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Doomsday Cult Exposed; The Death of Pat Tillman

Aired May 10, 2008 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, inside a doomsday cult. The leader charged with sex crimes against children. His followers standing by the man who calls himself a messiah. His son defending shocking behavior that put his father behind bars. And he wants to explain it all. And he'll have the chance.
Plus, a mother wanted to know how her famous son really died. Mary Tillman and her fight for the truth. What happened to Pat Tillman in Afghanistan?


KING: We welcome to LARRY KING LIVE in Clayton, New Mexico, Matt Grubs, he's a reporter with KOAT. He was in the courtroom today for Wayne Bent's appearance. We'll tell you about that in a moment.

Also, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is Captain Robert Shilling, the commander in charger of the Investigations Bureau for the New Mexico State Police.

Wayne Bent, who also goes by the name Michael Travesser, is a self-proclaimed messiah, now accused of sex charges.



W. BENT: I am the embodiment of God. I am divinity and humanity combined. And I'll say more than that. I swear it by the one who lives forever and ever that it's so.


KING: OK, Matt Grubs, who is this?

MATT GRUBS, KOAT-TV, ATTENDED HEARING: Well, Larry, this is Wayne Bent. As you said, he's known to his followers as Michael Travesser. He's a man who, for a time in his past, was a preacher for the Seventh Day Adventist Church. And then he broke off from them and formed, as he said, the Lord Our Righteousness Church.

They were based originally in California, eventually moved up to Sand Point, Idaho. And then in the year 2000, they moved down here to Union County in the very northeastern part of New Mexico, nestled up against Colorado and Oklahoma and Texas. And there they have been for the past eight years. Now, as you said, he faces three counts of criminal sexual contact against a minor and then three other counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Here in New Mexico, those are all felonies. And for a man who is coming up on his 67th birthday, this represents a maximum exposure, if you will, if the judge stacks all these sentences up on each other, of about 50 years. So he could conceivably finish his life in prison, though his followers do not think that, Larry.

KING: Captain Shilling, what led to this investigation?

CAPT. ROBERT SHILLING, NEW MEXICO STATE POLICE: Our involvement initially started off about three weeks ago, when Children Youth and Families Department here in New Mexico, Child Protective Services, requested our assistance in picking up one of the children living on the compound. And then, of course, we followed up with a forensic interview of that child and the investigation grew from there.

KING: Are these charges rape or intercourse with a minor?

SHILLING: No, sir. In New Mexico, criminal sexual contact is contact with the intimate parts of a child, which doesn't have to be penetration. It just has to be touching or the application of force to the intimate parts of a child under the age of 18.

KING: Matt, have the alleged victims been introduced in public?

GRUBS: No they have not, Larry. And it's our understanding that they may not be introduced for some time. The interviews that Captain Shilling was referring to, they took place in a safe house environment, which is something that's common all across the country. But these are underage children. And so, as such, in New Mexico, they are protected by the law.

The district attorney in this case has indicated that he may actually go to a grand jury and bump this case up a notch.

What that means is that all those proceedings will take place in secret and those children would conceivably have a number of weeks before they would actually have to appear in court and make those allegations in public.

KING: Captain, did he post bail?

SHILLING: Larry, my understanding is, is his bail was reduced from a half a million to $50,000 today at his arraignment. And to our knowledge as of this evening, bail had not been raised or posted. He is still incarcerated.

KING: Did he plead to the charges?

SHILLING: At an arraignment, he's simply advised of the charges against him and his rights under New Mexico law, and, of course, his Miranda warnings. The magistrate judge, who is an elected judge here in New Mexico, at this level, does not accept or request a plea to the charges at that time.

KING: Now, Jeff Bent's father is the man we've been talking about. He's here and he says there's another side to this story, right after the break.



W. BENT: Precious friend and father, let everything you design for us as ordained by heaven.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Travesser is the 66-year-old man they worship. After leading his acolytes to New Mexico seven years ago, he declared himself the messiah. He told his followers God had revealed a prophesy that signaled the apocalypse and he has told them they must rid themselves of all their earthly emotions or be lost when his prophesy is fulfilled on October 31, 2007.


