"You deserve to die, Bob Larson ... I'll brand Satan's cross on YOUR forehead!" F1 Such are the threats of Glen Benton, lead singer (and I use that term advisedly) of the Tampa-based death-metal band, Deicide. Even in his photographs, the burly 25-year-old rocker looks as sinister as his music sounds, right down to the inverted cross -- his `trademark' -- burned into his forehead.
A challenge like that, from a self-professing "Satanist," would frighten any sane man. But the object of Benton's attention, veteran Christian talk-show host Bob Larson, shows no fear. In a fund-raising letter, he boasted that he will face Benton anywhere -- "with the armor of the Lord and the power of God's word."F2 Benton reiterated his threats while in Denver on a recent concert tour, but Larson was so confident that, to the best of our knowledge, he never even bothered to press charges.
July 15, 1993. Larson appears as a guest on Ft. Lauderdale radio station WFTL, denouncing death-metal bands like Slayer and others as "posers" who are merely in it for the money. But when host Pat Stevens asked him whether he was in the ministry for the money, he indignantly said that he was "insulted" that she would even ask that question. And that's where I came in.
My opening salvo was familiar to CPR readers: "The primary mission of Bob Larson Ministries is to minister to the extravagant financial needs of Bob Larson; the kids are just an alibi."F3 I followed by reiterating three basic charges: (1) although he tells his audience that his ministry was on the edge of financial disaster, it was sitting on nearly $2 million in cash;F4 (2) even though he supposedly earned a modest $69,000 salary from the Ministry, his total compensation package from Ministry sources was somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000 per year,F5 and (3) while we had a copy of a letter from his attorneyF6 clearly indicating that he did not -- in any meaningful sense of the word -- write his best-selling novel, _Dead Air_, he still claimed authorship. I further outlined the documentation we have at our disposal, which includes contracts, the Ministry's audited financial statements, and other documents signed under penalty of perjury.
As a guest, Larson didn't have his `panic button' handy; he became almost apoplectic. His calm, self-assured facade gave way; his voice betrayed a chilling sense of desperation. You see, it is quite easy to refute the ravings of a madman ... but facing up to several pounds of hard documentation is quite another matter. Unable to respond intelligently to my charges, Larson resorted to a ferocious _ad hominem_ assault -- accusing me of complicity in a litany of criminal acts, and labeling me a "stalker" who has hounded him for years. And then, he adroitly tried to change the subject:
"You want to talk about my novel. If you want to talk about that I'll be happy to discuss it; if you want to talk about the personal private affairs or the personal marital affairs of the other gentlemen in the room -- and let's bring all those issues out in the open -- and we want to make that the subject..."F7Stevens saw through Larson's blatant diversionary tactic, and would have none of it:
PS: "Well, what we want to talk about, Bob, is Bob Larson Ministries, and Bob Larson Ministries is what you had, and that's -- that seems to be what's being taken into issue here."The phone fell silent. Bob Larson, that proud spiritual warrior, a grizzled veteran of hundreds of exorcisms, simply hung up. And, when the people at WFTL tried to get him back, he evidently refused: "He's afraid of your long-distance caller. He won't go back on the air."F9
BL: "We're not here to talk about Bob Larson Ministries."
PS: "Well, I'm here to talk about Bob Larson Ministries. Are you ashamed of your involvement with the Ministries? Are you not willing to confront this individual?"
BL [interrupting]: "I, er..."
PS: "If he's actually a liar, then you should be really anxious to be able to point it out on the air, and PROVE he's a liar!"
BL: "Pat, if you know anything about pathological stalkers, you know the most dangerous thing you can do is to allow these people any further opportunity, and I will not threaten the lives of my family..."
PS: "Sounds to me like you're a chicken, Bob. Sounds to me like you're too darned afraid to bring this up ... and I think you'd better pray to God, and have a little bit of strength and courage and confront this issue."F8
Let's put this incident in its' proper perspective. Bob Larson can look the Devil in the eye -- and, make him blink. He can face avowed Satanists like Glen Benton and Vince Crowley (of the death-metal band Asheron) without fear -- for he knows that the armor of the LORD will protect him. But yet, he flees in stark terror from the inquiries of a certified public accountant?
