Dan Lancaster <****@gmail.com> Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 12:04 PM
To: “Valentine, Michael” <****@wfaa.com>
Dear Mr. Valentine,
We feel that Brett Shipp is so committed to a story line that has pre-judged us as the guilty party that the truth would not be served by entering any further dialogue with him. If this seems strongly put, we hope this brief recap of our experience thus far will help show why we feel this is the case.
Thank you again for allowing us the meeting we requested. I appreciate you giving us the opportunity to express our concerns. Thank you also for your understanding and willingness to work around our time frame regarding our Fair. I was in the middle of writing this response when I received your email Wednesday. After much careful consideration of your request to interview us regarding the “exposé” (to use Brett Shipp’s term) on our community that your station picked up after it was dropped by KWTX in Waco, we have chosen to decline. Rather than simply giving you a brief answer, however, the respect that both you and Mark Smith have shown us makes us feel that we owe you an explanation for our decision. In short, in addition to all the other concerns about the nature and origins of this story we’ve expressed in our previous emails and our meeting, we feel that Brett Shipp is so committed to a story line that has pre-judged us as the guilty party that the truth would not be served by entering any further dialogue with him. If this seems strongly put, we hope this brief recap of our experience thus far will help show why we feel this is the case.
In the latter part of October, members of our congregation began receiving calls from various people who were once associated with us, including former members of the church and children who were raised in our community yet chose not to become members. All the calls followed the same pattern: these individuals had been contacted by Brett Shipp, who asked them if they would be willing to give an interview with him to help him confirm allegations of the abuse of children in our community. Though some of these individuals have disagreements with some of our religious beliefs and/or our chosen lifestyle, they nonetheless knew that his story line was faulty at the core, and thus they told him they would not participate in a story of that nature. They then called us to tell us of their concern. We’ve received at least a dozen such calls to date.
On October 31, in violation of Facebook rules, Mr. Shipp began posting on a Facebook page that he’d created under a false name, with a false date of birth. His first message stated his true identity and that he was ‘working on an exposé on HH.’
On October 31, in violation of Facebook rules, Mr. Shipp began posting on a Facebook page that he’d created under a false name (“Bret Skip”), with a false date of birth (January 29, 1984). His first message stated his true identity and that he was “working on an exposé on HH” and “looking for those brave enough to go on camera” to talk about “the trauma and abuses associated with life within HH.” In another Facebook communication to an individual who was raised in our community, Mr. Shipp explained that “the feeling is that the abuses and concerns have reached a point where many feel the story MUST get out and it’s not being reported in Waco. That’s where I come in. . . . It’s my hope that my reporting can bring some of the horrors to light. If you are able to help me with this issue I could use your testimony. If not, I appreciate your time.” It seems he only wanted testimony confirming his story line.
Many others not a part of us have told us similar experiences, and that Mr. Shipp is not interested in hearing any testimony that would contradict his predetermined story line.
Another young man who grew up in our community but left when he came of age even sent Mr. Shipp a “friendly word of caution” that though the young man had heard rumors of this sort in the past (from the same types of sources Mr. Shipp was using), in every case he had thoroughly checked them out and they proved to be false. He ended by saying, “Feel free to contact me with any questions.” Mr. Shipp simply thanked him and said “HH leaders/Elders [would] be given an opportunity to respond.” According to this young man, Mr. Shipp has still made no effort whatsoever to hear his side of the story. Many others not a part of us have told us similar experiences, and that Mr. Shipp is not interested in hearing any testimony that would contradict his predetermined story line. Some of these have also said that they found Mr. Shipp’s presumptive questioning about their personal lives intrusive and offensive.
As for those accusing us, the individuals who have openly proclaimed online their cooperation with Mr. Shipp (only three that we’ve seen) call into question whether Mr. Shipp has vetted his sources, since even among the other ex-members all of them are known as having no credibility and much personal malice. At least one has been arrested multiple times, and another has recently even revealed what appears to be his anti-religious motive for participating with Mr. Shipp’s story line. In a Facebook message to Mr. “Skip,” he says he hopes Shipp’s efforts will bring the “charade of a wholesome Christian community crashing down.” We’re well aware of other sources involved also, but we’ll limit our comments to these because they’ve publicly stated their involvement.
