LAKELAND, Fla. -- Todd Bentley has a long night ahead of him, resurrecting the dead, healing the blind, and exploding cancerous tumors. Since April 3, the 32-year-old, heavily tattooed, body-pierced, shaved-head Canadian preacher has been leading a continuous "supernatural healing revival" in central Florida. To contain the 10,000-plus crowds flocking from around the globe, Bentley has rented baseball stadiums, arenas and airport hangars at a cost of up to $15,000 a day. Many in attendance are church pastors themselves who believe Bentley to be a prophet and don't bat an eye when he tells them he's seen King David and spoken with the Apostle Paul in heaven. "He was looking very Jewish," Bentley notes.
Tattooed across his sternum are military dog tags that read "Joel's Army." They're evidence of Bentley's generalship in a rapidly growing apocalyptic movement that's gone largely unnoticed by watchdogs of the theocratic right. According to Bentley and a handful of other "hyper-charismatic" preachers advancing the same agenda, Joel's Army is prophesied to become an Armageddon-ready military force of young people with a divine mandate to physically impose Christian "dominion" on non-believers.
"An end-time army has one common purpose -- to aggressively take ground for the kingdom of God under the authority of Jesus Christ, the Dread Champion," Bentley declares on the website for his ministry school in British Columbia, Canada. "The trumpet is sounding, calling on-fire, revolutionary believers to enlist in Joel's Army. ... Many are now ready to be mobilized to establish and advance God's kingdom on earth."
Joel's Army followers, many of them teenagers and young adults who believe they're members of the final generation to come of age before the end of the world, are breaking away in droves from mainline Pentecostal churches. Numbering in the tens of thousands, they base their beliefs on an esoteric reading of the second chapter of the Old Testament Book of Joel, in which an avenging swarm of locusts attacks Israel. In their view, the locusts are a metaphor for Joel's Army.
Despite their overt militancy, there's no evidence Joel's Army followers have committed any acts of violence. But critics warn that actual bloodletting may only be a matter of time for a movement that casts itself as God's avenging army.
Those sounding the alarm about Joel's Army are not secular foes of the Christian Right, few of whom are even aware of the movement or how widespread it's become in the past decade. Instead, Joel's Army critics are mostly conservative Christians, either neo-Pentecostals who left the movement in disgust or evangelical Christians who fear that Joel's Army preachers are stealing their flocks, even sending spies to infiltrate their own congregations and sway their young people to heresy. And they say the movement is becoming frightening.
"The pitch and intensity of the military rhetoric of this branch of the global Dominionist movement has substantially increased since the beginning of 2008," writes The Discernment Research Group, a Christian watchdog group that tracks what they call heresies or cults within Christianity. "One can only wonder how long before this transforms into real warfare with actual warriors."
Joel's Army believers are hard-core Christian dominionists, meaning they believe that America, along with the rest of the world, should be governed by conservative Christians and a conservative Christian interpretation of biblical law. There is no room in their doctrine for democracy or pluralism.
Dominionism's original branch is Christian Reconstructionism, a grim, Calvinist call to theocracy that, as Reconstructionist writer Gary North describes, wants to "get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God."
Notorious for endorsing the public execution by stoning of homosexuals and adulterers, the Christian Reconstructionist movement is far better known in secular America than Joel's Army. That's largely because Reconstructionists have made several serious forays into mainstream politics and received a fair amount of negative publicity as a result. Joel's Army followers eschew the political system, believing the path to world domination lies in taking over churches, not election to public office.
Another key difference between the two branches of dominionism, which maintain a testy, arms-length relationship with one another, is Christian Reconstructionism's buttoned-down image and heavy emphasis on Bible study, which contrasts sharply with Joel's Army anti-intellectual distrust of biblical scholars and its unruly style.
"Some people snort cocaine, others snort religions," Joel's Army Pastor Roy said while ministering a morning program at Todd Bentley's Lakeland, Fla., revival in late May.
As this article went to press, Bentley's "Florida Outpouring" had been running for more than 100 days straight. Many attendees came in search of spontaneous physical healing and a desire to be part of a mystical community marked by dancing, shouting, gyrating, speaking in tongues and other forms of ecstatic release.
Snide jabs at traditional church services are fairly common at Bentley's revivals. In fact, what takes place onstage at the Florida Outpouring looks more like a pro wrestling extravaganza than church. On stage, Bentley and his team of pastors, yell, chant, and scream "Fire!" and "Bam!" while anointing followers.
The audience members behave as if they are at a psychedelic counterculture festival. One couple jumps up and down twirling red and silver metallic flags. Dyed-haired teenagers pulled in by the revival's presence on Facebook and MySpace wander around looking dazed. Women lay facedown on the floor, convulsing and howling. Fathers wail in tongues as their confused children look on. Strangers lay hands on those who fail to produce tongues or gyrate wildly enough, pressuring them to "let it out."
Bentley is considered a prophet both by his followers and by other leaders of the Joel's Army movement, whose adherents claim to be reviving a "five-fold ministry" of prophets, apostles, elders, pastors and teachers, as outlined in the Book of Ephesians. Not every five-fold ministry is connected to the Joel's Army movement, but the movement has spurred an interest in modern-day apostles and prophets that's troubling to the Assemblies of God, the world's largest Pentecostal church, which has officially disavowed the Joel's Army movement.
In a 2001 position paper, Assemblies of God leaders wrote that they do not recognize modern-day apostles or prophets and worried that "such leaders prefer more authoritarian structures where their own word or decrees are unchallenged." They are right to worry. Joel's Army followers believe that once democratic institutions are overthrown, their hierarchy of apostles and prophets will rule over the earth, with one church per city.
According to Joel's Army doctrine, the enforcers of the five-fold ministry will be members of the final generation, for whom the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade constituted a new Passover.
"Everyone born after abortion's legalization can consider their birth a personal invitation to take part in this great army," writes John Crowder, another prominent Joel's Army pastor, who bills his 2006 book, The New Mystics: How to Become Part of the Supernatural Generation, as a literal how-to guide for joining Joel's Army.
Both Bentley and Crowder are enormously popular on Elijah's List, an online watering hole for a broad spectrum of Joel's Army enlistees, from lightweight believers who merely share an affection for military rhetoric and pastors who dress in army camouflage (several Joel's Army pastors are addressed by their congregants as "commandant" or "commander") to hardliners who believe the church is called to have an active military role in end-times that have already begun. Elijah's List currently has more than 125,000 subscribers on its electronic mailing list.
