Monday, October 15, 2007

A congregation of thugs

-- by Dave

This weekend's gathering of the Watchmen on the Wall in Lynnwood is proceeding apace, despite clear warnings to the civic authorities involved that this isn't a simple anti-gay organization: this is a group dedicated to eliminating homosexuals. By fair means or foul.

A Sunday piece by Jackson Holtz at the Everett Herald covered most of the bases pretty thoroughly:
The venue is owned by the Lynnwood Public Facilities District, a public taxing district that operates the convention center but is separate from the city.

"Our understanding is that they're law-abiding. They have a right of free speech just like any other group," said Mike Echelbarger, the board's chairman.

"If we were talking about the (Ku Klux Klan) we'd have a totally different take on it. Of course we wouldn't rent to the KKK," he said.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said the group's anti-gay message isn't welcome.

"It's not a message that will resonate with the citizens of Snohomish County," he said. "They're wasting their time being here, in my opinion."

The story also quoted the pastor of one of the local megachurches that's cosponsoring the event, disparaging the Southern Poverty Law Center's reportage on the Watchmen (whose Latvian leaders are aligned with genuinely violent elements in Europe and are clearly advocating similar action here):
The Watchmen group is composed of some of the state's 200,000 Russian speaking immigrants, said Pastor Joe Fuiten of Bothell's Cedar Park Church. He plans to be a featured speaker at the Lynnwood event.

Fuiten, known statewide for rallying the religious right on moral issues, bristled at the Southern Poverty Law Center's characterization of the Watchmen.

"That southern law group, they're a bunch of whackos," Fuiten said. "They're the hate group. That's a gay front, is what that is."

Potok said he's heard that kind of criticism before.

"That's what the Klan says about us, too," he said.

Fuiten said the Watchmen are "extraordinarily" religious and conservative.

Many members fled to the United States from former Soviet countries because they wanted religious freedoms, he said. They arrived here to find a secular culture moving away from religious life. Now, they are calling for a return to moral values, Fuiten said.

"Watchmen on the Walls is an extremist organization that makes the radical right look liberal," said Josh Friedes, advocacy director for Equal Rights Washington, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights group. He's concerned about violence, and wonders "What will Lynnwood do to make sure that GLBT citizens are welcome in the town and to make sure to the rest of the state that this conference isn't a Lynnwood value?"

Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough didn't return calls Friday.

On Monday, David Schmader at Slog had the official statement from Mayor Gough, which strikes me as oddly obtuse:
“While we must also value and respect the constitutional rights of everyone to exercise their freedom of speech and freedom to peaceably assemble our city will not tolerate the actions of any person or group which violate the personal safety or constitutional rights of any other person or group,” said City of Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough.

Mayor Gough also stated, “The City of Lynnwood wishes to make it also perfectly clear that it does not reflect, nor endorse the views and opinions of those who use the convention center and who may seek to polarize citizens through their own exercise of free speech and right to assemble peacefully.”

As Schmader observes:
If there were any goal to this weekend’s Watchmen event—the repeal of gay-rights protections, the passage of an anti-gay ballot initiative—that would be one thing. Instead, the Watchmen seem to be all about stoking anti-gay hatred (see here for specifics) while offering their stoked masses no legal outlet for their fury, leaving them with what? Fists? Tire irons?

There's also a disquieting aspect to the mayor's statement. It appears to contain a warning to anyone protesting the event, which is reasonable enough, but it also seems that, if anything, the protesters appear to pose a clearer threat in these city officials' minds than the presence of an organizational meeting of a hate group with a violent agenda.

For more on that aspect of the Watchmen, check out Box Turtle Bulletin's reportage, as well as Pam Spaulding's always-superb work at Pandagon. seaQwa is keeping track of the meeting's developments too.

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