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Randall Terry Shoots an Ad

The anti-abortion crusader’s latest campaign

Oct 22, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 06 • By MATT LABASH
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Terry greets me warmly, wearing cargo pants and alligator boots. I’ve seen him in YouTube videos, many of them gleaned from his temporarily-suspended-on-account-of-the-election television show, syndicated to mostly Christian stations. It’s called Randall Terry: The Voice of Resistance. On it, he might play piano-ballad pro-life-themed parodies. Or music videos in which a firing squad wearing Obama masks execute baby dolls with paintball guns to the strains of Alice Cooper’s “Dead Babies.” Or he might dump bloody plastic fetuses on the conference table in Nancy Pelosi’s office to drive the point home, in his own subtle way. Terry describes the show as “a hybrid of Stephen Colbert, Rush [Limbaugh], and John the Baptist.”

But flashing back to his late ’80s Operation Rescue heyday, I’m reminded that Terry’s hair, once a white man’s afro, has gone close-cropped and respectable. Or as respectable as Terry can get, which isn’t very. His ideological opponents call him things like “ineffectual clown,” “asshole no one likes,” and “extremist antichoice fameball.” His ideological soulmates sometimes call him worse.

Terry inflames passions on both sides of the ball because he is not averse to exceeding the limits of what most consider rational behavior. Plus, he freely criticizes nearly everyone else for not pushing as hard as he does, and for pulling punches to preserve their precious tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status, which Terry has always rejected so that he can say whatever about whomever he wants. Too much of pro-life activism these days, he says, is about getting your picture taken with a purportedly pro-life congressman who won’t do anything about dead babies, so you can run it in your newsletter, so you can raise more tax-exempt revenue: “The pro-life movement became the pro-life establishment. The pro-life establishment became the pro-life industry. The pro-life industry became collaborators. There is money in this. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars, have been raised off the ‘cause.’ So these people become collaborators.” Therefore, admits Terry, “I’m a pain in the ass to the pro-life movement. I’m a nightmare to the baby killers. So the baby killers hate me, and the pro-lifers hate me, because I make them look bad.”

Act first, count the costs later—if ever—is pretty much his operating philosophy. One of his best friends, Gary McCullough, director of the Christian Newswire publicity service, describes scuba drift-diving with Terry off Singer Island in Florida. Says McCullough: “As Randall descended, he was experiencing pain in the eyes. But rather than return to the surface and find out what was wrong, he continued descending. .  .  . He foolishly would not let the pain keep him from completing the dive and in the process broke most every blood vessel in both eyes. For the next 24 hours, he looked like a sci-fi monster, in that every white part of his eyes was now bright red. When most would wisely retreat, Randall will move forward. In the process, he may make mistakes that harm himself, make him look like a fool or monster, but quitting, or even slowing down, is not in his nature.”

Though the scenery is impressive, Terry’s compound is a large, no-frills, dun-colored bunkhouse, all cinderblock and window AC units. When he fled an expensive mortgage in Falls Church, Virginia (his income is almost entirely dependent on supporters), and started renting this for a song nearly two years ago, the building was a recently shuttered Catholic home for adults with Down syndrome. Surveying the spartan rooms with dated furniture and dry-erase boards on the doors bearing visitors’ names, I ask him what I should call this place. Koresh-ville? No, he says, rolling his eyes. “We’re not a cult.”

His cohorts, he assures me, basically serve as independent pro-life missionaries who raise their own funds. When they live and work with him, he covers room and board. Many come in from out of state, stay for a few days, then leave. Unlike the Branch Davidians, they don’t believe in Terry’s messianic power, and most feel free to shoot him down when he comes up with half-baked pro-life capers, criticism he’ll even solicit since, as he confesses, “I have a tendency to overreach.” Nobody objected, however, to the grandiose name he’s given the place. “We call it the House of Ascalon—the name of the spear St. George used to slay the dragon,” he beams.

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