Written for the Columbus Free Press, September-October 2004 issue Cut for space purposes
July 17-24 Operation Save America's living sideshow of bloody blender baby bits (blow-up pictures of alleged fetuses supposedly dismembered by abortion) flanked by creepy black and red fetus flags that only a Nazi could love, and painted plywood coffins, each representing an “evil” US Supreme Court decision intended to suck the United States further into Hell roosted on City Hall Plaza, facing W. Broad Street. Bad music, hundreds of arm waving worshippers, shouting preachers, cop taunters, shofar tooters, Koran burners, a fetus, and an oversized Ten Commandments that even God Himself would find too bulky to haul down a mountain completed the installation. For those unfortunate to miss the main show, traveling exhibits and prayer shouters went out daily to freeway overpasses, women’s clinics, gay businesses, “unfriendly” churches and even a hospital and the United Way—the last two an expansion of traditional OSA wedge targets indicating that the organization is widening its attack on secular institutions--to spread the OSA Good News of intolerance towards secular society.
The article below covers selected OSA activities with an emphasis on the less traditional targets along with a summary of other activities. (Full disclosure: The writer was a member of the TAISNO (The Answer is No) oppositional response.
To hear former London High School football coach, Christian domionist, and Minutemen United founder Dave Daubenmire tell it, his Minutemen and Operation Save America brought the United Way of Central Ohio to its knees during the recent OSA occupation of the city. On July 20, 75-100 self-described “gentle Christians,” marched on the downtown agency imploring God to destroy it, or at a minimum lift it out of its transgression. With a dozen police guarding the building, OSA director Flip Benham on a sound system, flanked by a score of aborted fetus posters and anti-gay banners, rebuked the United Way in the name of Jesus. Calling the agency a “dark filthy cesspool,” “a disgrace before God, the nation, and the city,” a “foul organization,” and an “abomination, “ Benham, periodically accompanied by the blowing of the shofar (the ritual Hebrew ibex or ram’s horn associated with the fall of Jericho, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ceremonies, but now a prop for Christian fundamentalist) implored God to “bring down this high place in Jesus’ name and to “lift up the gospel of Christ.
The United Way’s sin: the supposed de-funding of the local Boy Scouts and its continued funding of the Columbus AIDS Task Force, Planned Parenthood and other organizations OSA and the Minutemen find “morally repugnant to their faith.” Besides the defunding issue OSA was particularly aggrieved at United Way’s decision last year to reduce from 100% (less 5% processing charge) to 50% the amount of money individual and corporate donors can give to non-member agencies via the designated recipient plan, thus “extorting” funds to pay for services or agencies that donors don’t like. A few days after the protest, when the United Way board, citing donor confusion and dislike of the 50% plan, voted unanimously to rescind it, OSA and the Minutemen were more than happy to take credit for the rollback.
Sharon Keaney, spokesperson for the United Way, was out of town the day of the protest, and is perplexed by the entire event. And she most definitely sees things a little differently than Daubenmire and OSA.
Keaney points out that the United Way supports four Boy Scout programs, all of which continue to be fully funded despite OSA rumor to the contrary. In fact, the Scouts received a 2% increase as did all agencies this past year, upping their take to $512, 000. Back in February, though, the United Way board approved a non-discriminatory policy to go into effect at the end of December 2004. Agencies funded by the United Way are expected by then to have signed a policy agreement with it that bans discrimination based on race, religion, economics, sexual orientation, etc. in regard to staff, volunteers and populations served in programs specifically funded by the United Way. Programs not funded by the United Way aren’t covered in the agreement, meaning that programs that discriminate can remain in place, only that the United Way won’t fund them. “The policy agreement is the decision of the receiving agency, that’s their decision,” says Keaney. Funding itself will not be effected until July 1, 2005.