KING: Obviously, that did not happen.

Joining us in Strong City, New Mexico, is Jeff Bent. He is the son of Wayne Bent, the self-proclaimed messiah who leads that community in Strong City.

Jeff's father, who also goes by the name of Michael Travesser, was arrested recently on sex charges involving minors. He was in court today.

Please know, by the way, that much of the video that you're watching in tonight's show is from the documentary "Inside a Cult". It airs Saturday night, 10:00 p.m. on our good friends at the National Geographic Channel.

Jeff, thanks for joining us.

Your father goes by Michael Travesser. What is the legal name?

JEFF BENT, SON OF STRONG CITY LEADER: His legal name is Wayne Bent.

KING: So what -- how do we get Michael Travesser?

J. BENT: Michael is the spirit of the angel Michael, the archangel that came into him in the year 2000. And so he adopted the name Michael, which reflects his work as the angel that is sent to redeem his people and to stand up for his people. And Travesser is the name of this area. And it's common for people in the Bible to adopt their -- the name of the region where they live.

KING: Were you with your dad when he was told or received the message that he was the messiah? J. BENT: I live next door to him. He told me about it shortly afterwards. This is something that was very sudden and surprising to him. He didn't expect it. And it was something that he slowly came to grips with and shared with people as he began to understand it more. And so I learned of it shortly after that.

KING: And how did you react?

J. BENT: It was very shocking and unexpected. I didn't expect that when Christ returned, he would return into one of us. I thought it would be a man in the sky. And so I was surprised, yet I saw the truth in it because I saw a transformation in him that was very marked. The old dad that I knew wasn't there anymore. It was a new person. And that rang with my heart. I could see a different -- a different person there altogether.

KING: Now, according to your...

J. BENT: So I did accept it.

KING: OK. According to your dad, God's prophesy was supposed to be fulfilled October 31 last year.

What happened?

J. BENT: Well, the prophesy was fulfilled. There is a big misconception that was deliberately spun into this movie that "National Geographic" played, and that was that we were expecting the apocalypse and the end of the world on that date and to translate to heaven and so forth.

And we spent a lot of time working with the producer and the director on that film, asking -- explaining what that prophesy meant and how we didn't know what the future would hold in terms of literal developments. But we knew that the prophesy indicated the end of a very important age, a 490-year period. And so, you know, we were -- it marked the beginning of the year of jubilee. And we were very much on purpose to watch it and focus on that and see what would happen when that time came.

But, you know, there was no end of the world prophesized for that date. That was -- I would say that was just a lie.

KING: You were a law enforcement officer in California, right?

J. BENT: Yes, sir.

KING: Isn't this kind of a -- for want of a better word -- strange switch for you?

J. BENT: Yes, it was, actually. This is a good point you bring up. And that is I had a career in law enforcement in Southern California. And I enjoyed it. And I -- I think the people I worked with enjoyed me. But God forced me to leave it. And you have to experience God forcing you to do something to know what that's all about. And that's how I was prepared to understand what it's like to have a messiah come on you and force you to do things you wouldn't normally do -- especially things that would threaten your self-interests.

That's how I was able to accept and understand these very unusual and unexpected events that have happened with us since the year 2000.

KING: I'll bet.

In the documentary, Jeff, we learned that your father had sex with your wife while you were still married to her -- and more than once.

Now, here's how he explained it in the documentary. And we'll get your reaction.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it was just a single occasion, this literal physical consummation?

W. BENT: No, it wasn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you -- you consummated more than once?

W. BENT: Yes. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why is it necessary to consummate more than once?

W. BENT: Could you not answer that question yourself?

When you marry a wife, do you consummate only once?


KING: How did you react to that circumstance?

J. BENT: Well, I would like to correct something, Larry, for the record.

KING: All right.

J. BENT: And that is that my dad did not have sex with my wife. My wife and I...

KING: He said he did there, didn't he?

J. BENT: Sir, we were divorced -- separated.

KING: I'm sorry. Go ahead. J. BENT: We were separated permanently in August of 2006 and we had terminated our marriage relationship at that time. And by the time my former wife was spiritually married to Michael and went through the consummation with him, our relationship was over. It was terminated.

