Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gay bashers are coming out

[Sacramento, Calif., editor Vlad Kusakin (from left), also known as Wade Kusak; Vadim Privedenyuk, who runs an anti-gay church in Springfield, Mass.; Kenneth Hutcherson, founder of a Seattle area megachurch; and Alexey Ledyaev of Latvia are working together to battle gays. Photo courtesy of SPLC.]

-- by Dave

The religious right has always liked to pretend that its opposition to the "homosexual agenda" is purely a Biblical-law thing that isn't innately hateful -- remember "Hate the sin, love the sinner"? And their opposition to bias-crime laws really isn't about coddling people who commit violence, it's just about their free-speech rights -- even though the laws specifically are only about stiffening the sentences for acts that are already crimes.

Well, the facade is finally starting to crumble. The latest permutation in the religious right's anti-gay crusade appears ripe to take a decidedly violent turn.

Casey Sanchez at the SPLC has disturbing report about the coalition building between West Coast fundamentalist churches -- particularly here in the Northwest -- and a Latvian-based group of far-right fundamentalists who explicitly encourage, and in fact help manifest, violent gay-bashing thuggery.

One of the leaders in this growing coalition is a Seattle-area pastor, Rev. Ken Hutcherson, who has been involved in opposing civil rights for gays for some time. No doubt thanks to him, we in fact will be hosting a gathering of these thugs in Christian clothing next week just up the road from my home.

Sanchez's report begins with a description of one of the hate crimes that's occurred under the aegeis of this coalition, involving an Indian man in California:
One of the Slavic men then sucker-punched Singh in the head. He fell to the ground, unconscious and bleeding. The assailants drove off in a green sedan and red sports car, hurling bottles at Singh's friends to prevent them from jotting down the license plate. Singh suffered a brain hemorrhage. By the next day, hospital tests confirmed that he was clinically brain dead. His family agreed to remove him from artificial life support July 5.

Outside Singh's hospital room, more than 100 people held a vigil. Many were Sacramento gay activists who didn't know Singh personally, but who saw his death as the tragic but inevitable result of what they describe as the growing threat of large numbers of Slavic anti-gay extremists, most of them first- or second-generation immigrants from Russia, the Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union, in their city and others in the western United States.

In recent months, as energetic Russian-speaking "Russian Baptists" and Pentecostals in these states have organized to bring thousands to anti-gay protests, gay rights activists in Sacramento have picketed Slavic anti-gay churches, requested more police patrols in gay neighborhoods and distributed information cards warning gays and lesbians about the hostile Slavic evangelicals who they say have roughed up participants at gay pride events. Singh's death was the realization of their worst fears.

... Gay rights activists blame Singh's death on what they call "The West Coast connection" or the "U.S.-Latvia Axis of Hate," a reference to a virulent Latvian megachurch preacher who has become a central figure in the hard-line Slavic anti-gay movement in the West. And indeed, in early August, authorities announced that two Slavic men, one of whom had fled to Russia, were being charged in Singh's death, which they characterized as a hate crime.

The main entity is a group of anti-gay brownshirts who call themselves the "Watchmen on the Walls"; in Latvia, they've been linked to a number of violent gay-bashing incidents. Now, the same trend is occurring here:
A growing and ferocious anti-gay movement in the Sacramento Valley is centered among Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking immigrants. Many of them are members of an international extremist anti-gay movement whose adherents call themselves the Watchmen on the Walls. In Latvia, the Watchmen are popular among Christian fundamentalists and ethnic Russians, and are known for presiding over anti-gay rallies where gays and lesbians are pelted with bags of excrement. In the Western U.S., the Watchmen have a following among Russian-speaking evangelicals from the former Soviet Union. Members are increasingly active in several cities long known as gay-friendly enclaves, including Sacramento, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Vlad Kusakin, the host of a Russian-language anti-gay radio show in Sacramento and the publisher of a Russian-language newspaper in Seattle, told The Seattle Times in January that God has "made an injection" of high numbers of anti-gay Slavic evangelicals into traditionally liberal West Coast cities. "In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin," Kusakin said.

The Watchmen movement's strategy for combating the "disease" of homosexuality calls for aggressive confrontation. "We church leaders need to stop being such, for lack of a better word, sissies when it comes to social and political issues," Lively argues in a widely-circulated tract called Masculine Christianity. "For every motherly, feminine ministry of the church such as a Crisis Pregnancy Center or ex-gay support group we need a battle-hardened, take-it-to-the-enemy masculine ministry like [the anti-abortion group] Operation Rescue."

