Group with Atheist-y Name Claims Responsibility for Bombing of Christian Group’s Veterans Memorial

You may recall that, back in August, there was a small explosion near the Mingus Park Vietnam War Memorial cross in Coos Bay, Oregon. No one was hurt, but the cross was slightly damaged.

Mingus Park Vietnam War Memorial cross (via FOX News)

At the time, the fingers were pointing straight at atheist groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation:

“We unfortunately are now to the point where explosive devices are being placed next to crosses,” said Hiram Sasser, director of litigation at the Liberty Institute.

“These people will stop at nothing to intimidate communities to tear down their veterans memorials,” Sasser told Fox News. “Now the crazies are trying to blow one up.”

Sasser called on the FFRF to stop “fanning the flames of hostility toward veterans memorials.”

“There are consequences for fomenting hatred for what were once obscure veterans memorials,” he said. “The FFRF should immediately condemn this dangerous criminal act.”

FFRF challenged the religious memorial on legal grounds, but we know they would never resort to tactics like this. Still, days later, just to set the record straight, FFRF condemned the actions:

FFRF condemns this violent and reckless act. We are in fact not aware of any act of violence committed by a nonbeliever in the name of keeping religion out of government. We have had FFRF billboards and banners vandalized and stolen on occasion, and been the recipient of many threats of violence over the years, so we know how it feels. Dynamiting the Buddhas at Bamiyan or terrorizing abortion clinics are the tyrannical tactics of religious fanatics, not the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We have never, and will never, advocate or employ violence against those with whom we disagree.

In the weeks to follow there was little development in the case, but yesterday, there was a strange breakthrough: All City Council members and The World (a newspaper serving the Coos Bay community) received a letter from the purported criminal(s).

The writer appears to be a member of an atheist group.

(via The World)

(via The World)

The group, calling itself Veterans United for Non-religious Memorials, demands that the city remove the Mingus Park Veterans Memorial and threatens more mayhem if the demand is ignored.

“Apparently you are not receiving our message about the Mingus Park Veterans Memorial,” the letter reads. “We gave you warnings with the minor explosive devices at the memorial and at the Bay Area House of Prayer.”

“From now forward, we hold each of you personally responsible for causing deeper grief and insult to the families and friends of non-Christian Veterans.”

“If the City does not now comply with prompt removal of the cross, we will take increased action against you, your staff, religious leaders and faith based structures.

Just in case it’s not obvious, “Veterans United for Non-religious Memorials” isn’t an actual group. It’s a fictional name. The only place you’ll find the name on Google is in news reports about this very letter.

We don’t know who’s behind this. And, to be sure, we don’t even know if they’re atheists. I know this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it’s entirely possible that a religious nut or teenager looking for kicks wrote the letter in the guise of atheists.

But if it is, in fact, a lone atheist or a group of them, what they’re doing is absolutely despicable. It’s terrorism, pure and simple — using violence or the threat of it to achieve some political aim. That is not how any of us should be settling our disputes.

You can bet that some news sites will quickly jump to conclusions that atheists are responsible for this — without any evidence beyond the made-up name for the group — but let’s be clear: Nobody knows any of the details yet. All they have to work off of is their own prejudice.

On a similar note, on Saturday night, an American flag and a POW-MIA flag were stolen from the David Dewett Memorial Wayside. This is another religious memorial in the area and a place that was once considered as a possible new home for the Mingus Park Vietnam War Memorial cross.

No word yet on whether there’s any connection between this theft and the purported vandals’ letter.

(Thanks to Patty and Anne for the links)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • ShoeUnited

    There’s already a suspect as of yesterday (I heard the description on the radio).

    http://theworldlink.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/police-seek-coos-bay-suspect-after-homemade-bombs-found/article_f20af0b2-d447-11e2-b4a2-001a4bcf887a.html

    And yesterday on the local show on OPB news’s Think Out Loud program, there’s an interesting interview with the city’s manager:

    http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/vietnam-memorial/
    http://www.opb.org/audio/download/?f=tol/segments/2013/091001.mp3

    • Bitter Lizard

      …aaaand he’s been arrested.

      http://kdcq.com/2013/06/yarbrough-in-custody-held-on-bail/

      Nothing about the memorial in that story, though.

      Edit: and looking back at ShoeUnited’s article and this one, they were posted in June. The two stories are apparently unrelated.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003194979553 Leiningen’s Ants

        And they look about like you’d expect.

