Let’s talk about the hateful Uncle Sam sign near Interstate 5 in Washington state, in a community called Napavine (which is just south of the larger town of Chehalis). The sign went up near the interstate a few years before my family moved to southwest Washington in the mid seventies. For just a bit over 10 years I lived about 40 miles from this sign. Additionally, for just short of 35 years, I have had to drive past this racist, sexist, sectarian, homophobic billboard whenever I travel across the state.It began when the Washington state legislature amended the existing Highway Advertising Control Act in the late 1960s, which placed several restrictions on what sorts of signs/billboard/et cetera could be placed within the line of sight of people traveling on roads funded at least in part by state tax payer money. That prompted Alfred Hamilton, the owner of a turkey farm, to put up his first political billboard. The billboard proclaimed that there are no billboards in Russia. When Hamilton was interviewed about his billboard, he ranted about both state and federal law limiting billboards and how unAmerican he thought the laws were. For various reasons, it wasn’t until 1971 that the state Attorney General’s office started enforcing the amended act, notifying owners of billboards that their signs were in violation of law, and outlining options for resolving it.
You’ll notice on that archive image the phrase “A R Hamilton 7 Turkeys.” At any given time, Hamilton owned a lot more than 7 turkeys, of course. The number 7 was something he used in the branding for his business for years. I don’t know if anyone knows what it’s supposed to mean.Anyway, he began posting various anti-communist slogans on the billboard, adding the creepy Uncle Sam, while he and the attorney general’s office fought it out in court. He reached a settlement with the state, agreeing to take down the sign, with the state compensating him for the cost of deconstruction. And then, shortly afterward, he put the billboard back up, on a different part of his property. The state law allowed signs of a certain size on the premises of a business so long as the sign advertised the business. He’s tried to qualify for that exemption before, but the court had ruled that while he owned the plot of land where he had initially put the sign up, it wasn’t a spot the public could drive to and make a purchase. So he moved the sign closer to the building where he had the office. The state came back, arguing that the sign wasn’t advertising his business, in part because he didn’t always mention the farm. So he added the name of the business in white letters on the bottom frame of the sign. And for a few years the top to the sign mentioned which road to take of the exit to get to the business office. Eventually the court decided that while the political slogans were much larger and so prominent that many people driving by would never notice the advertising part of the sign, that it did technically qualify for the exemption.
Because the sign often had racist and homophobic messages in addition to the knee-jerk anti-government screeds, from time to time over the years people living in nearby communities would petition to have the sign removed. There were a streak of years where the guy was really obsessed with gay people, so it seemed that half the time the sign had various homophobic proclamations.
I was trying to find a particular image, because one time, when he found out that the Evergreen State College was hosted a queer film festival, he put up what he thought of as a sarcastic criticism of the festival? But apparently people driving from Portland, Oregon to come of the festival saw the sign and thought it was advertising for the festival.In the mid-nineties Hamilton sold his farm to a large agro-business and prepared to retire to Alaska. The sign was deconstructed again, and people living nearby thought it was finally going away. But, nope, the billboard went back up nearby. Hamilton’s son still owned some adjacent land where he was running some sort of RV business, and he put the sign up, there. Still quite visible from the freeway. Apparently the messages stopped getting changed out weekly for a number of years. According to one of the articles I found while I was looking for representative pictures, Hamilton was still composing the messages up in Alaska and sending them to his son until his death in 2004. Now the son is carrying on the hateful tradition on his own.
The state has gotten involved a couple of times since, because for quite a while the sign no longer had any advertising on it at all. But eventually the names of the businesses the son was running got added back.
There was at least one point where a group of protestors show up to picket the business and cover the sign with a tarp that had a pro-gay message: 2014: TWACtion: Environmental and Gender Rights Groups Occupy I-5 Billboard.
I’m writing about this today because there’s a new petition calling for the sign to come down: 73,000 signature petition calls for takedown of landmark Uncle Sam billboard.
And I have a few quibbles with some of the people quoted in the various stories about the sign. The first thing is, no slogan that I’ve ever seen on the sign has made me think anything other than, “What an ignorant a-hole!” I mean, I realize if you are as ill-informed as Hamilton was and his son seems to be, I guess some of the signs would make you do something that resembles thinking.
Which isn’t to say that I think ignorant, hateful people don’t have the right to hold those opinions and even express them.
I hate seeing that billboard every time I drive down to visit family (and on the trip back). It usually puts me in a bad mood.
But do I want it banned?
Free speech is a topic a lot of people misunderstand. The Supreme Court has long held that certain categories of speech enjoy less protection (obscenity, fraud, defamation, incitement), but not necessarily no protection. For instance, if the billboard referred to me by name and asserted that I was a pedophile, that would be defamation and actionable. Because it is false and harmful to my reputation. But when/if the billboard said that all queers are pedophiles? While it is false, it’s a bit harder to argue that the statement harms any particular person’s reputation. At least that’s what the courts have said so far. Similarly, the courts have held that public figures have to meet more stringent criteria to sue for defamation than private citizens do.
Hamilton’s original billboard was trying to argue that any regulation of billboards by government was censorship. The government argued that because taxpayers fund highways, that the areas immediately adjacent to highways is public property, and therefore the government has a right to regulate signage to a degree. When they amended the law (after some court cases), they argued further that some regulation of signage in view from designated highways was also permitted. The amended law carved out exemptions, one of which I mentioned above about on premises signage for business purposes.
