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Punk a bull, you get the horns

by Jesse Fruhwirth
- Posted // 2010-03-08 -

Note to readers,

I apologize.

As I reported first via my Twitter feed, the press conference calling for a ballot initiative to remove homosexuals from Utah was fake. At best, the organizers put together improv theater that punked the Utah press corps and maybe got people to think about gay rights for a moment. It's fashionable to make fools of news media folk such as myself, so, touche. But at its worst, it was an offensive attention-grabbing play on Holocaust-like imagery and language that does little to advance the argument for gay rights in Utah.

The phony press conference is a play out of the Yes Men play book. For example, The Yes Men once punked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by announcing a press conference, then posing as representatives of that group while calling for climate change legisation. It was funny, you see, because the Chamber opposes such legislation. Ha. Zinger. Got 'em.

I'm not sure what Ha-Ha we were supposed to get from today's action, but I think the point they must have been trying to make is that it is somewhat believable that Utah could foster such a movement of concerned citizens that would openly and publicly call for Nazi-like solutions to the "homosexual problem?" (Download the whole document here). Ha?

Here's how it went down:

I saw activist Ashley Anderson moments after entering the Capitol rotunda for the press conference. I was immediately suspicious because I interviewed this guy about his interactions with the Yes Men while he was visiting Copenhagen earlier this year, but I thought maybe he was at the Capitol to counter-protest. Soon after, I also recognized Dillon Hase, a guy who told me just last week that he's a member of Peaceful Uprising, of which Anderson is also a member (note: I have no idea if this was a Peaceful Uprising action, or who besides Anderson and Hase may be behind it, only that the only connection between Anderson and Hase that I know is PU). Hase was dressed with slicked hair and suit, and introduced himself to me and others as "Paul Jackson," of "Patriots for a Moral Utah."

I needed no further confirmation that I had been punked than seeing those two gents, and thus tweeted around 1:15 p.m., "The forced relocation of homos thing is a joke." Moments later, I added, "I recognize two of the guys as local activists." Another few moments later, I tweeted "Some young people are here demonstrating against the initiative. Don't know yet if they are 'in' on the 'joke.'"

They weren't (update 9 a.m. 3-9-10, Anderson tweets "all of the counter-protesters were working with us, BTW." I contacted two individuals who were there. One admits he was "in" on the "joke." The other says he wasn't. Unfortunately, it's hard to know who to trust on this anymore, so take it all with a grain of salt). They'd either read about it in the media--at least one read about it from my report earlier in the day regarding the press conference--and others were alerted to it by text from friends. I've been told others were busily trying to remove the group's Facebook page because they believe it violates rule #7 of Facebook's terms of service:
"You will not post content that is hateful."

The kubuki press conference then went down, with everyone playing their foolish parts, knowingly or not. Some woman I don't know or recognize, playing "Nora Young," of "Patriots for a Moral Utah," answered most of the questions with a straight face and tried to rush out when the questions got hot. I asked them, in a tone that should have left no question that I was pissed, "Are you serious?"
I also asked her to comment on the allusion to Nazis. Still in character, she claimed she had no idea that Hitler called his plan to forcibly remove and exterminate Jews from Europe his "final solution," a phrase that appeared in their initiative. "Paul Jackson," played by Hase, stood by her during it.

If this is a play out of the Yes Men play book, this effort deserves a red card for poor targeting and poor execution.

First, why go out of your way to invite me? I got the press release at 10 p.m. last night. Both Hase and Anderson know that I know them. Did they expect me to keep the joke to myself? Um.... not gonna happen. Duh. Truth first, truth last, truth truth truth. I don't play along with jokes.

Second, just speaking as a former activist to current activists: it's not a good idea to risk peeving a press corps that's usually pretty good about covering the issues you're punking them on. For all their faults, the local Utah press corps is pretty diligent about covering gay rights issues.

Third, using phrases like "final solution" and purposefully conjuring Nazi-like imagery for your joke probably isn't going to win many fans or respect--except maybe Lenny Bruce, but he's dead.

Fourth, I feel bad for the gay rights counter-protesters who were unwitting participants in the farce. The few that I talked to expressed no strong feelings about being punked, but even still, they took time out of their day to play bit parts in a joke that they weren't privy to.

Finally, what was the point exactly? 

That's the main problem. Again, I guess the point they're making--they wouldn't drop character to actually tell me--is that it's somewhat believable that Utah could foster such a movement of Nazi-like homophobes. Shocking, isn't it? Utah is peculiarly tolerant of homophobia, and perhaps that tolerance emboldens crazy citizens to go public with their crazy ideas. We get it. But this "joke" is likely to garner a helluva lot more groans than laughs--no? If I'm wrong about that, and everybody can hardly catch their breath from laughing long enough to read this post, then I guess I just have sour grapes.

Now, dear readers, some of you have already criticized me for repeating information before knowing enough about it. Although I did express some skepticism and a LOT of ignorance (I was asking you for information, after all) I didn't investigate enough to give you proper context before I posted a portion of the press release on our blog. I should have done more digging--that's my job, not yours. I'll take that. I deserve it. Part of my role is to be a purveyor of information, but today, for a few hours, I gave you fool's gold. Sorry about that. All I can say is there is a tricky line between transparency in the newsroom--in which you get to know what we know, when we know it-- crowd sourcing--in which we ask you, the reader, to supplement the news--and curating information so that only the best information and inquiries are passed on. Today, obviously, I failed at striking that balance. Sorry again. In my defense, had I not gone to the press conference and revealed it for the bullshit that it was, the rest of the media may not have found out. I don't think anyone else in the press corps knew Anderson or Hase.

