Weslaco, Texas – The Outer Dimensional Forces, 1966 – Present
Texas has seen no shortage of cults with some very strange beliefs. Among those who claim a connection to UFOs, probably none is weirder than the Outer Dimensional Forces (ODF), also known as the Armageddon Time Ark Base Operation. ODF is a UFO-believing religious group, anticipating an impending apocalypse, based in Weslaco, Texas. The group was founded by Orville T. Nodrog on September 3, 1966. According to local newspaper records, Nodrog was a long-time resident of Weslaco.
On July 16, 1985, eight years before the notorious raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, U.S. federal agents raided the ODF compound in Weslaco, seizing close to a dozen weapons and looking the place over with a fine-tooth comb.
The group’s beliefs are outlined in a rather enigmatic document entitled The State of Time Station Earth. The group claims that, having “returned” in 1966, the Outer Dimensional Forces found that humans had destroyed the pristine Earth. The document discusses such topics as the humans’ inefficient use of the Circle as the friction-generating wheel and the endangerment of mankind by the Armageddon Disease (that is, AIDS). They believe that great advances were possible for humans, by means of a “Universal Time Bank” of energy, but that the wicked governments of man had ruined this potential. For this reason, they believed that the purgation of the Earth in order to facilitate future, responsible habitation was inevitable and necessary.
In recent years, the group has fallen back into obscurity. It is not clear whether Nodrog, last seen in his nineties, is yet living or whether he has since died. The ODF web site remains online, and it still lists a post office box address in Weslaco, Texas.
Blogger Eduardo Martinez posted the following in 2009: “Orville T. Gordon founded the Outer Dimensional Forces (aka Armageddon Time Ark Base Operation) on September 3rd, 1963 in Weslaco, TX. The cult has been extremely controversial over the decades, and at one point the CIA even went in to raid the place [Actually, it was the ATF, not the CIA]. For many years, the Wal-Mart that is right next to the Armageddon Time Ark Base, has tried their best to buy them out and just get rid of them…. Orville T. Gordon renamed himself Nodrog (yeah it’s Gordon spelled backwards…), refused to sell out and for decades has been claiming that the creator will destroy the Earth with the greatest of all floods (this is our punishment for the nosey CIA bothering Nodrog and his friends) and he and his followers will be flying away in UFOs to live happily ever after. Apparently, Nodrog claims that the area he owns right next to Wal-Mart, Church’s Chicken, and Pizza Hut is the landing pad for the aliens to arrive. Gordon would go to the local pulga and sell stuff like honey and fruits but he would also sell space on the UFO for anyone interested in leaving the Earth when the time came (which Nodrog claimed was SOON!).”
Martinez also includes a quote from the book Mavericks: A Gallery of Texas Characters by Gene Fowler: “Orville T. Gordon came to the Rio Grande Valley from Wisconsin in the 1930s and opened a lumberyard in Weslaco, according to data gathered by Douglas Curran. After conflicts with local and federal tax authorities in the early 1960s, Gordon closed the business and began expanding his philosophical horizons. As Orville T. Gordon transformed himself into O.T. Nodrog, the lumberyard morphed into the Armageddon Time Ark Base Operation. In 1963, according to Nodrog literature,Yahshua Hamashiia, said to be the son of the Creator,Yahweh, ordained Nodrog as Earth Coordinator, or channeler, of the Outer Dimensional Forces.”
Martinez also references another book, In Advance of the Landing by Douglas Curran, which also tells a similar story about Nodrog’s origins.
Garland, Texas – Chen Tao Cult, 1997-2000
Chen Tao (“True Way”) was a UFO religion that originated in Taiwan. It was by Hon-Ming Chen (born 1955) who first associated it with UFOs, and later had the group misrepresented as a New Age UFO cult. Chen was a former professor who claimed to be atheist until he joined a religious cultivation group, which dated back for two generations to the original female founder, Teacher Yu-Hsia Chen. But he broke with the group headed by the third-generation teacher in 1993 and created, with another fellow-cultivator, Tao-hung Ma, their own groups. It was later when he broke with Ma and decided to move to the US that new elements such as the pseudo-scientific information of cosmology, and flying saucers, as well as Christian motifs of the prophecy of the end and the great tribulation, etc., were introduced into the group.
In Taiwan, the group was originally officially registered as The Chinese Soul Light Research Association. When the group moved to the USA from Asia, it was registered in the US as God’s Salvation Church and first relocated to San Dimas, California. Adherents moved to Garland, Texas in 1997.
This New Religious Movement was a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and UFOlogy. They emphasized transmigration of souls and three souls per person, and placed great emphasis on spiritual energy. They also believed in “outside souls” who basically acted as bad influences in human world or even as demons.
Chen believed that the Earth went through five tribulations going back to the age of the dinosaurs. Each of these tribulations were survived by beings living in North America who were rescued by God in a flying saucer. He believed the solar system is 4.5 trillion years old, or roughly 300 times the age science gives for the Universe. He believed that the solar system was created by a nuclear war.
The group is best known for a highly publicized, and failed, millennial prophecy. Shortly after moving to Garland in August 1997, Chen predicted that at 12:01 a.m. on March 31, 1998 God would be seen on a single television channel all across North America. Whether or not the person had cable service was irrelevant to God’s appearance on that channel.
