Anne Helen Petersen of BuzzFeed –
“What people need to know is we’re not protesting churches. We’re protesting this church.”
The clip that was posted to Twitter — and subsequently viewed over 1.2 million times — purports to show protesters invading a church, screaming “Black Lives Matter” and even abusing parishioners. One demonstrator is filmed calling a church member “a dumb fuck.”
The clip was uploaded by Charlie Kirk, one of the leading voices in the Trump Youth Movement, who added his own interpretation of events: “Christians have not been allowed to attend church for months,” Kirk tweeted, referring to coronavirus-related pauses in services. “But when they finally are, BLM inc. rioters are allowed to assault them. Christianity is now under physical assault by radical left wing terrorism. Where is the media coverage of this?”
Kirk, the founder of Turning Points USA, has 1.8 million followers. His chief creative officer, Benny Johnson — who also tweeted the video, has more than 315,000. The video was picked up by a who’s who of conservative and fringe media: Dinesh D’Souza, Nigel Farage, Laura Ingraham, OAN, the Daily Wire, the Blaze, PJ Media, and Mike Cernovich. The Republican candidate for US House District 20 — which includes Troy, New York, where the events in the clip took place — tweeted it. So did RT, the state-controlled Russian propaganda network. The message of the coverage was a variation on the same theme: This is the real BLM, and they’re coming for your churches next.
But like any piece of local media that goes viral on a national level, the video is missing years — in truth, decades — of context. “It’s wild that the national story is that there’s a bunch of Marxists attacking Christians in the street,” one local, who asked not to use her name because of her employment affiliation, told me. “Everyone here knows that this is our Westboro Baptist.” (Grace Baptist Church and its pastor declined multiple requests for an interview).
The day of the video, the church was hosting its second AR-15 “raffle” in two days: In the middle of a neighborhood stricken with gun violence, the church was giving away one of the deadliest guns on the market.
The Black Lives Matter protesters were invited inside by the church’s pastor, John Koletas, a self-proclaimed “bigot” who has preached against interracial marriage, defends the use of the n-word, and believes that black people, as descendants of Ham and Canaan, are cursed by God. He thinks Black History Month is “communism and Marxism month.” He calls Black Lives Matter protesters “savages.”
He places a pork product — a ham or hot dogs — at the door, and requires all church attendees to touch it, supposedly to ward off would-be jihadists. He abhors feminists and gay people. He hates Catholics and thinks Muslims shouldn’t be allowed in the country. He mocks sexual abuse victims and the #MeToo movement. And videos of Koletas preaching these beliefs are readily available on the church’s Facebook and YouTube pages.