Opportunism Knocks

A week after the massacre at Columbine High School, everybody has an agenda. Some are noble, some are not. Some seek the truth, others spin it.

But everybody has one.
Within minutes of the tragedy, travelers searching the Web for information on the Trenchcoat Mafia were stunned to find their quest laid bare--very bare--by adults-only sites that had quickly linked to legitimate ventures. Not since the days of Monica Lewinsky (remember her?) and the XXX-rated whitehouse.com had entrepreneurs answered opportunism's knock so quickly.

Other entreaties were only slightly more subtle. The striking Teamsters took a second out of their Budweiser-bashing to buy an ad honoring the Columbine victims and maybe, just maybe, to remind readers of their cause. On Sunday, Colorado Right to Life gave birth to this announcement: "Today our organization reminds Governor Bill Owens and all Colorado elected officials that 32 years ago--April 25, 1967--this state signed into law the first in the nation abortion law...For those who would reject that the abortion culture is at the root cause of the Columbine massacre, we acknowledge that there are, of course, other influences. Yet, can anyone deny that we have destroyed our reverence for life at the most fundamental level? Violence in the womb has begotten violence outside the womb."

So if Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had lived, would they deserve the right to life?

Also agenda-sharing was a New York-based gay publicist, who last stuck his nose in Colorado's business when he promoted a state boycott after the passage of Amendment 2. "I'd be happy to discuss the possibility the shooters were gay," he offered, even though Klebold had a female prom date who was at least close enough to buy him guns (whatever happened to a nice boutonniere?). In any case, the publicist said, the media shouldn't keep any homosexuality a secret.

But if sexuality were an issue, it's unlikely anyone could keep it quiet, since the Reverend Fred Phelps had vowed to camp out near Columbine, bringing Colorado--and, not coincidentally, the national media--the hate-filled message he'd delivered to Wyoming after Matthew Shepard's murder.

Phelps is not the only religious figure promoting an agenda. This past week, God's name has been invoked often in the southern suburbs that constitute Denver's Bible belt, in support--or condemnation--of a variety of causes. At Monday night's no-media-allowed gathering at Foothills Bible Church of youth pastors and volunteers, a Westword reporter overheard one adult rapturously telling another: "A couple of weeks ago we were getting real discouraged, thinking, what is it going to take to reach these kids? A lot of them seemed to think they had everything they need--through the media, their parents, their wealth--then something like this happens, and they see they really do need God."

Reaching them was a breeze after the deaths of thirteen innocent people! "Has it been incredible how, in the last several days, Colorado has recognized Jesus?" asked speaker Rich Van Pelt, a local youth-ministry worker. "I never thought I would see the day when our state would pay for a worship service," he added, referring to Sunday's memorial at the shopping center near Columbine, which featured such luminaries as Franklin Graham, the Reverend Billy's son. "I'm thankful for our governor--he had the power to decide who was on stage, and I liked his choices. I only hope that what will take them through this is the hope that's in the Gospel." Because the only thing that could heal such terrible wounds, Van Pelt said, was "God's spirit."

That, several dozen lawsuits and the death penalty for any co-conspirators.
By Sunday, the political agenda was spinning out of control. The networks had already televised comments from Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone--the former county commissioner who's been sheriff for all of three months--that the shooters' parents could be held accountable. That was enough for commentators to ask first Owens about Stone's comments, and then Assistant Attorney General Eric Holder, and then Attorney General Janet Reno--whose boss two days later would introduce federal legislation pushing his own agenda to reinstate Brady Bill provisions and make parents responsible for giving their kids access to weapons.

By then, someone had actually referred to Colorado law and learned that it's tough to charge parents criminally--particularly if they could have, but didn't, know what their children were up to.

But also by then, the threat of civil action had been added to the din. The family of Isaiah Shoels will be meeting with attorney Geoffrey Fieger, defender of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, to discuss filing a wrongful-death case against Columbine High School. And how did the family find him? During Fieger's unsuccessful run for governor of Michigan, his campaign was managed by consultant Sam Riddle--until Riddle departed amid charges of racism. That left Riddle free to come to Colorado and help embattled Secretary of State Vikki Buckley with her re-election campaign, then accept a job in her office last fall. Buckley just happens to attend the same church as the Shoels family--and during a meeting held in conjunction with the National Conference of Black Mayors last week, she called for a statewide discussion of racism, since the Columbine shooters reportedly had targeted minorities as well as athletes.

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