Hatewatch

Gay-Bashing Preachers Bedevil Florida City

It’s that time again in Tampa, Fla.

For several years running, some of the most extremist and confrontational street preachers in America have come together in Tampa every February to shout through bullhorns that Muslims, gays and loose women, among many, many others, are damned to burn in hell.

Why February in Tampa? A few reasons. One is the spring semester revving up at the University of South Florida. Another is Gasparilla, the annual pirate-themed extravaganza celebrating Tampa Bay’s pirate legacy, which draws thousands of costumed revelers. The fact that Super Bowl XLIII was played in Tampa on Feb. 1 only heightened this year’s fervor for notorious traveling street preachers like Micah Armstrong, who tells college students that drinking beer, smoking pot, masturbating, and reading a Harry Potter book are just a few of the transgressions that will irretrievably doom them to the lake of fire.

Gays and lesbians? Hellbound, says Armstrong. Moderate Protestants? Hellbound. Women who wear pants or have jobs? You guessed it — hellbound.

“Women have two places: In front of the sink and behind the vacuum,” Armstrong proclaims.

The University of South Florida campus newspaper, The Oracle, warns incoming students about Armstrong and likeminded road-tripping proselytizers who in the past have blocked sidewalks and confronted students by “spitting on their shoes and calling them names like ‘slut,’ ‘whore,’ ‘fag’ and ‘homo’ while preaching.” Two years ago, according to the campus paper, a member of USF’s rugby team broke preacher Micah Armstrong’s sign and allegedly briefly throttled him after the preacher called the athlete’s girlfriend a “loose sorority slut.”

In a recent post on Talk to Action, a website that monitors religious extremism, writer Richard Bartholomew details and links to a video documenting an especially ugly incident that occurred the morning of Super Bowl Sunday. It was instigated by members of the Official Street Preachers, a Los Angeles-based ministry. “The group has a distinctive (albeit Fred Phelps-like) corporate image and delivery style,” writes Bartholomew, referring to the infamous proprietor of the God Hates Fags website. Earlier this month, members of the Official Street Preachers, en route to the Tampa Super Bowl, stopped off at a local mosque to yell through a bullhorn that “Mohammed was a liar, was a pedophile, was a murderer.”

The Official Street Preachers are tied to the Tampa-based Biblical Research Center, which is run by street preacher Larry Keffer. The website carries many photos of other protests, under headings such as “Preaching at the 17th Annual Sodomite Film Festival at the Tampa Theater”; “Preaching to the Satanists”; “Preaching To The Atheists,” and “Preaching to Illegal Aliens and Their Supporters.” It also offers a rapid-fire ticker clock counting how many people have died “since opening this web page” adding that “the vast majority of those people are entering Hell.”