Activism Goes Local: Meet Maggot Punks
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Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 11:48:07 AM EST

If you want to see what local action can look like, you should meet the Maggot Punks.  I first heard about the Maggot Punks while planning a performance of Words of Choice, an evening of pro-choice theater, in Wichita, Kansas.  The Maggot Punks are a model for people everywhere who want to stop talking and start kicking back the ugly dust of the religious right.
If some people complain about What's Wrong with Kansas, the Maggot Punks are what's right.  There's D-cubed and Mr. Zero and Spunkyflahser and Annie Sprinkles.  

The Maggot Punks are unapologetic. They are twenty-ish.  They are outspoken atheists. In fact, they'll sell you one of their tee-shirts that says All American Atheist 

And they are using their spare time to expose and undermine and cajole the religious right that thinks it can turn Kansas into the only state where people did not evolve and that sees Wichita as its fertile ground zero.

"We are a city under siege," a retired school teacher told me, describing how Operation Rescue West tried to disrupt a peace protest with its huge expensive trucks carrying anti-abortion images and blaring amplification systems.   Operation Rescue West is a nasty religious right anti-abortion organization that engages in intimidation and harassment tactics.  

Headed by Troy Newman, ORW is a break-off group and now a distinct entity from Randall Terry's Operation Rescue. It relocated fulltime in Wichita, where it has the apparent support of the mayor.  On its website, OWR brags about hounding Wichita citizens who work at an abortion clinic by protesting outside their homes.  Clinic workers report being followed in their cars, harassed endlessly by telephone, and finding inexplicable car and property damage.  In August, ORW drove their trucks to the funeral of a pro-choice woman and member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice who died of cancer.

They showed up outside our performance of Words of Choice at a Unitarian Universalist church, too, and videotaping everyone who entered.  These tactics masked the minimal people-support.

The Maggot Punks are fighting back. Irreverent to the max, they refer to the opposition as "fanatical fundy freaks." The Maggot Punks got their name and start when Operation Save America called for people to swarm Wichita abortion clinics in 2001, says D-cubed.  He and others served as escorts at clinics and they raced to help people trapped by the anti-abortion crowd.    

About 3/4 of the way some guy said "you're all a bunch of little maggot punks." We all stopped and looked at each other. We had never heard the term "maggot punks" before (and we've been called a whole lot worse than that). We liked it, so we kept it.

We have also been called "Christ haters", "baby butchers", "demonically possessed homosexuals", "assholes", "the goon squad" (which almost became our name), "pro-abort deathscorts", and "minions of the devil that use logic to trick people into renouncing god".

Whatever label the FFF's want to give us, we will gleefully accept. We wear their insults as badges of honor.

The principals work 'real jobs' full-time, but that hasn't stopped them from researching and producing a publication exposing Operation Rescue West.  They link it to a more benign-sounding organization, Youth Missionaries, Inc. They delivered information about seeming money manipulation to the IRS.  They've gotten ORW a bad rating with the Better Business Bureau and have helped the local media to focus on the fringe nature of ORW activities.  A media comparison of ORW activities to those of the anti-gay Kansas native, Fred Phelps, apparently infuriated ORW, said D-cubed.  Phelps gained fame with "God Hates Fags" by picketing the funeral of the murdered Matthew Shepard.  ORW fumed, D-cubed wrote me, "because they think their protests of funerals are somehow different than Phelps' protests of funerals."

The MP take -- and post on the web -- photographs of the opposition. "The reason we do this is because if another terrorist attack would happen then the police would have the information on who was present and contact information about them," said D-cubed.  

Wichita has long been a target for the anti-abortion crowd.  It is also a lifesaver for women across the country.

One of the nation's most remarkable and capable doctors, Dr. George Tiller runs the Women's Health Care Services there.  He is able to care for women throughout the nation who have serious health issues and pregnancy complications.  And he believes that decisions about pregnancy are for women to make and that doctors serve their patients.   "Women and Families are intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and ethically competent to struggle with complex health issues -- including abortion -- and come to decisions that are appropriate for themselves," Dr. Tiller says.

In 1991, Wichita was overwhelmed by anti-abortion protestors.  In 1993, Dr. Tiller was shot in the arm by Shelly Shannon, a follower of The Army of God.  Despite this, the burning of his clinic and constant harassment, Dr. Tiller courageously continues to help women.  In 2001, he declared Women's Health Care Services to be an "outpost for freedom," and raised the American flag to a Declaration of Reproductive Independence.

He said:

This flag reminds us that we must refocus and rededicate ourselves to the proposition that all freedom and all equality for women begins with reproductive freedom. Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives.

Inventive techniques are the forte of Maggot Punks. They use humor. They maximize the web. They go undercover.  In one situation, they taped and exposed the deceptive comments at a religious-right anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy" center.

