|Bryan Dawson (left) as an inmate; (right) as a CEO
The death of small-town Alabama mayor Fred "Bubba" Copeland was a form of "church discipline" for his activities as a cross dresser and writer of erotic fiction, while he also served as pastor at a Baptist church, according to a report at donaldwatkins.com. A longtime Alabama attorney who has become a leading voice in online investigative journalism, Watkins has conducted extensive research across five states and two countries, concluding that Kenneth Bryan Dawson, CEO and publisher of the right-wing 1819 News site, is the central character in Copeland's death.
How does a media figure come to play a lead role in the suicide of a man, who by pretty much all accounts, was a respected and beloved figure in his east Alabama community? That happened, Watkins reports, because Dawson was more than just a media figure. He had an extensive criminal history before winding up in Alabama -- and the details behind that move still are not fully clear. But Watkins' research indicates Dawson received a huge reduction in his original Colorado sentence, and that likely required him to become an informant for operatives with the federal government. In fact, Watkins writes, a federal law-enforcement source provided the tip that prompted 1819 News to rapidly publish the series of stories about Bubba Copeland's cross-dressing and erotic-fiction habits. The embarrassment of being outed in such a public fashion apparently drove Copeland to kill himself with a gun.
Here is another peculiar factor in this story: Bryan Dawson is not aligned with a typical media company -- and he has no discernible experience or training in journalism or a related field. 1819 News came to life under the umbrella of the Alabama Policy Institute (API), a right-wing think tank that was founded by current U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL) The affiliation with API helped Copeland gain entry to Alabama's conservative political and religious communities. He even became a speaker at churches, apparently taking a fiery, Old-Testament view of the Bible.
Under the headline "A Radicalized, Demonic Kenneth Bryan Dawson Condemned Fred “Bubba” Copeland to Death by Suicide," Watkins writes:
After an extensive journalistic investigation that examined voluminous public records and spanned five states, this is what I believe happened in Mayor Fred “Bubba” Copeland’s homicide case, and why:
Nine days before he gave final approval to 1819 News’ November 1, 2023, “hit job” on Bubba Copeland, Kenneth Bryan Dawson gave a fiery sermon at the Reformation Baptist Church in Wetumpka, Alabama, in which he railed against ministers who abuse their authority within the church by engaging in “ministerial covetousness, sensuality, and imperiousness.”
In Dawson's view, nothing brought a greater reproach to religion than this kind of ministerial abuse of power. Dawson saw this ministerial conduct as “rubbish and refuse” that must be disposed of.
The “rod of correction” demands that this kind of ministerial abuse of power within the church be punishable by death because it offends God, said Kenneth Bryan Dawson.
“Church discipline,” as Dawson calls it, must be administered in front of everybody to instill the fear of God in all men, women, and children. The refusal to exercise this measure of church discipline is cowardice.
Dawson's merciless condemnation of Bubba Copeland is shrouded in irony, Watkins notes:
Interestingly, these words of self-righteous condemnation came out of the mouth of a career criminal who escaped a life sentence without the possibility of parole. After all, Kenneth Bryan Dawson would have been doomed by Colorado's "Three Strikes and You're Out" law in felony cases.
Dawson’s extensive criminal court and prison records and various interviews with those who know him paint the profile of a man who was very violent and dangerous on the streets and in prison. Dawson literally traded stolen vehicles to Mexican drug cartel members in exchange for cocaine that he trafficked throughout Colorado and elsewhere. Additionally, Dawson nearly beat a police informant to death for "snitching" on him.
In prison, Dawson says he found God and experienced a proverbial “Saul to Paul conversion on the road to Damascus.” Dawson claims he “repented” for his sins.
However, there is no public record of remorse where Kenneth Bryan Dawson publicly apologized to the thousands of individuals who became his crime victims, including minors who bought and used the cocaine and other illegal and illicit drugs he sold to them and whose lives were forever ruined by him.
