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The Devil in David Berkowitz

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In prison, David tells me he’s engaged in active spiritual warfare. I’d like to hear more, but with me, he will only go so far. Seven years ago, however, he sat down with a 22-year-old Columbia journalism student named Lisa Singh, who had written him a letter. David sensed the hand of God in her interest and invited her to prison. Lisa included portions of their conversations in a Penthouse article, but most of the twenty hours of interviews remain unpublished; she provided tapes to New York. With Lisa, David seemed to feel freer to express himself, or perhaps he was simply more optimistic at the time. “I personally feel that God is calling me today to fulfill some kind of purpose,” he told Lisa, “that he has some job that he wants done. God is calling me to be a prophetic voice to this nation, to people in general.” God, he senses, counts on him to combat the Devil. David is sure he’s up to the task. “I feel that Satan is very afraid of me because he knows I know so much about him from my own experiences,” he told Lisa. David is quick to sniff out Satan’s influence. The Devil lures kids down dangerous paths and also (still) targets David personally. “Strangers who lash out against me, ‘Oh, he hasn’t changed,’ ” said David. “That’s all part of the battle.” So was Spike Lee’s 1999 movie, Summer of Sam, which spotlighted David’s past. “I feel that the movie is purposely being designed to damage my Christian testimony,” David told Lisa.

Fortunately for David, he lately has means at his disposal to counterattack. He has, by now, access to a modest media empire to spread his message. The key to his reach is his Christian celebrity, which piggybacks on his criminal celebrity and which began about a decade ago. In 1997, Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, which appears on the Christian Broadcasting Network, interviewed David. Robertson praised him, citing David as proof that the Devil is real. The word was out; fundamentalist churches found David. A tiny Evangelical church out of San Diego—it calls itself House Upon the Rock, though it doesn’t have a physical ­location—hosted “The Official Home Page of David Berkowitz.” That site became forgivenforlife.com and was transferred to Morningstar Communications, a small New York literary agency, which posted David’s near-daily journals back to 1998.

The journals, Christian reflections on everything from 9/11 to prayer in prison, were a turning point in his life, David says. Suddenly he was in communication with an audience. One reader was Darrell Scott, a Christian, whose daughter Rachel, also a Christian, was murdered at Columbine. Scott read in the journals how Rachel’s story encouraged David. Scott traveled to Sullivan County Correctional—“David Berkowitz radiated the life of love of Jesus Christ,” Scott writes—and they became friends.

With the help of another friend, Chuck Cohen, a fellow Jew who is now a fellow Christian, David soon made a Christian video—“Society wrote him off as hopeless … but God had other plans …” David passed me Chuck’s phone number, and I left a message. Chuck called back almost immediately. “My answering machine,” Chuck informed me, “hasn’t worked in months,” which he saw as a powerful sign. (I’d become accustomed to signs. MaryAnn mentioned shopping for an amplifier. The brand name, she said, was Fishman.) At his compact East Side apartment, Chuck reviewed his sinful past, though in his case, the principal sin appears to have been failure to succeed. Chuck, an Ivy Leaguer, was a stockbroker who couldn’t earn a living. (These days, he delivers lost luggage and invests on the side along biblical guidelines. Chuck, sure the end of time is fast approaching, is into gold.) One day, a Christian friend laid his hands on Chuck and his wife. The Holy Spirit entered them, though it took faster for his wife. “She’s already talking in tongues,” he complained to the friend. (Later, talking in tongues came to Chuck too. It’s not difficult, he told me, and gave a little demonstration.) Once converted, Chuck set out to bring other Jews to Jesus. He set up a table outside Zabar’s, and prayed for a celebrity Jew to convert. Woody Allen, he hoped.

“Instead,” says Chuck’s wife, “God chose David to be that famous person.”

The video Chuck helped produce in 1998, Son of Hope, was another turning point for David. In it, he preaches, jabbing a finger in the air and shouting, “I was the Son of Sam, now I’m the son of hope.” Ministers write David “praise reports,” thanking him for his testimony, which they assure him impresses their troubled teens.


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