They don't just focus on abortion, either.  They reported an illegal dumpsite, passed out pro-science pamphets at a creationist event, and counter-protested against Phelps.  They distributed posters calling for the Army of God to be treated as a terrorist organization, sharing them with an extended network in Colorado and Missouri.  They run on their own funds and small donations (which can be made on their website).

Progressive people in Wichita speak so gratefully of MP, as of fresh air and hope in a polluted environment.

"While Operation Rescue talks rhetoric, they actually back up their words with action and that's why they and so many conservative are making so many gains," said D-cubed.  "I feel we are one of the few organizations actually going on the offensive against these right-wing theocratic organizations."

Bravo! Maggot Punks should be a franchise.  They are certainly an inspiration for what activists everywhere can do right on their home turf.

In regards to the specific tactics being taken by "pro-life" dominionist groups including Operation Rescue West, tactics like literally stalking workers at women's clinics, damage to their property, harassment of their children, etc. are sadly becoming standard operating procedure.

Similar tactics are being done by dominionist groups trying to close down adult bookstores (including photographing license plates and harassment of both workers and clients at their homes) and by anti-gay dominionist groups (Freedom's Heritage Forum has done similar tactics to people who have been outspoken in favour of Fairness ordinances in Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati, for instance).

Also, one particular group mentioned--the Army of God--is of special note.



a) Army of God material was heavily promoted in the more "activist" circles of the dominionist "pro-life" movement in the 80's.

b) The most infamous members of the "Army of God" we know of were Paul Hill--who was a party in a manifesto claiming that the murder of workers in women's clinics was "justifiable homicide"--and none other than Eric Rudolph, best known for the Olympic bombing but who also bombed a women's clinic and a gay nightclub (killing several people in both cases and permanently maiming one survivor).

by dogemperor on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 01:39:35 PM EST

Incidentially, this is part of the reason I post using a pseudonym, have generally given as little personally identifying information on this forum as possible, and generally am reporting as a pseudonymous "whistleblower" so to speak.

The specific group I walked away from has a known history of harassment of this type (not quite to the point of bombing, not that I'm aware of, but definitely the stalking and harassment of women's clinic workers, adult bookstore shoppers, and of promoters of "Fairness ordinances"--the latter often vicious, including not only pickets and defacement but pamphlets distributed throughout neighbourhoods accusing the person of being a child molester or supporting child molestation).

I feel that it is vitally important to get the word out regarding dominionist groups (especially their spiritually abusive aspects, which is a major part of their psychology--it does explain things that otherwise make little sense to the outside observer) but at the same time I do have to worry about the safety of my husband and my property--especially considering that most of my family is still very active in the dominionist church I walked away from and do not know the full extent of how much I've walked away.  The mere fact that I am an outspoken walkaway could put myself, and my family, in "real life" danger should my RL identity ever be outed.

So yes, this is something I myself have to be a little bit paranoid about.

by dogemperor on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 01:47:15 PM EST

Well, thanks for being willing to share the inside scoop with other folks. But do watch your back, and your sides.  Some of the stories I heard in Wichita were positively astounding, about people being swiped by cars, and other behavior.  These assaultive behavior should get much more attention in the mainstream media.  It's just not ok.

by cyncooper on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 01:57:24 PM EST

    I too am totally appalled by the tactics you've described and likewise totally unable to understand how people who consider themselves Christian can engage in them.  (I find the harassment at funerals particularly despicable.)  My best friend, otherwise quite liberal, is a devout Catholic and occasion anti-abortion activist (she characterizes this work as "Catholic civil rights action"), but I know she would not condone this behavior, and my fundamentalist relatives are also decent people who I am sure would also be unwilling to participate.

     So maybe your post is a clue to one important and, if not exactly easy, at least reasonably doable, projects we can start working on right now:  Make sure the broader community is aware of these intimidation tactics.  People who believe in Truth and Justice sometimes seemed handicapped because they are unwilling to fight dirty, but they do have one significant (and, I believe, in the long run, overwhelming) advantage, which is, uh, that they believe in Truth and Justice.  Most people would not support these groups if they knew what they were doing.

     If the broader goal of the people here is to stop the Religious Right's push to make America a theocracy, this would not be all that is needed.  There would still be theocrats who do not use abusive tactics, and their goals would still need to be thwarted.  But stopping the worst harassment would nevertheless have a positive effect, allowing those who oppose the theocrats to speak without intimidation.  And I am not really sure how many theocrats who do not use abusive tactics there are.  Many would, I'm sure, oppose physical violence, but some level of deception seems almost essential to their movement.

     Who has ideas on how to Get the Word Out?

by Theovanna on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 04:08:18 PM EST

Some of getting the word out is getting out pictures.  I had heard about the anti-abortion trucks, but seeing them in person made a much bigger impression. Now I carry photos and show others, and they are appalled.  (The trucks are the size of Fed X trucks with gory photos magnified about four thousand times.)  One look at those photos and people get it -- that we're not talking about nice people praying or holding up a picket sign.

