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).
Their 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 an 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 all right with horrible crimes 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…
First, I have written more than once about financial and other shenanigans of local political gadfly and perennial anti-tax, anti-gay, anti-well-anything-decent initiative filer: Tim Eyman. A while back Eyman was caught on video stealing an office chair from an Office Depot. The video was kind of funny: he finds the chair set up near the door, sits in it, spins around in it, then stands up and wheels it out to his car. Moments later he came back inside and bought some other stuff. According to the testimony of the employees, he did not mention the chair to the cashier. He did not pay for the chair. When the cashier called someone over to help Eyman carry his purchases (which included some heavy printers), Eyman tried to turn them down. When they insisted, he led them to his SUV, and had the guy stack things next to the back of the SUV but pointedly did not open the back of the vehicle until after the employee had walked back into the store.
Eyman claims he meant to pay for the chair. But the sketchy behavior in the parking lot clearly said otherwise. Anyway, the case came to a close this week: Lacey lets Tim Eyman off with $193 fine for stealing chair. He also is barred from entering that Office Depot for nine months. The sheer pettiness and stupidity of stealing a $70 office chair when he’s going to be paying for $300 worth of printers other things is, to me, the perfect metaphor for the kind of entitled scam artist that he is. He hasn’t worked an honest day in decades. His only source of income for many years are the political campaigns he wages to cripple the state’s tax system or take rights away from gay and trans citizens.
And that income isn’t all on the up-and-up, either. He’s involved in a lawsuit over campaign finance violations, and he had some bad news there this week: Thurston County judge finds Tim Eyman in contempt again. According to the judge, this charge is for “refusal to disclose complete information related to hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments he solicited from individual donors.” Back in 2002 he settled a campaign finance lawsuit by paying a $50,000 fine and agreeing to a lifetime ban on being the “signer on any financial accounts” for political committees. In the current lawsuit, in which the state says he illegally funneled $300,000 from a 2012 initiative campaign into his personal accounts, the state is seeking $2.1 million dollars plus court costs and a lifetime ban on handling any finances of any political campaign. His previous contempt charge, for not turning over required documents, has been racking up a daily fine that the state says adds up to more than $200,000 so far. I don’t know if this second charge means more daily fines or what.
Meanwhile, another of his initiatives to severely limit local and regional citizens to tax themselves for capital projects will be on the ballot in the fall. He previously filed for bankruptcy protection, but then withdrew that once he learned that monthly reports on his personal finances would be available to the public, and might make some of his supporters question whether they wanted to keep donating to him. It has been said that the most dangerous place to be in this state is standing between Eyman and a TV news camera. Strange how he keeps refusing to turn over information, huh?
His wife filed for divorce last year—he claims that it’s because the state is being mean to him. Which is a really funny way of spelling “tired of being in close proximity of all this negative publicity that her husband’s actions have brought down on him.”
Speaking of men with no morals and sketchy finances: Financier Jeffrey Epstein found nearly unconscious in jail cell, suicide attempt suspected. You may recall the Epstein has been arrested in connection with sex trafficking and sexual abuse of underage girls. You may also recall that the evidence against submitted to the court includes what was described has a massive drove of photos of said underage girls in sexual situations. You may also recall how he got a sweetheart deal on similar charges years ago that meant he didn’t have to do serious jail time and was allowed to leave the jail 6 days out of every week to keep running his so-called business? And that after serving his ridiculously short sentence, he failed to report his movements to law enforcement as required under his plea deal?
Well, the case isn’t exactly looking any better for Epstein: The Feds Want to Talk to the Pilots Who Flew Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express”. Yes, the feds issued subpoenas earlier this month to Epstein’s pilots. I wonder if that may have prompted the alleged suicide attempt. And I’m using alleged for a couple of reasons, but mainly because it hasn’t been ruled out that he staged the stunt to get transferred out of the prison and into a hospital or mental institution.
