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14812OCANews: "The Truth Behind OCATruth.com"

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
    Apr 30, 2011
      The Truth Behind OCATruth.com
      On March 3, 2011 a website appeared stating: “The purpose of this blog is to provide an alternative source of information
      and analysis about the current crisis in the Orthodox Church in America. An
      alternative, that is, to OCANews.org.” The new site, it claimed was “....run by laypeople who have experience in the OCA, and sources throughout
      the Church who have been sharing insights and inside information with us that
      paints a very different picture of the situation than what readers of OCANews
      have been seeing.” There was, they wrote,“ ...an urgent need in the
      OCA: for an independent source of real inside information and analysis in this
      critical time in the life of the OCA.”
      The bloggers apologized “...
      for being anonymous, but we all have to be here to protect the sources who have
      been telling us the real behind-the-scenes story.” They had “....no
      interest in publishing propaganda”, so the author affirmed “ I will not
      publish anything here that I don’t believe to be 100 percent true..”

      Scores of emails between the principals of the
      site, obtained by OCANews.org, paint a very different picture. This is the story
      of how OCATruth.com came to be, and why, and how it works, in their own words.
      Why I am Here: OCATruth
      According to the emails, OCATruth.com was designed by Jason Folsom and is
      written by Jesse Cone and Rod Dreher. All three are current and former
      parishioners of St. Seraphim’s Cathedral in Dallas. It was established with the
      support and cooperation of Fr. Joseph Fester, the former Dean of St. Seraphim’s
      (and current Dean of Metropolitan +Jonah’s St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington
      DC), who provides information and direction; and done so with the knowledge and
      blessing - and all evidence would suggest - cooperation of Metropolitan
      The Need
      In an early morning, March 2, 2011 email to Fr. Fester, journalist Rod Dreher
      laments about his recent conversation with Washington Post writer, Julia
      “Father Joe:
      Julia Duin wrote me this morning to say she’d spoken with Stokoe
      yesterday, and he told her the Synod was furious with HB (Editor's note:
      HB is His Beatitude - Metropolitan Jonah)for not actually going on retreat.
      This is what prompted them to release the minutes of the meeting; they believe
      Jonah is spinning this thing. Julia is wondering what the heck is going on,
      saying that this latest information looks bad for Jonah.
      She’s right -- and I say this purely as a public relations matter. You
      all know the background information, not I and certainly not Julia Duin. But
      she’s a journalist sympathetic to Jonah who is having a hard time figuring this
      one out. To be clear, I trust your judgement re: the picture you’ve painted for
      me about what’s really going on behind the scene, but as your friend and
      supporter, I need to to tell you that this stuff needs to come out, because the
      release of the minutes of the meeting do put Jonah’s case in a negative light. I
      received this morning an e-mail from an Orthodox friend who has been a strong
      supporter of Jonah, who read those minutes and now says he doesn’t know what to
      believe, because it looks like HB is being misleading in his Sunday
      That this man, and a sympathetic journalist,
      are now doubting HB’s side of the story tells me that y’all have a problem. You
      are at a disadvantage because Stokoe has his site, and y’all have nothing like
      it to counter. What about Fr. Hans Jacobse’s blog? I don’t think many people
      read it at all, but if word gets around that key documents supporting HB’s case
      are appearing there, at least people a place to go and see them. Its clear that
      Team Stokoe is going to play hardball here. HB may choose to rise above it, at
      least until after Pascha, but that decision should be made, if it is made, in
      full awareness that in a case like this,*perception is to a large extent
      reality and perception makes reality* -
      ( emphasis in original) -- by which I mean that
      what people believe may have happened, or may be happening, can make certain
      future outcomes more likely.