While the United Way does fund three programs for the Columbus AIDS Task Force, a member agency, to the tune over $300,000 a year, Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio is not a member and receives no direct funding. It does, however, receive money through the designated recipient program. According to the United Way’s IRS Form 990 for the tax year ending March 31, 2003, located on the internet philanthropic database Guidestar, $108,184 was funneled to Planned Parenthood through designated donations for that period. The designation program also funds local conservative and faith-based pro-life organizations of which presumably OSA and the Minutemen would approve. For this same period, the United Way passed on designated recipient funds to Birthright of Columbus ($3,796), Central Ohio Youth for Christ ($4,482), and Pregnancy Decision Health Center ($108,184) as well as national organizations that work locally such as Christian Charities USA ($9,642) and Christian Service Charities ($55,738). Keaney says that the program has broad membership criteria. Any non-profit with a significant local presence can apply to become eligible for designated recipient funds distribution and will receive money if it passes the vetting process. Total designations of under $1000 are made by a one-time payout each June; those over $1000 receive their payments in four quarterly checks. .
As for dropping the 50% rule, Keaney says that the OSA protest had nothing to do with the policy change. It was already on the table. .
Still, Daubenmire holds fast to his belief that the protest forced Untied Way to change its policy, even if the agency will never admit it. He told the Free Press the that while he’s pleased that the United Way passes money along to conservative organizations, “it’s all really just a shell game” and doesn’t mean much in the end. While he supports in theory the agency’s efforts, he just doesn’t like what the United Way of Central Ohio does with its money. Daubenmire, who lives in Thornville says, “I’m encouraging people to donate to the Union County United Way because they’ll give to the Boy Scouts.”
Churches: On July 18, two days before the United Way visit, OSA and the Minutemen made four surprise protest appearances at local churches: First Community in Upper Arlington (both campuses), televangelist Rod Parsley’s World Harvest Church in Columbus,, and Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus. Liberal “welcoming and affirming” churches such, as First Communitiy are routine OSA targets. World Harvest and Xenos, however, are ultraconservative and evangelical, so OSA’s “sign outreach” of X-rated abortion pictures, with ear-splitting shofars, and chanting prayer walkers puzzled and angered church officials and members at both churches. Go here for a collection of protest site photos.
According to Flip Benham’s son, David, Rod Parsley became so agitated by OSA’s presence at World Harvest that he tossed out his sermon and gave an extemporaneous lecture directed at OSA specifically. Not so, says World Harvest spokesperson Jon Laria. According to Laria, Parsley not only gave his planned sermon, but he and other people from World Harvest spent about 30 minutes before the service outside the church exchanging pleasantries with protesters. Laria says that for the last two months Parsley has been preaching about abortion, the Federal Marriage Protection Amendment and other related issues. “We are in agreement with them (OSA), and didn’t know why they would come to us.” By OSA standards, however, there was plenty of reason to be there. David Benham claims that six weeks earlier World Harvest had refused Coach Daubenmire’s invitation to get onboard OSA’s Columbus Event, making World Harvest no better than “affirming churches” that “preach another Jesus and different gospel than the Bible.” Laria, however, claims that as far as he knows no one from the Minutemen has ever contacted World Harvest about anything, much less the Columbus Event.
World Harvest tolerated OSA trespassers. Xenos Christian Fellowship did not. After church officials made repeated requests for the OSA entourage to get out of the church’s parking lot where they had assembled in “peaceful protest,” the church called the police to clear them out. The pickets simply moved off the property and on to the sidewalk, where they continued their vigil.
Xenos spokesperson, Jay Reilly, was particularly disturbed over what he calls the “really huge gory pictures of aborted babies” that OSA posted around the church perimeter--pictures that he believes might be obscene under some community standards. Approximately 500 children attend each week’s Sunday morning activities, and he says that some were so upset that Sunday School and nursery teachers had to spend the first part of their morning calming them down.
Some OSA “missionaries” attended services at the various churches. Reilly reports that those who attended the Xenos’ service were not disruptive “but did some strange things like putting their hands in the air.” Xenos usually offers an open mike at the end of the service but decided to cancel it. “We didn’t like to do it, but we were afraid that they would disrupt the session.”
