Saturday, October 27, 2007

Watching the Watchmen on the Walls

There's been a flood of movement conservatives accusing liberals of being Nazis lately, most recently Debbie Schlussel and Michael Savage. Most of it has been barely concealed projection. We can hardly wait, of course, for Jonah Goldberg's contribution to the claim, though it looks we may be waiting awhile. Newspeak can be tricky, after all.

But the most striking use of the "liberal Nazis" meme I've yet heard -- striking, that is, for the Bizzaro World inversion of reality it reflected -- came this weekend from Vlad Kusakin, the Sacramento-based editor of a Russian-language newspaper called The Speaker. Kusakin went on a rant about the "liberal media" and the 120 or so people gathered outside the meeting hall in Lynnwood, Wash., where he was speaking to a group calling itself the Watchmen on the Walls.

Describing the gay-bashing murder this summer of a young Sacramento man named Satender Singh by a thuggish clutch of young Russian immigrants, Kusakin said through an interpreter: "To our sorrow, this incident is used to suppress Christians. This reminds me of Nazi Germany." Then he went on to compare the Singh murder to the burning to the Reichstag in 1933.

Later, he returned to this them: "The media started saying the Slavic rallies for people who are not accepting unnatural laws had caused this. Doesn't this remind you of Nazi Germany? It does me."

The crude irony in all this, of course, is that the Watchmen on the Walls themselves are associated with a wide range of violent gay-bashing embodied by street thuggery and hate crimes, which reminds a lot of people of the Brownshirts who paved the way for Nazi rule in Germany, as well as Italy's Blackshirted squadristi. Even more disturbingly, they -- and conferences like the one in Lynnwood -- represent a coalescence of American fundamentalist Christians and international street thugs motivated by a theocratic thirst for power.

A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center explored this phenomenon in some detail:
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.

The report touched off a mild furor in the Seattle area this week because of the Watchmen's convention in Lynnwood planned over the weekend, and helped prod local gay-rights and church groups to come out in the rain and protest outside. They outnumbered the convention-goers Saturday (only about 40 people attended the morning session, though the late-afternoon and evening numbers came closer to a hundred), and clearly rattled them; the Watchmen had not been protested before.

One of these was Pastor Joseph Fuiten -- who in the past has argued that non-Christians should be considered illegal aliens -- who in addressing the audience Saturday chose mostly to complain about coverage of the Watchmen and claim that they're just benign Christians standing up for decency:
When Channel 5 reported tonight that you have declared war on homosexuals they are inciting people to violence. Have you declared war? War is violent! Channel 5 accused you of being violent and many will believe their accusation.

How many Russians have been killed over the years by atheists?

Stalin killed at least 20 million in the name of atheism but no one ever says that secular people are violent.

Hitler was a pagan, and apparently a lot more. He killed probably 8 million in his gas chambers and caused the deaths of millions more.

Do they ever object to pagans, occultists, and whatever else?

The "whatever else," in case you're wondering, happens to be homosexuals. One of the key figures in the Watchmen organization on the West Coast (and internationally) is Oregon's Scott Lively, author of a work of Holocaust revisionism titled The Pink Swastika, which posits that Hitler and other Nazis were secretly homosexuals, and that indeed both the Nazi regime and the Holocaust were products of a homosexual conspiracy. Lively attended the convention in Lynnwood and spoke to reporters outside.

As it happens, this is the same Scott Lively who told an audience at a Watchmen gathering in Novosibirsk, Russia, earlier this summer:
There is a war that is going on in the world. There is a war that is waging across the entire face of the globe. It’s been waging in the United States for decades, and it’s been waging in Europe for decades. It’s a war between Christians and homosexuals.

This is a war you haven’t seen yet. You’ve only seen a little bit of it, because Russia had been protected against the homosexual movement by the Communists. One of the few good things that the Soviet Union did is that it stopped the sexual revolution from infecting the Russian people. But all across the West, the sexual revolution changed the culture of the nations. The sexual revolution embraces the idea that there should be no limits on sexual conduct.

And this is the design of the Devil to destroy civilization, because civilization is based on the natural family. One man and one woman united in marriage bringing children into the world and training them to replace them in the next generation. That’s the foundation of civilization and the heart of Christian living.