        • badgerchild

          Like a couple of feckless country people aware that they are in a whole lot of deep doo-doo? Yeah, when I was a libertarian dupe I knew a lot of people just like that who indulged in anti-government sentiment and caused minor amounts of low-profile trouble. But I don’t see any reporting, yet, that suggests they are suspects in the terrorist attacks. I think such a thing would be likely to have been reported quite clearly, not insinuated, if it was actually the case.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003194979553 Leiningen’s Ants

            Well, I suppose that’s so. Not like this story is goin’ anywhere. I await updates.

            And yeah, I’m on the whole “conspiracy to frame” side of the table. I don’t wanna go full-out True Scotsman or anything, but reasonable rationality and bombs go together like oil and water.

      • ShoeUnited

        Hehe, I’m still trying to brew the old morning coffee here. But as far as I’m aware, there’s a few articles when he was still a suspect where part of it was to do with the bombings.

        • ShoeUnited

          I should say though, nice find.

          • Bitter Lizard

            Thanks, I was just piggy-backing off of your find. I just hope we get to the bottom of what happened soon–less time for theists to fill the gap in knowledge with their own narrative.

      • Paul Reed

        Wasn’t that in June…?

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Ya, um, are we talking about the same case?

          • ShoeUnited

            My gosh, you’re both right.

            I’m sorry about that. I should have double checked. I heard something about a suspect yesterday. Dang it, now I have to dig deeper.

        • Bitter Lizard

          Thanks for pointing this out, by the way. I was already skeptical, but should have looked closer.

    • ShoeUnited

      Here is the proper information I heard. http://theworldlink.com/news/local/police-release-sketch-of-chapel-fire-person-of-interest/article_916e4b6c-1521-11e3-b5f0-001a4bcf887a.html

      And here is a link saying that police suspect he may be related to the aug. 22nd bombing.

      Thank you both to Paul Reed and Rich Wilson for pointing out how my screwup!

  • badgerchild

    I absolutely condemn any sort of terroristic violence for any reason, especially where the original complaint is in the process of being handled by high-profile agencies and there is a prospect of redress. But I smell a rat here. The first reason is that neither attack actually caused anywhere near the damage that such devices normally cause (and you’re going to tell me that a veteran is going to be unfamiliar with such things?). The second reason is the timing of this news. It seems carefully planned to break on the day dedicated to the World Trade Center attack remembrance. While everyone will be tremendously outraged, the Coos Bay attack will be overshadowed and its impact diluted by the fact that our minds are distracted by other things today. The reporting seems calculated to cause the maximum feeling of vague ill-will toward “those atheists” with the least possible amount of public attention paid to the facts. Maybe I’m oversensitive, but it would be a sweet propaganda setup to frame the religious right as “victims”.

    • ShoeUnited

      I agree with the first half you have to say about violence, but I’m not particularly convinced it was a planned drop. In the last couple of days events have been moving fast to catch the potential perpetrators involved. Not to say that you’re wrong. But I just find the evidence of a conspiracy lacking.

      • badgerchild

        Great, please keep us posted as clear facts come in, since we seem not to have any yet from you or anyone else. I would be happy to learn that there was no setup. I actually hope it’s just some dumbass trying to get attention by piggybacking off existing controversy, but that’s a guess like any other and just like all the so-called “information” we have been supplied with so far.

        • ShoeUnited

          I can’t help but feel with the certain acerbic quality you used, that you’re talking down to me. Now, I’ve been around the old atheist/skeptical block once or twice, and for me if there’s no evidence to support an argument then there’s no reason to believe a claim. Now, you may wish someone did this intentionally in order to shed some bad light on atheists; and that would certainly within the realm of possibility. This isn’t like ghosts or anything silly. But I can’t get over the fact that there’s no evidence.

          Now, maybe I’m reading you wrong and that isn’t some sarcasm you’re using there. If so, I apologize in advance. But from how it’s worded, it seems you are lacking in support of your argument. And it wouldn’t be my job to prove/disprove that.

          Again, if I’m reading it wrong I’m very sorry.

          • badgerchild

            I think all arguments in the absence of defensible facts are lacking in support, including mine. I’m not sure how to put that straightforwardly without it looking like a criticism of your position… wait a minute, it occurs to me that I was unaware you had a position until now. Are you making the positive claim that a real atheist or atheist group actually did do this?

            • ShoeUnited

              No. Not even close. I’m saying we should wait and see what the actual evidence shows before jumping to any conclusions. That should be everyone’s default position. Any arguments should be considered with the evidence provided.

