Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Nov 6, 2001

Falwell's heart of darkness.
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch

For many people on the West Coast, the end of the world happened while we were asleep. We were awakened with the news or, in my case, awoke to it, peering at it on TV, thinking it was an ad for a Schwarzenegger picture, waiting for that voice to intone, "Friday everywhere from Sony." Then there was the gradual realization that this stuff was actually happening,, that nothing you were seeing was a specie effect, and that everything that wasn't collapsing was about to get turned upside down.

People who live on the edge of hysteria now had something to legitimately get hysterical about, and the calls and E-mails poured in. "Lots of gay people dead," a friend reported. "Rents at the World Trade Center were low since the bombing in 1993, so lots of gay political organizations and start-ups had offices there." Could this be true? I thought of the guy from Cantor Fitzgerald who cold-called me every so often to get me to buy stock. He was gay, but were they all?

"They're going to blame this on the Jews," another friend shrieked. "It's all because of Israel." I remembered being in South Africa many years ago when the prime minister was stabbed by a man with a Jewish-sounding surname. The chief rabbi had gone on national TV to announce that the man wasn't a Jew. Otherwise, who knows what would have happened? Probably something like what happened here--people got shot for being Arabic.

Then came the biggest surprise of all--nobody was blaming the Jews, but Jerry Falwell was blaming the gays. Fortunately, he was also blaming the feminists, the abortionists, and a whole bunch of other people he claimed were "secularizing" America and thereby stirring up God's wrath. Guess Jerry is closer to God than we figured. Or maybe not. Later the same day Jerry came on TV to say that he had once again been misunderstood. Of course he hadn't, but it's all he could say after his attempt to jump on a flaming bandwagon of anger had so spectacularly misfired.

It's hard to believe a professional hatemonger like Falwell had so misjudged the public's mood. But most people were too shell-shocked, too dismayed, and too dis-oriented to be able to work up a frothing rage. Most people were just depressed that the world had, after everything, come to this.

Even though we more or less feel we know the enemy, opinion is deeply divided on how to deal with him. As many people want not to bomb as to bomb. Indeed, there is an active debate as to whether we'd be bombing Afghanistan into the Stone Age or up to the Stone Age. Gandhi is quoted everywhere, and even the hawks are talking about carefully picking their shots.

The overwhelming realization, if there has been one, is that the people who did this did it in the name of an angry God, against a force they view as godless, in the full knowledge that they would die in their attempt and be guaranteed a place in eternal glory. This is not too far from where Jerry Falwell places himself and his followers, waging an endless war against a godless civilization that doesn't know what's good for it.

For the first time in what seems like forever, the general public, even the White House, seemed to take note of this. This blunt moment of truth that Falwell exposed to the world revealed himself more than he will ever know. America is about freedom and the pursuit of happiness, which is why so many foreigners are among the dead at the World Trade Center. The religious right managed to marginalize itself as never before with its big ratings grabber's big pronouncements.

We have been laden with our own Osama. Maybe it was the end of more than one world, and maybe the next one is looking a bit brighter for all the heartache.