Fractures on the Religious Right: Randall Terry Edition
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 03:36:27 PM EST
Remember the Terri Schiavo episode?  Who could forget?  One feature of the bizarre saga was the political reemergence of Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Recue, who served as a spokesperson to the Schindlers (parents of Terri), who in turn, had come under the influence of Catholic antiabortion leader, Fr. Frank Pavone. Terry, once a Pentecostal with an  explictly theocratic agenda, has since converted to Catholicism  -- also under the guidance of Fr. Pavone, head of Priests for Life. Having abandoned his wife and children; been exommunicated from his church; ostracized by Operation Rescue for this; remarried, moved from New York to Florida -- he is currently running in the GOP primary for the Florida State Senate against longterm incumbent James E. King of Tallhassee.

Terry's longshot campaign underscores  some changes in the contemporary Christian Right; some tensions in the wider movement; and its role in the Republican party.

Terry's campaign has not exactly caught fire, and even erstwhile ally, Gov. Jeb Bush has endorsed King.  This is one, among many fracture lines in the once -- and still mighty Christian Right.  Terry is attacking King for taking campaign contributions from gambling and casino interests, and is alleging that King has frequented strip clubs. But the media have yet to take the strip club charges seriously.  However, the  The Orlando Sentinel reports:
State Senate candidate Randall Terry earned $10,000 last year for roughly two months of work as the spokesman for Terri Schiavo's family, according to a financial-disclosure form filed with the state Division of Elections.

Terry, the anti-abortion activist who is trying to unseat veteran legislator Jim King of Jacksonville in the Sept. 5 Republican primary, defends the payments, saying he was worth every penny as he tried to keep the brain-damaged woman alive. He was paid by the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, a St. Petersburg-based nonprofit set up by Schiavo's parents and siblings.

"My services were worth the investment," Terry said, adding that he also helped plan the family's media strategy. "I would have done it for free in a heartbeat."

In 2003, when Schiavo's feeding tube was first removed and then reinserted after the Florida Legislature passed "Terri's Law," Terry says he was an unpaid adviser.

The family offered to pay him last year, and he accepted because he was a college student and needed the money, he said.

Terry's financial-disclosure form shows that his only other source of income in 2005 was $4,545 that he was paid as president of the Society for Truth and Justice, a St. Augustine-based advocacy group. This year he was awarded a bachelor's degree in communications from the State University of New York's Empire State College, he said.

Interesting. Although the Terry campaign and his far right allies continue to raise all kinds of scurrilous accusations against King, and against Michael Schiavo, Randall Terry has offered little rationale for his canidacy except that he doesn't like the outcome of the judicial process that terminated the feeding of a woman in a persistent vegetative state. King is a pretty conventional business oriented Republican -- who happened to help block the legislature from intervening in the Schiavo case.  

Sun Sentinel columnist Stephen Goldstein declares the Jeb Bush turnabout onTerry means that Bush's pandering days are over. But what a time of pandering its been!  

What a difference term limits make! These days, it's Extreme Makeover/Governor Edition. In the fizzling days of his fiefdom, the guv is flip-flopping away, beating around the bush, backstabbing the ultra-conservatives who were there for him when he needed them.

In an about-face that would have been unthinkable if he still had to face voters, the new, homogenized, pasteurized Jeb Bush has endorsed state Sen. Jim King against Randall Terry, the anti-abortion-extremist-turned-Terri-Schiavo-champion.
Terry vowed to drum King out of office for, in his view, letting Terri Schiavo die. (King supported the first "Terri's Law," to keep the young woman on a feeding tube. But, after it was declared unconstitutional, he not only refused to back the governor's second version, but called his initial vote "one of the worst" of his career.)

Jeb has chosen to overlook King's disloyalty to him at the end of the Schiavo struggle, emphasizing his early support. But he's blasted Terry, saying he "made no positive contribution ... to the issues related to Terri Schiavo," and calling him "a hindrance in our efforts to save this woman's life."
But on his Society for Truth and Justice Web site, Terry quotes Bob Schindler, Terri's father, saying that "Randall helped us meet with Governor Bush, which gave us the momentum to pass [the first Terri's] law."

If Jeb Bush could really look at himself in the mirror, he'd see that he is Randall Terry and Randall Terry is he...  