To return to our timeline, on November 7, still having heard nothing ourselves from Mr. Shipp, I sent him an email on behalf of our church that has since been forwarded to you, stating some concerns about his story. He then called and left me a voicemail, followed by an email simply asking for an on-camera interview with a church representative, with no mention of the questions I raised in my email.
[Mr. Shipp] went on to insist that he was not open to any option other than following through with the story without discussion—again, still without even suggesting any solution to the ethical dilemmas we raised.
When I called him later that day, I asked Mr. Shipp if he had considered the issues raised in my email. He said yes, but would not offer any answer to our concerns. He just kept asking if we would go on camera. He made explicitly clear that his story was to link “four pedophiles connected with [our] church” with “long-time and ongoing allegations of physical, mental and emotional abuse of children at Homestead Heritage.” That phone call (at my initiative) was the very first time he had communicated with anyone in our community. Yet even though everyone in our community and multitudes of others who know us well (including other ex-members) would doubtless assure him that, as I had said in my initial email, such “allegations” are patently false and that it was our ministry that exposed the rare cases of abuse (four in thirty-eight years, only two of which were ever even members of our church), nonetheless, when I again asked if he was willing to give the issues I raised in my email any further consideration at all, he said, “No.” He then informed me, “That is my story,” and “that’s not going to change.” Furthermore, he went on to insist that he was not open to any option other than following through with the story without discussion—again, still without even suggesting any solution to the ethical dilemmas we raised.
Finally, when I asked if he would be willing to discuss the questions with his manager present, he paused and then said flatly, “No.” He repeated that our only options were to go on camera or he would simply take my email as our statement. When I asked if I could take some time to consider those terms, he said yes, but immediately went on to tell me that he didn’t have a lot of time to spare, so he wanted an answer within the next couple of days. (In spite of the fact that he’d already been working on the story for weeks without ever contacting us and now Ihad contacted him, he nonetheless wanted me to now hurry.)
Granting Mr. Shipp the benefit of the doubt that he might have somehow misunderstood my request for a meeting with management to be for a different purpose than the questions and concerns I had been referencing for the entire phone call, I emailed him back the next day. (That email has been copied to you as well.) I made explicitly clear again the request I was making for a meeting with management, and I referenced a troubling experience with a TV station we’d had recently in which there was apparently a disconnect between the reporter involved and the management, which resulted in inaccurate reporting. Two days later, with no explanation whatsoever, Mr. Shipp completely reversed his position and responded that you would be willing to meet with us “on an expedited basis,” and our meeting was set for the next Monday.
An excellent guard dog, though well trained in his function of protecting the farm from predators, can nonetheless wreak havoc if he’s turned loose inside the hen house.
Unfortunately, our concerns about Mr. Shipp’s methods and investment in his story line were only heightened by meeting him in person. I’m sorry to say, I’ve never encountered someone in a professional capacity that was as offensive and rude in their manner. This does not in itself put us off, though it is certainly contrary to our chosen way of relating to others whether inside or outside our own community. But Mr. Shipp’s manner in this case presents more than merely an unpleasant personality. His prosecutorial stance toward our community manifests his prejudgment of us as guilty as charged, an assessment he apparently reached before ever communicating with anyone in our community. It manifests his investment on one side of a story flawed at its foundation. I understand the fact that he’s highly awarded, and I don’t doubt that his aggressive, assertive, confrontational methods might be effective when it comes to sniffing out corruption in corporations and such, but I believe he’s out of his element when dealing with a simple, peace-loving, non-violent, family-oriented church community. Looking only for “horrors” and “abuses,” he seems unwilling to even concede the possibility that he’s entirely mistaken in his misinformed judgment of us. An excellent guard dog, though well trained in his function of protecting the farm from predators, can nonetheless wreak havoc if he’s turned loose inside the hen house.
The run-in with us that Mr. Shipp precipitated as we were leaving your conference room further underscored our concerns about his lack of objectivity and his personal investment on one side of this story. Howard Wheeler was attempting to explain to you that though we could possibly agree with your earlier statement that you personally had no agenda against us, nonetheless, the people behind the story down here in Waco have had a very definite agenda against us. They have vowed to destroy our reputation. Mr. Shipp broke into the conversation, getting right into Mr. Wheeler’s face, rather loudly and repeatedly insisting that Mr. Wheeler had made a false “assumption” about the origins of this story and Mr. Shipp’s sources and knew nothing of what he was speaking. Mr. Wheeler calmly told him that he knew the connection Mr. Shipp had with Channel 10 in Waco and Channel 10’s connection to the core group of detractors who have vowed to destroy the reputation of our community. Because Mr. Shipp again, with even greater vehemence, denied that Mr. Wheeler had any knowledge of the origins of the story, we guess that Mr. Shipp has forgotten that he himself acknowledged his connection to Channel 10 and their sources in a Facebook message to one of our ex-members, who graciously forwarded it to us. We appreciate that you finally intervened and stopped Mr. Shipp from harassing Mr. Wheeler.
