mild contempt for Harold Camping, the Family Radio founder who infamously set two exact (and exactly wrong) dates for Judgment Day. "I listened to what he said," Baxter says dismissively. "I told everybody it wasn't going to happen. He's totally off in his theology."
Of course, competing pastors will say it's Baxter who's off; one prophesier, a minister named Cohen G. Reckart, says that Baxter's interpretations are nothing less than demonic. On his website, he recalls receiving an issue of Endtime in the mail in the early 1990s. It deeply troubled him, he says. Baxter claimed that an Arab-Israeli peace treaty would be signed any day, leading to Armageddon. "It was the prophecy that grabbed my attention," Reckart writes. As did Baxter's full-page emergency request for a million dollars.
"I've been following him for about 10 years," says a hairdresser named Crystal. She lights a cigarette in the parking lot after the Granbury conference, undaunted by the light drizzle, and explains that she and two other ladies recently set up a weekly Bible study based on Baxter's teachings. She bristles at a suggestion that the teachings come off as alarmist. "Abortions and the day-after pill are all over, and that doesn't seem to bother people," she says. "But they're throwing a big fit about Jesus coming back?"
Baxter has had devotees like Crystal since at least since 1998, when he began his radio show. But Endtime Inc. didn't really take off until 2005, when Baxter was already 60 years old.
As a preacher's son, Baxter spent his entire life in the church, first in Indianapolis, then in Joplin, Missouri, and finally Richmond, Indiana, where his father pastored Oak Park Church for 16 years before handing it over to him. The Baxters are Pentecostal; they believe in the "oneness" of God, rather than a Trinity concept, and teach that full-immersion baptism, being born again and speaking in tongues are mandatory for salvation. As a kid, Baxter struggled with that last part.
"I had been baptized, but I had not received the Holy Ghost," he remembers. "I tried and I couldn't do it. I pretty well had decided I was too evil, at 13 years of age. I figured something was wrong with me."
But one night, listening to a traveling preacher at a revival meeting, Baxter suddenly knew that his time had come. He sat in the pews overcome, listening to the choir as tears streamed down his face.
"I felt God's power on me," Baxter says. His lips and jaw started to quiver and his power of speech started to fail. "I was so hungry for God, I thought, 'I don't care if I make a fool of myself.' I just busted. I really didn't realize what was happening to me for the next two or three or four minutes. Then I heard someone speaking in tongues over the microphone system." It took a moment for him to recognize his own voice. "The church was so happy that the preacher's kid had finally gotten the Holy Ghost that they put the microphone in my face."
After his dad retired, Baxter pastored Oak Park for 33 years, mixing the end times into his general-purpose preaching.
"When I would travel as an evangelist, I would preach on prophecy quite a bit and win a lot of people to God that way," Baxter explains. "But I wouldn't preach on it every night. I preached on other things. Then when I took the church to pastor in Richmond, prophecy was still a big part. But you've got to give people a well-rounded diet."
He authored A Message to the President in 1986 and launched Endtime magazine in 1992, which he says has a circulation of around 22,000 today, plus 3,000 more readers online. He had an early interest in computers, and wrote and designed the first issues on one of the first Apples to hit the market. Before writing Dark Intentions, he also wrote another apocalyptic thriller in 2001, called China War and the Third Temple.
But the struggle between "two full-time jobs" began to wear on him, he says. "I knew I was neglecting my church. Our people were wonderful. They believed in everything we were doing. I'd been their pastor so long, they'd put up with about anything I did. They were so good." But his wife kept urging him to quit, he says, telling him he wasn't paying enough attention to the congregation.
So in 2005, Baxter picked up and moved himself and six other families to suburban Dallas, with a plan to devote himself full-time to prophecy. The families who moved with him were key staffers, the ones who'd been helping him produce the magazine and the radio show.
