The article in the Texas Observer titled “Heritage of Abuse,” by Alex Hannaford, presents an irresponsible compilation of wild distortions, glaring omissions and outright fabrications, laced together with misleading implications and subtle innuendo. An exhaustive refutation and explanation of every point of error would be prohibitively enormous. It is easy and quick to drop a dirt clod into a pitcher of pure water, but the process of purifying that water again is much more complicated and time consuming.
Nonetheless, we present below some of the most telling and egregious issues that come readily to view. Beyond these main points, for those with further interest, we’ve also compiled a few of the other obvious inaccuracies and insinuations into a point-by-point format, to give a general flavor of the agenda and bias behind this story. Also included are some links to supplements where necessary to fill out a point.
The foundation that Hannaford builds his story upon is his “discovery” of four cases of pedophilia that he links with our community. (He claims there are “at least six,” but gives no evidence for the others.) The fact that these four cases can be verified in the public record might seem, at least to the uninformed reader, to lend credibility to the rest of the unsubstantiated and false stories that Hannaford reports.
Hannaford goes to some lengths to describe the crimes, the sentences and the perpetrators’ association with our community. But he never once mentions an essential fact that turns his story of alleged cover-up upside down:
In all four cases, it was our ministry that exposed and reported the abuse, and we fully cooperated with law enforcement investigations. Hannaford has “discovered” nothing because everything he reports was made known to the public authorities, and it was our church that brought every fact to light to the authorities.
How is it possible to justify this incredible omission of truth? This omission is devastating to the central premise of his story—namely, that we hide and cover up child abuse (even “foment” it, he suggests). The fact that we were the ones who exposed and reported the crime reveals that the very opposite is the case. If Hannaford would further claim that he simply didn’t know this fact, then it’s incredibly irresponsible, at best, to report on such inflammatory content with such embarrassing ignorance. In any case, this fact reveals the essentially distorted nature of the portrait of our community that Hannaford paints.
But this is not all that Hannaford leaves out:
He does not report that two of the four perpetrators were never members of our church, though they did interact a lot with the community. (One of these was Bill DeLong’s son, whom we were trying to help in the aftermath of his father’s devastating crime.) A third had been a member at one time, but had had his membership revoked for problems unrelated to his crime almost a year before we discovered his crime.
Though Hannaford has to admit that Bill DeLong turned himself in (because that’s in the records he provides), he does not mention that one of our elders reported his crime beforehand. Thus the reader is left to believe that our ministry was exposed by Bill’s decision to turn himself in, when, in fact, the opposite is true.
Hannaford also doesn’t mention that Andrew DeLong and Santa Maria also turned themselves in. This is in other news coverage of their stories, as well as the public records, but Hannaford chose not to include those records. In both cases, again, our ministry reported them ahead of time. In Ratliff’s case, church members and a minister reported the crime, and Ratliff awaited arrest in his home. But Hannaford would rather leave the reader to conclude that these men were caught in some other way, insinuating that our ministry was caught hiding these crimes.
Hannaford’s “Smoking Gun”
Hannaford’s “smoking gun” is the fact that in the first case (Bill DeLong) there was a delay of about a year in reporting. This is his “documented proof” that seems to give legitimacy to his insinuations that our ministry’s position is to hide such crimes from the state. (He also misrepresents a church document to support this false notion—we’ll address this momentarily.)
We want to make clear that we, too, were grieved by this error of judgment. But the motive for George Klingensmith’s delay differed greatly from the impression given by the Observer. Hannaford would have the reader believe that George was following a church policy of hiding crime—the truth is, it was a good faith effort to honor the confidential confession of a sin that no one before that time had ever encountered in our previous thirty years of ministry. (Penitential clergy confidentiality has generally been a well-recognized legal privilege and even still applies to crimes of this nature in many states.) Bill voluntarily confessed his crime to George as a thing in his past. George felt at the time that his confession and repentance were sincere, and that the abuse would not continue—and, contrary to Hannaford’s claims, it did not. (There are other significant details that would help the reader understand the situation, but we cannot reveal them here without exposing the identity of the victim.) Furthermore, George had no knowledge of the mandatory reporting law at the time. Once George became aware of the law, even though he knew that reporting Bill would implicate himself, he followed through with it anyway, informing our eldership board of the crime and then fully disclosing his initial delay to the authorities.
Our ministry has never hidden the truth about the delay, even though we knew it would likely be frowned upon. (We also knew from the beginning that it could bring opportunistic media swooping down on us, eager for a sensational scandal.) We fully disclosed it to law enforcement when we reported the crime seven years ago, and we even discussed it thoroughly with an investigative reporter five years ago. (That reporter apparently didn’t consider it newsworthy.)
