A heretic is loose in the Church of Matthew Shepard, and the Church is out to get him.
The story of Matthew Shepard can only be understood in religious terms. A young man, a perpetual innocent victim, is martyred for America’s sins of homophobia.
The Church of Matthew Shepard comes with all the accoutrement of religious belief–processions through the streets and even liturgies. Belief in things unseen is called faith, and faith plays a key role in the Church of Matthew Shepard.
Faith in Matthew includes belief in the narrative that was cooked up within hours of his attack–that he was a pure victim of his homosexuality perpetrated by evil homophobes, indeed perpetrated by the hatred of the Christian right and the whole of America.
Anyone deviating from this faith must burn at the stake. In this case, the heretic is gay journalist Stephen Jimenez, whose explosive Book of Matt has just been published by Steerforth Press.
Media Matters has taken its turn at the pyre. It sent a young man named Luke Brinker to write a review of the book that is little more than dime-store propaganda that bears little or no resemblance to Jimenez’s long and detailed investigation into Shepard’s life and death.
A turning point in Jimenez’s investigation came when he discovered an anonymous note in the prosecutor’s files asserting that the hate-crime charge was phony because the killer also “liked homosexual action.” Media Matters responds, “Jimenez’s reaction to [the letter] is typical of his reporting style. The letter writer’s anonymity and lack of any actual evidence regarding McKinney’s sex life doesn’t appear to raise any red flags for Jimenez…”
In fact, Jimenez’s “reporting style” is exhaustive and detailed. He did not take the letter at face value. The letter began what became a ten-year investigation during which Jimenez interviewed more than 111 named sources listed in the back of the book, along with 20 sources who insisted upon anonymity, mostly for reasons of personal safety.
Over his ten years and repeated visits to Laramie, Jimenez uncovered and reported an ugly story about how methamphetamine had slowly overtaken Laramie and much of Wyoming–how Matthew Shepard allegedly succumbed to it by becoming a member of a dangerous drug cartel working out of Denver and one of the principle suppliers of meth to Laramie. According to Jimenez, Shepard also became a dedicated user, along with his buddy and sometime sex partner Aaron McKinney, who later killed him. It is an ugly story that will send you to the shower after reading it.
The Media Matters piece tries to give the impression of a hard-hitting review when, in fact, all the author does is cherry pick parts of the book, wrench them out of context and dismiss them with catty putdowns. Media Matters hopes that no one actually reads the book. Comparing this review to the book makes you wonder whether Brinker actually read it. Let me give you examples.
Much of what Jimenez says he heard early in his investigation were rumors of a coverup. Media Matter’s young scribe writes, “While unfounded gossip is hardly unheard of in the aftermath of a horrific crime, Jimenez is seemingly convinced that these rumormongers are onto something.” Brinker seems not to know how investigations progress.
Brinker does not like Jimenez’s use of “anonymous or simply unreliable sources” and points specifically to a Wyoming law enforcement official who told Jimenez the murder had nothing to do with sexual preference. Brinker complains, “Jimenez does not elaborate on the extent of this official’s involvement with the case…” In fact, Jimenez explains that the man had “intimate knowledge of the murder case,” though he does not go into detail because the man fears for his life and the lives of his family. Brinker leaves that out.
You will be forgiven for wondering why someone, particularly a law enforcement officer, would fear for his family’s life over a simple homophobic murder where the killers are already serving life sentences. In fact, Jimenez’s investigation showed that Shepard was allegedly involved in a highly-organized and dangerous criminal drug enterprise and that lives were in danger.
Media Matters does not like a witness named Glenn Duncan who agreed to an interview with Jimenez “on the slim hope that someone in the media finally tells the truth about Shepard’s murder.” Brinker dispatches Duncan in a single sentence because he was disbarred over financial irregularities. What he does not tell you is Jimenez reports Duncan had a long history with Aaron McKinney and spent years trying to get him out of drugs, going so far as taking him to “Life Training” seminar two years before the murder.