      For example, I looked on Stokoe’s site this morning, and see that he has
      a snarky comment up about HB’s participation in the reception in Chicago saying
      something to the effect of “it is unseemly for the Metropolitan, who agreed to
      go on retreat, to go party in the luxury suites.”* Stokoe is correct --and I say
      that not as moral judgement but strictly as a matter of *public
      perception and PR*. (emphasis in original). I imagine it’s the case that
      protocal required HB to be there, and perhaps Jonah feels he needs to
      demonstrate a certain independence from the Synod in these matters. That may be
      true...but to the wider public, who doesn’t have the picture of what’s really
      going on that you and HB do, it doesn’t look good. I fear that HB may be giving
      his enemies ammunition unnecessarily. Stokoe is a master at using information to
      his advantage, and he is definitely armed more heavily in this regard than our
      Please understand that I am offering you this media management advice not
      as someone in the peanut gallery throwing spitballs, but as a friend and
      supporter, one who wants Jonah to triumph. I have a lot at stake in this too,
      not only in that I want my church to live, but some of the dearest people in the
      world to my family, +Jonah, you, Kathy (Editor's note: Kathy Fester, Fr.
      Fester's wife)Fr. Gregory (Editor's note: Deacon Gregory Stevens, aide
      to Metropolitan Jonah) -- have everything at stake.
      I think also y’all should be open to having an “on background”
      conversation with Julia Duin to make sure she knows exactly what’s going on, and
      isn’t susceptible to Stokoe spin. “On background” means that which was spoken of
      in the conversation cannot be quoted, that it’s only an informational session
      for the reporter. This is distinct from “off the record” which means the
      reporter is to treat what she learns in that session as if it never
      If I can help in anyway, let me know.
      A few minutes later Father Fester offers a one sentence reply:
      “You will now begin to get some background.”
      Dreher then asks Fr. Fester:
      “...Is it possible for you to start a blog and to post on it. You could
      set up a blog in 15 minutes. I could help you with it. Is there someone one step
      removed from you who could run it, and to whom you could feed background
      information? I would be pleased to help you shape the narrative from behind the
      scenes, if that helps the cause.
      When the WaPo’s (Editor's note: Washington Post) story comes
      out, this becomes a bigger public story, and things are going to move quickly, I
      imagine. Team Jonah needs to think two or three steps ahead, and anticipate what
      the Stokoe people are likely to do next.”
      From its very conception, OCATruth.com was intended as part of publicity
      campaign for +Jonah, one that included the Washington Post story, which Dreher,
      in an earlier February 26th email to Fester, had already discussed in the
      following terms:
      “...I am acutely aware that I don’t know the inner dynamics of Jonah, or
      of this political situation within the Church. But I offer it as speculation.
      Here’s something I do know about: this Washington Post profile is going to be
      enormously important in re-establishing Jonah’s footing. Julia Duin, I learned
      from her phone calls and emails yesterday, is worried that this will derail
      Jonah. The way she spoke of the metropolitan yesterday convinced me she is
      personally on his side. As I‘ve mentioned to you before, there will never be
      change to have a media outlet of this prominence write a portrait of Jonah that
      will be so positive. We have to make the most of it. It is scheduled to run, she
      said, on March 17th. My advice is that Jonah should plan to speak with her
      sometime late next week, if only for five minutes. Or failing that, write her an
      email message from his personal account-- something that doesn’t look like it
      was composed by a publicist or spin doctor. I can guarantee you that her
      story, as it is right now, will end on a cliffhanger: what kind of Jonah will
      emerge from the wilderness? I say this not because she has told me so, but
      because that is the natural arc of this story. If I were Jonah media manager, I
      would ask him to think about the impression he wants the public and faithful of
      the OCA to have of him and this crisis. The story will the stage for his
      re-emergence. It’s hugely important that he take advantage ( and not in a
      cynical way) of the reporter’s sympathy, and the fact that this story will
      establish the playing field in the public’s mind. My sense - and I stress that
      this is only an informed guess - is that the piece will the remarkable story of
      a gentle abbot who rocketed to the top of a crisis-ridden church in a moment of
      its greatest peril, simply speaking the truth in charity. But now the abbot
      -turned metropolitan’s rise has been damaged by his enemies in the church. Duin
      is not sympathetic to the Stokoe crowd, as best I can tell. She will let Jonah
      have the last word. It won’t be the worst thing in the world if Jonah doesn’t
      speak with her, and lets the story go forward as its stands now. But I think him
      communicating with her in some way - via email even - from his retreat would
      give him the last word and could be enormously helpful in establishing strong
      field position in the contests he faces when he returns...
