Jim McCotter was out of the country while this story was being researched. The following details were gleaned from New Zealand and American newspaper articles, interviews with past associates and five church and political web sites.
North & South asked McCotter, his daughter Shannon Hunt and son-in-law Jonathan Hunt to verify these details.
Jonathan Hunt replied curtly, suggesting this reporter's research was "riddled with errors," but refusing to elaborate. McCotter did not initially respond.
Born in 1945 or 1946, James Douglas McCotter spent his childhood in Texas and Colorado. His family belonged to the fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren Church. He was drafted into the army in 1966, and served as a clerk in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. In the early 1970s, he helped start an evangelical movement with other young Christians at a Colorado university. He spent a summer touring Southwest universities, setting up campus-based churches, which according to one member church, were characterized by a literal interpretation of the Bible, a "strong expectation of the soon return of the Lord, and an aggressive emphasis on evangelism." Over the next decade, the movement spread into the wider community.
McCotter was involved in running a monthly publication produced by the church, called Today's Student. At one point, it reached a circulation of 500,000, according to two Iowa newspaper articles.
McCotter married Barbara, and started a family. In 1983, he formalized the church network as the Great Commission International. Newspaper coverage of the movement in the early 1980s featured interviews with former members who found the church excessively controlling and restrictive, as well as comment from current members who defended it against charges of cultism. Two articles in Iowa newspapers quote McCotter saying that during the late 1970s he and his young family mainly lived off donations from church members.
One-time Great Commission International church member Larry Pile spoke to North & South in February. Pile is a researcher and conducts workshops for survivors of cults and abusive relationships at Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center founded in Ohio in 1986. In 1985, he and several other former GCI leaders staged a conference, designed, he says, "to help other ex-members to recover from the emotional and psychological damage they'd experienced (through religious involvement)."
Pile says today he would not refer to GCI as a cult. "My preferred term would be Totalist Aberrant Christian Organization."
Such churches are truly Christian because they hold orthodox beliefs, but they're aberrant on secondary issues. They're totalist in that they demand total involvement of the members in church activities. That meant the GCI elders and deacons would tell members whether they could go home for holidays, where they should live, with whom they should live, what they should do with their free time, what tv -- if any -- they could watch."
In 1989, the Great Commission International Church was reorganized and renamed Great Commission Association of Churches. A GCAC spokesperson confirms McCotter formally withdrew from all leadership roles in 1986.
The original NZMG web site lists nine businesses founded or owned by McCotter in the United States, and an Internet search yielded and further eight. At least ten were media-related, including two radio networks, a television holding company and the Sun Newspaper Group.
The NZMG site also identifies McCotter as a "longtime member of the Council for National Policy, a philanthropic business roundtable of leaders with informed opinions about US policy issues." A researcher for the Institute for First Amendment Studies, which claims to monitor the religious right, describes the council as a secretive, informal network that embraces a "virtual who's who of the Hard Right." Another watchdog group, Political Research Associates has the following entry for the council on its website: "a policy and fundraising organization that brings together conservative and right-wing activists from many different groups."
McCotter gave a Beaver Creek, Colorado, address for the seven companies he registered in Christ church between February 9 and September 9, 2001. The next four, registered between September 11 and 19, were care of the Manchester Street address for the NZMG offices. The last three, all registered on December 4, 2001, had an address in the affluent Christ church suburb of Scarborough.
Christ church publishers: Waterford Press, Metros Publishing Group and Academy Publishing confirm they were all approached by McCotter and/or Geoff Botkin early in 2001, with various business propositions.
Former Citizen editor Coen Lammers recalls McCotter returning to Christ church in the first week of August 2001, accompanied by two teenage daughters (of his nine children), and a colleague from the United States, Rolando Ripamonti, wife Maurizia Ripamonti and teenage son Andrew (both Rolando and Andrew soon turned up on the NZMG staff phone list).
Shortly after that McCotter's wife, Barbara, and another daughter joined them. Shannon and Jonathan Hunt came to Christ church in late October 2001.
McCotter left to attend to business in the United States shortly before Christmas and was expected back for the ES launch in mid January. He had not reappeared in New Zealand as this story went to print.