Cleric Accused of Fraud Blames Gays

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday October 5, 2011

A cleric in Hamilton, Montana facing fraud charges after allegedly bilking a man of $150,000 may have drawn inspiration from his pastoral experience in framing the narrative for his legal woes: He blamed the gays, area newspaper the Missoulian reported on Sept. 29.

Harris Himes and James "Jeb" Bryant, both of whom regard themselves as being men of the cloth, face charges in an investment fraud case in which a putative victim lost $150,000. Himes faces six felony counts and turned himself over to authorities in Ravalli County, Montana. Himes then posted bail.

"Himes frequently campaigns against gay rights and abortion, and once argued against a non-discrimination ordinance in Missoula because he said it would allow transvestites using the bathroom of either sex," reported TPM on Oct. 3. "And an investigation by the Republic found that Himes has a ham radio license, and is on a list for the 'Valley Watch Network' that discusses patriot and survivalist issues."

But, according to other news sources, the pastor's moral message, while condemning gays, may not extend to the Biblical injunction against theft--one of the charges he and Bryant now face.

"Prosecutors say in December on 2007 a victim received notice he would inherit a large sum of money," reported Missoula news station KPAX-TV on Sept. 28. "He discussed this with Himes and told him he wanted to put the money into a risk-free investment to allow him to do his ministry work full time.

Ravalli County is located on the Western edge of the state, between the Sapphire Mountains and the Bitterroot Mountains. The alleged victim of the bilking is a Bitterroot Valley man who had inherited the money.

"In 2008, [Himes and Bryant] allegedly promised a man a 20-percent return on his $150,000 and 5-percent ownership in their company, Duratherm Building Systems," the Missoulian reported. "After getting the run-around, the victim claimed he received no monetary return, receipts or certificate of ownership and couldn't get his money back."

A talk radio host spoke about the case on the air, the Missoulian article said, and Himes called in to talk about it. He told the host, Peter Christian of KGVO-AM radio, that he and Bryant were possible the victims of gays and reproductive rights activists who had targeted them.

"Unfortunately, there is some evidence that shows that this is in fact an opportunity for the gay rights activists to come after me," Himes said, declaring himself "innocent of all charges," reported on Oct. 3

Himes also suggested that State Insurance Commissioner, Monica Lindeen, may have been part of the theoretical conspiracy.

Other callers denounced Himes' suggestion that he and Bryant were the unwitting victims of scheming gays.

The article noted that Himes ran the Big Sky Christian Center, a shelter for the homeless. But that shelter lost its partnership with Lighthouse Corp. after the charges were leveled against the clerics. As a result, 18 homeless people, including four families, who had been staying at Himes' shelter, faced the prospect of being turned out into the streets once again, the article said.

The shelter's residents are looking into raising the necessary funds to remain in the shelter for another month, but the electrical bill will cost one thousand dollars for that time, the article said. One alternative on the table is to send the shelter residents to a local motel, but that arrangement would only be for four days.

The narrative of gays targeting foes of their rights is a long-running one, with the National Organization for Marriage going so far as to establish a new group dedicated to promoting the message that Christians are the targets of thuggish radical gays.

Missoula, Montana is the only city in the state to extend anti-discrimination protections to gays. State legislators attempted earlier this year to pass a bill that would strip local governments of the ability to provide such gay-specific protections if those provisions were not already enshrined in state law.

The measure failed to gain ground in Montana. However, a similar bill was passed in Tennessee after Nashville approved protections for gays.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.