Rick Joyner, a pastor whose books, The Harvest and The Call, helped popularize Joel's Army theology by selling more than a million copies each, goes the furthest on Elijah's List in pushing the hardliner approach. In 2006, he posted a sermon called "The Warrior Nation -- The New Sound of the Church," in which he claimed that a last-day army is now gathering and called believers "freedom fighters."
"As the church begins to take on this resolve, they [Joel's Army churches] will start to be thought of more as military bases, and they will begin to take on the characteristics of military bases for training, equipping, and deploying effective spiritual forces," Joyner wrote. "In time, the church will actually be organized more as a military force with an army, navy, air force, etc."
In a sort of disclaimer, Joyner writes at one point that God's army "will bring love, peace and stability wherever they go." But several of his books narrate with glee what he describes as "a coming civil war within the church." In his 1997 book The Harvest he writes: "Some pastors and leaders who continue to resist this tide of unity will be removed from their place. Some will become so hardened they will become opposers and resist God to the end."
Two years later, in his book The Final Quest, Joyner described a vision (taken as prophecy in the Joel's Army world, where Joyner is considered an "apostle") of the coming Christian Civil War in which demon-possessed Christian soldiers enslave other, weaker Christians who resist them. He also describes how the hero of the novel -- himself -- ascends a "Holy Mountain" in order to learn new truths and to acquire new, magic weapons.
Kids on Fire
Bentley, who claims to be a supernatural healer, is no less over the top, playing his biker-punk appearance and heavy metal theatrics to the hilt. On YouTube, where clips of his most dramatic healings have been condensed into a three-minute highlight reel, Bentley describes God ordering him to kick an elderly lady in the face: "I am thinking, 'God, why is the power of God not moving?' And He said, 'It is because you haven't kicked that women in the face.' And there was, like, this older lady worshipping right in front of the platform and the Holy Spirit spoke to me and the gift of faith came on me. He said, 'Kick her in the face ... with your biker boot.' I inched closer and I went like this [makes kicking motion]: Bam! And just as my boot made contact with her nose, she fell under the power of God."
The atmosphere is less charged with violence at "The Call," a 12-hour revival of up to 20,000 youths led by Joel's Army pastor Lou Engle and held every summer in a major American city (this year's event was scheduled for Washington, D.C. in August).
Attendees are called upon to fast and pray for 40 days and take up culture-war pledges to lead abstinent lives, reject pornography and fight abortion. They're further asked to perform "identificational repentance," lugging along family trees and genealogies to see where one of their ancestors may have enslaved or oppressed another so that they can make amends. (Many in the Joel's Army movement believe in generational curses that must be broken by the current generation).
As even his critics note, Engle is a sweet, humble and gentle man whose persona is difficult to reconcile with his belief in an end-time army of invincible young Christian warriors. Yet while Engle is careful to avoid deploying explicit Joel's Army rhetoric at high-profile events like The Call, when he's speaking in smaller hyper-charismatic circles to avowed Joel's Army followers, he can venture into bloodlust.
This March, at a "Passion for Jesus" conference in Kansas City sponsored by the International House of Prayer, or IHOP, a ministry for teenagers from the heavy metal, punk and goth scenes, Engle called on his audience for vengeance.
"I believe we're headed to an Elijah/Jezebel showdown on the Earth, not just in America but all over the globe, and the main warriors will be the prophets of Baal versus the prophets of God, and there will be no middle ground," said Engle. He was referring to the Baal of the Old Testament, a pagan idol whose followers were slaughtered under orders from the prophet Elijah.
"There's an Elijah generation that's going to be the forerunners for the coming of Jesus, a generation marked not by their niceness but by the intensity of their passion," Engle continued. "The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Such force demands an equal response, and Jesus is going to make war on everything that hinders love, with his eyes blazing fire."
Although Joel's Army theology is mainly directed at people in their teens and early 20s via events like The Call and ministries like IHOP, sometimes the target audience is even younger. In some of the most arresting images in Jesus Camp, a 2006 documentary about the Kids on Fire bible camp in North Dakota, grade school-aged kids dressed in army fatigues wield swords and conduct military field maneuvers. "A lot of people die for God and they're not afraid," one camper told ABC News reporters in a follow-up segment.
"We're kinda being trained to be warriors," added another, "only in a funner way."
Cain and the Intellectuals
Both Christian and secular critics assailed the makers of Jesus Camp for referring to the camp's extremist, militant Christianity as "evangelical." There is a name, however, that describes Kids on Fire's agenda, if you're familiar with their theology: Joel's Army. Pastor Becky Fischer, who runs the camp, said that a third of the kids at her camp were under 6 years old because they are "more in touch in the supernatural" and proclaimed them to be "soldiers for God's Army." Her camp's blend of end-times militancy and supernaturalism is perfectly emblematic of the Joel's Army movement, whose adherents believe their cause is prophesied in the Old Testament chapter titled "An Army of Locusts."
The stark, evocative passages of that chapter describe a locust swarm that lays waste to Israel (to this day, the region suffers periodic locust invasions): "Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come." As remarkable as the language is, most biblical scholars agree that it is a literal description of a locust invasion and resulting famine that occurred sometime between the 9th and 5th centuries B.C.E.
In the Book of Joel, the locust invasion is described as an omen that an Assyrian army to the north may attack Israel if it fails to repent as a nation. But nowhere is the invasion described as an army of God. According to an Assemblies of God position paper: "It is a complete misinterpretation of Scripture to find in Joel's army of locusts a militant, victorious force attacking society and a non-cooperating Church to prepare the earth for Christ's millennial reign."
The story of how an ancient insect invasion came to be a rallying flag for 21st-century dominonists begins just after World War II in Canada. Out of a small town in Saskatchewan, a Pentecostal preacher named William Branham spearheaded a 1948 revival in which he claimed that his followers lived in a new biblical time of "Latter Rain."
The most sinless and ardent of his flock would be called "Manifest Sons of God." By the next year, the movement was so strong -- and seemed so subversive to some -- that the Assemblies of God banned it as a heretic cult. But Branham remained a controversial figure with a loyal following; many of his followers believed him to be the end-times prophet Elijah.
Michael Barkun, a leading scholar of radical religion, notes that in 1958, Branham began teaching "Serpent Seed" doctrine, the belief that Satan had sex with Eve, resulting in Cain and his descendants. "Through Cain came all the smart, educated people down to the antediluvian flood -- the intellectuals, bible colleges," Branham wrote in the kind of anti-mainstream religion, anti-intellectual spirit that pervades the Joel's Army movement to this day. "They know all their creeds but know nothing about God."