Brinker blithely dismisses Thomas “Doc” O’Connor, one of the central figures in the whole case. Much of the book is about “Doc” O’Connor. He ran several businesses in and around Laramie, including a limo service often used by Shepard and his killer. O’Connor and those around him are among multiple sources for the claims that Shepard knew his killer, did and sold drugs with his killer, and had sex with his killer. The evidence does not interest Media Matters, but there is plenty of it.
There is a woman named Elaine Baker who Jimenez tracked down in a local bar called The Buck. “With little hesitation she acknowledged that she had, indeed, spent an evening socializing with Aaron, Matthew, Doc, a girlfriend of Doc’s named Stephanie, and a few others.” She also said, “I knew from the beginning the whole thing was a lie and a coverup. Aaron didn’t hate Matthew for being gay. They were friends, for god’s sake.” Baker and Stephanie both describe a scene in the limo and later at Doc’s house where they say Shepard, his “homophobic” killer McKinney, and Doc participated in a threesome.
Then there is Tristan “Ted” Henson, who Brinker tries to minimize as “a purported lover of Shepard’s–unknown to Shepard’s friends and family.” What Brinker won’t tell you is Henson was a central figure in Shepard’s life. They met in Saudi Arabia, where Shepard’s family lived for a short time. They became friends and lovers. Henson says Shepard and McKinney knew each other well.
In a 2005 email, Henson told Jimenez, “Matt owed Aaron money for meth,” and “I went in the limo with Doc… Matt liked to ride in [the limos] and… Doc would not charge Matt… Matt and Aaron had sex while doing drugs in Doc’s limo.” He also reported that Matt would trade sex for drugs with Aaron and that “Aaron screwed Matt at least five times that I know of.”
It should be pointed out that none of these people have any reason to lie at this remove. In fact, they place themselves in danger for speaking out now.
The importance of these types of witnesses that Brinker either ignores or trashes is that they are witnesses to the central thesis that undercuts the Myth of Matthew, that homophobic strangers killed a gay saint.
Media Matters clings faithfully to the charge that this was a hate crime when, in fact, McKinney’s girlfriend Kirsten Price asserts they cooked the whole thing up the night of the murder. “I don’t think it was a hate crime at all,” she told ABC News. “I never did.” The hate crime claim also was asserted by two of Shepard’s friends, Alex Trout and Walt Boulden, who “began spreading the word,” according to that same ABC report.
Each of them had a reason to promote this theory: Matt’s friends in order to advance the myth, and Aaron in order to save himself without getting clipped by his drug masters.
McKinney and Shepard, the book alleges, were both drug mules who would use to Doc O’Connor’s limos to make meth runs between Denver and Laramie with a stop over in Fort Collins. On a meth bender for several days prior to the killing, McKinney was coming down and desperately needed money and more meth–both of which he thought Shepard possessed. Shepard was supposed to do a Denver run that night, but he ended up not going. If McKinney testified to the drug angle, he put himself in danger from his drug bosses in Denver. They would have killed him in prison.
Later in prison, McKinney wrote a letter describing himself as a “drunk homophobick [sic].” In his recorded interview early in the investigation, he used the words “fag” and “queer” to refer to Shepard. Don’t these two things prove he hated gays? Media Matters certainly thinks so. However, the early interview was part of the gay defense he ginned up in the hours before his arrest.
The story of Matthew Shepard’s life and death is ugly beyond belief. Jimenez states that he was sexually abused several times as a boy. He also reveals that Shepard himself was arrested for sexually abusing boys in his neighborhood. Shepard battled most of his life with depression, anxiety, drug abuse, alcoholism, and dangerous sexual activity, Jimenez writes. He was beaten up more than once. He was HIV positive. He was a drug dealer, according to Jimenez’s sources.
The High Holy Days of Matthew are upon us. He was beaten on October 6th and died six days later. This falls providentially within National Coming Out Week. There will be processions through the streets, tearful interviews, and performances of the liturgical Laramie Project.
The thing about false religions is that they are false. But that does not stop the zealots from punishing those who have strayed from the one true faith.