East Lansing receives slew of "nasty" emails in response to farmer's market lawsuit
Editor's note: Story may be offensive to some readers.
Update: City Clerk Marie Wicks said the city has received over 1,100 emails in total as of this afternoon.
East Lansing City Council and city staff received well over 100 emails - most angry and critical - aimed at the city’s decision to deny The Country Mill access to the East Lansing Farmer’s Market. The situation has resulted in a federal lawsuit which has grabbed national media attention.
Orchard owner Stephen Tennes sued the city after not being invited to this year's farmer's market, citing violation of religious freedoms. The Country Mill occasionally hosts weddings, and Tennes has stated he refuses to hold same-sex weddings on the property. East Lansing claims the orchard’s business practices violate the city’s civil rights policy.
The emails, most of them consistently vulgar and riddled with grammatical errors, poured in from nearly every corner of the United States, teeming with utmost displeasure toward a city council that was uninvolved in the process of changing the Farmer’s Market guidelines—they were changed by East Lansing’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Arts.
Many of the emails questioned council’s intelligence and called for them to reverse the city’s decision. Some asserted the decision was another example of “government overreach.”
“The spiritual heirs of Uncle Joe Stalin and the Hitler’s Brownshirts are alive and well in East Lansing,” read the first message council received, from James Rountree of Hidden Hills, California.
Emails continued to arrive in scores over the next few days and heavily on June 1 and June 2, the days of and after Tennes appeared on Fox News.
While many of the emails were merely critical of the city and its decisions, some ventured into frightening territory or “pretty nasty stuff” as City Clerk Marie Wicks, who is in charge of filing the explicit emails, labeled them.
“ps. before you think of me as a bigot or homophobic, please know i am as gay as it gets, and still think you are a bunch of f--- ups. if i could send ISIS to one place, it would be your town hall. but sadly, i have no friends in ISIS :(,” one email read.
Meadows spoke publicly about the communications council received, outlining them for those at last Tuesday’s council meeting.
“Just to give you an example, we received things like ‘you should be drawn and quartered,’” Meadows said. “Not sure that is a terrifically Christian thing to state, although the person claimed to be.”
Insults of council members ran the full gamut, including labeling them fascists, “pathetic puke cowards,” “a bunch of dumb ass yankees,” “clowns,” “spineless liberal scumbags” and “dirty ignorant f------ c----.”.
The emails mainly attacked the council and the city, though a few were aimed specifically toward Meadows.
Noah Walters of Durham, N.C. wrote to Meadows and told him pointedly to sodomize himself with a piece of corn.
Other emails made dubious claims, saying the city was engaging in “blatant homosexual-pandering fascism” and “anti-religious bigotry.” Some claimed a personal boycott of the city and professed canceled trips to Lansing, though Lansing and East Lansing are separate municipalities.
The discourse of the emails slipped off message at times, dipping into hypotheticals about other religions and whether council would deny Muslims from selling in the farmer’s market.
“If a Muslim person or family wants to sell in your market, are they too excluded? In case you missed it Muslims don’t accept Gays in their own faith or practice of Sharia. (In the Middle East they’re murdering them) At least Christians do both - accept Gays and don’t give them grief for what they choose to live out. For all I know you have the issue of Muslims selling in your market, but perhaps you turn a legal blind eye to it because of political correctness,” another email read.
In spite of the emails, Councilmember Shanna Draheim said she was glad to live in a community where civil discourse was usually the norm.
“It was a bit of an eye opening week looking at some of the communications that came in and some of the less than civil responses,” Draheim said.
Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier sent replies to a handful of commenters, attempting to explain the city’s decision.
“Think about it this way," Beier wrote in response to a message accusing the city of discriminating based on religious belief. "What if they were discriminating based on race rather than sexual orientation. What if they believed that blacks should not be able to marry whites, so they would not let interracial couples rent their land for weddings. Would that be OK? Would it be reasonable to exclude a racist business owner from the City Market, in your opinion?”
Assistant to the City Manager Eilis Seide said emails maligning the city have slowed over the last week, though she’s had to field calls from angry citizens. Staff has referred to the emails internally as “fan mail” in an effort to remain lighthearted about the situation.