So he did not have sex with my wife. And the nature of the consummations that have happened here are not -- are not what you would call sex, even though it does -- the world looks at sex as this amorous, passionate type of experience of gratifying yourself with someone else.

And with him and with these consummations that have been ordained by God, they were not that way. They were not of essential earthly nation. It was a spiritual experience that was illustrated by a physical act. And that's the marriage that these seven women have with Michael.

KING: So is that -- is your group considered polygamist?

J. BENT: No. I believe that a polygamist practice would be a literal earthly normal marriage relationship carried out between more than two people. And that's not the nature of the relationship that Michael has with his witnesses. It's spiritual.

KING: I've got you.

J. BENT: It doesn't...

KING: He doesn't marry?

J. BENT: Well, they're not legally married. They're married in the spirit. They're married in heart. And the whole purpose of these seven that have been married to Michael is to illustrate a point of how we are married to God.

As you can imagine, being in a relationship like that, these women are going to have to overcome their own selfish desires and their own worldly interests that they have. It's a relationship where they're completely given over to others and serving others.

KING: OK, Jeff, you're going to come back with us.

Still ahead, we'll have more with Jeff. He will be with us the last two segments of the program on tonight's topic, inside a cult.

We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.


KING: Jeff Bent will be back with us in awhile.

We now have a panel to discuss all of this. In Seattle is Prudence Welch, a former Strong City sect member. She spent 15 years there and left in 2005 and she alerted the FBI to Michael Travesser's activities. Her mother and father still live in the compound. Her niece recently removed from it.

Here in Los Angeles, Rachel Bernstein. She's a psychotherapist, an expert on cults. In London is Ben Anthony, director of the documentary "Inside a Cult." He spent several weeks at the compound last year, interviewed Wayne Bent, who is Michael Travesser. Interviewed Jeff and other members of the cult. And that will air Saturday night, 10:00 on the National Geographic Channel.

And in Yuma, Arizona is Allen Armstrong, former pastor and friend of Wayne Bent. He broke off contact with him in 1994 and knows more of the people in the cult.

Why did you spend 15 years there, Prudence?

PRUDENCE WELCH, FORMER STRONG CITY CULT MEMBER: Well Larry, I'm still asking myself that same question.

KING: What drew you to it?

WELCH: My parents joined a year before I did. And they kept calling me up and wanting me to come home. I lived in Virginia, and they were in Oregon. And then Allen Armstrong stopped by the school that I was at and he helped sucker me in.

Thanks, Allen.

KING: Did you have to have relations with Mr. Bent?

WELCH: No, I didn't.

KING: OK. Ben Anthony, what did you -- you did this documentary for National Geographic. What did you make of it?

BEN ANTHONY, DIRECTOR: Well, it was a fascinating experience, Larry. Unlike anything I've ever experienced before. The first thing I would like to say about it is that we were treated exceptionally well while we were there. Everyone was extremely welcoming, and very good company. It was also quite a disturbing experience, though, because the atmosphere there is pretty heavy. And people there are clearly struggling with some serious inner thoughts, so it's a very peculiar place to spend time.

KING: What did you make of the leader, Wayne Bent?

ANTHONY: For awhile, I wasn't sure. And I'm still not sure how much of Wayne's behavior is mental illness or how much of it is deliberate deception on his part. He was very courteous. He was a very easy person to talk to. And I think we got along fine. So it was, as I said, it was a rather unsettling atmosphere. But everybody was extremely nice to us. KING: Allen Armstrong, what drew you to it, and why did you leave?

ALLEN ARMSTRONG, FORMER MINISTER: Well, I was drawn to it as a Christian, and then when I saw the direction that it was gunning to go, as far back as 18 years ago, we saw the direction was moving in a way that was more and more individual freedoms being lost by the people, and Wayne taking more and more control, when he finally decided he was going to take over.

KING: Do you feel sorry you brought Prudence in?

ARMSTRONG: No, I'm just glad that Prudence is where she is right now.

