-- Ed Bircham
"I look upon Mike McKee almost as a Doug Bruce for what he's done for this community."
-- Ed Bircham
"Nobody's going to go to hell because they accept our money."
-- Erika Shotz
"He's a very clandestine guy. You don't find Mike, he finds you."
"I support the First Amendment, but we don't have to take abuse. I would categorize him as a racist, not a Christian."
-- P.M. Wynn
"I have no problem sharing how ludicrous this is, but I hate to give him more publicity."
-- Wayne Jennings
"We cannot have a civil society if some people get to choose who we're civil to and who we're not and besides that, what does gay money look like anyway?"
-- KRCC station manager Mario Valdes
Mike McKee cloaks himself in a mysterious garb of gay sex and pornography, New World Order conspiracy theories and racially-tinged rantings.
Always, he calls himself a Christian.
But to some, encountering the recently-cancelled Colorado Springs radio talk show host and Ed Bircham prodigy is like coming upon a bad accident: You just can't help but to slow down for a gawk.
In today's freeway of ideas, most people take one look at someone like McKee, shake their heads and move on. Others feel violated and rattled by his venom.
It's been a little more than a year a since McKee's anti-gay public outing began. During this time, he has hollered about the evils of homosexuality and publicly attacked groups and individua
ls for accepting "gay money" on his daily radio talk show broadcast on KWYD 1580 AM, a Christian station owned by xxx. While on the air, he also routinely attacked minority groups, including the NAACP and the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region.
McKee also likes to publicly denounce the Gill Foundation and its Gay and Lesbian Fund which contributes $700,000 a year to local nonprofits and charities, including children's and youth leadership programs.
Meanwhile, McKee's own sources of cash -- including money donated by office store owner Ed Bircham and failed mayoral candidate and car dealer Will Perkins -- was not enough to keep him on the air.
On July 28, McKee's show was cancelled due to non-payment.
But the anti-gay crusader's quest has not dissipated.
Since his radio show was yanked from the airwaves, McKee has directed his efforts at an organized effort to harass scores of people and companies who advertise in The Independent, which he believes is a gay and pornographic publication.
McKee did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment for this story. But his supporters, detractors, his Internet Website and tapes of past radio programs offer a glimpse into a unique world that only McKee fully comprehends.
"I do believe he is doing what he thinks is right, and I have respect for that," said Jerry Johnson, the manager of the Barnes & Noble store on North Academy Boulevard that McKee has boycotted three times this year because it has a section of gay and lesbian books.
But of McKee's assertions that Barnes & Noble has a hidden, pro-gay agenda, Johnson said, "That's just not true. We're a bookstore.
"Every general interest bookstore has a gay and lesbian section," Johnson said. "That seems to have been lost on him until recently."
McKee's boycotts have not phased Johnson at all -- or caused him lost business.
"If you knuckle under to them it will just get worse -- they're just trying to control the information that people have access to," he said.
Johnson pointed out that people like McKee are not likely going to patronize his bookstore anyway.
"The more narrow-minded the person is, the less they read. That's one of the reasons they are narrow-minded," he said.
Last week, Gill Foundation senior program officer Erika Shatz said she was unaware that her organization was the recipient of an on-air boycott. The group's charitable program, now the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado, was launched in 1996 by Colorado philanthropist Tim Gill, the gay founder of the computer design software system Quark.
"Nobody's going to go to hell because they accept our money," said Shatz said. Some people, Shatz said, never know that gays are in their actual midst -- whether they be donors, staff, board members, volunteers or clients.
"The difference is, we're just out as being gay."
Shatz said she was aware of the KRCC boycott, but downpayed its importance.
"Why make a big deal out of the minor incidents that have happened, when we give $700,000 a year -- half given in El Paso County -- to help community programs,?" she asked.
Mixing with drunks
For three years, Mike McKee worked as a service technician for Ed Bircham, the outspoken Colorado Springs office supply store owner and unapologetic racist.
