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Scaring Grandma

WorldNetDaily wants you to believe that a new hate-crime law will result in your grandmother getting thrown in the slammer for "sharing the Gospel of Jesus." Unless granny is a bullhorn-wielding anti-gay activist, don't worry about it.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/14/2007

WorldNetDaily's new favorite meme -- that a proposed federal bill to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the classifications covered under hate-crime laws will result in the jailing of grandmothers -- is a result of piling dishonesty upon dishonesty.

An April 18 article by WorldNetDaily by Bob Unruh hyped the opposition to the bill by highlighting the idea that grandmothers will be jailed for, in Unruh's citing of one specific example, "sharing the Gospel of Jesus on a Philadelphia public sidewalk." (An April 18 article by Fred Lucas led off with the same example, noting "grandmother of 10" Linda Beckman "went to jail overnight for publicly objecting to a homosexual rights rally in Philadelphia.")

But Unruh (and Lucas) didn't bother to tell the full story of these arrested grandmothers. And this is where the base dishonesty began (WND being much more guilty of it than CNS).

WND has frequently promoted the story of the Philadelphia protesters -- which involved an anti-gay protest at a gay festival in Philadelphia in October 2004 -- but only a slanted, incomplete version of it. As ConWebWatch has detailed, WND never bothered to tell readers what police and prosecutors had to say about the case: Members of the anti-gay ministry Repent America, led by Michael Marcavage, were arrested after Marcavage -- with a bullhorn -- and his group tried to interrupt a stage performance at the festival with their preaching, and were arrested only after they refused to go to an area on the edge of the event.

WND focused on the 47 years of prison the protesters purportedly faced -- never mind that even the attorney for the gay event the protesters interrupted doubted they would actually face anything more severe than probation (the charges were ultimately dropped) -- and insisted that Marcavage's group was "peacefully evangelizing," though it's hard to explain how that could be when the leader of the group was making use of a bullhorn. WND also ignored Marcavage's history of extremist activism, including what sure looks like an endorsement of putting people to death for being gay.

Related articles on ConWebWatch:

Free the Philadelphia Facts

Soft-Hittting Journalism

WND columnist Janet Folger, leader of the anti-gay group Faith2Action, plays a leading role here as well, getting this mendacious ball rolling in a Feb. 7 column claiming that a "grandmother of three" and a "grandmother of 10" had "faced 47 years (the rest of their lives) in jail for spreading the Gospel." Folger added in a March 27 column: "It's all about hate. And judging by the introduction of H.R. 1592, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., must hate free speech. He must hate equality. And he must hate grandma."

Folger's March 27 column contains another piece of tangental mendacity: her belief in convicted killers and documented liars over law enforcement. In arguing against the hate-crime bill Conyers sponsored, she claimed that Matthew Shepard wasn't killed because he was gay:

And guess what? Both killers have now confessed that their motive in attacking Shepard wasn't any animosity for his sexual behavior, they killed him for money for drugs. What do you know? The poster child for "hate crimes" wasn't even the victim of one. Funny how that never came up in the 13,500 "Mathew Shepard" news stories, massive TV coverage, two major Hollywood specials, three TV movies, and a play.

In fact, as ConWebWatch has detailed, it takes not only a hefty chunk of conservative revisionism that fits a template conservatives eagerly want to believe, but a certain willful ignorance of the court record, to believe that Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson killed Shepard over "money for drugs":

  • McKinney and Henderson have a long record of lying; McKinney in particular has given multiple, conflicting accounts of what happened the night Shepard was killed.
  • The hate-crime aspect was corroborated at trial.
  • McKinney attempted a "gay panic" defense during his trial.

Once you accept, as Folger does, that convicted killers are suddenly trustworthy because they have decided to tell a story you want to hear (then again, the folks at WND have a bad habit of placing their trust in convicted felons), it's not a big leap to rehabilitating hard-core anti-gay activists into persecuted grandmothers.

Such rehabilitation is exactly what Folger does to Linda Beckman and Arlene Elshinnawy -- both of whom are featured in Faith2Action commercials opposing the bill, and the source of the "jail grandma" hype Unruh and Lucas bought into.