So, as odious as I think the Hamiltons are, it’s their property, and if they want to advertise their business with racist, homophobic, and similar slogans, they’re within their rights.
I do think that they have intentionally pushed the limits of the law, particularly during the times when there is no mention of the business on the billboard at all. And I think they have done so more out of spite than any noble desire to test constitutional limits. Because of that spiteful nature, I don’t think they will ever succumb to community pressure to quit posting their hate.
I also think that not only are most (if not all) of the things posted on the billboard reprehensible, bigoted, and ignorant—they are also false. Not all lies constitute legal fraud or defamation, but there is a difference between whether something is legal and whether it is moral.
One of my college professors, who was also my debate coach and a mentor, always looked forward to seeing what lunacy was on the sign whenever we were traveling to a tournament that required us to drive past it. And that’s what he called it, lunacy. It so happened that he had grown up in Chehalis, just up the road, and he said for him, the sign was a reminder of why he was glad he wasn’t raising his own kids in that area. “Ignorance is funny, as long as you keep it at arm’s length,” he once said.
Sometimes I wish I could laugh at the sign like he did. Because while I understand his sentiment, I think he’s wrong. As long as some people believe (and vote based on those beliefs) that sort of ignorance and hate, it’s impossible to keep it all at arm’s length.
For some more information, if you’re interested:
I had a fairly busy weekend, so no time to do a Weekend Update post. So here are some news links to stories that either broke after I made this week’s Friday Five, or are further developments on stories previously commented upon, or didn’t make the cut for the Friday Five but I wanted to make some comments…
The shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery: A timeline of a case that’s gripping the nation: it took over two months for the white men who killed him — Gregory McMichael, and his son, Travis McMichael — to be arrested.
FBI investigating Ahmaud Arbery shooting as possible hate crime, lawyer says – Attorney for family of black jogger shot by white men says federal authorities are looking into prosecutors and police in case.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Was Ahmaud Arbery killed for ‘jogging while black’? The answer is an emphatic yes.
I’m not sure what else to say. That it took the leaked video of one the murderers’ co-conspirator being seen by the public to get a prosecutor to look at the case? Right. Anyone who thinks America is a post-racist society has their head stuck up something…
Husband Of Reopen NC Leader Says He’s ‘Willing To Kill’ To Stop ‘New World Order’. Also, insists he’s not a terrorist.
Threatening to kill people if they don’t do as you say—threatening to kill anyone you perceive has not doing as you say—is the very definition of terrorism. Y’all aren’t heroes. You’re not patriots. You’re certainly not Christian…
How many times do we have to say it: the restrictions aren’t what tanked the economy. It’s the fact that we’ve built the economy on a need for a lot of people to work themselves to the bone to keep things going, and that as soon as a significant fraction of the population cuts back on certain types of spending, everything collapses.
And saying, “People who are afraid of getting infected can just stay home. The rest of us want to be able to go to a restaurant or get our hair cut.” Just proves that you don’t think service industry workers are people. Because if there isn’t a shut down and there isn’t unemployment to cover them, then they have no choice but to risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones just so you can have your dang hot wings.
Conspiracy theorists, far-right extremists around the world seize on the pandemic- Civil rights advocates have warned for months that the coronavirus could aid recruiting for the most extreme white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
I can’t even…
In fairness, I want to point out that it isn’t just Americans who are capable of this level of stupidity: 107 COVID Cases Have Been Traced Back to One Church Service in Germany.
Youth pastor claims he was kidnapped by black men to avoid admitting why he was in a hotel room – After his wild claim made it to social media, local news investigated the racist tale and the now-unemployed pastor admitted the truth.
This is an old, old topic I’ve written about many times. Human institutions of all kinds have a terrible habit of protecting people in power and enabling abusing behavior. But there is something particularly insidious about how that manifests in churches. Particularly in how often the pastor or other leader who has abused other people is embraced and offered forgiveness almost before they ask for it, and how their victims are treated as if they are the offenders. And this next story illustrates that:
One Youth Pastor After Another Sexually Abused Kids at This California Church. It’s in the news because civil lawsuits have been filed. But the killer detail is how in 1983, when a 13-year-old boy explained how the youth pastor had sexually assaulted him, it wasn’t just that the church leadership decided not to punish the youth pastor, but they contacted the police and reported the boy for making a false accusation! And the first reaction of the police was to grill the boy about his own sexual desires…
That’s the fucked up world many of us grew up in.
Some days you really can’t do more than roll your eyes or yell “WTF!?” Just skim the headlines to see what I mean (you can also go read the articles for all the grim details
I’ve been seeing people refer to rightwing dominionist so-called christians as a death cult, and I used to think that was a (very) slight exaggeration, but now I’m rethinking that.
Let’s shift gears a bit. The following headline and the opening of the article would appear to contradict one of the articles I linked to on Friday, but that actually don’t:
The problem is that the phrase “class war” is being used to mean very different things. The article I link to today shows that poor other working class people overwhelmingly support continuing shelter in place/stay home orders. While only a slightly smaller percentage of middle class people also support it. Opposition to quarantines comes not just from a very small minority, but almost entirely from the very well-to-do and the stinking rich.
Folks like the executives and highest-paid pundits at Fox News, for instance, while they all continue to work from home, are egging governors to “reopen” the economy, by which they mean, stop the unemployment payments and force people who aren’t well off enough to quarantine voluntarily to go out and work and expose themselves and their families to the pandemic.
