In a small northern Minnesota town God, the devil, and America are embroiled in a battle over nudist swingers. Of course, whose side each is on is a matter of opinion.
For several years an “alternative lifestyle organization” that runs a clothing-optional campground has thrown parties at a Virginia, Minnesota hotel. Roughly 140-160 people rent out the Coates Plaza Hotel to socialize and whatever else in a skin-friendly setting.
“We were the big open secret,” says Glen Williamson, owner of event company AttractionUSA and Two Creeks Campground in Sandstone. “Everybody knew we were in there all these years. It’s just this guy … I have no other way to say it, it’s just the devil stirring the pot.”
The “devil” in this instance is actually a Virginia pastor who’s not cool with the city's embrace of hedonism. Last month Pastor Terry Hartikka raised his concerns with the City Council, shining a spotlight on Williamson’s “big, open secret.” Naturally, Hartikka argues that God and all the major deities have his back on this one.
“It’s a cross-faith type of a moral here that unless a person claims that they don’t have any religious base at all, I think we have some ground for establishing a community standard that says this is wrong,” Hartikka says.
However, on Tuesday the good pastor’s cause was dealt a blow when the City Council narrowly shot down an attempt to formally ask Williamson to take his parties elsewhere. According to WDIO-TV, Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe says the city doesn’t have the power to give ‘em the boot. One city councilor who voted against the move called it a "witch hunt."
But Hartikka’s not ready to give up the fight. While he claims passersby have caught peeks of half-naked people inside the hotel, his crusade is about more than nipple glimpses. Hartikka, whose daughter was sexually assaulted a decade ago, claims several women have been coerced by their male paramours into attending the parties — allegations Williamson calls “hogwash.”
Hartikka hopes to form a “coalition for decency” that will address domestic violence, which he says is a big problem across northern Minnesota. He also plans to start a petition asking Williamson and the Coates Plaza Hotel to stop the events. The next is planned for Valentine’s weekend.
But even if he’s unable to chase Williamson out of town, the pastor wants the parties more closely regulated.
“If you’re going to do this in private, make sure it’s private,” he says. “Don’t leave it open where people can just walk by and look in a window and see a woman half-clothed or nude from the waist up.”
Williamson insists his group has done nothing wrong and that they pump money into the town’s economy, frequenting bars, restaurants, and the local mall (while wearing pants, of course). Since moralists “can’t go after gay and lesbian anymore,” he believes they’ve turned their attention to him and will be on the “wrong side of history.” Oh, and that America is on his team.
“I served in the military, this is what America’s all about,” Williamson says. “We have the right to free speech, the right to assemble peacefully and lawfully. There’s nothing we’re doing that’s illegal.”