TUCSON (CN) – Members of a New Age band based in an Arizona “Ecovillage” say a threatening email from a Colorado entertainment editor, wishing they “burn [in hell] for eternity” made them cancel a tour, fearing for their lives.
In a federal complaint, self-styled religious leader Anthony Delevin aka Gabriel of Urantia claims Durango Herald arts and entertainment editor Ted Holteen sent his followers a nasty response last summer to a request for coverage of their band’s upcoming concert at Fort Lewis College.
In the message, Delevin says, Holteen warned the band they would be “lucky to leave Durango without being in handcuffs or slaughtered by an angry mob,” and hoped they would “suffer horribly painful deaths.” He told the band members they were “no-talent hacks” who “produce the singularly worst music I’ve ever heard in my life,” according to the complaint.
Delevin and three members of his Global Community Communications Alliance sued Holteen, the Durango Herald and publisher Ballantine Communications, seeking damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, threat, and a bias-motivated crime.
The 11-member band played the college show without incident after reporting the threats to Durango and campus police, according to the complaint.
But Delevin says he decided to scrap the rest of the tour and canceled shows booked for Denver, Santa Fe and Phoenix.
“Concerns for the safety of the band and Delevin’s family were a factor in the decision to end the tour prematurely,” the complaint states. “Delevin determined that it would not be possible to go on with the tour until such time as the parties that conspired with Holteen to threaten him and other members of the band have been found and prosecuted.”
Delevin and his co-plaintiffs say the incident caused them much stress and fear.
“Despite the fact that plaintiffs are dedicated to living peaceful and harmonious spiritual lives, defendants deliberately threatened them with violence and intimidated them in an effort to interfere with plaintiffs’ peaceful efforts to share their philosophy and beliefs with others,” the complaint states. “Specifically, because of prejudice and animus against plaintiffs’ religion, defendants sought to drive plaintiffs out of Colorado and back to Arizona; sought to prevent them from speaking and performing publicly; and sought to deprive them of their liberty and property rights, including their right to express their religious convictions.”
Holteen did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Delevin and his followers live in a 165-acre “Ecovillage” about 50 miles south of Tucson.
They “grow organic food and implement environmental practices with the goal of becoming increasingly self-sustaining,” the complaint states. “The members of the community guide their conduct and their spiritual lives by lessons and study under the auspices of their spiritual leader, Delevin. Indeed, religious concerns suffuse life in the community and each member is known by a spiritual name conferred upon them by Delevin, who is himself known as ‘Gabriel of Urantia’ or ‘TaliasVan of Tora.'”
The music tour was conceived as a way for the group to branch out and spread its religious message, according to the lawsuit.
“The community interacts with the secular society by operating social services such as a local holistic health care clinic and a hospice, both of which are located outside the Ecovillage and partially staffed with employees who are not community members,” the complaint states. “Additionally, community members seek to spread their spiritual, environmental and social message to society at large by means of publications, art, music, radio programs, film, television, the Internet, theatrical performances and other means of ministry outreach.”
Delevin and plaintiffs Shannon Leigh Plyler aka Mycenay, Daniel Steinhardt aka BenDameean, and Stacey Luther-Myszka aka TiyiEndea seek more than $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
They are represented by Eric Lieberman, with Rabinowitz Boudin, of New York City.
According to the complaint, Holteen’s email said, in full: “‘Mycenay, or whatever the hell your name really is – If I had my way you’d all be in prison or worse. I hope you play to an empty venue tonight to exemplify just how irrelevant you are. It’s disgusting the way you people prey on the unsuspecting and trusting, and it’s only a matter of time before TONY DELEVIN – not Gabriel, not a prophet, not a seer – TONY DELEVIN gets what’s coming to him. And any of you that help him perpetuate his crimes are just as guilty. Oh yeah – and you no-talent hacks produce the singularly worst music I’ve ever heard in my life. You’ll be lucky to leave Durango without being in handcuffs or slaughtered by an angry mob – we’re not idiots around here like the suckers you rope in down in Arizona. If there was a hell I’d wish you to burn there for eternity, but since no such place exists I can only hope that you suffer horribly painful deaths. Shame on you.'”
The complaint continues: “Holteen ‘signed’ his July 8 Email with an email signature stating his title as ‘Durango Herald Arts & Entertainment Editor’ and listing his telephone number at the ‘The Durango Herald.'”