Hanging with an Abortion Foe Who Targeted Tiller

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With the murder of Dr. George Tiller, Randall Terry is back in the news. For years, he has been one of the leading antiabortion extremists, and he has at times directed his fury at Tiller. On Monday, while essentially justifying the slaying of Tiller, Terry compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1998, I wrote a profile of Terry for The Nation. At the time, he was running for Congress in upstate New York. He didn’t win the seat, but while campaigning he was–as he often is–quite candid about his fundamentalist views. Terry revealed a world view shared by a number of radical fundamentalists–perhaps including Scott Roeder, the antigovernment, anti-abortion fundamentalist who is the key suspect in the Tiller murder. Here are some excerpts from that article.

Over the next few hours, Terry, the charismatic and in-your-face founder of Operation Rescue, which targeted and harassed abortion clinics across the country, will argue that without biblical law one cannot “absolutely” condemn the Nazis; that secular law should be based on the Bible; that the total tax burden on a citizen should not surpass 10 percent of income; that a government that forces people to pay income tax is a “tyrant” that must be defeated; that adultery should be prosecuted; that the Bible commands patriarchy (“in every house there has to be a tie-breaker, and I be that”); that his views are in line with those of George Washington, Patrick Henry and John Adams (and other patriots who considered American democracy and Christianity intertwined); that a reporter who is not “covenantal”–meaning not a Christian who accepts the inerrancy of the Bible–cannot portray Terry accurately; and that people who raise questions about his religious beliefs and their relationship to his policy prescriptions are “petty Bible-phobes and Christophobes.”

….On the campaign trail, Terry pushes proposals that would make Gingrich blush. He calls for a constitutional amendment to end all property taxes (“land taxes are inherently immoral because God forbids them”) and a total phaseout of Social Security. (His campaign video claims the retirement system will be bankrupt by the year 2010–which is decades off the conventional estimates.) He does not shrink from discussing abortion, but the subject is not front and center in his public soundbites. He advocates repealing the federal income tax and slashing the government by about two-thirds. By his estimate, 62 percent of the federal government is devoted to “savior programs.” That’s his code for social spending. Since there is only one Savior–and He is not a government bureaucrat–all these functions of government are out of bounds and warrant the ax. Terry questions whether the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control are legitimate government agencies, since the Constitution does not specifically provide for their establishment.

…During the ride to his next stop, Terry signs fundraising letters and hums an old Monkees tune to himself. “Do you believe in spiritual warfare?” I ask. That’s a religious notion that holds that the conflicts of the secular world reflect the greater struggle between Satan and God. Terry becomes angry: “I’m not going into that stuff.” When he calms down, he says: “I believe the nature of the battle is covenantal.” Which means? “You have people who believe in Law.” And people who do not. Are there enough covenantal voters for him to win? “Absolutely.” But he is not relying on true believers. If a voter appreciates Terry’s attack on the beer tax or Social Security, he explains, that “voter doesn’t care if my premise is the Eighth Commandment. He’s going, `Yes! I get to keep my money!'”

…Terry’s political expansion brought him to the point where he says the federal government has become “our civil master” and Americans now live in a time of “chaos and violence.” The choice is “freedom based on Christian ethics” or “the financial and social collapse of our nation.”

Terry returns to his campaign headquarters. Volunteers are listening to Elton John. “I am not a fringe candidate,” he shouts, and heads to his office. “How many times today did he use the word `Beelzebub?'” an aide asks me. None, I say. “Good,” he replies.

…Then there was a private meeting in 1995 at which he said that striking or cursing a parent is a “capital offense.” What did he mean by that? Terry is outraged by the question: “I was quoting the Torah…. Are you asking me do I think that teenage rebels should be stoned today? The answer is no…. I was a rebel teenager.” It is unfair, he maintains, to “take a speech, a sermon in a church about the Law of Moses and try to implicate me on a policy level.” There is Terry the Bible-believing preacher, and there is Terry the politician with policy proposals. The roles, he claims, are distinct. The remark about rebellious teens, he protests, is unrelated to his attempt to become a lawmaker.

But according to a videotape obtained by researcher Jonathan Hutson, this is what Terry said about teenage rapscallions: “Our enemies would throw the tough cases up in our face…and say, `Do you actually mean that you would support the stoning of a rebellious teenager?’ Well, you know what? I might not understand everything, but I know that God is perfect. And if God spoke those words out loud, audibly, to Moses, so that Moses could write them down–which God did–who am I to say that God is unjust? I fear God, and I think that we would have a heck of a lot fewer rebellious teenagers if a law like that existed in America today.” The remark suggests that Terry’s advocacy of “Law” is relevant in considering how he might behave as a civil lawmaker. “There were liberties that I was able to take before that I cannot take now,” he concedes. “I have a lot of baggage.”

…It is night in Apalachin, a small town west of Binghamton. Terry has come to the home of Edward Podlinsek, a car salesman, to meet a dozen potential contributors. On a deck painted baby-blue, Terry talks about a trip he took to Rome in February. On his last night, he and his pals went to the Colosseum around midnight. Terry climbed the security fence and found his way to the levels beneath the stadium floor. “I was overloaded with emotion,” he says. “They murdered Christians here.” He followed a passage that led to the center of the Colosseum. There he stood in the dark and shouted to the bleachers: “We beat you! You said the Roman Gods and the Greek Gods were gods. They were not the real gods. Jesus is Lord!” Then, he grabbed a piece of brick as a souvenir and fled.

The men and women on the porch gaze in awe at Terry. “Sometimes we get discouraged,” he tells them. “We see the Clintons, Planned Parenthood and all the wickedness. They”–the ancient Christians–“had it way worse and they won. They toppled an empire. We can, too.” As thunder cracks and lightning flashes, Terry asks the faithful for money. He gets worked up describing [Rep. Maurice] Hinchey’s record. He pauses to consider how to sum up his potential Democratic] opponent. Then he has it: “Maurice Hinchey is to the left of Beelzebub.” And Randall Terry, who hopes to lead the Law-believing adherents of the extreme religious right into the halls of civil lawmaking, sounds as if he means it literally.

Read the whole piece here.

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