If the murder of Dr. George Tiller this past weekend has taught us anything, it's that the culture war fights of the 1990s are not over. Lake of Fire, a magnificent documentary about the climate of the abortion fight in the 1990s, chronicles the culture war arguments which include Tiller's. The abortion battle seems to flare up at the beginning of every incoming presidency, though especially at the beginning of the previous Democratic one and our current one. Also featured in Lake of Fire, and unfortunately in the news this past weekend, was Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue and pro-life activist. He popped up in the news in 2005, when Terry Schiavo's husband was allowed to remove her from a vegetative state and pass away. Randall Terry spoke on behalf of Schiavo's parents, who did not support her right to die.
In the 1990s, for those who lived in Upstate New York, the name Randall Terry was a familiar one. His residence was in Windsor, NY and his church was in Binghamton. He ran against Maurice Hinchey for the House and lost. His Operation Rescue protests were frequent and heated. For some reason, Binghamton was an epicenter for anti-abortion protests, though no violent incidents occurred here. His family were active members of the community, some of which were friends with my friends, whose parents were part of the church Terry was a part of.
My one encounter with Terry, however, is more anecdotal. I was a video store clerk in high school and in early college, where I developed my skepticism for corporate work and the establishment in general; I suppose that's why I accepted a managerial promotion. I would see Terry's family come in to the store, often renting children's movies or your typical PG-rated fare, though titles or specifics escape me. Around Easter of 2000, Terry came in alone. I recognized him and, admittedly, hoped he'd make some snide comment about how the content of the store, as mediocre as it was, was skewed against his values. Frequently, people would say such things. After a few minutes, Terry came to me and asked for one title:
"Where is your copy of Ben-Hur?"
Pointing to the Classics section, I replied "It should be here, sir." Walking over, I realized that the copy was not there and in fact the display box, which would indicate if the copy was rented or not, was missing. "I'll be right back, sir."
I walked to the computers, conveniently using Windows 95, and did a search. The copy, it turns out, was destroyed in a VCR and a replacement copy had not arrived. Explaining this to Mr. Terry, he looked at me, then wearing squarish glasses much like this picture, and scoffed. He placed his hands on his hips and promptly left.
Indeed, Terry would be censured from his church that year and would in 2001 divorce his wife and leave the Binghamton area. For residents of Binghamton, it's not often that our little city is thrust into the spotlight; it's even less likely that we see a familiar face on the news as often as we see Terry's. It's regrettable that Terry's language this week, while denouncing the brutal death of Dr. Tiller in his church, also called Tiller a "mass murderer." It's this tone-deaf radicalism that paralyzes both the far right and left and spins the wheels of 24 hour news and dead-tree op-eds. I almost feel a bit responsible for Terry's words, even if they are as far from mine as possible, just because he resided in the same city as me and walked the same streets. Back then, in my perpetual Ghost World stupor, I found Terry to be some kind of caricature from another world. I suppose I'm beginning to feel that way once more.
Posted by Michael Lieberman at 5:57 PM