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Friday, May 13, 2016

Lives of the Profits: How Aaron and Melissa Klein lost their "no-homo"-mentum in the pursuit of wealth and fame

saints timothy and maura.jpg
Husband and wife Greek Orthodox saints Timothy and Maura*

Among the preeminent martyrs of the unfolding  Apocalypse of the Mean Gays are the Oregon pastry artists, Aaron and Melissa Klein, they of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, a Portland suburb.


If you’ve forgotten them or never had much of an idea who they are/were, you are not alone. A post at Seth’s Blog- the daily musings of an American technology guru- I read today struck me as summing up the Aaron & Melissa Experience:


Roller coasters work because of momentum—the quantity of motion from the downhill allows the car to make it up the next rise. Without momentum, the car would merely stop. But few things in the world of ideas follow the same rules.

Ideas have no mass, they don't coast.

Authors fall into this trap over and over again. They believe that a big launch, the huge push upfront, the bending of the media in their favor (at any cost) is the way to ensure that weeks two and three and eleven will continue to show solid growth.

A decade ago, I wrote two different posts for friends who were launching books. The ideas still stand.

I'm betting that an analysis of the Billboard charts over the last fifty years would confirm that the speed a song makes it to the top has no correlation with how long it stays at the top.

Here's a look at the cumulative sales for Your Turn, the book I published in November 2014. And you'd find a similar curve for most successful books.

The launch is the launch. What happens after the launch, though, isn't the result of momentum. It's the result of a different kind of showing up, of word of mouth, of the book (or whatever tool you're using to cause change) being part of something else, something bigger.

Fast starts are never as important as a cultural hook, consistently showing up and committing to a process.


Here’s the arc of Comet Klein these last three years.


In January 2013, the Kleins rejected a lesbian customer’s order for a wedding cake in no uncertain terms: Aaron Klein told one of the two their children were an "abomination to the Lord". The Kleins pursued a high-profile media campaign that portrays themselves as the victims of the lesbians, who- avoiding publicity- were hounded by media and individuals so much that an Oregon administrative law judge awarded them $135,000 in damages.


The decision, which lays out the facts in remarkable detail, was upheld by the Bureau’s director, whom the Kleins tried to disqualify for not being antigay enough to be fair to them.


The agency found that since Respondents brought the case to the media’s attention and kept it there by repeatedly appearing in public to make statements deriding the couple, it was foreseeable that this attention would negatively impact them negatively. That made the Kleins liable for any resultant emotional suffering experienced by their victims. The Agency also found that the Kleins liable for negative third party social media directed at the victims because it was a foreseeable consequence of media attention the Kleins focused on them.


By September 2013, the Kleins were already appearing in national conservative publications. Red Dreher, a prominent columnist, reported,


“There’s a lot of close-minded people out there that would like to pretend to be very tolerant and just want equal rights,” Aaron said. “But on the other hand, they’ve been very, very mean-spirited. They’ve been militant. The best way I can describe it is they’ve used mafia tactics against the business. Basically, if you do business with Sweet Cakes, we will shut you down.”

The Kleins cited a break-in to their bakery truck as one example of what’s been happening to them. They said it was ransacked Sunday evening. We checked with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and learned there was a report filed, but no one has been apprehended.

They also said critics harassed their vendors to the point that vendors would no longer refer customers, which led to their income dropping off dramatically.


(Dreher suggested they relocate to Louisiana, or Texas).

At their appearance at the Values Voters Conference in Washington in September 2014 Aaron Klein led the narrative:


He said the couple, who has five kids, have already been forced to shut down their storefront because of boycotts and harassment. Melissa Klein now makes "limited cakes" out of their house, he said.

Melissa Klein choked up as she described the process of helping a couple design and select their wedding cake, saying she "'would just feel so honored to be able to be a part of such a amazing day."

In a complaint to the state, a Portland lesbian couple said they attempted to order from Sweet Cakes, but were called "abominations unto the lord" after they were asked for the groom's name.

At the summit, moderator Spriggs pointed out that the Kleins had gay and lesbian customers in the past.

"It's never been about sexual orientation," said Aaron Klein, who explained the couple who filed the complaint were actually return customers who had purchased a cake for a relative's wedding in the past.

