Protesters confront 'Identity" group at bible camp

Appleton WI Post-Crescent / September 2, 2000
By Susan Squires

Amherst - "Christian Identity" preacher Pete J. Peters denied protesters' accusations of racism during a confrontation outside Riverside Bible Camp Friday, where his followers are gathered for a four-day retreat.

"I really don't think I am nearly as much of an enemy as you think I am," he said.

Waupaca-area churches and a Fox Cities civil rights group organized the protest after they learned Peters, author of "Intolerance of, Discrimination Against and the Death Penalty For Homosexuals is Prescribed in the Bible" and "M.L. King: His Dream, Your Nightmare," planned to bring his Scriptures For America ministry to rural Amherst.

Civil rights organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League allege Peters is a leader in the Christian Identity movement, which espouses the belief that white Christians are God's chosen people and is linked to racist and militia organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation and the Posse Comitatus.

About 40 protesters greeted Peters and his flock, waving signs inscribed with messages like "Hate is Not a Family Value" and "Put the Heat on Pete."

Until late Friday afternoon, Peters avoided the protesters and the press - who were confined to the public right-of-way along Portage County DD - by driving between his travel trailer and the camp across the road.

Shortly before 4 p.m., however, he walked through the crowd, stopping to comment on the protesters' signs.

"'Jesus loves us all.' 'God loves all races,'" Peters said, reading the signs. "I have no problem with that."

Peters told the protesters they were misled by the news media about his theology and ties to white supremacist organizations. African-Americans, he said, have been invited to speak at his retreats.

"We all know the media lies," he said.

Peters organized a meeting that civil rights organizations claim was attended by 160 neo-Nazis and Klansmen in 1992 after federal agents shot and killed an alleged white supremacist's wife and son during a standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

When protester Kathy Jorstad-Fredericks, of Neenah, a member of the executive committee of Toward Community: Unity in Diversity, questioned Peters Friday about that meeting, he said it was held to combat oppression, just as she and the other protesters would resist tyranny against Asians or African-Americans.

"Tyranny," he said, "is like Waco and Ruby Ridge."

In a leaflet Peters distributed to the campers, he warned them not to talk to the news media or protesters, and called the opposition "an organized persecution," orchestrated by "anti-Christ forces."

Several of his following, however, talked to the crowd, including a man who arrived at the camp with his children.

Like other campers who spoke, the man would not identify himself. He said he was surprised to encounter the protesters when he arrived.

"It makes me feel like people really haven't researched," he said. "If you only take a little bit here, and a little bit there, you're going to think, 'What a racist, right-wing group this is.'"

The man said he has heard Peters condemn the Ku Klux Klan as "purely racist," but praise its effectiveness in curbing looting after the Civil War.

He went on to explain the ministry's beliefs concerning Jews, who do not believe Jesus Christ is a savior.

"We are anti anti-Christ," he said. "If someone is against Christ, we'll be against them as a group."

He called African-Americans "foreigners," and told the crowd the description is Biblical.

Richard Kelly Hoskins, one of the retreat's featured speakers, interrupted the man while he was talking to the protesters and reporters.

"You may be telling the truth," Hoskins said, "but by the time it reaches the public, it won't be."

Hoskins is an investment broker from Virginia, who posts the "Hoskins Report" on his Web site, in which he refers to non-whites as "strangers" whom he alleges commit 80 to 90 percent of the crime in the U.S. "and much of it, (if not most of it) is committed against whites."

The man he interrupted agreed with Hoskins' opinion of the press.

"He's right," the man said. "We don't get treated fairly in the media."

When protester Scott Peeples of Appleton, a member of Toward Community: Unity in Diversity, asked another camper if the Bible advocates death for homosexuals, the man replied, "Without doubt."

The protesters themselves were objects of an Amherst family's protest.

"We came to point out the hypocrisy," Vicki Kealiher said.

One of the Kealiher's signs said "Sodomy is a Sin."

"(The churches) allow fornication, they allow adultery, and they make excuses for it," Keahiler said, at the same time they criticize the Scriptures For America group's stance on homosexuality. "They need to cover all the sins."

Camp officials released a statement Friday in which they said they do not "support or condone any racist, anti-Semitic or white supremacist beliefs," but believes it has "an ethical and legal responsibility to honor our rental agreement."

"We are confident the camp's reputation within this community will withstand this controversy," the statement said.

Spokesman Darrie Nelson said the camp would have no further comment on the matter.

The Reverend Sean Motley, of Trinity Lutheran Church, Waupaca, who helped spearhead the protest, called the camp's position "totally irresponsible."

"I don't know how much they need to read or hear to know what Pete Peters stands for," he said.

Protesters began to disperse at about 4 p.m. The encampment will continue through Monday. Portage County Sheriff Stan Potocki said about 100 campers were expected. Only a handful had arrived Friday.

"We came out to make sure they wouldn't come back next year, and I think we've done that," said protester Donovan Lane, of Waupaca.

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