Bircham's controversial so-called "opinion advertisements" appear regularly in the daily and other local papers where he has, for example, in the past attacked black golf champion Tiger Woods, advising him to go eat watermelon and collard greens.
Bircham is preferential to the death penalty, and favors a Singapore system of chopping people's hands off to punish criminals. Homosexuals make him want to barf. Bircham likes to admonish people that, "Come on America, we can do better than this!"
McKee has clearly absorbed Bircham's teachings well.
During an extensive and free-ranging telephone interview last week, Bircham said that McKee worked for him for several years and did an excellent job, so he decided to sponsor his former employee's radio show to the tune of $300 a month. Bircham even sat in as a guest host for four days around Christmas of last year, when McKee was visiting friends in St. Louis, he said. And, he appeared as a guest on the show several times.
"He's a very religious person, he thinks the world is coming to an end," Bircham said. "I don't."
But in matters of gayness, Bircham and McKee are on the same page.
"I don't like homosexuals. It's a lifestyle I was not brought up with and I think it's disgusting," Bircham said. "People say to me, 'Ed, don't you have any homosexual friends, don't you have any black friends? I say, 'No.'
"Well, I don't."
Nor does he have any over to his house, he said.
"Are these people happy?" Bircham asked. "The blacks sure are -- they're out there jiving up and down.
"But I think [gays and lesbians] are very unhappy people. The question I would ask them [is], 'Did you have a bad experience with the opposite sex?' 90 percent would say 'Yes.'
"If you mix with drunks you have a good chance of becoming a drunk yourself."
Bircham denies he encouraged McKee to launch boycotts against Barnes & Noble, the Gill Foundation or The Independent. "I'm not someone out to shut down a newspaper."
However, Bircham said he supports McKee's right to let newspaper advertisers know he believes it to be a "sex-for-sale" paper.
Bircham denied he personally make any calls urging advertisers to pull their ads from the paper, although he said he did recommend McKee call one advertiser who he recognized as "very good people." Bircham said he was surprised the owners of that particular company would run ads in Colorado Springs' alternative weekly (The Indy has declined to identify the particular advertiser to protect their privacy.).
Bircham said that he may help pay off McKee's outstanding debts to KWYD, and will continue sponsorship of any future radio ventures that his former employee may launch.
McKee is reportedly negotiating with either another local Christian radio station or a public access TV station to continue his crusade.
"I look upon Mike McKee almost as a Doug Bruce for what he's done for this community," he said.
Bircham -- like others who are in McKee's close-knit circle of friends -- said he respects McKee's devotion.
"I just think we're pushing this homosexual issue to where it's absurd," Bircham said "To allow a homosexual in the Boy Scouts makes me want to throw up. Why do you want to have homosexual in the Boy Scouts or in the military?"
I will stand up for what I believe is right I don't think homosexuality is right, I think its disgusting.
In the next breath, Bircham advises this reporter to publish statistics showing the racial background of people who commit rape and robberies.
"I'm not going to surprise you when I say it's the minorities," he said. "Does anyone have the courage to say this? I do."
Still, Bircham said that McKee's focus on gays and the end of the world gets a little tiring, even to him. Bircham claims he is a very religious person, but he's not stuck on just one issue. There are, he said, plenty of other topics to become enraged about.
For example, Bircham wonders why people believe they should be live alongside others who come from all walks -- and colors -- of life. He cited the cities of New York and Chicago as examples.
"The Polish live together, the Irish live together, the Jews live together, the Italians live together, the blacks live together, and what's wrong with that?" he asked.
"Why are we forcing this race issue, where we are supposed to get along with homosexuals, blacks and minorities? Why do we have to do it? We don't want to do it, the world would be a better place if we weren't forced to do it
In fact, he said, America's in serious trouble with the liberal agenda. "What," he wondered, "has happened to white, normal people in this town?"
"I gave up my British citizenship to become an American and now I'm beginning to regret it. We're the laughingstock of the world."
Prophet or pest?
The American Family Association, an organization devoutly opposed to homosexuality, was also an early sponsor of McKee's radio program.
