Last Saturday evening, by way of Shannyn Moore’s blog (in a post with the ever-so-accurate title, HOW AFRAID ARE THE “Not so Jesus Christians?”), came news of a new website, www.sosanchorage.org — the SOS being an acronym, according to the website, for “Sexual Orientation Summarized.” The site seemed to have been designed for something other than a Mac running Firefox — I wasn’t able to read any of the PDFs on the site without really working at it — but it was clear to me even at first sight that the website was a close relative of Jerry Prevo’s red herring letter of May 15 (see my May 22 post about it). For confirmation, one only needed to click through to the “contribute now” page: one then finds oneself at the website of the Anchorage Baptist Temple being invited to further enrich Alaska’s largest church.
Rev. Prevo’s new website was first advertised in his letter to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News, posted on line on last Saturday evening & appearing in the Sunday morning print edition (May 25). I’m not going to repeat his prevarications here; suffice it to say that they align with the prevarications, red herrings, & in some cases outright lies that have already predominated in his sermonizing, May 15 letter, website, May 26 appearance on Eddie Burke’s radio show, & anywhere else that Rev. Prevo may be heard on this issue.
But Prevo’s letter to the ADN & his new disinformation site isn’t really the purpose of this post. It is, rather, something that was recalled to me by something Philip Munger wrote in his post a few days ago on Progressive Alaska about the letter. Phil was criticizing the Anchorage Daily News & other Alaska media for the pass they’re giving to Rev. Prevo to spread such lies. One might mention, for example, Jason Moore’s story on KTUU Channel 2 about the new disinformation site, in which he repeated some of Prevo’s absurdities without attempting any fact-checking whatsoever.
Oh, but wait. I was going to quote Phil’s post:
Having watched Alaska media handle Prevo coming back on this equal rights issue again now, for the third time (the 80s, with the devil costume debacle, the 90s with the Loussac windshield breakage, and now), they don’t appear to have gotten very far, if anywhere.
Ah, yes. The devil costume debacle!
I’m not quite sure Phil meant it that way, but the devil costume debacle wasn’t actually part of Rev. Prevo’s eternal war against equal rights for LGBT folks. His first battle targeting us (& the one which first brought him to political prominence in Anchorage) was in 1975. But the 1985 devil costume debacle did indeed have very much to do with equal rights — in that case, the rights of black South Africans to the most basic of human rights in the face of the whites-only government of apartheid.
I was there. I’ll tell you the story.
First I must tell you that in in college, I was active in the anti-apartheid divestment movement — or, as Wikipedia would have it, the disinvestment movement — in which college and university students demanded that their institutions divest college investments from corporations doing business with the apartheid government of South Africa. I came into the movement as a freshman, & the protests I took part in that year, 1977-78, were my first experiences of political activism. Those were the early years of the divestment movement, which lasted well into the mid- to late 1980s. As late as the fall of 1986, 50 student at my alma mater, Wellesley College, were arrested during a protest of the college’s failure to divest stocks from companies doing business in South Africa. [See reference 1 for source.]
But that was a year later & across the country, in Massachusetts, from where & when Prevo’s dance with the devil masks took place. So back to Anchorage, Alaska, August 1985: Jerry Prevo had just returned from a trip to South Africa as part of a “Freedom Mission” headed up by Moral Majority leader (& Prevo friend) Rev. Jerry Falwell. This is the same mission at the end of which Rev. Falwell denounced 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu, stating, “If Bishop Tutu maintains that he speaks for the black people of South Africa, he’s a phony,” and called for Americans to support South Africa’s white-minority government by buying Krugerrands, its one-ounce gold coins, and by investing in companies doing business in South Africa. [Ref. 2]
At the time of the “Freedom Mission,” South Africa’s white-minority government had placed large portions of the country into a state of emergency in reaction to black demands for equal rights and an end to the apartheid system of government. As described in the Anchorage Daily News:
Hundreds of South Africans — almost all of them black, almost all of them shot by police — have died in that violence.
