While most of those attending Tuesday's Washington for Jesus rally listened to sermons forecasting the second coming of Christ, a small band of people with bare feet and white robes roamed the fringes of the crowd, telling others that Jesus had already returned.
Members of the group call themselves Christ's Family, and are led by Jesus Christ Lightning Amen, a 43-year-old, bearded recluse who, they say, is the reincarnated Christ, and California police say is Charles Franklin McHugh.
The band of about 100 long-haired young people began drifting into Washington in groups of twos and threes about 12 days ago.
They have attracted stares as they walked the streets, carrying bedrolls and olive green Army blankets thrown over their shoulders. The women wear white scarves, the men baby diapers, tied around their heads. They turn aside questions about themselves with vague answers, although they are eager to discuss their religious philosophy.
Their precepts forbid sex, materialism and the killing of animals for their meat or their skins. They admonish outsiders to "take those dead animals off your feet" and go barefoot. They smoke marijuana, which they say is a God-given herb. And they believe, "We're the true Christians. We live the life of Christ."
Traveling coast to coast "like the wind," the group rejects all work (they are working for God), sleeps in parks and sometimes searches for food in garbage cans ("salad bowls") outside restaurants and grocery stores.
The sect, which numbers about 2,000 nationwide, according to police estimates, winters in places such as Key West, Fla., Blythe, Calif., and Yuma County, Ariz. In those towns, members live on food stamps -- though the family keeps a California bank account, to which members are expected to contribute after they have sold all their possessions.
Group members said they adhere to a strict vegetarian diet, eating no meat or fish. They also eat no eggs, dairy products or honey because, they said, these are produced by captive animals.
The sect is secretive, "strange" but nonviolent, clean and harmless, according to police departments in the three states. D.C. police officials alternately called group members innocuous and a nuisance.
U.S. Park Police said they broke up several heated arguments between some members of the group and Washington for Jesus rally participants on Tuesday. Two members of Christ's Family also were arrested for allegedly attempting to tear down a tent erected for the rally, park police said.
But other family members argued quietly with rally participants, with each side pulling out their Bibles to prove their points.
B. Christ, 31, a member of the family for three years, said the family believes those at the rally were "Pharisees and hypocrites because they wear leather and pay money to the church."
While family members believe that Jesus Christ Lightning Amen is a former carpenter who went on a 40-day fast in California's Mojave Desert 10 years ago and then started preaching in San Diego that he was Christ, it appears that he used to be a painting contractor in that city.
According to California police, he is Charles McHugh. His mother, Ruth Ribby of Santee, Calif., said she last saw her son seven years ago when he told her he was going to help people and return them to Christ, after his business and two marriages had failed. McHugh came to Washington with his group, but stayed out of sight.
The few family members who will talk about their past [most say they have been on earth 2,000 years] said they joined the group while hitchhiking around the country or searching "for something" to believe in.
Brother, another follower, summed up the group's philosophy this way: "To be nice, rejoice and enjoy -- that's our purpose here on earth. To have fun and have a good feeling all the time for peace on earth."