"It's about marriage," Spriggs said.

"It's about marriage and the event," Aaron Klein said.


In early February 2015, a gofundme.com account was set up to aid the Kleins, who again said their business had been hampered and depressed- indeed, they later insisted, “shuttered”- by the mean gays. At month’s end, they appeared at the annual CPAC conference of conservatives in Washington, D.C.


The account sat, doing nothing much, from February 11, 2015, until the first of April. A second martyr of the mean gays, Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman, set up a gofundme account February 23, aided by Dana Loesch, a Glenn Beck TV host who’d interviewed her.


Crowdfunding was in vogue then, and in March, Loesch got the idea to hitch her wagon to another mean gays martyr, a pizza joint in Walkerton, Indiana, whose hapless co-owner told a local TV news team that wandered in, no, she wouldn’t cater her pies to no gay weddings, at the beginning of April.


Fueled by national interest in Indiana’s new religious freedom to discriminate law, Memories Pizza’s gofundme account raised $842,442 in less than a month.


Stutzman’s fund piggybacked on the pizza beg, doubling her take in three weeks (she also got an undisclosed cut of the Memories Pizza pelf later in the spring, for a total upwards of $275,000). Those successes jumpstarted the Kleins’ then-lackluster cup-rattling.


All went well until April 24, 2015, when gofundme.com caved under pressure from Americans outraged that one could raise such vast sums from being accused of violating the law- as the Kleins, and Stutzman, and an accused killer cop- were (another  opportunist hater who ran a truck repair business where, he announced, gays were not welcome and men with guns were, rejected a gofundme.com account set up for him, and vanished from life’s reality show after a poorly-attended local rally and a failed call for churches to bring him to teach their children how to use high-powered weaponry). The accounts were shut down after a gofundme policy change last April 24. The Kleins were allowed to pocket the $109,000 their campaign raised. Stutzman collected just under $175,000, plus her slice of Indiana pizza dough.


Into the breach strode politicovangelical leader Franklin Graham, who announced the opening of a Son of Gofundme account on his Samaritan’s Purse relief organization's website. Opened with great ballyhoo, the venture has been shrouded in secrecy ever since- it now does business under the “Persecuted Christians U.S.A.” banner- and no financials have been made public. Some other, smaller funds were also launched through churches. The Kleins have never accounted for that money, either.


On April 27, 2015, The Heritage Foundation, which adopted the Kleins as a cause, issued a new video interview in which the narrator intoned,


Melissa now works from home, baking one or two cakes each month.

Her five kids—Samantha, 16; Ethan, 13; Elijah, 9; and the 2-year-old twins Everett and Michael—provide easy distractions.


In early May, the Kleins announced on the Facebook page the creation of yet another money beg, offered them by the Christian crowdfunder continuetogive.com.


The Kleins readily agreed, adding, "Of course, we don't expect anything.” Needing $126,000 to pay off their emotional distress judgment, they set their target at $150,000. Fully subscribed, the new campaign would leave them netting some $124,000.


The Bureau of Labor & Industries upheld the administrative law judge’s award against the Kleins last July 2. Two months after The Heritage Foundation reported Melissa Klein was down to making one or two cakes a month, Willamette Week, a Portland newspaper, launched a snarky little investigation to see just how coherent is die klein Weltanschauung: five reporters called up Sweet Cakes by Melissa (the Klein’s business) and another local bakery asking for cake for other celebratory events, and recorded the replies:


Baby Out of Wedlock

WW Asks - I’m shopping around for a nice baby shower cake for my friend. It’s her second baby with her boyfriend so I’m not looking for anything too big or fancy—probably enough to serve 15 to 20 people.

Sweet Cake says - “We have a sheet cake that will feed 30, or a 10-inch cake that would feed 30 people. The 10-inch cake is $50 and the sheet cake is $52. Or we have an 8-inch cake that would feed 15 for $40.”

Fleur says - Prices vary based on decoration and frosting, but a basic cake is $3 per serving.

Divorce Party

WW Asks - My friend is getting divorced and we’d like to throw her a little party to mark the start of her new life. Do you ever write messages on those—we’d want it to say “congratulations!”—and how much would it be for a cake that could serve about eight people?