Like World Harvest’s Laria, Reilly contends that no one from the Minutemen or OSA contacted Xenos. He believes that OSA came to the church to shame it for not supporting the Columbus Event and to recruit members. And, he believes OSA succeeded in neither. While Xenos is a conservative “theologically based church” that is not pro-choice, Reilly says, it does not support OSA’s politically charged message. “This is not what Xenos is about,” Reilly says. “We offer an affirmative response. OSA doesn’t.”
Mt. Carmel East Hospital: The next morning, July 19, after hanging banners and pictures of aborted fetuses off of several downtown overpasses (a daily early morning “outreach” activity) about 35 OSA and Minutemen bussed to Mt. Carmel East Hospital, where just off the property they set up a sound system, blew the shofar, and shouted at traffic on E. Broad Street. While a dozen or so police along with hospital security and administrators monitored the situation from the parking lot, OSA pastor Bill Shanks, from New Orleans’s New Covenant Fellowship attacked abortion and same sex marriage through a bullhorn. No abortions are performed, however, at the Catholic hospital. Why same sex marriage was addressed specifically at the site is unknown.
Women’s Clinics: Each morning, sometimes breaking into teams, OSA appeared at Capital Care, Founders Clinic, Planned Parenthood, or the office of abortion provider Dr. Mervyn Samuels. They also went to Samuel’s home after church on Sunday where they paraded through the neighborhood, shouting prayers and rebuke, and distributing flyers “exposing the nature of his grisly business.” Thursday, July 22, OSA held an open casket ritual in City Hall Plaza for “Baby Mercy,” the alleged fetus that OSA has carried across the country that inexplicably shares the name of OSA’s “living parable, “ the marching donkey, Mercy who is traveling across the country with them. The service was presided over by Flip Benham, OSA associate director Rusty Thomas, and Fr. Frank Pavone, Director of Priests for Life and an official of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family who flew in especially for the occasion, seemingly putting the Vatican’s stamp of approval on OSA activities.
Finally, on Friday July 24, the last official day of the occupation, about 130 OSA protesters converged on Planned Parenthood’s East. Main Street clinic where they blockaded the doors, tramped over grass and shouted and prayed over clients in the parking lot, some of who shouted back. When protesters refused to leave after police read FACE and an order to vacate the property, they arrested a teenager who bystanders identified as “Luke” and longtime OSA agitator Eva Edl. “Miss Eva” as she is fondly called, self-proclaimed Holocaust survivor and professional OSA arrest junkie and with a rap sheet longer than Courtney Love’s, was charged with disorderly conduct. OSA and the Minutemen claim that four clinic defense volunteers gave their lives to Jesus during the Columbus Event. When six volunteers and the head of security at one clinic were asked individually to comment, the response of each was a large and long guffaw.
Islamic Targets: On Thursday evening, July 22, OSA officially transitioned to a hate group. With a permit from the city, Rusty Thomas burned the Koran along with a rainbow flag and a copy of Roe v Wade. The local Muslim community which had worked closely with the Mayor’s Office regarding its response to OSA stayed away except for a tiny handful who came to witness the burn and protest. During the run-up to the Koran burning, an OSA staffer singled out a Muslim boy who appeared to be 12 or 13, accompanied by his father and an older boy, and repeatedly threatened him with eternal damnation, while ridiculing Islam as “a lie from the it of Hell”. After repeated demands from the boy’s father to leave his son alone, police intervened and the man skulked away but not before giving police, bystanders, and the Muslim family a cockeyed lecture on the abrogation of his right to free speech. Jad Humedian, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Ohio also attended the burn. He was spotted by OSA and the following day, headlined on the OSA-Columbus webpage as “a suspected Muslim terrorist” linked to Hamas, an accusation that Humedian vehemently denies. In the nativist victim tones, OSA’s Brenda Spurlock complained after the burn that city officials are “terrified of offending Muslim immigrants” who she compared favorably to Hitler, but turn on “Christians who came to town seeking mercy for unborn babies being slaughtered in Columbus abortuaries,” and protest “that sexual perversion has been elevated to a constitutional right and Islam is being publicly proclaimed as ‘a way’ to God.” OSA earlier threatened to go to Mosques, but no visits were reported.
