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Operation Miscue 

How legal problems, cultural shifts and internal turmoil muffled America’s radical anti-abortion movement, and why the battle isn’t over

Wednesday, Apr 3 2002
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Page 8 of 9

Speaking of logs and specks, it‘s worth mentioning that the anti-abortion movement has itself been repeatedly torn asunder by some fairly un-Christian behavior. Jeff White insists that the early squabblings within the ranks of Operation Rescue -- which led to a coup of sorts, in which White and Joseph Foreman attempted to unseat Randall Terry -- “were not ego trips.” Every argument, he says, occurred “because we loved God and we loved each other.” Since then, there’s been a series of splits, alliances forged and broken, with plenty of bad feelings left behind. Newman and White once worked together, but today Newman jumps at the chance to leak the allegation that White has an unreported income: “He‘s got a judgment hanging over his head for a million bucks, so he keeps pretty low,” Newman confides, adding, “He’s got his own business, I don‘t know if he wants anybody to find out what he does.” White denies this. “It’s kind of weird that he would even say something like that,” he says.

Flip Benham, who cites Scripture like other men stutter, displays equally little eagerness to turn the other cheek to an old comrade-at-arms. White, he says vaguely, “has often lied and done a lot of foolish things.” Benham refuses to explain what sort of foolish things he means, and adds, “There was a falling out long before the violence issue. Jeff White wanted to be king, and nobody wanted him there.”

Benham was also instrumental in the final downfall of Randall Terry, who, in the years since he left Operation Rescue, would flirt with the militia- and white supremacist--linked U.S. Taxpayers Party, broadcast a right-wing Christian radio show, run for Congress (and lose miserably) in upstate New York, and wage battles against gay rights and so-called child pornography (by leading a boycott to pressure Barnes & Noble to stop selling Jock Sturges‘ coffee-table photo books). Shortly after Terry left his wife in 1999, Benham posted a plea on the Operation Save America Web site beseeching the faithful to “Please Pray for Randall Terry,” who had fallen into sin. Terry was ostracized by the few supporters he had left, and lost his radio show. He now sells used cars in upstate New York and is attempting to remake himself as a country crooner, hawking his CDs -- which feature such tracks as “Got It Bad for You” and “The Holy One” -- on the Internet.

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If anti-abortion forces have proved themselves adept at intra-Christian bickering in the past, they are now making it an official focus of their work. Newman’s Operation Rescue West has joined Flip Benham‘s Operation Save America in launching a project they call “Establishing BloodGuilt” to, in Benham’s words “remind the church of her responsibility to stand in the gap.” Though that project was officially launched in January for the 29th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, activists in Wichita last summer briefly abandoned their positions in front of the clinic and marched on several churches, protesting their tolerant stands on abortion and, in at least one case, on homosexuality. Terri Palmquist promises that if Bakersfield churches “slam the door in our face,” she and Tim and their scattered followers will have to move their picket lines and oversized signs from the sidewalks in front of the clinic to those in front of the churches.

Part of this more insular focus, Newman admits, stems from disillusion at the fickleness of the national mood. “There was a lot of early enthusiasm. We thought that if we could just sit in front of the door of an abortion clinic a couple of times, abortion would end. That‘s when we began to realize that Americans have no staying power for difficult issues,” Newman says. “We’re beginning to think of this battle as long term. It could happen in our lifetime, but we can see reformation and revival happening in our children‘s lifetime.” Substitute revolution for those other R words, and he sounds every bit the exhausted midcentury Marxist.

Despite the shift, though, anti-abortion activists haven’t entirely given up on the public at large. Clinics all around the country still have regular picketers, the Palmquists still stand on the sidewalk across the street, and Troy Newman hasn‘t given up on what he calls “education.” Newman’s Operation Rescue West now sponsors “Truth Trucks,” which cruise the freeways of Southern California, and occasionally tour the rest of the country, their trailers plastered with oversized images of aborted fetuses. (Robert Rudnick, the driver of one such truck, was arrested last year outside a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. Police confiscated three handguns and two shotguns from the truck. Newman denies any connection to Rudnick. No charges were filed.) “If America is going to support abortion on demand,” Newman says, “she‘s going to view the decapitated heads of the children she helped kill on a regular basis to the point where they are sickened by it.”

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