Setting record straight: WKFL was cult, not some utopian commune

It was mentioned at a recent Homer City Council meeting that some of our young people need to know just who brother Asaiah was, and that others might forget. Brother Asaiah, a one-time member of WKFL, donated the former organization’s property to the city of Homer for a park. I believe he requested that the park be named in honor of its former owners, WKFL.  

For me, Asaiah and WKFL are inseparable. All of the recent talk of a bust of Asaiah, to be put in the park and donated to the city by an out-of-state and former member of the group, has brought a few things to the surface for me.

First, I’d like to clarify just what this organization was. It was a cult that followed the blueprint of hundreds of other cults that have come and gone. There was a central figure, the self-named “Krishna Venta,” who’d apparently dreamed up the idea while doing hard time for armed robbery. His message began with love, and once his followers gave him all their power, i.e., let him rename them with biblical names, make all their decisions from what they wore to who they married, he began to abuse that power, and it eventually did him in. Several former members blew him and themselves up in a hotel because he wouldn’t give their wives back when they quit.

I spent my summers on the Mattox homestead-ranch on Fox Creek at the head of the bay for several years as a child. We were separated from the village of Venta, which is what Krishna named his outpost, by four miles of mudflats. Ours was the first stop that those who had had enough of the Venta utopia encountered when they quit and hiked out. Often they would work with us on the ranch, to make a few dollars to continue their journey. There were many of them and they were always penniless, having given up everything to the cult. The two men who ultimately ended Krishna’s life were no exception.

Our family; the Wiebers; and Matt Mattox’s daughter, son-in-law and children were invited to Venta several times. I remember a large dining room with a long table and a huge upholstered chair at one end that was higher than the rest and no one was allowed to sit in it but Krishna. I also remember a root cellar with a padlock on it that was pointed out to me by ValDorm, Krishna’s son, as the jail.

Fast forward a few years to Homer. Krishna is dead. The group holds together for the first year expecting his return, which he had prophesied. He didn’t return, needless to say. By that time the group owned a house, a machine shop and a trailer court called the Bearfoot Trailer Park. I hung out with one of the sons, Val, and spent much time at all three places. 

Krishna’s wife and widow, who was called mother Ruth, seemed like an extremely aloof and withdrawn mother to Val. I remember her buying us liquor when we were in junior high school and we would sit in the kitchen and drink ourselves into oblivion while she withdrew to her bedroom. Incidentally, the townhouse also had a large upholstered chair with a bible on it, Krishna’s chair, which no one was allowed to sit in. One time, while spending the night with Val at the manager’s quarters of the trailer court, the manager, still a follower of Krishna, molested me and it turned out that he had been doing that to Val for a period of time.

Fast forward a few more years. The group has broken up. A few former members still live in Homer, including Asaiah. They have various stories on what the group was. Some say it wasn’t religious, others say Krishna was a great man and prophet (Asaiah). To say anything else might be saying they’d abandoned their families, made other unwise decisions or threw away years of their lives, all for naught.

Part of my healing from sexual abuse, alcoholism and the general PTSD of growing up, was discussing the group with Asaiah, who I considered a friend. He was very human, and one of the most human traits he displayed while talking it over with me was his inability to admit he’d been conned. That didn’t make him a bad guy — it made him human.

Let’s fast forward one more time. It’s 2014. I’m driving by WKFL park. Am I thinking Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love? Not really — I’m just trying to heal.

Billy Choate grew up in Homer.