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Laramie Movie Scope Essay:
Holocaust survivor blasts all religions

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 15, 2005 -- Recently, I attended a talk given in Laramie by Denver Holocaust survivor Jack Adler ( http://www.jackadler.com/) who talked about his harrowing experiences in the Nazi ghettos and death camps of eastern Europe. He also appeared recently on a Denver PBS station, talking on the same subject. You can read his standard talk given to schools at his web site, so I won't repeat it here because I want to get to the movie-related stuff he spoke of that's not mentioned on his site, and to the whole subject of white supremacist-related religions that Adler largely dismissed in his Laramie speech.

First of all, the movie connection: It turns out Adler's son, Eli, is a cinematographer in Hollywood. Here's a link to Eli Adler's filmography at the Internet Movie Database. Secondly, Adler viciously attacked Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ for stirring up anti-Semitic hatred. He said several nasty things about Mel that had nothing to do with his abilities as an actor or filmmaker. Adler specifically mentioned a large anti-Semitic sign that went up in Denver on the day Gibson's movie premiered (probably before anyone in Denver had actually seen the movie). The sign, at the Lovingway United Pentecostal Church at Colorado and Mississippi, read, “Jews Killed The Lord Jesus.”

“The Passion of the Christ” has, indeed been a lightning rod for criticism, even before it was released. Some people say it is anti-Semitic, others say it is no more anti-Semitic than the New Testament of the Bible itself. Adler went on to say that organized religion had caused more hatred and more deaths than anything else in history, a statement which drew loud applause from a large, supportive audience. Adler also spoke of the anti-Semitic writings of Martin Luther which were used to support the anti-Semitic views of leaders of the Nazi party in Germany. Adler also spoke of Mel Gibson's father, Hutton, whose statements about the Halocaust prompted the following statement by The Rev. Robert W. Edgar:

“Speaking on behalf of the National Council of Churches, I condemn in the strongest terms the recent anti-Semitic remarks of Hutton Gibson, father of film producer Mel Gibson, including his bizarre assertion that the Holocaust did not occur. The Holocaust is a tragic historical fact.” Mel Gibson himself has never repudiated his father's views on the Holocaust.

My view is that Gibson's movie is no more anti-Semitic than the New Testament of the Bible itself. You can view the New Testament as anti-Semitic, or not. You can interpret the Bible to endorse all kinds of bigotry, or not. It has been used to justify a multitude of conflicting beliefs, including racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. But to paint all religions with the same broad brush, as Adler does, I just can't buy into that. Religion is a convenient whipping boy, to be sure, but I don't believe for a second that eliminating religion would stop one war or genocide. Take, for example, the genocide in Rwanda. It had nothing to do with racism, religion, or even legitimate tribal identity. It was a slaughter of one arbitrarily-defined group by another arbitrarily-defined group. That did not make the Rwanda genocide any less nasty. It was brutal. Check out the movie Hotel Rwanda for more details.

By painting all religions with a single broad brush, Adler misses some important strokes. For instance, most mainline Christian churches are not anti-Semitic. A large portion of the powerful Religious Right in the U.S. are staunch supporters of Israel, including President George Bush, perhaps the most pro-Israeli president in history. They feel the existence of Israel fulfills Biblical prophecy. It also makes no sense to lump the Catholics together with such organizations as the World Church of Creativity founded by Ben Klassen (formerly the World Church of the Creator), or a racist form of Asatru and the Christian Identity-related churches. The World Church of Creativity is an anti-Christian church which claims Christianity is an invention of Jews who used it to destroy the Roman Empire. Asatru, or neo-Odinism, is a polytheistic Norse religion. A virulently racist form of this religion is espoused by white supremacist Richard Scutari, who was formerly associated with the Christian Identity movement. The Nazis also tried to subvert Asatru during World War II. Asatru itself is not a racist religion.

The Christian Identity churches are essentially radical evangelical-type churches, such as the Church of Jesus Christ, Christian/Aryan Nations. These churches are not really closely affiliated with each other, but they do act as a kind of glue, holding a lot of loosely related groups together, including survivalists, tax evaders, white supremacists, paramilitary organizations and others on the far right fringe. These organizations are way beyond the pale in terms of stirring up anti-Semitic hatred. To lump mainline religions, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and others in with the truly dangerous religions, is to overlook a clear and present danger in our midst. O.K., maybe Islam is a special case, but this article is going to be long enough without getting into the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I'm going to talk about one of these Christian Identity-releated churches in particular because it has a local connection to the place where I live, and it has been associated with one notorious violent group in the past. This church is known as the LaPorte Church of Christ, located in LaPorte, Colorado (about 60 miles south of Laramie, WY), north of Denver. The pastor of this church, Peter J. Peters, lives on a ranch in Albany County, Wyoming, which is where I live. A friend of mine used to work for him. Peters preaches a peculiar type of religion known as Anglo-Israelism. He preaches that the Jews of today are not the Jews of Abraham and Moses in the Bible. He says that, instead, the northern European white people (and their descendents in the U.S. and Canada) are the real Chosen People. He calls himself a racial separatist. He also speaks favorably of survivalism and speaks fondly of guns.