Anyway, for years (and even just a few weeks ago) news stories have frequently referred to Epstein as a billionaire (though Forbes magazine famously refused to: Why Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein Is Not A Billionaire).
It’s always been a little unclear how he made is money. He started his own financial firm some years ago, claiming to only take clients who would deposit $1 billion; yet he never, ever mentioned any client except one, Leslie Wexner, the owner of Victoria’s Secret: How Jeffrey Epstein Used the Billionaire Behind Victoria’s Secret for Wealth and Women. Wexner cut all ties with Epstein years ago after Epstein was arrested on the previous sex trafficking charges that were never prosecuted. People have been wondering ever since how Epstein still lives his opulent lifestyle. Some theories have emerged: ‘I Think He’s Engaged in Blackmail’: A Jeffrey Epstein Expert on Where He Made His Money or How Jeffrey Epstein Made His Money: Four Wild Theories.
One of those wild theories is based on something that Alexander Acosta (the former U.S. attorney who made that sweetheart deal years ago, and who was forced to resign as Trump’s Labor Secretary when the new Epstein charges brought that old deal back into the press) during the vetting for the Labor position. He said that old deal with Epstein wouldn’t be a problem because the only reason he made the deal was that someone warned him to back off because Epstein “belonged to intelligence.” The implication was that Epstein had been providing some sort of information to U.S. intelligence agents. That’s the one I think is least likely. But his secretive money management funds might actually be a big Ponzi scheme, or blackmail could be a major component (and might be a better explanation for why someone would warn Acosta away from the case), or all his off-shore account, besides being a tried-and-true way to avoid paying taxes might also be a money laundering scheme.
I hope that it all comes to light as his trial proceeds. And I hope all the men who participated in the sex parties filled with young girls get what’s coming to them. Whoever they are.
A few years ago you may recall in a series of court cases various peddlers of so-called ex-gay therapy were forced to admit that no one was ever cured of being gay, and some of those organizations were shut down under consumer fraud laws? Well, at least one of them didn’t shut down: Judge cracks down on barred Jewish gay conversion group for operating under new name.
Back in 2015 a jury found that the organization then calling itself JONAH had defrauded a number of people while claiming to “cure” their homosexuality. The jury awards the former “patients” everything, including $3.5 million in legal fees. The judge later approved a settlement whereby the couple operating the charlatan ex-gay organization would pay only a fraction of the fees if they agreed to dissolve the organization and never engage in such practices again. The charlatans lied, and have been operating a similar scam since. So, the judge as issued a lifetime ban on them serving as an officer of any non-profit, dissolved their new company, and now they are on the hook for the entire $3.5 million. Good. Maybe this will shut them down.
Yesterday I included links to the hate pastors who are having a “Make American Straight Again” conference in Orlando. They picked the date to be close to the anniversary of the Pulse massacre, where 49 people were murdered in a gay nightclub. I want to pause for a moment here and remind you that the owner of Pulse (who opened the club in honor of her decease gay brother) had always said she wanted the club to be a place where queer people felt welcome, and where they felt they could bring their mothers. A couple of the people shot that night were, indeed, non-gay family members of queer people. Anyway, the hate pastors explicitly dedicated their conference to celebrating that massacre, because their mis-reading of six verses they have cherry-picked in the Bible are more important that the numerous times Jesus said to love each other, I guess. So they were live-streaming yesterday, until Youtube shut them down. The Friendly Atheist monitored it and got some quotes:
“If we can get the queers to go back into the closet, that’d be great. I mean, if we can get the government to actually do what it’s supposed to do and put them to death, that’d be amazing. They’ll kill you and it won’t bother them. They’ll molest your kids and it won’t bother them.
“They’ll go to bed with men, with women, with animals. They’ll do whatever and it won’t bother them. Why? Because their conscience is seared. If the government would put them to death, it would make America safe again. And here’s what we’re saying. When they die, we don’t feel bad about it. When they die, we don’t care!”
