The local spokesman for a white-supremacist church that wants to hold a public “celebration” next month at Longview’s McClelland Arts Center says he doesn’t know what the fuss is about.
“It’s a little strange. I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal,” said 28-year-old Zach Beck, who has applied to rent the city-owned building Dec. 9 for a Church of Jesus Christ–Christian rally to recruit new members.
A swarm of TV news stations descended on Longview when word got out Friday about the rally, which will feature live music, “influential” speakers, food, merchandise for sale and opportunities for the audience to ask questions, according to Beck’s building-use application.
To hear Beck tell it, his church simply wants to provide a safe place for white people to celebrate their ethnic heritage without feeling persecuted.
“Our goals aren’t violent at all,” he said Tuesday in an interview at his wife’s West Longview home. His church promotes racial purity and “anti-mongrelism,” he said.
“For whites to assemble and unify under a white flag — I don’t think that’s racist at all,” he said.
What Beck doesn’t realize is that many in the community who are aware of the church’s ties to the Aryan Nations, a Neo-Nazi group with a violent history, say their city doesn’t want a church that spreads a message of racial separatism and hate.
At the instigation of Longview’s mayor, two City Council members are heading a task force to let Beck know his ideas aren’t welcome (although some council members feel blocking the church from using the city building would be unconstitutional). And local church members are meeting at 11 a.m. today at Longview Presbyterian Church to discuss holding a demonstration around the McClelland Arts Center during the Dec. 9 rally.
“I feel if we just let them meet there and do nothing, that gives the wrong impression as to what kind of city Longview is,” said Sharon Campbell, a deacon at Longview Presbyterian Church.
Also, the city attorney is researching the legal risks the city could face if it rejects Beck’s application to rent the building, Assistant City Attorney Dave Campbell said Tuesday. Normally, the city does not take into account an organization’s beliefs when considering a building-use application, officials have said.
Mayor Dennis Weber said last week that the Church of Jesus Christ–Christian had chosen the McClelland Arts Center because it was next to Victoria Freeman Park. The park is named for a pioneer in the black community best known for integrating Longview’s public schools in 1924.
Tuesday, Beck said he didn’t know who Victoria Freeman was, or that the predominantly black House of Prayer for All Nations church was across the street from the park.
“No way. Absolutely not,” he said.
All he took into consideration when seeking to rent the McClelland Arts Center was the number of people it could accommodate, he said. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department had told him that the only other building available for rent, the Woman’s Club, had a 50-person capacity, he said.
Beck appeared astonished when he learned of plans to create a task force.
“A task force? My god, that’s crazy,” he said, calling the notion “intimidating.” He wondered why task force organizers didn’t just call him on the phone if they wanted to convey a message, or get together with him for coffee or lunch.
Asked whether the community’s opposition might change his mind about holding the rally, he said maybe. He would have to consult with state church leaders and national directors about it, Beck said.
“It’s not my decision,” he said.
Why did Beck decide to organize a white-supremacist church in Longview?
“Honestly, there was really no reason behind picking Longview other than that I’m on probation here in Cowlitz County,” said Beck, a California native who also has lived in Idaho and Arizona.
Longview police arrested Beck in June on suspicion of felony cocaine possession.
Beck also pleaded guilty in 2005 to reduced charges of first-degree burglary and third-degree assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 33 months in prison, according to The Daily News archives. He was accused of shooting at a Longview police officer who came to arrest him in May 2004 after he broke into a Kelso woman’s home and attacked her.
Beck said he was intoxicated and unaware that police had surrounded his Longview home when he fired his gun through a window. The bullet hit a fence about 50 feet from the officer.
Prior to moving to Longview in February 2004, Beck lived with Aryan Nations/Church of Jesus Christ–Christian founder Richard Butler in Hayden Lake, Idaho. Butler was notorious for operating the 20-acre Aryan Nations headquarters in Hayden Lake from 1970 until 2001, when the organization was dissolved by a $6.3 million lawsuit.
Butler died in September 2004, and two separate white-supremacist factions in the southern United States now claim the name of Church of Jesus Christ–Christian.
In Hayden Lake, Beck was accused of punching a Hispanic man in a parking lot after asking if he was Mexican, and he was charged with malicious harassment and a hate crime. Beck also was charged in Idaho with misdemeanor battery for incidents involving two women.
He moved to Longview, he said Tuesday, because that’s where his wife lives.
Soon after his arrival in 2004, Kelso residents found packets of anti-Jewish propaganda, racist fliers and Beck’s business cards scattered around their yards. And now, he’s planning to bring his message to a larger audience.
On his application to rent the McClelland Arts Center, Beck wrote, “We plan on asking the public to attend and hopefully join our congregation.”
Janice Bradley, wife of House of Prayer’s pastor, Darrell Bradley, said Monday she thinks Beck’s church has a right to meet in a city building just like anyone else.
“If they move a church in on the next block, I don’t think it’s going to have a big bearing on us. … If they just want to hold a meeting, it’s free speech, right?” said Bradley, who is black. “As long as they aren’t putting on their capes … and coming around burning crosses, I don’t care what these people do.”
Even if they’re preaching hate.
“I think that everybody is entitled to do their thing as long as it’s decent and in order,” Bradley said. “Everybody’s got something to preach. We got good preachers preaching the word of God, and I believe that the good is going to win out the bad in the end. … We’re doing it from the solid rock.”