Reverend-Colonel Sunday shares a laugh with the press and his police and Zealot security detail in New York during a Biblepalooza event

The rise and fall of Wilhelm "Bible Billy Sunday" Sonntag is a fascinating study in how quickly someone could fall from the cusp of near absolute power. Born November 19, 1862, in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to a Wilhelm and Mary Jane Sonntag. While his mother was born American, his bricklayer father was an immigrant from the Nordreich and a staunch Lutheran and adamant fan of beating his son with a belt. From a young age, Billy's father drilled the Bible and Lutheran dogma into him and would beat him regularly, but his mother would turn around and teach him American Fundamentalism and coddle him and tell him he was special. At school Billy was a very popular student, often the ring-leader in class projects and he was said to always have a girl on each arm. Growing up in the post-Lincoln, post-Great American War Union was tough for some, but not for Billy, and he knew from his earliest days he wanted to be a leader. He would tell his classmates that one day he would be President or a general, but when he officially converted to Fundamentalism after his father died in 1879, when Billy was just 17. His mother would pass the next year from grief. The future "Bible Billy" would write in his diary:

"They are gone. I am alone. I serve God yet these tribulations are wrought upon me. I follow the Word and my parents are taken. This is truly what it feels like to be in darkness. I know not if I shall come out of this situation with my sanity or my faith. God help me."

As Billy mourned the loss of his family and even contemplated suicide, his friends plied him with cocaine lozenges to help him get through the pain, starting a life-long habit. But cocaine was not all there was afoot at this time. The political landscape of America was radically changing. Gideon Claywell, the worst national leader since Adams, was bungling his way through an outbreak of Southron terrorists like the White League and a stagnating economy. The Manifest Destiny Party came to Chambersburg and began distributing revolutionary pamphlets calling for the installation of a "Strong Man" to lead the country to a glorious future. Before he knew it, Billy had left school and an offer of a free ride to Harvard from his wealthy uncle to throw himself into the MDP. Every day, Billy would put on his blue uniform and march around his town, an AFC Bible under one arm and a stack of propaganda posters under the other. He plastered his town with so many posters, such as the famous "JOIN THE MARCH" poster, that people began calling him "Posterboy." In 1881, Custer finally crossed the Rubicon and called for a general overthrow of the Claywell government. This was all Wilhelm Sonntag had to hear to rush to Philadelphia. Though he would see minimal action during the so-called Third Revolution, he would adamantly declare for decades that he had been in the thick of it.

After Custer came to power, Billy moved to Shicagwa in 1882, picking up a job as an accounting clerk at the regional MDP office. It was there that he met Barbara Sue Wilkerson, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed all-American Better girl two years his junior who ran errands at the office and took notes. She was the daughter of wealthy railroad tycoon Fritz Wilkerson, and it was love at first sight. Billy was infatuated with the girl and they went to church together regularly. One morning, as Billy drove her back to her home on his buggy, he began talking about several weak points in the pastor's sermon. After a twenty minute monologue about it, his girlfriend smiled at him and said, "Why, Bill, if you think you can preach better than Pastor Jones, why not go preach yourself? I like to listen to you. Surely others would as well."

Billy flicked the reigns to speed his horse up as he thought about what she said. Maybe that was it! Maybe, rather than President or a general, he was destined to spread the Word of Jehovah and Prophet to the masses. At first he dismissed the idea, because he had not gone to college. He would not take action immediately, instead pondering over the career move for two years. In 1883, Billy and Barbara were married at the Fundamentalist Church of Shicagwa. In 1884, they would have their first child, Anne Elizabeth, who would become Billy's pride and joy. In 1885, Billy finally decided to enter the ministry, applying for an official license to preach from the Shicagwa City Seminary.

By the winter of 1885, Billy was well and truly on his way. In just a few years, his fiery oratory and showmanship made him well-known all across the Midwest, from Oshkosh to Lewis City. He formed Billy Sonntag's Circuit Riders in 1890, who, despite the name, rode in new-fangled autocarriages rather than horses. Billy cut a dashing figure, cruising and schmoozing from town to town, always wearing a scarf, brown leather trenchcoat, brass goggles, and newsie cap. He was a natural showman, and everywhere he went huge crowds would follow. In some of the backwoods towns he visited there were people who had never even seen an auto before. Now here was a handsome, charismatic, snake-handling, spirit-slaying gentleman rolling through town in a crazy contraption, and this was always sure to draw crowds. As his celebrity grew, people would send word to nearby towns that "Bible Billy Sunday" was on his way. If given enough warning, some towns actually erected polebarns and other buildings to hold him.

