Bloggers: Blame Gays for Wasilla Church Fire

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday December 16, 2008

With the ashes barely cool from what seems to have been an arson attack against the Wasilla church attended by Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, conservatives are hurling incendiary accusations, without any evidence to back up the charges, at gays and lesbians.

A Dec. 15 item that appeared at the Web site Men for Palin echoed the tone for right-wing media coverage of the Dec. 12 blaze, which broke out even as parishioners were inside the building: a group of women and children were reportedly making crafts projects in the church when the fire started.

Before a positive determination of what or who caused the blaze has been made, right-wing Web publications have pronounced the event the result of arson; before any group or individual has been identified as suspect, those publications have concluded that the perpetrators (if indeed the blaze was deliberate) must have been gays angered by the passage of Proposition 8, an amendment to the California constitution that voters in that state approved by a narrow margin last month.

In the wake of Proposition 8's passage at the ballot box following a heated campaign during which voters were told that marriage equality must be outlawed or churches and Christians would lose their freedom of worship, hundreds of demonstrations took place across America.

In 300 cities nationwide, tens of thousands of demonstrators against the amendment congregated peacefully. But several extremely rare, isolated instances of unrest--one of them taking place at an anti-Prop. 8 candle light vigil--have been seized upon by the right-wing media, which has sought to paint the entire anti-Prop. 8 movement, and the GLBT equality movement with it, as "violent" and anti-Christian.

It was with such vocabulary that anti-gay Web sites addressed the blaze at the Wasilla church, with Men for Palin's article rhetorically asking the question, "Given the criticism of the church by the forces of political correctness and the historical background of the election, is it possible that this arson is the work of the Anti-Prop 8 Mafia?"

Men for Palin said that investigators had found evidence for an accelerant--that is, fuel--having been used in the blaze, which erupted at the church's entrance.

The placement of the blaze could have trapped those inside, including children. Men for Palin declared, "Basic concepts of criminal law hold that this is an aggravated arson.

"Add to the formula that the crime was committed against a church and its congregants, and you have a hate crime."

Men for Palin went on, "But who did it?

"Authorities will not comment during an investigation," the article continued. "However, the rest of us are free to theorize."

The single theory advanced by the conservative Web publication? That the blaze was set by gays.

Wrote the author of the article, "I think that we can eliminate the 'Christian Right' as the crime was committed against a predominantly white evangelical Protestant church."

Added the author, "I think that we can eliminate the mushy middle: They are too squeamish to resort to violence.

"That leaves the left."

The article went on, "Well, who on the left has been using threats, force and intimidation in the past six weeks?"

Stated the article, "The gay and lesbian 'civil rights' coalitions.

"They are and have been angry and on the move since the passage of Proposition 8 in California."

The only evidence thus far for such a conclusion: during the election, it came to light that the Wasilla church had promoted a workshop for gays and lesbians looking to be "cured" of homosexuality.

A conservative Canadian Web site called Canadian Sentinel, which is illustrated with a photo of a house cat peering through the scope of a sniper rifle, also denounced the "violence" of the gay and lesbian equality movement.

In a Dec. 14 article headlined "Hateful Arsonists Torch Palin's Church. 'Gay' Terrorists Possibly Involved," the Canadian Sentinel declared, "The radically hateful, extremist and, now, violent (yes, violent!) homosexual movement is on the warpath and it can be suspected that they're responsible for hatefully burning the Church Sarah Palin attends."

Added the Canadian Sentinel article, "There's no shortage of online coverage of the hatefulness, violence and sheer murderous dangerousness of the radically fascist, now terroristic, homosexual movement."

The article went on, "It needs to be exposed before they start murdering people on the basis of their religious orientation or race (the militant 'gays' are also, as I reported previously herein, spewing hateful racial epithets (like the 'n' word) against and threatening any and all Blacks they find)."

Added the article, "I say they should be considered a suspect as they are known as a de-facto terrorist group who is on record as threatening to do exactly that sort of thing."

The article referred to a handful of angry postings at GLBT Web sites, where conversation thread participants wrote messages to the effect that Mormon churches should be burned for the heavy involvement of the Mormon faith in financing and providing logistical support for the pro-Proposition 8 campaign.

