Know Your Right Wingers
The Problem With Randall Terry
SOURCE: August Pollak
When Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions, was murdered in his Wichita church, most pro-life movement leaders condemned the killing. But one pro-lifer, Randall Terry, took a different approach. Although he briefly noted that “we grieve for [Tiller],” it was only because “he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God.” Beyond that, Terry said Tiller was a mass-murderer. What Terry was more concerned about, it seemed, was that the Obama administration was “using Tiller’s killing to intimidate pro-lifers.” Terry’s antics continued when he called two press conferences following the killing and declared, despite his record of calling for non-violent action to stop abortion, that the Obama administration made “violent protest inevitable.”
Why does anyone care about what Randall Terry has to say? He’s not affiliated with any major pro-life group like National Right to Life or even Operation Rescue any more. Socially conservative stalwarts have been distancing themselves from him of late. But it turns out that much of the venom in the abortion debate can be traced back to him.
Born in 1959, Terry showed little direction as a young man until he became a fundamentalist Protestant. He considered serving as a missionary, but instead, in 1984, he started protesting in front of an abortion clinic in his hometown of Binghamton, New York. In 1986, he was arrested for the first time for his anti-abortion activity. That same year he founded Operation Rescue, which for the next four years was the most active and notorious pro-life group in the country. He has since been arrested nearly 40 times.
Operation Rescue’s mission, Terry has said, is to bring about “necessary social tension that effects political change.” It specialized in disruptive direct action on abortion clinics, as described in James Risen and Judy Thomas’ 1999 history of the pro-life movement, The Wrath of Angels. Terry insisted that pro-lifers needed to “storm abortion clinics; solder shut elevators and blockade doors so that police could not reach them; and completely trash clinic offices, throwing furniture and abortion equipment out clinic windows and down into the street.” Although some allies were taken aback, Terry’s radical vision won out.
Terry also revolutionized the pro-life movement by actively enlisting the support of evangelical Christians and their ministers. Before him, the pro-life movement mostly consisted of Catholics, many of whom came from the anti-war movement and were opposed to violence or civil disobedience. Terry even tried to convince fellow pro-life leader Joe Scheidler, a Catholic who is now the head of the Pro-Life Action League, to convert to Protestantism.
In 1988 and 1989, Terry and his followers staged massive protests on the East Coast, most notably in New York City and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. At the protests, hundreds of activists blocked off entrances to clinics and went limp when police tried to remove them. Police had to arrest all the protesters to end the incidents, and clinics had to take out restraining orders to prevent others. The protests were largely ineffective at closing clinics, but they garnered gobs of media attention for Terry and other pro-lifers. In Atlanta, Terry was arrested and convicted of trespassing. He refused to pay the fine, calling it “blood money” to the judicial system, and so was sentenced to a year in jail, but left after five months when an anonymous donor paid his fine.
Operation Rescue’s biggest event was the so-called “Summery of Mercy” in Wichita, Kansas, in the summer of 1991. Although the group was officially led by Keith Tucci because Terry had a falling out with several other Operation Rescue leaders, Terry was very much on the scene in Wichita. For 46 days of what Risen and Thomas describe as a “fundamentalist Woodstock,” Terry and several thousand activists blockaded clinics, lay down in front of doctors’ cars as they tried to get to work, and harassed clinic employees in their homes. They specifically targeted Tiller.
After a federal judge ordered the arrest of Rescue’s leaders, levied large fines, and threatened to go after their assets, the “Summer of Mercy” ground to a halt. But not without a 25,000-person rally headlined by Pat Robertson, who, like James Dobson, supported Terry. As a result of the massive surge of pro-life energy, anti-abortion activists were able to take over the Sedgwick County Republican Party and made abortion, and specifically Tiller, a continual hot button issue in Kansas politics.
After the Summer of Mercy, Congress passed the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances law in 1994, which made it a federal crime “to injure, intimidate, or interfere with those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health care service.” Operation Rescue then largely faded from the scene, but Terry stuck around and became a talk radio host. In 1998 he led a campaign, with the help of James Dobson, against Barnes & Noble for selling books that featured the work of Jock Sturges and David Hamilton, two photographers who published nude, non-sexual pictures of children. The campaign started with protests outside Barnes & Noble and activists defacing the books in the stores. Terry and Dobson pressured prosecutors in Tennessee and Alabama to bring charges against the store for obscenity.
