Blazing Saddle Owner: ‘I will not run from terrorism’

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The oldest gay club in Iowa was attacked with vandalism overnight.

Robert "Mongo" Eikleberry arrived at his co-owned bar the Blazing Saddle in the East Village around 9:30 a.m. Thursday and found two large rocks sitting out front. That’s when he looked up and saw the front windows shattered.

“My first thought was, I just got through fixing them,” Eikleberry said.

The same thing happened to the bar just a few weeks ago, but the windows were fixed just in time for the Capital City Pride Festival last weekend.

Eikleberry said he’s unsure if the vandalism is related to the rainbow flag that was raised at City Hall Wednesday night.

“My mayor, who I dearly love, Frank Cownie, decided to raise the gay flag at City Hall. It’s never ever been done. So we had ceremony and Frank hoisted it up. Now all of Des Moines gets to see it,” Eikleberry said.

Rainbow flag outside Des Moines' City Hall.

Rainbow flag outside Des Moines' City Hall.

Cownie said the vandalism doesn’t do anything to help the LGBT community since the Orlando shooting Sunday.

“All of us working together and having compassion for one another is how we make progress. Hate does not for any reason,” Cownie said.

Authorities say it's too early to know what motivated this crime.

“This could have been something where it was just a random vandalism. It could have been an attempted burglary, or it could have been something that was motivated by some hatred or some feelings of contempt for the business and who they cater to,” said Des Moines Sgt. Paul Parizek.

And while it's not known why vandalism was done, the LGBT community says it can't let it stop them from living their lives.

“If we stop what we do because we’re afraid. If we stop our everyday activities,” said Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa. “If the bar closed, then the other side wins. We have to keep doing what we do. We have to live I think as fearlessly and courageously as we can.”

The Blazing Saddle has been the victim of hate crimes in the past.

In March 2015, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service was brought in to investigate a threatening letter and suspicious powder that was sent to the bar. Officials identified the substance as talcum powder, and police later arrested 50-year-old Eric Reece Wiethorn, of Ames.

Eikleberry said the club used to have steel bars on the windows, but they took them down 15 years ago.

“We decided the hate and homophobia were gone, so we took them down. Well, maybe I took them down too quickly,” he said.

But there is a silver lining to this round of vandalism. Eikleberry said the crime may have been captured on video surveillance that the bar will hand over to the Des Moines Police Department.

Eikleberry said that while he doesn’t have any idea who is behind the attack, he will not back down.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I will not run from terrorism. I’ll stand and I’ll fight,” he said.

He knows his community has his back.

“I’m getting sick and tired of the gay and lesbian community getting bullied. I think it’s time to stand up and fight back. The LGBT community is very, very strong. We can argue with each other, but mess with one of us, and then you got all of us,” he said.

Eikleberry said the Blazing Saddle will not close because of this. The co-owner plans to cover up the glass to prevent any injuries before the windows can get fixed.

The Des Moines Police Department is investigating the vandalism.

The Blazing Saddle opened its doors in 1983.