Editorial: “Protect our Children” is a hate group

Opinions Editorials

An organization calling itself “Protect Our Children,” which claims to be “working to stop the proposed low-barrier homeless shelter,” is actually a vehicle to promote hate.

About 3000 households in Olympia experienced that hate for themselves, in the form of a flyer mailed a few days before Election Day. “Do you want these sex predators to live near your children?,” it demanded to know, above scary looking mugshots of two apparent sex offenders. “City Council member Julie Hankins does!” [All quotes sic.] [Disclosure: OP&L co-publisher Matthew Green worked on Hankins’ campaign.]

The flyer, paid for by Protect Our Children, is easily the nastiest campaign literature in local memory. But that’s not where the hate comes in. It continued:

Hankins supported giving $400,000 in taxpayer money to build a “low barrier” shelter for sex predators (like these pictured). …

The City of Olympia has 83% more registered sex predators and criminals living here than the national average. Why? Because our city government has welcomed these predators to our community. Now, City Council member Julie Hankins favors a “low barrier” shelter where rapists, ex-cons, child predators, and drug addicts can live.

“Hate group” is the right label for an organization that generates such filth. Protect Our Children is actively promoting hostility against a class of persons – namely, persons who are homeless. Hankins is merely the immediate target, whom it is convenient to smear to reach the true targets. There are ways to argue against a homeless shelter without calling anyone a “sex predator” or accusing anyone of “welcom[ing] these predators to our community,” but Protect our Children jumped directly to malicious attacks.

Importantly, their mailer does not mention homeless people at all. It does not say, for example, that the homeless population staying as a shelter might include some people who are criminals. Instead, it describes the “‘low barrier’ shelter where rapists, ex-cons, child predators, and drug addicts can live,” presumptively asserting that any homeless person who might stay at such a shelter must be a rapist, ex-con, child predator, and/or drug addict.

And that is how the people behind Protect Our Children express their hate. They smear a group of people by equating each of them with the worst individual members of society. They attempt to make an entire class of people into something to be feared and despised. That is hate speech; they are a hate group.

Meanwhile, they fail to suggest any positive solutions. Their flyer does not propose an alternative to a low barrier shelter, nor suggest ways to make the community safer from sex offenders. They merely oppose, by means of demonizing those people they hate.

They also fail to address actual known sex offenders and other criminals – that is, the people they claim to be concerned about. A handout on their website states that “112 convicted sex or criminal offenders are registered within the city limits of Olympia. At least 5 are registered in the Eastside Neighborhood.” That sounds accurate, based on numbers from the Sheriff’s office (though the implication that these figures are significantly different from every other community is false).But amazingly, the people behind Protect Our Children do not recognize – or pretend not to recognize – the necessary inference from their own claim: these criminals reside in Olympia and the Eastside neighborhood right now, yet Protect Our Children is doing nothing about it, focusing instead on a potential shelter that might be built in the future.

The name “Protect Our Children” is also telling. The best moral and rhetorical justification for violence is to commit that violence in defense of oneself, one’s property, one’s country, or – best of all – one’s children. They could have named themselves something like “Stop the Shelter” or “Concerned Eastside Neighbors” (the actual name of another group opposed to the shelter). Instead, they picked a name that offers the strongest rationalization and excuse for attacking the people they hate.

Finally, they smear anyone who dares be sympathetic to the people they hate. Protect Our Children does not criticize shelter advocates merely for supporting a shelter that might serve some sex offenders. They do not credit shelter advocates for thinking that a shelter might improve community safety by making formerly homeless criminals less likely to reoffend. Rather, they assign evil motives, claiming explicitly that Councilmember Hankins, city government as a whole, and shelter proponents “welcome” and “want” sex predators to be close to children.

Who is “Protect Our Children”? As of late October, they reported raising $2,719. The contributors (starting with those contributed the most) were Richard Hoverter, James Hutchinson, Deenie Dudley, Bryan Kolb, Kathy Kolb, Dennis Carlson, Art Foley, Robert Green, Jeff Jaksich, Robert Kagy, John Kaufman, Paul Shepherd, Gary Christenson, Thurston Electric LLC, Brian Tomlinson, Philip Cornell, Barbara Laforge, Linda Panowicz, Henry Govert, Lydia Groseclose, Dawn Eychaner, Lenna Haferland, and John Schlichting. These people funded the hate.

The group’s officers are Carol Person, campaign manager, and Philip Cornell, treasurer. Olympia City Councilmember Karen Rogers is also involved; though she did not contribute financially, she received two payments from the group reimbursing her for office supplies and web hosting services she purchased on its behalf. These people organized the hate.

ABC Printing printed the flyer. Mercury Direct Mailing Services prepared it for bulk mailing. These businesses profited from the hate.

Though the flyer urged a vote for Mike Volz in the city council elections, there was no overlap between the group’s contributors and the contributors to Volz’s campaign.The greater overlap was between Protect Our Children contributors and contributors to the city council campaign of Cheryl Selby. Selby received donations from Bryan Kolb, Art Foley, Paul Shepherd, Barbara Laforge, and Dawn Eychaner. Kolb is also the developer who owns the Martin Way property that Selby has suggested be purchased for an alternative site for a low barrier shelter.

To his credit, in a statement on his Facebook page, Volz immediately denounced the smear flyer and said his campaign had nothing to do with it. To the best of our knowledge, Selby never made any public statement condemning it.

Did Protect Our Children succeed? That is not yet clear. When the ballots were counted, Hankins and Selby – one shelter supporter and one shelter critic – both won election to the city council by large margins.

But the more important measure of “success” will lie in the reaction of our community. Do we absorb, then repeat and amplify, the fear and hatred offered to us? Do we push back in the name of love? Do we seek answers to the challenges of homelessness and community safety based on reality and evidence, not blind prejudice? Do we strive to know other people, including those who are homeless, as people? ◙

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