I first heard of Peters when I was a reporter for the Laramie Daily Boomerang. The LaPorte Church of Christ became famous because of some of the infamous people who used to stop by. The most famous churchgoers in LaPorte were Jean Craig of Laramie, Robert Matthews and David Lane. Two of the three became famous when they were indicted on charges related to the 1984 murder of confrontational Jewish radio talk show host Alan Berg in Denver. Berg was gunned down outside his house with a Mac 10 machine gun by members of a neo-Nazi group called The Order, or Bruder Schweigen (The Silent Brotherhood) co-founded by Matthews.

Jean Craig told the Denver Post (in an article published March 8, 1985) that she, Matthews and Lane all attended a January 1984 speech at the LaPorte church by Gordon “Jack” Mohr, a friend of Peters. At one time, Peters, Mohr and Earl Jones were known affectionately by Christian Identity followers as the “Three Musketeers” of Anglo-Israelism. Peters is reported by the Post to have denied that Matthews ever attended services at the church and further said none of the three attended Mohr's talk. Peters did tell the Post that Lane and Matthew's girlfriend from Laramie did attend services at his church. Peters said he once got into a heated argument with Lane. Matthews, Lane and Craig also met several times at a private residence in nearby Fort Collins, Colorado, to meet with a group that had splintered off from the LaPorte church, according to Post articles. Police told the Post they believed that Matthews was in Laramie, Wyoming two days before and two days after the Berg assassination. Matthews reportedly met his Laramie girlfriend through a connection with the LaPorte church, the Post said.

Later, Lane was found guilty in a federal civil rights case and was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his role in murdering Alan Berg. The talk show host had reportedly publicly criticized Peters, Mohr, The Christian Identity movement and members of the Order at various times on his radio show. Members of the Order reportedly called Berg and talked to him on air, the Post reported. Craig was sentenced to 40 years for her role relating to racketeering activities by The Order. The Order was involved in counterfeiting, armed robbery, bombing and murder, among other things. Its goal was the overthrow of the federal government. Matthews was killed in a gun battle with FBI agents on Whidbey Island, Washington in 1984. Lane was also a member of The Order.

Peters does not call himself a white supremacist and he also says his teachings are not those of Christian Identity. The LaPorte Church of Christ has an extensive website at http://www.scripturesforamerica.org/ where you can find newsletters, streaming video, audio and video archives of sermons, information on his radio and satellite broadcasts and information on how to buy his many books and tapes.

I read 28 of the newsletters posted on the Scriptures for America web site and found that Peters talks very little about what really makes his ministry different from any other fundamentalist Christian church. For instance, he is opposed to abortion, evolution and homosexuality, as are many fundamentalist ministers. On the main web page of Scriptures for America, it reads, “Scriptures for America Worldwide is an international outreach ministry of the LaPorte Church of Christ and is directed by Pastor Peter J. Peters. This ministry is dedicated to proclaiming the true Gospel of Christ Jesus throughout the earth, and to revealing to Americans and the Western Nations their true Biblical Identity.”

Now what is this true Biblical Identity? Here are some clues from the Scriptures for America web page: “Who are the people who make up the house of Israel and the twelve tribes of Israel? ... most of those who have rationally and seriously looked into the matter from an archaeological, historical, and Biblical viewpoint have identified the twelve tribes of Israel as the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Celtic, Scandinavian, and kindred peoples -- the peoples who comprise the white race which settled the North American continent, forming the bedrock population of the United States of America.”

O.K., so if white Americans and northern Europeans are the 12 tribes of Israel, then who the heck are the Jews? Reading the newsletters, Peters has little good to say of the Jews, he calls them communists and false gods who have a goal of creating a single world government.

In newsletter vol. 1, 1998, Peters writes, “Yet, our Lord has told us there is no way any man can come to the Father but through him. If these people, called JEWS, can then they must not be any man and if not man then what? The answer is gods, i.e., phony false gods ... these false phony puny gods are the people of Revelation 2:9 and 3:9.”

