An international coalition of fiercely homophobic religious leaders, calling themselves Watchmen on the Walls—whose followers are largely Eastern European conservative evangelicals—will converge on the Lynnwood Convention Center on October 19 through 21.
The occasional mobilization of anti-gay groups isn't unheard of in the Seattle area. In 2005, Kirkland pastor Ken Hutcherson organized the "Mayday for Marriage" rally, which drew 20,000 to Safeco Field. Unsurprisingly, Hutcherson will play a large role in this weekend's Watchmen conference—which the group claims will draw between 500 and 700 attendees. Other speakers include regular Watchmen presenters such as Scott Lively, who published a book claiming that gays were responsible for the Holocaust; Alexey Ledyaev, the pastor of a Latvia-based megachurch; Joe Fuiten, a pastor at Bothell's Cedar Park Church and board member of the Family Policy Institute of Washington, a group linked with Focus on the Family; and Vlad Kusakin, the host of an anti-gay radio show in Sacramento and the editor of a Russian-language newspaper in Seattle.
While members of Watchmen on the Walls—whose name is a reference to the rebuilding of a ruined Jerusalem in the Old Testament—have not been directly linked to any violent acts against gays, their repeated rhetoric of a "war" against homosexuality, and their refusal to condemn attacks on homosexuals, has led to concern and confusion over how they're suddenly popping up in Seattle's backyard.
"[They are] one of the most virulent anti-gay groups we've ever covered," says Mark Potok, spokesman for civil rights group Southern Poverty Law Center. "We're talking about a movement that comprises thousands of people," he says. According to Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough, the city wasn't aware of the Watchmen conference until The Stranger contacted the convention center. Because the convention center is an independent part of the city government, Gough says there's nothing that can be done to keep the Watchmen away. "The city literally does not have any authority to tell them what to do," he says. "If [we] were to do [that], you give these bad guys a shot at you legally." Gough described the group as "fairly weird."
Eddie Tadlock, spokesman for the Lynnwood Convention Center, says the Watchmen approached them in August. "They [said] they were a church group, and they said they had met previously at the Meydenbauer Center [in Bellevue]. We checked their references. We deemed it as a church meeting." Judging from the website Tadlock provided The Stranger, the convention center staff thought the fiercely anti-gay Watchmen on the Walls were a pro-Israel Christian group. Even so, while the convention center may not have known what it was getting into, Tadlock says the Watchmen—who are paying $5,000 for the rental—could not have been denied access to the public facility.
According to Tadlock, this isn't the first time there's been bad blood at the convention center. "We held a multicultural fair here last spring," he says. "We had... a neo-Nazi group... come and protest. We get it from both sides."
In a call to the number listed on promotional material for this weekend's conference, a man with a thick Slavic accent answered the phone. He refused to give his name and would not answer questions about the Watchmen or the event. "I think the best idea is for you to come Friday and check out what it's about," he said before hanging up.