Can’t you just feel the unconditional love of god in every word (sarcasm)? Another of these paragons said:
I’d love to be able to just work for [a transgender suicide hotline] for, like, a week and just let them know that, “Hey, it’s okay, go ahead and just kill yourself.” Because these people were sick!
Apparently today since many of the pastors speaking and attending have Youtube channels of their own, and vow to keep switching channels as Youtube shuts them down so their hate can do its job? I really don’t know. Anyway, don’t forget that one of these hate-mongers is a Sheriff’s deputy, who, after he was outed as a hate preacher and warned by his superiors that a cop literally advocating for cops to start executing gays isn’t exactly in keeping with the oath to uphold the law, he went back to his pulpit and doubled-down.
They’ve put him on paid sick leave, and have started the process of pushing him into retirement because they think if they outright fire him he’ll win a lawsuit that they have violated his first amendment rights.
That’s enough about them. Have you ever wondered why more of those kinds of stories don’t get reported more prominently in national media? Well: The lack of dedicated LGBTQ media is a disaster. The article isn’t saying that there aren’t enough queer news sites, it rather talking about both the lack of diversity in major news organizations and the cut backs in such organizations that his eliminated a lot of reporting jobs that used to be assigned full time to particular communities and areas of interest. It’s a good read.
Let’s move away from the bad news and focus on some good things: Support for trans people is growing in spite of Trump’s nonstop assault on civil rights – More than six in ten (62%) Americans surveyed say they’ve become more supportive of transgender rights. Now, we have to temper this with news like that study I linked to yesterday, that shows that a lot of people think there are already federal laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. That is a problem, because it fuels the situation where a person will say that they support our rights, and then turn around and oppose passage of the Equality Act because they think it isn’t needed. Still, more people being supportive is a good trend.
Finally, I leave it to Stephen Colbert-
Stephen Colbert Rips Trump’s Embassy Rainbow Flag Ban, Hails the Spirit of Pride Rebellion:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
What I wrote about instead was communications technology. How we were struggling even then to come to grips with how quickly news flew around the world and how quickly we were forgetting what we had all been upset/afraid of just last week. And because I am a big sci fi nerd, I speculated about what it would be like when people had devices in their pockets or strapped to their wrists or whatever that gave them constant and instant access to the 24-hour cable news slurry. The professor gave me a decent grade, but he couldn’t resist writing a few sentences explaining why nuclear weapons were a far graver threat to society than television ever would be.
I don’t believe I was being extremely brilliant pr prescient in that essay. People had been writing think pieces about the dangers of tabloid journalism taking over the then-new 24-hour news channels. And the notion of a TV on your wrist had been predicted in Dick Tracy comics decades before. But I still think I was correct that the proliferation of information, misinformation, has had a worse effect on society. Yes, we have terrible weapons of mass destruction that very well might wipe humans (and a whole lot of other species) off the face of the earth—but we’ve also been carrying out a mass extinction event without resorting to nuclear weapons.
However here we are, two decades into the 21st Century, and we have seen how social media bots have influenced the outcome of a U.S. Presidential election, have seen a number of people who have been dog-piled on social media driven to suicide, and seen more than one instance of on-line doxing sending SWAT team to the homes of law-abiding citizens. So I think my essay may have been much more correct that my university professor thought.
In the last week we have had two completely unrelated stories illustrate this point. First: Dallas Gay Bar Manager Fired For Refusing To Serve Transgender Woman. A lot of liberal and queer news sites shared the video of a manager of a prominent gay bar trying to eject some customers. And by the time many of us had seen the video, the corporate owners of said gay bar had already fired the manager.
Here’s the thing… when I watched the viral video, I found it far from conclusive in bearing out the transphobic narrative. There just wasn’t enough context. Clearly things had happened before the beginning of the video, and without knowing what those things were, it just isn’t possible to determine whether the manager’s actions were appropriate. Then once the scuffle began, things get even more confusing.
