To open her presentation on human trafficking to the members of a Northside neighborhood association last Saturday, Heather Schott got a little personal.
“Around the age of 17, I went out and was mixing drugs and alcohol all night long,” said the senior pastor at Mercy Culture Church, a massive charismatic church on the North Side. “A dealer dropped a bag of ecstasy and drove over it. We snorted line after line for hours. I blacked out. I was driven to an abandoned apartment.”
Schott was there to sell members of the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association on a “human trafficking shelter” that Mercy wants to build in the tony neighborhood. Back to her intro, she claims she was saved by God.
“I was supernaturally delivered by God after being dead for three days,” she said, referring to a prolonged blackout following her drug binge.
The meeting, according to the neighborhood association’s website, was intended to let Heather and husband Landon Schott, also a pastor at Mercy Culture Church, make a final pitch for a rehabilitation complex on Oakhurst Scenic Drive.
The fact that the Schotts were publicly disclosing and even promoting the address of the promised facility raised concerns among several area residents, who later reached out to our news magazine to express shock at plans that appear aimed at exploiting victims of human trafficking for financial gain. Nonprofits like SafeHaven of Tarrant County that similarly serve victims of abuse never disclose their shelter addresses because doing so would place the victims’ lives in peril.
The Schotts remain the subject of weekly coverage by our news magazine due to some questionable public behavior on their part. Though the main reason churches are tax-exempt is because they’re supposed to remain apolitical, Landon regularly tells his congregation who to vote for, including county commissioner candidate Tim O’Hare, who has called Hispanics “less than desirable people,” falsely equated peaceful Black protestors with riots, and single-handedly turned his home of Southlake into a bastion of entitled white supremacism. Nope, nothing totally gross and wicked about him at all.
There’s more. One of Mercy’s “worship leaders” was involved in creating a political action committee that spread unsubstantiated bullshit about former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price during her recent unsuccessful campaign against O’Hare (“ Blessed Are the Bigoted?” Feb. 16).
Mercy Culture is part of a broader Christian nationalist movement that seeks to redefine the United States as a solely Christian nation that adheres to fundamentalist views of the Bible which center on misogyny, homophobia, and worship of that oldest of idols — money.
Mercy Culture’s largest project is this new, proposed facility dubbed the Justice Residences which aims to help human trafficking victims recover from their plight and attain gainful employment. Heather, who founded the venture, has stated publicly for two years that there are 30 million victims of human trafficking in the United States every year even as government figures put that number closer to 200,000.
Insane right-wingers like Heather have an interest in inflating human trafficking figures. The underlying conspiracy theory that drives QAnon followers is the falsehood that Joe Biden and Democrat leaders are running a clandestine child sex-trafficking ring.
The theory isn’t without irony, given that the last president — who is openly worshiped by evangelicals — has been credibly accused of raping or sexually assaulting dozens of women. During the December trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, the woman who groomed underage girls for sexual encounters with billionaire Jeffrey Epstein and his friends, one woman testified that Maxwell introduced her to Trump at the age of 14. The testifying woman did not disclose whether she performed sexual acts on Trump, but the former president was known to have been a friend of Epstein and a regular visitor to Epstein’s New York City mansion that was used to coerce girls into having sex with wealthy New York businessmen.
According to a recent post on Nextdoor, the neighborhood association’s president, Chanin Scanlon, said 170 members voted against Mercy Culture’s proposed rehab center while six voted for it. Nonmember residents also voted overwhelmingly against the project.
As news of the no-vote spread, Landon lost his goddamn mind.
“If anyone resists helping the most abused victims in our community, it’s only because they are EVIL!” he wrote on Instagram. “They hate that we challenge their wicked agenda so they resist and attack us. This is a handful of wicked activists that HATE our biblical stance on marriage.”
One area resident said she doesn’t care if Landon thinks she or anyone else who lives in the Northside community near Mercy Culture’s main church is evil. Through a private Instagram message, she said trafficking victims should be directed to available resources in Fort Worth that align with the number of actual human trafficking cases. We are concealing her name to protect her privacy.
Heather’s personal story, she continued, did nothing to allay the concerns of the Oakhurst community.
The proposed 13-acre project that may one day house up to 100 women and children requires a change in zoning due to the height of the proposed building and the project’s transitional housing designation. Fort Worth’s zoning commission staff recommends denying Mercy’s rezoning request.
“The proposed transitional home … is not compatible with surrounding single-family and school-related land uses,” the staff report reads. “The proposed use would also” result in parking continuing to overflow into the neighborhood.
The zoning commission will hear the case on Wednesday, April 13, at Fort Worth City Hall. A city spokesperson did not provide a date for a city council vote, but if a vote does come before city council, councilmembers typically follow zoning staff recommendations.
As Oakhurst residents and the zoning commission move closer to denying the Schotts’ ambitions, Landon remains defiant. In response to one area resident who said the Oakhurst community apparently doesn’t trust Mercy Culture Church, Schott downplayed the growing opposition.
“This is a small group of activists that hate God,” Landon responded. “Simple as that.”
Heather appears equally untethered to reality. In response to another Oakhurst resident who expressed his concerns about disclosing the public location of human trafficking victims so publicly, Heather shot back.
“Obviously, you missed the meeting,” she said. “Your opinion is actually the opposite of the facts of a restoration home like this.”
Oakhurst’s neighborhood did get the memo. Past parking lot exploits apparently didn’t enamor Fort Worthians who know a poorly devised scam when they see one. As the only staffer listed on the project’s website, Heather stands to earn a substantial income from the Justice Residences. Coverage by our news magazine and the Schotts’ unprovoked attacks on an entire community likely mean that no Fort Worth neighborhood will be willing to accept the Justice Residences anytime soon.
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Submissions will be edited for factuality and clarity.