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In a shocking turn of events this morning, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, along with State Sen. Malcolm Smith, were arrested on charges of fraud and bribery in connection to an alleged plot to fix the mayoral race. The arrests came after an FBI-led investigation, one in which U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara claims Halloran “quarterbacked” the drive to find party officials willing to be bribed. In a meeting with an informant, Halloran allegedly expounded at length on what it takes to “grease the wheels” of New York City politics.

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

“Halloran, meeting on Sept. 7 at a Manhattan restaurant with the government informant, allegedly made clear that it takes big bucks to bring government action in New York. ‘That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much,’ Halloran said, according to the criminal complaint. ‘Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that.’ Halloran allegedly added: ‘You can’t get anything without the f–king money.’ The meeting ended with Halloran receiving $7,500 cash bribe from the feds’ cooperating witness, according to the complaint.”

You can read the full complaint against Halloran, and the other implicated officials, here. On his arrest this morning, Halloran claimed to have no idea as to why he was being picked up by law enforcement, saying he was “sure the truth will come out once I have an opportunity to find out what’s going on.” That said, if even some of these allegations are true, Halloran most certainly will face jail time, and his colorful, sometimes unorthodox, political career is likely over.

For those not in the loop, the reason Dan Halloran’s arrest is being mentioned in a Pagan news blog is that Halloran is the highest elected official in the United States who also happens to openly be an adherent of a Pagan/Heathen religion. Specifically, he was for a time a prominent (and eventually prominently controversial) member of the Théodish belief system, a faith that seeks to practice Germanic pre-Christian religion. Though Halloran never denied being a Théodish Heathen, he also wasn’t very transparent about it in the beginning, causing a great deal of havoc when he was “outed” by the local press during his city council run. His beliefs were often sensationalized by the press, including Village Voice cover art depicting Halloran with a dead sacrificed goat, ceremonial robe and runic cloak.

Halloran’s initial response to the attention was to downplay the Heathen-ness of his faith (infuriating many of his co-religionists), and stress his Catholic heritage.

I took comfort in my family’s history and our heritage, yet through all of this pain and hardship, I never lost faith in God. Last week, I was attacked for my faith in the Queens Tribune.These attacks happened on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year for the Jewish people. Having been raised in a Catholic household that shares its religious roots with the Jewish faith, I was deeply offended that religion would be used for political gain. [...] I am a man of faith – and now my faith is under attack by a newspaper working for my opponent. I call on my opponent to disavow the Queens Tribune’s attack on religion. I am running a campaign on the issues.”

From that point, Halloran has steered clear of talking explicitly about his faith, even when journalists dug up former co-religionists who made allegations relating to his leadership role within Theodism. In a 2010 interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective, Halloran reiterated that his faith is private, and “irrelevant” to any policy decision he might make.

“My service in the Council and advocacy for our neighborhoods has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that my religious faith is not only irrelevant to my public policy… but also a source of great personal strength for me which only inures to the benefit of my Community. I do occasionally hear that being a “Druid” explains why I am such an eco-conscious Republican.”

Still, his Heathen faith was a continual punch-line for critics, and already Gawker has posted an “epic poem” today in his honor. Halloran was a complex figure who could be charming and infuriating depending on who he was interacting with, and I can’t picture many politicians within Tea Party and Libertarian circles overcoming the obstacles he did, to the point of making a serious bid for congress. Halloran was living proof that being a Pagan wasn’t an impossible obstacle to modern political office, even if you were a conservative Republican in New York City. It is for this reason that these revelations are especially disheartening, because our collective history will now mark Halloran’s “firsts” with the asterisk of scandal and corruption.

We will continue to follow this story as it develops. The Wild Hunt will also be featuring an editorial this week from Cara Schulz, a Pagan who interviewed Halloran in 2010, and has followed his career over the years.

Ever since his religious affiliation was outed to the general public back in 2009, Republican Dan Halloran has tried to keep the subject off his adherence to Theodish Heathenism, and on day-to-day political matters. After his Heathen faith became an issue in the successful 2009 campaign for a seat on the New York City Council, he finally released a public statement entitled “I believe in God,” which downplayed his Pagan identity, and stressed Halloran’s Catholic heritage.

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

I took comfort in my family’s history and our heritage, yet through all of this pain and hardship, I never lost faith in God. Last week, I was attacked for my faith in the Queens Tribune.These attacks happened on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year for the Jewish people. Having been raised in a Catholic household that shares its religious roots with the Jewish faith, I was deeply offended that religion would be used for political gain. [...] I am a man of faith – and now my faith is under attack by a newspaper working for my opponent. I call on my opponent to disavow the Queens Tribune’s attack on religion. I am running a campaign on the issues.”

Not once in the statement does Halloran mention the terms “Heathen,” “Theodish,” or “Pagan.”  A fact that soured many in the Heathen community to Halloran, believing that they were “thrown under the bus” so he could win the election. From that point, Halloran has steered clear of talking explicitly about his faith, even when journalists dug up former co-religionists who made allegations relating to his leadership role within Theodism. In a 2010 interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective, Halloran reiterated that his faith is private, and “irrelevant” to any policy decision he might make.

