Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
Last night 20/20 ran an expose by Elizabeth Vargas on the IFB profiling women that suffered long-term emotional, sexual and physical abuse in their churches, homes and schools. It has been some time since I had the real opportunity to sit down and revisit the pile of research and writing I have done on this subject.
The amount of information and the deep ties and history between IFB churches, colleges, schools reformatories, etc., is difficult to track and takes a lot of analysis. And all by design. They are slippery, the IFB. And although a fresh-faced young IFB pastor told 20/20 last night that each IFB is different and you can’t judge the aggregate by the outlier – they most certainly are all connected.
The program was a good way to introduce the public to the truth about the IFB churches – the institutionalized and solemnized abuse that goes on today. My husband, although he sits through my frequent rants about the radical right, Christian zealots and the tortures of the IFB, was still stunned – absolutely stunned – by the 20/20 program. Even my cute little spouse who lives with a woman who lives and breathes this kind of stuff needed a big eye opener.
But, it didn’t go far enough. While the stories of the brave women survivors should serve to outrage and motivate us – there is so much more – and I wish the piece had gone a few steps further.
The 20/20 piece introduced a handful of topics that need some immediate attention to keep whatever momentum was certainly created moving.
Coverup, coverup, coverup
Rachel, who was one of the featured women on 20/20 last night put into three simple words the IFB’s key to staying under the radar for decades: coverup coverup coverup. The IFB has a deep and long tradition of conditioning members to share in the church community coverup when evidence of sexual and physical abuse enevitably bubble to the surface.
When I start looking into an IFB school that turns up on the local news for beating kids with rubber tubes or handcuffing them to radiators – I fully expect to find out that IFB school has zig-zagged across the country when word of their abuses gets out. One school I took a deep dive into last year was Reclamation Ranch in Alabama. This from a piece I wrote last year about Reclamation Ranch and Jack Patterson:
Dr. Jack Patterson, founder of the Christian boarding school, Reclamation Ranch, goes on trial for aggravated child abuse March 10 in Blount County Alabama. The trial comes two years after a 17-year-old male resident came forward with charges of severe abuse, torture and beating.
“The search by law enforcement and the questioning of involved minors yielded corroboration of the original allegations and evidence of other instances of mistreatment,” said Blount County District Attorney Tommy Rountree, in a Birmingham News article. One report said investigators seized handcuffs and shackles from the facility, and as the clip mentions handguns and rifles were also present.
Eleven juvenile boys were sent home from Reclamation Ranch pending the outcome of the investigation. Jack Patterson was at the courthouse in November 2008 when Alabama Circuit Court Judge Steve King made the ruling. He wasn’t alone – about 200 of his supporters came out that day. A handful of those gathered, according to the Birmingham News, blew Dr. Jack kisses as he looked down from a second story window. Patterson offered no comment except to say, “God bless you.”
Patterson moved his school from Indiana, to Washington State and finally Alabama where the abuses were finally revealed – and is now looking for property near Detroit to pitch his tent:
“At the time of this writing I am in Alabama with five men in the program. We are doing alot of clean-up work to get the place ready to sell. As mentioned in the last prayer letter we are planning on moving the ministry to Detroit sometime this year.” and, ”…so you can see we are busy and having lots of fun. Praise the Lord for the young men in our program, they are “sold out” and ready to serve the Lord with their lives. It is never a sacrifice but a great privilidge to work with these young men.”
Note: spelling errors sole property of Brother Jack
And according to the April 2011 newsletter, it looks like they are taking up residence for now in Ohio:
“Currently we are working wih Gateway Baptist in Eaton, Ohio, helping them to establish their men and women’s home. They have started out with two men and one lady and is in preparation to add more in the months ahead. Our men are also helping Pastor Rick Drumond at Lebanon Baptist Temple remodel their mission house. So as you can see we are still able to use the talents of these young men to be used of God in helping other ministries.”
