The largely left-leaning 9/11 Truth Alliance's invitation for right-tilting Mary Starrett to speak Feb. 28 at its weekly meeting ended up raising big problems at the group's usual meeting space.
Laughing Horse Books—a nonprofit, collectively owned and operated bookstore that's been a resource and meeting space for left-of-center Portlanders since 1985—has been the 9/11 group's venue for more than two years. The 9/11 Truth Alliance meets at the store on Southeast 10th Avenue to discuss alternate theories about what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
But when Laughing Horse collective members who aren't part of the 9/11 Truth Alliance learned of Starrett's strong opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, they were just as strongly opposed to her presence at the bookstore.
"All these people were just furious about having her in our safe space," explained a collective member and book orderer who wished only to be identified as Dominic. "It would be the same if [Pastor] Fred Phelps [who preaches that 'God hates fags"] came and was going to talk about 9/11. We just didn't want it in the store."
Starrett was last year's Constitutional Party gubernatorial candidate (Q&A, WW, Aug. 9, 2006), winning 50,229 votes, or 3.6 percent. She also appeared on KATU for nearly 20 years, including a stint from 1985 to 1997 as co-host of the TV station's AM Northwest program.
At Laughing Horse's bimonthly Sunday-morning meeting Feb. 25, according to longtime collective member Tim Calvert, there were five people for letting Starrett speak and nine people against. No one was going to budge.
But near the end of the almost four-hour meeting, the group compromised: Starrett would speak at Laughing Horse unless Dominic could find an alternate venue by the next evening, Feb. 26.
When he couldn't find another place, collective members began discussing a protest. "If it had happened at the bookstore, she wouldn't have been able to say anything because people would have been screaming at her," said Dominic.
Glen Owen, a member of both the Laughing Horse collective and the 9/11 Truth Alliance, said he made a last-minute decision to change the meeting to the Lucky Lab on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard because he was worried the group would be locked out by angry collective members, a fear Dominic says was unfounded.
Starrett didn't know about the controversy until she got a message notifying her of the venue change. "Typically what I see is, it's the ones who scream the loudest for diversity and tolerance who are so quick to tell me I can't have my own opinion, and I say shame on them," she says.
Even with the late change, Starrett's talk about her 9/11 skepticism drew more than 50 people.
"Nine-eleven truth is definitely an issue that makes strange, strange bedfellows," says one of those who attended Starrett's speech, Sara Lamadrid. "We're willing to reach out and make alliances with [Starrett], even though she's pretty far right and most of us are pretty far left."