These scriptures in Revelation refer to “the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)” He also says the Jews control the media and the Federal Reserve System and key government positions. In newsletter volume 2, 1999, Peters again says the Jews are not the chosen people and that old Jerusalem is not the new “JerUSAlem” spoken of in the Bible. He indicates the United States is the new Jerusalem. Among the items for sale at the Scriptures for America website is Jud Süß (Jud Suss), a 1940 hysterical anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda film (similar in tone to “Refer Madness”) that is still banned in Germany.

Peters also had some revealing statements about race and religion regarding the earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand late last year. In newsletter volume 2, 2005, he writes:

“It is also interesting that it came, according to one news report, on a day Muslims and Hindus in that part of the world were going into the ocean to ceremonially cleanse themselves (a day set by their lunar calculations). That was the day the tidal wave hit them and washed them out to sea and cleansed them real good.”

“Praise God it happened where the false god of the Muslims is worshipped, where the filthy, hideous Hindus worship their false gods, and where the fat pig Buddha god is worshipped (Northern Thailand is mostly Buddhist; Southern Thailand is where they have been having the Muslim trouble; the Muslims are in Sumatra and, of course, India is Hindu).

“The island of Sri Lanka is known to be the pedophile capital of the world. The people are so poor there that they sell their children. It’s been reported that every other shop was a sex shop and white Israelite queers that have the money go there and shop ... Pedophilia is just another step down in the sin cesspool that homosexuals swim in. Did you notice some of the white survivors who were interviewed talked about their 'companions' getting swept out to sea, not their 'wives?'

“This preacher says let the Muslims help, bury, or do whatever; but, whatever you do, do not help those who hate our Lord, Jesus Christ, and His followers. If you send help make sure it’s sent to some Christian missionary or group over there. Let Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world help their heathen buddies.”

Well, so much for Christian love and charity. Peters is no Good Samaritan.

When it comes to homosexuals, the LaPorte Church of Christ's antipathy toward that group is similar to many other churches, but even more extreme. Peters once wrote in newsletter volume 6, 2003, “Take for example the subject of homosexuality. Believe it or not, there was a time in America that if such a filthy, vile, sex pervert came out of the closet he immediately went into the grave. It was recognized as a capital crime by the men (when there were still Christian men in our society) who had the law of God on their hearts (Hebrews 8:10).”

It is the LaPorte Church of Christ's extreme antipathy to minorities and Jews that seems to set it apart. In newsletter volume 1, 1998, Peters writes, “After all, it was the vote of Congress that made a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. A man whom they knew was a whoremonger, plagiarizer and Communist trained, carrying out a Communist objective ... ” In newsletter vol. 1, 2005, a radio broadcast is listed: “ ... Live with Pastor Peters & sound-bites about the Mexicans planning to take over America.”

Peters was so anxious to deny equal rights to homosexuals that in newsletter vol. 1, 2000 he writes, “... The LaPorte Church of Christ fought the homosexuals who came into our local community and tried to get a city ordinance passed to allegedly protect them from discrimination. We fought and by God's grace helped to defeat the ordinance.”

Peters later refused to sign a state political action form required because the church had spent money to defeat the ordinance. The state later took action to seize church property for failure to pay accumulated fines (at a mere $10 per day) over the matter. When Peters found out about the seizure he was ready to take action. His son Monty, who was just about to board a flight in Denver, said (according to his father), “No dad, I'm not leaving you. I say let's do it. I've already phoned so and so and they are bringing rifles are going to meet us at such and such a place.”

If Peters and his son had used rifles that day to defend their church they might be in prison now. They did not. Later, Peters' son, Monty, died in a car accident on Jan. 1, 2000. Peters' first wife died of cancer in 1998. Peters remarried in 1999. The other two “muskateers,” Earl Jones and Gordon Mohr also died. God has not been kind to Peters, his family, or the other muskateers.

The LaPorte Church of Christ also caters to gun-toting survivalists. Peters has spoken at survivalist conventions. In newsletter volume 4, 1997, Peters writes, “Another example could be gun confiscation called, at this time, gun control. Jesus taught his disciples not to be found defenseless but rather to own a weapon (Luke 22:36). Without a weapon, a Christian father cannot provide proper defense and protection for his family, which, in itself is a violation of God's word (1 Timothy 5:8) ...” By the way, if you look up some of the scriptures that Peters cites to support his views, you'll find some of them are quite different than advertized.

Peters goes on to say in the same newsletter, “If a state SWAT team and soldiers come to a Christian's home to take his pregnant wife and force an abortion, or take his children for forced inoculation, it is love that causes him to defend them.” Notice how Peters plays on the paranoid delusions of the right fringe, evoking images of Randy Weaver's family under attack by the feds at Ruby Ridge. The Weaver incident, like the Waco massacre, was a powerful rallying cry for white supremacists all over the country, and Peters took full advantage of it. In talking to survivalists, he de-emphasizes the notion that a Christian should look to God for protection and emphasizes putting one's faith in guns. Peters has an interesting take on the war in Iraq, based on Biblical prophecy, which I won't go into here, but you can read all about it in this related essay.