And in the United States where the sexual revolution began, it was the homosexual political movement that designed this strategy to attack Christianity. The homosexual movement teaches sexual freedom, and its first target is the heterosexual people. The homosexual activists stayed hidden but they taught this philosophy through their activists. And out of the philosophy came the principalities and powers that is destroying the West: The pornography industry, the abortion industry, and the destruction of marriage through divorce.

These things are the product of a way of thinking. They deny the Truth of God. They deny the design of God for human beings. And their purpose is the change the cultures of the world.

Now, the homosexual movement has been winning this war in the United States, and it has been winning this war in Europe. And we’re looking at the future collapse of Western civilization. And Watchmen on the Walls is an organization to fight against this collapse. Watchmen On the Walls is an organization of men and women with courage, who will stand on the Truth of God and without compromise demand that the culture will follow the guidance of God. That marriage and family must be held at the highest level.

Lively isn't the only one to call it a war. So is the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, the Kirkland-area pastor who was Saturday's second speaker. In January, he told the Seattle Times, "We better wake up. This is a war."

The rhetoric, however, is not merely relegated to a war mentality, but in fact is overtly eliminationist. One of Hutcherson's cohorts, quoted in the same Seattle Times piece, compares them to a disease:
"I consider myself more American than those who were born in this country who are destroying it," said Wade Kusak, host of a Russian-language radio show in Sacramento and publisher of newspapers there and in Seattle.

It's no coincidence, he said, that states with growing evangelical Slavic communities are the most liberal, full of people "trying to destroy our families."

That's why God "made an injection" of Slavic evangelicals. "In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin."

This kind of talk is rife throughout the Watchmen movement, especially among its leadership. According to the SPLC, Lively talks constantly about "the enemy," and Watchmen leader Alexy Ledyaev (a fan of The Pink Swastika) writes about "homosexuals" as being the first wave of a global anti-Christian front: "The first devastating wave of homosexuality makes a way for the second and more dangerous wave of islamization [sic]," writes Ledyaev." One gay activist in California, according to the SPLC report, was told: "You have to understand, we equate homosexuals with thieves, adulterers and murderers. ... You are an abomination."

Indeed, Lusakin told the Saturday audience: "For Slavs, it will not end they accept the homosexuals. In America, they are plotting the complete destruction of Christians." After he spoke, the gathering's master of ceremonies, Andrew Prakasam, prayed that "this abomination would be destroyed, and all discrimination would be destroyed."

On Friday, the Watchmen issued a statement that said in part:
[W]e are especially focused against homosexuality, because those who practice this self-destructive vice, and have organized themselves into a political movement, are the chief enemies of the natural family.

We do not promote or condone violence.

We do not apologize for opposing homosexuality because it is morally, physically, psychologically and socially wrong, unnatural and harmful. This is self-evident to the vast majority of the citizens of the world, whom we represent.

We reject the suggestion that our view is hateful. While we know that some people hate homosexuals, we don't. We view homosexuals like we view alcoholics: unfortunate people trapped in a bad lifestyle. Like alcoholics, they should have the right, if they reject therapy, to enjoy privacy in their own homes. But they should not be allowed to publicly recruit others to their lifestyle. Public advocacy of homosexuality should be, like public drunkenness, culturally discouraged to minimize its impact on society.

Of course, the comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism, drug addiction, and other social ills has been around a long time. So, for that matter, has eliminationist rhetoric, which as I've explained previously, has a long history of preceding and accompanying eliminationist violence. It doesn't necessarily always cause it, but it plays an important role in preconditioning violent people to act out in hateful ways.

George Baker, the editor of Seattle Gay News, was one of the protesters out standing in the rain holding signs Saturday, and this was very much on his mind too.

"I worry that when you have a bunch of adults up there at this kind of event spouting this sort of venom, it's going to have a really toxic effect on the young people in the audience," he said. "This sort of conference gives the younger generation permission to act on these violent impulses."

Indeed, there were a number of young people at the convention, mostly young Slavic men. They too were rattled by the protesters, and lined up along one of the rails on their second-story balcony outside the meeting hall to watch them through the convention center's glass atrium, muttering and taking pictures. Some of the young protesters, people their own age, saw them and formed a small cluster that waved and smiled at them; this seemed, if anything, to fluster them more.

