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Christian extremism raises alarm

A trial resumes today for a Slavic man charged with killing a gay man in Sacramento, Calif.

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"What sets them apart is the rhetoric that they use," says Jim Burroway, editor of the Box Turtle Bulletin, which monitors gay hate groups. "They use the imagery of war, of us being in a war against them, of militancy. They really do speak the rhetoric of theocracy," he says.

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Monitors like Mr. Burroway and Mr. Potok claim no direct connection between the Watchmen and Singh's death.

"As things stand right now, we certainly aren't contending that the Watchmen on the Walls are behind the killing," says Potok. But talk can have consequences, he adds, and Watchmen views are spread in Sacramento by two founders: Alexey Ledyaev, a pastor from Latvia, and Vlad Kusakin, host of a Russian-language radio show.

Confrontations between the gay and Slavic communities have erupted only within the past few years. Some menacing protesters now wear Watchmen T-shirts, says Nate Feldman, a gay activist who's gathering film footage of the protesters. Mr. Feldman says that during the 2006 pride parade in Sacramento he was spat on and shoved by a group of antigay demonstrators.

Other gays and lesbians tell of protests held outside private homes or protesters recognizing them and rattling off their names and addresses. This holiday season, protesters sang Christmas carols outside major retailers while displaying and handing out antigay messages.

Slavic leaders estimate that their Sacramento community numbers around 100,000. They are mainly ethnic Ukranians, Moldovans, and Russians – many of whom gained entrance to the US as Christian asylum seekers after the Soviet Union collapsed. The Russians tend to be Baptist, the Ukranians, Pentecostal.

Many grew up persecuted in the Soviet Union, watching as school officials slighted their children's progress. Some now feel that US educators look down on their Christian children, say Slavic leaders.

Several Slavic leaders including Roman Romaso, executive director of the Slavic Assistance Center, say the street protesters are a small minority.

"As much as I know Watchmen on the Walls I don't agree with them because they call out people in the street and some are not acting adequately," says Mr. Romaso. "My understanding of how to fight is to work with the legislature and build coalitions."

One gay Russian-speaker – who requests anonymity for personal safety – expresses dismay that the death of Singh hasn't galvanized more moderate Slavic voices. The "mythologizing" of gays as the enemy continues in the local Russian-language media, he says.

"It's all about gays and their agenda. Gays are some evil group that is so organized. I didn't know that I belonged to this very powerful group of people," he says. He acknowledges that having Russian-speakers come out of the closet would help change views. "But who is going to do that? I would expose myself to so much hate from people who don't know me."