Religion: Paradise Under Siege

A new-age guru prepares for war in Montana

Back in Malibu it seemed like just another chanting, channeling new-age religion. But under the big skies of Montana, where Elizabeth Clare Prophet moved her Church Universal and Triumphant in 1986, the newcomers struck the locals as ominous. Starting out on a 12,000-acre ranch purchased five years earlier from publisher Malcolm Forbes for $7.7 million, the church rapidly expanded its holdings to 33,500 acres, attracted some 1,000 followers to the region, and launched extensive construction projects. Neighbors feared that the mushrooming community might damage the delicate ecological balance of Yellowstone National Park, which the ranch abuts.

Environmental concerns were overshadowed last...

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