Since his return, Prevo has sparked considerable controversy due to his remarks made about the trip. The minister told reporters that South Africa’s white President Pieter Botha was a committed reformer, that blacks did not want a “one-man one-vote” democracy and that South African blacks did not want Americans to pull their investments from the country as a protest against apartheid.
Prevo and Falwell have encouraged Americans to invest in South African firms and to buy Krugerrands, South African gold coins. [Ref. 3]
What I especially remember is hearing Prevo talk about Soweto, the sprawling township designed to house white Johannesburg’s black workforce — a workforce whose members could not, by the segregationist laws of apartheid, actually live in the city where they worked. According to Prevo, Soweto’s black mayor told Falwell’s delegation that he didn’t want Americans to divest their investments from South Africa. But was Soweto’s mayor truly representative of black South Africans — more so, say, than Bishop Tutu, whom Falwell denounced?
Devil masks, part 1: Protest
August 25, 1985. Both of Anchorage’s daily newspapers (yes, we had two of them in those days) carried headlines related to the ongoing conflict in South Africa. [Refs 4–5] Meantime, reaction to statements Prevo had already made to reporters and in two televised programs [Ref. 6] about his trip with Falwell to South Africa led to the organization of a protest to be held outside the Anchorage Baptist Temple, Prevo’s church, during ABT’s Sunday services.
According to the Anchorage Times, during the service Prevo reiterated that “we are not for apartheid” and that the segregationist policies of apartheid “must be abolished,” but said that black leaders (such as Soweto’s mayor Edward Kunene) said that disinvestment from South Africa would cause blacks to starve. He told his audience that “the real problem [in South Africa] is communism” and said that if the government of then-president P.W. Botha were to fail, communism would surely take over there. He claimed that the best route to ending apartheid in South Africa was, in fact, Botha’s government, which according to Prevo was permitting elected black leaders to manage affairs in their own communities. [Ref. 6]
Never mind that “their own communities” were themselves artificially created products of apartheid: the bantustans, designed by the National Party government to be “homelands” for black South Africans who, once forcibly relocated there, could then be stripped of their South African citizenship so that whites could eventually claim a demographic majority in South Africa proper; or segregated townships like Soweto, which existed primarily to keep the black and coloured workforce, upon which South Africa’s economy depended, accessible to South Africa’s whites-only cities, and which were created by forcibly evicting blacks and coloureds from city centers through apartheid-era legislation like the Group Areas Act.
Never mind, either, that P.W. Botha was at the time, and to the end of his life, an unapologetic defender of apartheid. In fact, Botha was later found by the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Committee to have been responsible for ordering the August 1988 bombing of the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches in Johannesburg. [Ref. 7] In its final report, the T&C Commission called the National Party the “primary perpetrator” of torture, assault, murder and assassination in South Africa from 1960 to 1994, and in particular accused Botha of leading the government “into the realms of criminality” during his presidency. [Ref. 8]
“These are elected officials… These are not puppets,” Prevo told his audience about the black representatives he had met in South Africa, whose request that Americans not disinvest he was transmitting. “This is the first time I’ve gotten into trouble for doing something a black told me to do,” Prevo said. [Ref. 6]
“Elected officials” indeed: for example, Soweto’s mayor of the time, Edward Kunene — who, along with the rest of Soweto’s putatively democratic government, was elected by no more than 10 percent of the township’s electorate, and was seen by the vast majority of Soweto’s population as a patsy for the apartheid government. Among other signs of the township’s hatred and distrust of him: his private home was destroyed by a fire-bomb, and his official residence came close to suffering a similar fate; Kunene’s predecessor, Edward Manyosi, had been shot dead the year before. [Ref. 9] The wrongness of the violence against them does not diminish that neither Kunene nor his predecessor had the confidence of the people they purportedly led.