      Dreher concludes: “ If I can help you craft a media message in any way,
      don’t hesitate to ask. I know yesterday’s OCA Press Release* was probably the
      only thing that could be said politically about this extremely delicate and
      combustible situation, but it still reads like an Official Story.”
      Your Spy in Philadelphia,
      Team Jonah
      A second March 2nd email from Jason (Elijah) Folsom to Fr. Fester describes
      how OCATruth.com came to be, and who is on what Dreher described as “Team
      Jonah”. Folsom writes:
      “Father Bless.
      Father, you may have heard both Jesse (Cone) and Rod (Dreher) express a
      desire to have some sort of medium to post some clarifications of what is going
      on so that the truth can be made more clear to those who want to know. Jesse is
      currently seeking the spiritual counsel of His Beatitude in pursuing that idea.
      If he is given a blessing from His Beatitude I would also like to have your
      blessing to facilitate the means for them to do so. I basically just want to buy
      the domain name, set up the site, hands the keys over to them, and deal with any
      web administration that needs administrating.
      Jesse advised me in seeking the advice of my spiritual father in this
      situation would be wise, I agreed, so I am asking you, if this would be ok to
      have that facilitational involvement with them in their desire to post some
      truthful information.
      We miss you a LOT!
      Jason Elijah”
      That evening Dreher informs Fr. Fester:
      “Looky here: http://www.ocatruth.com”
      Fr. Fester immediately responds:
      “tell your friends. tell your neighbors. you want more info, let me
      Dreher, however, cautions Father Fester:
      “Please, please, please don’t tell ANYBODY that I have anything to do
      with this site. Very, very important. You know, Fr. Gregory knows, Jesse Cone
      knows ( he’s posting too), Jason knows and HB knows. But really, I am taking a
      big risk here.”
      Why Anonymity?

      According to his column “Rod Dreher - Science
      Religion Markets and Morals” on BeliefNet.com: “Rod Dreher is director of
      publications at the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy that focuses on
      science, religion, economics and morality. A journalist with over 20 years of
      experience, Dreher has written for The Dallas Morning News, the New York Post,
      and other newspapers and journals. He is author of the book “Crunchy
      The anonymity of “muzhik” and “parishioner” on OCATruth.com is not only to
      protect their sources - Fr. Fester and Metropolitan Jonah - but just as much to
      protect their writers - Dreher and Cone - the latter of whom is a parish council
      member at the Dallas cathedral. Anonymity also allows Dreher to post on the site
      under his own name as well ( such as here and here) in an attempt to suggest to
      “third-party” objectivity.
      If OCATruth.com's claim that it is “not publishing propaganda” is
      untrue; as well as its stated reason for publishing anonymously; how accurate is
      the site in publishing “...the real behind-the-scene story”? Different
      people can honestly view events differently; accounts can differ without calling
      the whole experience into question. But there is a point beyond which suggesting
      “differing viewpoints” becomes dissembling, and from there misinformation, and
      from there, only a short step to outright lies.
      There are more than 60 posts on OCATruth.com and an examination of each for
      veracity is simply not feasible at this time. Consider then, the post on
      OCATruth.com on March 31st entitled “Stokoe and the SMPAC Report” -
      which while typical of the posts one finds on the site - lies "at the heart
      of the current crisis", according to Dreher himself.