The Gates of Hell
Branham was killed in a car accident in 1965, but his Manifest Sons of God movement, the direct predecessor of Joel's Army, lived on within a cluster of hyper-charismatic churches. In the 1980s, Branham's teachings took on new life at the Kansas City Fellowship (KCF), a group of popular self-styled apostles and prophets who used the Missouri church as a launching pad for national careers promoting outright Joel's Army theology.
Ernie Gruen, a local pastor who initially promoted and gave citywide credibility to KCF pastors in the early 1980s, cut his connections in 1990. Concerned about KCF's plans to push its teachings worldwide, Gruen published a 132-page insider's account, based on taped sermons and conversations and interviews with parents who had enrolled their kids in KCF's Dominion school.
According to Gruen's report, students at the school were taught that they were a "super-race" of the "elected seed" of all the best bloodlines of all generations -- foreknown, predestined, and hand-selected from billions of others to be part of the "end-time Omega generation."
Though he'd once promoted these doctrines himself, Gruen became convinced that the movement was turning into an end-times cult, marked by what he summarized as "spiritual threats, fears, and warnings of death," "warning followers to beware of other Christians" and exhibiting "a 'super-race' mentality toward the training of their children."
When contacted by the Intelligence Report, Gruen's spokesman said that Gruen stands by everything he published in the report but no longer grants media interviews.
The Kansas City Fellowship remains in operation and has served as a farm team for many of the all-stars of the Joel's Army movement. Those larger-than-life figures include John Wimber, the founder of a California megachurch, The Vineyard, who, before his death in 1997, proclaimed that Joel's Army would not only conquer the earth but defeat death itself. Lou Engle founded The Call based on the Joel's Army visions that KCF "prophet" Bob Jones (not to be confused with Bob Jones III of Bob Jones University) received while at KCF. Mike Bickle, another KCF member, stayed in Kansas City to form the International House of Prayer.
IHOP members and other Joel's Army adherents are well aware of how their movement is perceived by other conservative Christians.
"Today, you can type 'Joel's Army' into a search engine and a thousand heresy hunter websites pop up, decrying the very mention of it," writes John Crowder in The New Mystics. Crowder doesn't exactly allay critic's fears. "This is truly warfare," he writes. "This battle is not a game. They [Joel's Army warriors] will not be on the defense; they will be on the offense -- and the gates of hell will not be able to hold up against them."
So far, few members of the secular media have taken notice of Joel's Army, even as they report on Protestant dominionists like Pat Robertson or the more outrageous calls for the stoning of gays and lesbians emanating from Reconstructionist circles. There are exceptions, however. On the DailyKos, a well-read, politically liberal blog, a diarist has been blogging for two years about her experiences as a walkaway from a Joel's Army church. She writes under a pseudonym out of fear of physical reprisals.
She may have real cause for concern. As Wimber, the late founder of The Vineyard, put it in one of his most famous and fiery sermons, one that is still frequently cited by Joel's Army followers: "Those in this army will have His kind of power. ... Anyone who wants to harm them must die."
Branson, Mo. -- It's a long way to go to church, especially for a congregation used to watching its pastor on television. But the flock of Shepherd's Chapel is like no other. Twice a year, almost 4,000 of its members will fly or drive from points across the country to this Ozarks tourist destination, best known for the neon kitsch and wholesome family entertainment of the Highway 76 Country Music Boulevard, to see Pastor Arnold Murray, host of the long-running TV Bible study program, "Shepherd's Chapel."
The strapping, 6-foot-4-inch octogenarian, known as "The Sarge" to his followers, has gained an audience that numbers in the millions. "Shepherd's Chapel" has been on the air for at least three decades and is broadcast in nearly every major and mid-size U.S. city.
At Passover this April 5 (Murray calculates the date for Passover according to his own interpretation of the Jewish calendar), the 81-year-old Arkansas pastor is all smiles as the packed audience in the Grand Palace country music hall rises to give him a long standing ovation before he's even said a word. His son Dennis introduces him as a man who is "taking names and kicking dragons." One woman can't contain herself. "We love you, Pastor Murray," she yells out. Murray jokes that he should get her number before pushing back his sleeves and opening his King James Bible. "Let's get to work," he commands. And they do. The audience is so rapt that throughout the 45-minute sermon the only sound they make is the onionskin rustle of thousands of Bible pages turning. But there are some things they're not being taught.
One of them is the fact that Murray's 1958 minister's license was signed by the late white supremacists Roy Gillaspie and Kenneth Goff, two early ideologues of Christian Identity, a racist theology that's been popular among Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists for several decades. Most Identity adherents believe the Bible is the history of the white race, who are seen as the real "chosen people."
Gillaspie was the pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ, a seminal Christian Identity operation -- headquartered at Gillaspie's Bellflower, Calif., church -- with a handful of congregations in California and Arkansas, one of which was led by Murray. (Murray's Church of Jesus Christ in Gravette, Ark., was the precursor to his Shepherd's Chapel, in the same location.) The Intelligence Report has obtained Church of Jesus Christ newsletters dated 1978 that are signed by Murray.
Goff, for his part, was the founder of the Colorado-based Soldiers of the Cross Training Institute, a school that trained Christian Identity leaders including Dan Gayman, a well-known anti-Semitic leader during the 1980s. In 1958, Goff's pamphlet, "Reds Promote Racial War," claimed the Bible supported racial segregation. A 1969 Soldiers of the Cross newsletter penned by Goff describes black civil rights protesters as seeking "to submerge our culture and religious heritage under a flood of cannibalism, voodooism and beastly jungle sex orgies."
Arnold Murray is still connected to something called Soldiers of the Cross. According to Arkansas public records, a corporation by that name is doing business as Shepherd's Chapel in Arkansas, and Murray is registered as the corporation's agent. Murray's home, his church property where the TV studio and satellites are located, and several parcels of land in Gravette, Ark., are all listed as the property of Soldiers of the Cross.
Despite these ties to the roots of the Christian Identity movement, Murray today publicly disavows racism, and his followers include a tiny minority of non-whites. Even so, Murray preaches often about a race of evil people, descended from Cain, borne out of "the Serpent Seed" of Eve's sexual union with Satan in the Garden of Eden. He calls them the "Kenites" and identifies them in his 1979 Shepherd's Bible as people "who slipped in among the Jewish people in Jerusalem and claim to be God's chosen people, when in fact they are of Lucifer." He also mentions that "in 1967 Jerusalem fell to the Kenites during the 6 day war"; the Israelis, in fact, won the Six-Day War. In one sermon, Dennis Murray speaks of "the Kenites, who are responsible for the slaying of Christ." (In most Judeo-Christian traditions, the Kenites are a nomadic clan of Midianites and a tribe into which Moses married.)
