This short article provides a cursory overview of the Cold War era’s self-styled messiah, Krishna Venta (born Francis Pencovic). It also examines briefly his vision of Armageddon, eerily similar to Charles Manson’s “Helter Skelter,” which he anticipated would befall America in the 1970s.
Earlier this year, Yisrayl Hawkins, who claims to speak for God, declared from his House of Yahweh headquarters in Abilene, Texas, that a nuclear holocaust was to begin on June 12, 2008. Hawkins’ warning was accompanied by a caveat that anyone joining his fold would be spared from the coming devastation. America responded to this alarm by continuing undaunted with its daily routine.
That such a grim proclamation was met with a shrug should not come as a surprise. After all, with its rightfully revered First Amendment, this nation has served as the modern world’s premier breeding ground for new religious movements (or cults, as they are more commonly known), prophets, and messiahs for most of its existence. Such entities and individuals are as much a part of our collective American experience as baseball games and apple pies. Oftentimes, they are equally forgettable; six months after its prophesied doom, the world is still whole, and Hawkins has faded from memory.
Conversely, would-be prophets and messiahs occasionally become a part of our collective consciousness and—right or wrong—seemingly come to embody the prevailing spiritual and socio-economic nuances of a given decade or generation, such as Charles Manson (1960s), Jim Jones (1970s), and David Koresh (1990s).
Likewise, although not akin to the previously mentioned triumvirate of malevolence, post-World War II America, and particularly the 1950s, is not without its own poster boy—a self-proclaimed messiah with a biography befitting the golden age of both Hollywood and the LAPD.
His name was Krishna Venta, and Monday, December 10, 2008, marked the 50th anniversary of his violent assassination, which all told ended ten lives.
Born Francis Pencovic in the San Francisco of 1911, Venta was an interesting candidate for messiah, having previously lived as burglar, thief, con artist, and shipyard timekeeper. This changed in 1946 when, following a stretch on a chain gang and a stint in the Army, Pencovic’s body (or so he claimed) became the host vessel for the “Christ Everlasting,” an eternal spirit being who had not only died on the cross at Calvary 2,000 years earlier, but had commandeered to Earth from the planet Neophrates a convoy of rocket ships whose passengers included Adam and Eve.
But in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, insisted Venta, such ancient history was irrelevant. This time around, his Earthly mission was to gather the 144,000 Elect foretold in Revelation and deliver them from an apocalypse heretofore unseen by mankind.
To draw attention to this cause, Venta donned a monk’s robe, permanently discarded footwear, and thereafter forewent cutting both hair and beard. In the Truman and Eisenhower eras, Venta, who frequently made headlines for both his luck at the dog track and his repeated arrests for failure to pay child support, cut a unique figure. His message, however, could not have been more tailor-made for Cold War America.
Armageddon, prophesied Venta, would begin as an armed race war in the streets of America. (If Venta’s vision of the future sounds oddly reminiscent of “Helter Skelter,” it must be noted that strong debate exists regarding whether Charles Manson, who periodically lodged at the Fountain of the World circa 1968 and 1969, was privy to the teachings of the dead cult leader during his respites there.) In this conflict, Communist Russia, with its nuclear weaponry, would render military aid to African-Americans. But the Soviets would eventually reveal their true stripes, insisted Venta, by enslaving their African-American allies and terminating religious freedom worldwide. Still, fear was unnecessary, for Venta was actively gathering the 144,000, and knew of a hidden North American valley in which his Elect could hide during the bloodshed until the ordained day came for them to exit their secret refuge en masse, cast out the Soviet empire, free the enslaved, and restore religious freedom to mankind.
Until then, Venta could be found on the road spreading his gospel or at either the Homer, Alaska, or Chatsworth, California, outposts of his WKFL (Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Love) Fountain of the World communal colonies, where his 100-something faithful (primarily females) engaged in such varied works of goodwill as feeding the homeless, offering shelter to battered women, and fighting wildfires.
Tragically, in a twist of irony, Venta, who embodied America’s post-war fear of nuclear weapons, was blown to bits in a Los Angeles suicide bombing, instigated on a December night in 1958 by two ex-followers with twenty sticks of dynamite and two very personal vendettas against their former leader. One assassin was jealous of Venta’s power and position, while the other insisted Venta had alienated him from his wife.
Today, 50 years after his passing, Venta’s story, although obscured by time, reminds us that, even with messiahs and prophets, there is really nothing new under the sun, but instead mere reiterations of choruses previously heralded. Nonetheless, it will unquestionably be interesting to see what manner of individuals take up the messiah mantle in the coming years.
Mr. Sutherland is a graduate of Abilene Christian University, and lives in the Dallas, Texas area, where he has been involved in patent law for the past 15 years. He is currently at work on Barefoot Messiah of the Atomic Age, the definitive biography of Krishna Venta.