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Local NY Black Lives Matter leaders defend actions in viral video at church

A viral video depicting Black Lives Matter protesters disrupting a Troy, N.Y., church service has been widely circulated by opponents of the movement, but without the context that its pastor has a history of racist and inflammatory comments, defenders told BuzzFeed News in a report published Sunday.

“It’s wild that the national story is that there’s a bunch of Marxists attacking Christians in the street,” one Troy resident, who asked to remain anonymous, told the news outlet. “Everyone here knows that this is our Westboro Baptist.”

Several conservative figures with large followings, including Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, have posted the clip since it first emerged.

Grace Baptist Church’s self-proclaimed “bigot” pastor, John Koletas, subscribes to the “Curse of Ham,” a fringe Christian belief that Black people are the descendants of Noah’s son Ham and cursed by God, according to BuzzFeed. Grace Baptist is part of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement, which broke off from the mainline Baptist denomination around the turn of the 20th century.

Koletas told Fox News, “I don’t apologize for anything I’ve taught,” adding “we’re not changing our message, the same gospel message that Jesus said you must be born again, to soothe the wicked, evil conscious of these savages that hate God, hate the Bible.”

“What people need to know is we’re not protesting churches,” Lukee Forbes, a local Black Lives Matter leader, BuzzFeed. “We’re protesting this church. I’m a Christian. I’ve been saved. And it hurts to see people come out and drag us for fighting for our community. And now we’re the bad guys. But how do we feel safe in our own community when this church is in the middle of it?”

The church, which drew local attention in 2014 after raffling off an AR-15, announced another raffle three days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Word of the giveaway, as well as Koletas’s comments on race, circulated in local Facebook Black Lives Matter groups.

The issue divided group activists, some of whom thought the church was only after attention. Other members, however, wanted to confront church leadership directly.

After a confrontation the night of the June gun giveaway, the church announced another the next night.

That night, a contingent of demonstrators, led by Forbes, entered the church at Koletas’s invitation. Although Koletas, who also works as a court reporter, allegedly offered a relatively conciliatory sermon, his son George described the protesters as “hoodlums” and “cowards” earlier in the service.

About five minutes after the elder Koletas preached, Forbes led the protesters out, with many chanting “Black Lives Matter” as they exited. George Koletas attempted to stop a protester from filming and a police officer eventually separated them.

The church tweeted video of the incident in early July and it soon went viral.

“Would I do this again? Yeah, I would,” Adam Pelletier, a Black Lives Matter protester, told BuzzFeed, although he added protesters have “no illusions” about actually compelling the church to close.

“The only way to victory, if that’s even a possibility, is to shift the narrative,” he said. “From ‘Those protesters are pissed off communists,’ to ‘Here’s what this church is actually preaching.’ That right there — that’s the real story.” 

Tags Black Lives Matter BuzzFeed Charlie Kirk Facebook Fox News George Floyd Racism systemic racism Turning Point USA

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