According to the Clinic Violence Project of the Feminist Majority, which has tracking surveys, 23 percent of clinics in 2002 experienced severe violence -- blockades, arson, invasions, bombs, assault, gunfire.  These are health care facilities.  They are legal businesses.  Sixty-seven percent experienced intimidation.

I don't know -- doesn't a peaceful Catholic anti-abortion activist have as much of a duty to protest against this type of intimidation? I don't mean soft disagreement or shaking of the head, but actively, loudly, directly rejecting intimidation tactics, and telling their purveyors to get out of town.  Since when are violence and intimidation an acceptable part of democracy?


by cyncooper on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 01:07:03 AM EST

you might talk with Bruce about how we could post them in a way so that people  could see them more vividly, and you could write about them if you want. I think there may be some fairly easy ways.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 01:22:47 AM EST

In all seriousness, you may just have a good idea there--get some people involved in the antiabortion movement who despise the general tactics of the dominionists now running the show.

(I actually have known in past (it's been several years now so I don't even know if she's in the area anymore) a Wiccan circle leader who was a former member of Operation Rescue who later left because, as she put it, "they aren't pro-life anymore but pro-a*hole".  (Honestly, they were *always "pro-a*hole", but I wasn't going to argue the point with her at the time.  Didn't have the documentation with me to show her.)  I expect many other people have left the "right-to-life" movement because of the "pro-a*hole" people taking it over.)

by dogemperor on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 09:04:49 AM EST

You deserve credit and a lot of respect for even participating anonymously in groups like T2A. It takes guts to say anything at all when you know up close and personal that good people are being harassed, injured, even killed because they don't agree with those wingnuts.

I think about you and your situation pretty often, and my (admittedly heretical) prayers are with you always.

by anomalous4 on Thu Sep 14, 2006 at 05:10:22 PM EST

thanks, Cindy, for pointing to what to many would seem to be an unlikely model -- and for showing us that we all have much to learn about being effective activists.

I know that there are a lot of folks who would not endorse the style of the Maggot Punks. Particularly those who are seeking to speak to a more mainstream audience.

But at the same time, the Maggot Punks do seem to be effective, dedicated, knowledgeable, and able to take thier opponents seriously enough to learn about them.

To really know and understand one's opponent, is necessary for political effectiveness.

Think what you will about their name and thier style. They know what they are talking about. If there were a few thousand local groups as knowledgeable and effective as the Maggot Punks, each in ways appropriate to their communities, the political tide would turn very quickly in the U.S.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 09:01:10 PM EST

I'm willing to take a whole bunch of tributaries over one mainstream. Isn't that what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. described?  An inevitable flow.

by cyncooper on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 01:26:31 AM EST
is to helo each other see that there are necessarily lot's of different approaches, and that most of them are good and necessary, and that we have much to learn. How we evaluate what is good, appropriate, will work etc. in various circumstances is what we all need to get good at.

Learning about the maggot punks is no doubt an eye opener for a lot of folks -- as well as encouraging and inspiring. It was an important story to tell, and I am very glad you told it. I hope folks writing on this site will surface more stories of effective groups and individuals we should know about.

We need to be willing to be imaginative, and most importanly not get too set in our ways -- no matter what those ways may be.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 01:51:00 AM EST

has been one of my favorites for quite a while.  The antis outside our own clinic would look great on their Fanatical Fundy Freaks page, and I'd dearly love to see the MPs come to Texas.

Thanks for spreading the word, cyn. The Maggot Punks rock!  ;-)

by moiv on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 10:50:57 PM EST

All this was new information to me. Thanks for writing about this. Interesting to see what is going on out there in the middle of the country. Not sure about the idea of franchising the MPs. We will have to ask Chip Berlet.

by Carlos on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 12:59:57 PM EST

It's heartening to hear about people who are actively tackling the hate group problem.

For those who may not be familiar with the Southern Poverty Law Center, it is actively tracking and publicizing hate group activity. Reports can be submitted at the linked site. They have moved well beyond a limited focus on racial intolerance and maintain lists (also on site) of identified hate groups (including dominionist) in all states, e.g., The Family Research Institute in CO has been added recently. Who said "Light is the best disinfectant?"

by Psyche on Fri Dec 02, 2005 at 05:42:51 PM EST

And I'm really glad to see that the national anti-racist/anti-hate groups (including SPLC and ADL) are waking up to this.

I know that Anti-Racist Action (another group that, much like the Maggot Punks, is much more in the "direct action" vein--mostly doing counterprotests at Klan rallies and the like) may also be interested in this sort of stuff, especially now that the anti-hate groups in general are waking up to this.

by dogemperor on Sat Dec 03, 2005 at 09:06:55 AM EST

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