Originally published in The Ohio NOW Times, Fall 2004 (Ohio National Organization for Women)
Our nation has been turned upside down by the enemies of Christ (abortion, homosexuality, Islam, etc.) With the help of Jesus Christ, Ruler of the universe, we will turn it right side up. No more waiting for politicians who stand for nothing and fall for everything! It begins in Columbus, the heart of
the nation and will spread to every point across America.
..........Flip Benham, Director of Operation Save America/Operation Rescue “We Are Fed Up!,” press release, July 15, 2004
July 17-23, the Christian dominionist organization Operation Save America, once known as Operation Rescue , who in the 1980s and early 1990s gained notoriety for abortion clinic invasions, harassment of providers and clients, and mass civil disobedience (or rather mass Biblical obedience)—held its week long annual national “event” in Columbus. OSA was assisted locally by Minutemen United, a Central Ohio fundamentalist men’s organization based in Warsaw near Coshocton, founded by former London High School football coach Dave Daubenmire.
Presenting themselves as a “living parable,” OSA director Flip Benham, assistant director Rusty Thomas, and a few others, walked across America (the actual amount of walking is debatable) in what longtime OSA observer, Mike Doughney calls “the dog, pony and ass show:” a white horse named Judgement, a donkey named Mercy, a broken set of 10 Commandments carried by Benham’s teenage son Jonathan, and a miniature casket, holding what OSA claimed to be fetal remains, carried by Thomas’s daughter Shekinah. For most people this “living parable” is vague, incomprehensible, and often amusing, but it has a specific though ambiguous meaning to OSA and those who accept OSA’s interpretation of “God’s law” triumphant over the American secular, constitutional state. Doughney writes that the theatre piece is an ultimatum to secular society to “surrender to OSA’s “broad demands for change, and compliance with their peculiar interpretation of the Bible, in a grace period symbolized by an imaginary, merciful Jesus on the donkey, or face the wrath of their God, as symbolized by the militant mythical image of Christ with a sword mounted on the white horse.” As Doughney points out, however, OSA was unclear on just who will be judged. The entire country including themselves? Or just the “evildoers? —the rest of us? Maybe more importantly is OSA only out to convert or is their actual function to incite onlookers to take vigilante action against those “evildoers” to avoid retribution as a result of their own inaction? By the end of the OSA occupation of Columbus it was clear that they believe all will be judged.
OSA’s living parable was, in fact, a living sideshow that for six days occupied the W. Broad Street side of City Hall Plaza. The show included dozens of giant bloody bay-bee blender-bits posters, (blown-up pictures of alleged fetuses supposedly dismembered by abortion), a brace of Nazi-looking black and red fetus flags, painted plywood coffins, each representing an “evil” US Supreme Court decision intended to suck the United States further into Hell, and OSA propaganda cars adorned with OSA “art” spread out in front of City Hall. Bad music, hundreds of arm-waving worshippers, shouting preachers, cop taunters, shofar tooters, Quran burners, an alleged “bay-bee” funeral, 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, Columbus police never far behind, to freeway overpasses, women’s clinics, a gay business, “unfriendly” churches and even a Catholic hospital and the United Way—the last two an expansion of traditional OSA wedge targets, suggesting a ramp-up on “evildoers.”
Columbus NOW played a significant role in opposing OSA, effectively working with The Answer is No! (TAISNO) the oppositional response to OSA occupation.
Columbus NOW first met with Sabina Kniesly and her partner Mike Doughney in April. Kneisly, a Central Ohio native, has lived in Columbus, a town she calls “close to my heart” four times. She considers herself a recovering street activist. In the 1990s while living here she founded with several others the membership organization BARF-- Bisexual and Radical Feminist--which was restructured in 1997 with Doughney as more of a 2-person think tank, Biblical America Resistance Front, located in the Washington DC area. They consider themselves inactivists, oppositional researchers, and defusionaries.
