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.