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21 March 2010

WTF is wrong with Texas?

I saw this the other day and it just pissed me off. Can these people not at all see that they are acting exactly like the taliban? The only difference is the level of violence, but I don't think that will take long for them to get to if they keep at it. Their thought process is totally indistinguishable! ANYONE who is an American, no matter if theist or atheist should be ashamed of those people and should call them out for their actions.

Many have noted the existence of parallels between America's Christian Right and historical fascist movements around the world. One thing missing from the Christian Right today are organized bands of thugs willing to use violence, fear, and intimidation to advance the movement's agenda. If that were to happen, it could be argued that the USA would have its own genuine fascist movement.

Although this hasn't happened yet, there are some groups that have tried to fill that role. The latest is "Repent Amarillo" in Amarillo, Texas. They haven't turned to actual violence so far, but their rhetoric is very violent and they have used a lot of intimidation to get their way against other local residents.

Their leader, David Grisham, a security guard at nuclear-bomb facility Pantex who moonlights as a pastor, explained the action. "We're here to shine the light on this darkness," Grisham told the Amarillo Globe-News. "I don't think Amarillo knew about this place. This is adultery. This is wrong. There's no telling how many venereal diseases get spread, how many abortions." The goal, Grisham says, was not just to save the swingers' souls, but to shut the club down. ...

For the past year, this Bible Belt city of 200,000 has been consumed by a culture clash between Repent Amarillo and their targets, a list that includes everything from gay bars to liberal churches. For the Route 66 swingers, Grisham's "special forces" have been a near-constant presence. Jobs have been lost, families estranged, assault charges filed and businesses shuttered. So far, no public official has stood up to defend these businesses, which operate legally. To the contrary, Repent Amarillo has managed to turn the city's own laws and employees into an effective weapon.

Amarillo, it turns out, doesn't have the stomach to stick up for gays, swingers, strippers or even Unitarians. Absent a peacekeeper, the conflict might end up being settled the old-fashioned way, frontier-style. "This will not end until somebody gets hurt, either us or them," one swinger warns. ...

At first, the swinger community was mystified by the attention. On the 60-some hours of surveillance footage the Meads have, a swinger can be heard telling a Repent member that the swingers haven't done anything to bother them."You're going to hell, and it bothers me," Grisham responds. "What bothers me is you're going to hell."

Source: Texas Observer

David Grisham may indeed be sincerely bothered by the idea of others going to hell, but that's not a sane motive for the actions of his group. Even some Christians are put off by such behavior and it has about a zero percent chance of "saving" anyone. There is certainly no evidence that such behavior leads to the goal of converting others. There is, however, lots of evidence that such behavior is useful for strengthening in-group social cohesion among bullies while driving away persecuted minorities.

The first target for Repent Amarillo has been a curious one: swingers. Apparently, swingers are such a threat to the Christian moral order that they require extensive, hash opposition.

Perhaps the most insidious tactic Repent uses is trying to destroy the reputation of the swingers. In Amarillo, people can be ostracized over a whiff of impropriety. On one tape, Grisham directs followers to get the license-plate numbers in the Route 66 parking lot. "A new couple can be here three or four hours," says Mac. "Whenever they leave, the Repent Amarillo group will call them by first and last name, know where they live, know where they work, just within a very few hours."

Randall Sammons says he was fired from his job of 13 years in August after his boss learned Sammons was a swinger from another employee, a Repent member. He believes he's now as good as blacklisted in Amarillo. "I'm screwed at finding a job," Sammons says. Russell Grisham, David's 20-year-old son who has a conviction on his record for hacking the computer system at his high school, has posted the names, photos and workplaces of swingers on the Internet, including one man whose wife works for a school district. ("Family-wise, it will kill both of us," the man says.) In at least two instances, Repent members called swingers' employers. Mac, meanwhile, is still far from the come-to-Jesus moment Grisham wants. "This group claims to be Christian," Mac says. "Sir, I am a Christian. I believe in the God almighty, but I do not treat people the way they treat us or others."

They didn't just target a swingers' club, but also swingers' private homes and employers -- thus revealing that they likely have "friends in high places," at least among the local police.

In January, six Repent members showed up at a weekend swingers party at the private home of Cristal Robinson, Route 66's attorney. During the party, Robinson says the group trespassed on her property and tried to block cars from entering the driveway. She called the police. Sheriff's deputies showed up, followed not long after by a state trooper.

The two law-enforcement groups apparently had different ideas about how to handle Repent, according to a Potter County incident report. The state trooper took photographs of the Repent vehicles and filled out suspicious activity cards, which go to the state's intelligence center. The deputies, on the other hand, dismissed Robinson's account and left Repent to carry on.

Meanwhile the trooper stayed nearby. Deputies later received a report that the DPS trooper was "harassing" Repent. The deputies returned to find four "extremely upset" Repent members. "Big John" Leinen complained to the deputies that the trooper had treated them "like some sort of terrorist group." Grisham claimed that the trooper had assaulted one of his people and broke a piece off the group's video camera. The trooper told deputies he had observed Repent going through Robinson's dumpster and asked why the deputies "didn't write the protestors [sic] a citation for 'disturbing the peace'." The deputy answered, "because they aren't disturbing the peace." Deputies asked the trooper to leave, and no tickets were issued.

In fact, the targeting swingers isn't so odd after all. Swingers offer a model of sexuality, sexual behavior, sexual relationships, and male/female relations that is at odds with the traditional Christian model. What's more, swingers in Amarillo were offering a model that was clearly appealing -- despite a very low-key presence, they attracted enough interest to have their own club rather than needing to meet occasionally in private homes.

Swingers, like atheists, gays, and some other groups, are a threat because they open fundamental assumptions of Christian systems to question, challenge, and rejection.

Repent has made it clear that its crusade won't end with the swingers. Last January, community theater group Avenue 10 was set to open Bent, a play about the persecution of homosexuals during Nazi Germany. The day before opening night, the fire marshal, police and code enforcers showed up, tipped off by a Repent associate, according to Sirc Michaels, co-founder of the theater. Avenue 10 didn't have the right permit for holding events, and the space was shut down.

What's next for Repent? They've posted a "Warfare Map" on the group's Web site. The map includes establishments like gay bars, strip clubs and porn shops, but also the Wildcat Bluff Nature Center. Repent believes the 600-acre prairie park's Walmart-funded "Earth Circle," used for lectures, is a Mecca for witches and pagans. Also on the list are The 806 coffeehouse (a hangout for artists and counterculture types), the Islamic Center of Amarillo ("Allah is a false god"), and "compromised churches" like Polk Street Methodist (gay-friendly).

We should expect that Repent Amarillo would like to do to all these other groups just what they have done to the swingers: protest at private homes, harass, contact employers, etc., all with the goal of driving them out and thus eliminating from Amarillo the presence of alternatives to how far-right Christians want things done.

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