The Serpent Seed is a belief ripped straight from the pages of "seedline" or "two-seed" Christian Identity theology, the hard-line version of the theology that holds that Eve was impregnated by Satan and gave birth to his son, Cain, described as the first Jew. That is, Jews are seen as biologically descended from Satan, and are allegedly hard at work preparing the earth for his rule. Identity adherents also argue that whites, not Jews, are the real Hebrews of the Bible, and that non-whites are sub-human "beasts of the field" created without souls.
While Murray doesn't outright endorse these hardliner views, by promoting the "Serpent Seed" doctrine on 225 broadcast stations he's gone further than any Christian Identity preacher in pushing what seem clearly to be anti-Semitic Identity teachings into the mainstream.
"This is certainly Identity theology, inasmuch as he presents a two-seedline argument, identifies the [present] inhabitants of Israel with the descendants of Cain, and calls the mating of the Serpent with Eve the primal sin," Michael Barkun, the leading scholar of Christian Identity and a political science professor at Syracuse University, told the Intelligence Report.
Or, as Murray puts it more cautiously on his website: "What about teaching Serpent Seed? I make no apology for teaching the word of God." Kenites, Cainites and the Jews
In the atrium of the Grand Palace, a stately country music hall, teenagers are as common as senior citizens. Southern drawls mix with Wisconsin and Southern Californian accents. About two dozen black families are in the audience as well as a white woman wearing a pink hoodie with the words "Homeland Security" superimposed on a photo of four armed American Indians.
Over the course of the weekend, the Murrays will anoint two dozen babies with oil and baptize 83 adults and teenagers next door, in the indoor pool of the Radisson Hotel. There's a rock concert feel to the weekend, both intense and oddly impersonal for a religious gathering. When either of the Murrays' sermons end, his followers quietly file out of their chairs and make their way back to the parking lot, only briefly loitering for conversation or fellowship.
Rarely does a month go by without the elder Murray warning his followers about the Kenites. "Bless your heart if you have ever been deceived by the Kenite, and I am speaking now on the spiritual level, if you have ever really believed that group was the chosen of God, you were deceived by Satan," Murray says in one popular audio tape sermon. "Repent of that even more so than your personal sins in the personal sense."
Although Murray states on his website, "Anyone saying that I use the word [Kenites] to describe Judah is not telling the truth," it's not hard to figure out why many of his followers -- and others -- equate Kenites with Jews.
In one written sermon, Murray says that "the Kenites slipped in among the Jews." In an audiotape sermon called "Demons," he says of the Kenites, "Why do you think their own Talmud is the filthiest piece of literature ever written? Because they're at home with it. They love it. It's their cup of tea. It's Satan's cup of tea."
"Murray is a bit distinctive in one respect, and that is the emphasis on 'Kenites,'" Barkun, the scholar, told the Report. "None of the central figures in the formation of Christian Identity speak of the Kenites. Rather, they discuss descendants of Cain and sometimes Cainites. However, there appears to be a small number of Identity pastors who trace Biblical genealogy from Cain through the Kenites (were they somehow attracted by the similar sounds of the names?).
"Murray is obviously one."
For their part, longtime Shepherd's Chapel students, seeking to avoid what they feel is Satanic deceit, believe they must learn how to "identify" a Kenite. On Internet forums where Shepherd's Chapel followers congregate, there is much debate over the racial identity of the Kenites. On a Shepherd's Chapel MySpace group, some ask whether the Kenites might be of Asian ancestry. But over on TheSeason.org, a long-running forum for Shepherd's Chapel students, there's little ambivalence. Numerous essays, citing the anti-Semitic hoax, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, claim that the Kenites and the Jews have long plotted world domination.
For some, disillusionment
Paul Stringini, a former Shepherd's Chapel student, told the Intelligence Report that Murray "promotes what I would call soft resentment against Jews." "He'll say he loves the Jews, it's the Kenites he doesn't like," say Stringini. "Just try and nail him down on it. There's a semantic game that goes on. Frankly, the only real 'benefit' which I have ever seen of knowing 'who the Kenites are' is that knowledge makes many people prejudiced against Jews assuming they are 'Kenites.' I know that is not explicitly what Pastor Murray teaches but that is what it does to many Shepherd's Chapel students I have known."
Stringini knows he's not alone among former Shepherd's Chapel students who left in disgust over Murray's Serpent Seed theology. But whatever students Murray may lose are quickly replaced, thanks to his coast-to-coast TV and radio presence. That's how Stringini got involved with Shepherd's Chapel in 1993. In 1995, he was baptized in a hotel pool at the group's Branson Passover. "By 1996, I owned and had studied every single-subject cassette available at the time," wrote Stringini. He even married his wife at the Shepherd's Chapel headquarters in Arkansas.
But the more he heard from Murray about the "trumpets" of the end times and the "evil" of the Kenites, the less it rang true. Stringini quit Shepherd's Chapel in 1999 and remains one of the few former Murray followers willing to publicly criticize his ex-mentor, though he says that when Arnold Murray is not talking about the apocalypse or Kenites, "he's actually a pretty decent Bible teacher."
Unlike unapologetic Identity preachers, Murray doesn't condone or suggest violence against the "Kenites." "Let's get one thing straight, coming out the gate. Are you saying we should hate Judah? That would be stupid indeed," he says in one recorded sermon. Instead, Murray encourages followers to focus their energy on identifying and avoiding Kenites, claiming an end-times event will "take care" of them. In "Kenites," a widely distributed audio sermon, he claims this teaching comes directly from Jesus. Murray uses the New Testament parable of the "tares," a bitter weed that Jesus warns can grow hidden in wheat fields and go unnoticed till harvest. Murray likens the tares to the Kenites, adding, "The angels will take care of the tares -- the tares are taken together in the fire -- that's the end of the world -- that's how it's going to be."
For Murray, the end of the world isn't an abstraction. The 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption that happened during the week of Pentecost led him to proclaim the Antichrist would return in 1981. Murray's resolve has only hardened during the 27 years since that prophecy failed to come true. He dismisses his critics as "numbskulls," "Bible-thumpers" and "yo-yos."
The formula for his TV program is deceptively simple. "Verse by verse, chapter by chapter," Murray, often partnered with his son Dennis, sits between a wood desk and an American flag and interprets the King James Bible with the help of a Greek/Hebrew concordance. At the end of each show, he fields caller questions on global politics, end-times prophecy and scripture.