KING: One of the most disturbing things from the documentary "Inside a Cult" is to hear young girls talk openly about being naked with Michael. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This needed to be literally physically naked. And so he took me, we went to the bedroom and laid down, and he held me, and some how, it was like, all of heaven was open to me. Somehow, I started to see God. Well, somehow, it was the son of God holding me. And so, I'm laying there, and it's like -- for the first time, I was like, God loves me. He loves me.

And Michael was saying things to me like, you're accepted, you know, you're healed, and I felt so secure. It was like -- I don't ever want to leave this place. It was like, this was God holding me. So, and then, you know, the next day, father sent you.


KING: Rachel Bernstein, psychotherapist, cult expert, what is your read on this?

RACHEL BERNSTEIN, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: That was also the most troubling part for me, when I was watching this particularly documentary on National Geographic Channel. What I found so troubling about that was that their emotional state was so disengaged from what was really taking place.

It's as though the language that's used within the cult is something that is used to really propel people to feel very differently about what is truly going on. To have them really not see the reality of the situation.

KING: Why? Why do they not see it?

BERNSTEIN: I think in part because they don't want to see it. And also, because they have been so programmed for so long to really believe in the innocence of the leader, rather than his guilt. Very much like his own son believes, if they truly had a sense of what was happening there, they would have, I think, for some of them, nervous breakdowns. They would have to say good-bye to the life they know, to the entire goal of this group, which is to be devoted to it for life.

KING: It is a cult?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, it is.

KING: We'll be right back with more. Don't go away.


KING: We're back.

We heard about the girls being naked. Here's the way Wayne justifies it. Watch.


W. BENT: Well, it was God. God came down on them and told them to do it. Nakedness is another symbol of our relationship with God. We are naked and unashamed. I treated them with the same respect and deference as if I'd be a physician, an M.D. who was doing surgery. You know, M.D.s are with naked people.


KING: Prudence, did you have to be naked?

WELCH: I wasn't naked, no. And I thought it was a little bit crazy when I heard it.

KING: Did you ever see it?

WELCH: I did not see it. I left a few months before that started happening.

KING: You were there 15 years, though, right?

WELCH: Correct.

KING: Why did you stay so long?

WELCH: I really wanted to go to heaven, I mean, I -- that was the whole trip. My -- the mind games, if you left, you were going to be lost. And that's what I thought was going to happen to me, and so I stayed, because periodically, through that 15 years, Jesus was going to come. When I first joined, it was the next spring, and a few years later, well, he might come in this year or this year, and every few months, there was a possibility of him coming and pretty soon, it's 15 years.

And, Jesus had still not come. And I still didn't have an education. I -- you know, that's -- and the mind games. My mind hurt. By the time I got done there, my mind ached. I thought... KING: Ben, do you ...

WELCH: Go ahead.

KING: I'm sorry.

Ben, do you think Wayne believes it or is he in the con artist vein?

ANTHONY: I think Wayne believes it. I think that it's -- it's complicated. There are things that I believe he's done which I feel are manipulative, which suggests he knows what he's doing, up to a point. But there's a strong sense of delusion I feel with him, and he is completely convinced of his own righteousness.

KING: Allen, did you like him?

ARMSTRONG: Well, as far as liking him, he was interesting person when I knew him. He got more and more, over the years, into, after I left, into taking their individuality away, taking their name away, taking their money away, taking their spouses away, taking their friendships away, to where they ended up having nothing.

KING: For what gain?

ARMSTRONG: For what gain? They believe they have to do something, or be some place or be by his presence to be saved. Without him, they would be lost. That's what they believed. They have given up...

KING: Rachel, the charismaticness, he has that, right?

BERNSTEIN: He absolutely does. It won't work for everyone with the people in the group, he the considered highly charismatic, and people listen to his word as though it is God's.

KING: When you see him on the screen, it is hard to turn away.

BERNSTEIN: It is hard to turn away, and I think that that's part of the persona he has developed. He speaks slowly and thoughtfully, as though he's channeling some other being. But I think he's just speaking, in his own way, to get his own needs met.

KING: Do you think he believes he's the Messiah?