For the last seven years Kneisly and Doughney have been doing non-traditional “inactivist” forms of “output” such as observation of various Biblical American groups, quiet listening, documenting events, and developing language and theory—though they will occasionally pick up a sign. “We look like radical (to the root) librarians or occasionally casual photographers,” Kneisly says.
As oppositional researchers they investigate how language is used, the shorthand codes of a subculture, and what the goals and tactics are of various organizations. She sees OSA’s national event issues--abortion, gay marriage, and Islam (and others not on the week’s “official” agenda--) as simply “decisional tactics” used to determine who is for and against them, and who they can “pry into.” The issues for OSA are simply a means to an end. The real goal of OSA and their ilk, she believes, is “a Biblical America where OSA’s particular interpretation of Biblical law becomes the basis of all social interaction and governance.” As unpleasant as this may sound to some people, by knowing, what your opponents believe, based on the oppositional research. perspective, you can understand how those beliefs relate to your own pro-active work and keep you from running down a rabbit warren of nuance and side issues when doing re-active work. Using abortion as an example she says that as oppositional researchers, instead of focusing on the nuances of abortion politics they cut to the other chase, focusing on how OSA does not believe that we own our own bodies. All of which lead to defusion, which Kneisly says is “situational work” and means choosing one’s battles carefully. “What may defuse in one circumstance may inflame in another—knowing those differences and tactically understanding when to use what.”
Central to their defusionary theory are the 3 Rs in dealing with OSA, the Minutemen and other like-minded organizations:
Receive: hear; listen to them
Read back: I hear what you say
Reject: My answer is “no.” (personalized, simple; and if they try to blow through the “no” it puts them on an interesting continuum along side rapists and abusers.)
When OSA announced it was coming to Columbus Kneisly and Doughney decided to turn theory into practice. Use OSA’s own words back at them. Listen and expose them through their own deeds
One of their first activities was to create The Answer Is No (TAISNO) website to serve as an educational center to share much of the information the community needed to understand about OSA. (Unfortunately, there was little historical memory of an early 1990s Operation Rescue action in Columbus.) An organizing and communications tool, the page offered a full menu of information and links about OSA and the Minutemen, downloadable flyers and posters, up-to-date TAISNO news, media coverage, and day-by day accounts of the “event, ” including photographs and video clips, once it started. TAISNO was not an “organization. ” Instead, it was a movement of non-hierarchical, fluid ”unorganized” response—a sort of communication system--to effect individual initiative and personal ownership of resistance. This is a “Columbus thing.” This is our town, not OSA’s.
Over the next few months, Kneisly and Doughney, among various activities, attended NOW meetings where they discussed OSA (some had never heard of it) and met with individual Columbus NOW members (and many others) socially who wanted to become involved. Columbus NOW stuffed abortion-specific TAISNO-developed flyers in the information packets of busloads of central Ohioans who went to the March_for_Women's_Lives in Washington. Members distributed flyers in local coffee shops, bookstores, and Laundromats. Some took escort training or re-training and worked at clinics while OSA was in town. All-in-all however, the operation was low-key, and in the end, took OSA by surprise.
While OSA holds public protests such as clinic actions, “fetal funerals” and Ecclesiastical Courts, “in most cities it visits, it traditionally holds many other events particularly their rallies, behind the doors of a host church out of sight of public scrutiny. Columbus, however, proved to be a challenge. The Minutemen claimed that they contacted—or at least planned to contact—500 area churches to locate a host church and other support. This time though, even exurban mega churches refused to cooperate, at least publicly, and opted for the comfort of the pew over a shofar-blowing boy from Newark. The one church that eventually did agree to host the event, Smyrna Baptist on Wilson Road suddenly disappeared from the program when TAISNO discovered that the minister had ties to the Moonies and posted the documented proof (July 9) on its web page, thus leaving OSA with no place to meet other than their far eastside hotel conference room. By the start of their event week though, God miraculously gave them an “awesome space”: City Hall, which did not require a city permit. Thrilled with the providential gift, but being unfamiliar with Columbus laws, OSA and the Minutemen, didn’t realize that unlike churches that can control who comes through the door and can filter out “undesirables,” City Hall Plaza was public space for anyone who pleased to stop, rest and reflect without a permit. Anyone like the people of Columbus.