The polls in the above article clearly indicate that it is the rich who want to reap the benefits of social distancing, while making the working poor shoulder most of the risk of the pandemic.
Friday’s headline, which claimed that was no evidence of a class war was using the class war phrase much differently. And, IMHO, poorly. They were using it not to refer to actual economic strata within society, but instead to refer to a mostly mythical division. Fox News and their ilk have been trying to portray the protestors as representing the working class, while saying the only people who want the quarantine orders to continue are leftwing elites. The article then quoted virtually identical findings as the one above: the overwhelming majority of the country favor the quarantine measures, and the lower income the people are, the more likely they are to support it.
By adopting the disingenuous definitions of class, they wind up writing a headline that says the opposite of what the article showed.
Because the so-called “left elite” isn’t an economic class. It mostly is a myth, because inherent in the way the phrase is usually used is the notion that no one in the working class support any liberal policies, at all.
Isn’t language fun?
Before we get into all of that, I just want to share that this morning after my usual coughing and sneezing (we’re in peak hay fever season, here) I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my husband had already started the ribs cooking for tonight’s dinner. He makes his own rub for pork ribs and slow cooks them. So when my sinuses temporarily clear, I was flooded with the most amazing scents! My husband is awesome!
All right, let’s jump in to the other stuff:
We saw this coming. Covidiot New York Barber Cutting Hair ‘illicitly’ During Lockdown Tests Positive For COVID . Now, I want to make it clear, I don’t think this is ‘just desserts’, and I’m not cheering the fact that this guy has gotten this disease which is far, far worse than the flu. (See the story I linked to yesterday of the body builder who spent 6 weeks on a ventilator if you don’t understand). There are multiple tragedies here: 1) the guy is an idiot, yes, but his idiocy has been caused, enabled, and cheered on by a bunch of people in the rightwing media and politics who are themselves taking the very precautions they are urging others to protest, 2) if he tested positive, that means a number of his customers during this time who came in for the illicit haircuts got infected while there.
And the idiot minority (egged on by slightly less idiotic people whose wealth and privilege allow them to avoid some of the danger) are making decisions based in part on not comprehending the slow incubation period. And that outcomes are still difficult to predict. COVID-19: Daily growth rate slowing in Nebraska, but deaths per day rising. And of course, Editorial: Wisconsin politicians, court failed to protect public good.
And those supposedly slowing growth rates, well, they’re mostly meaningless because we aren’t testing enough to know how much of the population in any area actually has it: Most US states fall short of recommended testing levels – Coronavirus outbreaks are testing public health networks and the resolve of planners to reopen from pandemic shutdowns.And I repeat, that this is not like the flu! It’s not just lungs: Covid-19 may damage the heart, brain, and kidneys. Damage your body likely never will recover from completely. And again, it isn’t just old people or people with pre-existing conditions (as if letting those people die isn’t super immoral on its own). COVID-19 inducing strokes in young people. COVID-19 can cause some young children to have a fatal inflammatory syndrome. And everyone who has it suffers at least some of the long-term permanent organ damage.
Meanwhile, some people aren’t just being idiots, they are being evil: Landlords Sexually Harassing Tenants And Renters Aid Coronavirus Pandemic – “He knows I don’t have a job. He knows I don’t have anywhere to go — he’s preying on me.”.
Okay, I think it’s time to change topics before I start foaming at the mouth.
Remember our old pal, the lying, hypocrital hate-monger, Jerry Falwell, Jr? Well, he’s been in the news a bit this week!
Jerry Falwell Jr’s Liberty University guts entire Philosophy department. Which is especially strange given how much of the University’s web page and other marketing materials hype that very department and the PhD program it offered. Of course, Liberty University’s purpose has never been education. When Falwell Senior was still alive, it’s goals were propaganda, brainwashing, and making a shit-ton of money for the Falwell family. Since Junior took over, the milking students and donors for as much money as he can divert into his real estate investments and to pay off sex partners has become the premiere goal, eclipsing all others (as we’ve linked to many, many times).
It’s the reason he insisted on re-opening the university while state and local officials were begging him not to. It’s the reason he has refused to refund tuition for students stuck elsewhere under quarantine orders, or afraid to come back due to health concerns, or who have actually gotten sick and so forth.
The philosophy department is being cut because even with that refusal to grant refunds (or perhaps because), enrollment is dropping off.
You may recall the last time I linked to a story about Falwell it was about his saying that two reporters were being prosecuted for trespassing after they reported about the students afraid to come back and so forth? Well… Falwell Loses Bid To Prosecute “Trespassing” Journalists – Two journalists accused of trespassing at LU won’t be prosecuted. The linked story skips some of the details. The warrants were issued by a campus security copy. It just so happens that (because back in the day the university was so economically important to the local area and Virginia tends to have very conservative public officials), that the county has treated the campus security force as if it was a city police department.
However, when they issue warrants, those warrants are supposed to be approved by a magistrate and the prosecutor’s office. When Falwell touted these warrants initially, he lied (and his lie was widely quotes as fact in many news stories) that the warrants had been issued by a magistrate. They had been submitted but not yet reviewed. The review has finally happened.
Turns out that standing on public sidewalks and taking pictures and talking to other people on public sidewalks and then leaving when asked to doesn’t constitute trespassing. Who’d’ve thunk?