The Christian Identity movement can trace its roots back to British-Israelism, or Anglo-Israelism, originating in 19th Century England (background from the Anti-Defamation League). When this fringe belief migrated to America it became even more anti-Semitic and racist. Instead of merely being non-Israelites, Jews became the spawn of Satan (to those Identity followers believing in the “two seed” theory). In some Identity sects minorities are called “mud people,” souless beings who existed prior to Adam. The “one seed” believers do not believe Jews are physically descended from Satan, but are wildly anti-Semitic nonetheless. Wesley Swift, a Ku Klux Klan organizer, who founded the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian in 1946 was an early leader of the Identity movement in the U.S. He preached for the genocide of all Jews and a return of blacks to slavery.

Some Christian Identity churches follow a peculiar belief in an apocalyptic race war that will erupt during the time just before the second coming of Christ. This adds to fervor to the survivalist and paramilitary sub-sets of the white supremacist movements. It is not that most Christian Identity churches are violent. Most aren't. But Christian Identity beliefs are tailor-made for anti-Semitic, racist organizations like the Aryan Nations, the Posse Comitatus, the Phineas Priesthood, the KKK, the Army of Israel, skinheads, and others. Christian Identity has quickly found converts in violent organizations. Christian Identity beliefs provide a religious justification, or at least a handy rationalization, for people's racist and anti-Semitic passions. It is like pouring gasoline on a raging fire.

Some studies indicate Christian Identity to be a very small movement. Perhaps only 25,000 people believe in it in all of North America. Others say more than a million people believe in it. Some fear only violent groups, like the skinheads. Others fear a nameless, leaderless, decentralized groups of terrorists, perhaps inspired by books like “The Turner Diaries” who commit acts of terror like sniper attacks. The Order was inspired by “The Turner Diaries.” I fear more incidents like the March 13 killings of eight members of the Living Church of God in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Terry Ratzmann, a disgruntled member of the Identity-related church, shot and killed seven churchgoers during a service, then killed himself. Ratzman had earlier walked out of a service at the same Church. The church is an offshoot of the Worldwide Church of God, founded by American evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong in 1933. The late Mr. Armstrong was a believer in Anglo-Israelism. Some splinter groups still follow Armstrong's original teachings, including the one in Brookfield, Wis. The recent deadly school shootings on a native American reservation in Minnesota were done by a neo-Nazi boy who admired Hitler, though he was not affiliated with a Christian Identity church.

While some white supremacist religions are not Christians, others claim to be. The difference between real Christianity and Christian Identity churches is that real Christian churches tend to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. In biology, for instance, there are lumpers and splitters among scientists. Some biologists lump all closely-related animals together into a single category, others prefer to split them into sub-groups. The Christian Identity movement believers are splitters, limiting Christians to a small group, sometimes called the Remnant. Traditional Christians are lumpers, or “big tent” Christians, freely accepting all races and ethnic groups of human beings into the faith, relying on teachings found in Acts 17:26-29:

“[God] made of one blood all nations of men ... ” and Galatians 4:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: For ye are all one in Christ.” People who truly believed in these, and similar scriptures formed the backbone of the anti-slavery movement in the United States prior to the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in this country. Religion was used to justify slavery and segregation in this country, but religion also played a major role in freeing the slaves and advancing the rights of minorities in the U.S. in the last half of the 20th Century. In fact, The Rev. Jim Wallis, author of “God's Politics,” and others persuasively argue that “(M)any of the most progressive social movements in American history – anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, the fight for child labor laws and the civil rights movement – had overt religious roots and motivations.”

I believe that Christianity is a big tent, the biggest, and eventually the small-minded people who would exclude various minorities, including homosexuals, (I've got a separate essay on gay rights and gay marriage) from it will lose the battle of history. I think the original Christians, especially those who heard the words of Christ, knew it was a faith meant to be offered to all the peoples of the world, not just a select few. It was no mistake that the first disciples of Christ spread out to all the corners of the known world and preached to all who would listen. This tent was always big. Those who would try to shrink the tent down to something tiny, or even use Christianity as a means to justify the hatred and killing of minorities are no Christians at all. That is the worst kind of perversion of Christianity.

Similarly, those who lump all religions together and blame them all for the sorry state of the world today do a great disservice to the overwhelming majority of good people of all faiths, and they overlook the very real danger posed by religious extremists who work hard to ignite the base passions of bigotry and xenophobia.

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Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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