During a live taping of Shepherd's Chapel in 1998, an audience member yelled, "Blasphemer!" Murray turned around at his desk and pulled out a gun. The broadcast cut to Shepherd's Chapel's satellite logo but the audio continued. "Here. Take this 9mm to that boy," Murray said. The clip aired on "The Daily Show" and remains widely available on the Internet, as is another Shepherd's Chapel clip in which Murray reaches into his desk and pulls out what he claims is the fossil of an angel footprint, from a pre-Adamic time when angels walked the earth. Under the Radar
Despite his gaffes with guns and failed end-time prophecies, Murray has received very little attention in the mainstream press. In the mid-1990s the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette did briefly examine whether Murray's airplanes, which he claims are used in the nonprofit religious mission of Shepherd's Chapel, were in fact private vehicles and therefore taxable assets. But it did not delve into the nature or origins of Murray's theological teachings.
Few chapel students will ever attend services at the actual Shepherd's Chapel in Gravette, a tiny and remote town of 1,800 in far northwest Arkansas. Located just a couple of blocks from the town's main street, the headquarters chapel is a former roller rink, flanked by four satellites, one the size of a carousel. A stone plaque that reads, "I Am That I Am," sits in front of the church. The chapel holds videotaped services on the first and third Sunday of every month. As with his live appearances at the Passover in Branson this April, Murray seldom lingers on stage to chat with or greet his followers after his sermon concludes.
"I'm a very private person, almost a loner," Murray says in one audiotape sermon. Murray says he prefers the outdoors and maintains an intensely private life on a wooded 30-acre property in rural Benton County, Ark. Few biographical details are known about the pastor. Born in 1927, Murray grew up in a farming family. On the Shepherd's Chapel site, he says he served in the Korean War as a Marine. He also claims to have received a doctorate, though he doesn't name the institution. Murray almost never gives media interviews and did not respond to requests for comment for this story. But he has addressed some of those who criticize him.
In a Shepherd's Chapel website post called "An Answer to Our Critics," Murray says: "To say I teach racism or practice racism is another outright lie. We have people of all races that attend and study with the Shepherd's Chapel." While that may be true, Shepherd's Chapel's supporters who defend their church as non-racist have some former colleagues among white supremacists. On the neo-Nazi website Stormfront, an array of former Murray students who now pray and pastor at hard-core Christian Identity churches, have weighed in on Murray's anti-Semitic credentials. "Yep, Murray is 'lukewarm,' he is half right, which makes him all dangerous," wrote "NC patriot." Another poster going by the handle "Artemis Clydefrog" stated: "I've been studying with the Chapel for about 15 years. He's not C.I. [Christian Identity], but he does teach the 'Serpent's Seed.'" "[Murray] believes that blacks are exactly the same as Whites in the eyes of God," said Stormfront poster "LeBrune" with evident disapproval. "Just because he teaches about the "Serpent's Seed," don't think for a moment that he is a White Nationalist, promotes Christian Identity, White Separation, or even White Preservation."
But a 1997 complaint filed with the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast media, argued otherwise. Shepherd's Chapel's broadcasts were one of the subjects of a complaint by former media company MediaOne (now part of AT&T) against Georgia's WNGM-TV in a dispute over market access. MediaOne alleged that "Shepherd's Chapel," then carried on WNGM-TV, "has purveyed racist dogma," citing claims by the program on Nov. 13 and 15, 1996, that "not all races can come from Adam and Eve," that "God created different races and that's the way he wanted us to stay," and that the Biblical flood "was to destroy those [of different races] who had intermixed."
With the exception of New York City, "Shepherd's Chapel" airs in every major market in the country, in one- to four-hour slots, usually between midnight and six a.m. For hardcore fans, a 24-hour, seven-day a-week satellite broadcast of Shepherd's Chapel is available on DirecTV. A prophecy hotline is also available where callers can listen to a two-minute loop of Murray's commentary on events of the day.
All that airtime doesn't come cheap. In 1990, the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette reported that Murray spent $75,000 a month on television time. Where all that money comes from remains a mystery. Arkansas churches are shielded by state law from having to disclose their finances like other nonprofits. Unlike other, more notorious televangelists, the Murrays rarely make direct appeals for funds. At Passover in Branson, a single discreet tithing box was unmanned in the main room.
But many Shepherd's Chapel students are all too happy to donate to their pastor. For them, he's often the first and only religious figure to have walked them through the Bible verse by verse. Buying his books and sermons, or directly donating, seems less like tithing to them and more like paying tuition.
But at the Passover in Branson, if they listened closely, students could hear snippets of a theology that probably was more than they bargained for, like when Dennis Murray blamed the Kenites for the crucifixion of Jesus. "I'd like to see them crawling around the floor picking up their blood money," Dennis Murray said of the people his father still insistently claims are not the Jews, despite all appearances. "That'd be a picture."
On the first day of July, Satender Singh was gay-bashed to death. The 26-year-old Fijian of Indian descent was enjoying a holiday weekend outing at Lake Natoma with three married Indian couples around his age. Singh was delicate and dateless -- two facts that did not go unnoticed by a party of Russian-speaking immigrants two picnic tables away.
According to multiple witnesses, the men began loudly harassing Singh and his friends, calling them "7-Eleven workers" and "Sodomites." The Slavic men bragged about belonging to a Russian evangelical church and told Singh that he should go to a "good church" like theirs. According to Singh's friends, the harassers sent their wives and children home, then used their cell phones to summon several more Slavic men. The members of Singh's party, which included a woman six months pregnant, became afraid and tried to leave. But the Russian-speaking men blocked them with their bodies.
The pregnant woman said she didn't want to fight them.
"We don't want to fight you either," one of them replied in English. "We just want your faggot friend."
One of the Slavic men then sucker-punched Singh in the head. He fell to the ground, unconscious and bleeding. The assailants drove off in a green sedan and red sports car, hurling bottles at Singh's friends to prevent them from jotting down the license plate. Singh suffered a brain hemorrhage. By the next day, hospital tests confirmed that he was clinically brain dead. His family agreed to remove him from artificial life support July 5.
Outside Singh's hospital room, more than 100 people held a vigil. Many were Sacramento gay activists who didn't know Singh personally, but who saw his death as the tragic but inevitable result of what they describe as the growing threat of large numbers of Slavic anti-gay extremists, most of them first- or second-generation immigrants from Russia, the Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union, in their city and others in the western United States.