Let’s move to a topic much less dire for a moment:
Local Sleuths Track Down Source of Mysterious Radio Songs. This story was written by someone whose work I am a fan of, and is published in one of my favorite news sources, but I have quite a quibble with the headline. Unless the word “sleuths” is being used sarcastically. The story is interesting, and it is cool that some people tried to turn it into some sort of secret message. But actual sleuths would know that the FCC has a publicly available web site where you can plug in a radio frequency and your location and find out who holds the license for the station in question and the physical location of its transmitter(s).
Still, the answer to the mysterious twenty-song playlist that kept repeating unchanged for who knows how long is amusing.
I usually try to end these with a funny video, but…
The following is a different take on a particular moment that happened this week and was covered in at least one video linked in yesterday’s Friday Five. Rachel raises an issue that lots and lots and lots of us have been thinking, but few in the media have been saying aloud:”
Something Appears To Be Wrong With Donald Trump | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
All of this is true even if the bigot in question happens to also be a member of the community the bigot is expressing bigotry toward.
I’ve started a blog post with this title several times over the last two years, and then trashed most of it—usually extracting a small part out to use as the basis of a slightly less provocative blog post. A pair of news stories crossed my stream within the last week that got me thinking about this again, and once again I pulled this out of the drafts and tried to start writing it. I am not going to link to the news stories in question for reasons I hope become clear. The reason I have toned down previous blog posts on this topic can be summed up by something I saw this morning on twitter from Alexandra Erin, a writer and satirist I follow, in reference to a completely unrelated topic: “…when you put something out in the world, you are responsible for how it lands.”
Erin is talking about satire and how easily it can be misunderstood, but the principle applies to all writing. It doesn’t matter whether I intend something to hurt someone else, if it hurts them, it is still my fault. That doesn’t mean the intention doesn’t matter, it means that intentions don’t negate the fallout. Here’s a simple example (which I think I first read in a blog post on tumblr, but I don’t remember for certain): say you’re an adult tasked with watching some small children playing on a playground. One kid, in their excitement, inadvertently bumps into another kid, who falls off the jungle gym and skins their knee. Do you run up to the crying kid with the skinned knee and lecture them that they shouldn’t cry because the other kid didn’t mean it? No. You clean up and bandage the skinned knee, you comfort the hurt child, you caution the other kid to be more mindful of what they’re doing, and you have them apologize for their carelessness.
I’ve written more than once about self-hating closet cases who cause harm to our community and whether they deserve our sympathy. The whole reason they are self-hating is because of the homophobia they faced growing up. Our society is steeped in toxic notions about what is and isn’t acceptable for one to be interested in depending on one’s gender. And also steeped in just as toxic notions about mannerisms—including how one talks and walks—that are acceptable depending on your gender. Not all queer people are obviously gender non-conforming (and not all gender non-conforming people are gay), but gender non-conforming kids are bullied and harassed. Even the gender conforming queer kids are hurt by that, because they know that if anyone finds out about their same-sex crushes or whatever, that they will be subjected to the same kind of hatred from some classmates, some teachers, and some family members.
We are taught from a very early age to loath ourselves and to expect loathing from others. For many of us, the need to deflect at least some of that loathing causes us to denounce and participate in the shunning and bullying of others. Because if we denounce the faggots loudly, no one could possibly believe we’re queer ourselves, right?
Which means that I feel a lot of guilt for some of the things I said and positions I endorsed in my early teens.
So yes, I feel a lot of sympathy for kids who are living in terror inside those closets. The sympathy starts to go away when those kids grow up, are exposed to examples of how life can be better out of the closet, but they continue to attack other queer people even while cowering inside their own closet. There is a bit of pity, sometimes, but the longer they are exposed to better information (sexual orientation isn’t a choice, all those stories about health issues for queers are myths, queer people can live healthy and happy and long lives, et cetera), they less they deserve our consideration.
And that doesn’t change if they happen to come out of the closet but still insist on vilifying and otherwise attacking their fellow queers. A young man who comes out of the closet but lends his voice and face to campaigns to deny civil rights to his fellow queers—who goes on national news shows and records political ads saying, “I’m a gay man, and I agree with these people that think gay people don’t deserve equal rights” isn’t simply expressing an opinion. He is contributing to the hostile environment that sometimes literally kills other queer people.
Because we’ve long had proof—from medical studies first conducted by a Republican administration—that contrary to that sticks-and-stones saying, words do hurt. All that anti-gay rhetoric leads to the death of hundreds of queer and gender non-conforming kids every year, among other very real harms.
So-called homocons who assist anti-gay organizations in oppressing other queer people should not be surprised when they face blowback. Queers and allies standing up for themselves in the face of that oppression are not bullying. It isn’t a both sides thing, it’s self-defense. Particularly in a case where, say, the adult homocon who has already appeared on TV more than once to denounce gay rights campaigns, then leads a bunch of haters in a loud protest angrily chanting anti-gay slogans at a children’s event. That isn’t a “morally ambiguous transgression” it’s despicable—plain and simple. Especially when you go on TV again to defend your actions.
When other people call out the bigotry, that’s not mob violence, that’s consequences. Maybe you should have thought about that before agreeing to go on TV. Again.
Yes, when we say things we are responsible for how they land, regardless of our intentions. But that’s a two-way street. And when a self-loathing queer who assists bigots has been given a number of chances over a few years to reconsider his hateful words and deeds, there comes a point when there is no one to blame for any of the consequences except himself.