Bubba Copeland was a radically different person from Bryan Dawson -- likely the kind of person Dawson knew he could never be -- and perhaps that is partly why Dawson found him so offensive. Writes Watkins:
Bubba Copeland was the mayor of Smiths Station, a small town in Lee County, Alabama. Copeland was also a successful local businessman and the pastor of First Baptist Church of Phenix City, Alabama. He was a beloved figure in his community.
Copeland was married to Angela Simpson Copeland. The couple were parents to a son, Carter L. Copeland (by a prior marriage), and two daughters, AbbyKate Elizabeth Dawson and Ally Catherine Dawson (no relationship to Kenneth Bryan Dawson).
Copeland was also a cross dresser (in the privacy of his home) and writer of erotic fiction. His fiction was not published on a commercial basis, nor circulated in public forums. They did not rise to the legal definition of pornography or obscene material.
Bubba Copeland worked hard to unify his community and he received awards for doing so. He never stopped working to better the lives of the residents of Smiths Station.
In Kenneth Bryan Dawson’s eyes, Bubba Copeland epitomized the “evil” in his church and community that Dawson abhorred because Copeland was a cross dresser and author of erotic fiction who embraced and supported ALL of the residents of Smiths Station and all members of his Phenix City church, regardless of their political beliefs, race, sexual orientation, gender identification, or socioeconomic status.
Everybody was welcomed in Bubba Copeland’s home, business, church, community, and City Hall. He did not pick and choose who he would help and who would be forsaken. Bubba Copeland helped everybody and condemned no one.
Bryan Dawson, on the other hand, came to serve federal law enforcement, mainly because of his ugly history, Watkins writes:
A review of Kenneth Bryan Dawson’s court and prison records is revealing. He is a convicted cocaine trafficker, serial thief, and attempted murderer who, at one time, faced a possible 384 years in prison. Using a court-appointed attorney, Dawson was able to plead guilty to a few state criminal offenses and reduce his prison sentences to 4 and 12 years, respectively. Dawson also obtained time-served credits against these sentences for the time he spent in county jails during pretrial and post-trial lockups.Considering the severity of Dawson's criminal record and the countless victims -- men, women, and children -- whose lives were ruined by his drug dealing, this plea deal was unheard of.
The felonious conduct for which Dawson was convicted in state court also gave rise to a multitude of federal criminal offenses, including: (a) RICO conspiracy, (b) drug trafficking, (c) VICAR attempted murder, (d) interstate motor-vehicle theft, (e) interstate travel in aid of racketeering, (f) witness tampering, and (g) retaliation against witnesses. Yet, Dawson was never charged with any of these federal offenses.
Only one pathway existed for Kenneth Bryan Dawson to escape federal criminal liability for his racketeering offenses, drug trafficking activities, and violent crimes. Dawson agreed to plead guilty to state charges and become a controlled federal operative, or informant, for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
It was almost as if the Colorado prison system saw Bryan Dawson as a celebrity, someone deserving of deference and protection. Watkins writes:
Once he was inside the Colorado prison system, Kenneth Bryan Dawson embedded himself within the “white car” or white-supremacy group of inmates. This move afforded Dawson inmate protection from possible retaliation by Mexican drug offenders in the same prisons who knew about Dawson from the “streets” and suspected that he was an informant for the DEA and FBI.
Dawson’s prison records also document the special treatment he received within the Colorado prison system. Even when Dawson engaged in episodes of violence against other inmates, his punitive time in the “Hole” was minimal.
Dawson was constantly moved around within the Colorado prison system to (a) minimize the chances that his informant status would be exposed and (b) prevent his death by those he betrayed in the drug cartel. Inmate “hit jobs” in prison are a routine occurrence.
Kenneth Bryan Dawson was released from prison early and relocated to a rural part of Alabama that had virtually no Mexican American or Spanish-speaking population. In Alabama, Dawson dropped his first name and used the alias “Bryan Dawson” to obscure his true identity. (In an autobiographical account at Newsweek, Dawson indicates he originally settled in Shorter, which is in central Alabama, roughly between Montgomery and Auburn. It's not clear if Dawson still resides in Shorter, although some online resources indicate he lives in Wetumpka.)