The association's state director, Tom Pedigo, said he stopped supporting the show financially due to a shortage of his own group's funds. But he continued to support McKee in spirit, and was one of a handful of protesters who showed up to wave signs in front of Barnes & Noble bookstore earlier this year.
During one the protests, McKee showed up wearing a sack cloth and his face covered with ashes, an apparent show of solemn repentance and a symbol of sorrow as described in the Old Testament.
"He was definitely eccentric. I wouldn't stand out in front of a book store wearing a sack cloth and ashes," Pedigo said. "He kind of looked like Darth Vader."
Pedigo considers McKee himself to be like an Old Testament prophet." But, while he agreed with McKee's methods, he didn't always agree with his aggressive methodologies.
"I still believe that sugar can attract more flies than vinegar," he said. "It's all in the way you present yourself. You don't want to turn people on your side off to your cause."
Pedigo said he and McKee carried on a "congenial relationship" for a year, but they haven't spoken since McKee went off the air. Pedigo is unsure where Mike came from, or how long he has lived in Colorado Springs. He's likely in his mid-40s and reportedly does not currently have an apartment or house. According to Pedigo, "He's a very clandestine guy. You don't find Mike, he finds you."
"He's probably one of those people who is concerned about government intrusion and likes privacy to an extreme," Pedigo said. The family association spokesman called McKee an expert on the studies of the late scientist Nikola Tesla, inventor if the radio and the alternating current which powers all appliances.
"I've seen [McKee] do experiments where he can create flying saucers and crop circles," Pedigo said.
But he's unclear about McKee's background. He worked for Bircham, and used to give tours at the now-defunct Tesla Museum on East Pikes Peak Ave. Pedigo said he used to be a security guard and that McKee claimed he used to be a public school science teacher.
"As far as I know he's of the High Order of Melchizedek," Pedigo said, of the elusive priest whose past no one knows, mentioned in the Book of Hebrews. "If you find anyone who knows him, they won't really know him either."
One thing about McKee is undeniable, however. "He saw Colorado Springs as the epicenter of the culture war going on in Colorado and the whole nation," Pedigo said.
Despite the sketchy background, there is no question that McKee considers battling his perception of the gay agenda -- whether it's harassing newspaper advertisers or calling on recipients of "tainted" Gill Foundation money to repent -- a full time job.
something from his show.
"Mike is probably the most forceful, in-your-face, confrontative, prophetitive man in Colorado Springs," Pedigo said. "No one else will do what he does."
Even before his show went off the air, McKee has been busy contacting more than 100 businesses that advertise in The Independent and other "pro-homosexual" newspapers, Pedigo said.
Last time the two spoke, McKee sounded psyched about the idea of launching a television show on a local public channel. He was much more excited about the prospect then he had been about future radio possibilities, according to Pedigo.
"He did a two-step on The Independent every day," he said. "I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did."
something from the tape.
"I hope he comes back with a vengeance because he's a rare one. He's like a Marine, he is willing to lay his life on the line for what he believes and you won't see that too often in Colorado Springs."
But not everyone is as enamored of the abrasive McKee.
Longtime radio talk show host P.M. Wynn, whose gospel show also airs on KWYD as well, said McKee initially surfaced when he would call up her previous radio talk show, "PM in the AM," which aired on KCS 1460 AM.
McKee -- along with two or three other regular male callers -- became so vitriolic that they were ultimately banned from airing their often-racist opinions on her show.
"I support the First Amendment, but we don't have to take abuse," Wynn said. "I would categorize him as a racist, not a Christian. There is no black or Hispanic organization he's ever said anything good about."
During his own year-long radio show, Wynn recalled one program where a woman from the Children's Museum agreed to be a guest. Wynn said the woman thought she had been invited to talk about programs at the museum, which has received funds from the Gill Foundation. Instead she was blindsided when McKee confronted her about the museum's financial backers.
"Mike had her in tears," Wynn said. "He kept saying, on the air, 'You need to repent right now, you're going to hell.' It turned out to be a disaster.