BERNSTEIN: I think he believes that he has powers greater than other humans, but I think that he has really learned that his charisma can be used to control, and I think that he manipulates people at will. And the fact that he calls himself this sort of sacrificial lamb for the group, I think, is laughable, in that I see his group as, well, I see him as a kid in the candy store of his own making.

KING: Thank you all very much.

Her son gave up fame and money in the NFL to fight for his country. Mary Tillman on Pat Tillman's controversial death in Afghanistan is next.


KING: We welcome to LARRY KING LIVE Mary Tillman. Her son, the late Pat Tillman, the well-known NFL player, was killed serving his country as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan in April 2004. The story is known worldwide.

She tells her side of that story in a new book, "Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman." You see its cover. The book is co-written with Narda Zacchino.

Fourth anniversary of Pat's death was just a few days ago. Is this a rough time for you -- around dates?

MARY TILLMAN, MOTHER OF PAT TILLMAN, AUTHOR OF "BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK": It is -- but every day is hard, you know, so...

KING: It doesn't lessen...

TILLMAN: ... It's just a date. No, it doesn't.

KING: Why did you write it?

TILLMAN: Well, I was encouraged to write it, actually, by the woman I worked on the book with. Her name is Narda Zacchino, and she was the deputy editor of the "San Francisco Chronicle," and she was encouraging me to write a book. But at the time I was so busy, you know, looking into the investigation, going over documents, and I was uncomfortable with the idea of having to get too personal about our lives.

But I realized that that was almost a necessity in order to allow the reader to care what happened to Pat. And when it became clear that the newspaper coverage and the short periodical coverage he was getting wasn't getting the information out, I decided it was a good thing to do.

KING: Well, no one knows it better than you.


KING: Pat was -- his image was of a very rugged -- he was a terrific player -- he was a very rugged, individualistic, gung-ho American. Was that a true image?

TILLMAN: Well, he was rugged -- and he was a, you know, patriotic person. I mean, he loved this country...

KING: I mean, he quit the -- he quit the NFL to go...

TILLMAN: ... right. Right. Exactly. But...

KING: Were you surprised he did that?

TILLMAN: Not entirely, no. I think I was surprised because he had just, you know, he just got married before he enlisted. But his fiancee -- wife -- at the time was supportive of him doing this and of...

KING: Even though he had signed a pretty big contract?

TILLMAN: Yes. Yes. But after the 9/11 attacks, I think that he decided that, you know, football was rather insignificant.

KING: All right. He becomes a national hero right after 9/11, walks away from fame. What happened that day in Afghanistan? What did they say, and what really happened?

TILLMAN: Well, we received three different stories in a two- month period. The first...

KING: Who called you? Did someone call you to tell you he had died?

TILLMAN: Actually, I found out from my daughter-in-law. But the information that we received initially was that he was shot in the head getting out of a vehicle and that he died an hour later in a field hospital.

KING: In Afghanistan?

TILLMAN: In Afghanistan. But that was the casualty report, and I think oftentimes they are inaccurate.

But then we learned at his memorial service on May 3 -- because he died on April 22 -- we actually learned that he was killed running up a hill trying to protect soldiers coming through a canyon. They were being ambushed, and that he had run up the hill, and he was trying to prevent the enemy from shooting at the serial, or the convoy, that was coming through the canyon. Five weeks later, we found that that was not true, that he was killed by members of his own platoon.

KING: By accident.

TILLMAN: By accident, yes.

KING: Why did the Army lie?

TILLMAN: Well, personally, I think they lied because it was the month of April 2004. It was the worst month of the war at that time, and Abu Ghraib prison scandal was going to break that week in the mainstream media. I think Seymour Hersh had already written a piece about it. To have their most high-profile soldier die because of fratricide just didn't suit their purposes.

KING: Were you suspicious of it from the get-go?

TILLMAN: Well, we were a little bit suspicious of the story that they -- the narrative that was given to the Navy Seal to read at the memorial service because it sounded too much like something out of John Wayne movie. So there was something unsettling about it, but we never questioned Pat's bravery because Pat was a very heroic person...

KING: That he was.

TILLMAN: ... He was physically courageous, he was morally courageous. We didn't -- we didn't really question that, but there was some kind of uneasy feeling, I suppose, about that story. And then when we learned it was a fratricide, it was very disturbing.