“My service in the Council and advocacy for our neighborhoods has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that my religious faith is not only irrelevant to my public policy… but also a source of great personal strength for me which only inures to the benefit of my Community. I do occasionally hear that being a “Druid” explains why I am such an eco-conscious Republican.”

However, it now seems like Halloran may be willingly (if unwittingly) opening the “black box” of his religion by attacking one of his potential Democratic opponents in the upcoming congressional race. In an interview with the Jewish political blog Gestetner Updates, Halloran praises Assemblyman Rory Lancman as his toughest potential opponent, but also claims his voting record doesn’t reflect his personal faith.

“Unfortunately his voting record does not match his personal commitment to his faith,” he said. “He was on the opposite side of gay marriage; opposite side of abortion; and the opposite side on the issues of school vouchers, and tax credits and incentives for those who use private schools to educate our young children.”

In short, Halloran kinda implied that Lancman may be a bad Jew when it comes to these issues, echoing the criticisms of conservative New York Jews. That may seem like good politics when you’re trying to win over moderate and conservative Jews, but it also opens the “black box” of his own religion, making him fair game for similar questions and statements. Considering the fact that the Village Voice has already attacked Halloran for being a hypocrite, specifically on the question of abortion, it doesn’t seem wise to run on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“In early 2011, a legislative fight emerged in New York City over anti-abortion “pregnancy centers” advertising abortion counseling when they don’t actually offer abortions. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn introduced a bill that would force such organizations to advertise that they don’t perform abortions and to disclose if they have any medical staff on hand.  [...] Quinn’s bill would eventually pass overwhelmingly in the council without Halloran’s vote. According to Little Neck Patch, Halloran “did not see the issue . . . as a part of the decades-old debate over abortion rights.” (Still, through a spokesman, he also noted “the Council member is pro-life.”) [...] The episode infuriated some of Halloran’s former followers, who not only had known him to be pro-choice, but also to be “pro-abortion to nearly the point of endorsing infanticide,” as one put it.

The Voice piece quotes Halloran at length defending abortion within the context of his faith, and while I publicly criticized the piece for crossing the line, this new interview now partially undercuts my argument that “too much is made of his faith, and in improper contexts.”

I can only think of three possibilities for why Halloran has decided to bring up same-sex marriage and abortion in the context of a potential opponent’s religion: that it was a mistake, that he felt it was a calculated risk worth the potential blowback, or he’s hoping to preemptively make the religion question moot by muddying the waters now, instead of during the general election. Whatever the reason, it just seems risky to open yourself up for attack after you’ve spent years saying your religion isn’t an issue for public debate or commentary.

In the coming weeks I’ll be highlighting a two-part guest commentary from our resident Theodism expert Nick Ritter on what Theodism is and isn’t, and the political career and congressional candidacy of Dan Halloran from a Theodish perspective. I feel that as this campaign heats up, it will be important to talk to voices who can bring more light to the issues that will no doubt be raised regarding religion. In the meantime you can listen to my podcast featuring Nick Ritter and PNC-Minnesota reporter Cara Schulz on Halloran’s congressional run. I fear we’re going to be hearing a lot about Halloran’s faith in the mainstream media come November, and we should be prepared for what that might mean for the broader Pagan and Heathen communities.

There had been rumblings for several days, and yesterday it was confirmed, that Republican New York City Councilman Dan Halloran will run for the newly created Sixth Congressional District. On Sunday, Halloran received the endorsement of the Queens County Republican Party, who called him “a proven vote getter and a strong voice for taxpayers, small businesses and seniors.” Halloran responded by saying that “it is time for politics to go for non-entrenched people,” and “we don’t need career politicians in Washington carving up the turf and making things worse.”

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

The Queens County GOP endorsement is a big deal, as the new 6th Congressional District sits within Queens County, and so far, Halloran hasn’t received any primary challengers. Still, this will be an uphill battle for the Councilman. The redrawn district is still expected to lean heavily Democratic, and retiring Representative Gary L. Ackerman (D) noted that “if there was a chance Democrats couldn’t hold it, I would be running.” Halloran’s most likely opponent is Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who received the endorsement of the Queens Democratic Party. However, Meng will face a primary challenge from two other local Democrats, and the results of that contest could swing the race in Halloran’s favor.

Halloran had considered a run at Ackerman’s seat back in 2010, but wavered, and ultimately backed off due to a lack of resources. Now, with the seat wide open, it seems likely that the Republican establishment will funnel money into Halloran’s campaign in hopes that they can pick up a congressional seat. Of course, one big question mark over his campaign is how religion will affect the race. For as long-time readers of The Wild Hunt know, Halloran is Theodish, a Heathen reconstructionist religion that focuses on Anglo-Saxon gods and traditions.

From the beginning of his political career, Halloran’s opponents have made his faith an issue. None more ardently than Steven Thrasher at The Village Voice, who sensationalized the candidate’s beliefs back in 2009, then following up with a 2011 piece about Halloran’s“strange career” as a city councilman that featured cover art depicting Halloran with a dead sacrificed goat, ceremonial robe and runic cloak. Thrasher is already licking his chops at the thought of Halloran running, making it plain he intends to once more make Halloran’s faith into an issue.

