Montana Church Member Spared Jail Time for Illegal Weapons Purchase
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ The security chief of a Montana church that teaches nuclear war is inevitable was sentenced to three years probation for using false identification to buy weapons for 200 members.
Vernon Hamilton, 42, a 15-year member of the Church Universal and Triumphant, also was fined $1,000 by U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush.
Hamilton said the firearms were only intended to protect members from nuclear war.
″They were intended for myself and Mr. Francis (church vice president Edward Francis) to be used only to protect our loved ones and community in the event of a holocaust that would destroy civilization as we now know it,″ Hamilton said.
The church, which teaches a blend of Eastern and Western religions, is located on 33,000 acres of land bordering Yellowstone National Park in Park County, Mont. Members have built bomb shelters on the property in preparation for what they believe is an inevitable nuclear war between world superpowers.
Members follow the teachings of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, who is said to receive spiritual and metaphysical messages from ″ascended masters″ such as Jesus Christ.
Hamilton pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to use false identification to purchase $150,000 worth of weapons and ammunition.
He was arrested July 7 in Spokane, and a search of his car and a rented storage space turned up seven .50-caliber assault rifles, several sniper rifles and armor-piercing and tracer ammunition. Federal agents also found $26,000 in cash and gold coins and documents indicating plans to outfit 200 people with military-style assault weapons.
Hamilton said he used bogus identification to spare the church from ″public ridicule.″ He said Francis, the church’s vice president and business manager, supplied him with the money to buy the weapons.
Francis has also pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and will be sentenced Dec. 15, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice.
Prophet, called ″Guru Ma″ or simply ″Mother″ by followers, has said church leaders did not sanction the arms purchase.