Queer Targets: OSA encouraged members “to go to High Street” and visit various businesses—especially the ones with the yellow signs in the windows. (The Answer is No! sign campaign, which Flip Benham claimed would eventually lead to the imprisonment and death of “simple Christians." There are no reports, however, of anyone identified as OSA actually venturing into the area. It appears that OSA, with its large contingent of out-of town and out-of state participants had no desire to wander into strange and “dangerous” territory where they weren’t welcome. Early Thursday morning, however, 10-15 OSA pickets showed up at Elemental, a restaurant on Parsons Ave., but left before it opened at 11:00 AM to get to the City Hall fetus funeral on time. There were no reported OSA sightings in German Village either, an area earlier informally targeted by OSA since there’s “a lot of homosexual couples residing there.”
Pagan Targets: OSA had previously announced it would visit a pagan business in the Garden District, but it did not. Again, this was probably due to TASIO presence.
A Word About the Police: OSA has a long well known history of police provocation. Columbus police were clearly targeted by OSA—and vice versa, since two TV stations reported that OSA was being monitored by the FBI, Federal Marshals, the Secret Service, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, and the Columbus Division of Police. Undercover cops were spotted throughout the event, some mingling with OSA prayer warriors while others just hung out. On Tuesday evening tensions rose when OSA speakers and individuals in the plaza verbally harassed the over 100 police at City Hall, calling them “jackasses” and dupes of an evil corrupt city government, demanding that they give their hearts to Jesus. A beefy blond in a Minuteman baseball cap identified as “Dave”(not Daubenmire) stalked a Channel 6 cameraman through the plaza and up the stairs where he attempted to shove him off a ledge shouting, “I’m gonna take him out!” Bystanders from both sides and police intervened and no arrest was made. This same man earlier tired to shove a TAISNO protestor off the same ledge. As the evening wore on, things got worse when Rusty Thomas, with no city permit, burned a stack of “evil documents” in a metal bucket. As police moved in so did more OSA, including women some with small children and babies, encircling the police, waving their hands, shouting “Shame! Shame” rebuking the police in Jesus’ name. The rest of the night was spent, with police tagging after 20 or 30 prayer walkers as they meandered downtown, burn bucket in hand. A scuffle on Thursday night between long-time Columbus activist Mark Stansbury and an undercover cop, who he reportedly thought was a Minuteman brought a citation against him for disorderly conduct. Friday afternoon, Rusty “Burn-Baby-Burn” Thomas ended the Event by torching a stack of “wicked Supreme Court” decisions, 30 minutes after OSA’s burn permit expired. He was marched off in cuffs as police, fire fighters, and news media converged on the plaza. Thomas was charged with igniting an open flame and use of a criminal tool. His arrest marked the end of the Event.
As Doughney and Kneisly point out, there is no doubt that OSA is still coming to take over. Since the end of the occupation between 40-70 Minutemen, mostly from out of town, have picketed Capital Care each Saturday. They told police that if needed, they could bring five times as many. Dave Daubenmire recently turned in petitions to run for the 9th District seat of the Ohio Board of education. He says his election campaign will focus on home schooling and bringing a Godly voice to the State Board. Rusty Thomas and Eva Edl are out on bond. Luke was released later when police, according to Flip Benham, decided that he hadn’t understood their order. Charges against Mark Stansbury were dropped.. City Council reportedly plans to consider ways to “impose order” on public speech while (we hope) protecting the right of free speech and association.
The Answer is No
Operation Save America Columbus page