"We got a lot of complaints about that show."
Station manager Martin claimed that, during the last few weeks McKee was on the air, he became more and more vitriolic, until he finally considered sitting him down for a talk. But, when McKee fell so far behind in his radio time payments, Martin decided to yank the show entirely.
However, Wynn and others say that McKee's rantings did not escalate over time, but were obvious from day one.
"It was clear he had a problem, but people tend to just ignore it or turn it off rather than try to fight it," she said.
"It's up to us in the Colorado Springs community to just pray for Mike, because he's sick."
Otherwise known as, The Beast
McKee's Internet Website, which is entitled "Welcome to my World," is a cottage industry of sorts. Upon entering the site (www.michaeltalk.com), the depiction of a dancing stick-figure wearing an African mask pops up in a box, which jumps across the screen. To the sound of African-style drumming in the background, the following message is repeated, over and over again. Oddly enough, the message begins with the voice of the cartoon character Dale Gribble, the cap-wearing conspiracy theorist that appears on the FOX television show, King of the Hill:
"By now your name and particulars have been fed into every laptop, desktop, mainframe and supermarket scanner that collectively make up the global information conspiracy otherwise known as, The Beast."
McKee then steps in to continue the message:
"The beast that my friend was speaking of is the beast with 7 heads and 10 horns spoken of by Daniel in Daniel, Chapter 7 and in Revelations, Chapter 13. Now the beast presently has 15 horns -- it is the European union of G-7, which is the Group of 7, which is Germany, Italy Canada, Japan, England, France and the United States, otherwise known as us. Now this beast out of the sea, or king of the West, will go to battle with the king of the East. When the beast, or G-7, has 10 horns the antichrist will take power and then China will mask its army together and there will be a battle called Armageddon and the Lord will return, Praise God."
Site visitors are then offered a full menu of products that, presumably, offer an explanation of the planet on which McKee lives. The selection includes everything from books that McKee has apparently authored to videos to descriptions of the topics of upcoming radio shows (the site was last updated on Feb, 8, when his show was still on the air).
McKee's Website listed four topics for then-upcoming not-to-miss radio shows:
The real story behind the impending litigation against Clinton.
The UFO, crop circle and cattle mutilation cover-up.
What those chemicals in your food really do to your health.
Psychological warfare being carried out in the White House.
McKee's video and book selection range from "Tesla, the Unclassified Documents," to "The Secret of Electronic and Machine Repair," to "The Secret of Appliance Repair" to "The Secret of Playing Guitar," as well as secrets to playing other musical instruments including the mandolin, banjo and bass.
McKee's all-inclusive conspiracy-laden video, "The Secret of Everything" carries the following description:
"What are UFO's, Crop circles, HAARP, Cattle mutilations, Area 51, The universe unified, Experiments you have never seen, How I can be self-sufficient, What's wrong with our food, The anti-Christ, USA, Mark of the beast, G-7, and Bible prophesy."
Each of his videos and books carry the same $38 price tag.
Author of confusion
Both Wynn -- and in hindsight, Martin -- question whether the show truly represented what Christianity is supposed to be about. True Christians, they say, exhibit love, understanding, goodness and compassion.
"God is never the author of confusion, and Mike was the author of confusion," Wynn said.
Martin said that McKee paid about $1,100 per month for his show, which aired between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The station offers Christian-oriented programs, including Focus on the Family's daily show featuring James Dobson, and programs with names like Back to the Bible and the Heaven and Home Hour.
Martin said McKee's show was designed to provide a forum for local issues, but did not reflect the position of the radio station. "If he's paying for radio time he's representing himself," he said.
McKee's paid for his show with contributions from various sponsors including Bircham, Perkin
s Chrysler dealership and other businesses and individuals (see sidebar).
McKee's constant theme was his opposition to gays, lesbians, and individuals he perceived as "promoting" homosexuality. He relentlessly attacked the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region, the Gill Foundation, The Independent and individuals associated with those groups.