On Saturday, July 17 at 1:00 PM, about 75 Columbus police, including the mounted patrol and the bike patrol, all well-aware of its reputation, lined W. Broad, keeping the walkways clear, as OSA, with their flags, propaganda cars, shofars, props, donkey and two horses (they acquired a second horse, Justice, along the way after Judgement turned up lame) crossed the Broad Street Bridge into the City Hall area. While about 120 supporters greeted them (scroll down), so did another 70 yellow- clad (yellow being the official TAISNO color), placard waving, chanting protestors telling OSA and the Minutemen to “take your ass and go.”
Since no permit was needed by either side to secure space on city property, we were free to take space in the plaza, and in fact, were there before OSA was. Columbus NOW co-presidents Heather Kosher and Eileen Lynch, as well as NOW treasurer Kay and her husband Neil, and I along with a lot of people we’d never seen before jumped into action. Kay and Neil acted as a 2-person welcoming committee. They helped distribute signs to the signless, passed out dozens of yellow The Answer Is No buttons, “Theocrats Suck” and “Columbus Says No to Operation Save America” stickers, and played sidewalk nanny, watching foot traffic to make sure that no one blocked the right-of way. Heather and Eileen played cheerleader, shaking yellow pom-poms and leading chants through bright yellow plastic megaphones. “Columbus says no-- take your ass and go” “Go Home!” “What part of no don’t you understand?” and “This is not a theocracy.” The donkey, or maybe it was a horse, dropped a load on the City Hall steps
Over the next few days, OSA and the Minutemen played tag with the police and TAISNO. Knowledge and documentation of most of these events was accomplished with the assistance of a small group of NOW members who helped with communications, who according to Kneisly ended up “being the glue holding much of the event together—invaluable.”
Every morning OSA did “overpass outreach” hanging signs and bloody bay-bee bits porn from Interstate overpasses downtown. More “outreach’ was done at both campuses of the “welcoming and affirming” First Community Church in Upper Arlington where OSA referred to the female minister as “Pastorette,” as well as televangelist Rod Parsley’s World Harvest Ministries in Canal Winchester and Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus, in a probable attempt to recruit troops as well as punish the churches for not falling for OSA’s command to join them. Xenos called the cops and had them thrown out of its parking lot. OSA set up a sound system and shofar in front of the Catholic Mt.Carmel East Hospital and railed against abortion and gay marriage. They also picketed Elemental, a restaurant on Parsons Ave, but had to leave before it opened for lunch.
On July 20, 75-100 self-described “gentle Christians,” marched on the United Way of Central Ohio, imploring God to destroy it, or at a minimum lift it out of its transgression. With a dozen police guarding the building, Flip Benham on a sound system, flanked by a score of anti-abortion 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, 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 alleged 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.”
And, of course, they visited clinics: Founders, Capital Care, Planned Parenthood (including its Hilltop neighborhood center), and Dr. Mervyn Samuel’s office. After the church picket “outreach” on Sunday, OSA drove over to Samuel’s home where they marched around the street with bay-bee -bits pictures, blew shofars, and leafleted his neighbors. On Thursday morning Fr Frank Pavone, the director of Priests for Life, flew in to perform a public spectacle—the mislabeled “memorial service” for Bay-bee Mercy, the alleged fetal remains that OSA supposedly hauled across the country. That the donkey and the “fetus” shared the same name was not lost on TAISNO. Soon shouts of “Who killed the donkey?” and “How did you get the donkey in that little box” rang out during Flip Benham’s eulogy. Benham later admitted that it had never occurred to him that the donkey and the “fetus” had the same name, and apparently had some difficulty maintaining his composure. Such is theatre!