“Either way, we look forward to covering this race and speaking further with Halloran’s constituents, as well as the supportive and disaffected members of his Theodish kingdom, New Normandy.”

The New York Times, in their report, noted that Halloran has “come under the microscope for his religion,” while the New York Post snarkily runs with the headline “well, he’s got the Pagan vote.” Knowing that Halloran’s faith will be an issue, Robert Hornak, executive director of the Queens GOP, was already framing the Republican Party’s response.

“This as an issue of religious freedom, if they want to attack him for that, they can go ahead.”

In short, they are taking the high ground on religion. As for Halloran, PNC reporter Cara Schulz, who interviewed Halloran in 2010, asked him how his constituents felts about his faith after it was made an issue during his election to City Council.

“It’s not an issue….Almost everyone sees what was done as a terrible campaign hit-piece. My service in the Council and advocacy for our neighborhoods has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that my religious faith is not only irrelevant to my public policy… but also a source of great personal strength for me which only inures to the benefit of my Community. I do occasionally hear that being a “Druid” explains why I am such an eco-conscious Republican.”

That may all be, but with everyone predicting a hard-fought presidential battle this November, many Congressional seats are going to swing with the prevailing electoral winds. It seems unlikely that no one will go after Halloran for religion, though I doubt Meng herself would, since many of her supporters and constituents in the New York Asian community are Buddhist. In fact, if Meng were Buddhist herself (something I can’t confirm, if anyone has seen an article where she talks about her faith, please let me know) we could have a race were neither candidate were Christian. Could this be the first truly post-Christian Congressional campaign in the United States? Will we see the first openly Pagan member of Congress in the United States?

I will, of course, be following Halloran’s campaign closely. The Councilman is expected to hold a press conference today at 5pm (Eastern) announcing his candidacy, and I’ll update here with links and other resources once it’s up.

Today I have some updates and new developments in stories previously covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Georgia School Harassment Case: Last week I reported on an official joint statement sent out by the North Georgia SolitariesDogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the GoddessLady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary, on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school (as originally reported by the Atlanta IMC). Now, that coalition, The Turner Family Support Task Force, has sent out an update calling for ongoing spiritual and fiscal support.

“Please send your prayers, your energy, and your personal messages through the Facebook page. They are being read by the Turners throughout each day. And, secondly, if you would like to contribute funds to help alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on the family, please make your donations via the Pagan Assistance Fund, operated by the North Georgia Solitaries through the Church of the Spiral Tree. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to offset a variety of expenses such as gas, child care, home-schooling supplies, and other related family expenses as they arise.”

The task force is hoping their efforts will lead to “a peaceful resolution and a future of fair and equal treatment in the school and school system.” My contact within the task force says that there will be more news on this front soon, so stay tuned!

Saudi Arabia’s Sorcery Beheading: On Monday, news broke that Saudi Arabia had executed yet another person for the crime of “sorcery,” bringing the estimated total of state-backed executions to 79, a massive increase from the previous year. Amnesty International called the beheading Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser “deeply shocking,” while the BBC reports that it is the country’s religious police force (the Mutaween) who are pushing for executions.

“The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. [...] Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam.”

The Wild Hunt has spent quite a bit of time reporting on Saudi Arabia’s harsh laws against fortune telling, sorcery, and witchcraft. There was the case of Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, and finally freed. Also significant is the case of Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, which drew the public attention of Pagan and international interfaith figure Phyllis Curott, a Trustee of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, serving on its Executive Committee. In many cases, like Fawza Falih’s, we never learn their ultimate fate. This trend of executing fortune tellers and “sorcerers” is troubling, not only because Saudi Arabia is ostensibly our ally, but because there are modern Pagans living in the Middle East, and having to live under the threat of death for witchcraft in the 21st century is a scandal to any who believe in progress and human rights.

Peruvian Shaman Slayings: Back in October I reported on the murder of fourteen shamans in Peru, allegedly ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claimed these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect. Now, progressive news site Truthout brings us an update on the story, alleging that more than mere religious animus is behind these murders.

Alberto Pizango, Peru’s top indigenous leader and president of the country’s most powerful indigenous organization, the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by its Spanish acronym, AIDESEP) paints a more complex picture of the case, blaming cash and pressure from legal and illegal industries in the Amazon who poach natural resources from indigenous lands. “What is happening now in my community is organized crime,” said Pizango, himself a Shawi medico who studied for seven years under a master shaman.

Pizango goes on to tell how traditions are being distorted to support the murder of shamans who oppose the growing criminal enterprises in Peru, or their political allies. noting that “when the people come out to defend their territorial rights, their rights to their natural resources, then the mayor has the perfect criminal organization to shut them up, accuse them, say that someone was killed because he was a brujo.” At this point the death-count is now estimated at 20, and the government investigation into these charges are still ongoing. No arrests or public statements have been made. For ongoing updates see the Alianza Arkana news blog.