Certainly there are signs that the rhetoric is having an effect on the streets -- even beyond the Eastern European states where the Watchmen have their largest following, and where street thugs have assaulted gay-rights advocates and threatened their rallies. The Satender Singh killing in July was perhaps the best known of these.

The Watchmen have been ardent in denying their rhetoric was involved, but have largely responded by distorting the facts of the event; Lively has suggested it was mostly Singh's fault for being drunk and lewd in public, while Kusakin, at Saturday's talk, insisted it couldn't have been a hate crime because Singh wasn't really gay (which is in fact irrelevant when it comes to bias crimes). The reality of the crime was that Singh and his friends were being relatively quiet and were singled out for harassment by the trio of Russians; attempted to leave peacefully, and then were told: "We just want your faggot friend." At which point one of the men sucker-punched Singh, who hit his head on the pavement and died.

A similar case occurred here in Seattle three years ago, when a group of young Russian evangelicals brutally assaulted a gay man named Micah Painter in the Capitol Hill district, where they apparently went in search of "faggots" to bash one warm June evening. Eli Sanders at The Stranger wrote an amazingly good piece about the case that examined all the men's backgrounds, including the perpetrators' involvement in the Russian evangelical community in Bellingham. Especially revealing, I thought, were his interviews with some of those community leaders:
Kids can be cruel," said a graduate of the Bellingham public schools who attends Slavic Baptist and didn't want to be named. "I got this a lot: 'Go back where you came from.' Some kids learn to deal with it and stay away from kids who pick on them. And some kids learn to deal with it by beating them up."

Walter Ilyan, a respected religious leader in Bellingham's Russian and Ukrainian community, agreed: "Kids always will take a poke at you. That's exactly what happens with all of our Slavic people." But with the encouragement of their churches and their parents, "they go hang out with their own people. And things cheer up." Sticking together has another bonus: strength in numbers. "If one boy comes and starts making fun of the Russian boy, then the other Russian boys can beat him," Ilyan said. Sensing that his statement echoes the circumstances surrounding the beating of Micah Painter, Ilyan moves to correct himself: "They could protect themselves."

... The line between intolerance and incitement is approached, but not overtly crossed.

"According to the Bible," Ilyan told me, "[being gay is] an abomination--That person is going to be damned forever."

"But," he added, "we teach our children no fighting."

The Watchmen are similarly in denial about the consequences of what and how they preach. They insist that all they're doing is trying to engage in dialogue, but the reality is that the viciousness -- the base dehumanization and demonization -- in what they're saying is naturally going to provoke the targets of that rhetoric to respond. This isn't dialogue; rather, it's like a village lunatic wandering about the town square poking people in the eyes with a sharp stick, and then proclaiming himself the victim when they respond angrily.

The Watchmen, though, clearly believe that they can put a benign face on their agenda to mask the ugliness beneath. The convention Saturday was glitzy and strange; the affair kicked off with a rock band playing schmaltzy "Christian" hard rock with a schmaltzy light show, all done in Russian (except for the singalong chorus, "I am a friend of God"). In between, MC Andrew Prakasam kept the banter light and Vegaslike, cooing steadily that "We don't anybody. We love everybody."

Hutcherson's talk was similarly soothing, following the "hate the sin but love the sinner" reasoning common among fundamentalists, but clearly belying his own war-oriented rhetoric and the talk of gay "abomination" pervasive among the Watchmen.

"I don't believe all discrimination is wrong," he said. "I discriminate based on what is right. God discriminates too.

"Today, disagreement means hate. If I disagree with you, I hate you. Evidently, God is the biggest hater in the world. The first thing we Christians need to take back is the right to disagree."

Of course, if it were only disagreement -- and not condemnation and eliminationism -- that Hutcherson and the Watchmen on the Walls were proffering this weekend, no one would have minded. But it wasn't.

The odd thing about hearing this kind of lame rationale from Hutcherson is that he is an African American man. As it happens, I've listened to a sermon that used nearly identical logic -- that discrimination isn't about hate if God commands it in the Bible -- at least once before. It was delivered by the late Rev. Richard Butler at the annual Aryan Nations Congress in Hayden Lake, Idaho. And he was talking about black people and Jews.

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