That evening, in the words of Mike Doughney, OSA officially transitioned to a hate group (July 22--scroll down). After a drawn-out diatribe against Satanic Islam, queers, abortion, and terrorism, Rusty Thomas burned “things detestable”: a rainbow flag, a copy of Roe v Wade and a Quran (“Better these lies burn now, then America burn later) 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. In full nativist victim mode, OSA’s Director of Communications 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.”
As the night wore down and people began to leave, reinforcements arrived on the plaza in the person of Victoria, some of her friends and a dog. Victoria, much to the horror of OSA and the Minutemen, who couldn’t help but notice, was clad in nothing on top but two tastefully placed Theocracy Sucks stickers, which she soon tore off. Even worse: the police refused to do anything about it since it is legal in Columbus for women to go topless in public. Five or six uniformed cops, maybe more, in fact, stood behind Victoria and never blinked an eye. Dave Daubenmire was last seen that night off in a corner of the plaza screaming something into his cell phone.
On Friday morning, the next to last day of the event, About 100 OSA and Minutemen showed up en masse at Planned Parenthood’s office on E Main Street, where long-time OSA activist Eva Edl, 69, who OSA describes as an “elderly lady,” and a teenage boy were arrested for disorderly conduct after they refused to stop blocking the front door to the clinic. According to Flip Benham, the boy was later released because police said he hadn’t understood the order to move. Edl missed her court date, presumably because she had left the state to return home at the end of the OSA siege.
After a lunch break, OSA repaired to City Hall Plaza for an Ecclesiastical Court where seven “evil” Supreme Court decisions including Roe, Doe, and Lawrence would be indicted, tried and executed. The decisions were represented by appropriately color-coded coffins. (Pink was for gay). Rusty Thomas, with a city burn permit, waited to flic his Bic 30 minutes after the permit had expired, thus guaranteeing his arrest. Police, fire fighters, city officials, accompanied by the media moved in for the kill, cut the sound system, and hauled Thomas away in cuffs. He is currently charged with a fire code violation and possession of criminal tools, and is out on bond. Within an hour of the arrest, OSA was gone from City Hall, though they did leave their trash behind. Flip Benham later said that while they had decided earlier to keep Friday evening as a family picnic night at nearby Battelle Park instead of throwing an event, he also admitted that the final decision to shut down early had been pushed by Victoria’s un-family-like display the previous night. Columbus and its city hall with its free speech space and wild women, had become too radioactive for OSA.
Before coming to Columbus Flip Benham wrote a small piece for the OSA website entitled, Murderous Spirit has Invaded Columbus where he enumerated the murder rate, the I-270 Sniper case, and the alleged attempt by a local Muslim to detonate a bomb at a shopping mall. He questioned whether there was a correlation between local violence and the fact that Columbus has six “abortion mills” and is one of the most gay friendly cities in the country where last year’s Pride parade drew 45,0000 marchers—a speculation he naturally answered with the affirmative. And it was no secret that the mayor, city council, the police, people who worked downtown, and the public at large would have preferred an appendectomy rather than a week of OSA. In turn, OSA showed growing frustration though the week at the reception and on-going response it received. from what Benham called “a sick city.” Benham complained that the city administration preferred to protect public nudity, immigrant Muslims, sodommites, and pro-aborts rather than the rights of “gentle Christians.” He was particularly aggrieved at NOW’s own noisemakers, Heather and Eileen who one evening had a picnic dinner on the grass and just happened to bring along some pots and pans. Dave Daubenmire, who seems to have a shorter fuse than Benham, threatened to file charges against protesters for…. well, I’m not sure what. OSA’s Brenda Spurlock complained to the about the “lost souls” who protested OSA, the “poor wretch” who exposed her breasts and the lack of interest Columbus police showed in controlling the protest, calling the whole thing “deeply frustrating.” (Perhaps she’d forgotten that earlier in the week, OSA had taunted police calling them jackasses and corrupt.). In the September 2004 OSA newsletter, Columbus event participant Mike Warren writes that OSA “tasted rejection from the city, the local church and the “anti-Christ forces seeking to disrupt our lawful assemblies.” He further complains that that for years the City of Columbus has “been manipulated and run” by “the homosexual juggernaut.” Sabina Kneisly says that in the seven years has been tracking OSA she had never seen OSA so frustrated, and quite frankly, ready to get out of town.
