BATAVIA, N.Y. (AP) A Christian pastor in western NY said he felt intimidated and harassed following the states attorney general, a Democrat, sent a letter saying she believed a well planned far-right political event at his church this week may lead to racial violence.
In the letter sent on Aug. 3, Attorney General Letitia James warned organizers of the ReAwaken America Tour event that her office could take legal action if extremist rhetoric by speakers spurred violent or unlawful conduct.
The two-day event at the Cornerstone Church in Batavia, midway between Buffalo and Rochester, is scheduled to feature President Donald Trumps son, Eric Trump, former national security adviser Michael Flynn among others. James letter was addressed to Flynn and event manager Clay Clark and submitted care of the church.
Cornerstone Church Pastor Paul Doyle said there is no validity to the suggestion that the function was promoting racism or violence.
I take exception to what she uses, like extreme views, he told The Associated Press. Whats which means that? Whats extreme? Were conservative Christians. Now were extreme?
He said the letter had scared members of his congregation, several about 150 to 200 people, which he referred to as multi-ethnic and multi-racial.
It feels as though shes attempting to intimidate me. Were a small-town church, Doyle said.
Several dozen people gathered beyond your Batavia church earlier this week to protest the function, which will feature MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, COVID-19 conspiracy theorists and folks who tried to get rid of the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election.
The U.S. Constitution offers strong protections to free speech and James, in her letter, didnt directly require the function to be cancelled or for several speakers to be disinvited.
But James said she was concerned that the function, that is being held on the five-year anniversary of the Unite the proper rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, could spur extremist or racially motivated violence. She cited past extremist statements created by yourselves and another featured speakers on the tour, specifically mentioning a racist conspiracy theory that recently inspired a gunman to kill 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket.
Investigators, she said, stand prepared to react to any violations of state laws.
You’re therefore instructed to take all necessary steps to make sure that the function complies fully with certain requirements of New Yorks civil rights laws and all the applicable state and federal statutes, James wrote, noting the chance of $5,000 fines for violations.
James office declined to touch upon the pastors complaint that the letter was designed to chill free speech, but noted that the letter was addressed to the function organizers, not the church or pastor.
The letter didnt cite any specific acts of violence at past ReAwaken America Tour events.
At one tours stay in Phoenix in January, police were called after attendees taunted teachers from the nearby school since they were wearing medical masks.
A few of the events have drawn small but peaceful protests. Following a community uproar in Oregon, a ReAwaken tour stay in April was relocated from the county fairground in rural city of Redmond to a league baseball stadium in hawaii capital, over two hours away.
At a number of the events, the Christian group Faithful America has dispatched a mobile billboard truck to circle the events to expose the speakers as false prophets that are twisting and distorting religion to attack democracy, its leader, the Rev. Nathan Empsall, said.
Doyle said that his churchs Facebook page started getting comments accusing it of racism within a few minutes of announcing the function will be held in Batavia rather than nearby Rochester, where another venue had canceled following a backlash from elected officials, entertainers among others.
Doyle said the church is contemplating possible action but had not been more specific.
Harassment from our very own government. Personally i think harassed. I’m a law-abiding Im a businessman. Im law-abiding, Im God-fearing, and Im hosting a meeting, he said.