A similarly situated prisoner with Dawson’s record as a career criminal, who was NOT a federal law-enforcement informant, would still be in prison today, whether he experienced a “Saul to Paul” conversion or not.
Dawson had no known ties to the state of Alabama other than a prison romance he developed with a girlfriend who apparently had come to live in Alabama. (Dawson has written that they both grew up in Kansas and knew each other there in middle school and high school. Her name then was Kristina Ewen, and it's unclear how she wound up in Alabama. Dawson later married Kristina. Together, they have seven children.
In short, Watkins says, Dawson Has Been Platformed, Used, and Protected:
Once he relocated to Alabama, Kenneth Bryan Dawson wasted no time in using his intellectual acumen, Bible-spewing background, and “From Breaking Bad to Redemption” story to hook up with Birmingham-based politico Caleb Crosby and his network of supporters within the Alabama Policy Institute (API).
The Caleb Crosby hookup provided Dawson with financial access to real-estate magnate and former gubernatorial candidate Lynda Blanchard, wealthy Wellborn Cabinet owner and CEO Paul Wellborn, and other right-wing Christian nationalist/financial oligarchs in Alabama.
For whatever reason, Caleb Crosby and these wealthy oligarchs found comfort and solace in their association with Dawson, despite his violent, drug-trafficking past. API and its supporters have an unexplained affinity for Dawson and have become his enablers.
Crosby and company birthed Dawson’s 1819 News operation in 2021 with $1,077,500 that was funneled from API to a wholly owned affiliate named 1819 Media LLC, in a highly questionable "Trojan Horse" deal. The technique API used to create 1819 Media was akin to money laundering, especially since the primary beneficiary of the $1,077,500 was Kenneth Bryan Dawson.
Dawson never registered with the Alabama Attorney General's office as a recipient of these API funds or a solicitor of contributions, as required by Alabama laws governing charitable organizations operating in the state of Alabama that received more than $25,000 in contributions.
Once 1819 Media was birthed, Kenneth Bryan Dawson was designated as the president, CEO, and publisher of 1819 News. For two years, 1819 News has functioned as the news media/propaganda wing of API. Today, 1819 News is regarded as API’s regrettable “Frankenstein.”
In exchange for a host of favorable articles on Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Kenneth Dawson gets a pass on state law-enforcement inquiries into his past criminal record and regulatory scrutiny of his current media activities. In Alabama political and news circles, Marshall is generally regarded as an impotent "media whore."
Dawson, who has no college degree in electronic multimedia or journalism, nor prior experience as a journalist, characterizes his 1819 News job as, “throwing rocks for a living.” Even Dawson's metaphor for his relatively new profession is violent.
Law-breaking appears to have been involved with Dawson's ties to federal law enforcement, Watkins writes:
The dossier on Bubba Copeland’s cross-dressing fetish and erotic works of fiction was reportedly furnished to 1819 News by a source within the federal law-enforcement community. The information was gathered as part of a law-enforcement investigation into certain Internet uses in the digital universe. It was ultimately determined that Bubba Copeland violated no federal or state laws in the matters under investigation.
In violation of federal statutes and U.S. Department of Justice policy guidelines on the use of electronic surveillance, the information gathered during the course of this federal investigation regarding Copeland was surreptitiously provided to 1819 News, on an unofficial and unauthorized basis, for the sole purpose of “outing,” embarrassing, and humiliating Bubba Copeland.
Because Copeland had violated no federal or state laws with his cross-dressing fetish and other personal conduct, there was no legitimate law-enforcement use for this sensitive information. It should have been sealed and archived within the law-enforcement agencies working on the task force that gathered this material.