Martin said that while his station adheres to FCC guidelines, the content of its shows is fairly broad.
"We really don't like to get into control, because that's a [First] Amendment issue," he said. "It gives everyone an opportunity for free speech.
"[But] we won't let someone say something about another advertiser or anything like that. We aren't going to get into that yellow journalism thing."
The show never did receive strong listener support, Martin said, and the same four or five people would regularly call in with comments.
And, despite Federal Communication Commission guidelines -- which prohibit attacking private individuals and groups on the public airwaves without giving them an opportunity to respond within a week -- McKee made it a habit of attacking people who were not public officials.
Asked whether he was a fan, Martin said he listened to McKee's shows and thought he was sometimes a little out of context, particularly with biblical references.
"It kind of made you sit on edge of your seat," he said. "Mike would jump around from one subject to another and not really explore the facts. He should have had an open Bible in front of him."
Martin said he recently reviewed tapes from past broadcasts, and now wishes he had spoken with McKee about his tactics earlier.
"Listening to these tapes makes me shudder," he said. "I would have counseled him that we don't slam other groups. We don't attack churches or other groups. This is a religious station talking about the beliefs of the Bible."
Martin ultimately cancelled McKee's show because he was 2 1/2 months behind in payments. He said he has since contacted several people -- including Independent publisher John Weiss and the Rev. Nori Rost of the Metropolitan Community Church to offer them a chance to rebut McKee's positions.
Are you bisexual?
About three months ago McKee apparently started focusing his efforts on making anonymous calls to Independent's advertisers (his voice is unmistakable in at least one taped messages. He has apparently enlisted the help of two or three of his associates, another man and a woman, who have left repeated messages in some cases, warning advertisers to repent before the Lord returns.
One of those calls was traced to Colorado Springs resident Cindy Waytashek, an early sponsor of McKee's radio program. However, contacted last week, Waytashek denied making any such calls, and said that she has not seen McKee in "four or five months."
Waytashek said that she has only read The Independent once, and that its contents "don't really fall in line with Christian ideals."
However, she said, "Im not going to get in anyone's way for choosing to pick it up."
Though she denied contacting any of the paper's advertisers, Waytashek said she was aware of the idea, because McKee had recommended doing so on his radio program. She said advertisers should be called repeatedly, however.
"That's harassment and I don't agree with that," she said.
The husband and wife Realtor team of Sylvia and Wayne Jennings have gotten hit three times over the past month and a half with messages warning them about the alleged evils of advertising in the Independent. "I have no problem sharing how ludicrous this is, but I hate to give him more publicity," Wayne Jennings said of the messages delivered to his business phone. This kind of thing goes back a long way."
Jennings is referring to the kind of calls he used to receive when he and Sylvia co-anchored the noon news hour show at KKTV Channel 11, during the heat of Colorado's 1992 Amendment 2. The statewide amendment to restrict gays and lesbians from seeking constitutional protection was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996.
The Jennings, who were on-air hosts at Channel 11 for much of the decade, left the station in 1997 to launch their real estate careers.
Here are the contents of one of the messages left on the Jennings' answering machine:
"I was wondering if you were bisexual, if you advertise in homosexual literature," the anonymous -- but unmistakable -- voice of McKee begins. "We will not shop at your business or ReMax as long as you promote homosexuality and I guess that's what you're doing. We won't buy any houses from you. Thank you. (click)"
"Isn't that nice?" asked Wayne Jennings, after playing the saved message. "It just sounds like the same old thing we heard when we had [television] guests [debating about] the Amendment 2 issue. I just had to laugh."
As an "ambassador" who feels it's her job to welcome new people to the city, Sylvia Jennings said she was saddened when she received the calls.
"I thought we had grown beyond some of the narrow-mindedness we were accused of having in the early 90s," she said. "It's very disappointing that this person or group would object to the growing diversity we have here."
Jennings doubted the validity of, as the caller suggested, any "gay point of view," by the newspaper and said she and her husband are committed to serving clients from all walks of life, including the gay and lesbian community.
