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Biblical prophecy finds way to legislators in battle over ID plan

LITTLE ROCK --As state legislators line up against the U.S. government's attempt to standardize driver's licenses nationwide, some believe it is a beastly plot that will draw the world closer to the apocalypse.

Their inspiration: a magazine dedicated to biblical prophecy. Their fear: national ID numbers given to residents are the mark of the beast, the 666 from the Book of Revelation.

"The ramifications are horrendous," said Sen. Ruth Whitaker, whose resolution opposing the Real ID Act of 2005 has passed the Arkansas Senate. "If there is anything akin to Nazi Germany, it is this act."

Congress hopes to reduce identity theft and boost national security by requiring people to use Real IDs to board airplanes, enter federal buildings and open some bank accounts. Those who dabble in biblical prophecy say the new government-issued numbers mark the beginning of the end.

"People are very concerned if the federal government gives you a number, it will be the mark of the beast," said Missouri Rep. Jim Guest, the sponsor of a resolution similar to Whitaker's. "There are everyday people who get the connection to 666."

Legislators in Georgia, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington state and Wyoming have also balked at Real ID and a bill filed in Congress by Rep. Thomas Allen, D-Maine, would repeal it. Many complain that states will have to pay billions of dollars to put the system in place by the end of 2009, as mandated by Congress.

Resolutions in Arkansas, Georgia, Maine and Missouri were offered after legislators read materials, spoke to or had indirect contact with Endtime Ministries of Dallas, whose magazine, radio show and outreach examines current events through the prism of Christian apocalypse.

Recent popular topics in Endtime magazine have also included speculation that Pope Benedict XVI is the false prophet from Revelation and that the United Nations' agenda includes establishing a global army, parliament, court and tax structure.

"If we reach a point where every person is given a number without which they cannot buy or sell, and if your number is in a national database so that the government can track everywhere you go and everything you do, the word is control, and control and freedom are opposites," said Irwin Baxter Jr., who runs Endtime.

Any effort to repeal the Real ID Act is not to stall the eventual end of the world but to ensure the country stands against the Antichrist, Baxter said.

"Daniel 11:40-45 reveals that there will be nations opposing the Antichrist during the Great Tribulation," according to an Endtime magazine article cited by Whitaker, who said she obtained it from Maine Senate Democratic Majority Leader Elizabeth Mitchell.

"We want the United States, Australia, and as many other nations as possible to be on the side that will fight Satan's plan to number the human race," says the article. It calls the Real ID Act "the death of freedom."

In an interview, Whitaker told The Associated Press the idea of being assigned a number was frightening.

"Your name will not mean anything anymore," Whitaker said. "You'll just be known as X203 or something."

Whitaker acknowledged that she has a Social Security number assigned to her by the government, but said it wasn't as intrusive as the Real ID Act. Also, Arkansas' child-support law requires people to provide a Social Security number as a cross-reference with their driver's license number.

Baxter said that, under Real ID, Americans must have a government number to hold jobs and have bank accounts. While the same could be said for Social Security numbers, Baxter said Real ID would force all of that information into an easily accessed database for the first time.

Mitchell described her fear of Real ID in terms of losing a key ring. If a thief finds a key ring, the most he'll know is that someone drives a Chevrolet or has a bicycle or a certain type of deadbolt -- not where those things are.

If a Real ID database can be hacked, a thief could hold the key to a whole lot more -- such as banking information and travel habits, Mitchell said.

But "nobody in Maine ever thought about" the biblical connection before voting on her resolutions, Mitchell said, or if they did, "they didn't share it with me.

"We're pretty pedestrian," she said.

With a number of state legislators contacting her office about their Real ID resolution, Mitchell said a staffer may have taken all of the articles she's received and sent them on without vetting their content -- including one from Endtime.

Guest, a Missouri Republican who has spoken on Endtime's radio program about Real ID, said legislators from 45 states had promised him they would push some type of resolution denouncing Real ID. He said his constituents share fears about the ID being the mark of the beast.

The 666 from Revelation, sometimes translated as 616, is generally regarded as a coded reference to the Roman emperor Nero, who persecuted early Christians. The book says those who receive his mark will be thrown into the eternal abyss at the end of time.

Mitch Seabaugh, the Republican majority whip in the Georgia Legislature, also has appeared on the Endtime radio show. His bill authorizing Georgia's governor to delay implementing the act until privacy concerns are met passed out of the state Senate in February.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, also has appeared on the Endtime radio program.

Fears about the federal government and the mark of the beast stretch back 100 years. Carl Raschke, chairman of religious studies department at the University of Denver, said 666 worries came up when the U.S. established Federal Reserve banks and the Social Security system. The fears are anchored in St. John's warnings about the Roman government -- which conducted census surveys in Jesus' time -- that are recorded in Revelation, he said.

"Whenever you have an active government that seems like it's trying to gather data on its citizens or take away certain freedoms, pretty often this particular prophesy is cited," he said.