_Res ipsa loquitur_ (the thing speaks for itself).
Judge not, lest ye be judged....
As _World_ editor Joel Belz pointed out,F10 Bob Larson's teachings are the picture of orthodoxy. Thus it is not that he doesn't believe the Scriptures, but rather, that he believes they apply only to mere mortals -- best-selling authors and commentators are, of course, exempt. For little gods like Bob, do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
For instance, in a letter to Christian talk-show host John Stewart, Larson chastises him for his supposed "efforts to publicly bring harm to the Lord's work" and invokes Matthew 7:1: "... in the same way you judge others, you will be judged (NIV)."F11 Further, he has vilified his other critics, charging them with perpetrating "vicious attacks" and engaging in "unethical" conduct on occasions too numerous to mention.F12
Therefore, if he is to have the right to judge us, his conduct in this affair must itself be reasonably ethical, and devoid of vindictiveness. In that light, let us consider how Bob Larson has conducted his affairs.
In the winter of 1988, a Larson employee leaked internal BLM memos to Christianity Today outlining a scheme wherein Bob would feign illness, so that he could take his annual vacation in Maui without suffering a drop in donations. Of course, the memos mysteriously disappeared ... and just three weeks later, that "extremely mentally unstable" employee, as Larson put it, was fired.F13 The employee, Yvonne Morgan, sued Larson shortly thereafter; some of the allegations made in her pleadings are decidedly intriguing:
"7. After her probationary period, Plaintiff became aware of unusual, and improper practices, including practices which she believed to be unlawful.Larson quietly settled this case out of court for $30,000, F15 and if the allegations Morgan made had any grounding in fact, advisedly so. In defense of Larson, the line separating illegal from unethical conduct is not always a clear one. However, the Morgan incident is evidence of Larson's modus operandi: the strategy he employs to neutralize his critics.
8. Upon realizing that unlawful practices were occurring, including but not limited to donors being provided false information concerning the financial needs/expenditures of Bob Larson Ministries, ...
9. In response to a request for feedback from Defendant, Bob larson, Plaintiff provided written memoranda, as well as provided verbal input concerning what she believed to be improper practices, including the hiring of an individual, and the ministry paying her a substantial sum of money when it was obvious to Plaintiff, and others, that the primary purpose in her being hired to work for the ministry was a personal one of Defendant, Bob Larson.
10. A great deal of undue stress, and other intentional conduct was perpetrated against Plaintiff, including but not limited to her receiving a memo, shortly before she was terminated, to the effect that `your body is going to be found floating face down in the river'....
28. From the time that Plaintiff began opposing the unlawful practices of Defendants, she has been receiving, and continues to receive harassing phone calls at home."F14
Lori Boespflug, World's `star witness', reported that Larson hurled personal threats at her as well. In my July 1992 interview with her, she related her firing (on a Saturday night, at her daughter's dance recital) in lurid detail -- among the myriad vulgarities he unleashed during his tirade, he pledged to "make her life a living hell."F16 It is, ironically, one of the precious few promises that he has, on some level, been able to keep.
Larson's penchant for defaming his opponents is, if anything, even more pronounced. However, the shameless methods he will resort to in order to get his `mud' are so far beyond the pale of ethical behavior as to speak for themselves. You can imagine my shock when I received a copy of this internal Bob Larson Ministries memo from one of my BLM sources:
"TO: Angelo [Diasparra, BLM vice-president]Larson has never disputed the authenticity of this memo -- instead, he has claimed that it was the product of computer theft.F18 But even if it was obtained from the Ministry via gunpoint, it still shouldn't change the fact that Larson was intent upon gathering information on me that can have only two conceivable purposes: blackmail or revenge. [Incidentally, upon receiving said memo, I immediately turned it over to the custody of the Lakewood (CO) Police Department;F19 my copy was obtained from Jon Trott of _Cornerstone_ magazine.]