Endtime Inc., which operates as a nonprofit, started out in a 5,000-square-foot space in Garland, where they remained for two years before moving to their current 15,000-square-foot office in Plano. It was around that time, he says, that God also began talking to him about getting on TV. They built a fully equipped professional TV studio before hitting a serious snag.
"I was so far in debt, I couldn't buy an hour of television time to save my neck," Baxter says. "I said, 'God, I was sure you told me to do this. I couldn't go on television if I had to. What am I supposed to do?'"
Baxter says the TV issue was solved when two men came to him in the same day, one who offered to pay the whole bill for him to appear on Daystar, a slightly less popular Christian channel, and another who would pay for time on TBN. But he still couldn't get anyone at TBN to return his calls.
"Everywhere I turned, there was a blocked door. No response. After two weeks, I called our staff together and said, 'It's God's will for us to be on TBN, because God supplied $25,000 a month. We've got to pray that God's going to open this door.' We had a prayer, maybe right here in this office. I don't remember." A few days later, the phone rang. It was Paul Crouch's personal assistant; the TBN founder had seen Baxter interviewed and taken a shine to him. A couple months later, Baxter was on TBN. "What we couldn't do, God unlocked with the greatest of ease."
There were a few lean years before they finally managed to get those TV spots, though. "We had two years in decline," Baxter says. "I think 2009 and 2010. And those were tough, tough years. We were in survival mode, frankly."
Endtime's IRS filings from 2009 and 2010 actually show significant revenue for those years; in 2010, the most recent year for which records are available, the company earned $1.8 million, $1.5 million of it from donations. But they spent about $1.9 million, including $375,000 on radio and television expenses, almost $200,000 on rent, $137,000 in travel and $45,000 on the conferences.
"Once we went on television, the income has increased back to where it was before," Baxter says, though it's still not much. "We are doing better, even though it's still a month to month deal." Their television bills are enormous, around $70,000 a month. "And that's just the television. That doesn't mean paying the salaries of 35 or 40 employees. It's a big budget, but God supplies. It's almost as though we live on manna here. You go to the mailbox and what's there is what's there."
What's there is growing, and at no small rate. Baxter's daughter Jana, a vice president, estimates that they're on track to bring in around $3.7 million in revenue this year, more than double what they earned in 2010. At the same time, she says, the television exposure has brought a flood of new people to Baxter's conferences. Dramatic current events — wars, assassinations, terror attacks — also tend to bring people to Endtime's door. "Anytime things heat up, people always turn to this ministry."
As a religious nonprofit, Endtime doesn't pay federal income tax. In return, it's supposed to refrain from making political endorsements, and it must have a clearly articulated charitable mission. On its form 990, which nonprofits have to submit to the IRS, it lists that mission this way: "To distribute religious materials throughout the world by radio and mail."
Peddling DVDs and magazine subscriptions does, indeed, seem to be Baxter's mission, but how that mission serves anyone is unclear. It is clear, however, that it serves Baxter's family well.
IRS records show that six of the seven people on Endtime's board of directors are family members: Baxter and his wife; Jana Robbins and her husband, Dave; another daughter of Baxter's, Kara McPeak; and her husband, Gary. Baxter's grandson does their social media, and according to Jana, several of Baxter's grandchildren work at the ministry, along with her own daughter, niece and other relatives.
While that's not technically illegal, the IRS also isn't overly fond of it, says Bruce Hopkins, a nonprofit lawyer who often works with religious groups.
"The IRS is not keen, shall we say, on boards that are comprised of family members or otherwise related individuals," he says. "But frankly as a matter of law, they can't do anything about it. It's not impermissible." That said, Hopkins adds, "If they were trying to get tax-exempt status today, the IRS might give them a hard time."
"That's definitely a bad sign," says Rusty Leonard, more bluntly. He's an investment analyst, a devout Christian and the founder of Ministry Watch, which encourages financial transparency in ministries and religious nonprofits. Family boards, Leonard says, "do not reflect best practices in the non-profit arena. It obviously opens the door for misuse of funds. TBN is the prime example of that."
