The cult-like group’s leader wears a crown of bullets and carries a golden AR-15
The compound is meant to be a place of refuge for members of the Sanctuary Church – which is also called Rod of Iron Ministries – ahead of a “war” e “genocide” that will supposedly be brought against them by the “deep state”.
Vice News relatado that the church is led by Pastor Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, who is often referred to as “Rei” by his followers.
The Sanctuary Church has an unusual pedigree; while it incorporates American resentment politics and syncretic-Christian ideology, the group is also a direct descendant of the Unification Church, who were also known as the “Moonies”.
Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah and leader of the Moonie cult, is the father of “Sean” Moon, who founded the Sanctuary Church in 2017.
While the younger Moon embraced and included Moonie ideology in his Sanctuary Church, what makes the group notable is its focus on firearms as objects of worship.
Sean Moon claims his inclusion of AR-15s into his church’s worship ceremonies is Biblically based, citing a passage in the Book of Revelation that speaks of Jesus using a “rod of iron” to assert his authority during the End Times. Traditional readings of the verses interpret the “rod of iron” to be a shepherd’s staff, which was a symbol of authority, particularly when in reference to Jesus.
Under Sean Moon’s reading, the rod of iron was not a scepter or staff, but an American-made AR-15.
Now the rifles are used in regular church services and wedding ceremonies, with Sean Moon presiding over it all while wearing a crown of bullets, a camouflaged suit, and holding his gold-plated AR-15.
Sean Moon’s brother, Kook-jin “Justin” Moon, just so happens to be the CEO of Kahr Arms, which manufactures guns and is headquartered near the church’s original base of operations in Pennsylvania – a convenient connection for a church that worships firearms.
The group’s stated purpose for buying a compound in Texas is to “expand God’s Kingdom to the Western and Southern regions of the United States”, and hope it will become “home to over 100 sites that will serve our community and Patriots from Texas and around the country”.
“It’s a dangerous time, and this is a place of refuge and retreat if our community needs it,” Mr Moon said during a recent sermon. "Claro, in worst-case scenarios.”
When Vice News reached out to leaders of nearby communities, the leaders told the outlet that they were not aware the group was moving in, and asked if they were “going to be a problem”.
While the church has not made any overt threats, its ideology has become increasingly militant in recent years.
In Sean Moon’s sermons – which are called King’s Reports and are live-streamed on Twitch – he has called for his members to prepare for war and issued dark warnings that the federal government and the “globalists” were out to get to them.
“The internationalist Marxist globalists are trying to start a civil war here, so that they can bring in the U.N. troops and Chi-Com Chinese military to come in and destroy and kill all gun owners, Christians, and any opposition, i.e., Trump supporters,” he said in a sermon. “We are in the death of America right now, and that’s why, claro, God is allowing for our expansion.”
The Sanctuary Church quickly embraced Mr Trump after it came into existence in 2017, and in 2019 Sean Moon told Vice News that he believed God was using the former president to scrub the world of “political Satanism” and to restore the world to its original state of paradise as described in the Bible.
The church eagerly parroted the former president’s lies that he lost the 2020 election due to voter fraud, warning its members in a post three days before the Capitol riot that some of them may die in a potential upcoming battle with the feds.
“Some federal agents operate as a criminal cartel and are in the process of stealing this presidential election,” the post said. “We need to prepare and train for the fight.”
The church said that it was “obviously better if we can use our rights to freedom of speech, assembly, to seek redress of grievances,” but said if those avenues failed, “we will have to fight physically, with many dying”.
Three days later, Mr Moon was outside the Capitol with members of church as Trump loyalists attempted to undermine the 2020 eleição.
The church maintains that none of its members entered the building on the day of the riot, but the church does not shy away from its support of the insurrection attempt.
Sean Moon said he believes the Capitol riot will one day hold the same reverence in American history that the Boston Tea Party of 1773 does.
While Mr Trump has had plenty of undesirable fans – like the KKK’s David Duke – some prominent individuals within MAGA world actually reciprocated Sean Moon’s endorsement.
Steve Bannon, a former adviser to Mr Trump, spoke at the group’s second annual “Rod of Iron Freedom Festival” last October, and Pennsylvania state Senator Dough Mastriano – who also helped organise “Stop the Steal” events – also spoke at an event for the church.
Nos últimos meses, Sean Moon’s sermons have taken on a more urgent tone, warning that “danger” estava “coming for Trump supporters” and that the Biden administration was planning to round “patriots” up and put them in “reeducation camps.”
“We have to understand the enemy we are dealing with,” Sean Moon said. “We have to be ready to pray very, very hard, move fast, and of course, to resist on many levels, all the evil that they are trying to perpetrate on the world.”
Sean Moon has even fully leaned into the Mad Max-esque “church of the gun” aesthetic he has cultivated; he now dresses like a biker, wearing a black jacket with patches that include a crown, the words “Rod of Iron Ministries,” and one that represents the “Black Robed Regiment.” In at least one photo he appears wearing a skull facemask while on his motorcycle.
Since its formation in Pennsylvania, the group has moved into Delaware and Florida, and now Texas.
The Texas property was listed at just under $1m, and includes a general store, a fishing outfitter, an industrial-sized kitchen, hook ups for RVs, cabins and camping sites.