Bradlee Dean and his Junkyard Prophets are back selling their anti-gay, anti-choice right-wing Christian revisionist snake oil. This time in Iowa schools.
Dean, a self-identified former drug addict, is a minister of dubious ordination playing out a hard-rock God fantasy with his band Junkyard Prophets from their home base near Minneapolis. He runs a church, a right-wing talk radio show The Sons of Liberty and recently debuted a self-congratulatory documentary called My War – The Testimony of Bradlee Dean.
In Iowa, Dean used a typical bait and switch. Dean’s “ministry,” You Can Run But You Cannot Hide–recently recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center–promises to bring a rock concert full of positive messaging and an effective anti-drug and alcohol program to your school.
But something different happens when he gets through the door. Last week, Dean performed at a school in Dunkerton, Iowa. The public outrage was immediate. This report from KWWL in Iowa gives a cursory overview of the assembly:
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An Eastern Iowa superintendent is doing major damage control after an unexpected message in a school assembly. The band Junkyard Prophet and a group known as You Can Run But You Cannot Hide (YCR) was invited to speak at Dunkerton High School Thursday morning. Administrators thought the group was speaking about provocative lyrics in music and making good choices. But then, the subject matter turned to potentially offensive opinions on homosexuality and abortion.
Students say the assembly started well. The band played some great music and most students agreed with their message. ”They were a rock band, and they talked about music that had bad influences on kids,” said high school junior Kenzley Ricklefs. But then things took an unexpected turn.
The group switched their message from music, to negative opinions about the gay, lesbian, and transgendered community. ”They started talking about homosexuality, and that’s when I really got offended,” Manahl said. “I got a little emotional. I wanted to walk out. But I’m like — keep your calm, listen to what they have to say.” Then they split into smaller groups — girls, boys, and teachers. The guys got a lesson in the constitution and Christianity.
There are a ton of things wrong here. The group spreads anti-gay hate messages, teaches Christianity in public schools, distributes purposefully misleading information (Dean said the average homosexual male only lives to 42 years of age – and that is just one gem).
Dean further spreads lies about Planned Parenthood. During his radio show, Dean begins talking about Planned Parenthood handing out $50 abortion coupons (at about 1:45):
There is plenty of outrage to go around regarding Dean’s disgusting message. But where is the outrage over the public funding the group takes in? And there should be outrage as well over its 501c3 status.
Dean’s group got $1500 dollars–taxpayer dollars–from the Dunkerton school.
”That is the number [$1500] that sticks in my head,” Superintendent Stanton told me in a phone interview on Friday. Stanton wants that money back. ”They misrepresented themselves,” Stanton told me. He also said he would be warning the other Superintendents in the school’s Two Rivers Conference. ”We have over 66 schools in our conference and I am going to let all of them know that Dean is coming around.” Reports say the band is heading back to Dunkerton next week to supposedly explain their side of the story. Perhaps they will bring a refund check to Mr. Statnton?
According to YCR ministries 2009 tax return the group took in over $18,000 via school assemblies. From a 2008 tax return, they claimed to perform at five schools but do not indicate associated income. Dean’s own cost estimate of each assembly is between three and five thousand dollars. According to Dunkerton’s Superintendent Dean slashed his $5000 price because the band was “passing through” Iowa from previous engagements in South Dakota.
There are laws governing the use of public money and what non-profits can and cannot do. There are regulations against proselytizing in public schools as well as against using public funds to do it. Whether or not YCR has violated those rules will be up to the lawyers – if any choose to investigate. Complaints can be filed with any state’s Attorney General or the IRS.
I couldn’t access all of YCR’s tax returns and some of them were missing pertinent information so I decided to take Dean at his word when calculating the group’s possible school assembly income. Dean says he has performed at over 331 schools. If we assume his red-tag sale price of $1500 per school, that could put the group’s intake from schools alone at around $490,000. Since he performed at both public and private schools not all of that money is taxpayer money – but lets even say half is public – what kind of problem does that present?
