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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Pastor who organized anti-abortion rallies in Spokane helped rally Trump supporters in D.C.

The night before the Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol, a face that would be familiar to many in the Spokane area took the stage in Freedom Plaza just east of the White House to rally the crowd to rise up against Satan and a “stolen” election.

“We are not just up against politicians,” said the man, dressed in a ballcap and sweatshirt. “We are not just in a culture war. We are in a kingdom war. This is the kingdom of darkness versus the kingdom of light.”

The speaker was Ken Peters, the former pastor of Spokane’s Covenant Church and organizer of disruptive protests held outside Planned Parenthood over the past couple of years. The conflict over those protests resulted in a judge ordering members of the Church at Planned Parenthood to keep their distance when demonstrating and stop interfering with the operation of the clinic.

Peters and his church became a locus for right-wing religious political activism in Spokane. After Matt Shea announced he wouldn’t run for a new term in the Legislature, he became Covenant’s pastor. Peters has apparently moved on to head a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and is helping spread TCAPP protests to other cities.

Many of the people affiliated with the church appear at anti-mask rallies, pro-gun events and the recent “Stop the Steal” protests. In videos from the Capitol, Peters appears with another Spokane man who was a regular at TCAPP events, Jon Schrock, the pastor at Hope Baptist in Airway Heights, and with Joshua Feuerstein, an incendiary online pastor who once claimed Starbucks was adding aborted fetuses to its coffee. Feuerstein attended a TCAPP rally in Spokane last March.

The tale of how Peters and his fellow pastors wound up going to the Capitol on that violent, tragic day is a strange one indeed. There is no reason to believe any of them entered the Capitol or were directly involved in any violence. Their social media posts open a window on their journey to the Capitol, starting with zealous optimism and ending deflated, blaming antifa and furious at Vice President Mike Pence for not blocking the election certification.

At Peters’ speech on the night before the rioting, though, it was all revolutionary fervor.

“I see a bunch of people here who say, ‘No, no, we are not going to allow the enemy to destroy this great land that our forefathers gave to us!’” he said.

He exhorted them to heed the call of a modern-day Paul Revere: “The leftists are coming! The leftists are coming. The leftists are coming!”

‘It’s like testosterone‘

In a video posted the day after the riot, Peters told the unlikely story of how he ended up speaking in the nation’s capital at the A Prayer to Save America Rally.

“Folks,” he said, “you can’t make this up.”

He attended the Trump rally in Dalton, Georgia, on Jan. 4, where he said he was invited to speak the next day in D.C. by rally organizers. Peters had a problem, though. He’d have to drive all night to make it.

That was when the My Pillow guy – CEO and diehard Trump backer Mike Lindell – offered to fly him up on his private plane, he said. Arriving in the capital without a hotel room, Lindell paid to put him up in a corner suite at the Trump Hotel, he said.

“Unbelievable guy,” Peters said. “He tells the hotel guy, ‘Put him on my tab.’ “

He told Peters, ” ‘Make sure you get room service. You better get room service.’ “

The next afternoon, Peters was the final speaker on the agenda, and ended up having to cut his remarks down to just a couple of minutes. But he said he didn’t mind, and was focused on the task at hand: rallying people to resist a coup by leftist bullies who have no morals or conscience.

“I literally just asked the holy spirit to guide me when I got up there,” he said. “I got up there and I was like, ‘Help me, Lord. Help me, Lord.’”

(A message sent to the My Pillow media office in an attempt to confirm the details of this account was not returned – though promotional emails from the company have begun showing up. Peters also did not answer a message seeking confirmation and further comment.)

That night, he posted on Facebook: “Scared to go to sleep. Last time I did that, someone stole the election like a thief in the night.”

Schrock posted his own video from his hotel room that night. He said he had spotted some antifa folks out and about in D.C.

The following morning, Peters posted a video, wearing a TCAPP knit hat, while he and fellow pastor Shahram Hadian got coffee before the president’s rally. Hadian is a former Muslim who has become a notorious anti-Islam speaker around the country; he has appeared in various events in this region, including one appearance in 2011 in Coeur d’Alene that left some Republicans uncomfortable with his rhetoric.

Hadian said, “People are not just fired up. I think they sense the absolute urgency of the moment, and where the nation is at. … My hunch is the best thing we can hope for from Congress is for Vice President Mike Pence to push this back to the states.”

He compared their cold morning getting coffee to Valley Forge.

