Religious Community Angered by Video of Girl Yelling at Street Preacher in Salem
The religious community is up in arms about a video that shows a young girl yelling “shut up” to a Christian preacher on the streets of Salem during this year’s Halloween celebrations. The person who captured the interaction and sold it for distribution on the site LiveLeak.com claims the family of the girl is threatening the website with a lawsuit if they don’t remove it from their page.
Robert Goss-Kennedy, the Salem resident who filmed the unidentified girl repeatedly telling an on-street evangelist to stop talking by shouting over him, saying “blah, blah, blah,” sold the video to ViralHog LLC, which licensed it to Live Leak, after he posted it on Facebook and YouTube just days after the holiday.
Once it hit Live Leak’s site, the footage was shared more than 60,000 times, racked up 350,000 views, and garnered thousands of comments—most of which were negative.
But Goss-Kennedy said on Thursday that a representative from ViralHog called him personally to notify him that the company was pulling the video, after a person claiming to be the parent of the girl reached out to the company ready to file a lawsuit.
“LiveLeak seemed to be overly cautious,” Goss-Kennedy said of the phone call, in which the representative told him he should delete the video from his personal sites, too.
Boston reached out to Live Leak multiple times for a comment about what transpired, but no one from the company immediately replied. As of 8 a.m. Friday, the video could still be viewed on their site, even though Goss-Kennedy said ViralHog returned the distribution rights to him.
Goss-Kennedy and ViralHog have received numerous threats—both via phone and online—as a result of the footage. “There are some doozies on my YouTube page and on my personal site,” Goss-Kennedy said.
Halloween’s arguably the busiest time of year for the city of Salem, home to the infamous witch trials, attracting millions of costumed revelers to the North Shore. But unfortunately, according to Goss-Kennedy, with those crowds of tourists come some other unwelcomed guests: extreme Bible thumpers who tell visitors that they’re going to hell for celebrating Halloween.
The problem got so bad that residents formed an “Anti-Street Preacher Task Force” in 2013, and tried to get the city to pass an ordinance that would bar the proselytizing blasting through megaphones and amplifiers.
This year, residents created what was called the “Salem Street Peace Alliance,” an “attempt to organize like-minded individuals to peacefully oppose the hate speech that is amplified around Salem.” They hit the streets this year and used protests and drums to drown out the religious speech.
Goss-Kennedy captured the footage of the girl yelling “shut up” at the evangelist on the streets while he was working on a long-term art project about the intrusive nature of the preachers.
“Almost every resident of Salem loathes the influx of street preachers every year,” he said.
While he was filming a separate street preacher, he said the little girl showed up and started running around and shouting at the man in the video. “I finished with the guy I was recording, and started a new clip. About two-and-a-half minutes into it, the little girl showed back up and did her thing. Then she ran into the Museum Place Mall,” said Goss-Kennedy.
At first, many people who viewed the video believed that the girl was Goss-Kennedy’s daughter, and they blasted him with comments about how inappropriate it was for him to allow the interaction to occur.
“I only have one and she is four. And better behaved,” he said. “I never saw her parents, or who she was with. I have no idea at all who she is. Salem is fairly small, and people have been shaking the trees to see if anyone knows her. She doesn’t appear to be local.”
It was only after his footage landed on YouTube and Facebook that ViralHog approached him for rights to distribute it to a much larger audience. Goss-Kennedy agreed, but had no clue that the clip would generate so much animosity—not to mention a possible lawsuit.
A religious news outlet, the Christian News Network, eventually interviewed the street preacher after the video went viral in the days after Halloween, and of course, they weren’t pleased with the girl’s behavior, or by the fact that Goss-Kennedy recorded it.
According to the website, the preacher, Austin Coppock, said “God led him to Salem to preach to the thousands of Halloween revelers in the hope that some would come to repentance and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He told the site that the little girl’s mother stood in the background “laughing and smiling as if she was proud her child was mocking Christianity,” adding that he didn’t know why Goss-Kennedy was recording the whole time.
Although the footage has ignited both religious debates and conversations about the behavior of the young girl, and why her parents allegedly allowed the shouting to occur, Goss-Kennedy said he has no plans to remove the video from his own social media sites, like YouTube and Facebook.
“I didn’t break any laws. Public place…they weren’t watching their kid,” he said, adding that no one has reached out to him about removing the clip. “I just recorded what I saw.”
Regardless of Halloween being over, it’s safe to say that the video is still haunting the city.