Christian extremism raises alarm
A trial resumes today for a Slavic man charged with killing a gay man in Sacramento, Calif.
A hate-crime trial reconvenes Friday in a case that's dividing Sacramento and drawing attention from organizations that monitor extremists.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Alex Shevchenko has been arraigned for a hate crime tied to the assault and eventual death of Satender Singh in July. According to prosecutors, Mr. Shevchenko and Andrey Vusik taunted Mr. Singh in a park because they thought he was gay. Mr. Vusik eventually threw a punch that toppled Singh, dashing his head, they charge.
Gay leaders in Sacramento say the incident followed several years of escalating tensions with some Slavic immigrants.
"The gut feeling of the [gay] community is that preaching among the local Russian evangelical community is breeding hate and that something would happen. And Satender was the something that happened," says Ed Bennett, a gay Democratic activist.
While Slavic leaders say their community is being unfairly scapegoated for legitimate political protests and deeply held religious beliefs, some monitors warn that an emerging group called the Watchmen on the Walls may be fomenting a dangerous atmosphere within the ranks of Slavic immigrants here.
"This group has engaged in extremely vicious antigay propaganda, and oftentimes it is that kind of propaganda that is taken by hate criminals as permission to go ahead and attack," says Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Intelligence Report," which tracks hate crimes nationwide.
The international Watchman on the Walls emerged within the past couple of years, forged by two longtime antigay activists – Scott Lively and Kenneth Hutcherson of the US – and two newer Slavic leaders, one in Sacramento and one in the Baltic nation of Latvia.
Mr. Lively has a following among some Slavic protesters here with his controversial book, "The Pink Swastika," which argues that homosexuals played a formative role in Nazism.
The Watchmen is a Christian movement that doesn't teach hate or seek out violent followers, says Mr. Hutcherson, who is a pastor in Washington State. "God's word does not allow us to hate. It tells us to stand up for righteousness and call a sin a sin," he says. He rejects, however, the idea of loving the sinner while hating the sin. "The Bible says when a sinner will not separate himself from a sin then he is condemned with it. The one thing I'm trying to do is get heterosexuals out of the closet. We are the majority," he says.
Videos of Watchmen conferences abroad suggest some leaders are less modulated, and their audience less against violence. One video shows Lively giving a version of Singh's killing different from reported facts, including the notion that Singh was undressing in front of children. The audience cheered twice as Lively recounted the punch and the death of Singh – a reaction Lively rebuked, saying: "We don't want homosexuals to be killed. We want them to be saved."