But, there is video, there is a scuffle, there is what appears to be a white cis man trying to kick a trans woman out of the club. And it is easy to imagine that his motivations weren’t pure.
A couple of days later, things get more interesting: Dallas Gay Bar Manager Speaks Out After Being Fired for Incident Involving Trans Woman. The bar manager’s story is quite plausible. But I understand how easy it is for bigots to construct alternative explanations that seem reasonable, so I’m not sure the manager’s story is true. Maybe he sincerely thought the ID was fake.
I am quite aware of how difficult official ID cards are to deal with. I am not trans, but back in 1992 I legally changed my name. There were several reasons for this: first, I really didn’t want to share the same first name as my viciously abusive father, but also, I had been being called a diminutive of my given middle name since I was a kid, and it just didn’t make sense for my legal name to remain a name that virtually no one called me. However, even though I legally changed my name 27 years ago, I still continue to run into situations where my birth name pops up on records, and I find myself constantly having to explain the situation. Which means that I find it very easy to believe that the trans person in this particular pair of conflicting narratives may be dealing with a simple issue of bureaucracy not keeping up with her current legal situation. There may be a reasonable explanation for why she would have several ID cards from different states at the same time.
Or maybe he only thinks the ID is fake because he’s got some unconscious transphobia going on.
The only thing that I think is clear is that his employer made the decision to fire him based on the social media uproar. The video went viral, and it seems that most of the queer news sites were leaning into the transphobia interpretation of the story, and that is bad publicity for a gay bar, particularly during Pride month (which often accounts for a significant part of the annual profits from bars and restaurants in queer neighborhoods).
No matter who was right, the mob won.
Then we had this incident last weekend: Armed Neo-Nazis Get a Police Escort to Disrupt Detroit Pride. Pictures and video from multiple sources, not just the crowd. We had a group of Neo-Nazis (they were carrying Nazi flags, wearing swastika armbands, and making Nazi salutes) taking advantage of the open-carry laws to disrupt the Pride festival. And when you show up like that and chant things about killing queers you’re not just stating an opinion: the action is clearly intended to terrorize a portion of the population. Most states, whether they have hate crime laws or not, have laws defining actions intended to “cause public alarm” as a crime. These are most often used for dealing with false bomb threats and the like.
The most alarming part of these videos and pictures are that it appears as if the police are escorting the Nazis. It appears as of the police are trying to protect the Nazis (the ones with the guns and chanting about genocide) from the festival-goers.
The police are trying to spin the story another way: Detroit Police Claim to Quash Neo-Nazi Plot To Spark ‘Charlottesville No. 2’ At Pride Parade. So the police claim that they were there to prevent the Nazis hurting anyone. And they did arrest at least three of the neo-Nazis, though we don’t know what the charges are. And they claim that they warned the Nazis several times not to start burning rainbow flags, because they would have to arrest them. (I’m assuming that the act of setting anything on fire in a crowded place would be the reason for the arrest.)
I have several problems with the police narrative. For one thing, the police chief described “both sides” acting badly. Except he isn’t referring to the Nazis on one side and the queer people on the other. He’s actually talking about an organized anti-fascist counter protest group that was there to counter the Nazis… and therefore were also technically disrupting the Pride festival. But I’ve already seen the police chief’s comments being quoted by bigots as proof that the queer people at the festival were behaving just as badly as the Nazis. Also, when saying “both sides” the police chief is alleging that the anti-fascists were yelling racial slurs at any cop who happened to be African-American, similar to how the Nazis were hurling racial slurs at them. Besides not quite believing that, I also think that the people who were marching with guns while chanting slogans about genocide are still far, far, far more in the wrong than unarmed people yelling bad words.
Maybe this is a no-win situation for the police. Because Michigan is an open-carry state, they can’t arrest people for merely carrying guns, no matter how intimidating it may be. Michigan’s hate crime law doesn’t include sexual orientation, so technically carrying a rifle while yelling into a bullhorn about killing faggots isn’t a crime in Michigan. So the only way to prevent violence is to try to put themselves between the Nazis and everyone else. Unfortunately, that makes it look like they are escorting the Nazis. On the other hand, by appearing to escort the Nazis, it sure as heck looks like the police are supporting them.