KING: I'll bet.

TILLMAN: Nobody wants to hear that their loved one was killed by, you know, members of their own platoon.

KING: Who first told you he was dead?

TILLMAN: My daughter-in-law informed me that he was dead.

KING: They called her first?

TILLMAN: Yes. She's the next-of-kin, so she was informed first.

KING: Who then told you that this is a mistake and was done by friendly fire?

TILLMAN: Well, the first...

KING: Who finally said it?

TILLMAN: The first I heard of it was -- I got a message from some reporter that worked for "The Arizona Republic," and he asked that I call him.

And I called, and he asked me what I thought of the news about what happened to Pat, and I said that I didn't know what he was talking about, and because he had already brought it up, I said, "Well, what are you talking about?" and I sort of made him tell me, and he said that the military believed that Pat was killed by friendly fire. It turned out that Kevin had already been told about four days...

KING: His brother?

TILLMAN: ... his brother, Kevin.

KING: And Kevin was there, right?

TILLMAN: Kevin was 15 minutes behind Pat, so he wasn't right there when Pat was killed. In fact, it took almost a half hour to 45 minutes before someone from the unit told Kevin that Pat had actually died.

KING: Did Kevin believe the story?

TILLMAN: Yes, he did. He did believe the story. But I do think he felt somewhat like the rest of us, that the narrative was awfully movie-like, I suppose. But he didn't question the story, and then when we were informed that it was a fratricide, we thought it was a mere accident. We didn't really question that. As sad as it was, you know, friendly fire does happen.

KING: Wasn't Pat assigned to Iraq?

TILLMAN: He did go to Iraq. He and Kevin both went to Iraq in the early stages of the war, yes.

KING: Had you spoken to him before he died?

TILLMAN: Just a few days before he died, yes, I did.

KING: He called home?

TILLMAN: Yes, he and Kevin both did.

KING: Was he in a good frame of mind?

TILLMAN: Yes, he was. He was in a good frame of mind.

KING: Mary Tillman is the guest. The book is "Boots on the Ground by Dusk." Great title. "My Tribute to Pat Tillman." We'll be right back with Mary Tillman.



MARIA SHRIVER, CALIFORNIA FIRST LADY: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. By your deeds, by the choices you made, Pat, you and so many other young Americans have lived those words.

PATRICK K. TILLMAN, FATHER OF PAT TILLMAN: I miss my son. It's only been a week, and it ain't getting any better.

JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Many of us may be blessed to live a longer life than he did. Few of us will ever live a better one.


KING: The book is "Boots on the Ground by Dusk." The guest is Mary Tillman. We'll all remember that incredible funeral. Maria Shriver spoke at that funeral, so did Sen. McCain.


KING: Did Senator -- did he get very involved when they learned that this was not what it was cracked up to be?

TILLMAN: Well, after we learned that it was a friendly fire, a colonel came to our house and gave us the initial story of what happened, and then three weeks later we went to Fort Lewis to get an official briefing. And at that point, crucial information changed.

The visibility went from being "good" to being "terrible." The distance became more nebulous. Originally, Col. Bailey, the colonel that came to our house, he said that Pat and the MF (ph) soldier who was also killed were 150 to 250 meters away and that the sergeant who was in control of that vehicle got out of the vehicle and shot the Afghan who was standing in the chest eight times, not realizing he was a friendly.

Then when we went to Fort Lewis, all of a sudden they said, well, no the Afghan was not standing. He was actually in a prone position and that it was very dark. It was hard to see, and the distance became a little less distant.

KING: Why all this "hither and yon"? Why all this back-and- forth? Why not straight talk?

TILLMAN: Well, I think because the soldiers in that vehicle were extremely negligent, and I think some of the orders from the tactical operations center in Salerno were irresponsible. They didn't want this death to be investigated, and because, as I said, Abu Ghraib was in the news...

KING: About to break.

TILLMAN: ... and so they decided they wanted to somehow spin it to make it less upsetting to the public. And I think to somehow glorify the war.

KING: And, as I remember it, you and the family were quite angry.