Terry became fed up with the Republican Party and started campaigning and organizing for the U.S. Taxpayers Party, a radical right-wing party now known as the Constitution Party. In 1998, Terry tried to pressure the Republican Party to be more conservative by raising money for him and six other “Patrick Henry Men” to run for Republican House nominations. Once again supported by Dobson, Terry ran for an open seat in New York’s 26th district, campaigning on a broad list of hard-right policy positions beyond just banning abortion. He described his supporters as “the hard core of the Republican Party, as measured by primary voters: pro-lifers, home schoolers, Second Amendmentists, antitax, patriotic American activists.” His platform was everything you’d expect for an extreme right winger: He called for eliminating income taxes, eliminating the government role in education, getting rid of Social Security and basing the law around the Ten Commandments. Terry lost the Republican nomination to moderate Bud Walker, but he ran in the general election as the nominee of the Right to Life Party and got 7 percent of the vote.
In 2003, Terry popped up again in Florida, founding a new group called the Society for Truth and Justice, which sought to uphold sodomy laws. He then became a counselor and spokesperson for the Schindler family, who sought to block Terri Schiavo’s husband, Michael Schiavo, from removing his wife’s feeding tube because she had been in a persistent vegetative state since 1990. Despite his efforts and those of conservative leaders nationwide, Schiavo died in 2005 when a court ruled her feeding tube could be removed.
In 2004, in the midst of Terry’s campaigning against gay marriage, his adopted son, Jamiel, came out as gay in an interview with Out magazine. In an article for WorldNetDaily, Terry said his son’s life was “in a shambles” and attributed his homosexuality to the fact that his biological mother was a prostitute.
Terry had another foray with electoral politics in 2006, running for state Senate in Florida against incumbent Jim King, who had voted against a Florida bill that would have mandated Schiavo’s feeding tube be reinserted. Terry ended up losing the election—despite accusing King of being a regular customer at a strip bar—with only about a third of the vote.
In the wake of a divorce from his wife of 19 years, Terry converted to Catholicism in 2006. As a Catholic, Terry led protests against President Obama giving the commencement address at Notre Dame, and he was once again arrested for trespassing.
Despite being ostracized by much of the mainstream social conservative movement, Terry is indefatigable in his desire for publicity. Even when pro-lifers were publicly ashamed and embarrassed by Terry’s antics after the Tiller murder, he pressed on, forming a new anti-abortion group, Insurrecta Nex, which in high-Dungeons and Dragon style roughly translates to “insurrection against slaughter.”
Although Terry’s influence is at a distinct low point, his ability to stay in the headlines isn’t. And even if he’s no longer recognized by much the pro-life movement, in the wake of the murder of George Tiller his style of inflammatory, pugnacious and radical anti-abortion activism is still very much with us.
In his own words
“Our banner, Christianity, and our Sovereign, King Jesus, have laws, statutes, principles that are unalterable by the heathen. The Bible not only has judgments that Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy cannot annul, but its precepts, laws, statutes and principles are unalterable by Christians. The Christian community can no more change the Law of God than change the law of gravity. We cannot—in the name of Christ—set aside His commands. We cannot—in the name of the Christian right—compromise what God gave Moses on Mount Sinai. We cannot—in the name of the Christian Coalition—sell out the law of heaven for short-term political gain. To do so is abominable.”
–From a Washington Post editorial, “Selling Out the Law of Heaven” published September 18, 1994
“A dreadful reckoning is coming. The blood of the innocent cries from the ground to God for justice. We will all be judged for our part in allowing this slaughter to continue. We will be held accountable for what we have done, and what we have failed to do; for every idle word, and every silent denial of Christ.”
–Statement issued after his arrest at Notre Dame on May 5, 2009 (full transcript here)
“There are many Catholics who believed that to vote for Obama—knowing his promises to extend child-killing even further—that to knowingly vote for him under those circumstances was a type of cooperation with moral evil. It was cooperating with evil.”
–From an interview with Archbishop Raymond Burke on June 17, 2009 (full transcript here)
“Either abortion is murder, or it is not. Either this is a holocaust, or it is not. Either we have a duty before God Almighty to bring this horrific crime to an end, or we do not. God forgive us; we Christians have not met the crime of child-killing with actions and rhetoric equal to the crime.”
–From his self-published book, A Humble Plea
"We fear God, the Supreme judge of the world, more than we fear a federal judge."
–Quoted in James Risen and Judy Thomas’ Wrath of Angels
“I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty; we are called by God, to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism."
–From a 1993 speech, quoted in The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance & Pluralism in America, published by Anti-Defamation League