"I don't usually share my religious point of view, but I'm a Christian and I feel that Jesus Christ taught us to love one another," she said. That's the way [Wayne and I] live our lives and that's the philosophy behind our business dealings."
Being confronted by an angry, in-your-face zealot is not a new thing for former TV news anchors like the Jennings. However, not all of the advertisers have written off the warnings for what they are.
Several advertisers have reported they felt physically intimidated, harassed and threatened. "So far, we've lost just a couple of advertisers, and we're confident they'll return to the paper soon," said newspaper publisher John Weiss. "But several clients have gotten scared after being told that their souls will burn in hellfire forever because they've placed ads in our paper.
"Individuals who attempted to engage Mike in conversation said that he seems to get out-of-control. My advice is to just hang up."
Some, however, plan a different tactic.
"I've heard of other advertisers who are getting these calls and are planning to make their ads even bigger in response to the protest," Jennings said. "I find that intriguing."
The Jennings say they are "even more determined" to continue advertising in the Indy -- to best serve the needs of their clients.
"We are baffled because The Independent, as an alternative news publication, attempts to represent a diverse point of view," Sylvia Jennings said. "We feel that the newspaper doesn't reflect one way of thinking, but represents a wide variety of opinions throughout the community."
Crisis of consciousness
The campaign against The Independent is similar to one that was launched earlier this year against KRCC, the FM radio show operated by Colorado College. In March, an anonymous writer sent letters to the station's 47 sponsors, warning them: "Homosexuals have been seeking affirmation and acceptance by society through your chosen radio station KRCC."
"The practice of homosexuality is perverse, un-natural, abnormal, and panders to one of the lowest, unconsciousable (sic) levels of human behavior, sodomy, anal or oral copulation."
The letter continued in that vein, ending with the request, "For the good of mankind find another radio station to sponsor."
Station Manager Mario Valdez said he never learned who was responsible for the campaign, but that it was completely ineffective. Nobody cancelled their sponsorship.
"The fact that this happens at all is not surprising," Valdes said. "This is a boycott-friendly country. I've been on all sides of it -- the left-wing and right-wing and anti-homosexual and pro-homosexual and anti-this and pro-environmental that. We've been the focus of all kinds of different campaigns to get us to do something, but luckily my skin is hardened and I'm reclusive enough so that it doesn't matter."
"These things are just part of the political landscape."
Nonetheless, when the letters started appearing, Valdes responded by sending a letter to the station's sponsors, explaining the station's position -- that it does not discriminate and would not catapult to anonymous demands.
"We are about truth, justice and the American Way and if you don't like it, tough cookies. "We cannot have a civil society if some people get to choose who we're civil to and who we're not and besides that, what does gay money look like anyway? I think it's so silly."
McKee's arrangement with KWYD is similar to talk shows that air in Colorado Springs and all over the country. The ways the programs are paid for vary according to specified contracts. Some, like Howard Stern's and Focus on the Family's daily program, are nationally and even internationally syndicated.
Others, like Richard Randall's and Chuck Baker's, are unique to the Springs.
Valdes, whose station does not accept such homestyle programs, said the practice of selling talk-show air-time is particularly common for religious stations, which often operate on tiny budgets and take money where they can get it. Of KWYD's decision to cancel McKee's show because he was in arrears, Valdes was sardonic.
"It's good to know that even those stations have very high programming standards," he said.
First Amendment rights aside, Valdes is critical of stations that allow anyone with a little money in their pocket free reign on the airwaves.
"This guy's a nobody, but a nobody with a 1,000 bucks who can get on the radio," he said of McKee. "Many people you would have never heard of, until they started buying radio or TV time and made a name for themselves just by being notable or nuisances.
"Jimmy Swaggart was just some guy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and no one would ever have heard of him unless he bought radio time."
Valdes pointed out that just saying McKee's name out loud gives him undeserved notoriety.
"This is the real crisis of consciousness in combating these people," he said.
"Just don't say his name out loud."