Sweet Cake says - “A 10-inch is $29.99. That should probably do it....We can definitely do something like that.”

Fleur says - “The price for a 10-inch cheesecake is $36 and up. So it’ll be between $36 and $45, but you’re going to have to call in advance because my schedule for June and July is very busy.”

Stem-Cell Success

WW Asks - I was wondering if you could do two little cakes. My friend is a researcher at OHSU and she just got a grant for cloning human stem cells, so I thought I’d get her two identical cakes—basically, two little clone cakes. How much would they cost?

Sweet Cake says - “Ha. All right. When are you looking to do it? It’ll be $25.99 each, so about $50 to start.”

Fleur says - Did not pick up phone or return messages. Acknowledged receiving requests by email but refused to comment.

Non-Kosher Barbecue

WW Asks - I’m looking to get a special cake for a barbecue we’re having next week. Our cow just died of old age and we’re planning to grill some steaks along with lobster and pulled-pork sandwiches—what size would we need for 10 people and how much would it be?

Sweet Cake says - “A 6-inch cake serves about eight to 10 people at $25.99. The apple goes really good with pork, and the caramel will complement the lobster. For a barbecue, it’s all really good.”

Fleur says - Did not pick up phone or return messages. Acknowledged receiving requests by email but refused to comment.

Pagan Solstice Party

WW Asks - I was calling to get a quote on a cake for a midsummer solstice party. My coven is celebrating on Friday, June 21. The decoration would be very simple: just a green pentagram. We’d like to pick it up sometime that afternoon, before the bonfire. It’ll be for about 30 people.

Sweet Cake says - “For 30 people we have a couple options... We have two kind of cakes you could have. About the diagram you want on the cake, I’m not sure how much extra that would be.”

Fleur says - Did not pick up phone or return messages. Acknowledged receiving requests by email but refused to comment. GO: Sweet Cakes by Melissa is at 44 NE Division St., Gresham. 674-5400,sweetcakesweb.com. Fleur Cakes is at 4359 Woodworth Road, Mount Hood, 541-490-4607, fleurcakes.com.


The Kleins went on their local conservative talk radio program to complain of entrapment, and continued hoovering up money.


On July 14, 2015, The Washington Times reported the Kleins were continuetogive’s most successful project ever, raising $352,000 from 7,261 donors in just two months. Continuetogive, which collects a fee for processing every donation, was delighted to announce it was carrying on the campaign, despite having oversubscribed the Kleins’ goal twice over. Interviewed by a Heritage Foundation-picked “reporter” for a Heritage Foundation video in July, Aaron Klein- asked if his business was closed- replied, “We are not actively doing business at this time.”


Apparently “at this time” meant “when we are giving interviews,” as one could order a cake on the Sweet Cakes website the day the video went online.


Over the summer and into fall and winter 2015, I repeatedly pressed the Kleins for the full total of the Kleins’ profits, and  for the reason they kept on raising money when they had so much more than they needed already, and was blocked from access to their Facebook page after one of their page prefects threatened to sic the FBI on me for harassment.


Jeremy Hooper, writing at the blog Good As You, noted that the haul by antigay crowdfunders had then reached nearly $1.5 million, but to what end?


First and foremost is the fact that it changes nothing. These pro-discrimination business owners can each raise a billion dollars, and it won't make one dent in any law or policy or ordinance that protects LGBT customers from unfair business practices. Not one deciding body or judge who put accuracy above activism would allow himself or herself to be swayed by the fact that the guilty parties can find enough like-minds to pay off their legal bills (and car loans and mortgage and...). Just like so much of what the anti-LGBT movement is doing these days, these crowdfunding efforts do little more than make themselves feel better about their cause. Which is fine, if that is the purpose. But if their aim is to change policies with which they disagree, then this is about as effective as setting the cash on fire and making s'mores. Far less delicious, too.


Which was apparent from the Kleins’ actions, too. They created a new Facebook page, abandoning the poky Sweet Cakes by Melissa in favor of Aaron and Melissa Klein of Sweetcakes by Melissa, and dubbing themselves “public figures.”


They ran a short make-nice campaign, posting how they loved the mean gays and would do anything for them- take them in, feed them give them a ride to the doctor (that one was pretty quickly deleted).