      Dreher, as Muzhik, writes:
      “This is interesting. In a recent comments thread on OCANews, Mark Stokoe
      denies that he has seen the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee
      '(Editor’s note: To paraphrase Charlie Sheen: Confused! No one
      suggested any amendments. And as I read it no one is seeking to “recalibrate”
      the balance of powers; merely to use the existing ones so as to bring one of
      those power back to his conciliar senses. I agree that many of the complaints
      against the Metropolitan seem “vague” to those who have not worked with him.
      That is for several reasons, I suspect. One, the Synod was unwilling to list
      them – and so referred to “mental/spritual” issues in their redacted Minutes.
      They have the SMPAC report, we don’t. [The emphasis is mine --
      He ought to deny that he has the report, because the report is supposed
      to be highly confidential, for the eyes of the bishops only, and the SMPAC
      members. The report is at the center of this crisis. We know that members of the
      SMPAC committee believe Met. Jonah has been lax in taking care of sexual
      misconduct allegations. We also know that His Beatitude believes that the report
      was a smear job in which information was manipulated to put him in the worst
      possible light. We also know, from Metropolitan Council member Faith
      Skordinski’s leaked e-mail to Stokoe, that she believed former OCA Chancellor
      Alexander Garklavs was actively trying to manipulate that information to put HB
      in a bad light. We also know that Skordinski saw this sexual misconduct issue as
      the “hook” (her word) they could use to drag the Metropolitan down.
      Later, in the same comments thread, Stokoe writes:
      '(Editor’s note: While all those issues are dealt with in the SMPAC
      report, that is not the main issue of the Report. To reduce it to just those is
      to misrepresent it. …'
      How does Stokoe know what’s in the SMPAC report if he hasn’t seen it? If
      he has seen it, why did he say in the same thread that the bishops have that
      report, “we don’t”? If he has seen this confidential report, who leaked it to
      him? According to the OCA, the committee members are:
      Archpriest Alexander Garklavs (Chair), Archpriest Eric Tosi, Archpriest
      Michael Matsko, Archpriest Theodore Bobosh, Protodeacon Peter Danilchick, Dr.
      Nikita Eike, Mr. James Spencer, Esq.
      Note that Fr. Bobosh is Stokoe’s parish priest. All the bishops have
      copies of the report too. There may be no way of telling who leaked the report
      to Stokoe, if he has in fact seen it. It is up to him to clarify whether he lied
      the first time, in claiming only the bishops have a copy of the report, or lied
      the second time, in indicating that he knows the content of the report? Unless
      there is something I’m not understanding, somebody, either on that committee or
      among the bishops, released highly confidential information to a partisan
      Internet journalist and Metropolitan Council member who is openly out to get His
      Beatitude, for the sake of playing church politics.
      I hope Stokoe will clarify what he meant, but I am not holding my breath.
      When will the laity wake up? Are there any decent men on the Synod who will
      stand up and distance themselves from this garbage? Increasingly, their silence
      indicates their consent.”
      When a HalfTruth becomes a Whole Lie
      Dreher offers a general smear of the OCA Synod, the professional integrity of
      the SMPAC Committee, two MC members and a former Syosset staffer in one fell
      swoop, predicated on the assumption that “Unless there is something I’m not
      understanding, somebody, either on that committee or among the bishops, released
      highly confidential information to a partisan Internet journalist and
      Metropolitan Council member who is openly out to get His Beatitude, for the sake
      of playing church politics.”
      He understands.
      Somebody did release a highly confidential information to a partisan Internet
      journalist. Not to Stokoe, but to Dreher himself.
      A March 3rd email exchange between Fr. Fester and Dreher confirms the breach.
      Dreher writes:
      “I have the full texts of the SMC (SMPAC) Report, and HB’s response.
      Would it be good for this to appear on a website?”
      Fester responds:
      “No. Its confidential. Please Wait.”
      Dreher answers:
      “Got it. Just checking.”