Peters said that at least a million people had gathered. Hadian said, “There’s going to probably close to 2 million people here. Without fail. Don’t listen to the lying media.”

Many news reports put the attendance at or around 10,000.

Peters turned the camera over to Feuerstein. Feuerstein is known for a variety of online provocations. In 2015, he encouraged followers to harass a Florida bakery that wouldn’t make him an anti-gay cake. He has posted a false story about Black Lives Matter protesters killing an elderly woman. He once said, “I think it’s time that abortion doctors should have to run and hide and be afraid for their life.”

In Peters’ video that morning, he talked about the incredible “energy” of those who had gathered.

“I feel like patriots are finally getting so irritated and so upset that they’re moved to action,” he said. “We’re never going to be able to do anything until we’re moved to action. And that’s what’s actually transpiring now. You can feel the patriotism. It’s like testosterone flowing through the veins of an American red-blooded male.”

Peters panned the camera to show Schrock beside him, also in a TCAPP hat, and said, “Pray for Mike Pence, man.”

‘We’ve been played’

There aren’t any posts from the men of the rally where the president, his son and others incited protesters to head down to the Capitol, or from the subsequent protest and riot itself. Peters said cellphone coverage would be disrupted during the presidential rally.

Around 1:25 p.m., after the outer barricades had been breached, Peters posted photos of the crowds swarming the steps of the Capitol.

“Wow!” he wrote.

Feuerstein posted his own video to Facebook a few hours later, from his hotel room. Peters was with him during the video, but said little.

This was after the mob had broken into the Capitol and before the worst was known – a police officer and four others dead, windows and doors smashed, feces smeared on the walls, a Capitol cop taking selfies with rioters, a grim silence from the White House.

Feuerstein seemed primarily furious about the fact that Pence would not refuse to certify the election, “like the little coward, the little swamp monster, the little slimeball he is.”

He had already located the culprits in the riot.

“I was given intel by Trump’s team that antifa was going to be showing up but they were not going to be dressed in their normal gear,” he said. “Because guess what? You’ve got a million Trump supporters there. Antifa’s not stupid enough to show up with a hundred or two hundred of them, or even three hundred or five hundred of them, because they’re going to be smoked.”

He said MAGA did not storm the Capitol. MAGA people were outside praying, having a “church service,” he said.

He added, “I do not condone violence, I do not condone physical violence … I’m not for political violence until there needs to be political violence.”

He went on, “We do have to stand up. Pence has turned out to be a cowardly little backstabbing sissy. Pence is a little, just piece of trash, such a piece of trash. Ugh. So flipping frustrating to see that jackwad pretend to be a conservative when it benefits him, and then he turns around and – it’s not just that he stabbed Trump in the back. He stabbed we the people in the back. … Man, Pence, you definitely are not the Christian we thought you were. You’re not the conservative or the patriot we thought you were.”

That afternoon, Peters posted a video of the crowd bashing in a window at the Capitol. In the video, you hear a voice shouting, “Antifa!”

“CAUGHT!!” Peters wrote. “Watch Antifa breaking a window while Trump Supporters … cheer when MAGA guy stops him. We’ve been played.”

A later post: “If you think you saw evil today, just wait until you see the evil that a Leftist President, House and Senate will unleash. Fight for Trump and Pray.”

Then another: “I blame Pence for a lot of things today.”

‘Say the word’

The following day, while driving in a car with some others, Peters filmed the video in which he told his My Pillow story. On Tuesday, he posted photos of the Trump Hotel: “Beautiful.”

He continued to post about the illegal election and the betrayal of the president. He posted complaints about censorship on social media platforms. He said that the election fraud was worse than the rioting.

“Don’t lose sight of the fact … The Weak and Crooked Politicians, those who committed fraud and the ‘Pilate’ Hand-Washing Judges are much worse than the Capitol protestors.”

He posted a piece of satire making light of the protests: “Ignorant Republicans Riot and Don’t Even Get Any Big-Screen TVs.”

A few days later, he posted a joke: “I had tickets for the big game in DC … The Patriots vs the Stealers. It was Epic.”

The day after the riots, Schrock posted, “Protests are meant to make people feel uncomfortable and pressured!!!”

Feuerstein, meanwhile, has been putting up controversial tweets and tagging Twitter in an apparent effort to get himself banned. He tweeted, “Homosexuality is a sin,” and called Muhammed a pedophile.

And this: “Mr. President, you have nearly 100 million armed patriots in your corner. Say the word.”

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