According to Dean, he’s misunderstood, he’s been kicked out of schools for teaching students everywhere “the truth.” He questions over and over again “why me?” why would he have to be the one to save an entire generation of kids?
I wrote about Dean last year and his visit to a Des Moines school. Kittie Weston-Knauer served as administrator for Scavo Alternative High School in Des Moines, Iowa until 2007. Just before the 2005 school year, Dean contacted her to offer its services: bring in a hard-rocking band, connect with the kids about self-esteem, how to make wise choices in life and get them pumped up for the new year.
If you are unfamiliar with Dean, the best primer on him and his ministry is the My War trailer on the YCR website. In a story akin to that of the martyrs, My War presents a video montage of Jesus, the founding fathers, clips of Dean appearing on Fox News and rippling American flags under a screeching guitar solo of The National Anthem.
Dean’s escapades have been well documented over the years–taking public funds for performances that outraged parents at Minnesota and Arkansas schools. His anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim ministry chronicled up through Dean’s controversial prayer given on the floor of the Minnesota legislature last year.
Kittie didn’t know Dean and YCR were Christian evangelists; the group’s slick collateral material didn’t mention it. There was no My War trailer she could watch to ward her off and most of the reports of Dean’s questionable tactics hadn’t yet been written. She said it was essentially a snow job – that Dean’s group “sold themselves as something they weren’t.”
YCR started off its Scavo event with a rock music performance as it has done in every other school. Things were going okay through that – the kids having a good time listening to the music – though it was too loud for Kittie personally. It was the breakout sessions afterward that disturbed her. But mostly it disturbed the kids.
The kids of Scavo Alternative High School aren’t trust fund babies or prep schoolers. They are pregnant teens, troubled and homeless kids, and potential dropouts – all generally at risk – and all deserving of a fighting chance. Kittie spoke of the teens taking parenting classes, sexually-abused youth, children from violent and broken homes that made up her student body. She told me about Scavo’s success stories of which she was rightfully proud.
During the breakout sessions, smaller groups of kids were sorted out for a more personal interaction with a member of Dean’s YCR team. From those groups a child was singled out and brought in front of the class. Then, YCR facilitators proceed to put “dots” physically on the child to represent a “curse” or a “pox.” As the dots were being placed on the student the YCR instructor announced each pox: teen pregnancy, pre-marital sex, not being a true Christian, homosexuality, STDs. This is taking the familiar guilt and shame techniques used by abstinence-only-until-marriage organizations to its extreme.
Kittie said the students – and faculty – were quite upset. She said of Dean’s program, “It was more than disgusting, it was horrifying.” After our conversation, she sent me an email about the true impact Dean’s ministry had on her kids.
“There were many students who spoke to me about being made to feel “less than.” This included gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender youth; students who had served time in juvenile facilities as well as prison; homeless youth (as if it was their fault); run-a-ways (she [facilitator] certainly did not know their circumstances); and sexually active students.” The day after the assembly, Weston-Knauer pulled her staff and students together to apologize.
”I took full responsibility for not having done my homework” on Dean and YCR. Stanton wishes he did his. “We assured parents that what the Junkyard Prophets said is not in alignment with Dunkerton schools – we promote diversity and tolerance,” he went on to point out a tragic consequence of Dean coming to Dunkerton, “With their message of intolerance against gays – they just made our job as a school that much harder.”
Of further interest:
- MN blogs reporting on Dean Ripple in Stillwater and Dump Bachmann
- Bradlee Dean has direct connections to Michele Bachman – she has spoken highly of him and they have performed at her fundraisers. His association with the Minnesota FOF affiliate positions him to bend the ear of presidential candidates as they travel through Minnesota. Tim Pawlenty has appeared on his radio show. Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent documents it all.
- Dean’s ministry is already facing scrutiny for possible misuse of ministerial housing funds.
- * My previous investigations into FOF affiliate federal funding, faith based funding and tax-exempt status for politicking churches can be read here, here, here and here. And a special one where the Indiana FOF affiliate receives federal money AND is partnered with the state.
- If you would like to review YCR’s IRS forms they can be accessed on Guidestar and The Foundation Center