              • badgerchild

                That sounds good, I agree with that.

  • Lauryn

    If it was an atheist, all I have to say is, “Gee thanks guys- you really know how to make a cause look absolutely disgusting.” I cannot believe someone would -bomb- something just for not taking a monument down!

  • Gus

    It’s not a conspiracy theory if it doesn’t require a conspiracy. One lone nut does not a conspiracy make.

  • Mando44646

    this needs to be quickly and loudly condemned across the secular movement and it needs to be made clear to the media that no such group exists. We dont need to give Fox and others real ammunition to use against civil rights

    • Art_Vandelay

      Fox is a news organization. They would never report on this group without verifying that they exist first.

      Right?

      • Mando44646

        thats wishful thinking…

      • Matt D

        Actually, according to Fox, they are in the “entertainment business”, not the news.

      • busterggi

        Excuse me, I have to go get a drink of milk so I can react appropriately and snort it out my nose over my keyboard.

      • ufo42

        C’mon guys, that’s sarcasm. Everyone knows Faux Noise is in the forefront of the “Lie your ass off for Jesus” movement.

    • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

      That is the problem. Say nothing or wait to condemn it – Fox and company claim that we support the terrorist. Quick condemn it – Fox and company will say “Methinks you protest too much.” The truth of the situation does not matter, all that matters to fox and company is the ability to say ‘terrorism’ and ‘atheist’ in the same sentence.

    • Birdie1986

      We don’t know that no such group exists. It may actually exist and may actually be made up of some whacked out atheists. Isn’t saying that this couldn’t possibly be a real atheist group the same as the “No True Christian” argument (sorry, I don’t know how to do the TM thing on that)? I think that all we can say right now is that nobody knows if it is really an atheist group, and that whatever kind of group they are, their actions are despicable.

      • Jett Perrobone

        No True Christian™ = No True Christian™
        I think that’s it.

        • Jasper

          TM™©

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        No, invoking the fallacy would mean saying that he or they aren’t actually atheists. What Mando44646 is saying is that whoever this is almost certainly one person pretending to be a group, which is really just an assessment based on history and probability.

  • Dan Weeks

    So they’re once again making a claim despite lacking any conclusive evidence. Sounds par for the course.

  • Joob

    Oh, fucking hell.
    Maybe Foundation Beyond Belief should send some money to rebuild the cross, just to show that not all atheists are violent assholes? I know they had nothing to do with it, but it would be a nice gesture. Like when that church was graffitied and some atheists paid to help clean it.

    It’s bad enough that religious groups are fighting each other. The last thing I want, as an atheist, is to be just another ‘tribe’ of believers that reacts with violence against people who don’t believe what we do. This is very sad news.
    I suppose it could be a fake group but there are dangerous people in every movement and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bitter atheist somewhere that would do something like this.

    • Bitter Lizard

      Yes, the bottom line is that we don’t know, and should prepare for the worst, and your idea about helping to repair it isn’t a bad one. Everything about this fake organization writing an anonymous letter sets off my bullshit meter, but we aren’t in a position to jump to conclusions.

      • ufo42

        Good idea. pay for repairs, but keep insisting (through the courts) it be moved to private property!

    • LesterBallard

      Rebuild it in the park?

      • Bitter Lizard

        Thinking further about this…I initially kind of liked Joob’s idea that the FFRF help rebuild the cross, putting their differences aside for the greater good of making a statement against terrorism. But I’m not sure exactly where they’d go after that. Would they still demand to take it down after rebuilding it? Or would they just ignore it, going after similar monuments but making an exception for that one? Sounds pretty awkward either way. I like the sentiment behind the idea, but there’s got to be a better way to help.

        • LesterBallard

          They probably wouldn’t accept money to build it elsewhere, and there would be those who said it was just a plan anyway, blow it up, then rebuild it elsewhere to make atheist look good.

          • Bitter Lizard

            Yep. A no-win situation, for sure. If an atheist did do this, he sure fucked us good.

        • OkieAtheist

          A more reasonable response would be for local Atheists to volunteer for a local neighborhood watch group and could help watch the park for vandals. If there isn’t one, they could organize one.

          • Bitter Lizard

            What a convenient way to be lurking the streets at night and happen to be “around” when trouble happens.

            Sorry, I’ve just finally gotten so cynical about this that I finally decided there is nothing positive atheists can do that won’t be framed in the worst way possible by theists. We know how they are.

