Fundamentalist Christians clash with American Indian Movement at Serpent Mound

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ADAMS COUNTY, Ohio – A video has surfaced on YouTube showing an altercation at Serpent Mound Native American Burial site on Sunday in Ohio. Titled “PAGANS TRY TO PREVENT PRAYER!”, the video shows a confrontation between “The Salt and Light Brigade,” a group of about 20 Christians from Pass the Salt Ministries of Hebron, Ohio, and the American Indian Movement of Ohio.

Serpent Mound – Image credit: Niagara66 – CC BY-SA 4.0 

The Salt and Light Brigade, led by Coach Dave Daubenmire, arrived on Serpent Mound on the winter solstice and proceeded to pray to cleanse the space of its “pagan” energies, as seen in a separate video, “PRAYING DOWN SATANIC SERPENT MOUNDS!” The video shows the Brigade walking to the egg-shaped feature at Serpent Mound and blowing a shofar – a musical instrument made of a ram’s horn used during certain religious observances. They then pray to “cleanse the land”, “annul the covenants”, and “release the curses on the land.”

The shofar echoes the Battle of Jericho during Joshua’s conquest of Canaan in the Bible, imagery recently revived at the Jericho March on Washington, where Bishop Leon Benjamin of New Life Harvest Church in Richmond, Virginia, used the instrument to call for the deaths of “witches.”

The videos show Native American rights champion Philip Yenyo and other Native American leaders protecting the Serpent Mound space. Yenyo is the executive director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, whose mission is, according to its Facebook page, to “educate the public on issues affecting the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.”

Yenyo has been among the prominent leaders spearheading the movement against the use of Native American imagery as mascots in sports.

The American Indian Movement of Ohio was alerted of the Brigade and their plans via Facebook. The Brigade’s events were posted there and on their site.

“You need to leave,” Yenyo can be heard saying in the video as the Salt and Light Brigade approaches Serpent Mound. “You have no right and no business doing this on this sacred site where our ancestors are buried.”

“We don’t come to your cemetery,” he added.

A man then repeatedly pushes Yenyo, who is blocking the path to the Serpent Mound. An unidentified voice is then heard saying, “Get out of my way. Last time I tell you.”

“Don’t tell me to get out of the way on my own land,” Yenyo says in reply. “It’s our birthright. It’s our sacred site.”

“This land will be taken in the name of Jesus,” replies Daubenmire.

Yenyo and another unidentified Native American leader asked the group to pray at their own church, respect the Indigenous peoples’ beliefs, and to please leave. Daubenmire responds that the space is public land.

Yenyo repeats that he is the executive director for the American Indian Movement of Ohio, to which Daubenmire responds, “Well, we’re an executive director for Jesus.”

At some point, what appears to be a Serpent Mound park representative converses with both Yenyo and Daubenmire and says to Yenyo that Daubenmire “is trying to stay on the path,” after which the brigade proceeds.

The brigade commences to pray against the power of the “witch, the wizard, the witchdoctor, magi, divinator [sic], sorcerer and high priest,” and condemns a long litany of confusion that ranges from candles, nails, and drums to Santeria, “hulu,” tarot cards, and pathways and gates.

Law Enforcement was called to the scene and informed the group that Serpent Mound had been closed. The arrival of law enforcement was on video. Just prior to the closure a Brigade participant wearing a shirt that says “Truth sounds like Hate” is seen in the video saying “The sign says do not step on these ancient evil sacred mounds’ Here’s what I say.” She then spits on the mound.

Daubenmire’s history of fundamentalist activism

Daubenmire is an advocate for Christian activism. “Jesus Christ has been criminalized in America,” he has said. He describes the current state of affairs in the world as growing dangerous toward Christianity. “We see religious liberty under attack all over this nation: from Pensacola to Indianapolis, from homosexual rights to homosexual indoctrination of our children in public schools, from demands to bake cakes to court imposed ‘homosexual marriage,’ the enemy is on a relentless march to destroy our American culture.”

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Daubenmire has attracted attention before “from a ‘homophobic rant’ against Chicago’s mayor to another rant saying Black Christians who voted for Obama were not acting Christian. He has denounced the ‘sissification’ of boys and rails against the ‘deep state’ and the ‘plandemic’ on his Facebook page.

He has also called for “stopping the pornography” during the Super Bowl.

“Just like a good military, God also has an Air Force which is comprised of ‘prayer warriors,'” Daubenmire has written, “whose specialty is to bombard heaven with prayer.”

In another YouTube video titled “CHRISTIANS PRAY AGAINST PAGAN SERPENT MOUNDS!”, Daubenmire states that he chose the date of the winter solstice because he believes the day to be a “high holiday” for the occult.

Serpent Mound’s history and importance

Serpent Mound is a National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Adams County, Ohio, and maintained by Ohio History Connection, a history museum and research center in Columbus, Ohio. The mound is approximately 1,400 feet long (41m) and has the shape of a snake eating an egg. It is the largest serpent effigy known.

A digital GIS map of Ohio’s Great Serpent Mound – Image credit: Timothy A. Price and Nichole I. Stump in March of 2002 – CC BY 2.5

The mound was built by Native American Indian cultures sometime about 321 BCE, but its precise builders are unknown. Experts are still debating the mound’s function. The oval head of the Serpent Mound appears aligned with the Summer Solstice.

Serpent Mound has yielded no artifacts that can be used for its identification or purpose. However, there are nearby burial mounds that were built by Early Woodland Adena Culture around 320 BCE and the Late Prehistoric Fort Ancient Culture around 1070 CE.

After the confrontation

Earlier today, Daubenmire posted a response interview on Facebook defending the actions of the Salt and Light Brigade. “Can a non-Christian site be sacred?”, he wrote. He subsequently noted that Christians refuse to accept that “we are [at] spiritual war,” adding that he believes their enemies are trying to destroy them. He further added that loving one’s enemies does not appear to be the answer either, citing a line from Ecclesiastes as support: there is “a time for war.”

Yenyo saw what the Salt and Light Brigade did at Serpent Mound as an attack on Indigenous sacred traditions. “It’s a sacred site for us, but other people with other faith beliefs think they have the right to go there and do their ceremonies. In our opinion, they don’t,” Yenyo said to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It would be like me going into a church and doing my ceremonies in that church – disregarding and disrespecting their beliefs.”

Yenyo believes other religions have disrespected Serpent Mound as well, including Pagan and New Age groups.

Ohio History Connection has been attempting to work with Indigenous communities to better respect their practices and history in recent years. “In 2017 we discontinued the lighting of the Serpent Mound during the Winter Solstice – a decision that was reached after conversations with leaders of multiple tribal nations with Ohio ties,” they said in a statement. “The incident on Sunday, December 20 stands as a reminder that there is more work to do to preserve and share the site in the most appropriate ways. We are committed to working with our tribal partners to offer the public a better understanding of its history and significance to American Indians.”

The American Indian Movement of Ohio posted the videos of the confrontation at Serpent Mound on their Facebook page. Some commentators described the behavior of Daubenmire’s group as “unchristian,” with some referring to it as “Christian Terrorism”.

In a post today, a moderator for the American Indian Movement of Ohio wrote, “I’ve been receiving many private messages in support of our actions at Serpent Mound. We thank you for your support. All of them ask how they can help. I will be posting a short video message to let all of you know how you can help.”