      It was not the SMPAC Committee, nor the Bishops, nor Fr. Garklavs, who
      compromised the confidentiality of the Report by distributing it to unauthorized
      readers - it would clearly appear it was Fr. Fester, and behind him,
      Metropolitan Jonah. It was not Stokoe who received the Report, but Dreher; and
      he received not just the SMPAC Report, but the Metropolitan’s confidential
      Response to it, given at the Synod meeting in Santa Fe.

      (And for the
      record, to answer Dreher’s question:"I did not have/possess/however you
      want to parse it, the Report when I wrote those comments. To my complete
      frustration, I still*have not* (emphasis
      mine) received, however you want to parse it, the Report
      *despite *an official request to the Chancellor and Committee as
      part of the official work of a Metropolitan Council Committee. Is that clear
      enough? As for how I could accurately write what I did, as you admit I did, when
      no one breached anything confidential with me by giving me anything, speaking
      off the record, or on background, I will say only this: I did nothing illegal,
      immoral or unethical to obtain that information. Like a magician's trick, the
      answer is usually pretty simple, as is this one. Pardon me, however, if I choose
      to share my secrets with the world at later date.)
      Disinformation Goes International
      If the anger, outrage, conspiracy theories,
      accusations and suspicions on OCATruth.com are misplaced andpredicated on
      dissembling and distorting the facts as in the above example, Team Jonah’s
      mission is not limited to the pro-Jonah campaign, nor even to their own website.
      One set of emails tell of a campaign to take Jonah’s spin on events
      international. Fester, in the immediate aftermath of Santa Fe, asks one

      “ how do you get them to look at the video
      that he is NOT removed?”
      He receives the chilling reply about one Russian website:
      “... he will publish whatever he will be told
      to - so yes, he can be a liar. I believe he tries to agitate internet users to
      make waves - old internet PR methods. But his reputation is bad, or I would say,
      specific), he is very loud , but marginal - so mostly empty-headed
      American-haters will follow him.”
      No problem if it is for the cause. Fr. Fester replies:
      “Yes, see if you can promote it on Russia media.”
      The April 30th Plot
      Increasingly, the the leaders of Team Jonah understand their mission seems to
      include not only pushing positive publicity and suspicions, to spinning "facts"
      on their site, and others; but to engage in campaigns to intimidate and punish
      those whom they feel do not support +Jonah adequately.
      Today's taget, literally, is Bishop Mark of Baltimore, the new administrator
      of the Diocese of the South.
      In an email on April 25th, Bright Monday, Fester announces the news that
      +Mark is “Dead Man Walking” to Dreher:
      “Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!
      HB is going to remove Mark from Dallas.... Fr. David (Moretti) is most
      likely to be moved as well..”
      Two days later, in an April 27th email, Fr. Fester outlines to Dreher the how
      the plan is to proceed :
      “1. The Case For One Diocese Now, and Two Going Forward ( The combination
      of the DOS and Washington diocese into one with a date certain of two dioceses
      within 10 years.)
      2. +Philip’s Problem is Now Our Problem ( The Troubled ways of Bishop
      Mark... maybe Philip wasn’t so wrong afterwards)...
      3. The turmoil in Dallas ( How a peaceful, stable parish has been
      disrupted by Mark)...
      Anyway, just FYI”
      Dreher replies:
      “... I think it it will be crucial to get as rich and as detailed account
      of marks tenure at SS ( St. Seraphim’s) up as soon as is feasible (eg. as soon
      as Jonah fires him). We can be sure Stokoe will play up the martyr narrative. If
      we have a lengthy and highly detailed post ready to go, we can get out ahead of
      the stokoe narrative. ...
      I’ll work out something up with Jesse and Jason. Am I right to expect
      Mark will get the heave-ho on Saturday ( April 30th) ? If yes, u or dn. gregory ( Editor's note: Deacon Gregory Stevens, the Metropolitan’s assistant)shd text w the signal to publish at once.”
