A group of approximately 30 local and Austin activists without specific religious affiliations, alongside some Wiccan and Pagan practitioners, gathered for a Peace Ritual Friday evening at Elizabeth M. Milburn Community Park in Cedar Park to protest recent controversial statements by two local Cedar Park Council members, who has received national attention for calling some of their critics a “satanic witch coven” and asked their supporters to pray against their “soul stealing sorcery.”
Laurel Percival, who organized the event, said she wanted to get people together because it is especially important to do so when someone in political power is coming out and speaking against these different groups.
“I wanted people to get together to make a statement that there are alternative faiths out there,” Percival said. “There are other ways of believing, and those all have a space in Austin and in this country.”
Percival said individuals with these different beliefs are still good people, participating in things such as volunteering or leading donation drives for their local communities.
“We are good people, and we want them to see that,” Percival said. “I’ve heard that there are people coming here to pray against us tonight, and they are absolutely welcome to join us. This is about inclusivity.”
The participants also brought donations to the event to benefit The SAFE Alliance, which serve survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence.
Wiccan and Pagan believers are not the same as Satanists, since they do not believe in the existence of the devil as part of their faith.
A group of more than 10 individuals were observed across the field from the Peace Ritual, wearing Messianic Judaism attire. They repeatedly prayed and blew ram's horns throughout the entirety of the event, loud enough to be heard over the speakers at the protest.
When approached, the group would stop and deny that they were holding an event themselves, but would then continue praying and blowing the horns again after the reporters left.
A member of the group that had been leading the prayer said, "We're children of the Almighty. The blood of Yeshua is real," but declined to answer any further questions.
A local Republican activist, who asked that they remain anonymous, said that there were at least two different groups who were praying against the protest at other locations, including one that had traveled from San Antonio.
Council member Tim Kelly confirmed for Hill Country News that approximately 20 to 25 local residents, including two priests, held a prayer vigil against the protest at Veterans Memorial Park at the same time as the Peace Ritual event. Kelly, who was unable to attend the prayer event, said Council member Dorain Chavez had learned about the prayer vigil after it was organized and had planned to attend.
Hill Country News is in the process of reaching out to Chavez to verify these details.
Chavez and Kelly have received national attention for their "satanic witch coven" comments, referring to the Austin activist group Coven of the Corvid that has been calling for their resignation for months alongside other Cedar Park groups after the two members attended a June protest in Leander against an LGBTQ festival.
The group said they are actually an atheist organization whose name is meant as “tongue-in-cheek,” although some members do identify themselves as Wiccans.
In his Facebook post targeting the group for what he calls "slander" and "attacks" against him and his sincerely held religious beliefs, Kelly wrote:
“Not only on watch over Cedar Park during the day, but on watch in the weee (sic) hours of the morning," Kelly wrote on Facebook. "My prayers and intercession against the witches and Satan worshipers begins at 3 a.m. on this full moon of Friday the 13th. The power that is in the shed blood of Jesus the Christ trumps your soul stealing sorcery. What you ask against others, will be directed back at you in Jesus name.”
When asked last week to clarify what he meant by his post, Kelly said, "I’m a Christian, man. I absolutely believe in the Devil. I absolutely believe witches can do what they say they can do."
Following his comment on witches, Chavez was on the radio program Focal Point with Bryan Fischer, defending himself and calling critics of him part of "a very evil initiative … these are people that want to take control of our kids."
During the interview, Fischer said that in his personal experience, "Satanic covens do convene at midnight … and then at 3 a.m., they will send demonic spirits out to harass objects of their hatred and their wrath."
Fischer has been designated an anti-gay extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center for a series of controversial comments, including notably blaming gay men for the Holocaust.
In June, Chavez received heavy criticism and protests for going on an InfoWars show to defending his and Kelly's attendance at the protest against a Leander LGBTQ festival.
While on the show, Chavez called several groups critical of his attendance and calling for him to resign "a hate group."
Chavez and Kelly said they did not participate in the Leander protest when they attended and they do not hate the LGBTQ community. They said they were attended to voice their opposition to the event's original planned but later dropped efforts to host a Drag Queen Story Hour, which Kelly and Chavez argued is harmful to children.
"They're trying to attack me for trying to protect children," Chavez said in a prior interview.