In Elshinnawy's commercial, she says she "attended a homosexual event in Philadelphia," where she "to share the gospel of Jesus Christ." Accompanying footage shows her standing alone on a street corner handing out pamphlets, implying that was doing when she was arrested. Beckman similarly claims in her commercial that she "was arrested on a public sidewalk of Philadelphia for sharing the gospel" and shows her, like Elshinnawy, standing alone on a street corner handing out pamphlets. She concludes, "Sending grandmothers to jail goes too far."

But neither of them were engaged in the behavior depicted in the commercials at the time of their arrest -- they were part of Maracavage's confrontational, bullhorn-driven Philadelphia protest. Beckman says in her commercial that she "faced 47 years behind bars" -- again, not noting that even the attorney for the gay event the protesters interrupted didn't think they would see anything worse than probation or mentioning that the charges were dropped.

Further, both Beckman and Elshinnawy have previously engaged in such activism, a fact obscured by both WND and Folger. Beckman has a record of arrests for blockades of abortion clinics, so she's presumably well acquainted with the inside of a prison. Elshinnawy, meanwhile, was in attendance at a 1997 anti-abortion protest in Englewood, N.J., at which 15 people were arrested; a Jan. 19, 1997, article in the Bergen County Record noted that Elshinnawy "drove from Pennsylvania to join the protest."

(Interestingly, both Beckman and Elshinnawy were also devotees of another bullhorn-wielding, anti-gay Philadelphia preacher, Craig Stephen White. When White was arrested for soliciting sex from a 14-year-old boy, they were among the supporters who thought the media had rushed to convict him, according to a Aug. 13, 2003, Philadelphia Inquirer article. White was found guilty of the charge and sentence to four years in prison; a March 20, 2004, Associated Press article described White as "a fiery street sermonizer known as 'Brother Stephen' " who "has condemned homosexuality and was known for using a bullhorn to preach to passers-by at colleges." A March 20, 2004, Inquirer article noted: "Michael Marcavage, a character witness at White's trial, had been ejected earlier after Callahan expressed concern about an Internet site that offered a $5,000 reward for information on both the victim and prosecutors that might help free White. Marcavage ... became agitated, stood up, and accused [assistant district attorney Kimberly] Callahan of lying. He also admitted setting up the Web site before being escorted from the courthouse.")

In other words, these are no shrinking-violet grandmothers. They know what they're doing, and they are well aware of the possibility that they could be arrested for their behavior in the protests they engage in and for the abrasive, confrontational antics of the leaders they choose to follow.

Unruh, meanwhile, perpetuates the dishonesty by swallowing all of this, unquestioningly regurgitating Folger's scary, highly misleading tales of grandmothers tossed into the hoosegow for "witnessing." Nowhere does Unruh allow any supporter of the hate-crimes bill to rebut any of the claims by Folger and the other foes who make similarly alarmist claims, let alone offer a telling of the Philadelphia protest that hews closer to the truth.

Indeed, Unruh has particularly keen eye for writing heavily biased articles on laws that offer legal protection for gays (among other subjects, as ConWebWatch has noted). In an April 19 article on a proposed Oregon gray-rights law, Unruh does actually devote one whole paragraph (the 27th paragraph) to a supporter of the law but hands over the rest to outlandish, unverified claims, such as one assertion that under the bill, "it will be legal for a man to walk into a women's shower, locker or rest room, as long as he keeps his underwear on, and anyone who complained (spell discriminate), could be sued under S.B. 2!"

And Unruh keeps it up in a May 3 article on the federal bill: the word "grandmother" appears five times, and he repeats the claim that "a grandmother was hauled to jail and threatened with 47 years in prison for proclaiming her Christianity on a public street" while failing yet again to tell the full story of that incident.

(Update: Unruh offered his most dishonest take yet on the arrested-grandmothers case in a May 12 article. After claiming that "the 'Thought Police' already have prosecuted Christians," Unruh wrote: "One Philadelphia woman, Arlene Elshinnawy, 75, and grandmother of three, was holding a sign: 'Truth is hate to those who hate the truth,' before she was hauled off by police officers, according to reports." Those "reports," of course, are known in the trade as "slanted" and "ridicuously incomplete.")

Simply put, Unruh and Folger too committed to the dishonesty at this point to come clean and tell the full truth. It's gotten them this far, so why would they stop now?

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