Dan Halloran Responds (by Proxy): I’ve been waiting to hear Dan Halloran’s response to the divisive Village Voice piece that I feel unfairly sensationalized his Heathen faith, and dinged by religion journalism criticism site Get Religion for its unnecessary mocking tone.” Now, it seems a response was sent out this past Thursday, albeit indirectly through Halloran’s spokesman Steve Stites in an email to the Queens Tribune.

“The liberal press, such as the Voice, based in downtown Manhattan, and knowing zilch about Northeast Queens, have stooped to some pretty creative new lows in trying to bash the Councilman,” Stites wrote in a furious email. “It makes you wonder why they’re so afraid of him, or so fascinated by him. My guess is that the left-wing press doesn’t like the Councilman because he’s outspoken, effective and conservative, and he doesn’t play by their rules of political correctness and go-along get-along politics.”

Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher defended his piece, saying he wrote it “because it made such a good story—a politician with a faith unlike any other,” and that comparing Heathens with Civil War reenactors was meant to be a compliment. Sadly, neither Halloran or Stites have directly addressed the religious content of Thrasher’s article, nor do I expect them to any time soon.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Steven Thrasher at The Village Voice clearly isn’t a fan of Republican New York City Councilman Dan Halloran. Thrasher first did a critical piece on Halloran and his Heathen faith for the Village Voice back in October of 2009 that I dinged him on for inappropriately (in my opinion) sensationalizing the candidate’s beliefs.

“All-in-all it’s a well-executed and well-researched story (he even links to my blog), but there is one troubling element, which is Thrasher’s decision to interweave controversies about racist/racialist forms of Heathen religion into the narrative. The article at several points discusses the problem of racist Heathens/Odinists in prisons, mentions a violent racist killer, and describes the “trepidation” that non-Heathen Pagans have concerning “white nationalist elements” inside Asatru/Odinism/Heathenry. What he doesn’t do is convincingly justify examining this racist minority within the context of a story about Halloran’s faith and beliefs, especially when, at almost every turn, it is pointed out that you shouldn’t automatically connect Heathen symbols and religion with the racist elements who utilize the same symbols/beliefs.”

Thrasher ended up having to clarify his own writing when his article (surprise!) stirred up controversy.

“We did point out that there’s an alarming trend in the country’s prisons of white supremacists adopting neo-heathenism for their white nationalist agendas. Experts tell us that as much as 50 percent of the country’s tiny neo-heathenist movement has connections to white supremacy. But we also made it clear, several times, that we found no tie between Halloran’s New Normandy and those white supremacist groups. Yes, Halloran seems to have found some fans at the white nationalist forum Stormfront, but that’s something he can hardly control.”

The Village Voice would go on to praise Thrasher’s work and dub Halloran a “loser to watch” just before the election. However, Halloran did win, and Thrasher responded with some lame swipes at Heathenism, establishing that Thrasher won’t be volunteering for Halloran’s reelection campaign any time soon. Now, two years later, Thrasher writes about Halloran’s “strange career” as a city councilman, but does the piece cross the line from run-of-the-mill political take-down/expose into outright religious slur? The first thing that hits you is the illustration by Michael Marsicano, complete with dead sacrificed goat, ceremonial robe and runic cloak.

Village Voice illustration by Michael Marsicano.

Village Voice illustration by Michael Marsicano.

The funny thing is that back in 2009 Thrasher downplayed the issue of animal sacrifice in relation to Halloran’s Heathen beliefs, comparing it to Kosher butchering.

“…they made it sound like Dan’s oath-holders are slaying creatures left and right. As we reported, however, animal sacrifice is rare, and it’s pretty much like kosher butchering. The chicken or lamb or pig is consumed after it’s killed, not unusual for those of us who are carnivores.”

So if it wasn’t a big deal in 2009, why is it the centerpiece image of this new article? Is it because of (in Thrasher’s words) “Halloran’s hypocrisy?” If so, some Pagans and Heathens aren’t pleased with the illustration, or the way the article handles Heathen religion. David Carron, Ombudsman for Asatru organization The Troth, said that Thrasher’s “questioning of Halloran’s actions is quite appropriate,” but that his “slurring of Heathenry is not.” Carron wonders if “the religion have been Jewish and the picture being one of a large nosed profile, would your readers not rightfully ask for a retraction?” Also unhappy was PNC reporter Cara Schulz, who interviewed Halloran in 2010, and is calling for an apology from the Village Voice.

“The lurid cartoon you have at the top of this article is beyond bigoted. Contemporary Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists already face ridicule and violence for simply practicing our religion. Caricatures, especially ones showing animal sacrifice, further exacerbate the difficulties we face. Mockingly calling religious persons part of the “mead and mutton crowd” is an intentional slur.”

So did Thrasher go to far? Did it (and the illustration) cross the line from fair critiques into unfair slurs? The first comparison that popped into my head was the illustration by Victor Juhasz of Rep. Michele Bachmann for Rolling Stone.

Victor Juhasz's Michele Bachmann illustration.

Victor Juhasz's Michele Bachmann illustration.

