Randall Terry greeted me on Feb. 28 with a booming, "We won! We won! We won! Babies will live!"
Terry, the founder of the militantly anti-abortion Operation Rescue, was being a little over the top. But being over the top is what Terry is all about.
The event that ignited his boisterous greeting emanated from the US Supreme Court. After a 20-year legal battle, the justices unanimously ruled against the National Organization for Women, and agreed that racketeering laws couldn't be used to stop protests at abortion clinics.
As Terry effused, "It's a slap at NOW, a massive vindication. We won for all protest groups, all groups that follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr."
To understand Randall Terry, you have to parse his proclamation a little. The truth is, while other defendants in the case prevailed, Terry didn't. Shortly before a 1998 trial -- which NOW won, only to be undone by last month's Supreme Court ruling -- Terry settled with the feminist group and agreed to a sweeping injunction against further protests. Terry next declared bankruptcy -- he owed $1.6 million to NOW for fines, legal fees and damages. He said at the time that he wanted to duck paying "those who would use my money to promote the killing of the unborn."
The reason Terry can interpret his personal defeat in the case as a smashing victory is that he is clearly a revolutionary. He sees a new, rigidly religious society just over the horizon.
During his heyday, Terry was arrested more than 40 times. In 1993, he made a blunt demand for theocracy: "Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country."
Terry had a rough decade following his humiliation by NOW. He was ousted from Operation Rescue. He divorced his wife of 19 years and married his current spouse, Andrea. Two daughters by the first marriage had children out of wedlock, and one of the young women converted to Islam.
Perhaps the biggest slap came from Terry's adopted son, Jamiel, who in 2004 announced he was gay and proclaimed his homosexuality in Out magazine. Terry, who has said gays should be executed, disowned Jamiel.
Terry garnered criticism for soliciting donations, ostensibly to fund the Lord's work, and then buying a $432,000 home near Jacksonville, FL. His ex-wife claimed he was a deadbeat when it came to child support.
But things are perking up for Terry. A few days before the Supreme Court decision, South Dakota's legislature passed the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the nation. The law, which would ban abortion except in cases where the mother's life is in danger, was crafted expressly to challenge the 33-year-old Roe vs. Wade.
"The South Dakota Legislature had the brains and the backbone to do the right thing," he says. "Let the defenders of life stand calm and firm. Let the advocates of death howl and wail."
If the South Dakota and Supreme Court events weren't enough to brighten his day, Terry is buoyant about a campaign to win a seat in the Florida Senate.
"I just can't tell you how good we feel about" polling results, he said. "They are better than I could have ever believed."
During the long drought of setbacks, Terry said he was being "toughened" for the next round. His second climb to religious superstardom began haltingly in 2003 after the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws -- or, as Terry put it, the "twisted six" justices in the majority "said that homosexual perversions are a liberty." Terry formed the Society for Truth and Justice and called for rallies against the decision. Few heeded the call.
But then came manna from heaven in the form of the sorta, kinda dead Terri Schiavo. Her parents hired Terry as their spokesman until Schiavo completely, totally died.
Now, at 46, Terry is less prickly than when he was throwing himself in front of women entering abortion clinics. He's trying to tone down the theocracy lingo. "When people call us theocrats," he says, "well that's a paranoid group that has tried to portray the religious right as some sort of bizarre phenomenon, a threat to America."
Terry adds: "We're winning. There's no doubt of that. Heck, the people of the 1960s who led the sexual revolution are now telling their kids to keep their clothes on."
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