And this is just the public face of a cover-up – what seemingly happens when the brainwashing of the IFB breaks down and word leaks out about the abuse going on in these homes. Imagine the insurmountable wall of fear that had to be overcome for any stories of abuse to come out. A swift breaking of the will is required for that wall to stand up:
Local officials complicity through inaction or ignorance or unwillingness to prosecute
One thing I saw over and over again when talking to survivors or when reading accounts of IFB abuse was the lack of interest on the part of local officials. In the case of Patterson in Alabama, I spoke on several occasions with then Blount County DA Tommy Rountree who oversaw the case against Patterson:
Rountree told the Birmingham News at the time of Patterson’s arrest in 2008: ”The search by law enforcement and the questioning of involved minors yielded corroboration of the original allegations of abuse and evidence of other instances of mistreatment.” There were also handcuffs, shackles and firearms found in the initial search of Reclamation Ranch.
I called to ask Mr. Rountree how an apparently clear-cut felony case could result in the paltry harassment plea agreement for Jack Patterson, finalized on March 1. “Lack of evidence,” he said, “gone, the police mishandled it.” I asked him what on Earth happened, what kind of incompetence on the part of law enforcement lead to Jack Patterson walking. Rountree said he has a ”general overview” of the case. Chief Prosecutor, Larry Waites, however has in-depth knowledge. Rountree said Mr. Waites would be happy to give me a call next week to discuss it further [Waites never called me back].
Though Rountree admitted having only a bird’s-eye view of the case, he was certainly no stranger to Jack Patterson and the long line of child abusers he comes from. Though Rountree expressed regret in not getting a “meaningful conviction” in this case, he was thrilled to have run Jack Patterson out-of-town. I said to him that I understood that sentiment but Big Jack is now just someone else’s problem, and with a mere four states down, he has 46 left to go.
Teresa Frye, a survivor of another IFB school, New Bethany, had similar experience in North Carolina when it came to her attention that longtime IFB child abuser, Olen King turned up in her neck of the woods. This from her comments on this blog:
This [Reclamation Ranch/Rountree] sounds EXACTLY like what happened in Walterboro, SC back in 1984 with the New Bethany Boy’s Home and Olen King. I have had a few in-depth telephone conversations with Emory Rush (the now retired investigator of the New Bethany case) and Randolph Murdaugh (the former solicitor of Colleton Co., SC) who both disclosed that the “mishandling of evidence”, and “law enforcement botching the case” led to King getting by with all the horrible things he did. And just like King (who simply ran across the state line into Danbury, NC and opened, as well as CONTINUES OPERATING “Second Chance Ranch”)
In the case of Tina last night on 20/20 toward the end of the program fingers started pointing at local law enforcement for not following up on her rape. And while that may be convenient for the grotesque Pastor Phelps who covered it all up, it is probably true. Make no mistake, inaction by law enforcement and the courts is not the exception – it is the rule.
No regulation and no public or political will to take on the IFB
Last year I embarked on a futile journey to find out why the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pension) Committee sat on H.R. 911 – a bill – although imperfect – that would at least begin to take steps toward regulating unregulated IFB homes. I went to DC with a stack of letters from survivors, a petition and numerous news stories about current IFB abuses. Long story short, H.R. 911 died after sitting in committee for two congressional sessions.
One of my friends who specializes in researching and writing about fundamentalist Christians did an in-depth piece last year on the survivors of New Bethany, Jack Patterson and the ongoing cover-up inside the IFB. Her story – accepted by a high-profile national publication – has not been published. Apparently languishing in an editors in-box, the story may never see the light of day. Recently my friend updated me on the status of her story – revisions and updates made, new edits awaiting publication. And then – nothing.
I had a similar experience last year when I pitched a story for the ongoing case of Olen King in North Carolina and his running Second Chance Ranch after his long history of abuse. My editor was interested, I started digging deeper into the story, the ties to local churches sending King money, the lack of response by local officials, the snubbing of concerned citizens by politicians – and then poof – the news cycle shifted and the story died.
Why is it that neither stories went anywhere? Americans have no desire to take on fundamentalist Christians who historically and currently abuse children because religious freedom is protected in this country that means it is untouchable.
That collectively believed lie has got to be demolished. Religion is protected and not established but, that doesn’t mean that it gets to run wild and cause unspeakable harm under the guise of religious freedom.
Like Stuff Fundies Like dot com – it didn’t escape my attention that Pastor Chuck Phelps is represented by Gibbs Law Firm.
