Anti-gay hate crime at Indiana church ruled a hoax

Parish organist spray-painted graffitti to create a fake conservative hate crime against gays

The vandalism of an Episcopal Church in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump was not the work of right-wing extremists, Indiana police report, but an act of political theater performed by the church’s organist to denigrate the new president and his supporters. On 3 May 2017 police arrested George Nathan Stang (26) of Bloomington, Ind., and charged him with institutional criminal mischief in connection with the vandalism of St David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom.

On 14 Nov 2016 the Episcopal News Service reported a vandal had spray painted the words “Heil Trump”, “Fag church” and a Swastika on the wall of the parish. The priest-in-charge, the Rev. Kelsey Hutto told ENS: “I was disheartened at first to see the words on the wall but my second reaction was we must be doing something right.”

“I’ve been using Presiding Bishop Curry’s statement that ‘sometimes doing the right thing is not always the popular thing,’ and we are living into that, and proud of that, and we believe that facing hate with love is the right way to go about our call as Christians,” Ms Hutto said.

She said the incident had been discovered before church on 13 Nov 2016 by the parish organist, George Stang.  The Bishop of Indianapolis, the now retired Rt. Rev. Cate Waynick, donned the mantle of victimhood in a statement posted on the diocesan website — linking the crime to the recently concluded election campaign.

“We do not know who is responsible for the vandalism. What we do know is that the kind of language used during the recent presidential campaign has emboldened some people to become openly abusive and insulting. Our option as faithful people is to be sure we don’t respond in kind,” she said.

“The Episcopal Church will continue to welcome all people, to seek and serve Christ in the world around us, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being – even those who deface our buildings. Our buildings can be marred by anger and hatred – we will not allow our hearts to be defiled. Our hearts and our doors remain open to everyone, as we pray for the wisdom and courage to remain faithful disciples of Jesus.”

While the incident was related to the recently concluded presidential campaign, the perpetrator was motivated by hatred for the newly elected president, not support.

When questioned by police about his discovery, Stang told police he had not been at the church the day before he discovered the graffiti. An investigation of Stang’s movements and phone records contradicted his claims, and in a follow up interview on 28 April 2017 his story broke down, and he admitted to having carried out the crime.

According to station WBIW, Stang told police he wanted to “mobilize a movement” to overturn support for the new administration as he was disappointed by the election outcome. He told police however, he was not motive by “anti-Christian or anti-gay” feelings, but political hatred. As such, he will not be charged with a hate crime.

The newly consecrated Bishop of Indianapolis, the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows released a statement saying she was perturbed by Stang’s actions. “This was a hurtful, dishonest, and profoundly misguided action that stands against the values of the people of this diocese and the Episcopal Church, and we will continue to cooperate with the authorities who are pursuing this case.”

“We are living now in a political climate that is so divisive and highly charged that people from all across the political spectrum are making thoughtless and hurtful choices that they believe are justified by the righteousness of their causes. As people who follow Jesus, we must find a different way,” she said.

“Christians are called to hold one another accountable for our choices and actions, but also to offer one another love and forgiveness. I do not know Nathan, who is not a member of the diocese and has worked at the church for about a year, but media reports indicate that he felt frightened and alone in the wake of last year’s presidential election and that he was attempting to catalyze a movement by instilling a sense of fear in the congregation and community. Many people in our country, particularly members of sexual, religious and racial minorities, have well-founded reasons to be fearful in these difficult times, but this terrible situation illustrates why we must resist the temptation to play to those fears. Our job, as people of God, is to speak the truth in love, admit our own sins, and be ever mindful that seeking justice includes ending fear for all God’s people,” she said.

The fraud perpetrated by Stang is one of several false claims of anti-Semitic and anti-gay incidents blamed on Trump supporters, that were actually carried out by members of the left. In March a St Louis man was arrested by Federal authorities for allegedly making bomb threats against Jewish schools and agencies. The FBI stated Juan Thompson, an African-American man, perpetrated the supposed right-wing hate crimes to incriminate a former girlfriend.

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