In recent months, as energetic Russian-speaking "Russian Baptists" and Pentecostals in these states have organized to bring thousands to anti-gay protests, gay rights activists in Sacramento have picketed Slavic anti-gay churches, requested more police patrols in gay neighborhoods and distributed information cards warning gays and lesbians about the hostile Slavic evangelicals who they say have roughed up participants at gay pride events. Singh's death was the realization of their worst fears.
"After a couple years of fundamentalist and Slavic Christian virulent anti-gay protests at almost every Sacramento gay event in the region," said local gay rights activist Michael Gorman, "what the gay community has feared for some time has finally happened."
Gay rights activists blame Singh's death on what they call "The West Coast connection" or the "U.S.-Latvia Axis of Hate," a reference to a virulent Latvian megachurch preacher who has become a central figure in the hard-line Slavic anti-gay movement in the West. And indeed, in early August, authorities announced that two Slavic men, one of whom had fled to Russia, were being charged in Singh's death, which they characterized as a hate crime.
A growing and ferocious anti-gay movement in the Sacramento Valley is centered among Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking immigrants. Many of them are members of an international extremist anti-gay movement whose adherents call themselves the Watchmen on the Walls. In Latvia, the Watchmen are popular among Christian fundamentalists and ethnic Russians, and are known for presiding over anti-gay rallies where gays and lesbians are pelted with bags of excrement. In the Western U.S., the Watchmen have a following among Russian-speaking evangelicals from the former Soviet Union. Members are increasingly active in several cities long known as gay-friendly enclaves, including Sacramento, Seattle and Portland, Ore.
Vlad Kusakin, the host of a Russian-language anti-gay radio show in Sacramento and the publisher of a Russian-language newspaper in Seattle, told The Seattle Times in January that God has "made an injection" of high numbers of anti-gay Slavic evangelicals into traditionally liberal West Coast cities. "In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin," Kusakin said.
The anti-gay tactics of the Slavic evangelicals in the U.S. branch of the Watchmen movement are just as crude and even more physically abusive than Fred Phelps' infamous Westboro Baptist Church, and they're rooted in gay-bashing theology that's even more hardcore than the late Jerry Falwell's. Slavic anti-gay talk radio hosts and fundamentalist preachers routinely deliver hateful screeds on the airwaves and from the pulpit in their native tongue that, were they delivered in English, would be a source of nationwide controversy.
Dennis Mangers, a gay former California state senator who now lobbies for the cable industry, said that when he met a prominent leader of Sacramento's Slavic community at a 2006 weekend reconciliation retreat, the Slavic leader told him: "You have to understand, we equate homosexuals with thieves, adulterers and murderers. ... You are an abomination."
Current California State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who rode in a dignitary car in Sacramento's 2006 gay pride parade, told The Sacramento Bee he was shocked by the vitriolic comments shouted by Slavic fundamentalist counter-demonstrators. "The words are vile ... and words may give people the implicit license to take the next step and hurt people."
Last summer, The Speaker, a Russian-language newspaper with an English title in Sacramento, urged readers to attend a massive anti-gay rally: "Make a choice. It's your decision. Homosexuality is knocking on your doors and asking: 'Can I make your son gay and your daughter lesbian?'"
At that rally and others at the California Capitol, thousands of Russian-speaking teens crowded the halls of the Capitol building rotunda, wearing "Sodomy is a Sin" T-shirts. Scarf-wrapped babushkas held up signs that read, "Perversion is never safe" and "I am not learning about gay people."
Last April in Salem, Ore., more than 700 Russian-speaking teenagers rallied outside the state Capitol against a pair of gay rights bills. It was the largest anti-gay protest to take place in Oregon's sleepy capital city since 1992, when the anti-gay Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) pushed a ballot initiative that came within a few percentage points of rewording the state constitution to declare gay people "abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse" and requiring the state to fire all openly gay or lesbian public school teachers.
The executive director of the OCA at that time was Scott Lively, a longtime anti-gay activist who is now the chief international envoy for the Watchmen movement. Lively also is the former director of the California chapter of the anti-gay American Family Association and the founder of both Defend the Family Ministries and the Pro-Family Law Center, which claims to be the country's "only legal organization devoted exclusively to opposing the homosexual political agenda."
The Watchmen movement's strategy for combating the "disease" of homosexuality calls for aggressive confrontation. "We church leaders need to stop being such, for lack of a better word, sissies when it comes to social and political issues," Lively argues in a widely-circulated tract called Masculine Christianity. "For every motherly, feminine ministry of the church such as a Crisis Pregnancy Center or ex-gay support group we need a battle-hardened, take-it-to-the-enemy masculine ministry like [the anti-abortion group] Operation Rescue."
Lively identifies "the enemy" as not only homosexuals, but also what he terms "homosexualists," a category that includes anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, who "actively promotes homosexuality as morally and socially equivalent to heterosexuality as a basis for social policy."
When he personally confronts the enemy, Lively practices what he preaches when it comes to "battle-hardened" tactics. He recently was ordered by a civil court judge to pay $20,000 to lesbian photojournalist Catherine Stauffer for dragging her by the hair through the halls of a Portland church in 1991.
The Pink Passport
Lively occasionally writes for Chalcedon Report, a journal published by the Chalcedon Foundation, the leading Christian Reconstructionist organization in the country. (Reconstructionists typically call for the imposition of Old Testament law, including such draconian punishments as stoning to death active homosexuals and children who curse their parents, on the United States.) But he's most famous as the co-author of The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party.
Published in 1995, the book is a breathtaking work of Holocaust revisionism. It asserts that Hitler was gay -- a claim no serious historian supports -- and that Hitler and other evil gay fascists were central in forming the Nazi Party, operating the Third Reich and orchestrating the Holocaust. (Lively's most recent book, The Poisoned Stream, similarly details "a dark and powerful homosexual presence" through "the Spanish Inquisition, the French 'Reign of Terror,' the era of South African apartheid, and the two centuries of American Slavery.")
The Pink Swastika -- whose cover has a swastika in place of the "x" in "homosexuality" in the book's subtitle -- has been roundly discredited by legitimate historians and was thoroughly debunked in a 2005 Intelligence Report article. Stephen Feinstein, director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota, said the book was "produced by a right-wing Christian cult and is as correct as flat earth theory."
Lively declined to answer several E-mails seeking comment.
Nevertheless, The Pink Swastika has become Lively's passport to fame among anti-gay church leaders and their followers in Eastern Europe, as well as Russian-speaking anti-gay activists in America. Lively frequently speaks about the book and his broader anti-gay agenda in churches, police academies and television news studios throughout the former Soviet Union.
