The first time I talked to Brad, I was calling him on the phone to ask about renting a room from him. I dialed his number, and he picked up.
“Hello.” (Brad never answered the phone by saying “Hello?” It was always “Hello.”)
“Hi. This is Ben?”
“Okay, dude, here’s the deal. You can stay here until you figure out what you’re gonna do, and if you steal from me, I’ll break both your arms. Got it?”
“Do you have money?”
“Yeah, I’ve got enough, and I’m going to get a job right away.”
“Okay. You got a car?”
“Is it loud?”
We worked out the finer points of the arrangement, and that was that. I’d never actually met Brad before, but he’d come and spoken at the treatment program I had graduated from, and he came highly recommended by several of the people that I’d come to know through the support network of that organization.
Brad had been a heavy metal drummer in the rock scene during the Eighties and early Nineties. He’d given all that up, though, after becoming somehow convinced that right wing conservative evangelical American Christianity and its particular set of moral idiosyncrasies were the be-all-and-end-all of spiritual enlightenment, and that he and everyone else in the world needed to forsake all logic and common sense and become fully devoted to obeying his own personal interpretation of the King James version of the Holy Bible. I didn’t quite realize that he was that far gone right off the bat, though.
What I did recognize fairly quickly was that there was something very disingenuous about this guy. Let me provide some examples.
Originally, he’d told me that I could rent a couch to sleep on (in a room that was already being rented) for two hundred dollars a month. This was 1998, by the way, when gasoline used to cost eighty-nine cents a gallon. I thought that it seemed a bit weird, but I was only planning on staying with him for a little while. My plan was originally to save up enough money to enroll in a training school for overseas missionaries. Basically, I just wanted to travel to developing countries and help people build houses, learn to read…that sort of thing. So 200 a month for a place to sleep was fine.
We were in the living room one day, about a week later, and he tells me, “Yeah, so I’m gonna need another two hundred from you to cover the rest of the month.”
“Didn’t you say it was going to be two hundred a month? I already gave it to you when I first got here.”
“Yeah, well, rent just went up.”
I don’t think that anyone who knows the guy will dispute me when I say that this scenario was pretty much par for the course when it came to doing any kind of business with Brad. Over the years I would watch him use bait-and-switch tactics like these to defraud people in all kinds of ways. I think the most extreme example of it I ever witnessed was when a man who had become involved with Brad’s organization sold his house and spent a ton of money on recording studio equipment. They ended up falling out over some sort of discrepancy or another, and Brad just kept the equipment.
I’m getting way ahead of myself, though. By the time stuff like that was going on, we were all spending twelve hours a day, six days a week (110 degrees or 50 below zero, it didn’t matter) raising money to the tune of five hundred thousand dollars a year…all under false pretenses.
None of this was going on at first, though. It all started out small, just a bunch of teenagers hanging out in the basement of the townhouse where I lived at the time. Brad would ask people to buy him stuff as a favor and then just never pay them back. They were scared to ask him for the money. Everyone was scared of him, and if you weren’t, then he figured out how to make it so you were. With bigger guys like me, he would just use physical intimidation. I remember during one of our first conversations he randomly just said, “I’d probably end your story in about thirty seconds,” with this calm, cool assurance that just screamed, “I’d do it, too. I’m that kinda dude.” That kind of stuff never did much to impress me, so he figured out other ways to get me to bend. I’ll get to that later, though.
The fact that this guy was also a hardcore fundamentalist Christian at the same time just totally threw me off. I had no idea what to make of the situation. I’d been raised to see Jesus as a nonviolent lover of his enemies…and here was a guy who would tell you that unless you lived after the example of Christ you were going to hell until he was blue in the face, all the while cheating and lying and boasting of his exploits as ‘that dude who did a lot of coke and beat a lot of people up in the Eighties.’
Despite all of this, though, he was able to convince a lot of people that he was the real deal. It wasn’t totally personal charisma, either. There was a method to the madness, and the key weapon in his arsenal of smoke and mirrors was the Bible itself.
You see, there exists a culture in America today in which it is completely possible, if you have enough of the Bible memorized, and if you are able to string enough of it from one end of the room to the other, to convince people to believe that anything you say is the absolute truth. This phenomenon is not limited to our own time and place, either. We see the same basic formula being used to brainwash Muslims in the Middle East. I mean, there are people right now who are beheading children in Iraq, and who believe that they are doing the will of God because someone convinced them that this was a valid way to interpret reality, based on stringing a series of scriptures from the Quran together and presenting it with sufficient personal conviction.