By CAROLYN SZCZEPANSKI
There’s a lot of buzz going on at the Uptown Theater this week — but it’s not the kind that owner Larry Sells looks forward to.
Sells has been deluged with faxes and e-mails begging him to cancel an upcoming event by the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. In September, Kansas City Parks Board member Frances Semler got a standing ovation at the Uptown when conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham recognized the Northland grandma’s dedication to the Minutemen. Semler, appointed to the parks board in June by Mayor Mark Funkhouser, had been the center of local controversy because of her membership in the anti-illegal-immigration group that patrols the border and pickets worksites to deter undocumented migrants.
To show support for their Minutewoman and to “educate” the city about their activities, the Minutemen decided to hold a “regional leadership retreat” in Kansas City next year, featuring a public “get to know the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps” presentation and a private, daylong session for the group’s state and chapter leaders. For the open house on February 2, they booked the Uptown.
“Starting today and lasting all week, we're calling on everyone to call, fax, and e-mail the Uptown; to literally drown them in condemnation and demands to cancel the meeting at their theater,” the e-mail urges. “These actions literally will take ten minutes out of your day, but when combined with dozens and dozens of people taking the same action, we feel that these actions may ultimately force the Uptown to cancel the first day of the Minutemen's conference.”
The group heading the effort — Hate Free KC — doesn’t have a clear organizer, but plenty of people have joined the campaign. In the past three days, Sells says he has gotten at least 40 e-mails and dozens of phone calls telling him to call off the Minuteman engagement. The theater owner says the Uptown has always been a venue that welcomes speakers of all political persuasions, though, and he’s used to indignant phone calls.
“We have a contract with the Minutemen, and we honor our contracts,” Sells tells The Pitch. “I’m not a member of the Minutemen; nobody on the Uptown staff is. To say we support the Minutemen is not even close to being correct. But you’re either for free speech all the time — not just when it’s convenient — or you’re not for free speech.”
As far as the free speech that’s been coming across his phone lines, though, Sells isn’t impressed.
“It’s extremist, attack-dog tactics,” he says. “At some point it’s going to be interfering with our business and we’ll have a cause of action against them.”
Maybe the satirical holiday cards — from activists’ posing as Aryan Nation members, thanking Sells for supporting the White Racial Cause — will lighten the Uptown owner’s spirits. But those won’t arrive until later in the week.