Lively identifies "the enemy" as not only homosexuals, but also what he terms "homosexualists," a category that includes anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, who "actively promotes homosexuality as morally and socially equivalent to heterosexuality as a basis for social policy."

When he personally confronts the enemy, Lively practices what he preaches when it comes to "battle-hardened" tactics. He recently was ordered by a civil court judge to pay $20,000 to lesbian photojournalist Catherine Stauffer for dragging her by the hair through the halls of a Portland church in 1991.

The movement likes to make use of Lively's bizarre piece of historical revisionism, The Pink Swastika -- which argues ahistorically that the Nazis were primarily homosexuals (it was very popular at militia meetings in the 1990s) -- as one of its major texts. As Sanchez explains:
Lively credits the popularity of Russian-language translations of The Pink Swastika to the support of Pastor Alexey Ledyaev, the head of the New Generation Church, an evangelical Christian megachurch based in Riga, the capital city of Latvia. New Generation has more than 200 satellite churches spread throughout Eastern Europe, Argentina, Israel and the United States.

"One of my supporters gave him [Ledyaev] a copy of The Pink Swastika. He was very impressed by it," Lively said in a December 2006 radio show on WTTT-AM, based in Salem, Mass. "The European press was bashing them [Ledyaev and his church] for being Nazis. He was finally thrilled that he had something to counter the media with." Ledyaev did not respond to E-mails seeking comment.

Ledyaeav, as it turns out, has friends in unusually high places:
Ledyaev is close friends with Southern Baptist televangelist Pat Robertson — a man who once predicted God would punish Florida with hurricanes and other disasters because Disney World had allowed a "Gay Days" discount — and was invited to the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast hosted by President George Bush.

A far more concrete relationship with the religious right is his association with Hutcherson:
In addition to Lively and Robertson, Ledyaev has cultivated the support of Rev. Ken Hutcherson, the African-American founder of Antioch Bible Church, a Seattle-area megachurch. "Hutch," as the ex-NFL player is known, played a key role in persuading Microsoft to temporarily withdraw its support for a Washington bill that would have made it illegal to fire an employee for their sexual orientation. In 2004, his "Mayday for Marriage" rally drew 20,000 people to the Seattle Mariner's Safeco Field to oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.

One of Ledyaev's nephews saw Hutcherson speak in Seattle at a March 2006 debate on gay rights and arranged a meeting with the Latvian pastor. By the end of the year, Hutcherson, Ledyaev and Lively had teamed up with Vlad Kusakin, the editor of The Speaker, to form an international alliance to oppose what Hutcherson characterizes as "the homosexual movement saying they're a minority and that they need their equal rights."

... During the past year, the Watchmen have met twice in the United States, first in Sacramento, then in Bellevue, Wash. They gathered to strategize against same-sex marriage and build a political organization to fight "gay-straight alliances" in public schools and push for the boycott of textbooks that mention homosexuality in any context other than total condemnation.

The group has also convened outside America. In the summer of 2006, the Watchmen and their supporters gathered in Riga, Latvia, to "protect the city from a homosexual invasion." Gay rights activists in Europe counter that it's gays who need protection from the Latvian capital, not the other way around.

David Schmader at Slog points out that the Watchmen on the Walls will be gathering here next week to talk strategy:
As readers pointed out in the comments, later this month, the Watchmen on the Walls will hold an international meeting to plot their war against homosexuals and “homosexualists” (straight people who are sympathetic to gay people) at the Lynnwood Convention Center. Calls made yesterday to the Convention Center revealed administrators’ ignorance of what they were getting themselves into.

... The Watchmen conference scheduled for October 19-21 at the Lynnwood Convention Center will feature a number of prominent Latvian anti-gay warriors, along with the Northwest’s own Pastor Ken Hutcherson. Correct me if I’m wrong, but foreigners coming to America with the purpose of doing harm to Americans are traditionally called terrorists, and the Watchmen conference seems like the last thing the City of Lynnwood would want to align itself with.

The folks who run the Convention Center, incidentally, appear to be clueless about the group they're hosting.

I have an unpleasant feeling that we'll all be learning a lot more about these goons in the not-too-distant future.

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