This from Stuff Fundies Like website:
It did not escape me that the Gibbs Law Firm (which is the for-profit side of the Gibbs family business, not the “ministry” of CLA) is who Chuck Phelps is using for his legal counsel according to a picture shot of the letter head. If that’s accurate, that tells me that the Gibbs clan doesn’t think that defending Phelps doesn’t rate “ministry status” but they’re still willing to take his money to give him legal advice. It figures that they would show up at some point.
Gibbs Law Firm – And the Christian Legal Association (CLA) has a history of helping out fundamentalists, politicians and when David Gibbs helped government try to insert itself in to Terry Schivo’s life and death. They are no small time group. And they are no stranger to the IFB I came across them when researching Lester Roloff and faith based initiatives in Texas under then Governor George W. Bush:
Governor Bush, in his 1997 state-of-the-state speech, urged lawmakers to act upon the report. He put forth a faith-based legislative agenda that included a bill-sponsored by Representative John Smithee, of Amarillo, and Senator David Sibley, of Waco, both Republicans-that allowed faith-based child-care facilities to opt out of state licensure. The bill carried no endorsements from any organized religious groups, since all well-known denominations-whether they were Baptist or Jewish, Catholic or Lutheran-had long welcomed state oversight of their child-care facilities. Instead, the primary witness to speak in favor of the bill before the House Human Services Committee was the Roloff Homes’ own attorney, David Gibbs III, of Seminole, Florida. But Gibbs never identified his client to lawmakers during 45 minutes of testimony. He stated only that he represented hundreds of churches across Texas. Even when Representative Jim McReynolds, of Lufkin, asked what would keep the bill from being exploited by fringe groups like “the Branch Davidians and the Lester Roloffs,” Gibbs-whose firm had represented Roloff and his ministry for 25 years-stayed mum about his firm’s association with the preacher. (“I was never specifically asked if I represented the Roloff Homes,” said Gibbs in an interview this fall.) One would think the omission was not lost on Don Willett, who had been friends with Gibbs from their days together at Duke University School of Law. There was little debate in committee, and while Cameron registered himself as favoring the bill, he did not testify or say where he pastored. With the backing of the governor, the bill advanced to the House floor and passed easily. (Texas Monthly – Remember the Christian Alamo)
Sources, other “schools” and further reading:
Hephzibah Home – Warsaw Indiana, Girls Home: An extensive history of Hephzibah Home’s abuse of young women including links, news articles and personal stories of former students. Here is an example of just one “Survivor’s Statement”:
I was forced face down onto the floor of that office, and my arms were straight above my head. One staff lady knelt on and held my arms while another staff lady held my legs. At this point Patti Williams was in the room, and she spanked me while Ron stood by and watched. I dont recall how many times she hit me, but I remember that she was talking during the whole ordeal. She was very angry, and I could feel her anger each time she hit me. I was crying because of the pain and embarrassment, so I guess it was assumed that I was sufficiently broken, so she stopped hitting me. After the whole ordeal was over, I had to immediately sit down with Ron Williams while he talked to me again and told me how that was God’s will that I be punished to rid my soul of its wicked ways. I was very sore, and it hurt to sit down and talk with Ron. I hurt for days after that.
Victory Christian Academy – Jay, Florida:
When Rebecca Ramirez came forth five years ago to protest at Michael Palmer’s Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Fla., it was because she couldn’t forget what happened to her when her parents sent her to the facility. Ramirez said she was raped by Palmer in 1992 when she was a 16-year-old student at Victory. That’s what led her back to the facility some 12 years later to speak out, she said. Following her protest, Palmer left the facility and it was renamed Lighthouse of North West Florida. ”The first time that he actually raped me was Oct. 2. I remember this because he made a big deal out of that date. It was like an anniversary and he always reminded me. I will never forget that date,” she said. (Fort Dodge Messenger) Mr. Palmer has relocated to Fort Dodge, Iowa. Palmer is no stranger to local Florida authorities. In 1994, according to Santa Rosa County sheriff’s records, officers investigated sexual-battery allegations a student leveled against Palmer. In 1997, records show, four students complained to law enforcement officials of child abuse. Palmer blames the allegations, none of which resulted in charges being brought, on vindictive students. “They were girls who were angry with me,” he says. “Kids today have no fear and no respect for authority.” article