GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Emotions ran high Thursday evening at a controversial event organized by the owner of Dieseltec, with shouting and clashes between supporters and protesters.
Brian Klawiter, who owns the auto repair shop Dieseltec in Grandville, first made headlines in April when he took to his business’ Facebook page to say he would not hesitate to “refuse service to an openly gay person or persons.”
He sparked further controversy when he arranged for national conservative speakers Bradlee Dean and Coach Dave Daubenmire to speak at the Jenison Center for the Arts on Thursday for an event called “West Michigan God & Country.” Klawiter said Dean has spoken at high schools across the country about the Bible, conservatism and liberty. Coach Dave lost a fight against a lawsuit filed by the ACLU against the district he coached for because it allowed him to pray with and pass out scriptures to football players before games.
Opponents previously told 24 Hour News 8 they didn’t think a building operated by the school and paid for by taxpayer dollars was the appropriate venue for the event. The school district sent a letter to parents last month to say it had no choice but to allow it to take place.
A group called Jenison 4 Love protested outside the Jenison Center for Fine Arts before Thursday’s event. They carried rainbow flags and signs that read “We are all equal,” “Love is the only answer,” “Love can’t wait,” and “We shouldn’t hate others ’cause it’s lame” with a drawing of Cartman from the TV show “South Park,” among other things.
“We really want to raise our kids believing in equality and that everyone is the same, everyone deserves the same love, same opportunities,” protester Emily Taphouse said.
“These people do not know who their friends or enemies are,” event supporter William Geresy said of the protesters. “We are not their enemies. We are just wanting freedom.”
Some protesters also went into the auditorium for the forum. They seemed to outnumber supporters — and the protesters certainly seemed to be louder.
The event seemed to devolve into nothing but chaos at times. There was yelling, chanting and confrontations between Klawiter, speakers, supporters and protesters.
Former state Rep. Dave Agema, who has been criticized in the past for controversial statements on homosexuality, was present. Some protesters shouted at him as he spoke.
Some also shouted at Klawiter early on. After a Dieseltec supporter grabbed a protester’s face, the supporter was escorted out by officers and the protester was asked to leave. No charges will be sought against either, 24 Hour News 8 was told.
After the crowd sang the hymn “Amazing Grace,” some protesters chanted “gay’s OK.”
Coach Dave talked about the place of faith in schools, saying, “We are in the mess we are in because we have stopped talking about our sin in school.” Protesters responded by saying that “not everyone is Christian.”
During the event, one protester stood up and yelled at other protesters for being “rude.”
“You are giving them what they want,” the scolding protester said.
At one point, Klawiter told police they should be removing people who disrupted the event.
Bradlee Dean also told protesters it was time for them to ‘shut their pie holes’ and ‘listen to the facts.’ There was then shouting from both event supporters and protesters.
Klawiter then took the stage and said that cussing in public is illegal under Michigan law and that law enforcement officers in the auditorium were refusing to do their jobs by allowing people to cuss openly. Officers later told 24 Hour News 8 that the law Klawiter was referencing was overturned years ago by an appellate court and is no longer enforceable.
During the event, Klawiter also called the protesters “useless idiots.”
Dean covered a number of topics as he continued speaking: same-sex marriage and protests of it; the “sate-controlled” media, its coverage of same-sex marriage and members of the military killed in Afghanistan and Iraq; the public school system; abortion; and evolution.
Perhaps the loudest cheer of the night from the crowd was when Dean referenced the number of LGBT people the president — who he referred to by his full name Barack Hussein Obama repeatedly — had appointed to various positions.
There were plenty of police on hand at the event, and officers even setting up a camera to record it. But despite the tense atmosphere, no one was arrested.
Organizers of Jenison 4 Love, one of the groups that protested, said the protesters who were loud during the event and clashed with people Klawiter brought in for security were not from their group and were only a small representation of everyone who showed up against the event and its message.
“A very small group, maybe 20 max out of the more than 200 outside, that he is focusing on,” Joel Hilgendorf with Jenison 4 Love told 24 Hour News 8 on Friday. “I can understand him being upset that the opposition was there. However, he held this in a public building. They have every right to be there just like he does, and he didn’t help anything by bringing his armed militia.”
KLAWITER ON FRIDAY: ‘IT WAS WORTH IT’
Klawiter told 24 Hour News 8 on Friday that after much of the media and those who he said were instigating the outbursts left, he got to have a discussion with some of the protestors. He said that made him feel good about the event.
“When they lost the attention of the media… The whole dynamic changed,” Klawiter said.
It is clear from video on YouTube shot after most had left Klawiter’s demeanor also changed.
“We were sharing the gospel… It was awesome,” Klawiter said.
Klawiter said that after the event, he confronted Ottawa County sheriff’s officers who he claims didn’t do enough to help maintain order.
“They approved of that disruptive behavior by their inaction,” Klawiter said. “Free speech isn’t just for liberals… I will hold them accountable for that.”
“We are really proud of the school district and the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department for the job they did,” Hilgendorf said.
Klawiter was quick to dispel Friday reports that his business was for sale. He leases space at his current location on Ottawa Avenue. The owner of the building has been trying to sell it for quite some time, he said. Klawiter said his business is doing well in spite of the press surrounding his controversial remarks.
“We’re actually busier than we’ve ever been,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Klawiter said he paid $1,200 to rent the Jenison Center for the Arts for the free event. He said calls of support poured into his office after the event from many who he says are part of the “silent majority” who share what he says are conservative Christian values. He says they stay silent out of fear.
“I think the evidence of that was in last night,” Klawiter said. “These people are malicious… They took away the freedom of my supporters to hear what I had to say.”
“We are not for anything aggressive. We are completely behind his right to talk, his right to have his opinion, his right to hold the event,” Hilgendorf said.
In spite of it all, Klawiter says he has no regrets.
“Based on what happened at the end, I think it was worth it,” he said. “I’ll probably do another one.”
“We were very, very, very vocal in the protest area about Jenison 4 Love, that the last thing we are here to do is get into an augment with him,” Hilgendorf said.