Finally, there has been no such delay in reporting the three cases following. But all this is never mentioned by the Observer, for, again, it would undermine the whole thrust of their sensationalistic pseudo-exposé.
We view George’s willingness to correct the mistake even to his own hurt as honorable. Hannaford, on the other hand, apparently views the same as his ticket to recognition as the “whistle blower” on the next big cult scandal in Waco.
The Observer Misrepresents Our Resolution Not to Sue
In another effort to demonstrate our alleged church policy of hiding crimes from legal authorities, Hannaford quotes from an old church document the Observer “obtained.” In a quote he says is “telling,” he implies that we allegedly don’t report crimes because we don’t believe that “religion” is an “agent, or the proper province, of the corporate State and its investigative, police and judicial services.” What Hannaford is not “telling” is that this document was only an agreement between church members not to sue one another over disputes, as instructed in Scripture (1 Cor. 6:1, 7). It was never intended to prevent reporting crimes to the appropriate legal authorities. Our other church literature, as well as our actions in reporting these crimes, makes abundantly clear that we certainly recognize the State as the appropriate agency for punishing criminal acts.
Hannaford makes one other feeble attempt to substantiate his assertion that our church’s policy is to hide crimes as long as possible. Resorting to anecdotal hearsay, he tells of a “former member who asked to be identified only by her married name, Birkbeck,” who supposedly “was told” (we’re not told by whom) that Ratliff was allowed to remain in our community for “seven weeks” after we learned of his crime.
This is patently false. Ratliff was reported to authorities immediately upon our learning of his crime. Birkbeck has already been publicly corrected by other former members about this same falsehood when she tried to make an issue of this on an online forum months ago. But apparently Hannaford found that her fabrication fit his story line well enough to warrant recycling it again, even though it’s third-hand hearsay.
Posting on Topix.com as “JesusismyReason,” Birkbeck had actually claimed that Ratliff was allowed to be around her and others in our community “for SEVEN months” (emphasis in original) after our ministry knew about his crime. Apparently either Birkbeck or Hannaford decided to tone down her fabrication from seven “months” to seven “weeks” to make it more credible. As is reflected even in other ex-members’ opinions of her stories in the Topix forum, Birkbeck’s reputation for dishonesty has been longstanding. Nonetheless, the reader of the Observer is told what Hannaford was allegedly told that Birkbeck was in turn allegedly told by an anonymous source—and this is presented as professional journalism.
Citing Bill DeLong’s arrest record from the sheriff’s department, the Observer claims that “DeLong said he had told an elder at his church about the abuse shortly after the first time it happened.”
But the truth, as verified by the very document Hannaford cites, is that DeLong first confessed his crime to George shortly after the last time it happened—not the first. Here is the verbatim sentence from the officer’s report:
“Billy told me that he stopped doing this to
in May of 2003 and then told his wife Carolyn DeLong what he had done as well as an elder at his church, George Klingensmith.”
(It should also be noted that the term “elder” is not the most accurate. George was functioning as a lay minister at the time and had not been officially ordained in our church.)
Incredibly, Hannaford goes on to cite this same record twice more as proving that the abuse continued after Bill’s initial confession. In one of those instances Hannaford writes, “A full year would go by before DeLong once more approached Klingensmith to say
was still happening, court records show.”
This statement contains even a further inaccuracy: the very record Hannaford cites says that Klingensmith went to DeLong—not vice versa. The record also shows that the reason that he went to him was because he had just learned of his legal obligation to report the crime. (He had also just informed our eldership board of the crime for the first time.) And again, contrary to Hannaford, the abuse had not recurred in the interim. Yet three times in the course of his story Hannaford falsely claims otherwise.
Hannaford’s story, when taken alone, leaves the impression that he might have been referencing other court records that would substantiate his claim that the abuse continued (though he didn’t name them or provide links for them). But in a comment he posted on the Observer website, he reveals that he has no other documents than those he posted:
“All it says in the records is what DeLong told them. Show me otherwise. We published the statements online. If you choose to believe a confessed pedophile that the abuse stopped for a year, that’s very unfortunate. I don’t place much weight on what pedophiles say. I think this particular conversation is over.”
Hannaford’s comment reveals that it is only his assumption that the abuse continued. The fact that the “court records” he cites contradict his assumption is inconsequential in his opinion because they’re based on Bill’s confession—and Hannaford doesn’t “place much weight on what pedophiles say.” But, amazingly, his story nonetheless three times cites “court records” as his proof that the abuse continued. Yet here he admits that “all it says in the records is what DeLong told them,” which he doesn’t “place much weight on.” Does Hannaford really believe that because the court records show that DeLong says there was no more abuse, this somehow proves instead that there was?