The Dark Domain, or a queer ex-evangelical looks at an agent of intolerance and his scandalous heirs
One day in the summer of 1981, I was walking around the inside of a huge church sanctuary in Virginia, every now and then stopping to clap once, then listen to the echo. It was something I did just about every day that summer—each day in a different church. I was a member of an evangelical inter-denominational youth choir. I was one of the singers, but I was also the Lead Sound Technician. And while a bunch of the singers were carrying in the sound equipment, our risers, and other parts of our touring program, I would do this exercise to figure out where I wanted to place our speakers and where to aim them. I took this part of the job very seriously.
I was 20 years old. I was a deeply closeted gay guy who for several years had been struggling to reconcile my love of science and my sexual orientation with the religion I had been raised in (Southern Baptists) which is extremely anti-gay, anti-evolution, anti-birth control, anti-modernity, et cetera and ad nauseam. Only eleven years before that day had the Southern Baptist Convention adopted its resolution on race, which was intended to end segregation in Baptist Churches themselves. At the denomination’s founding in 1845, 12 of its 14 statements on faith had been explicitly in favor of slavery, the segregation of the races, and the supremacy of the white race.
That 1970 resolution didn’t make Baptists pro-equality. The very church that my parents had been members of when I was born, for instance, split after the resolution. A number of members forming a new “Bible Baptist” church the aligned itself with one of the other conventions that had split from the Southern Baptist in the previous couple of decades. And at the 1972 convention the convention adopted a resolution condemning public school de-segregation.
One of the pastors leading that charge to re-assert the church’s racist past in 1972 was Jerry Falwell, Sr. Falwell was the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. He was also the host of the syndicated radio program, the Old Time Gospel Hour, which my grandmother listened to faithfully, where he frequently preached against the civil rights movement, women’s rights, gay rights, and a boatload of other topics. In 1971 he founded Liberty University, which to this day still forbids students of differing races to date. And in 1979 he founded the so-called Moral Majority, a political organization bent on supporting conservative Republicans and rolling back what rights women, racial minorities, and queer people had won in the 70s.
In the mid-80s Falwell infamously lost a lawsuit to one of his former classmates from Baptist Bible College, Jerry Sloan. Sloan had come out of the closet after leaving Baptist Bible College, and had become active with Metropolitan Community Church, which was one of the few explicitly gay and lesbian inclusive denominations at the time. Sloan and Falwell participated in a television debate about, among other things, gay rights. After Falwell insisted that he wasn’t at all prejudiced against gay people, Sloan quoted Falwell as having publically called the MCC “brute beasts” and “a vile and Satanic system.” Further, he said Falwell had predicted “one day they will be utterly annihilated and there will be a celebration in heaven.”
Falwell said that it was a lie. And when Sloan said he had it on tape, Falwell bet him $5,000 (on television with millions of witnesses) he couldn’t produce it. When Sloan did produce the tape, Falwell refused to pay. So Sloan sued him, won the $5,000 plus court fees, and he donated it all to a queer community center: Falwell Pays $8,900 to Homosexual Activist.
Jerry Falwell, Sr, was a bigot and a liar (not to mention a chisseler for not paying his bet). And he became a multi-millionaire by preaching hate and promoting hate through his radio show, university, and his political organizations. And I, for one, did not shed a single tear when he died in 2007.
So, back to 1981. Earlier in that year, the Director of the touring choir mentioned that he was “this close” to getting us a tour date at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. And without thinking, I blurted out, “if you do, I quit.” The Director was flabbergasted and tried to explain how much exposure we would get there—and possibly be on the Old Time Gospel Hour. I said, “I refuse to have anything to do with that evil man. I refuse to do anything that implies I support his divisive, hateful theology.”
A member of the board of directors who was literally helping me untangle some microphone cables when this exchange happened, chimed in, “Me, too. Falwell preaches the opposite of Christ’s teaching, and if you’re going there, I’m resigning from the board and pulling my kids out of the choir.”
The director made some sort of joke to diffuse and change the subject. Later he made sure to inform both of us that he had decided on his own against pursuing the Thomas Road gig because the strict dress code would, among other things, force us to change our uniform and force a lot of the guys to get extremely short haircuts. I like to think that excuse was his way of saving face, and that my threat had been effective.
And so while later that summer in 1981 we did perform at a Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, it wasn’t Falwell’s—it was a beautiful historical building, which is still there, though it has since merged with another church and changed its name and denomination. And I’m glad I didn’t have to quit the chorus over it.
All of these memories came to mind this week as there is a new (and to me totally unsurprising) development in the story of Falwell’s heir, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and his pool boy scandals: ‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence – More than two dozen current and former Liberty University officials describe a culture of fear and self-dealing at the largest Christian college in the world.
You may remember that the two pool boy scandals of which I’ve written before — besides having a lot of sexual innuendo — involved Falwell, Jr. finding ways to finance multi-million dollar real estate deals for the benefit of the handsome young men after spending a lot of time flying each young man to various luxurious places along with Falwell and his wife on their private jet.
The new article (interestingly enough written by a journalist who attended Liberty University) lists other financial deals, including loans of $300,000 and more to Falwell’s friends, funneling lucrative contracts related to the university to businesses owned by his son, and more. Plus, apparently Falwell is very fond of talking about his sex life with colleagues. With a lot of crude details of the things he and his wife do.