Alas, it was during these first few years of celebrity that Billy began to show himself as someone of less than decent morals. In each town, there would be many, many dinners he would be invited to by local families, and he usually picked the ones who had the most attractive wives. The women would obsess over him so much that they would beg for him to "fill them with the Holy Spirit." Billy would rationalize this as a Pinnacle Man spreading his seed. In order to keep up the insane schedule of sometimes three towns a day, he also fell to heavier cocaine use. During this time he was known to have said, "I carry two things with me: my Bible and a carton of Firebreathers. I'm a hell of a lot less entertaining when I have only one and not the other." Really, Sunday was becoming the forerunner for most popular musicians and and celebrities of the next century, exhausting himself and burning himself out on drugs to fight the exhaustion he felt. Despite his low energy, he never showed weakness, always full of fire and vigor at every stop.

"I'm gonna fill ya full of fire, full of vigor, and full of the Holy Spirit! Yessir, Reverend Billy has come to town with love in his heart, a snake in his hand, and the Word of God in his mouth. And let me tell ya folks, ooh-wee, there is a real pack of sinners right here. All of us. But with the everlasting promise of sanctification through the Blood of Christ and the Words of the Prophet, I guarantee ya you guys can attain true happiness and fulfillment in duty to God and country! This is a fallen world, full of that nasty little creature called sin, but we also live in the New Jerusalem, given to us by God to build his holy Kingdom! Yessir, sin may get in and crawl right in your soul, but Reverend Billy is gonna crawl in right after 'em and yank him right out and beat the devil out of him with a rounders bat of righteousness, yessir. I'm gonna thrash ya, bash ya, and trash ya, but then I'm gonna build you up. God whispers in my one ear and the Prophet whispers in the other and I just let them take over. You must trust in the Lord Jehovah and believe the words of the Bible and the Four Books! Behold this snake in my left hand! If I get bit I am forty minutes away from medical treatment. I just gotta have faith that today isn't my day. But if it is my time, then the Lord will take me, yessir."

- Typical Billy Sunday opening monologue circa 1892

Sunday would deliver his sermons so quickly that it was almost like being at an auction. He rarely rehearsed or planned what he would say, instead preferring to "Let God do the talking." Fired up on Firebreathers, he would prance around the stage, gesturing wildly, his bloodshot eyes feverishly staring down the crowd. The eyes were famous, and many said it seemed as if he was looking into their very souls. His sometimes almost unintelligible sermons would be countered by his magnificently insane rituals he would perform, such as exorcisms and spirit-slaying. In March of 1892, Sunday would draw the largest crowd in Lewis City history with his "Springtime Biblepalooza." Bands and musicians came in from across the region to fiddle and pick and over 40,000 people attended the five-day revival and spiritual music festival, raising well over two million dollars for the Church in donations and offerings. The Council of Jehovah took notice.

Interestingly, as far as available historic information can tell, none of the Reverend-Colonels were ever members of the Council of Jehovah, securing their point of pride in the fact that no members of the Council had ever been named, this securing their anonymity and freedom to rule as they saw fit as a totally secret society. Sunday rose directly through the ranks to become one of the most powerful men in the country. In 1894, he was named Regional Deacon over the greater Midwestern area. He oversaw a remodel of the Chapel of the New Jerusalem in Shicagwa, where he would preach every Sunday for the next few years.

His folksy charm, no-holds-barred preaching, and over-the-top bombastic showmanship had brought him this far, and after the appointment to Regional Deacon, he began to use more and more cunning and manipulation to get what he wanted. By this point he already knew he wanted to be Reverend-Colonel, and when the call came in 1898 that Reverend-Colonel Moody was seeking an apprentice, he immediately resigned his post as Regional Deacon to become Church Secretary of Coin and Tithe, leading huge revivals and fundraisers based on his old "Biblepalooza" events. With money rolling in like never before in Church history, the Council informed him he was the next likely candidate for Reverend-Colonel.

All during these years, Billy would have two more children, Daniel and Job, and would also serve as MDP Bannerman for the Shicagwa area upon recommendation by none other than Horatio Hendrick. These years of unbridled success and greatness were not always happy, however, for the preacher. His cocaine addiction grew more and more ravenous and he also developed a habit for scotch. He had, by now, cheated on his wife dozens if not hundreds of times and he had grown incredibly distant with his young children. Despite all of his personal transgressions, he still seemed to have genuinely believed he was serving Jehovah. But the worst was yet to come. On April 18th, 1902, Military Police responded to a domestic disturbance at the Sunday house in Philadelphia. Billy's wife had confronted him at last about his fornication and addictions and Billy had responded with beating her with a belt, leaving her almost unconscious. At first, the police were about to arrest the wife-beater, but when they realized who he was they dismissed the case and struck it from the records.