I have spoken to several people who participated in TAISNO and they all say that it was a exhilarating experience. They feel that they actually made a difference, both individually and as a movement. Heather Kosher believes that the TAISNO defense had a positive effect on the community, especially on women, who were motivated to join the protest and continue working after OSA left. She cites, for instance, the number of women who became clinic escorts and continue to volunteer “I think we did a really great job getting OSA really aggravated and leave that way. And we actually chased them out with our breasts! That became the end of it”
An OSA event is just not a one-time event. It is important to remember that OSA does not just come to a city. It shows up because it believes it has support and an infrastructure, and it hopes to leave something behind. Dave Daubenmire and the Minutemen, though independent of OSA, have played and continue to play an integral role in OSA’s Central Ohio network. Neither OSA nor the Minutemen are going away. Back in January, during the annual flogging of Roe v Wade at the Statehouse, the Minutemen, wearing their trademark blue baseball caps, with bay-bee blender bits pictures in hand, stood guard along High Street while Republican 2006 gubernatorial wannabe Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, Rep. Linda Reidelbach (R-Columbus), Coach Daubenmire, and special out-of-town guest Flip Benham took turns railing against reproductive rights. That Blackwell and Reidelbach, well-known for their far-right stands on abortion, marriage, and gay and lesbian rights, felt no compunction at sharing the mike (pictures)with Daubenmire and Benham who six months later were excoriating “sodomites,” pro-aborts, and burning the Quran at City Hall, threatening to bring the wrath of God on the United Way, and a Koran, should serve as a clear warning of things to come during the next state election. It will be interesting to see if Blackwell and Reidebach distance themselves from OSA and Daubenmire’s “blue meanies in blue beanies” and what can be made of it whether they do or not. It is not too early to create a sophisticated pro-active oppositional response.
Currently Daubenmire has a lot of free time to organize and agitate. In 2000 he resigned his coaching position after a protracted suit and counter suit involving the coach and parents and the ACLU who complained that Daubenmire was indoctrinating students with classroom Bible readings and prayers. Since then Daubenmire has become a visible theonomic presence in central Ohio—one that sees no problem with burning other people’s holy books-- with his Pass the Salt Ministries, a weekly broadcast on Christian radio WRFD, and Minuteman appearances at “patriotic” events, anti-abortion rallies, pride parades, and women’s clinics. In October 2003 the Minutemen went to Washington for an OSA protest in front of the US Supreme Court. There they ran interference against Federal marshals and police trying to see who lit the fire in an unauthorized burn, making it impossible for an arrest to be made. The Minutemen have also traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to support Judge Roy Moore when the 10 Commandments monument was hauled away from his courthouse, and to Boston to protest gay marriage. This April they counter-protested the March for Women’s Lives. Since OSA left town, the Minutemen have held protests Saturdays at Capital Care in Clintonville. Few of the protestors are local. Anywhere from 30-70 demonstrators carpool in from Coshocton, Warsaw, Heath, Newark, West Jefferson, West Lafayette and other rural and suburban areas at the crack of dawn to be there by 7:30 to “save babies.” They are mostly middle age men but a few teenagers and a handful of women and children join them. .
NOTE: Minuteman United founder Dave Daubenmire is running for Ohio Board of Education in the 9th District against incumbent Jennifer Stewart of Zanesville who won a tight race in 2000. Daubenmire says that his campaign will focus on home schooling and bringing a Godly voice to the State Board.
The 9th District includes the counties of Ashland, Athens, Coshocton, Delaware, Fairfield, Guernsey, Hocking, Knox, Licking, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingham, Noble, Perry, Richland and Washington as well as portions of Pickaway. If you know someone who lives in any of those areas, let them know.
Photos courtesy of TAISNO