(But how can one “place much weight” on what a journalist has to say when he’s not only willing to print his own assumptions as facts but to report that the court record confirms his assumptions when that record actually states the very opposite? If one were to follow Hannaford’s self-contradictory logic here, they would have to conclude that the fact that such a journalist wrote the Observer story proves that whatever it says is not true.)
Hannaford simply wants to have it both ways: on the one hand, since the “court records” he cites are based on Bill’s word, they can’t be believed; on the other hand, these same court records are cited as his authoritative source of information for the story.
There is one other possibility, of course, for making sense of all this: perhaps Hannaford was so blinded by his own biases and in such a hurry to get his story to press that he truly failed to notice that the document he cites makes clear that the abuse stopped prior to Bill’s first (and only) confession. Thus, now that he’s been called on it by other commenters on the website, he must scramble to discount those very same records and say that it’s “unfortunate” that anyone might choose to believe the records, since they’re based upon the confession of a convicted pedophile.
Further Court Records Disprove Hannaford’s Story
Finally, contrary to Hannaford’s claim, there are additional court records available on the DeLong case that are not based solely on DeLong’s testimony: The official indictment of DeLong and the final Stipulation of Evidence and Judicial Confession show no abuse after March 2003, which was prior to his confession to George in May 2003. These official court documents are, of course, based upon thorough investigation by the Sheriff’s department, the District Attorney’s office and CPS. Their investigations included extensive interviews with all individuals involved, including the defendant, the victim and all family members. Both documents are readily available in the public record. The McLennan County Victim Impact Statement from the case also confirms the fact that there was no more abuse, as did every individual involved at the time (none of whom Hannaford has communicated with, as far as we know).
The point in demonstrating that no more abuse occurred is not to excuse the initial delay in reporting. Rather, the point is to peel back the veneer of legitimacy and authority afforded to Hannaford’s story line by his constant reference to “court records.” What he states as fact in his story directly contradicts all the court records.
Alex Hannaford says he “spoke with 14 former members of the community” for his story (half of whom are left anonymous). What he fails to mention is that he spoke with at least a few other former members as well whose testimonies contradicted those of the group whose claims form the basis of his story. The Observer’s strategic omission of this fact leaves the impression that every ex-member Hannaford contacted confirmed the content of his story. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Others he contacted considered his entire story line to be a false portrayal of our community, and they told him so. They also warned him that they knew from personal experience that the people he was interviewing were not credible witnesses. These former members then told us of their own encounters with Hannaford and their concern about his agenda. But the Observer makes no mention whatsoever that there were any dissenting voices to the story told by its handful of star witnesses. Is this really responsible journalism?
In addition, scores of other former members known to be favorable towards us were never contacted at all. Hannaford obviously knew of our ex-members’ petition against media slander and that it specifically denied the very allegations that he centered his story on. But nonetheless, to the best of our knowledge, only one of the 80 former members who signed the petition was contacted for the story. (The one contacted declined to be interviewed and told us and Hannaford that they did so because they knew his story line was false.)
(Click here to view the petition)
The Observer states simply that their request for an interview with us was denied. It then quotes a fragment of an email from Dan Lancaster and says that Lancaster “suggested meeting in person to talk ‘completely off the record.’ The Observer asked for a telephone interview instead. This also was refused.”
This gives the impression that we just wanted to “talk” off the record, when in fact we repeatedly voiced substantive concerns and questions about this article and asked to discuss them with Hannaford so that neither of us would approach the situation in ignorance. We were told, “Absolutely not,” and accused of “hypothesizing” about the nature of his story. The only contact with us that Hannaford would agree to was a last minute interview.
The article proceeds to say, “The church later declined to answer emailed questions from the Observer and instead chose to issue a statement: . . .” This is misleading and omits some pertinent facts: Saturday evening, January 28, Hannaford told Lancaster that the deadline for an interview for his story was Monday afternoon, January 30. So, when our offers to meet with Hannaford were steadfastly refused, on February 1, we sent the Observer a statement for publication in the event that they chose to publish their story in spite of our concerns. Only after his deadline was two days past, and after we had already issued our statement, did Hannaford email us a list of questions. He then claimed that the January 30 deadline was only the “initial draft” deadline, and now he had until February 3. His questions certainly proved that we were not “hypothesizing,” as he claimed, about the nature of his story. We replied that our statement stood as it was.