Bachmann is portrayed as a violent crusader with bloody sword and people being burnt at the stake in the background. If that’s fair game, isn’t Halloran and the elements of his faith? Both, I think, are trying to convey the subject as religious extremists of one sort or another. Bachmann is inserted into the sins of her own faith, the violent crusader willing to destroy in order to save, while Halloran’s portrayal is simply meant to “other” him, to emphasize how he’s not “normal”.  While I think both illustrations are wrong-headed and undermine real discussion of the problems with both politicians, I think the Halloran piece commits the greater journalistic sin here. Christianity is politically, culturally, and morally dominant in the United States, and the images used within are go-to shorthand for that faith’s excesses, while Halloran’s faith is a tiny subset, of a smaller subset, of a very small religious movement. He is unique, as no other (admitted) Theodish Heathen has ever been elected to any political office of note. There’s an unacknowledged power differential at work here.

I think political hypocrisy is fair game for editorializing, and I have no issue with Thrasher being critical of Halloran and his career in office, but I do think too much is made of his faith, and in improper contexts. I also think that Marsicano’s illustration, whether intended or not, does the job of coloring the entire piece, reinforcing the idea that polytheists, Pagans, and Heathens shouldn’t be treated respectfully or fairly. That we, quote, look “like something from Dungeons & Dragons or a Renaissance fair.” That we are strange, and not part of the mainstream of American life. I fear that the ramifications of articles like this will reverberate beyond mere criticism of Halloran to affect any Pagan or Heathen political candidate, to further the meme that participation (or even dabbling) in Pagan religions opens you up to scrutiny beyond that of any Christian politician.

I anticipate there will be a lot of commentary and conversation on this in the coming weeks, and I’ll try to keep track of it. What do you think? Was the illustration and asides about Halloran’s Heathen faith fair? Or did the Village Voice cross a line?

Cara Schulz’s interview series “Pagans in Politics” at the PNC blog Pagan+Politics has just posted its second installment; this time talking with New York City Councilman Dan Halloran.  This is the first interview Halloran has done with a Pagan media outlet since his election in 2009.


Dan Halloran

Here’s a brief excerpt:

What do your co-religionists (Theodish) think about your new position? Are you able to fulfill your religious obligations to them? Do they feel your new status brings them increased good fortune?

The problem with change, is that it always disturbs the status quo. Many in the Theodish community (and in the Asatru community) still harbor issues about how my campaign handled issues related to my faith and the idea that one could serve openly in public without compromising elements of our traditions and beliefs. But they weren’t the ones running for office, and certainly, without great risk, there is no great reward.

So some do, some don’t approve of my position… the simple reality is, that we now have an elected official who represents our faith, a milestone to be sure. And that is no small feat- more so because New York City is the largest City in the country, the position I hold is nearly comparable to some state senate and congressional seats in size and scope.

In fact, one of the fundamental theological truths that our faith is centered on is that we make our own Luck and that outward manifestations of success in life and accomplishment are the only true measure of it.

Be sure to head over to Pagan+Politics and read the whole thing. The next installment will feature an interview with Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman, 3rd Ward, City of Centralia, Missouri.

Time to check in once again with everyone’s favorite openly Pagan elected official, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran. This time Halloran is getting attention for an altercation with a traffic cop. According to Halloran, he saw Traffic Enforcement Agent Daniel Chu run stop-signs and park illegally at a donut shop and decided to confront him about it.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GX_xewbM_lI

“A city councilman who spotted a traffic cop blow through stop signs while yakking on the phone confronted the officer – and got slapped with a $165 ticket, the irate lawmaker said. Dan Halloran (R-Queens) wants his summons dismissed and is demanding a review of every ticket the Queens traffic agent has ever written. “The traffic agents spend a lot of time ticketing in my community and yet they feel they’re above the law,” Halloran griped … Halloran said he told the surly officer that he was a city councilman. “He said, ‘Oh yeah? You want to take pictures of me? I’m going to give you a ticket,’” Halloran recalled. Chu then wrote Halloran a $165 ticket for blocking a crosswalk. The councilman denied he was blocking it, adding that his engine was running and the car door was open.”

So is Halloran the local populist hero fighting against unjust/power-mad parking enforcement, or is he overcompensating for something? A NYPD spokesperson said “Halloran received a traffic summons in January for illegally parking in a school zone”, and just last week he was accused of abusing his office by parking illegally and using his city parking permit to avoid tickets.

“In the neighborhood known to be impossible to find a legal parking space on the street, Halloran’s white Jaguar with a city parking permit on the dashboard and “NYC COUNCIL 19? on his license plate is parked right next to a sign that clearly reads “NO STANDING HOTEL LOADING ZONE” in front of the entrance to the Sheraton New York Towers.  The placard and plate do not make it legal for Halloran to park there, but most police officers and traffic agents will leave such a car alone.  As of publication Halloran’s car had not been ticketed and towed … Halloran could not immediately be located for comment, but examiner.com will keep trying and update with whatever answer he gives us as to why while everyone is else is spending an arm and a leg on the hotel parking lot, he saw fit to violate the very laws he helps write.”