Terry's renewed celebrity is a byproduct of the governor's having opened a Pandora's lunchbox, pandering to the radical right for his personal political gain. The rabid activist and his Operation Rescue had been discredited and had fallen off the radar screen -- until the governor put him in the limelight when he turned the fate of Terri Schiavo into a three-ring circus. During all that time, he never uttered a peep against the extremists, never publicly called upon Terry and others to tone down their rhetoric. Nor did he modulate his own, until now.

While it is tempting to look at such things as signs of an imminent crack-up of the Christian Right, it is more complicated than that. The Christian Right is not monolithic. Never has been. Never will be. That is one of the problems of labeling the movement with one, catch-all term. It tends to lead people to reductionist and false  conclusions. So, for example, to call everyone with whom one disagrees about certain things a "Christianist" suggests far greater unity and uniformity than may actually exist in a broad and actually quite diverse movment that spans several political parties. (Increased literacy on these matters, not labels are the key to having informed conversations on the subject. But I digress.)

The tensions that have always existed between traditional sectors of the GOP and the religious right are clearly surfacing, particularly on issues in which moral consistency is considered a necessity. This is part of why recent Ralph Reed's bid for the GOP nomination for  Lt. Governor of Georgia was untenable -- and party leaders abandoned him in droves when it became clear that he had worked for Jack Abramoff's clients in the gaming industry -- and apparently laundered millions of dollars in fees so as not to appear that he was working for these interests -- even while he was publicly opposed to gambling. As Reed grew increasingly desperate, he aligned himself with the pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and notorious serial adulterer who once married his cousin: former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani. The mutual hypocrisy was so egregious one article about the strange alliance was titled: Ralph Reed Embraces 'Blatant Adultering Cousin-Fucker'.

Meanwhile, Randall Terry makes for an odd Republican, since in the 1990s he ran for Congress from New York as a regional leader of the far-right Constitution Party (then-called the U.S. Taxpayers Party.)  At the time, Terry denounced the Christian Coalition (then-directed by Ralph Reed) as "the mistress of the Republican Party."  I wonder what he has to say about that now?  

During this same period, Terry's media guru, (and another advisor to the Schindler family) Gary McCullough, was acting as the PR man for Paul Hill's new organizatioin, "Defensive Action."  At the time, Hill was arguing that the murder of abortion providers was "justifiable homicide."  Hill went on to assasinate a doctor and his escort a year or so later. McCullough became the pointman for Prisoners of Christ, a support and fundraising group linked to the Army of God.  The Prisoners of Christ were a few dozen people convicted of major crimes committed in the antiabortion cause, including kidnapping, murder, attempted murder, bombings and arson.

Where are they now?

Hill was convicted of the double murder and died in Florida's electric chair. Governor Jeb Bush declined to intervene. Randal Terry is now a Republican making a kamikaze run at a well regarded moderate GOP state senator.  Gary McCullough is a PR man for much of the religious right while having distanced himself from the violent revolutionary underground. Ralph Reed's political career appears to be over.

is that political movements necessarily have a variety of tendencies, personalities, and resources; they operate in certain political contexts, cut across political party lines -- and everything changes over time.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 03:38:51 PM EST

... though your larger points are well taken.

Randall Terry is commonly identified as "the founder of Operation Rescue", but the more detailed accounts of the early days of that group indicate that it was his then-wife (Cindy, if I recall her name correctly) who first got that ball rolling.

Paul Hill was killed on September 3, 2003, by the state of Florida using lethal injection, not the electric chair; his death warrant was signed by Gov. Bush, and endorsed by Operation Save America/Operation Rescue.

by Pierce R Butler on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 12:17:36 AM EST

on the method of execution.

while cindy was indeed the leader of the local clinic protest effort, the organization Operation Rescue, a project of the Pro-Life Action League, PLAN, was founded by Randall Terry.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 12:37:02 AM EST

Your digression in reminding us that the Religious Rightis is not a monolith is something that must be constantly repeated. Sometimes we imagine our opponents to be stronger than they actually are much to our detriment.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 09:17:54 AM EST
we imagine opponents to be either stronger or weaker depending on mood, not facts and analysis.  The endless name game of what to call "them" is a diversion.  There is no one "them." Even people who are quite knowledgeable can fall into this trap.

If terminology is a matter of negative PR has some people insist, this further clouds the picture.

To me it does not matter what words we use so much as that we know what we are talking about. I do believe however, that moving towards some commonly accepted terms that are not ostensibly offensive is a necessary prerequisite to having coherent conversations about these things.

Back in 1997, when I published Eternal Hostility, I called this matter "terminogolical gridlock."  

It is long past time to end the gridlock.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 11:34:39 AM EST

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