His wife now saw no way out and no way to escape his violent rages. He would, on a regular basis, continue to cheat on her with possibly dozens more women all over the country who were eager for the "Man of God" to "put the fire of the Pinnacle Man in their loins." Finally, on April 18, 1906, Barbara Sue declared she was leaving him and packed several bags to flee to the Tobias Institute for refuge. This would prove to be Billy's final breaking point. In a violent drunken rage, he choked her to death in their living room while their children slept. Silently, with no sign of panic, he put the body in the back of his Colonel Ford and drove her to Cherry Hill, a nearby suburb of Philadelphia, where he buried the body in an unmarked location in the woods. He then proceeded to seek out police the next day and reported that his wife had gone to the department store and had never come back. RUMP launched a kidnapping investigation but never found any leads and, although there certainly were suspicions from detectives, Billy was never listed as a person of interest due to his fame and high ranking in the Church and Party.

The next few years were incredibly liberating for Sunday. He entrusted the care of his children to nannies and hit the road, evangelizing across the country on a mission to "save one million souls for Jesus and Prophet." His womanizing and power grew ever greater and when he was finally declared Reverend-Colonel in 1909, he saw himself almost as a god. Millions of Americans, most of the country, revered him as a Man of God and a hero. Every stop he made across the country was huge news as people waited with bated breath for the next words to come out of his mouth. Riding high, Sunday had achieved everything he had ever wanted.

That was when he realized he still felt empty inside and like he had not done everything he could have actually done to succeed in life. It was then he began to formulate a rough idea about potentially using Church clout to seize power over the entire country some day. But that was a far-off horizon. It would take a world war to make him convinced that such a move was possible.

That brings us back to the current study of his secret struggle against the bloody madman that was Joe Steele in 1914. The upstart President had come seemingly out of nowhere to seize power for himself and ripped it away from Sunday's waiting hands. Sunday hated Steele with a burning passion but he was also extremely pragmatic and utilitarian in achieving his goals. He made an offer for Steele to remain President as long as he always listened to him and the Council on important decisions. Steele seemingly was considering this when he asked Sunday to join him for a sit-down in Martha's Vineyard, a popular vacation spot for elites off the coast of Massachusetts. Chappaquiddick, a small village and sometimes-island on the eastern end of the Vineyard would be where the fate of the Union would lie.

Steele had prepared a handsome cottage to host the event at, with just enough room for them to sit inside comfortably if they left their security outside. With nothing between the two rivals but a coffee table and some warm tea, the two men finally came face-to-face.

Joe Steele had just taken a sip of his tea, smacking his lips contentedly, when Sunday broke the silence. "So," he began, "How are you today, Mr. Steele?" Sunday sat at the small oak table directly across from Steele in the parlor of the cottage. The intricate carvings of on the legs and chairs reflected the craftsmanship of men who had spent decades honing their craft. Sunday suspected that the cottage was actually Steele's vacation home.

Joe didn't respond for a few moments, taking another sip of tea and gazing at Billy with cold, almost demonic eyes. "I am fine. I suppose you wonder why I asked you to come here, eh? I hope you like the house. Our dear late President bought it for me when I returned from Holy Nippon. I call it Tranquility. I come here to think and meditate." Joe took another taste of the black tea, lightly sugared, and appeared quite content. The fact he was possibly on the verge of sparking a civil war seemed to him no different than discussing a game of rounders. In fact, Joe was an avid Philadelphia Yankees fan, and he probably got more worked up over their ballgames than discussing the fate of an empire with the most powerful religious leader this side of the Pope.

Billy lit a Firebreather on a stick and took a puff of the cocaine cigarette. "It is indeed a lovely home. I enjoy the simple things in life myself, you know. As for why you brought me here at all, I presumed it was over the legitimacy of your administration, frankly. I know you need the Church's weight behind you. You can't get anywhere in this country without our backing. Without my backing."

Joe chuckled quietly without cracking a smile once. "You might be right, Mr. Sunday. I do need the Church to cooperate with my rule else appear illegitimate." Joe set his teacup down and scratched at the beginnings a mustache on his lip, wiping the tea from it. He was wearing a simple, unassuming blue uniform with a stiff, starched collar. The collar was open, informally, revealing a white crew neck shirt underneath. Joe, with his less-than-impressive mustache and casual attire, didn't look like a man with the power of life and death over millions, but he was in that position nonetheless.

