Armstrongism has produced a steady stream of zealots over its 70 some years of existence. From prophets to apostles, Elijah's and Elisha's and Pharisees to Chief Overseers, the list goes on and on. Each one gets crazier by the moment. None though surpass Denis Michael Rohan, when after being influenced by the prophetic lunacy of Herbert Armstrong and others, decided to set fire to the Al Asqa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
Excerpts from: The Australian shearer who torched Al Aqsa Mosque in a bid to bring on the apocalypse
Fifty years ago, a young shearer travelled from Australia to Israel to orchestrate a plot he believed would prompt the return of Jesus Christ and usher in the end of the world.Denis Michael Rohan started a fire which seriously damaged Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque — one of Islam's holiest sites — and shook a region already shrouded in tension.Many Muslims believed the attack had been orchestrated by Israel, and protests erupted across the Middle East.Carlo Aldrovandi, who researches religion, conflict and peacemaking in the region, says the political consequences still ring today.
Rohan, religion, and the radio
In the early 1960s Rohan was working as a shearer in Grenfell, in the central-west of New South Wales.
He had suffered a mental breakdown in the mid-60s, and did a stint at Bloomfield psychiatric hospital in Orange.
This was where he first discovered the Radio Church of God and an American religious broadcast called The World Tomorrow, which was syndicated on commercial radio throughout Australia.
Its presenter, Herbert W Armstrong, was known for prophesising the end of the world that would dawn after a global war centred around Jerusalem.
In 1969, at 28 years of age, Rohan travelled to Jerusalem.
Around four months later, on August 21, he carried a thermos flask of kerosene into the Al Aqsa mosque and started a blaze.
"It has been proved that Rohan acted alone motivated largely by his own apocalyptic belief," Dr Aldrovandi says.
"[He believed] that destroying the existing Islamic shrines and replacing them with a temple would have brought about the advent of Jesus Christ."The result of his lunacy has contributed to the conflict we have today between Israel and the Arab world. All because some crazy Armstrongite wanted to pave the way for Jesus to return!
Many Arab leaders were convinced the attack had been orchestrated by Israel.
"[Rohan's] acts were, and are still seen today by many Muslims and Palestinians, as being orchestrated by the Israeli government," Dr Aldrovandi says.
Muslim nations came together in Morocco and unanimously agreed Israel was responsible.
The move led to the formation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, an attempt to represent this pan-Islamic sentiment and unity.You can listen to an audio production done in 2009 about Rohan here:
One of the first stories I was assigned as a young journalist in Israel in 1969 was the trial of an Australian sheepshearer who set fire to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, an act that threatened to unhinge the Middle East. It remains for me the most vivid story I covered during my 25 years with The Jerusalem Post, a period that included several wars.
August 23 marks the 50th anniversary of the event. The Muslim world assumed that Israel was responsible for the arson and Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal ordered his armed forces to prepare for a holy war. The Arab League met in emergency session, and from distant India came reports of rioting in Muslim areas, with many casualties.
As cries of jihad rose with the plumes of smoke over the Temple Mount and international condemnation loomed, the Israeli government gave top priority to apprehension of the arsonist. In annexing East Jerusalem after the Six Day War two years before, Israel had declared itself guardian of the holy places of all religions; its claim to sovereignty in Jerusalem rested on that pledge.For proof on what Armstrongism did to this young mans mind, here is what he said talking to a psychiatrist:
“My trial is the most important event for the world since the trial of Jesus Christ,” Rohan told a psychiatrist who interviewed him.
Rohan’s performance on the witness stand was uncanny. Mocked as a fool all his life, consigned periodically to mental homes in Australia as his mother and at least one of his siblings had been, he jousted with the prosecution during the seven-week trial without faltering. Within the conceptual framework he laid down, he was consistent, logical, almost convincing. When the prosecutor, a future chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, asked whether God would have wanted him to commit a crime, Rohan was not at a loss.
“What did God tell Abraham to do?” he responded. “Sacrifice his son? Isn’t that a crime in today’s courts? First degree murder, isn’t it?”
When his court-appointed lawyer could not be heard clearly, a jaunty Rohan called on him to speak into the microphone so that his remarks would appear in the record. He displayed total recall of dates and incidents from long ago and was never caught out in a contradiction despite the intricate story he told.
“My mind has never been as well balanced as it is now,” Rohan said. “Satan has no more power over me.”Later in the article is this:
One day Rohan came across some pamphlets from a California-based Christian cult which he joined by mail and began tithing. He internalized the pamphlet’s prophecies and its biblical cadence before setting out to see the world. He traveled to England and was to continue on to Canada for work, but the prospect of a Canadian winter prompted him to come to Israel instead.
“In Jerusalem,” he told the court, “it all came together. I understand why I was born, why I had to suffer strict discipline from my parents, why I was rejected and despised.” The tormented figure was at last serene. Asked what his attitude would be if found guilty, he said “I am above earthly courts.”This eerily sound just like James Malm, Dave Pack, Gerald Flurry, Bob Thiel, Ron Weinland, and others, who hear the voice of some creature in their head telling them they are set apart and have a mission to accomplish.