Lively credits the popularity of Russian-language translations of The Pink Swastika to the support of Pastor Alexey Ledyaev, the head of the New Generation Church, an evangelical Christian megachurch based in Riga, the capital city of Latvia. New Generation has more than 200 satellite churches spread throughout Eastern Europe, Argentina, Israel and the United States.
"One of my supporters gave him [Ledyaev] a copy of The Pink Swastika. He was very impressed by it," Lively said in a December 2006 radio show on WTTT-AM, based in Salem, Mass. "The European press was bashing them [Ledyaev and his church] for being Nazis. He was finally thrilled that he had something to counter the media with." Ledyaev did not respond to E-mails seeking comment.
Since then, Lively said, "I've been deluged by media speaking offers all over the former Soviet Union."
In Sacramento, editorials in The Speaker urge readers to buy The Pink Swastika. Even right-wing legislators in the California Assembly are said to audibly groan when Slavic evangelicals wave a copy of the pink volume during testimony.
Rock Operas and Reconstruction
The New Generation theology Ledyaev preaches borrows heavily from R.J. Rushdoony, the late founding thinker of Christian Reconstruction. Pastor Ledyaev's 2002 book, New World Order, calls for evangelical Christians around the world to influence the wealthy and powerful in their home countries to implement biblical law in order to stave off a supposed alliance of gays and Muslims hell-bent on destroying Christianity. "The first devastating wave of homosexuality makes a way for the second and more dangerous wave of islamization [sic]," writes Ledyaev.
Born in Kazakhstan, Ledyaev doesn't even speak fluent Latvian. But he's quite proficient in the international language of the anti-gay Christian Right. Ledyaev is close friends with Southern Baptist televangelist Pat Robertson -- a man who once predicted God would punish Florida with hurricanes and other disasters because Disney World had allowed a "Gay Days" discount -- and was invited to the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast hosted by President George Bush.
At 56, Ledyaev is still youth-oriented enough to promote his vision of global theocracy through elaborate, large-scale Christian rock operas that Ledyaev writes, directs and stars in, and which are replete with lasers, smoke machines, and spandex-clad actors in ghoulish makeup. One of the rock operas, which young Russian-speaking anti-gay activists promote on video-sharing websites, features a hero character wearing a tuxedo battling men in black tights armed with tiki torches. Over heavy-metal guitar riffs, a military-like chorus sings of "victory over the gays."
In addition to Lively and Robertson, Ledyaev has cultivated the support of Rev. Ken Hutcherson, the African-American founder of Antioch Bible Church, a Seattle-area megachurch. "Hutch," as the ex-NFL player is known, played a key role in persuading Microsoft to temporarily withdraw its support for a Washington bill that would have made it illegal to fire an employee for their sexual orientation. In 2004, his "Mayday for Marriage" rally drew 20,000 people to the Seattle Mariner's Safeco Field to oppose legalizing same-sex marriage.
One of Ledyaev's nephews saw Hutcherson speak in Seattle at a March 2006 debate on gay rights and arranged a meeting with the Latvian pastor. By the end of the year, Hutcherson, Ledyaev and Lively had teamed up with Vlad Kusakin, the editor of The Speaker, to form an international alliance to oppose what Hutcherson characterizes as "the homosexual movement saying they're a minority and that they need their equal rights."
Walking the Gauntlet
They took the name Watchmen on the Walls from the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, in which the "watchmen" guard the reconstruction of a ruined Jerusalem. The cities they guard over today, say the contemporary Watchmen, are being destroyed by homosexuality.
"Nehemiah stood by the destroyed city of Jerusalem. So are we standing these days by the ruins of our legislative walls," Ledyaev says on the Watchmen website. "Defending Christianity begins with the restoration of the walls which is where the watchmen should stand up." The group's mission is "to bring the laws of our nations in[to] full compliance with the law of God."
During the past year, the Watchmen have met twice in the United States, first in Sacramento, then in Bellevue, Wash. They gathered to strategize against same-sex marriage and build a political organization to fight "gay-straight alliances" in public schools and push for the boycott of textbooks that mention homosexuality in any context other than total condemnation.
The group has also convened outside America. In the summer of 2006, the Watchmen and their supporters gathered in Riga, Latvia, to "protect the city from a homosexual invasion." Gay rights activists in Europe counter that it's gays who need protection from the Latvian capital, not the other way around.
And, indeed, the city is a hotbed of violent homophobia. In 2005, for example, a group of 100 gay activists, most of them from Western Europe and Scandinavia, traveled to Riga to hold a gay rights march that was widely viewed as the first real test of Latvia's official commitment to freedom of assembly, a requirement for its tentative admission to the European Union in 2004. Under heavy police escort, the gay rights demonstrators walked a few blocks through a gauntlet of ultranationalists, neo-Nazi skinheads, elderly women and youths wearing "I Love New Generation" T-shirts. They were pelted with eggs, rotten tomatoes and plastic bags full of feces.
The mayor of Riga at the time was Janic Smits, a close friend of Pastor Ledyaev and a prominent member of his New Generation Church. During a parliamentary debate on whether sexual orientation should be covered under a national ban on discrimination, Smits quoted the Old Testament: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." Last year, Smits was elevated to chair the Latvian Parliament's Human Rights Commission.
Representing the White House?
When gay rights activists in Europe announced plans to hold a second Riga Pride march in the summer of 2006, the City Council voted to ban it. The gay rights protesters showed up anyway. Once again, they were pelted with eggs, rotten produce and feces as they attempted to attend services at an Anglican church that welcomed them. Swedish gay rights activists said that a carload of violent anti-gay protesters tried to force their taxi off the road.
Roving black jeeps with dark-tinted windows that carried anti-gay activists were a new element at the 2006 march. Decals on the jeeps bore the logo "No Pride" with a red line slashing through a circled picture of two male stick figures having sex. No Pride is a group organized and funded by New Generation Church member Igors Maslakovs.
A translator wearing a "No Pride" T-shirt bearing the same logo accompanied Lively and Hutcherson during their March 2007 Watchmen tour of Latvia. On that trip, Lively told a crowd of police officers that "the gay movement is the most dangerous political movement on earth" and repeated his claims that Riga is under siege by homosexuals, despite the fact that thousands of anti-gay demonstrators had countered the showing of just a few dozen gay rights marchers the summer before.
High on the Watchmen agenda during their March Latvia visit was expressing their anger over a $7,179 donation the U.S. embassy in Latvia made to Mozaika, a Latvian gay rights organization. The four-figure sum is pocket lint in terms of U.S. foreign aid. (According to tax records, nonprofit organizations run by Lively donated a similar amount to anti-gay groups over the last two years.) But the Watchmen didn't just protest the small donation. They did so in the name of the Bush Administration. Hutcherson claimed that the White House had appointed him a "special envoy" for "family values."