"I can tell you, Mr. Steele, that, per some conditions, the Church is ready and willing to support your rule," Sunday said, setting his cigarette down to take another sip out of the dainty white tea up. Despite thinking the meeting was going as expected, Steele was being eerily restrained. Something was amiss. Sunday finished his drink and sat it down, patting his belly contentedly. He looked far more rigid and uncomfortable than Steele in his formal suit with tails and vest, a red tie cinched tightly around his neck. An AFC Cross-and-Star was pinned to his tie to compliment the Union banner pin on his jacket lapel.

Joe looked him straight in the eyes as he crossed his arms, suddenly looking far more dictatorial. "I can tell you, Mr. Sunday, that per my conditions I won't have you taken behind this house and shot to death."

Sunday recoiled instantly in horror. He knew Steele hated his guts, but such a blatant threat was unexpected, at least today. "Mr. Steele, there is no need to be uncouth. I have not acted against you in any way and I see no reason why you should have me executed!"

The fascist leader threw back his head and let out a painfully drawn-out fake laugh. Pretending to wipe a tear from his eye, he answered, "Sunday, you 'uncouth' twat, I am no fool. I am not my father. Or my uncle. You cannot conspire against Joseph Steele and get away from it. If you think for a moment that I didn't have agents telling me your every move as you rallied your Zealots for a march on the capital, you are very, very stunted indeed. Only a lunatic would think he could conspire against the Strong Man of the Chosen without being watched like a bug under a lens. And that is what you are, Sunday. A bug. A filthy, decadent, humping dung beetle, scraping by every day on cocaine and the good ladies of the Church. Tell me, did you enjoy murdering your wife?"

"WHAT?!" spat Sunday, full of both rage and fear. "What on earth are you talking about, you madman?"

Steele grinned evilly as he relaxed and crossed his legs, taking up his teacup again. "How nice of my uncle's men to not arrest you for such an obvious murder. I said my uncle was a fool, not stupid. If you also think he didn't keep the file of your wife's disappearance and its obvious implications after the Council got you off the hook, you are not only stunted insect of a man but also insane. My uncle was very helpful when he provided me with all the files RUMP has ever had on you. My ORRA boys have been going through your records night and day. You have a very sordid past, don't you?"

Sunday couldn't believe it. All these years he had spent planning and scheming were being decimated by this upstart orphan. It couldn't be happening. He had everything planned out and now it was all falling to ashes. "I don't know what cockamamie balderdash your goons have been cookin' up, Steele, but I won't sit here and be insulted, threatened, and accused of high crimes. I represent God's Church on this earth and live a steadfastly moral and Christian life."

Steele suddenly stood up in a flash of a second, reached across the table with a mighty hand, and hoisted Sunday up by the tie, dragging him face-to-face and cutting off his air supply. As Steele spoke, his spittle flecked all across Sunday's face. "You scum. I know all about your affairs with your men's wives and daughters. I have over one hundred women ready to testify about you having your way with them, some when they were as young as twelve. I may be a bad man, but I'm not a child molester, 'reverend.' So if you think that America will follow you in a civil war and not call for you to be drawn and quartered once my papers are done, you are very sorely mistaken, 'reverend.' I will give you once chance, you sorry son of a bitch. And if you work against me or lie to me I will have you torn limb from limb and have your penis preserved in a jar so I can laugh at it every day as I remember the whoring, conceited, tiny little man that you are." Steele finally let go of Sunday's tie, sending him rocking back into his chair and clutching his neck as he struggled to breathe. "I will give you one chance. I need a mole on the inside of my opposition. The highest-ranking Betters of Society discuss their most personal matters and problems with you. You are essentially their father-confessor, as the Papists would say. That's useful. It's the only way you are useful, so keep doing it. And every single time you hear something interesting, you are going to bring it to me. You are going to let me know every word anyone of importance says to you. I don't care what it is or what it's about. If it would make for interesting reading while I take a shit, you will tell me. And you will tell this nation Joe Steele is their legitimate President, ordained by Jehovah to fulfill Manifest Destiny and lead the New Jerusalem or I will have you strangled in your bed. Do we have an understanding?"

Sunday was white as a ghost, still clutching his throat. Rivers of cold sweat run down his brow and into his eyes. His eyes were lit up in fear. "And... if I do these things I will remain Reverend-Colonel?"

"Yes, you fool. You can smoke, drink, and whore yourself right to the gates of Hell as a Reverend-Colonel for all I care. You can fornicate all you want and I will look the other way. But in exchange you are going to be my little pet. I ask for something, you do it. Understood?"

Sunday wanted to crawl in a hole and bury himself. He dejectedly stood up, shoulders slumped, and extended a hand to shake. "You... have a deal, Mr. President."