Then they were giving cakes to ten LGBT advocacy groups- in Los Angeles, where the product was delivered by the producer of a new antigay movie with a DVD copy in every box ("The idea of sending cakes was suggested to me by a Los Angeles filmmaker, as a gesture of love for homosexuals," Melissa Klein said. "My husband and I have been vilified as being hateful, but we don't hate anyone, let alone gay people.”)


They started appearing in religious freedom rallies sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.


What no one noticed, as the Kleins moved into their new celebrity roles, was that- as Seth Godin would have predicted- they were stalling out as a brand. Naked self-enrichment is seldom a long-running success among the religious, even in prosperity gospel-obsessed America. Theirs is a classic Godin fast startup.
Using continuetogive’s posted data, I found that from May through July, 2015, the site took in 8,191 donations.


In August, that figure dropped 98%- to 110.


Forty donations were taken in September. 23 followed in October, and 20 in November. That month, the Kleins appeared at an Iowa conference organized by a preacher who called for the execution of LGBT Americans, along with presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal.


The judgment on appeal by Alliance Defending Freedom, a pro bono antigay legal nonprofit, the Kleins just sat on the money. While they sought a hearing before the Oregon Court of Appeals, they also requested two extensions of time to pay the judgment, claiming that having to do so would bring them “financial ruin.” (they continue to insist,as well, that the case forced the to close their business, when in fact they simply moved it from a storefront to their home).


The state, noting that by September the Kleins had raised over $500,000, offered to accept a bond or irrevocable letter of credit. The Kleins turned those down, too, on their way to their second annual appearance at the national Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C.


Finally, in December 2015, Oregon garnished the Kleins’ bank accounts. “We had three accounts,” a tearful Melissa Klein told Fox News’ Todd Starnes.  “I have one account that’s labeled, ‘God’s money’ – our tithing. They just took it.”


The Kleins’ indignation knew no bounds. They were rentiers now, and Oregon was killing their unearned income multipliers, Willamette Week reported:


The bureau "was attempting to charge interest rates of 9 percent, equating to $35 a day, and seeking to garnish any assets of the Kleins so they couldn't earn interest on the money that had been donated to them," [the Kleins’ attorney] said. "The prudent thing to do, given the generosity of people who have contributed funds, was to take care of it and continue the fight."


The resulting publicity- Starnes claimed the Kleins’ were wiped out financially just before Christmas- failed to help. In December, 2015, donations, driven by  the need of taxpaying believes to render unto Caesar as little as possible, ticked up to 154.


On December 27, 2015, The Heritage Foundation issued a video in which the Kleins copied the “Mean Tweets” feature on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, laughing and smiling and reading over a background of comical music.

On December 28, 2015, Aaron Klein donned his sadz face, went to the Bureau of Labor and Industries office in Portland and handed over a check for $136,907.07.
2016 has been a trainwreck: 37 donations to continuetogive in January.


The Kleins got 14 donations via continuetogive in February.
On February 28, Melissa Klein testified before a committee of the Indiana State Senate, opposing adding LGBT protections to state law and urging retention of its 2015 religious freedom law:

Klein said the shop was “one way we tried to minister to and bless our community,” as evangelical Christians. Because of their faith, she and her husband declined to make a wedding cake for the couple.

Klein said her conscience wouldn’t allow her to do the wedding. She said she would be happy to serve the couple any other time except for their wedding because of her belief in traditional marriage.

“I want my wedding cakes to cheer for the couple and to shine a light on their love and bring them happiness and encouragement. It comes from a place deep in my heart,” she said.

The Kleins got 14 donations via continuetogive in February. Even the Kleins’ net profit of $400,000+ on the fundraising will eventually need replenishment, and something was seriously wrong. They dropped their free legal team, Alliance Defending Freedom, in favor of a new legal/public relations boutique headed by C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel to President George W. Bush, on February 23. At First Liberty’s clients page, you can read about the Kleins, then donate, sign a letter of support, publicize them on social media, and request an interview. According to the new team,


...the Kleins were bombarded with hate mail, harassment, and threats. Business declined, and in September 2013, their bakery storefront was forced to close its doors. As a result, in order to provide for his family, Aaron went to work as a garbage collector to make ends meet.