TILLMAN: Well, we did get angry when the story started changing. They were lying, clearly lying, about things. And so we had a lot of questions, and so it was at that point that I contacted Sen. McCain and he asked me to submit questions to him. I submitted probably 25 questions, and he then gave those to the then acting secretary of the army, who was Les Brownlee at the time, and he ordered another investigation.

But in the meantime, we hadn't received Pat's autopsy, and so I called Sen. McCain again, and I said, "Is it unusual for us to be waiting five months for an autopsy?" and he said, "Well, you should have it by now," and then within -- I don't know -- 24 to 48 hours, it seemed that my daughter-in-law and I received a Fed-Ex of the autopsy, and that's when we became very concerned because some of the information in the autopsy made it seem as though it wasn't even Pat.

So we then asked for the field hospital report, which came about six months later, and the field hospital report said that Pat was brought in and he was given CPR, transferred to ICU for continued CPR, when in fact the medic who got to Pat first told Kevin that there was no attempt to save him because he was clearly gone and he had been deemed KIA.

KING: This is a massive cover-up.

TILLMAN: Yes, it is a massive cover-up, and, of course, Congress has already deemed it a cover-up. KING: It makes no sense.


KING: It makes no sense.

TILLMAN: No, it makes no sense. And we know that there was a cover-up; we just don't know how high the cover-up went.

KING: Was Sen. McCain outraged?

TILLMAN: I haven't talked to Sen. McCain since all of this came to the forefront. I sort of sensed that we became sort of a political encumbrance to him, possibly, because I don't think the senator believed that there was anything nefarious behind all of this. He was trying to help, and he thought we would get the answers that we were looking for.

KING: Has this in any way changed your opinion of the war?

TILLMAN: Well, I didn't have a very good opinion of the war in Iraq to begin with.

KING: Even when Pat enlisted?

TILLMAN: Well, when he enlisted we weren't going into Iraq yet. That came about after he and Kevin enlisted, and none of us were happy about that.

But, of course, this happening on top of everything -- and I'm not referring to his death, because that's always a possibility when you're a soldier -- but you don't expect the government or the military under that government to treat a soldier and his family -- his or her family -- with such disrespect.

KING: How do you deal with double pain -- the terrible pain of losing a son -- nothing worse than losing a child, no matter what age, nothing worse -- and then the fact there is all this cover-up going on? Your mind's got to be going nuts.

TILLMAN: It's crazy-making, and I think that one of the most disturbing aspects of this is people -- when we were trying to get to the truth of the matter and trying to put forth the story that we had, is that people were acting like, "Well, they're just this grieving family" -- you know, "They're just conspiracy theorists." What people don't understand is when you're fed lie after lie after lie, it is crazy-making behavior, and your brain will take whatever path it has to to try to understand what took place.

KING: Mary Tillman is the guest -- the book, "Boots on the Ground by Dusk." Some more moments after this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not engage in a cover-up...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Army did not do their duty here.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It was badly handled, and errors were made.

SPC. BRYAN O'NEAL: I was ordered not to tell them what happened, sir.

KEVIN TILLMAN, BROTHER OF PAT TILLMAN: The fact that the Army and what appears to be others attempted to hijack his virtue and his legacy is simply horrific. The least this country can do for him in return is to uncover who is responsible for his death, who lied and covered it up, and who instigated those lies and benefited from them.


KING: Our guest is Mary Tillman. The book is "Boots on the Ground by Dusk."

Was there ever a suspicion that there was something deliberate about his killing?

TILLMAN: That did cross our minds at various times, and I'm not so sure that it was deliberate, but I did believe that for a while.

KING: You mean, like somebody didn't like him, and...

TILLMAN: Well, we thought there could be, you know, any number of things that could have happened. But I've sort of eliminated that . I do think it was an accident, but I think it was more like gross negligence. I don't think they set out to kill Pat.

KING: Why did they burn his uniform?

TILLMAN: Well, that's a mystery. However, I think it is because they wanted it to appear as though they tried to save him -- because you can destroy the uniforms of wounded soldiers in an effort to save them, but there is a protocol that when a soldier dies, especially in situations where it is a suspected fratricide, homicide or execution, the uniforms and equipment are to go directly to Rockville, Maryland, so the coroner may look at it -- it's evidence, actually.