And most tellingly, in one incident involving the guy many of us have referred to as “the other pool boy” (though he was employed as a personal trainer when he met Falwell, Jr). Junior texted pictures of his wife in sexual fetish costumes—to a bunch of staff members, plus the trainer. He claimed afterward that he had meant to just send it to the trainer (I believe that), but he also tried to claim to the people accidentally included on the wayward message that the purpose of sharing the pictures was not actually sexual. No! Falwell, Jr sent the personal trainer pictures of Mrs. Falwell in fetish gear because the trainer had helped her lose a lot of weight.
Um, yeah, no I don’t believe that.Listen, hot-wifing, threeways, and cuckold fantasies are all perfectly healthy sexual things that a committed couple who are into ethical non-monogamy should be able to engage in without shame. But when you run a couple of massive non-profit organizations (and draw more than a million dollars in salary between those jobs) that explicitly condemn homosexuality, family planning, women’s rights, sexual liberty, drinking, and dancing (yes, dancing!)—well, then this kind of scandal becomes of interest to the public. Because remember, those non-profit organizations are tax exempt, and therefore all of these shenanigans are being subsidized by our tax dollars.
On top of that, Falwell, Jr effectively swung the evangelical base of the Republican party firmly behind Trump (and all of the evil, non-Christ-like policies that has unleashed on us). And apparently he did so because Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, made a blackmailer with more of those kinds of pictures of Mrs. Falwell go away.
You should go read the Politico story. It is full of fascinating details (and keeps the sexual stuff, as much as it could be, more tasteful than I would). The amount of information that people were willing to give the reporter is amazing, given that Liberty University and the associated businesses famously have very strict non-disclosure agreements that claim to stay in force even after a person leaves.
Speaking of those agreements: Jerry Falwell: I Called The FBI On Liberty U Traitors. That’s right! Junior has called the FBI on people for tattling on him.
Listen, some of those financial deals are clearly prosecutable crimes. Junior’s using tuition funds and donations to finance his jet-setting lifestyle and that of his friends—and probably sex partners.
“We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund,” said a senior university official with inside knowledge of Liberty’s finances. “We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”
Given that he’s been flying some of these people across state lines in his private jet to close some of these deals, Junior maybe should have thought twice before calling the Feds.
Maybe he thinks that his buddy, Trump, will bail him out. After all, Trump’s very fine lawyer, Michael Cohen, helped get rid of that pesky blackmailer right? Except now Cohen is cooling his heels in federal prison, convicted of financial crimes on Trump’s behalf. Trump hasn’t shown any sign of being willing to pardon Cohen. Or any of the four other people Mueller got to plead guilty to related crimes, nor the four people Mueller got convicted, nor the 19 other people still under indictment whose cases are on-going.
So, Junior may need to start prepping for some less luxurious accommodations than those he is currently accustomed to.
(Part of the title of this post comes from the hymn, “Up from the Grave He Arose (Low in the Grave He Lay),” by Robert Lowry. It was hymn number 113 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal.)
Instead of finishing my binge watch of The Boys a glance at twitter is forcing me to update a previous post. Remember how Jerry Falwell, Jr. and is wife decided for some completely unfathomable reason to hand over $1.8 million dollars to be a gay-friendly flophouse in Miami as a gift to provide an income to a hunky pool boy they met at a very expensive hotel (and how they kept flying him around on their private jet)? Well, it turns out he isn’t the only one: Another ‘Pool Guy’? Falwell Jr’s Personal Trainer Scored $2M From Liberty U To Buy A Gym.
And while there were people trying to figure out if the previous deal used funds from the non-profit religious organization of which Falwell is leader, there is no doubt on this one: Exclusive: Falwell steered Liberty University land deal benefiting his personal trainer.
I’m just going to pull a few paragraphs from that latter story:
The support Falwell provided to the two young men, Granda and Crosswhite, has some parallels. Both were aided in business ventures and both have flown on the nonprofit university’s corporate jet.
One difference: When Falwell helped Crosswhite, he used the assets of Liberty, the tax-exempt university he has led since 2008. Among the largest Christian universities in the world, Liberty depends on hundreds of millions of dollars its students receive in federally backed student loans and Pell grants…
…As Liberty’s leader, Falwell draws an annual salary of nearly $1 million, and is obligated to put the university’s financial interests before his own personal interests when conducting Liberty business.
“The concern is whether the university’s president wanted to do his personal trainer a favor and used Liberty assets to do it,” said Douglas Anderson, a governance specialist and former internal audit chief at Dow Chemical Co, who reviewed both the transaction and Liberty’s explanation of it at Reuters’ request. That would be bad governance, he said. “At a minimum, the terms suggest the buyer got a great deal and Liberty got very little.”
I’m sensing a pattern, here…
Edited to Add: I wrote about the first pool boy scandal here? Oh, you dirty devil—or The preacher and the pool boy… and then…
On Sept 9 Politico posted an exhaustive exposé of Falwell Jr’s financial and sexual scandals. I have some things to say (and maybe talk briefly about my one personal encounter with Junior’s scamvangelist father) about that: The Dark Domain, or a queer ex-evangelical looks at an agent of intolerance and his scandalous heirs.
Most European traditions didn’t assume monogamy was part of marriage until something between the 6th and 9th Centuries AD. Christian teachings didn’t start treating marriage as a sacrament until the 16th Century AD (despite that oft-quoted verse about “what god has joined together”). The same sort of people who quote that verse while demanding that secular law follow their tradition ignore the parts of the New Testament where the Apostle Paul condemned marriage as a waste of time, and only grudgingly said that if a man found himself so burning with lust it distracted from evangelizing should he marry.
