(RNS) — Greg Locke, a Tennessee pastor known for his viral videos about COVID-19, election conspiracies and witchcraft, claims another social media giant has given him the boot.
Locke, pastor of Global Vision Bible Church just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, was in Ohio, getting ready for a preaching gig on Tuesday (Nov. 15), when he got word his YouTube channel was gone.
“I saw it on Twitter,” said Locke in a phone interview, adding that he had not received any official notice.
The link to Locke’s YouTube account led to a message saying the page was not available. The link to the Global Vision Bible Church YouTube page led to a similar message.
A spokesman from YouTube told Religion News Service he was looking into the matter.
Locke told RNS his personal account had more than 100,000 followers and more than 800 videos at the time. All of those videos — many of which were from church services — are now lost, he said.
“All we have left is what is in the camera from the other day,” he said.
A Donald Trump supporter who has been featured at Christian nationalist events such as America’s Revival and disgraced former Trump official Mike Flynn’s ReAwaken America tour, Locke was banned from Twitter last year for spreading misinformation.
Locke, who founded Global Vision Bible Church in 2006, has long had a knack for attracting attention, often for fundraisers. In the church’s early days, he backpacked hundreds of miles for Bibles, spent three nights in the freezing cold atop a scissor lift to support a homeless ministry and rode a bike across the country to raise money for a church building.
He gained national attention for posting viral Facebook videos protesting Target’s gender-neutral bathroom policies.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic changed his life.
Locke refused to close down his church, instead holding outdoor tent services where he criticized other congregations for closing down and called the pandemic a hoax. He began hosting pro-Trump activists at his church during the 2020 election, then embraced election conspiracy theories after Trump’s loss.
More recently, Locke has held bonfires to burn books and other “demonic” items, including Catholic rosary beads. He also went on a literal witch hunt at his church, claiming demons had spoken to him and confessed that women in the church were conspiring with the devil against him.
Locked called the loss of his YouTube account another sign of cancel culture.
“They don’t have to like what I say but this is still America,” he said. “I don’t like the left but I don’t want them canceled.”
Hemant Mehta, an atheist author and activist, said he and other atheists keep a close eye on Locke and other pastors who hold extreme views. Mehta said that losing access to YouTube will hurt Locke. While the Tennessee pastor still has a large Facebook following, YouTube gave him access to a wide audience, one that was outside of conservative echo chambers, said Mehta.
“He lost his biggest megaphone,” he said.
Mehta said Locke has a right to say whatever he wants. But that doesn’t mean YouTube or other social media channels are required to carry his message. That message, Mehta said, often mixes faith and culture wars.
Still, he thinks Locke’s appeal will likely persist. Global Vision’s services attract thousands of worshippers each week and have been so successful the church has had to purchase a series of bigger and bigger tents to fit everyone in.
Mehta says he spends several hours a week watching sermons of pastors such as Locke and preachers from fundamentalist Baptist churches — then posting them online.
“The only way people know how dangerous these people are is to let these preachers speak for themselves,” Mehta said.
Locke said he will continue to post videos on Facebook — as well as the church’s smartphone app. Church services will also be livestreamed on both the Global Vision website and the app.
In an interview, Locke was relatively subdued about the results of last week’s midterm elections, where many Trump-backed candidates lost and a so-called red wave for Republicans never materialized.
“I think it was unfortunate that it took as long as it did to get the results,” he said. “That’s part of the problem.”
Locke said the church’s social media staff plans to protest to YouTube. And he said that losing his account was a troubling sign of censorship.
Still, he has no plans to slow down.
“I am going to keep preaching and doing what I am doing,” he said.