By placing a colon at the end of the sentence mentioning our statement, the reader may get the impression that the Observer included our entire statement. But in fact, it was only an excerpt that did not include even one whole sentence from our original, in spite of the fact that we had explicitly asked the Observer to use it unedited and in its entirety. Given that our entire statement was under 250 words, while Hannaford’s story about us was over 5,000 words, this doesn’t seem like it should have been too much to ask. Yet he only included 44 words of our statement. The material he chose to omit is telling.
Hannaford’s refusal to use our full statement (or even to inform his readers that there was more to the statement than what he included) is especially ironic in light of his initial phone call with Dan Lancaster. In that call (and in subsequent emails), he strongly urged Lancaster to give him an interview because it looked “wrong, in [his] opinion,” to see a story that gave accusations without giving the accused a chance to respond. “I think in any story,” he said, “you want to present both sides.” But apparently, for Hannaford, presenting both sides doesn’t include letting the accused answer in their own words. This was, of course, our concern about his approach from the beginning, and the very reason we declined an interview. The fact that Hannaford failed to even mention that he spoke to ex-members who countered the false accusations that he reported would seem to confirm that he had no intention of giving our own testimony a fair hearing.
Adam Alexander relates a horror story of childhood physical abuse by a “then-member of the church,” who would allegedly beat him black and blue for petty things such as finding a certain CD in his bedroom. The Observer reports that, in spite of the fact that a church elder was allegedly told about it, the abuse by “the church member” allegedly went on for six years before Adam decided to fight back. Only then did “the man” back off, he says. Hannaford continues, “The member who Alexander said abused him is no longer in the church. Still, Alexander said, his family was eventually dis-fellowshipped.” Adam even says “his parents split up because of what the church did to them.”
Leaving aside the more subjective questions of exaggeration, misrepresentation and such, the factual reality is that the “church member” was Adam’s father. (One of Adam’s brothers even publicly posted this fact on the Observer website shortly after the story broke.) This single fact, of course, changes everything. Indeed, this irresponsible omission alone calls into question the motive behind the entire article. The Observer would have us believe that for six years, some man in our church would terrorize the family by showing up to search their bedrooms, physically assaulting their child for petty offenses. The story even gives the impression that Adam’s victimized family was inexplicably disciplined because of what “a church member” did to him. But the reality is, again, the “church member” causing all the trouble was his father, and his problems were largely the reason for their being asked to leave our church.
(Perhaps the Observer would claim that the “church member’s” identity was obscured to protect his privacy, but protecting alleged abusers from public exposure could hardly be claimed as a guiding principle in writing this story.)
Furthermore, though the Observer leaves us to believe that law enforcement knew nothing of the problem, as the many problems in Adam’s dad’s life worsened, the police were called on several occasions to deal with the situation, and they investigated and handled it as they saw fit. (Though we had already placed his dad on disciplinary status for other unrelated problems, we completely removed him from our church the first time the police had to be called.) Moreover, Adam’s parents did not “split up because of what the church did to them”—they split up after they left our church because of his dad’s continuing violence.
In our forty-year history, this is the only problem like this we’ve encountered. (We have, however, recently had someone who had left our community falsely report a family in our community for child abuse. CPS showed up and investigated and interviewed the entire family. Their report completely exonerated the family. In fact, the case worker even told the father that he wished he could send a couple of his own children to be in the family’s home for awhile.)
The Observer further claims that “Alexander’s faith has been shaken by Homestead Heritage.” But our community did not spoil his pristine, innocent faith. On the contrary, we have not allowed him to be here because we don’t want him to corrupt the faith of other children.
To give the reader a sense of his character, we include below an email that Adam sent a while back to one of our young ministers who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Adam apparently mistakenly thought this minister was active on Facebook, which we generally avoid. Expletives have been edited; grammatical mistakes are in the original.
Adam Alexander, May 15, 2010 at 3:17pm MDT
I thought the leaders of homestead werent allowed on facebook…. funny how you can preach what you cant practice. get a life you lame loser, dont you have a flock of sheep to attend to? or are you just laying down stupid f—ing rules so you can sneak around and do whatever you want? your a two face f—ing retard and i cant want to see you in hell! rot in peace dumb f—! also i hope the ms kills you soon!
The real story here is that Adam and his father both are sad examples of individuals who refused our ministry and so had to be asked to leave—not people whose negative behavior we ever condoned or covered up. But it didn’t have to turn out this way for Adam or his father, as evidenced by the fact that one of his brothers is very happily still a member of our church and does not suffer from any of these types of behavior.