      • LutherW

        No I do not think helping rebuild is a good idea. But I could be wrong. Perhaps if a veterans group decided to help restore it to clear their good names, maybe some atheists might consider helping. The name that appears in the group name is veterans not atheists in the first place.

        Perhaps I am wrong but I don’t think any religious groups have helped out restoring damaged FFRF bill boards. Perhaps some have and I missed the Joel Stein article covering that.

        • ufo42

          Right, we’ve been lax re that Joel Stein meme. I don’t see him volunteering to repair that monument! :)

        • starmom

          I would be interested in a fundraiser to help replace the flags that were stolen from the David Dewett Memorial this week, but I don’t know how to go about running one. Any suggestions? I’d be willing to contact the group’s representative to see if they would accept money from godless heathens.

    • Mario Strada

      Wait a minute, is the cross broken? My understanding is that there was minor damage, if any.

      • starmom

        Please see my reply to Joob above.

        • Mario Strada

          Thanks.

    • starmom

      The Mingus Park Memorial was not destroyed. If it was damaged, it was minimal and repaired quickly. I visited about two weeks ago and it looked as though the thing had been plastered in places (very poorly) recently. Also, the previous vandalism done with a marker (“cut” and “remove”) was faintly bleeding through.

      The thing is horribly ugly; I can see why the sponsors of the Dewett Memorial didn’t want it as theirs is very tasteful and respectful.

  • Jasper

  • Andrew Bowers

    This was politically motivated vandalism, not terrorism. Actual terrorism requires the targeting of civilians, not inanimate objects.

    • badgerchild

      I was under the impression that terrorism included attacks designed to intimidate, that is emotionally target, not just physically harm. My Northern Irish husband agrees.

      • C Peterson

        I don’t see an act like this as creating fear, terror, or even intimidation. It simply angers, irritates, or annoys. In some technical sense it might be considered terrorism, but I agree that “vandalism” is really closer to the mark.

    • BeasKnees

      “If the City does not now comply with prompt removal of the cross, we will take increased action against you, your staff,”

      I think this is the part that was referring to terrorism.

  • LesterBallard

    So, if all atheists will be stereotyped because of this, we can stereotype all Christians because of the WBC and the Phelps clan, right?

  • craigfisher

    You know any group’s name is “made up”, right? Group names aren’t discovered by scientific research or handed down from a deity. :-)

    • Mario Strada

      I guess they meant it as “Not an otherwise known group”. But they do have a PO box. Considering the threats to individuals, it should not be hard for the police to get the name of whomever is renting that PO Box.

      I have never owned a PO BOx, so I don’t know how it works, but I assume you have to pay for it somehow.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        Yep, I just got one because my family won’t stay out of my damn mail. The USPS requires two forms of ID, a physical address, phone number, and email, plus you effectively have to pay electronically unless you buy a lot of time up front.

      • Mario Strada

        So it’s PO BOX 137 Cook Bay (something)
        I mean, who puts a return address to a terroristic threat?

        • starmom

          Coos Bay – where the memorials are located.

        • mucat

          I think you’re missing Nox’s point. It’s a fake return address. That is not really the sender’s PO Box.

      • UWIR

        Plus, what’s the point of having a PO Box if you never come and pick anything up there?

      • Nox

        “The unsigned letter was dated Sept. 6, and postmarked Sept. 9. Its envelope bore the return address of P.O. Box 137, Coos Bay — the mailing address for The Prayer Chapel in downtown Coos Bay where an explosive device was discovered last week.”

  • C Peterson

    In what possible, reasonable way can “Veterans United for Non-religious Memorials” be interpreted as the name of an atheist group?

    That’s exactly the sort of confusion created by those who identify as “New Atheists” and by groups like AA. Secularism is not atheism.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    The Unabomber claimed to be a group. It’s such a common dodge that it isn’t even worth consideration without more proof. The odds are overwhelming that it’s one guy.

  • Chakolate

    Not only did they fail to see that there is no such group, they failed to see that the writers apparently mostly object to the Christian nature of the memorials. They could be Muslim or Jew or Hindu, and still have written that letter.

  • busterggi

    Hmmm… an explosion that causes no damage followed by a letter from a fake atheist group. Nah, no Christian would ever pull a fraud.

  • DougI

    It’s not even a good fake name. Sounds like the work of one pathetic individual.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    Seems like a teen stunt to me, but I would like it investigated (both explosion and letter) and those responsible brought to justice under the law. We don’t want a society in which some people think it is okay to blow other folks’ stuff up.


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