Web facilitators at those sites scrubbed such comments from their threads and asked those contributing to the online conversations not to resort to threatening sounding language.

Conservative and religious-right Web sites, however, called for criminal prosecution of those who had posted the comments.

Conservative pundits have also criticized the GLBT community for calling for boycotts against businesses that supported the pro-Prop. 8 campaign.

Later in its text, the Canadian Sentinel article claimed, "All I'm doing in this post is condemning and warning about extremism, hate and violence being directed against identifiable groups.

"We must be ever-vigilant against hateful, violent supremacists so as to prevent them from discriminating against, bashing and murdering members of identifiable groups they hate.

"And the militant homosexual movement is no different from the 'White' supremacist movement, no different from neo-Nazis, no different from Islamic terrorists."

The article then continued, "Isn't it ironic that it's the militant-activist, hateful 'gays' themselves who are going around with picket signs that say 'Stop The H8'?

"Again we see the psychological phenomenon of projecting one's own mental disorders onto others in a futile attempt to transfer it onto others, as if one could cure one's insanity by infecting others with it..."

A Dec. 15 article at Earned Media reported that the president of Public Advocate of the United States, a conservative group that describes itself as pursuing "an end to lawful same-sex marriage" by means of a federal amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as "pro-life legislation" and prayer in schools, had issued a statement on the blaze.

Said Eugene Delgaudio, "We do not know if this arson and attempted murder was perpetrated by advocates of homosexual marriage, but the church has been the target of verbal attacks by the homosexual lobby and their apologists in the major media and this attack follows countless other recent attacks by homosexuals against Christians."

The "attacks" referenced by Delgaudio comprise a handful of noteworthy incidents that have been continuously promoted by the right wing for the past month and a half, including an incident in which an elderly woman, Phyllis Burgess, pushed her way into a peaceful candlelight vigil in Palm Springs, carrying a Styrofoam cross and, according to witnesses, trying to make her way toward a film crew that had video taped Burgess five days earlier as she demonstrated at a Gay Pride event.

Several people attending the vigil grew angry and took the Styrofoam cross from Burgess, throwing it to the ground and stomping upon it even as organizers called on the crowd for calm and restraint.

Burgess later received an apology from one of the men involved.

Another incident, which did not involve a Proposition 8 demonstration, occurred when a Christian group entered San Francisco's Castro district, which is a gay neighborhood, on a Friday night shortly after the passage of Prop. 8. Calling on passers-by to "convert" to heterosexuality, the group eventually became the center of a crowd of angry, jeering local residents and habitu?s of the neighborhood, and were escorted from the area by police.

Delguagio's group opposes hate crimes legislation, and Delgaudio specifically called upon Alaskan authorities not to prosecute any perpetrators who might be arrested under such laws.

Said Delgaudio, "Whomever set the fire, for whatever reason, should receive the toughest and longest sentence possible for arson and attempted murder under Alaskan law."

Added the president of Public Advocate, "But we do not condone the politicalization of crime in any case, including this one."

At FreeRepublic.com, a conservative online forum for discussions on current events, participants posting their commentary suggested waiting for evidence before making accusations against the GLBT community.

Wrote one commentator, "I have a thought. Novel, it seems.

"Let the investigators find out who did the deed.

"THEN, start to throw stones."

Wrote another, "I say again as I did elsewhere, it doesn't pay for us to speculate at this time."

Another noted, "A wise man says what he knows. A fool says what he doesn't know."

Some who posted their comments sought to find humor in the situation, with one writing, " OK. I'll say it. Fags with fags?"

Wrote another, " BLACK CHURCH FIRE ALERT!!!!

"BRING IN THE ACLU, THE SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER, AND THE ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE.

"Oh," the commentator continued.

"Never mind."

Others suggested alternatives to the "gay arsonist" theory, with one commentator writing, "Don't forget the animal rights nuts; Sarah has shot a few of their friends, you know. So, it's either fruits or nuts--take your pick."

Wrote one individual in response to the commentator who had warned against hasty speculation, "You are probably right."

Added the respondent, "But it's hard to resist a cheap joke."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.