Just before dawn one morning in September 1938, an aging Pasadena cultleader named Charles Long woke up with a start and saw a vision. Like most supernatural phenomena manifested in Southern California, it had English subtitles and Disney animation—a luminous hand scrawled "Daniel, Chapter 12" on a spectral blackboard floating near the foot of Long's bed. Before fading away, the hand wrote three dates, the last and most significant, 1945. To a man of Long's perception the meaning' was clear—in seven years the world was going to blow up like a bottle of home brew in a hot room.

Long, a...

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