A statement on Kenny Klein and sexual abuse

Time for a serious moment. I may not be the best person to speak on this, but because I have publicly (here on my website) stated a willingness to host circles and to take on students, I feel the need to say something in the interest of transparency. Potential attendees and students should know where I stand. (However, please note that I cannot and do not speak for Blue Star as a whole.)

On Thursday night, Kenny Klein was found guilty on 20 counts of possessing child pornography. His sentencing will take place on April 20. Kenny was a traveling musician and a priest of Blue Star Wicca.

News reports truthfully characterize Kenny as “a nationally known Wiccan high priest, musician and author.” The first article linked above is accurate to the best of my knowledge, describing Dr. Tzipora Katz as “a former high priestess who co-founded the Blue Star tradition of Wicca that Klein discovered and joined during the 1980s in New York. The couple left New York in 1988, starting a four-year odyssey in which they performed music at Pagan festivals and Renaissance fairs around the country while primarily living out of a van.” During those four years, they also began study groups across the United States that later developed into covens. Kenny and Tzipora’s acrimonious divorce in 1992 caused much damage to Blue Star.

There are many discussions happening now in the tradition. We have no governing body and no official spokesperson, so I doubt any sort of blanket statement will be made. In general, however, these discussions condemn Kenny’s actions and consider the jury’s verdict just and fair. Kenny’s crimes do not represent Blue Star, and I state emphatically that sexual abuse is not part of the tradition or part of Wicca as I know it.

To the adults who testified on Thursday that Kenny sexually abused them while they were children in his care: I believe you. Everyone should have believed you then. I will work to make Blue Star a safer place for children and for adults.

When Kenny was arrested in 2014, many initiates and elders signed public statements, two of which are available at Sabrina Mari’s blog. One mentions waiting until Kenny’s case has been decided by the judicial system. If additional statements are published now that a guilty verdict has been returned, I will link to them. For now, The Wild Hunt has a summary of the case that ends with statements from Kenny’s fiancée (hers is the only statement I’ve seen that defends him) and from one of Tzipora’s children, noting that Tzipora herself was unavailable for comment. However, she has said that she left the Pagan community after divorcing Kenny “because allegations she and her children made against Klein at that time were not believed, and they felt unwelcome as a result,” according to The Wild Hunt.

[Update, 4/10/17, 1:24 pm: This piece from Kristin Barton, a Blue Star Third Degree and High Priestess, is a brilliant summary of the situation and a plan for the future: Kenny Klein Blue Star High Priest, Guilty: The Aftermath and Going Forward: An Opinion Piece by a Survivor, Containing Strong Words and Well-Placed Profanity]

Revoking initiations and elevations is not possible. Neither can Kenny’s past contributions to Blue Star be erased or his initiates disparaged solely because he initiated them. It is not helpful to say that he wasn’t a real Wiccan; he was, and his initiates are good people whose grief this week is deep. Kenny may not have abused them, but he betrayed them just the same.

I came to Blue Star in 2007. I never met Kenny, though if he’d visited covens on the East Coast when I was available, I undoubtedly would have, simply because he’s a big name in Blue Star. Instead, because he’s a big name in Blue Star, I heard stories about who he was — and those stories painted him as creepy, as not quite worthy of trust, but as someone who had nonetheless made worthwhile contributions to the tradition and was grudgingly tolerated because of them. Some Blue Star elders have known Kenny since the 1980s. Some initiates and students met him in the last 10–15 years and were still studying with him. At some point, Kenny seemed worthy of their trust and friendship. Without those stories warning me away, I may have come to the same conclusion.

Again, I cannot and do not speak for Blue Star as a whole; I speak only for myself when I say the following:

I will not tolerate even a whiff of creepiness in the members of any coven or other group I may run. Not Kenny himself and not anyone else like him. Moreover, I am the mother of two little girls, and I will not extend trust to anyone who might hurt them. Neither will I wait for such a person to act before kicking them out and barring the door. This is one of the lessons I’ve learned from Kenny’s arrest and trial — and from other high-profile sexual assault cases in which victims were not believed and people continued to give an abuser chances.

I hope that I and others in Blue Star will be watchful to prevent abuse in the years to come. If you feel unsafe while attending an event that I host, I will believe you when you tell me so, and the person or situation that is making you feel unsafe will be removed.

(On the other hand, if you are concerned that you might be seen as creepy, Captain Awkward has a lengthy discussion with links and other resources for what you can do about it. If your group has a creepy dude problem, I offer even more advice from Captain Awkward.)