Clearly, the Nazis are the bad guys, here. But if even the police officers who recognize the Nazis as bad guys also trot out “both sides” arguments, we’ve got a problem. Queer people holding a Pride parade and festival aren’t calling for killing anyone. Asking to have the same rights as other people isn’t an attack on those people. Celebrating the fact that we have survived despite all the attempts to erase and oppress us is not an attack on anyone. This isn’t merely a difference of opinion between two potentially valid points.
I suppose I should focus on the bright side: no injuries were reported, violence didn’t break out. And even Fox News reported the Nazi actions in a negative light. I think the latter only happened because a lot of people got a picture of the one Nazi urinating on an Isreali flag. So, maybe everyone having a camera in hand was a good thing.
And now we have another round of me commenting on some news that broke after I composed this week’s Friday Five, or new developments in a story I’ve linked to and/or commented on before.
First, let’s talk some more about that so-called Straight Pride parade! So yesterday I linked to the story about how Brad Pitt disavowed the parade and threatened to sue the organizers if they kept using his name and image, right? That didn’t really surprise anyone. I was, frankly, confused as to why the organizers even went there—Pitt’s support of marriage equality long before it became legal was well known, for example. And clearly the only sort of people who even think a Straight Pride parade needs to be a thing are insecure homophobes, right?
We already knew that the leader of the group who applied for the permit was an alt-fight rabble rouser who has organized or been a featured speaker at various neo-Nazi/alt-right rallies over the last few years. And now we know what was up, because the group has responded to Pitt’s threat of legal action: ‘Straight pride’ group removes Brad Pitt as mascot after backlash, replacing him with Milo Yiannopoulos.
Before I go further, I want to give a tip of the hat to Joe Jervis of the Joe.My.God web site for correctly predicting predicting days earlier that Yiannopoulos had to be involved.
So now everything becomes clear. They knew that announcing a straight pride parade and applying for a permit would get them some news coverage. Mentioning a well-known celebrity like Brad Pitt as the parade’s “mascot” without Pitt’s permission served multiple purposes. First, it increased the odds that mainstream news sources would carry the initial story. Second, because they didn’t just name Pitt, but had pictures of him on their web site, it guaranteed a response from Pitt and/or his agent no doubt threatening legal action. Which git them a second day of being in the news. Then, they can announced the change in the mascot the next day, before any official cease and desist letters arrive, and get another day of press coverage. And they announced the change on their web site with some digs at Pitt (that aren’t actionable) that are phrased in exactly the way needed to appeal to any Incels/Men’s Rights Activities who weren’t already cheering them on.
This also explains why they are using the term “mascot” instead of “Grand Marshall” or something (I know there are headlines out there using saying Grand Marshall, but the official web site uses mascot exclusively). Because Milo isn’t just a neo-Nazi apologist who incites hate against muslims, jews, and trans people, he is also infamously gay. Which is a weird person to pick to symbolize and lead a straight pride march, but mascot? Sure, the lapdog gay boy—who loves to spout off the same genocidal racist, anti-semitic, sectarian, misogynist, transphobic nonsense that the rest of the organizers of the event believe—he can be a mascot.
Based on the past histories of all the folks we currently know are involved in this, the real point of the parade (beside publicity, which they hope will translate into donations) is to try to get a situation where protesters show up, one or two of whom might be provoked to take some action that will give the cops an excuse to go after the anti-fascists, as police are wont to do. So the purpose is to generate headlines and video that can be used to try to paint those of us who are opposed to the goals of the alt-right as the bad guys. And, of course, to provide money to Milo, who is deeply in debt.