RE: Rummerfield [Golden, CO-based private investigator David]
FROM: Bob Larson
I think you need to talk over with Chris J. [Chris Johnson, the Ministry's general counsel] the options he has indicated.
I am not impressed with his report. Is this all we get for the money spent? He hasn't reached any conclusions we didn't already know. I thought we'd get some serious info about Ken Smith that couldn't be obtained by any reasonable person by just reading his letters. I hesitate to go forward unless he does some serious detective work...Smith's finances, employment situation, comings and goings, relationships...anything we can do to put some heat on him.
Also, by now you should have checked up on the Susan Miller situation and returned her call. (Be careful for a set up.) We don't need Rummerfield for that. You call and find out what you can."F17
In an interview on Wichita radio station KNSS, Larson explained the memo in the following manner:
"It was a private communication with regards to threats upon my life ... with regards to arson threats upon my property."F20If there is any nexus between that memo and supposed arson threats, it is tenuous in the extreme. The Lakewood P.D. did report one incident, but it has more the flavor of a high-school prank than anything else. As the reporting officer described it, this purported "threat" consisted of a photograph of two unidentifiable individuals -- wearing hooded robes and apparently "holding a flaming bottle of beer" -- allegedly standing outside his house. The message on the back of the photograph read, "This Bud's for you, Sh**head! Happy Halloween P.S. Love your house $441,000."F21 As might have been expected, Larson fingered me as a suspect, if for no other reason than I was getting a tad too close to uncovering the skeletons in his Ministry's closet.
None of Larson's opponents have been spared from his naked and vindictive `verbal muggings'. His latest victim (aside from myself) was Chicago-based _Cornerstone_ magazine:
[in response to a caller] "No, _Cornerstone_ is not a reputable magazine. They've been on a `kick' for the last two years to destroy anyone who speaks out against Satanism, and they will stoop to any tactic, they will lie, they will misrepresent any fact, and they will twist anything.... And what they did to me -- the lies they were willing to dis tribute and the things they were willing to tell that were flat out lies ... and they know than they were lies ... and the kind of, uh, uh, I wouldn't expect out of the National Enquirer what they did behind the scenes in the most ugly -- the most incredible, ugly kinds of ways to destroy me...."F22What Larson unquestionably objected to the most is that _Cornerstone_ reprinted the most damning evidence against him, a letter from attorney William T. Abbott -- which clearly indicates that Larson did not, in fact, write "his" best-selling novel, _Dead Air_. And, although he evidently lacks the courage to address these issues in a neutral site against a knowledgeable opponent, he has seen fit to respond to the charge in the comparative safety of his own studio (the caller raising the question was heavily censored, and was not afforded a chance to comment). His explanation is as follows:
[re: a follow-up question on Mike Warnke] "It isn't just an issue of what they said about Mike that was true or not true, it's how they went about it ... the tactics -- the unethical, illegal tactics they used to bring Mike down. It was vicious, and it was ugly. I know what went on behind the scenes, and it's some of the same kind of junk they tried to pull against me."F23
"What they [_Cornerstone_] printed was plain and simple: An attorney, that represented this ministry a couple of years ago, became concerned about an employee who might try to assert unreasonable rights, claiming contributions to the book that were lies, and he was warning me in advance about that. In fact, that very employee was fired for immoral reasons [sic], turned around and did make the allegations I was warned about in that idiotic letter that was a stolen document of confidential private information between attorney-client privilege [sic], had to do with an attempt by this very individual, and all the attorney was trying to was warn me that that might happen. That's all!"F24While Larson is a master at making it look as if he is the victim, the letter he is referring to paints a drastically different picture. Phrases like "knowing the role Lori has played," "I know how I would advise her in this regard," and "You will be required to write more" make it self-evident that Larson's attorney knew full well that Lori Boespflug could lay a legitimate claim to the authorship of _Dead Air_. Standing alone, that letter (and Larson's misrepresentation of it) is highly incriminating. However, in the light of a wealth of corrobo rating evidence (e.g., signed contracts, letters from Thomas Nelson editor Janet Thoma to Boespflug, a Form 1099-MISC, authentication of the letter by Bill Abbott himself, et al.), it becomes the proverbial `smoking gun'.