Furthermore, subsequent to our off-the-record meeting with you in Dallas, we were told Mr. Shipp sent around an email (again, only selectively to those ex-members antagonistic towards us) claiming that Mr. Wheeler and myself left the station knowing our world was “under siege,” and that our attempts to portray all dissenting voices as liars might work with our “sheep,” but would not hold up in the “court of public opinion.” Therefore, he was encouraging his select group of detractors that now is the time to speak out.
Mr. Shipp’s own description of his means and methods only furthers our concern. In an online video, he says, “You use any means necessary these days to gather the story.” He proceeds to tell about a time when a man refused to talk on camera, so Mr. Shipp pulled out his cell phone camera and his hand-held recorder, and photographed the man anyway, without his consent. “He had no idea what I was doing!” Mr. Shipp says.
This kind of disingenuousness, as well as Mr. Shipp’s entire approach illustrated in the paragraphs above, is incompatible with our way of life.
This kind of disingenuousness, as well as Mr. Shipp’s entire approach illustrated in the paragraphs above, is incompatible with our way of life. The families in our community would not want to subject themselves and their children to this kind of thing, and we feel it would be irresponsible of us to ask them to do so. We further believe that the public media is generally an inappropriate forum for discussing personal matters within families in the first place, and thus such an interview would constitute a violation of the fundamental right to privacy long enjoyed in America and so vital for maintaining the healthy fabric of family and community life. Law enforcement agencies are available to deal with those who abuse that right in order to hide criminal behavior, and we have fully informed the appropriate agencies and cooperated with their investigations in the few unfortunate instances in which their services were needed.
Therefore, given all the above concerns, and given the “sour grapes” agenda we know is motivating Mr. Shipp’s selected informants (a phenomenon widely recognized by sociologists as being potentially inherent in any ex-member), and given the fact that his stated story line presents a false and misleading characterization of our community to begin with, and given that he has already demonstrated blatant and reckless disregard for the truth and a presumptive commitment to this biased story line in the face of so much opposing testimony and evidence, we simply have no grounds to believe that the truth would be furthered by an interview with Mr. Shipp. Thus, as said, we are at this time declining any interview of any kind with Brett Shipp, and we respectfully decline him access to any of our events or facilities.Unfortunately, we’re not unfamiliar with the dangers of malice that’s fueled by inflammatory accusations, and we’ve more than once found ourselves the target of prejudice. At various times in the past, from just the type of people now accusing us, we’ve had our church pulpit desecrated, our property defaced with swastikas, we’ve received grotesquely unprintable hate mail and violent death threats, and on one occasion years ago we’ve even had our children shot at.
We have attempted now to share our concerns regarding this “exposé” through several means—extensive emails, a phone call, and our two-hour off-the-record meeting providing factual background and answering your questions. We hope they have been heard and understood, and though we wouldn’t presume to tell you how to do your job, we nonetheless respectfully submit our opinion that there is no newsworthy story here in the first place, and that attempting to create one will profit no one but has potential to harm many. (Unfortunately, we’re not unfamiliar with the dangers of malice that’s fueled by inflammatory accusations, and we’ve more than once found ourselves the target of prejudice. At various times in the past, from just the type of people now accusing us, we’ve had our church pulpit desecrated, our property defaced with swastikas, we’ve received grotesquely unprintable hate mail and violent death threats, and on one occasion years ago we’ve even had our children shot at.) Thus we request that the story simply be dropped. We would appreciate being informed of your decision.
For Homestead Heritage
P.S. You’ve probably already heard about this, but if you visit www.homesteadheritage.com/petition you can view a petition that some of our former members asked that we post there so they could affix their signatures and comments to it in regard to this “exposé.” It has 78 confirmed signatures on it at the time of this letter.