Longform

Apocalypse Now(ish): Irvin Baxter's End Times Empire

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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).

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan