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Protesters call for 'Love, not hate!' outside Bettendorf church Sunday morning
IMMIGRATION FORUM FALLOUT

Protesters call for 'Love, not hate!' outside Bettendorf church Sunday morning

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Protesters who objected to the speech given by a far-right activist last week at a Bettendorf church gathered Sunday morning near the church, carrying signs and shouting, "Love, not hate!"

As early as 8 a.m., protesters were gathering in the Pleasant View Elementary School field and parking area, while police and deputies stood outside the nearby Pleasant View Baptist Church, along with those there to attend worship services.

"I came to support you, brother," a man who pulled into the church lot said to others on hand. Reporters and protesters were asked not to park in the church lot but in the school area while members of the congregation arrived for the 9:15 a.m. worship service.

Nick Fuentes spoke Dec. 2 at the church during a gathering billed as an immigration forum organized by Scott County Teenage Republicans. 

Fuentes, who marched in the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virgina, called for development of a “monoculture” in the United States and spoke against diversity in his remarks.

'A lesson in acceptance'

"We're not here to give the church a piece of our mind, nor are we under the impression that our protest will bring any admittance of wrongdoing," said Athena Gilbraith, a protest organizer.

"Christians should take extreme comfort in knowing that Jesus was awesome at protesting," she said, drawing applause and cheers from 50-plus people in the field just before the marchers took off. Other protesters joined in soon after.

"A loveless faith is nothing but an empty religious exercise," Gilbraith said.

"We are giving the sermon today: Love is standing with your brothers and sisters no matter what color they are," she continued. "This is a lesson in community. This is a lesson in acceptance."

"Stand up when the lives of black and brown people are being threatened. Stand up when there is racism in schools. Stand up when there is racism at work," Gilbraith said. "Either be a church and stand up, or be a building and stand down."

Jack Termuhlen, a graduate student at Western Illinois University, is from East Moline. His sign said, "Amo a mi familia Latina."

"I know a lot of people in the Latin community," he said before the march began. "I feel like a lot of rhetoric today is being used against the Hispanic community as a whole."

Lidija Geest, of Davenport, said she attended the protest partially because she is an immigrant herself. "My sister serves in the Air Force," she said. "I'm here to stand up for the 600,000 in the military, the 2 million who have parents who are immigrants, the tens of thousands of Hispanic people serving our country.

"I think it's quite shameful to attempt to stand up and talk about freedom of speech and all of these things this church tries to claim and then just to vomit all over these people who risk their lives for our country every day," Geest said.

Jane Duax, of Davenport, said she hoped the protest would "create awareness of what is seeping into our society." 

The protestors, one of whom wore a Statue-of-Liberty-type crown, marched along, sometimes shouting slogans and other times using a megaphone to deliver brief speeches. Sometimes the group walked on the same side of the street as the church and other times on the other side. Occasionally, drivers slowed down to honk and wave encouragement at the marchers.

The history

Other speakers at the Dec. 2 gathering at the church included "angel families," family members of people killed by immigrants in the United States illegally, and Republican candidates for Iowa's 2nd Congressional District seat, Bobby Schilling and Iowa Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Although no one objected to Fuentes' remarks on Dec. 2, Schilling and Miller-Meeks denounced him the next day. Schilling also fired a staffer he said had coordinated Fuentes' appearance. Michael Sisco had served for more than a month as Schilling's ground-game coordinator.

The Rev. Ed Hedding, pastor at Pleasant View, declined to talk with a reporter before the service.

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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.

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