1819 News used the dossier on Bubba Copeland as the primary source for its November 1, 2023, “hit job” on this popular mayor, respected businessman, unifying pastor, and beloved family man. They “outed” Copeland with glee and pleasure, as an apparent accommodation to Dawson’s federal law-enforcement handlers.
The speed at which 1819 News carried out its premeditated “hit job” on Copeland made no sense to those who engage in the business of news gathering, fact-checking, and publishing on a daily basis.
1819 News claimed it learned of Bubba Copeland’s cross-dressing and erotic fiction activities on October 31, 2023, and the site reported the story the next day.
1819 News did not report to law-enforcement officials what they claimed was Bubba Copeland’s improper conduct toward minors prior to publishing their November 1st article. This failure of duty by 1819 News adds credence to the reports we received from news sources that the sensitive and inflammatory information on Copeland was supplied to 1819 News by a law-enforcement source Dawson trusted.
This is reminiscent of the COINTELPRO period in American history, when FBI operatives harassed and tried to discredit organizations and individuals, including Dr. Martin Luther King, who were deemed subversive to U.S. stability. Writes Watkins:
The premeditated “hit job” on Bubba Copeland was a vigilante move by a federal law-enforcement community that has engaged in this kind of lawlessness before – many times. This kind of unlawful conduct formed the core of the FBI’s formal and secretive COINTELPRO program from 1956 to 1971.
After the FBI’s centralized COINTELPRO program was exposed by activists and members of Congress in 1972, the FBI disbanded it. However, COINTELPRO activities continued on an ad hoc and unauthorized basis in Deep South states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia with little to no Department of Justice (DOJ) oversight.
One of the five main components of COINTELPRO was undermining public opinion about the targeted persons or organizations. The FBI typically discredited and/or destroyed a targeted person’s reputations in the community and denied them a platform to gain legitimacy. Furthermore, the Bureau created, distributed, and controlled the distribution of negative media content that was meant to embarrass and humiliate COINTELPRO targets.
In Alabama, friendly media sources were recruited, groomed, and supplied with FBI-generated negative stories about the designated COINTEPRO targets.They eagerly smeared these targets.
Participating news organizations in Alabama included the Birmingham News, the Birmingham Post Herald, the Tuscaloosa News, the Montgomery Advertiser, and Mobile Press Register, none of which have publicly acknowledged its historical role as an unpaid participant in the official or ad hoc COINTEPRO program.
Today, AL.com has two well-known, FBI-friendly, COINTELPRO participants in its midst.1819 News has Kenneth Bryan Dawson operating in its COINTELPRO role.
The COINTELPRO program succeeded in forcing Hollywood actress Jean Seberg to commit suicide in 1979. The FBI created a false story in 1970 stating that Seberg, who was White and married, conceived her baby with a member of the Black Panther Party. This fake story was circulated to friendly media sources. The trauma from the publication of this false story caused Seberg to experience a miscarriage. The FBI's COINTELPRO operations took a heavy emotional and psychological toll on Seberg. She repeatedly attempted suicide on the anniversary of the child's death. In August 1979, Seberg succeeded in killing herself.
A modern-day version of COINTELPRO succeeded in forcing Bubba Copeland to commit suicide on November 3rd.
In summary, Watkins writes:
The culprits who are involved in Bubba Copeland’s "homicide by suicide" case almost pulled off this COINTELPRO-style "hit job" with their trusted media operative, Kenneth Bryan Dawson, without being exposed by today's FBI-friendly legacy media in Alabama and without adverse consequences to them -- thus far.
The premeditated "hit job" by Kenneth Bryan Dawson and 1819 News targeted Bubba Copeland because of his cross-dressing fetish or gender identification. This homicide qualifies as a federal hate crime under 18 U.S.C. § 249 that resulted in Bubba Copeland's death. This "hit job" also rises to the level of premeditated murder under Alabama state criminal statutes.
This is my informed journalistic opinion about what happened to Bubba Copeland, and why! All other alternative explanations for Bubba Copeland’s homicide lack credibility and have no adequate basis in fact to support them.