Besides members of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, Prevo’s audience that day included several Anchorage-area black leaders, including NAACP president Andonia Harrison, Henry M. Lancaster II, and Rex Butler, counsel for the NAACP. [Ref. 6] It also included at least two people who later joined the protest outside: Eleanor Andrews, at the time serving as Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration, and Jewel Jones, director of the municipality’s Health and Human Services Department, who told the Anchorage Daily News that she’d gone to hear Prevo’s sermon because “I wanted to hear what he had to say,” but found that “What he said was worse than I’d imagined.” [Ref. 3]
That’s where I was that Sunday morning: outside with the protest. Turnout for the demonstration only underscored that people in Anchorage were every bit as concerned about justice & equality in South Africa as my Wellesley friends had been. Both the Anchorage Times and the Anchorage Daily News estimated our numbers at 200, a large turnout for a Sunday morning. I remember there being a number of people from Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, a large predominately black congregation with strong ties to the black civil rights movement symbolized by Martin Luther King, Jr. My friend Gennie Holubik was there, but many more people I didn’t know. Thanks to newspaper coverage, I can name some of them: Tim Baumgardner, Bernard Wheeler, Bonnie Nelson, Drew Liebert [Ref. 6], Denise Woods (a march organizer), the aforementioned Eleanor Andrews and Jewel Jones [Ref. 3], and Mark Travers [Ref. 10]. And there was another attendee I knew: Dick Madden, pastor of my brother’s church, Immanuel Presbyterian Church, who joined the protest after preaching his own sermon at Immanuel about apartheid. [Ref. 3]
But there were three protest attendees that none of us knew: three guys dressed in devil costumes, and all carrying signs that seemed designed to discredit the protest to motorists passing by, or at least to members of Prevo’s church. I remember one sign in particular, that said something to the effect of, “We don’t care about South Africa, we just want to get Dr. Prevo.” A newspaper photograph gives the text of others: “Communism is the Answer not Dr. Prevo.” “This is my crowd. We hate Dr. Prevo.” [Ref. 10]
It didn’t take much thought for us to know these devil guys weren’t there for the same reason we were. And we lost no time in doing something about it. Not by an attempt to eject them, or through violence — we simply kept marching along the sidewalk at Northern Lights and Baxter, but the people to either side of the devil guys did their best to hold their own signs in front of the devil guy “Dr. Prevo” signs to hide them from passersby. Some people also talked with them. I remember especially one young man, not far from me, who walked beside one of the devil guys trying to engage him in conversation. “Why are you wearing a mask?” he’d ask. “It’s okay for you to take off your mask — we’re not going to hurt you.” At one point I heard him talking with the devil guy about basketball scores. I don’t know if the devil guy responded in kind.
Both newspapers mentioned the devil guys in their reports the following day. The Anchorage Times:
The protesters, many carrying posters and at least three dressed as Satan, marched along Northern Lights Boulevard in front of the sprawling church complex. [Ref. 6]
The Anchorage Daily News gave greater detail:
They [the protesters] were joined by several men dressed in devil costumes. The costumed men, carrying signs that alleged that Prevo opponents were Communists and satanic followers, would not tell their names to protesters who tried to debate with them. [Ref. 3]
The protest lasted about two and a half hours. Both during the protest and afterwards, in conversations and letters to the editor, it was speculated that the three devil guys were Anchorage Baptist Temple plants. But we had no way to prove it.
Until a month and a half later, on about October 7.
Devil masks, part 2: Prevo ‘fesses up!
I think I heard it first on KTUU Channel 2 News, beginning with the start-of-the-news teaser, which as I recall said, verbatim: “Prevo ‘fesses up!” The broadcast went on to detail how one of the protesters, a former ABT member, had discovered that the devil mask guys were in fact members of Anchorage Baptist Temple. Appalled, the protester went to Rev. Prevo to give him the bad news about their misconduct. But to his further shock, it turned out that Prevo was in on it the whole time.
The following day, October 8, 1985, the Anchorage Daily News gave a detailed account:
Three men dressed as devils, who mingled with anti-apartheid picketers during a recent protest outside the Anchorage Baptist Temple, were actually church members marching with the approval of their pastor, Dr. Jerry Prevo.