A few minutes later, as Sunday exited the cottage, one of his personal Zealots greeted him with a salute outside and asked, "Did things go well, Reverend-Colonel?"

Sunday lit up another Firebreather before answering. He was shaking. But he put himself together and plastered on a smile, patting the Zealot on the shoulder and answering, "Yes. Yes, by George, we have him right where we want him." At that he climbed into the back seat of his armored Colonel Ford and his convoy drove off. Just as Sunday began to recover from the shock of the meeting, he heard a ticking sound. He looked for the source and quickly found it was a bomb timer hidden underneath the seat. As panic began to set in, he noticed a piece of paper stuck to the timer. He quickly unfolded it and it read:

"Dear Reverend-Colonel. This is a false bomb. But I could have just as easily had a real one planted. Just in case you think you can trust your Zealots, know you are never out of my grasp. Trust no one, not even yourself. All hail."


Gone Fishin'
I may be a bad man, but I'm not a child molester, 'reverend.'
This is ironically hilarious. "I may be literally Stalin, but at least I'm not a fucking pedo."
"Dear Reverend-Colonel. This is a false bomb. But I could have just as easily had a real one planted. Just in case you think you can trust your Zealots, know you are never out of my grasp. Trust no one, not even yourself. All hail."
that's a good one. Seems less a Stalin trick than a Heydrich one, though. (Stalin usually just murdered or forced into exile his rivals, and once he took power he used strings to control his toadies just in case one of the little worms got too big for his britches; Stalin was always great at getting rid of smart potential challengers and keeping the semi-competent toadies around) Now there's a match made in Hell.
"Yes, you fool. You can smoke, drink, and whore yourself right to the gates of Hell as a Reverend-Colonel for all I care. You can fornicate all you want and I will look the other way. But in exchange you are going to be my little pet. I ask for something, you do it. Understood?"
aaaaand Madness!Stalin has found his Beria.

Another match made in Hell.
That was just.... wow. I'm pretty sure I hate this guy more than I hate Custer, Steele, and Goodyear combined. I pity and despise Goodyear. I loath Custer. I fear what Steele might do, and hate him too. But after reading this chapter I have but one thing to say:


Or as Joe Steele himself put it:

I may be a bad man, but I'm not a child molester, 'reverend.'
Even Beria was better than him. Beria wasn't a pedo.

No, Beria was 100% a pedophile. It's very well documented. According to a possibly apocryphal story, Beria decided to visit Stalin's daughter unannounced one day, to which Stalin panicked and sent in soldiers to his house with orders that if Beria had touched a hair on the head of his daughter, they had full permission to execute him on the spot.
Oh my...I expected there would be some dark stuff in Sunday's past, but not like this. This is really a meeting of monsters. However, I think Sunday is even a worse monster than Steele. At least Joe isn't a child molester. He still is an evil son of a bitch, though. And now he has the backing of the Church. His reign has officially began. God save us all!
I suspect that Steele's first act as president (besides starting this TL's version of the Great Purge) will be the integration of Carolina into the RU. Not only it would be a great propaganda victory for Steele but it would also give to the RU more lands in Africa. Considering how much the ORRA already influences Carolina's government, i wouldn't be surprised if this "reunification" is the result of some kind of referendum.
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I suspect that Steele's first act as president (besides starting this TL's version of the Great Purge) will be the integration of Virginia into the RU. Not only it would be a great propaganda victory for Steele but it would also give to the RU more lands in Africa. Considering how much the ORRA already influences Virginia's government, i wouldn't be surprised if this "reunification" is the result of some kind of referendum.

Do you mean Carolina? Virginia was annexed back in the Great American War.
Yeah, I know Joe Steele is evil personified ITTL, but I loved his takedown of Billy Sunday, the hypocritical child molester...

If Sunday goes too far ITTL, we're gonna see TTL's version of Beria's trial scene from The Death of Stalin (1), methinks (the fact that Stalin freaked when his daughter was alone with Beria should tell you something, as well as the fact that Stalin's aides, for all of their jerkassery, hated Beria)...

(1) Since Beria would have done to them what they did to him IMO, he does not get to complain about his unfair treatment...
I've been wondering if we'll get an appearance from Howard Hughes at some point. Maybe he could be the person to truly set up the Motion-Picture Economic Clan before getting into the slowly expanding aircraft clan. Maybe he becomes friends with Ford's son leading to them becoming partners.
I've been wondering if we'll get an appearance from Howard Hughes at some point. Maybe he could be the person to truly set up the Motion-Picture Economic Clan before getting into the slowly expanding aircraft clan. Maybe he becomes friends with Ford's son leading to them becoming partners.
Maybe Hughes will become the RU's version of Gobbels.