Kenny is now in jail awaiting sentencing, and he could be in prison for the rest of his life (a minimum of 105 years if his sentences are consecutive, but 10 years or less if they are concurrent; he is 62). Although there is a conversation to be had about reintegration and the risk of re-offending, I think this conversation should wait for the least bit of remorse from Kenny. Conversations about safety, consent, and the right to bodily autonomy are more important.

[Update, 4/21/17, 12:13 pm: Kenny’s sentencing was postponed after his lawyer filed 11th-hour motions seeking a new trial, NOLA.com reports. Prosecutors have until May 4 to respond. If the judge does not grant a new trial, he will impose a sentence on May 12.]

[Update, 5/12/17, 6:39 pm: Kenny was sentenced to 20 years in prison: the 20-year sentence for the most severe count and a minimum sentence for the other 19 counts, served concurrently. Upon release from prison — if Kenny is released before he dies — he will be 82 years old and will have to wear an ankle monitor for the rest of his life. According to the NOLA.com article, the judge “had never before received so many letters both in support of and opposed to leniency for a defendant before a sentencing decision.” May those who hurt find healing.]

[Update, 7/15/20, 5:30 pm: Kenny Klein died of pancreatic cancer on July 11, while serving his sentence. The Wild Hunt has the facts of his death and a statement from Tzipora. I stand by the content of this post and reiterate: May those who hurt find healing.]

[Update, 7/15/20, 8:16 pm: Wellspring Coven & Grove has updated their statement from 2017, which provides another Blue Star perspective. I’ll continue to update this post with any further statements and comments from Blue Star folks.]

[Update, 7/17/20, 7:42 pm: Sapphire Coven & Grove has updated their statement from 2017, Serenity Coven & Grove has updated theirs, and Haven Song Coven & Grove has made a statement signed by coven leadership and other Blue Star initiates. For the link-averse: These statements are acknowledging Kenny’s influence on Blue Star as a tradition of Wicca, condemning his actions as abusive and intolerable, committing (or recomitting) to standing against abuse, yet recognizing that those who knew him are having complicated feelings about his death. (Scarlet Magdalene, a Blue Star initiate, posted When Should We Speak Ill of the Dead? to explore some of those complex feelings more generally.) Although, as noted, Blue Star has no central leadership by which the tradition might universally denounce Kenny or any other abuser, the voices of these Blue Star initiates speak loudest and most in concert. Few continue to support him or consider his memory a blessing.]

Housekeeping note

As part of my site update, I deleted the old WordPress installation and started fresh. This somehow sends a flashing FRESH MEAT sign to spammers, who come and register as users in order to… I still don’t know, frankly, but they’ve been doing it for years. I guess it somehow results in profit. ???

Anyway, if you registered here on Maewyn dot net sometime in 2017 and you are a human, feel free to re-register, and use the Contact form to reach me if you’re having problems. Security tools sometimes work too well and keep out people as well as robots.

A new platform for Pagan bloggers

I’ve just backed the Pagan Bloggers campaign on IndieGoGo.  They’ve got four days left to reach their stretch goal!

I heard about this campaign after following some kerfluffle over Patheos’ new contracts, in which Pagan bloggers were asked to agree not to disparage Patheos or any of its related companies. John Halsted, now a former blogger at Patheos’ Pagan channel, laid out the problem with “related companies” this way:

This is potentially the most problematic part of the contract. For example, one of the other writers here brought to my attention that the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a group founded by the televangelist Pat Robertson, is a partner with Affinity4, which is itself listed alongside Beliefnet and Patheos on the BN Media page. The ACLJ lobbies for the death penalty for gays in other countries. Under the new contract, ACLJ could be considered a “related company” that we’re not permitted to disparage. (And that’s just one related company that we’ve discovered in less than 24 hours.)

Patheos has since amended the contract slightly, but it seems that the damage has been done. Although some bloggers accepted the terms of the contract and remained at Patheos, Halstead and others have walked away.

Personally, I’m still trying to get a sense of where the Pagan community is online. When I was last involved in the community, Yahoo! Groups was just starting to fade, lots of people were actively blogging, and Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks hadn’t risen to prominence quite yet. Patheos was one of the first places I found the Pagan writing I was looking for when I came back. The place always did seem a little corporate to me, however. I follow a few recommended Patheos Pagan blogs but I didn’t get a sense that there was a thriving community there.

I’m interested to see what PaganBloggers.com will be like when it launches. Throw them a few bucks in the next four days and help them reach their first stretch goal!