What’s right about Paul Fatta is what’s wrong with cult leader Vernon Howell, former cult members say.
Robyn Bunds remembers Fatta as “the nicest guy.”
“There were certain people in the group that you knew you wouldn’t get along with except for the truth,” said Bunds, who left the cult in 1990. “But Paul had a lot of the qualities I had. We got along. He liked clothes, I liked clothes, and so on. He was down-to-earth. He cared about people. Most of all he didn’t ignore me when Vernon was being mean to me.”
Agent Dan Conroy of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said Thursday, however, that an arrest warrant had been issued for Fatta, 35, charging him with conspiracy to manufacture and possess unregistered machine guns.
Fatta, whose whereabouts are not known, was at an Austin gun show with his son, Kalani, 14, on the morning of Feb. 28, when Howell and his followers killed four ATF agents. At least two Branch Davidians also died. About 100 agents stormed Mount Carmel, the cult’s base 10 miles east of Waco, to arrest Howell for possessing illegal weapons.
News of the arrest warrant for Fatta saddens Bunds.
“I know if Paul did anything bad, it was because he was influenced by Vernon,” Bunds said. “He was brainwashed into believing he would be lost for eternity. You have to look at it from his perspective. Vernon once said, ‘If you can’t kill for God, you can’t die for God.’ These people are brainwashed. It’s sad because Paul is a good person. He loves people.”
Former cult member Marc Breault said he introduced Fatta to Howell in 1986. Both men were members of the Diamond Head Seventh-day Adventist Church in Honolulu, Breault said.
Fatta became one of Howell’s most loyal followers.
While in Hawaii, Fatta owned a transportation company, Bunds said. He had money, friends, “a nice life for a nice man.”
But he found this world painful, Bunds said. Enter Howell, promising his followers a better world in the next life if they followed him. Fatta turned his business over to his father, Breault said. For a time, his father regularly sent Fatta money, former cult members said. The business has reportedly since been sold.
Fatta became one of Howell’s inner circle, former cult members said.
But, like Breault, he became someone whom cult members went to when dealing with Howell proved difficult.
“Paul still had a joke left in him,” said former cult member Lisa Gent. “He was a good guy.”
And if anyone did, he knew how to work Howell. As Bunds said, Fatta had a fashion sense he liked to indulge. That wasn’t always easy. Howell liked cult members to shop in thrift shops and save their money for him. But Fatta sometimes got around that, Breault said, such as the time he bought himself a leather jacket and one for Howell.
“That was Paul,” Breault said. “He was straightforward. He didn’t act like he bought the jacket for Vernon out of the goodness of his heart. He admitted why he did it to Vernon. They had a good laugh over it.
Bunds said Fatta visited her in California after she left the cult. They had a conversation as he helped her put together a bed for her son, Shaun. Fatta told her that if Howell is not Christ, as he claims, he (Fatta) does not want to live.
I said to Paul that it’s not that bad out in the real world,” Robyn Bunds said. “It’s not the horrible place that Vernon makes it out to be. He told me, ‘Robyn, you know what? If this message is not true, I want to die.’ Vernon paints this utopian world. He makes you want it so bad. It’s a world where you don’t have to work, everything is clean, the sun is shining, nobody dies and there are no tears. Everything you hate about this world is not there. I guess people who can’t deal with life fall into these kinds of groups.”