      Later that same day, April 27th, Dreher emails Fester with news of a setback
      to the plan. Not all on Team Jonah are onboard:
      “...Jason and Jesse are reticent to post anything about Bp Mark until and
      unless Stokoe does anything on him. They want to be respectful and not make
      things harder on him than they have to be. While I can see where they are coming
      from, I strongly believe this is a strategic mistake. I’ve told them we have to
      have something ready to go when Jonah pulls the trigger because Stokoe will
      absolutely raise hell over it. It would be foolish to let him get the first work
      and to thereby define the story in people’s minds. I have recommended that
      whatever we write its “more in sorrow than in anger” tone, but that we publish
      it as soon as the Mark thing is announced, without waiting for Stokoe’s
      reaction. My sense is that maybe the guys are so close to the story that they
      assume people outside the parish know more than they do. This will be the first
      thing 90+ percent of the church will have heard about it, and we will likely be
      fighting an uphill battle against the impression that Mark was the victim of an
      vindictive Metropolitan and his cutthroat groupies at the cathedral.
      I’ve told them that one or both of them really ought to write the thing,
      but if they want to publish it under the Muzhik name to avoid having to face
      Mark, that would be fine...”
      Fr. Fester, however, answesr that he will use an anoymous posting on another
      website to begin the attack:
      “I just posted a volley under Southern Comfort
      on George’s blog about (Bishop) Mark. I think it can serve as a starting point
      to smoke this turd out.”
      (Read that in the comments section on the Monomakos
      blog here.)
      Why +Mark?
      It is ironic that “the turd” that was praised to the heavens upon his arrival
      in January by both +Jonah and Fr. Fester, has now become a condemned man. Why?
      Apparently “disloyalty” that was evidenced by his participation in the recent
      Synod meeting in Santa Fe in February, and for his keeping his head down and
      mouth shut in the weeks that followed.+Mark was in the room at Santa Fe: he
      knows what happened and did not support +Jonah's, or OCATruth.com's version of
      events. In an atmosphere of suspicion, conspiracies, accusations, frustration,
      and anger that dominates the world of Team Jonah, when lies fail, intimidation
      begins. Fr. Fester's emails explain why +Jonah suddenly decided to attempt to
      resume the position of "locum tenens" of the South on Bright Monday - to be in
      position to dispose of +Mark, and unite the two dioceses under +Jonah.
      Bishop Mark, like the entire Synod, is in Chicago this morning, April 30th,
      to consecrate Bishop -elect Matthias to the See of Chicago. He will later
      participate in the Synod meetings May 2-3rd - or not.
      Team Jonah is just waiting for the signal.
      A Sad "Truth"
      OCAtruth.com is certainly an "alternative
      source of information and analysis about the current crisis in the Orthodox
      Church in America. An alternative, that is, to OCANews.org.” But it is not “....run by laypeople who have experience in the OCA", rather it is
      small group from one insular parish, formerly run by Fr. Fester and Metropolitan

      Their "... sources throughout the Church who
      have been sharing insights and inside information with us that paints a very
      different picture of the situation than what readers of OCANews have been
      seeing" are limited as well: they consist of Father Fester and Metropolitan
      They are not, as they claim"..an independent source of real inside
      information and analysis in this critical time in the life of the OCA", but
      rather nothing more than a front for "Team Jonah". They may apologize “...
      for being anonymous, but we all have to be here to protect the sources who have
      been telling us the real behind-the-scenes story", when in fact, it is to
      mainly to protect themselves and their ability to cross post on their own site
      using their own real names. They say they have “....no interest in
      publishing propaganda”, but the facts - and their own emails - belie that
      claim. As for their promise: “ I will not publish anything here that I don’t
      believe to be 100 percent true"? Tell it to the SMPAC Committee and
      everybody else they have tarred and feathered with hypocrticial and false
      accusations over the past two months in a campaign of disinformation.
      In his SMPAC post Dreher asked: "Are there any decent men on the Synod
      who will stand up and distance themselves from this garbage?"
      One hopes there are. Now we all know who is creating the garbage.
      - Mark Stokoe
      Next: Friends and Enemies
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