“For us to lose the bakery was really crushing,” said Melissa. “We worked so hard to build it up. We poured our heart into it. It was my passion. To have it taken away like that was really devastating.”


You can also watch Melissa Klein exercise her God-given artistry in a glossy video (the Peter Keating of cake design, she wouldn’t last a week on The Great English Baking Show, and photos of Aaron and Melissa holding cakes produced by their “shuttered” business in from of their branded delivery truck.


Continuetogive posted 23 donations in March. The second through the fifth, the Kleins were in Washington, D.C. for the CPAC conference.


On March 8, Aaron Klein posted- with no apparent sense of irony:


I was reading Matthew chapter 6 this morning and noticed how contrary the world's view of charity is to Christ's words. Not to mention how backwards society has become when it comes to views on wealth, the haves and have nots so to speak. And then of course the instruction for prayer, followed by these words," For if you do not forgive those who sin against you your Father in Heaven will not forgive you." We as Christians are too live separate from the ways of this world, the world says acquire money by any means necessary. Christ says you cannot serve both God and money. The world says give to the needy, and do it in broad daylight that everyone may see it and praise you. Jesus says do it in secret so that no one will know but God. The world says only if someone repents and says they are sorry are you to forgive them. Jesus says forgive them for you have been forgiven. I love how the Word of God can put the craziness of this world in to perspective.


Donations fell to four in April.


Their Facebook page likes have stalled- 10,646- and their posts have dwindled to a few: an endorsement of a Republican candidate for the Oregon legislature, sulky complaints about the Bureau of Labor & Industries’ run for Secretary of State; and ads for the May 2016 special:


Email melissa@sweetcakesweb.com to order your cakes in a jar.
Flavors this month: Raspberry fantasy, Chocolate heaven, and Strawberry lemonade.
Prices: 2 for $19.99
4 for $39.99
6 for $59.99
12 for $119.99
Shipping: anywhere in the US jars 2,4,6 ship for $10. A dozen ships for $15.


The Kleins’ case remains on appeal; their payment held in reserve.


Seth Godin says,


The launch is the launch. What happens after the launch, though, isn't the result of momentum. It's the result of a different kind of showing up, of word of mouth, of the book (or whatever tool you're using to cause change) being part of something else, something bigger.

Fast starts are never as important as a cultural hook, consistently showing up and committing to a process.


The Kleins lack a good cultural hook. Their efforts at self-promotion, all within the bubble of conservative political groups and media, will never break through to a larger audience whose attention has shifted to genital regulation and Donald Trump (the Kleins tried riding the Texas senator’s hard-right evangelical wave, with much the same result). All they can do is string out their story, adding new chapters to their tale of victimization by adding new affronts and more of Mrs Klein’s on-demand crying jags.


In short, the Kleins have met F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous dictum, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Successful martyrs die for their beliefs, at the top of their game. Frozen in time, they inspire others from the empyrean; they don’t hang about the living, clamoring for alms and attention.


The longer the Kleins stick with their one-note narrative, the more ludicrous they are: claiming to be out of business while peddling product on Facebook; jetting around the country for political events while pleading poverty. They have become fame addicts, like so many reality show stars once their season ends and there is nothing to distract from their overwhelming ordinariness.

For Aaron and Melissa Klein, it’s not so much, “Saints, Preserve Us” as “Preserve Us Saints!”


So far in May, they have received five donations at continuetogive.com.




_____________________


*From the website of The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All The Fast:

The holy Martyrs Timothy and Maura were husband and wife. Timothy was from Penapeis in the Thebaid, a reader in the Church, and had been married to Maura only twenty days when he was betrayed to Arian, the Governor of the Thebaid, as a teacher of the Christians. Arian commanded Timothy to surrender his sacred books, which he refused to do, comparing it to a father's giving up his children to death. For this answer, heated iron spits were thrust through his ears. As he was being put to other tortures, Arian summoned Maura, hoping that she would persuade her husband to worship the idols, but she confessed herself a Christian. The hair of her head was pulled out, her fingers were cut off, then she was lowered into a cauldron of boiling water, but remained unharmed. Finally husband and wife were crucified facing each other, and after nine days, received their martyric end, during the reign of Diocletian (284-305).

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