Trying my best to keep it REAL,

Jesse Fruhwirthfollow_jesse.jpg

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Posted // March 9,2010 at 17:11

Whats the point? The point is that there ARE people who believe this, but perhaps not so blatantly. Then again I stood on the steps of the Massachusetts State house while an elderly woman screamed at me that I didnt deserve ANY rights because "god hates you". I watched a matronly Unitarian minister chide a small child - saying "oh honey you're too young to hate." To which the child quipped - NO I"M NOT!!!

And all of this happened in the liberal bastion of Massachusetts. So perhaps this was a bit too far... or perhaps it wasnt far enough.


Posted // March 9,2010 at 16:38

(Re: "Second, just speaking as a former activist to current activists: it's not a good idea to risk peeving a press corps that's usually pretty good about covering the issues you're punking them on.")

I am from Portland, Oregon and, from what I know of Utah, the hoax seemed perfectly believable. I think it is sad that the punked journalist at the Weakly felt he was in a position to punish the gay community in Utah for -- I guess I don't know what -- for being gay, I guess, and for being named in this hoax. Wow, all because Mr. Fruhwirth had been punked and embarrassed? Now THAT'S what I call weird and vindictive and a little pathetic. So I extend an open invitation to all the gay people of Utah: If the liberal press won't report your activities in that part of the world, then deport yourselves to Portland, Oregon where you will be welcomed with open arms.


Posted // March 13,2010 at 16:28 - What a dumb thing to say. His point was probably "don't cry wolf". I don't see a threat in his words, veiled or otherwise. Is it a good idea to smack your allies in a face with a pie? No, I don't think so. And neither does this reporter. It may be that Dillon Hase and others will be less likely to get attention for whatever their next "action" is. That's human nature, not a threat.


Posted // March 9,2010 at 13:03

Phew! On the one hand I am glad that there really isn't a group of people trying to kick homosexuals out of the state. But on the other hand I am dissapointed that there isn't a group of people trying to kick homosexuals out of the state. Hah! It takes two to fight after all. Silly joke Hase. Mr. Fruhwirth, I wish more reporters were willing to tell their readers that they were punked and apologize for their mistakes. Most are arrogant assholes.


Posted // March 8,2010 at 18:31

Hey everyone "Paul Jackson" here. Just want to clarify a few things:

First, this was not organized by Peaceful Uprising. Yes, Ashley and I are members, but we were acting independently of the organization.

Second, this was in no way intended to insult you, Jesse, or the City Weekly. It was a mistake to have you there. I did not send out the press release, so I was not sure who would be there. I commend you for your commitment to honest reporting. Plus, I love the City Weekly. Seriously, it is my favorite publication.

Third, and lastly, the fact is that there are people who do feel and act in the way that we were portraying. This was satire. It was meant to be ironic. Anyone who was paying close attention would eventually get it. It is a sad fact that we live in a state that something as blatantly prejudice and unconstitutional as this "initiative" would, even for a moment, be considered as truth.

My apologies to anyone who was offended by this. Know that we had only the best of intentions.

Dillon Hase


Posted // March 13,2010 at 16:46 - "Chauvinistic Jewish bigot"? Really? Fact is, a much larger number of Jews were killed in the Holocaust than homosexuals, both in terms of absolute numbers and probably proportionally as well. Very few LGBTs in the USA today can probably cite LGBT relatives who were killed by the Nazis; many Jews can cite their Jewish relatives who were killed. Therefore, it's highly unlikely that any of these protesters had gay relatives killed in the Holocaust (the specious gay idea of "family" notwithstanding). Latching on to a tragedy that largely happened to somebody else just isn't cool. The attempts by some gay rights activists to "claim" the Holocaust as a gay thing have always bothered me. I note that Magnus Hirschfeld, whom you cite, was also a Jew, who fled Germany and died of a heart attack in France in 1935. Was it his Jewishness or gayness that caused him to flee, long before the Holocaust really began? Of the 11-17 million people killed by the Nazis, about 6 million were Jews. At most 15,000 gay men were put into the camps (figures from Wikipedia, with the usual caveats of unreliability). As a bisexual non-Jew, I'm going to say the Jews (or even the Romani (gypsies)) have a more concrete claim on this event. Nazi evocations are always perilous for whomever is using them for whatever reasons. Over 60 years later, they still can produce violent emotional reactions. As you have demonstrated. Great job, everyone.


Posted // March 9,2010 at 08:09 - So what's the secret way of inserting paragraph breaks? They disappeared when I submitted. My apologies for making that difficult to read.


Posted // March 8,2010 at 17:48

This was not a joke. It was a serious mistake. There is activism and then there is stupidity. We poor millions of dollars and thousands of hours into trying put TRUTH out there, and then there is this. What we want is respect for who we are and what we want. We won't get there with stupid jokes!! I am personally offended.


Posted // March 9,2010 at 11:44 - This comment was verified as being made by *the* Bruce Bastian.