TBN has been Ministry Watch's biggest target for years, and has attracted equal attention from investigative journalists and secular nonprofit-monitoring groups. Paul Crouch and wife Jan have been sued by their granddaughter, who accuses them of gross financial exploitation of the company; in return, the Crouches have accused her of embezzlement. The lawsuit details lavish spending by the Crouches, on private jets, 13 luxury properties for use by Crouch family members (including "his and hers" mansions for Paul and Jan) and a $100,000 mobile home for Jan's dogs.
Endtime's haul is comparatively more modest. Baxter and his wife live in a $300,000 house in Richardson and don't own any jets, airplanes, mansions or dog RVs. Records show that every board member but Judy collected a modest salary in 2010, ranging from $40,000 for one of the sons-in-law to $61,000 for Baxter himself. The family also spent $137,000 on travel that year, and loaned Baxter $43,000 for renovations. How those expenses have increased alongside Endtime's profile is unclear; its 2011 tax returns are not yet publicly available, and their attorney didn't return several phone calls requesting them. Jana Robbins said she would provide the 2011 tax filings but didn't do so by our publication deadline.
Endtime's heavy emphasis on DVD sales is also something the IRS might not necessarily support, says nonprofit lawyer Hopkins. "It raises some questions," he says. "I'm quite confident if the IRS were to take a look at this organization, it would be intrigued by both its board composition and the fact that it's selling DVDs."
Baxter defends the family board. "Well, we sort of drifted into that," he says. "I have another board, which is a board of advisors, that that is not true of. We've done everything to the best of our ability to reach our goals. And my board of advisors is almost totally non-family members." (This advisory board isn't mentioned on Endtime's IRS filings.)
Baxter is also careful not to make direct political endorsements, though it would be difficult for anyone to miss his broader point. "It appears to me that if President Obama gets re-elected, we're going to be so far into one-world government by the time he's done with another four years that there will probably be no reversing it," he says in his office. "Whereas if Romney were elected, I think we'd reverse that trend."
A video starring Baxter's son-in-law Dave Robbins is titled "Who Should I Vote For In 2012?" It warns against supporting a presidential candidate who favors homosexuality or abortion. When Sarah Palin was still hinting at a presidential run, Baxter told his radio audience, "I'm not campaigning at all for Sarah Palin, but a lot of people say she's not qualified to be president, but she presided over the state of Alaska, which is a lot more than other people have who have become president."
But all this is regarded by the IRS as protected speech, Hopkins says, appropriately far away from a direct endorsement. Baxter and Endtime also haven't given any money to political candidates or causes.
"It sounds like he's quite skillful at going up to the edge and staying on the legally correct side of the line," Hopkins says politely. "He's probably well-advised legally. I hope so."
If there's any inherent tension between planning for the end of days and building a business model around it, Baxter doesn't acknowledge it. He recently renewed Endtime's lease — for another five years.
"Whatever happens, happens," he says, shrugging. "You have to negotiate whatever. If the Lord calls you home tomorrow, well, see you later."
Nor is he necessarily encouraging his viewers to stockpile food or weapons or build fallout shelters in their backyard, though he says that storing extra provisions isn't a terrible idea either.
"I know that it's going to happen," says daughter Jana, referring to Armageddon. "In my own life, yes, I do get in this rut of just living and doing my daily tasks. But I know there's going to come a day when I may sell my home and move to an apartment really close by here so I can be here all the time." As the end draws nearer, she says, Endtime's following will likely grow dramatically. "On Sundays we may get 300 or 400 calls in a day, but I look for the day that we get 10,000. I wouldn't be surprised."
For now, though, all of that — the war, Armageddon, Christ's return, Endtime's phone ringing off the hook and their prophecy college in Jerusalem overflowing — lies in the weeks or months or years ahead. But how far out does that earthly future stretch? Baxter still won't say, but his magazine may hold a clue: It encourages readers to renew their subscriptions, for as long as six years.
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