It’s parking-gate! NYPD vs Halloran! While this political tempest plays out in the local press, someone is trying to make Halloran’s Paganism an issue again. An seeming fan of the Queens Tribune, the paper who “outed” Halloran as a Pagan in a sensationalist smear-piece, and were later revealed to have some serious conflicts of interest in the matter, is trolling comment sections here, and here, accusing Halloran of being a racist animal-killer who practices a “stupid pagan religion”. Some things, it seems, never change. There’s always going to be some people who think being a Pagan means you are automatically unfit for political office. Still, kudos to Gothamist and NY Daily News for not taking the “pagan” bait while reporting on this incident. As for “parking-gate”, we’ll keep you posted.

Top Story: The British tabloids, hungry for some controversy, decided to ask the Ministry of Defense for the religious breakdown of active military personnel. They discovered that 100 voluntarily list themselves as Pagan, and another 30 list themselves to be Witches.

“As fighters they are capable of crushing an enemy with terrifying might. But when some members of Britain’s Armed Forces take off their uniforms, they like nothing more than casting spells and taking part in midnight rituals. Around 100 UK service personnel – some taking part in the war on terror – class themselves as pagans. Another 30 are witches, according to figures. The intriguing details about the beliefs of soldiers, sailors and airmen were obtained from the Ministry of Defence using the Freedom of Information Act.”

The problem with there only being 130 “out” Pagans in the British Armed Forces is that it isn’t a very salacious headline. That’s hardly Pagans taking over, especially when they are forced to admit that the “overwhelming majority of servicemen and women record themselves as being Christian”. To try to salvage something they get a local Pagan to speculate that there may be far more Pagans in the military who are in the “broom closet”.

“Phil Ryder, chair of the British Druid Network, said there were in fact far more pagans than the figures suggested. He said: “They tend not to publicise their beliefs for fear of discrimination. In some areas it’s seen as odd. Although the Army doesn’t like people to join secret groups there’s no reason why being a druid or a witch should affect someone’s ability to perform on the front line. “Druidry, in particular, is quite open.” A spokesman for the MoD said that members of the armed forces were free to worship whoever they like, provided it did not interfere with their work.”

Still, it’s not exactly the “ring the alarm” sort of headline these culturally conservative rags were hoping for. This was obviously intended to build on the recent media hype over the Pagan Police Association gaining official recognition as aDiversity Staff Support Association, but it looks like the Freedom of Information Act request didn’t come through for them. Still, they did provide some interesting data, and Phil Ryder is most likely correct that there are more than 130 British Armed Forces personnel, maybe some serious British news organizations will decide to explore the issue now that it’s been brought up by the tabloids.

Speaking of Pagans and British Tabloids: If Pagans in the military won’t titillate or enrage their readership, maybe English footballer Ashley Cole dating an ex-lapdancer and “white witch” will.

“The woman linked to Ashley Cole over the weekend is a former ex-lapdancer who claims to be ‘part white witch’. Mother-of-one Sarah Purnell, 23, says she can cast spells to tame her men and even claims to have reunited a friend with her ex-boyfriend simply by taking a lock of his hair … As of yet it is unclear whether she has told Ashley of her secret life as a white witch, a female who casts good spells, or whether she used her ‘powers’ to snare the footballer.”

Now we’re talking! This one has lit up the gossip pages and tabloids. It’s got it all, sex, witchcraft, (ex) strippers, and football (a topic far more likely to inflame British passions than Druids in the military). They can only hope the fling lasts, or at least lasts long enough to sell a lot of papers.

The Return of the Hippy Witch: The Irish Times puts the spotlight on Alison O’Donnell, singer of the cult folk-rock band Mellow Candle, and how her work has influenced a new generation of singers and songwriters.

“Fast forward 30-plus years and O’Donnell is still around, still making music. Since returning to Ireland some years ago from the UK and raising a daughter, and a period of time spent in Flanders, she has slowly re-emerged as a leading, if somewhat heretofore unheralded, light of the psych-folk movement. She can (and does) thank Mellow Candle for the recognition factor. Over the past few decades, the band has grown in cult status. The likes of psych-folk leaders Devendra Banhart and Espers have cottoned on to the scant Mellow Candle back catalogue, while O’Donnell herself has (and will be) collaborating with the likes of Espers’ Greg Weeks, low-key UK psych-folk act, The Owl Service, Celtic folk/metal act, Moonroot, Winnipeg-based psych-folk band, Mr Pine, and Ireland’s experimental unit, United Bible Studies.”

O’Donnell has released a new solo album entitled “Hey Hey Hippy Witch” that should be a treat for lovers of classic folk-rock in the vein of Fairport, Trees, or Mellow Candle. You may also want to check out The Owl Service, Moonroot, and Espers as well.

Why Are We Saving Christian Crosses But Not Buddhist Stupas? Buddhists are protesting the planned destruction of a Tibetan Buddhist Stupa in New Mexico after the National Park Service seized the (formerly private) land using the power of eminent domain.

“The question has to be raised, is there an attempt to establish a de facto ‘official’ religion in the United States, as demonstrated by the actions of several govermental agencies the over the past 5 years? Ken Salazar, the Secretary for the Department of the Interior, which runs the National Park Service, has been eerily quiet about these actions, as has the Obama administration. Unquestionably, the volunteer caretakers of the Stupa have been more than willing to work with the NPS to preserve the Buddhist symbol within the confines of its amphitheater plans, however, any attempts to open dialogue have been met with no success. One of the ongoing advertising campaigns of the NPS has been “Get Involved!”; I suppose they only wish those to get involved if they are indeed Christian.”