The modern notion of marriage being about two people who fall in love and decided to pledge themselves to each other didn’t really become common until the 1700s. Now, it’s true that songs and poems and such from the 12th Century on waxed rhapsodic about courtly love, but it was considered the exception, rather than the rule.
All of these facts contradict what I was told about marriage growing up in Southern Baptist churches. Marriage, according to them, was a sacred institution that had existed unchanged since the beginning of time. And it had always been about a man and a woman who love each other and commit to a lifetime together. And once married, no matter what the circumstances, the two are bound together in love and divine grace, et cetera.
And they really did mean no matter the circumstance. I sat through more than one sermon where the pastor said that even if you make a mistake and marry the person god didn’t want you to, once you exchange your vows before god, that person is now the right person.
Despite the above, as far as I know, every single Baptist church we had ever been a member of had at least one married couple in which at least one member had been married to someone else before, been divorced, and had now re-married. And most people in the church treated the second marriage as just as sacred and eternal as the ideal they kept talking about. The usual hand-waving was the god forgives everyone who repents, and therefore if someone has committed the sin of divorce, but now has sincerely repented and pledged to make it work this time, well, god’s going to bless that.
Of course, before many members of a congregation were willing to go to that step, the divorced person would have to suffer for a while. They had to have a moving tale of the pain and heartache and regret they went through to show the sincerity, you see. Because someone had to be to blame, right? And if someone is to blame, then they must be punished. Like the women in this story: For Evangelical Women, Getting a Divorce Often Means Taking All the Blame.
That idea, that divorce is always wrong, doesn’t just hurt women who are in bad marriages. It also hurts children. I’ve written more than once about how my father was physically and emotionally abusive. When my mom shared her pain and fear with people at church, the answer was always the same: if she had enough faith, god would change dad.
No matter what evidence was presented.
When I was 10, my dad beat me on a Sunday afternoon with a broom handle while calling me the worst names imaginable. By the time he was done not only was I covered in bruises and contusions and worse, I had a broken collar bone. I had to be taken to the emergency room. Later that week—while my arm was still in a sling, I was bruised everywhere, and stitches visible on my face—our pastor looked me in the eyes and told me that if I would just be obedient and act the way my father wanted, Dad wouldn’t have to be so strict. Keep in mind, Dad had sworn off religion a few months before I was born. He refused to set foot in church and wasn’t the slightest bit friendly or welcoming when the pastor visited our home. Yet still, because of their theology about marriage and the husband’s role as master of the home, anything bad that happened to the rest of us was our fault.
I don’t know everything the pastor said to Mom, because I was taken away by one of the church ladies (who scolded me some more for upsetting my father so much he did this to me) while the pastor talked to Mom in private. But Mom came out of the meeting convinced that it was her fault. If she just had enough faith and loved Dad enough he wouldn’t be this way.
Somehow that doesn’t seem like the wise plan of a loving god, you know?
What brought all of this to mind today is this odd little bit of news I came across: Hate Group NOM Allows Web Domain To Expire. The National Organization for Marriage was at the forefront of the battle against gay civil unions, marriage equality, gay adoption rights, and several related fights for years. They poured millions of dollars into ad campaigns to defeat gay rights initiatives and so forth. They have insisted again and again that they don’t hate gay people—they are just defending traditional marriage.
The kind of traditional marriage that says a woman must stick to her husband even if he beats her and their children severely, for instance.
The organization still exists, and its president, Brian Brown, is still sending out fear-mongering email blasts to supporters begging for money. The last time the IRS got them to partially disclose their donors (they have been under investigate for many years because they never file complete paperwork or comply with court orders to disclose campaign spending) their donations (and the number of donors) had dropped off significantly. NOM used to be an umbrella organization for at least 8 different “education and advocacy” funds and a bunch of Political Action Committees, now all but two of those have been shut down. Apparently last year each of those two remaining entities reported income of less than $50,000.
I’m hoping that the website lapsing is a sign this hate group is gasping out its dying breaths. Joe Jervis, who runs the Joe.My.God gay news blog, reports: “I’ve put in the required whopping $12 bid to snap up the domain, which will redirect to JMG if I’m successful.”
If you can’t muster the empathy to tell an abused child or an abused spouse that being a victim isn’t their fault, you don’t know what “love they neighbor” means. And you can’t claim to be following a loving god while doing and saying hateful things about whole categories of people.
The title comes from the hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, #2 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal. All of the Baptist Churches I was ever a member of used the 1956 edition of the Baptist Hymnal. The next major update didn’t happen until 1991, by which point I was out of the closet and officially declared myself a former Baptist.
There have already been so many stories about mass shooters, would-be mass shooters, and related domestic terrorists that they’re going to overwhelm the Friday Five. So I’m going to post them now with a bit of commentary.
Here’s the data on white supremacist terrorism the Trump administration has been ‘unable or unwilling’ to give to Congress. “Alleged white supremacists were responsible for all race-based domestic terrorism incidents in 2018, according to a government document distributed earlier this year to state, local and federal law enforcement.”