“We thought it was very funny,” Prevo said, acknowledging that he had approved the stunt beforehand because he believed the march was really a personal attack.
… The “devils” carried signs also attacking Prevo and, in addition, praising communism and Satanism.
When asked by reporters or other protesters to identify themselves, they either said nothing or said they were from “Satan’s army.” [Ref. 10]
The story, by ADN’s Sheila Toomey, described how protester Mark Travers, 26-year-old salesman and lifelong Baptist, who had been baptized by Prevo and played football for the ABT-affiliated Anchorage Christian Schools, had seen the three devil guys jump into the back of a white pickup after the August 25 protest. Travers decided to follow them to see if he could find out who they were. Several blocks later, the devil guys realized they were being followed and “harsh words were exchanged at a stoplight, Travers said.” The white pickup continued on to the gate at Elmendorf Air Force Base and was waved through; but the MP at the gate wouldn’t let Travers through. He had no choice at that point but to give up the chase.
But a few weeks later, he saw the same white pickup in the parking lot at Anchorage Baptist Temple. He found out who the truck belonged to and, in the words of the ADN story, “sought out Prevo to warn him, [Travers] said, of unchristian goings on behind his back.” At that point, Travers still didn’t believe Prevo had been involved. But when he asked Prevo if he had known the devil guys were ABT guys, Prevo said he did — and didn’t see anything wrong with it. In fact, he’d been part of the devil guy thing all along.
Travers was disillusioned, telling the paper he was upset by Prevo’s hypocrisy — Prevo, he said, “attacks others for their morals and then he does something like this.”
And Prevo? His reactions and rationalizations were revelatory. He told Toomey that Travers was just a disgruntled former church member who wanted to create problems for Prevo and the church, but Prevo didn’t know why:
“I personally don’t kow what I really did to Mark,” he said. “Somewhere along the line I’ve offended him.” [Ref. 10]
By your rampant hypocrisy, perhaps? (Are readers of this blog post beggared for words yet?)
On the deception of the devils, Prevo continued to assert no wrongdoing:
Prevo said the devils were not intended to mislead, but he agreed that people who didn’t know the devils were church members might have concluded they were part of the protest.
They were intended to discredit the march, which Prevo said was just an excuse to attack him personally.
“I am very convinced some of those people were not interested at all in South Africa, they just wanted to get Jerry Prevo.” [Ref. 10]
— which exactly echoes the devil guy sign that I most remembered from the protest.
And good grief. The devils who were really Anchorage Baptist Temple congregants in disguise, telling reporters they were from “Satan’s army” and carrying signs that identified protesters as Communists and Satanists — these guys “were not intended to mislead”?!!! Oh please.
(Are readers of this blog post beggared for words yet?)
There was also an interesting disagreement between Prevo and Travers:
The two disagree over whether the congregation [of Anchorage Baptist Temple] was told the devils were churchgoers, not actual protesters. Prevo said he told the congregation during services the morning of the demonstration. Travers says Prevo told him the congregation “didn’t need to know.” [Ref. 10]
Who are you going to believe? Is this one of those classic cases of he said, he said? I’m sure that most members of the Anchorage Baptist Temple would back Prevo up.
But what about the other people who were present at ABT’s August 25 service? That included, let’s see — NAACP president Andonia Harrison, Henry M. Lancaster II, and Rex Butler, counsel for the NAACP, Eleanor Andrews, at the time serving as Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration, and Jewel Jones, director of the municipality’s Health and Human Services Department. Do any of them remember Prevo telling them during the August 25 service that he had sent out three ABT members in devil masks to discredit the protest because Prevo was certain it was a personal attack on him? No?
And let’s not forget the additional people also present at the August 25 service: news reporters, such as the Anchorage Times‘ Karen Robin, who went into great detail about Prevo’s remarks that day, but seemed just as uncertain as everybody else about who these devil guys were. [Ref. 3]
Who are you going to believe? For my part, it won’t be Dr. Jerry Prevaricator.