"I came to you representing the White House. In my country, people will know how Latvia responded to anti-Christian statements," Hutcherson told the Latvian parliament. "We need to stand for righteousness not only morally, but also physically and financially. It's a great battle for righteousness and no one can stop it. I promise to stand with you."
Hutcherson later said that he was designated a White House envoy during a February 2007 meeting between himself, Ledyaev and Jay Hein, the head of the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Hutcherson claims he has a videotape of this meeting, but so far has refused to release it.
In a written statement, White House spokesperson Alyssa J. McLenning refuted Hutcherson's claim: "The White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives did not give Hutcherson the title, 'Special Envoy for Adoptions, Family Values, Religious Freedom, and Medical Relief.' The White House did not give Hutcherson any other titles and did not coordinate with Hutcherson on his recent trip to Latvia." Impersonating a diplomat is a felony, but the White House apparently is not pursuing the matter.
A Contagious Disease
Soon after returning from the March trip, Lively visited a Russian-language evangelical church in Salem, Ore., where he screened a video documenting the Watchmen's activities in Latvia. The 45-minute tape repeatedly refers to gays as "terrorists" alongside footage of Ledyaev leading crowds in a chant: "In the name of Jesus Christ, we curse the name of homosexuality!"
In a speech given after Riga's first gay pride parade in 2005, Ledyaev told his international congregation: "Homosexuality is a ... dangerous and contagious disease. The contagious should be isolated and treated. Otherwise, an epidemic will sweep through the entire community."
Lively echoed his Latvian ally's comparison of homosexuality to disease in a 2003 letter to the editor published in The Washington Times. "The homosexual movement in a society is analogous to the AIDS virus in the human body," Lively wrote. "It is not benign but destructive; it thrives at the expense of the host, and you're most likely to get it by saying yes to sodomy."
The Watchmen portray the battle against gay rights as nothing less than a biblical clash of civilizations. "The homosexual sexual ethic" and "family-based society" are at war, Lively proclaimed in his letter to The Washington Times. "One must prevail at the expense of the other."
That sort of militant rhetoric is standard among Watchmen followers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Speaking to his American counterparts in a Watchmen video, a Latvian anti-gay activist intones: "Your generation beat the Nazis, and our country beat the Communists. Together we will defeat the homosexuals!"
Outnumbered and Fearful
Anti-immigrant sentiments already were rising among Sacramento gays and lesbians prior to Singh's murder. Slavic immigrant chants of "Repent, Sodomites!" at anti-gay demonstrations were frequently countered with shouts of "Go back to Russia!" Since the killing, anger at the local Slavic evangelical community has reached the boiling point. One typical online posting to a Craigslist Web forum was titled, "DEPORT RUSSIANS NOW!!"
"Satender Singh is just the beginning of the [P]andora's box," it read. "They come here [as] religious refugees and turn their newfound freedom on our citizenry. If they are going to [cite] evangelical religious rhetoric, then I say give some Old [Testament] eye for eye."
The situation heated up further on Aug. 7, when Sacramento authorities charged Andrey Vusik, 29, with involuntary manslaughter as a hate crime in Singh's death, saying that the evidence did not show intent to kill. Vusik, leaving a wife and children in West Sacramento, fled to Russia in July, they said, and is being sought by the FBI. A second suspect, Aleksandr Shevchenko, 21, was arrested at his home and charged with intimidation and interfering with a victim's rights, also as a hate crime. Authorities roundly dismissed the claims of Vusik's wife, who told The Sacramento Bee that her husband acted in self-defense after Singh's party became raucous and sexually provocative, shocking her "Christian" family. No independent witnesses or members of Singh's party supported that version, detectives said.
Meanwhile, Ledyaev and Lively have contributed to the tension by refusing to publicly condemn Singh's murder. Vlad Kusakin, editor of The Speaker, called the killing "tragic" but criticized The Sacramento Bee for publicizing the details of the murder, alleging that the newspaper was engaged in a Nazi-style propaganda campaign against Slavic Christians.
Between 80,000 and 100,000 Slavic immigrants live in the Sacramento region, the highest concentration in the United States, and the city is home to some 70 Russian fundamentalist congregations. A third of the Slavic population considers themselves evangelicals or "Russian Baptists," a doctrine that is unrelated ideologically or organizationally to American Baptist churches. (Ironically, many of them emigrated to the United States beginning in the late 1980s to escape religious persecution in what was then still part of the Soviet Union.) Meanwhile, nearly 10% of the actual city of Sacramento's 450,000 residents openly identify as gay or lesbian -- almost 45,000 men and women. Only a small handful of cities, like Seattle and San Francisco, boast higher percentages of openly gay and lesbian residents.
The disparity in numbers has not gone unnoticed. Even though many Slavic immigrants are not homophobic, there's a new and uneasy feeling among Sacramento's gay and lesbian population of being outnumbered by people who hate homosexuals in a city that has long been considered gay-friendly.
Florin Ciuriuc, a former executive director of the Slavic Community Center of Sacramento, told The Sacramento Bee earlier this year that he stopped leading anti-gay protests among his countrymen because "I saw that people were hungry for violence, for blood." Ciuric added, "I don't want people from my community killing each other or other people because they are getting aggressive."
Sacramento gay and lesbian rights advocate Wendy Hill, 33, said that when she came of age as a lesbian in the mid-1990s, Sacramento was a safer place. "As a college student, you pushed the envelope. You walked down the street hand-in-hand with another girl, even if you weren't dating." Now, Hill says, after a group of rowdy Russian-speaking protesters showed up outside her house one morning, "I get afraid of that now, walking hand in hand with my wife."
Hill, who has served on the board of several local gay and lesbian organizations, says that she first became aware of the city's large and increasingly militant anti-gay Slavic population in the spring of 2006 when she attended "Queer Youth Advocacy Day," a lobbying event at which around two dozen young gay rights activists were confronted by 350 anti-gay demonstrators. "I'd say about 90% to 95% were from Slavic churches," she said. "They were blocking sidewalks, physically intimidating. ... We realized how complacent we had become. We weren't used to that type of behavior."
Hill and her partner of eight years have two young children, a 3-year-old and a 1-year old. They used to consider Sacramento a safe place for a lesbian couple to raise a family. Now they're not so sure. "It scares me," Hill says, "to think that's something going to happen to my daughter because of who her parents are."