Considering the eerie similarities between this case and the WWI Christian cross memorial that was ruled “secular” by the Supreme Court, will it too be spared? Or will the defenders the “secular” cross now fall silent? For more Pagan exploration of this issue, see this recent post at Pagan+Politics. I’ll be reporting more on this issue in the future, so stay tuned.

Is Dan Halloran Abusing His Power? The NY Politics Examiner has accused conservative New York City Councilman, and out TheodsmanDan Halloran of abusing the power of his office by using a City Council parking permit and license plate to ignore parking laws.

“In the neighborhood known to be impossible to find a legal parking space on the street, Halloran’s white Jaguar with a city parking permit on the dashboard and “NYC COUNCIL 19″ on his license plate is parked right next to a sign that clearly reads “NO STANDING HOTEL LOADING ZONE” in front of the entrance to the Sheraton New York Towers.  The placard and plate do not make it legal for Halloran to park there, but most police officers and traffic agents will leave such a car alone.  As of publication Halloran’s car had not been ticketed and towed … Halloran could not immediately be located for comment, but examiner.com will keep trying and update with whatever answer he gives us as to why while everyone is else is spending an arm and a leg on the hotel parking lot, he saw fit to violate the very laws he helps write.”

What do you think? Serious ethical breach, or tempest in a tea (party)-pot?

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Top Story: New York City Councilman (and out Pagan) Dan Halloran, despite attending a Tea Party event looking for challengers to Congressman Gary Ackerman in November, and gaining some vocal grass-roots support, has decided to not run a new campaign so soon after gaining political office.

“I’m flattered and grateful they think I’m that caliber of a candidate,” Halloran said. “But right now I’m worried about running the district. I just came off a cycle in a bitter election, so I’m not ready to run another race.”

Of course, like any good politician, he did leave the door of opportunity open just a crack, in case the situation changes.

“I’ll sit down and talk to [local party leaders], but I’m not inclined to run … I haven’t ruled it out, but Gary Ackerman has tremendous financial and political resources. My big picture right now is the state of the city and that our district gets its fair share of money.”

So if Ackerman should experience a scandal, or a big drop in popularity, he might change his mind (but then, so might a lot of other people). In the meantime, I think it’s smart of Halloran to demure from attempting to jump from City Councilman to Congressman so quickly, it shows that he’s thinking about the long-term future, and his constituents.

In Other News:

Mambo Racine on Max Beauvoir: Vodou “supreme chief” Max Beauvoir has been getting the lion’s share of press attention as the voice of Vodou in post-earthquake Haiti. That’s certainly been true here, as much as anywhere else, due to the lack of press attention to divergent opinions and groups inside Haiti (with the occasional exception). Now Mambo Racine, from the Roots Without End Society, gives her take on the enigmatic leader that has captivated the press.

“Max Beauvoir is a Houngan. He is the head of a secular organization of Vodouisats called KNVA, of which most Vodouisants are NOT members. He keeps making these power grabs, he thinks if he proclaims himself the “head of Vodou” enough times, people might believe him. He is a sexual predator. He takes money from people with AIDS, when he knows he can’t cure them. I don’t think highly of him … It is courageous of him to speak out against violence against Vodouisants, even though it was cowardly of him to threaten Haitian President Rene Preval with “death wanga” a year or so ago when Max was not given the post on the Electoral Council that he wanted. And it is idiotic and inflammatory for him to call for “open war”, instead of “self-defense”. He’s a real mixed bag, and I think we need to recognize that he is a man like any other man, not a god, not the “Pope of Vodou”, not the head of all Vodouisants in Haiti, but a man.”

So if his power base is so small, as Mambo Racine hints, why does he get so much attention? Partially it comes from his willingness to seek out reporters and talk to them, but it also come from the status accorded to him by the New York Times, who dubbed him “Vodou’s Pope” and the “supreme master” of Haitian Vodou. There’s nothing a busy reporter likes more than a centralized leader who can speak for a whole faith or class of people. Interestingly, both Racine and Beauvoir, in their own ways, are outsiders who converted to Haitian Vodou and now hold positions of authority. Their non-Vodou pasts, willingness to self-promote, and familiarity with Western media, may go a long way towards explaining how they became two of the most well-known Vodou practitioners in North America.

A Pagan Military Wife: Alison Buckholtz writes an appreciation of military wife blogs for Slate.com, including Just Another Snarky Navy Wife, a blog written by a Pagan.

“My favorite blogger, Just Another Snarky Navy Wife, is based in Monterey, Calif. After bitching about TriCare, the military insurance system, which “sucks the balls of hairiness” because it declined to pay for her anesthesia during a gum graft, she writes about the difficulty of living a double life. “It’s hard being a liberal Pagan milspouse,” she confesses. Like many of these bloggers, she prefers to stay anonymous for her husband’s sake: In this case, “He’s shouldering enough just being a liberal service member with a penchant for logical thought in socio-political discussions.” But her problem, in a nutshell, is that members of the nondenominational, otherwise open-minded church she joined to find community off the base are giving her the stink eye for being married to the military. She wants to tell the hippies who founded the church that she has more in common with them than they think, but she’s furious with them for judging her harshly based on the fact that her husband is a service member.”