Larson's other contentions are either ad hominem or non-sequiturs. Ms. Boespflug was in fact fired for living with her fianc, but there is fairly convincing evidence that there was a lot more to that story than meets the eye. But regardless of the moral judgment you pass on her conduct (do keep in mind that Larson divorced his wife -- not the other way around -- and recently married a divorce nearly 20 years his junior)F25, it should not lessen her credibility in the slightest. If anything, it adds credence to her testimony -- she didn't even try to deny it, despite the fact that she "was certain" that she would be fired for admitting it.F26
Along similar lines, Larson's claim that the Abbott letter was subject to the `attorney-client privilege' is equally ludicrous. If, as Larson states, Bill Abbott was in the employ of Bob Larson Ministries -- as opposed to Bob Larson individually -- then that document was in fact Ministry property. Hence, Boespflug, a corporate officer,F27 had a clear right to possession, and, arguably, a fiduciary obligation to disclose Larson's ultra vires activities. Conversely, even if Abbott was in his employ at the time that letter was written, the attorney- client privilege can be lost through client negligence. Besides, if Bill Abbott was representing both the corporation and Bob Larson personally, all sorts of conflict-of-interest problems come up. Thus it would seem that Boespflug obtained that letter both legally and ethically. Consequently, so did _Cornerstone_'s Trott.
But even if _Cornerstone_ editor Jon Trott broke into Larson's office and stole the "Abbott letter" from his personal drawer, that wouldn't change the fact of its existence, nor would it make it less true that "his" best-selling novel was, for all practical intents and purposes, ghost-written.
I respectfully submit that Bob Larson does not have the requisite standing to complain that he is the victim of unethical conduct. The common law has an old saying: "He who asks equity must do equity."
I could go on (and have, in my earlier article, _"The Two Faces of Bob"_), but trust that I have made my point. Bob Larson is a liar and a rogue -- a man with the conscience of Jeffrey Dahmer, the grace of Sean Penn, and the courage of Roberto Duran. His holy grail is naked power; he cares not about those he would use and destroy in order to attain it. I've seen the evidence, spoken to the victims....
And Bob knows it. That's why he fears me.
NFor Whom the Bell Tolls...
It is perhaps fitting that, by his own words, Bob Larson has sealed his fate. Responding to a caller who criticized him for his penchant for attacking cults like the Mormons and Masons, he said:
"Sir, when people claim to be Christian, or Christ-like, and they are lying to the public, I consider it my Biblical responsibility -- MY BIBLICAL RESPONSIBILITY -- to take a stand."28And all across the country, good Christians are beginning to take a stand. One former `Bob-backer' went so far as to pass out copies of _"The Two Faces of Bob"_ at his appearance in Dallas -- and was quickly escorted from the premises by Larson's security people. A gentleman in Wichita, after hearing Larson's interview there, took it upon himself to offer us a donation (we don't accept them). Still others are joining this fight in more subtle ways: not contributing to BLM, boy-cotting Thomas Nelson, and making their opinion known on the nation's bulletin boards.
But the real heroes of this story are where you would least expect to find them: inside the walls of Bob Larson's own fortress. Even at the risk of their careers, they provided a steady stream of essential intelligence. When Bob strutted his stuff on the town with his latest lovely, we knew about it. When Bob prepared to launch his counter-attack, we were ready for it. And when Bob threw his world-class hissy fit, storming out of his office after our little confrontation in Wichita, we heard about it. Sad fact is, these people might never be able to take their well-deserved bows. They were willing to place the truth above even their own livelihood; that demands courage.