With Milo’s involvement, the other thing we can expect is if the City of Boston requires parade permit holders to pay for police services, et cetera, those bills will not get paid (that’s how he racked up a couple million dollars of debt in Australia alone!).
One last thing before we change topics. The same group as officially announced a straight pride flag. They have had at least one made and, oh my goodness, is this the ugliest thing ever, or what? I understand that there are actual studies that show a high correlation between lack of cognitive skills and holding very conservative beliefs, but really, that attempt at symbolism is an insult to the intelligence of the people they hope to embrace the flag. Maybe they think they’re being ironic?
Okay, these don’t really need much in the way of commentary: to the surprise of no one with a functioning brain cell: State Dept Bans Embassies From Flying Rainbow Flag. It was only a week ago that the alleged president was tweeting about supporting LGBT people and joining the international fight against the criminalization and state-sponsored killing of LGBT people. And yet, this… I mean, compared to the very long list of anti-gay actions the trump administration as taken against us, this is pretty minor, but still!
Oh, well, let’s end on a better not, shall we? WISCONSIN: Dem Gov Flies Rainbow Flag Over Capitol For First Time, GOP State Rep Rants “This Is Divisive”. I suppose it is divisive: it divides the haters (so-called Christians like the GOP representative in question) from those who actually love their neighbors as themself.
And it isn’t even fair to say equally. There have been studies that show when women talk for more than 15% of a class or presentation or similar activity that the men perceive that the woman are dominating the conversation. Only 15%, the men describe it as “equal time.” I haven’t found similar studies about their perception of people of color or queers, but I have a life time of personal observation to say the participation of other marginalized people are perceived the same way. If queer characters exist in a story or movie or whatever in more than a restricted token manner, they scream “why are the gays ruining everything?!” And when it comes to people of color, well, a black actor was featured prominently in the first trailer for The Force Awakens and they lost their collective minds, calling for boycotts (and worse).
And I know it isn’t just angry straight white men. There are angry straight white women who make the same “why don’t we get a straight pride day?” arguments, too. Believe me, I know. I’ve had that one thrown at me by relatives at family get-togethers.
There are two different, completely true answers to the question of why there isn’t a straight pride day.
The first answer is: every day is straight pride day! Every day day society and strangers celebrate and cheer straight marriages. Every day society recognizes and approves of the existence of straight people. Every day thousands of television episodes are broadcast in which the straight characters are the protagonists and their stories and concerns are recognized, accepted, and celebrated. Every day little boys are described as future lady’s men, and little girls are called heart-breakers, and no one screams at the people who say it that the children are too young for that. 99% of all movies, books, songs, plays, and TV shows center straight people and their concerns.The second answer is: there is no systemic bigotry against straight people. There are no laws, and never have been, baring straight people from teaching or adopting children. There have never been laws against straight people getting married. No straight child has been thrown out on the streets by their family because they are straight. Straight people have never been barred from the military for being straight. No one has ever claimed that programs to stop bullying of straight children in schools is a violation of freedom of religion. No child or teen-ager has ever been forced into ex-straight therapy. People aren’t bashed and murdered for being straight. Straight couples holding hands in public have never been attacked by a mob and beaten for being straight. When a straight couple is depicted kissing in a movie no one organizes boycotts to stop straight sexuality being shoved down the public’s throat. No authorities have ever said that they don’t hate straight people, they just disapprove of their lifestyle. No medical associations or governments have ever officially defined being straight as a dangerous mental disease.
All that has happened is that when some straight people express bigoted opinions about queer people, society as a whole no longer chimes in to agree. Worse than that, some people actually point out the homophobia. In some circumstances the law doesn’t penalize queer people the way it used to. In some circumstances the law no longer privileges straight people to the detriment of queer people.
That isn’t the same as being oppressed. It isn’t the same as being bashed. It isn’t the same as being murdered. It isn’t the same as being forced into homelessness. You did not have to overcome adversity, bigotry, threats of violence, actual violence, family rejection, and more just to live as an openly straight person.