During the recent drama surrounding the life and death of Terri Schiavo, it was striking the way that some of the most militant leaders of the antiabortion movement, notably Randall Terry and Fr. Frank Pavone became close advisors of Schiavo’s parents, the Schindlers.  What the Schindlers may not have known, is that another man whose counsel they accepted, had also been a media advisor to Paul Hill — a man who advocated the murder of abortion doctors. (This fact was, however, undoubtedly well known to Pavone and Terry.)

Columnist Bill Berkowitz reports that  Gary McCullough who is a public relations consultant for Christian Right and antiabortion groups, also served as one of the spokesmen for the Schindlers.  
As I reported in my book Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, McCullough served as a media advisor to Paul Hill in the early 1990s, when Hill’s group “Defensive Action,” was arguing that killing abortion providers was “justifiable homicide.”  

Hill himself went on to murder a doctor and his escort. He was executed by the state of Florida for his crimes.

But that was not the only relationship McCullough has had with the violent wing of the antiabortion movement.  McCullough and his Washington, DC-based Christian Communication Network have also served as a liaison and a funding conduit for Prisoners of Christ, a support group for antiabortion activists who been convicted of such crimes as murder, arson, and kidnapping. Some of the convicts were members of the violent, antiabortion Army of God.

Here is part of what I reported about this in Salon.com in January 7, 2002. At the time, I was looking into the relationship between Prisoners of Christ and the Christian Right long distance telephone service, LifeLine. The parent company is called AmeriVision.

“AmeriVision says it has donated over $50 million to its “partners” in the 10 years of its existence. One of those partners is Prisoners of Christ — whose address is a private postal box four blocks from the White House. This reporter called LifeLine in December as a prospective customer and was told that LifeLine had cut checks averaging between $40 and $50 a month to Prisoners of Christ since May of 1996, and that the money flows to a Washington D.C. public relations group called Christian Communication Network headed by Gary McCullough — the longtime principal of Prisoners of Christ. (McCullough’s group maintains a web link to the Prisoners of Christ site.) When Salon called McCullough for comment about the LifeLine connection, he said, “We are a small potato in that pie and I prefer not to comment,” then hung up. When Salon contacted LifeLine again for an official response, we were told that under the privacy rules set forth by the Federal Communications Commission, they “cannot give out customer or donor information.”

(If you are not a Salon.com subscriber, to view the whole article, you will need to get a “day pass” and then search for my article, “Our Own Terror Cells.”  Obtaining a day pass simply means watching a short advertisement.

McCullough’s web site no longer mentions Prisoners of Christ, however the web archive “Wayback Machine” shows (at the bottom of the page) the link to Prisoners of Christ in October 2001, for anyone who would like to see for themselves.

Since my report on Salon, the Prisoners of Christ list as it was then, is no more. (Domestic terrorists and their apologists have gone out of fashion since 9/11.)  However, a similar list of violent offenders is still maintained by the Army of God.

McCullough’s Christian Comunication Network continues to operate as a Washington, DC-based PR and consulting firm.

Meanwhile, the issue of how best to describe the various elements of the Christian Right has become an issue, and the role of Paul Hill and a number of antiabortion militants epitomizes the matter. For example, the label “extremist” is widely, loosely and often inaccurately applied to various individuals and sectors of the Christian Right. However, if the term applies to anyone, it ought to apply to Paul Hill and the members of the Army of God, who are truly extremists — people who have taken extreme action to further their arguably extreme political and religious goals.

But Chip Berlet, writing on the new blog site, Talk to Action, has a post discussing how problematic the use of the word “extremist” and “extremism” can be.

“Ultimately, the concept of ‘extremism’ is of little value in studying prejudice and ethnoviolence,” he writes. “Sociologist Jerome Himmelstein argues the term ‘extremism’ is at best a characterization that ‘tells us nothing substantive about the people it labels,’ and at worst the term ‘paints a false picture.’ Often, analysts use the term ‘extremism’ in a way that implies that ideas and methodologies are always linked. This is not the case.”

Berlet goes on to note that “people and groups that promote supremacy, prejudice, discrimination, bigotry, and hate…” are also sometimes “people and groups that use intimidation and violence against a targeted group or individual based on their perceived identity.”  Using this kind of language, he says, “teaches people to see the dynamics of societal oppression…” which he sees as vital to comabatting these oppressions.

However, he notes when we resort to labels like “extremist” we are then allowing people to be dismissive of “ethnoviolence as caused by not-like-us ‘extremists’ from hate groups.” And if Himmselstein is correct, we are obscuring more than we are revealing about those whom we label as extremists. I believe that this kind of one-size-fits all approach to political language is reductionist. It fails to help us distinguis between fact and propaganda, insight and characterization, description and smear job.

Paul Hill and many others in theocratic Christian Right are religious supremacists. They have targeted those who disagree with them, with “intimidation and violence.”  We don’t need empty characterizations like the term “radical religious extremist” (invented by a PR firm to characterize a wide swath of Christian Right and hate groups) to describe the views and actions of Paul Hill and other antiabortion militants — whose activites comprise a continuum of organized intimidation.

But it is also important to note that many of the people whom McCullough has represented are overt or covert theocrats — as committed to the overthrow of constitutional democracy as we know it, as they are to ending the constitutional right to abortion (as I detail in Eternal Hostility.)

It has been my experience over the past ten or fifteen years, that it has been difficult to talk with people about the wider problems of the theocratic Christian Right, because the conversation too often bogs down on what to call “them.” But I think that it is far more important that whatever words we use, that we know what they mean, and use them well.

[Crossposted from  FrederickClarkson.com]            

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