Where people dare to lead, their leaders care to follow.
Regrettably, the record of the Christian journalistic community has not been quite as exemplary; the word "abysmal" would be rather kind. Still, there are indications that even these self-serving sycophants will see the train before it hits them. Even David Neff -- who bears ultimate responsibility for the whitewash job in _Christianity Today's "Bob on the Block"_ -- candidly acknowledged that I have provided him "with materials which suggest that indeed something is rotten in Bob Larson's ministry."F29 (Of course, he was nowhere to be found when his candor would have been useful, but that is another story, for another place and time.) Who knows, maybe even Doug Trauten will "get religion," as my Con Law professor is wont to say. Folks like Anton Hein and the people at _Cornerstone_ deserve kudos for their courage ... but they are exceptions, not the rule.
Those station owners who carry Larson's programs could arguably be cited as complicitors in this sordid affair. Bob Larson, despite his consistent claim of poverty, is easily one of the best "pays" in the business. When considering whether to pull "Talk-Back," CKER general manager Diana Parker observed that they would be "lucky" to sell that time slot to another Christian broadcaster for 50% of what Bob Larson paid.F30
Another station owner -- who swapped anonymity for candor -- admitted that if he lost "Talk-Back," he might have to close his station.F31 It is difficult to resist the allure of easy money -- only a handful of stations (including CKER, one of Canada's "ethnic" stations, and WHLV (whose owner, Garyl Gibson, did the original work on Larson)) found the strength to resist. By contrast, Anchorage pastor Jerry Prevo, a BLM board member that reputedly has an interest in one of Larson's most profitable stations, has stood by in silence.
But no one is more deserving of scorn than Thomas Nelson president Sam Moore. Under his leadership, Nelson has fallen to a standard of depravity which isn't even tolerated by that supposed `object lesson in moral decay' called Hollywood. When it was discovered that Milli Vanilli did not record the vocals on one of their best-selling songs, the entire musical world was outraged; when it was learned that Larson did not write "his" best-selling novel, the mavens of `mainstream morality' were strangely quiescent. And now, we know why: Jerry Falwell's ghost-writer is gay.F32
Divine justice at work.
Maybe it is. Whether it is my will or Thine, the Bob Larson scandal has brought together the unlikeliest band of confederates imaginable. But all for a worthy cause.
During WFTL's Larson interview, Bob Sands, senior pastor of Griffin Road Baptist Church, put the Larson scandal in proper perspective:
"I have no trouble with them bringing up information about him, because I think he's leading people astray, and the danger is that he's mixing a little bit of truth with a little bit of error. And then what happens is somebody like Bob Larson gets on your particular radio program, and then all the other people who are Christians -- are out there doing legitimate ministries trying to help people -- look bad."F33An earlier caller poignantly pierces the veil of illusion and hypocrisy which Bob Larson has so skillfully woven into the fabric of his life and ministry:
Fred: "I've listened to Bob for about ten years, when he first went on KVTT in Dallas, and one of the things I think is rather interesting about it is when we look at Bob, and what he says about being a self-styled expert on satanism and the occult is: what's his background? I.e., What church does he go to? Where is he ordained? By what denomination? What is his educational background -- does he have a college degree? What is his military experience? If you check this, it all adds up zero."Still, there are those in the Christian community who would defend Bob Larson ... and that may be the most pernicious scandal of all.
PS: [with raucous laughter in the background]: "He's ... he's never been ordained? And he doesn't go to church?"
Fred: "If he's ordained, he won't tell us who it is!"
Paul Castranova: "Can you back this up?"
Fred: "Yes, I can guarantee he will not tell you on the air or anywhere else what church he goes to ... his college, he was supposed to go to the University of Nebraska; he never graduated, he was a dropout. [PS makes a mostly futile attempt to hold back her laughter.] And the fact is, what's his military background?"
PS: "Well, this -- Was he ever in the military?
PS: "I don't know. Did he claim...."