I can imagine it’s hard to be a “liberal Pagan milspouse”, especially when it comes to finding community, so let’s give her some appreciation and love. Add her to your blogroll, subscribe to her feed, and leave some supportive comments. You may also want to thank Alison Buckholtz and Slate.com for including a Pagan military voice in their article.

In Defense of that Wiccan Altar in Shop Class: The DesMoines Register features a guest editorial by college student Kat Fatland that chastises the closed mind of Dale Halferty, industrial arts teacher at Guthrie Center High School, who’s been suspended for refusing to allow a Wiccan student to build an altar table.

“If Dale Halferty, the Guthrie Center teacher who banned his student from creating a Wiccan altar in shop class, actually believes his own words, that “this witchcraft stuff… is terrible for our kids. It takes kids away from what they know, and leads them to a dark and violent life,” then Halferty should not be a teacher.”

I can only agree, and Fatland’s editorial may be prophetic if Halferty decides to turn this issue into a stand-off.

More on Repent Amarillo: Since my spotlight article Wednesday on the anti-Pagan militant group Repent Amarillo, the word has continued to spread throughout the blogosphere. This Christian cult is so extreme that Little Green Footballs calls them the “Texas Taliban”. Meanwhile, local citizens are starting to organize against them as the hate-organization picks a new target.

“They showed up at Cheetahs, a local strip club, to tell people they were going to hell … They told the manager, who is a mother of 3 that she is going to hell and they used their PA system and mega-phone to tell people going into the business. The Amarillo cops were called, but they did nothing.”

Such brave Christian soldiers. You have to wonder how many of them were, or are, patrons of that same establishment when they aren’t busy protesting it. I wish the locals every bit of luck in fighting this disturbing group, and will continue to monitor their activities here at this blog.

That’s all I have for now, but before you head out, let me second Chas Clifton’s recommendation that you check out the Pagans for Archaeology interview with Australian Pagan scholar David Waldron, author of “Shock! The Black Dog of Bungay: A Study in Local Folklore. Lot’s of great insight into folklore, pagan survivals, and dogs.

Have a great day!

Even though Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran’s political career has just begun, the openly Pagan politician may be setting his sights higher in the near future. The Theodsman has apparently been wowing them at local Tea Party gatherings, and there’s a growing number who want him to challenge Congressman Gary Ackerman in November.

“Recently I attended a Tea Party event focused on interviewing candidates to take on U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) in the Fifth Congressional District … I believe that strategically we need a proven vote-getter in order to mount the campaign needed to take on an incumbent like Ackerman. We need City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone). While I liked what I heard from every prospective candidate, I was particularly engaged by Halloran, who gave inspiring introductory remarks at the meeting on our traditions of federalism, limited government and the need for fiscal responsibility. Halloran won a heated election just last year against Ackerman’s former deputy director of community affairs, Kevin Kim, despite the congressman putting substantial political capital against Halloran in a hard-hitting and aggressive campaign.”

While I don’t normally consider letters to the editor “news” it notes that the event Halloran spoke at was “a Tea Party event focused on interviewing candidates”, which means the City Councilman must be giving at least some thought to running for higher office. The BlueCollarCorner blog is supportive of the idea.

“When I questioned Dan on the possibility of him running so soon after winning the council seat he was quite apprehensive. He didn’t want to come off as opportunistic to his extremely loyal residents who put countless hours in on getting him elected. I explained to him that as noble as that sounds it’s those same people who are pushing you to take on this race. He again spoke of voter fatigue and financial shortfall and I told him the story of a man that was 30 pts. behind in the polls and not a dollar to his name and trying to get the seat of a man who was the ” Lion of the Senate” That man was Scott Brown and that lion was Ted Kennedy. The Tea Party Factor is unlike any movement we have seen in our lifetimes and if you are picked to serve, serve you must not because you are being forced it’s because we need you.”

These populist rumblings in favor of Halloran are getting noticed,  But even if Halloran does throw his hat into the ring and decide to run for Congress he would face a far tougher battle than before. First, there’s no telling exactly how strong the Tea Party vote is in New York’s Fifth Congressional District, could the populist movement bring in the votes and volunteers he needs? Would he benefit from a larger “Get Out Of Our House” groundswell? Secondly, you can bet the Pagan issue would get used against him again. While that tactic ultimately backfired on a neighborhood level, where he was a known commodity, it could seriously damage a larger campaign. Third, and finally, he’d need a lot of money, far more than the shoestring he ran his last campaign on. Will the New York GOP have his back, or would have have to depend on small donations from individual voters?

For now, Halloran seems to be testing the waters, being understandably cautious to overreach so early in his political career. But if support continues to grow, and Ackerman looks weak, we may see the reemergence of candidate Halloran. If that happens, you can be sure the Pagan Newswire Collective, Pagan+Politics, and The Wild Hunt will be covering the race.