It's also a means of finding out how well the equipment works, so the medical examiner and the coroner are not happy when these soldiers come back without their uniforms. But I think that Pat's uniform was evidence of friendly fire, so they destroyed the uniform.

KING: What's the official story now?

TILLMAN: That's a good question. The official story right now is that these missteps and errors occurred -- this is what the Army is calling them -- they're "missteps and errors." And that's not true -- I mean, sure, there were some missteps and errors. I'm sure among all of these breaking protocol at certain points it was an accident or misunderstanding, but at other points it was deliberate.

I also find it very suspicious that Gen. Abizaid was in Afghanistan talking to Pat's platoon leader at a time where he claimed he was in Iraq at the time when the P4 memo that Gen. McChrystal sent indicating that he wanted the president and secretary of the army to be aware that Pat's death was a friendly fire. Gen. Abizaid said he never received that P4 memo. He didn't learn about that until, like, May 16, which I find to be absolutely outrageous.

KING: Has President Bush ever commented on this?

TILLMAN: No, not to my knowledge. I mean, I guess he did after the P4 memo was brought up. I think that he did say something in the news, that he knew nothing about it, but he's never tried to contact our family or anything like that.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I always admired the fact that a person who was relatively comfortable in life would be willing to take off one uniform and put on another to defend America, and the best way to honor that commitment of his is to find out the truth.


KING: Are you still on this quest for more information, or have you put it...

TILLMAN: I would like someone to be held accountable for the cover-up. As I said, the Oversight Committee has already deemed that there was a cover-up in Pat's death, but they don't know how high that it went.

KING: Do you think you know who shot him?

TILLMAN: I believe I do, but I'd rather not say that for the, you know, the young man...

KING: Explain the title of the book.

TILLMAN: The title of the book, "Boots on the Ground by Dusk," is basically the order that caused this mission to take place and ultimately resulted in Pat's death, the MF's (ph) death and the wounding of two other soldiers.

KING: You mean they tell them, "Get ready, we're boots on the ground..."

TILLMAN: Right, boots on the ground. They were supposed to be in a town of Manow (ph) by dusk, but that order was not exactly correct and there was a misunderstanding about the order. But ultimately it was that order that resulted in the death of two men and the wounding of two others.

KING: How is Pat's wife doing? TILLMAN: She is doing pretty well. She is running Pat's foundation right now and she seems to really enjoy it.

KING: You ever talk to the men who were there?

TILLMAN: I do. We all...

KING: The man you thought might have done it?

TILLMAN: No, I've never talked to that -- I've never talked to any of the soldiers in the vehicle. Other family members have. But I have talked to soldiers that were near Pat, around Pat. I've talked to his platoon leader.

KING: Did anyone tell you, "I saw him shot"?

TILLMAN: No one actually saw him get shot. They saw the aftermath -- because they were being shot at as well. Everybody was trying to cover themselves and keep from being shot themselves.

KING: Did they bring Kevin home right away?

TILLMAN: He came home with his brother's body, and they were home within about a week and half.

KING: And did he leave the service?

TILLMAN: He served his full three years and then he left the service.

KING: Did he go back into military action?

TILLMAN: Actually, this is an interesting story because Kevin, because he had a brother that died -- he did not have to go back over to Iraq or Afghanistan, but...

KING: He did?

TILLMAN: ... he was given the option, and he was going to go back, but he did leave the unit that he was originally with because of the men who killed his brother, so he went into a sniper unit. And the spring of 2005, they were going to send him back to Iraq, but he learned that he was going with soldiers that were involved in Pat's death, so he went to his chain of command and he said, you know, "You're sending me over there with two guys that killed my brother. I'm a sniper. That's poor leadership. I'm not going."

KING: Thank you, Mary. Nothing but the best of luck.

TILLMAN: Thank you very much for having me.

KING: Hopefully we'll find the real story.

TILLMAN: Thank you.

KING: The book is "Boots on the Ground by Dusk." To always know what is happening with our show, head to Download our podcast, email upcoming guests, or watch video highlights.

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