PC: "You don't have to be in the military to be a preacher, though, or talk on the radio."
Fred: "What I'm saying is that this is a man who has been berating Bill Clinton on his program, week after week, and yet, we find out that he doesn't even have the credentials that Bill has!"F34
1 Bob Larson, "Back Me in the Battle," Fund-Raising Letter, 6 Apr. 1992.
2 Ibid., p. 2.
3 Ken Smith, "Hot Talk with Al Rantell," Radio broadcast, 15 Jul. 1993.
4 Bob Larson Ministries, 1991 Consolidated Balance Sheet (obtained from Bob Larson Ministries, 12 Aug. 1992, balance sheet reprinted in summary form in K. Smith, "The Two Faces of Bob," infra n. 5), p. 2.
5 Ken Smith, "The Two Faces of Bob," April, 1993 (reprinted in Christian Press Report, 15 Jun. 1993, currently on Abba II BBS, 619-487-7746, under LARSON-0.ZIP).
6 William T. Abbott, Letter, 8 Jul. 1991 (Reprinted in J. Trott, Bob Larson's Ministry Comes Under Scrutiny," Cornerstone, Vol. 21, Issue 100, Feb. 1993, p. 41.).
7 Bob Larson, "Hot Talk with Al Rantell," Radio broadcast, 15 Jul. 1993.
8 "Hot Talk," ibid.
9 Ibid., ibid.
10 Joel Belz, "We Can't Be the Last to Tell," Editorial, World, 23 Jan. 1993, p. 3.
11 Bob Larson, Letter, 10 Feb. 1993, p. 2.
12 E.g., Bob Larson, "Talk-Back with Bob Larson," Radio broadcast, 29 Jan. 1993.
13 "Questions Raised About Bob Larson Campaign," Christianity Today, 3 Mar. 1989, p. 48.
14 Morgan v. Bob Larson Ministries, Complaint and Jury Demand, signed 6 Mar. 1989 by attorney Andrew T. Brake, pp. 2-4 (according to Denver District Court clerks, the suit was never filed).
15 Lori Boespflug, Interview, 16 Jun. 1992.
16 Ibid., ibid (see also, Jay Grelen and Doug LeBlanc, "This is Me, This is Real," World, Vol. 7, No. 32, 23 Jan. 1993, p. 9).
17 Bob Larson, Memo, 28 Dec. 1992.
18 Bob Larson, "Prepare For War," Radio broadcast, 29 Jan. 1993.
19 Ken Smith, Certified Letter, 31 Dec. 1992.
20 Bob Larson, Radio broadcast (KNSS - Wichita), 15 Jul. 1993.
21 Offense Report (Misdemeanor harassment), Lakewood (CO) Police Dept. (Officer Ponczek, reporting), Case Report #92-105773, 3 Nov. 1992, p. 2 (it is a closed case and thus part of the public record). The deed, obtained by the author from the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder, shows the actual sales price to be $440,000.
22 Bob Larson, "Talk-Back with Bob Larson," Radio broadcast, 8 Jul. 1993.
23 Ibid., ibid.
24 Ibid., 28 Jul. 1993.
25 Application for Marriage License #E64338, filed 12 Feb. 1993 (The former Laura Ann Harris Anderson was born on 10/29/61 -- Larson was born on 5/28/44.
26 Lori Boespflug, Interview, 16 Jun. 1992.
27 Bob Larson Ministries, 1991 Corporation Report, attachment.
28 Bob Larson, "Talk-Back with Bob Larson," Radio broadcast, 24 Mar. 1993.
29 David Neff, Letter, July 23, 1993.
30 Diana Parker, Telephone interview, March, 1993.
31 Name withheld by request, Interview (conducted by an associate), July, 1993.
32 "The Gay Ghost," Newsweek, 26 Jul. 1993, p. 4.
33 Bob Sands, "Hot Talk with Al Rantell," Radio broadcast, 15 Jul. 1993.
34 "Hot Talk," ibid.