Second suspect wanted for stolen AR-15, tactical vest from Macon co. school turns himself in. So, the tactical vest and assault rifle were on school grounds in the first place because of the repeated idiotic “a good guy with a gun” arguments. (If you don’t understand why it is idiotic: first, can you shoot a bullet out of the air with a gun? No, you cannot. Second, responsible gun owners will all tell you that you never shoot into an area where you might hit innocent people. Which is why for most mass shootings where there were licensed conceal-carry people there, no one could safely take a shot at the shooter. And in a significant number of the few cases where a “good guy with a gun” tried to take out the shooter, bystanders got hit, instead.)
‘I’m the Shooter’: El Paso Suspect Confessed to Targeting Mexicans, Police Say. See, no “alleged” about it. It was racially motivated.
Trump Cultist Arrested For Death Threat Against AOC. He’s a convicted felon who is forbidden from owning guns… but he had a bunch and ammo to go with them.
An armed man who caused panic at a Walmart in Missouri said it was a ‘social experiment,’ police say. Doing something to cause a public alarm is, itself, a crime in most states, including his. Even in open carry states, waving a gun around in a threatening manner is a crime. I hope he get serious jail time.
A Vegas Man Was Arrested For Plotting A White Supremacist Attack On An LGBTQ Bar And Synagogue – Conor Climo told FBI agents he hated blacks, Jewish people, and members of the LGBTQ community, and was planning attacks that involved explosives or snipers. Such a fine person [/sarcasm]
Don’t just take my word for it: After El Paso, We Can No Longer Ignore Trump’s Role in Inspiring Mass Shootings.
Op-Ed: Why do Trump’s supporters deny the racism that seems so evident to Democrats?. Short version: most of them are the kind of racists who insist they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies…
And then this morning the world woke to this news: Jeffrey Epstein Found Dead in Cell in Apparent Suicide. Reminder: Epstein is under arrest on charges of sex trafficing—specifically recruiting underage girls to provide sex for himself and a large group of clients over many years. Several years ago he got out of most of the charges of a similar case with a deal offered by a former prosecutor (who later became Trump’s Labor Secretary, and then resigned when this new information came to light).
There are conspiracy theories being thrown around how this isn’t a suicide but rather a murder to silence him before he could be pushed into a plea deal where he testified against his rich and powerful clients. One reason I don’t buy that is because Epstein’s death doesn’t stop the rest of the criminal case going forward: Epstein: How he died and what it means for his accusers and also Epstein’s Victims Will Continue to Pursue Justice, Lawyer Says.
And I want to unpack that further than those articles do. A number of possible co-conspirators have already been identified. Charges are likely to be pursued against them. And those charges are not solely dependent on flipping Epstein. Remember, the feds have thousands of photographs seized from just one of Epstein’s properties of people having sex with the underage girls. One of the many tools that the feds had in their back pocket on this case is that possessing those photos constituted a crime in and of themself, even if Epstein wiggled out of the trafficing charges.
However, even though we haven’t seen the photos (and I sure as heck don’t want to personally), the description vague description entered into the court records, coupled with that fact that for some years financial experts have suspected that Epstein’s income may be the result of blackmailing rich people, the logical conclusion is that those photos were the blackmail. The photos constitute proof that certain recognizable people had sex with those girls. That, plus the flight records and other details we already know about at least some of the rich and powerful who hung out with Epstein will add up to enough to charge some of those people.
So killing Epstein isn’t enough. Not by a long shot.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t something fishy about his death: Epstein had been taken off suicide watch before killing himself, source says.
But there are other fishy things besides a conspiracy to silence him. There are plenty of people who think he deserves to die for doing all of that to all of those girls.
The other issue that keeps coming up related to this case, which the political cartoon I linked to above sort of gets at: when the Epstein case came to light, all over social media I kept seeing conservative, Trump-supporting people angrily or snarkily confronting people they perceived as liberal when referencing this case with variants of: “when it turns out the [prominent Democrat X] is one of the clients, you’ll feel differently.”
Let put that to rest: no, no I won’t. If those men took advantage of Epstein’s “parties” and “retreats” to have sex with those girls, then I want them to go to prison. It doesn’t matter if they were a senator, or congressman, or governor who served in the party I usually vote for. It doesn’t matter if they were a president that I voted for twice. I expect them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
I do think it very telling that the first thing that comes to mind for many Trump supporters is to assume that we will stop caring about criminal activity when we find out the criminal is someone whose politics we support. It’s not a revelation, we have thousands of examples in the last three years alone of how they refuse to believe, make excuses, or otherwise look the other way when the crimes Trump and his cronies comes to light. It’s just one more piece of evidence that they are happy about horrible crimes when they are being committed against certain types of people.
I could keep going, but I’m going to circle back to this: I don’t think Epstein was murdered. His whole life was built around his jet-setting lifestyle that gave him the access, power, and money to indulge his sick desires. Every indicator is that his wealth is the result of a complex illegal scheme of some sort, which the information in the possession of both federal and state prosecutors will put an end to, and once everything is sorted out, he would probably be penniless. The only futures left to him were:
- the rest of his life behind bars
- many years behind bars, then a life of near poverty
So, he took the coward’s way out.
Edited to add:
This is interesting! Epstein’s Pals Just Lost Any Chance of Having Penthouse Evidence Tossed by the Courts — Here’s Why. Just to be clear, they mean evidence seized during the raid on Epstein’s New York Penthouse. This has nothing to do with the porn magazine. Anyway, because it was seized on his property before he died, he is the only person who had standing to petition the courts to disallow it in trials. So…