FROMBERG – A religious group led by a man who claims to be the Holy Ghost has moved to the Fromberg area after a brief stay in a small Idaho town where residents protested the group’s building plans.
Their Fromberg neighbors are wary of the group and law enforcement officials have been notified of the group’s activities in Utah and Idaho.
Members of the Church of the Firstborn and General Assembly of Heaven had fled to Idaho from Utah last year after their large home in a Salt Lake City suburb was raided by federal officials investigating claims of child sexual abuse and assassination threats against President Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Last September, the group started moving from Idaho into two homes on a lot at 605 Bridger-Fromberg Road. The main home had been rented by Larry Daniels, who was sentenced last week to prison for murdering his adult son in the house.
The church is led by 43-year-old Terrill Dalton, who said group members are peaceful and felt drawn to Montana.
“We all prayed about where to go next and a lot of people had the same feeling that we ought to go to Montana, somewhere nigh unto Billings, not the city, but nearby,” Dalton said.
Church members are spread among two houses on the property, a 5-acre lot with several sheds, campers, a utility trailer, a large passenger van and numerous cars.
Geody Harman is the church’s co-leader, Dalton’s “first counselor.” Asked how many people live on the property, Harman had to stop and count.
“Fourteen or 15, something like that. No, it’s 16,” Harman said. That number includes the 36-year-old Harman’s wife and their nine children.
In Idaho, the church had closer to 30 members, but “weary of the persecution against them,” many of them left the church and declined to follow the group to Montana, he said.
Carbon County Sheriff Tom Rieger said he has been notified about the group by law enforcement officials in both Utah and Idaho.
“I haven’t visited them out there,” the sheriff said. “All I know is that some people moved in, quite a few people moved in.”
The group has got neighbors spooked, said Valerie Wichman, who lives about a half-mile south of the property. First the murder, now this, she said.
“It’s a bad deal. I’m hoping they don’t get to stay here,” Wichman said. “Some around here say the house should just be bulldozed over. I think it should be prayed over. Something’s wrong with that house.”
She said sheriff’s deputies have asked neighbors to watch the compound, noting the cars that come and go and recording their license plate information.
“This whole thing doesn’t feel right,” she said. “It’s no good.”
Last May, the group’s headquarters in Magna, Utah, a blue-collar suburb about 20 miles west of Salt Lake City, was raided by agents of the Secret Service, the FBI, child protective services and local law enforcement officials.
Investigators found nothing and no one has been charged, Dalton said.
He said the allegations were cooked up by a rival church member who conspired with a Texas man who was involved in a child custody dispute with Dalton’s now ex-wife. Dalton is quick to produce a letter from the rival who says he was coerced by the Texas man into making the allegations.
“All that has been cleared up,” Dalton said. “We just want to survive, to get jobs here and be left alone. We’ve been harassed so much, we just don’t want to be harassed anymore.”
A month after the Utah raid, the religious group moved together in a convoy to a small town near Pocatello, Idaho, and then to a house on the nearby Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Their hope, said Dalton, was to build a large dormitory-like building where church members could live together.
The Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Council, however, objected to their request for a building permit, saying the project would strain the reservation’s water and septic services. More than 200 people attended the council meeting to protest the church’s plans, Dalton said.
“People there threw rocks at our cars and called us names. They weren’t very friendly, so we decided to just get out,” Harman said.
Once the church’s property in Idaho is sold, they hope to buy the Fromberg property they are currently renting. That someone was murdered there weeks before they arrived doesn’t bother them.
“It’s OK. We prayed about it. Things happen,” Dalton said.
Dalton works as a computer tech consultant and installs satellite dishes. Harman is a certified welder who said he’s currently “a little between jobs.”
Several other church members work in the area. One daughter has a job in a Billings department store, he said. Other children are attending school in Fromberg. They look forward to settling into their new home and starting a big garden. Several trays of seedlings are already sprouting in a small greenhouse.
“I’m just a man. I work for a living,” Dalton said. “We’re really pretty normal and want to make friends here and just get along.”
Dalton said he grew up an active member of the LDS church. Some years ago, he said, he started receiving spiritual promptings from the Lord that Mormon church members had strayed from the church’s founding principles. In 2004, he said, he received a revelation that he should start a new church. At one time, his new church had as many as 50 members, he said.
He described a two-day fast that ended with a vision of Jesus Christ, who visited him several times in the following days. It was during one of these visits that he said he was told he was the Holy Ghost and the father of Jesus Christ.
“I know how that sounds, but I don’t think of myself as anything great,” he said. He later met Harman, who described having revelations of his own.
Dalton said over the years he had been collecting stones he felt produced a “unique energy.” He said he showed the stones to Harman, who found several of them to be especially powerful “seer stones.”
Holding the seer stones, Harman said he has been able to view and translate ancient records that help clarify the new church’s mission. Some of the revelations have been published on the church’s Web site.
Residents in the church’s Fromberg neighborhood have been circulating copies of news accounts published in both Utah and Idaho that claim the church has odd sexual practices and that members have practiced doomsday mass suicide rituals.
Dalton acknowledges the church has unconventional views about sex.
“What happens between adults is not my business,” as long as it doesn’t violate the law, he said.
He scoffed at the notion of doomsday rituals.
“Everyone prepares for the future, which is unknown. We don’t preach fear. We’re not violent in any way,” he said.
He also discounted rumors that church members were stockpiling guns.
“We have one gun. It’s a .22, and I don’t even know where it’s at,” Dalton said. “It’s here somewhere, and the shells are in a different place just so it’s safe from kids getting into it.”
The church maintains an active Web site where its teachings and revelations are posted. Whether that prompts new members to join the church, and whether or not those members will migrate to Montana, Dalton said he can’t guess.
“(God) told us to come here and we’re here,” he said. “But what comes in a month, or a year, I don’t know. We’d like to stay. It’s easier to stay.”