Between that, & this
So is any of that ancient history stuff from 24 years ago relevant to Dr. Prevaricator’s current activities, with his red herring letter and his pack-o’-lies website & ads in opposition to equal protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?
Sure. Here’s some of my thoughts:
- The devil costume debacle demonstrates that it’s not only homosexuals against whom Prevo (and at least some of his follower) is willing to throw up red herrings, deceptions, and outright lies.
- The devil costume debacle, and the apartheid debate in general, show that it’s not only with regard to sexual orientation that Prevo shows weak judgment, poor research skills, and an unwillingness to listen to anyone who doesn’t agree with his preconceptions — one might say his lack of curiosity to truly grapple with the issues at hand or to seek the truth about what is the minds and hearts of the people about whom he pronounces his judgments. Botha, the mayor of Soweto, Tutu — and the people of South Africa as a whole: Fawell and Prevo were wrong about all of them; wrong, too, about black South Africans’ feelings about disinvestment and other sanctions. [Ref. 11]
- They were wrong in their predictions about the effect such sanctions would have on the apartheid system and South Africa’s fate as a nation. Against their druthers, Congress in 1986 passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, overriding President Ronald Reagan’s veto by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate. Amongst other sanctions, the act banned all new U.S. trade with or investment with South Africa, and was the catalyst for similar sanctions imposted by other nations. The effect of sanctions on South Africa’s economy was one circumstance which led Botha’s successor President F.W. de Clerk to lift the ban on the African National Congress, to release Nelson Mandela from imprisonment, and to negotiate for a change in constitution and transition to a truly multi-racial and democratic government. Mandela went on to become South Africa’s first democratically elected president. Against Prevo’s predictions, the end of the National Party’s hold on power did not lead to a communist takeover. He’s not any more correct in his hysterical predictions about how adding sexual orientation to Anchorage’s Title V protections against discrimination will affect Anchorage workplaces, than he was about a communist takeover in South Africa.
- The devil costume debacle illustrates Prevo’s self-obsession. Despite numerous evidences that Anchorage residents in general, & the protesters in particular, were truly concerned about the situation in South Africa, to Prevo it was all about him. There wasn’t even a word to be heard about the guy he’s ostensibly working for. The signs he had his devil men carry were all about “Dr. Prevo, Dr. Prevo, Dr. Prevo.” Where was Jesus in all this? Maybe at that other church over there. Betcha Dick Madden talked about Jesus in his sermon that day.
- Communism isn’t the answer. Neither is Dr. Prevo.
Devils can wear masks, too
- Butterfield, Fox. (12 Feb 1987). “Trustee’s remark renews charges of racial insensitivity at Wellesley.” New York Times, p. A-20.
- Pear, Robert. (21 Aug 1985). “Falwell denounced Tutu as a ‘phony’.” New York Times, p. A3.
- Gadberry, Greg. (26 Aug 1985). “Marchers aim wrath at Prevo: Foes of apartheid picket Baptist temple.” Anchorage Daily News, pp. A1, A12.
- Associated Press. (25 Aug 1985). “South Africa seizes 27 anti-apartheid leaders.” Anchorage Times.
- Cowell, Alan [New York Times]. (25 Aug 1985). “Apartheid dictates tale of two cities.” Anchorage Daily News, p. E1.
- Robin, Karen. (26 Aug 1985). “Prevo explains South African views.” Anchorage Times, p. B1.
- South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Amnesty Committee. (1999). “Decision – Khotso House Incident.” (AC/99/0242).
- Braid, Mary. (30 Oct 1998). “Truth And Reconciliation Commission: Report lays blame at Botha’s door.” The Independent.
- Cowell, Alan. (29 Sep 1985). “A day in the uneasy life of Soweto’s black mayor.” New York Times, p. 14.
- Toomey, Sheila. (8 Oct 1985). “‘Devils’ approved by Prevo.” Anchorage Daily News, pp. A1, A14.
- United Press International. (26 Aug 1985). “Poll shows South African blacks support sanctions.” Anchorage Daily News, p. A12.