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SGV 012: David & Bigot Goliath after El Monte’s church bombing

Chris Greenspon February 11, 2021 363

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SGV Weekly
SGV 012: David & Bigot Goliath after El Monte's church bombing

Looking back at the news coverage of the explosion at First Works Baptist Church, the question that rises to the top is why weren’t we hearing more from the group that had protested the Church’s hateful teachings? Keep El Monte Friendly was treated fairly in local reports, but we mostly just saw them in the context of their one protest. Their profile felt greatly overshadowed by the multitude of existing soundbites and loud personality of Pastor Delfin Bruce Mejia. 

Meeting two members of KEMF over Zoom, Abby and Bee, they were neither fervorous nor confrontational. They were soft-spoken. We discussed the highlights of their day of protest: a train of cars showing support, mothers crying tears of joy, the realization of not being alone. Then they shared their confusion and fear at the news of the bomb. They did not condone the attack and showed concern that the explosive might have hurt someone. It was clear that they wanted to move on from the experience.

This episode isn’t to say that reporters local and national didn’t make balanced coverage. Rather that the story has largely been focused on a hate group whose main tactic thus far is speech over action, who have now assumed the role of victims (as they proclaim their bravery). In that, there wasn’t as much of a look at the people they’re hurting, or how a group like them comes to exist. But there were a few outliers in what was written about the event.

Gustavo Arellano’s column in the Los Angeles Times gave a meatier depiction of KEMF’s stake in the story. His piece also broke away from the pack in that he wrote the only story in a major publication that called out First Works’ bigoted values. It presented a good opportunity to talk about morality in journalism – and explain how columns and opinion pieces work for the media illiterate – so the former OC Weekly editor is the second guest in this bizarro media roundup.

The third and final speaker is Dan Cady, a history professor at Fresno State who researches American hate groups. Cady’s chapter on the Ku Klux Klan from the El Monte history book East of East was quoted in Myriam Gurba’s LA Taco piece (which examined Mejia’s particular brand of hate preaching). Gurba raised a very important question: could First Works’ be a descendant of the KKK? Cady joined us to offer a more drawn out illustration of the Klan’s association with the Southern Baptist Church and how their mission and tactics inform organizations like First Works. He also outlines the flexible politics of American Christianity.

Bruce Mejia was contacted with the following questions, but did not reply by publishing time. 

  • Members of Keep El Monte Friendly denounced the bombing, but their members say they have been issued hundreds of threats since then. Do you believe these threats are deserved?
  • Gustavo Arellano’s column in the LA Times compares the presence of First Works in Monte to the Nazi Headquarters that was in town in the early 70’s… Myriam Gurba’s piece in LA Taco likens you yourself to the Ku Klux Klansmen of Monte’s past… What do you say to these comparisons? 
  • What do you say to the random assortment of people on Social Media who say that your values aren’t truly Christian?

Special thanks to La Puente Eats for use of the sound from the arrest of Tacos Los Palomos in El Monte in this week’s newscast.

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Chris Greenspon

Radio journalist from La Puente, CA ... SGV Reporter for Streetsblog ... Past lives in LA news radio

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