The group reportedly moved to Garland because the name sounded like “God Land.” At the time the group had roughly 160 members, 40 of which were children. Members purchased more than 20 homes in an upper-middle class south Garland neighborhood. Like their neighbors, these followers were white-collar professionals, some of whom were reportedly wealthy. “They dressed in white, wore cowboy hats and drove luxury cars,” according to The Dallas Morning News. “They reportedly believed that two young boys in their group were the reincarnations of Jesus and Buddha. They told reporters they had come to Garland to watch God come to Earth and take human form at 10 a.m. on March 31, 1998, at the home of Mr. Chen, a former college professor.”
The Garland Police Department, understanding the potential gravity of the situation, coordinated resources, including Southern Methodist University religious studies professor Lonnie Kliever, and were on stand-by when the international media began arriving in what had previously been an upper-middle class section of the Dallas suburb. “Its presence unsettled many Garland residents,” wrote Adam Szubin in a law enforcement case study. “They did not understand the group’s different style of dress and behavior, and many feared violence. Throughout the group’s stay, the [police] department maintained contact with community members and informed them of investigation developments and contingency plans for the community’s well being. ”
When the predicted appearance did not occur, the group became confused. “The Chen Tao leader announced that he obviously had misunderstood God’s plans, and members quietly returned to their homes,” wrote Szubin. Chen offered to be stoned or crucified for the event, but no one took him up on this offer. He had earlier made a false prediction of finding a “Jesus of the West” who would look like Abraham Lincoln.
Unlike other millennial religious groups such as Millerites, Chen Tao seems to have effectively fallen apart after its leader’s prophecies were unfulfilled. Immediately after the failed prediction some of the members had to return to Taiwan due to visa problems. In total, roughly two-thirds abandoned the group. Later the remaining members moved to Lockport, New York. They continued to wear cowboy hats, but began stating a war between China and Taiwan would lead to a nuclear holocaust. This would result in much death, but also God arriving in a “God plane” to save the members. They originally stated this would occur in 1999, but later revised the date.
Whether the group still exists is at best uncertain. The group entered a sharp decline after the failed prophecies and virtually nothing was heard of them after 2001. The current whereabouts of Hon-Ming Chen are unknown.
Spur, Texas – Marshall Herff Applewhite, 1972-1997
Before he was the leader of the “Heaven’s Gate” UFO cult and in 1997 persuaded all of the cult’s members to commit suicide in order to be “transported” onto a UFO that he claimed was hidden in the tail of comet Hale-Bopp, Texas-native Marshall Herff Applewhite was well known to authorities in Texas and had previously had a number of run-ins with law enforcement.
Born in Spur, Texas, in 1931, Applewhite had a Presbyterian minister father, and his early life revolved around religion. He attended Corpus Christi High School, Austin College, and later Union Presbyterian Seminary. He left his theology studies to become a music instructor. Later, he taught music at the University of Alabama but lost his job for having a sexual relationship with a male student. After returning to Texas, he served as the chair of the music department at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. He left the school in 1970 due to “emotional turmoil.” He became severely depressed following the death of his father in 1971.
In 1972, he met and became close friends with Bonnie Nettles, a nurse in a Houston hospital. The two discussed mysticism at length and concluded that they were called as “divine messengers.” They unsuccessfully attempted to open a bookstore and teaching center, and then began, in earnest, to spread their views.
In February 1973, they resolved to travel to teach others about their beliefs and drove throughout the Southwest and Western U.S. Their travels are described as a “restless, intense, often confused, peripatetic spiritual journey”. While traveling, they had little money and occasionally resorted to selling their blood or working odd jobs for much-needed funds. They subsisted solely on bread rolls at times, often camped out, and sometimes did not pay their lodging bills.
In 1974, Applewhite was arrested in Harlingen, Texas, for failing to return a Missouri rental car. The newspaper article below, written a year after his arrest, is quite insightful regarding his beliefs and methods, many of which were still in place at the time of the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide.
After his Texas arrest, he was extradited to St. Louis and jailed for six months. At the time, he maintained that he had been divinely authorized to keep the car. While in prison, he pondered theology and subsequently abandoned discussion of occult topics in favor of extraterrestrials and evolution.
After his release, he traveled to California and Oregon with Nettles, eventually gaining a group of committed followers. Applewhite and Nettles told their followers that they would be visited by extraterrestrials that would provide them with new bodies. Applewhite initially stated that he and his followers would physically ascend to a spaceship, where their bodies would be transformed, but later, he came to believe that their bodies were mere containers of their souls, which would be placed into new bodies. These ideas were expressed with language drawn from Christian eschatology, the New Age movement, and American popular culture.
Applewhite and Nettles were mentioned by Donald Menzel and Ernest Taves in their influential 1977 book The UFO Enigma: “The general idea is that they are messengers from a heavenly kingdom, whose advance men were the writers of the Book of Revelation.” According to the authors, Applewhite and Nettles were being sued by a former member of their cult who “says she has paid for an UFO trip and been defrauded.”
The group received an influx of funds in the late 1970s, which it used to pay housing and other expenses. In 1985, Nettles died, leaving Applewhite distraught and challenging his views on physical ascension. In the early 1990s the group took more steps to publicize their theology. In 1996, they learned of the approach of Comet Hale–Bopp and rumors of an accompanying spaceship. They concluded that this spaceship was the vessel that would transport their spirits aboard for a journey to another planet. Believing that their souls would ascend to the spaceship and be given new bodies, all the group members committed mass suicide in their mansion.
A media circus followed the discovery of their bodies. In the aftermath, commentators and academics discussed how Applewhite persuaded people to follow his commands, including suicide. Some commentators attributed his followers’ willingness to commit suicide to his skill as a manipulator, while others argued that their willingness was due to their faith in the narrative that he constructed.