How is it that a man dismissed as a buffoon in his own community came to be a household name blanketing the national media?
In the answer to that question lies a challenge to the media, to corporations and to all of us who have ever been bystanders to bullying.
David Caton's attack on the TV show All-American Muslim has sparked a backlash against Lowe's for caving to his demands to pull their advertising. It has also exposed Caton as a less original cross between the Westboro Baptist Church and the "minister" who likes to burn Korans.
He is smoke and mirrors, forced to take his show to a national stage because he lost all credibility in his own community. The people who take him seriously aren't looking closely or they'd realize they are being intimidated by a one man show with a pretty kooky past.
I would tell you I debated Caton on numerous occasions but that might imply that we both presented facts and offered our differing interpretations of their meaning.
Nope. Caton just made stuff up.
In the '90s he would spout all kinds of wild claims about the consequences of passing anti-discrimination policies that included gay people.
He said business owners would be helpless as gays began having sex on the job.
Teachers would alternate dressing one day as women, the next as men.
Dogs and cats living together. Pandemonium in the corridors.
Now his claims seem comical but he hurt a lot of people.
He tried to get Jeff Peters, an out gay lawyer who worked in the Florida Attorney General's office, fired. He would make public records requests of discrimination complaints by gay people and publicize the information before the city's investigation was complete. It was an effective way to intimidate people out of filing or agreeing to be witnesses.
He even proposed that people entering gay bars be photographed and their pictures be posted at the post office or other public square.
Now he's added religious bigotry to his repertoire.
Gay bashing may be less lucrative for him these days as polling shows support for equal rights has hit 89% including majorities of political and religious conservatives.
Perhaps he found a new funding source in anti-Muslim pandering.
Here's the question we should be asking ourselves: Why was he able to have such an impact?
Why, even discounting his outrageous exaggeration and outright lies, has he been able to make companies flinch so easily?
The real shame here lies in the skittish PR departments and executive suites of companies that lacked the backbone to stand up for the values of inclusion and equality.
It lies with us as consumers if we fail to make companies understand there are consequences to caving to bigotry.
The media that might have exposed Caton as the charlatan he is earlier is stretched thin. Newspapers are laying off by the thousands and dogged reportage is sporadic at best.
These are the circumstances in which Caton-types thrive and why we must all speak up even when we are not the target.
When Caton's brand of intimidation and fear-peddling was challenged in his own community his impact was marginalized. Even fellow anti-gay travelers distanced themselves from him.
This TV show isn't Caton's first target but perhaps it will be the last -- especially if the media will dig a bit deeper and shame a few more companies who were scared of a shadow.
The public backlash Lowe's is experiencing and the media spotlight that is shining on Caton's tactics is a welcome sign that we are ready to stand up to bullies.