If you thought they’d stop at harassing women having abortions, you were naive

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, March 7, 2010 17:27 EDT
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A group of self-appointed moral guardians decides that there’s a cancer on society that only they really understand. People are “killing babies”! Obviously, killing “babies” is so wrong that extreme methods are justifiable, right? Such as showing up at clinics and harassing the customers and employees, and playing innocent when one of yours is emboldened to commit an act of terrorism. But society basically tolerates this horrible behavior, while laying down a few lines that legally can’t be crossed (though often are), because the harassers are so sincere. They love babies. And let’s face it: who wants to stand up for abortion? Everyone will think you’re a witch slut morally insufficient person or something like that. Let’s just all pretend the antis are a little dim and that makes them think there’s wee little babies in there, and not that this is some kind of terrorist-style assault on women’s liberation and sexual freedom.

Or not. I’ve made it clear that I agree with what Ellen Willis wrote in 1980 about the anti-choice movement:

I believe—and in saying this I intend no hyperbole whatsoever—that it is the cutting edge of neo-fascism, a threat not only to women’s rights and to everyone’s sexual freedom and privacy but to freedom of religion and civil liberties in general.

Turns out she was right. Because this group that’s terrorizing Amarillo, TX is using anti-choice tactics, but they aren’t even pretending that this is about “life” or any other cover story anti-choicers engage in. They’re the sex police, and they’re going to make your life a living hell if you don’t obey the sex rules they made for you. Which are, as you can imagine, very strict.

The group is Repent Amarillo, and they are very evocative of the Taliban—mostly young men who sport military drag to shore up their masculinity (though obviously they’re too busy screaming at fornicators to do things like actually join the military). I have racked my brain and I cannot understand why it is that this sort of thing happens, that young men can get so thwarted and hateful towards any and all expressions of freedom and sensual pleasure. This group focuses on sex, but if they were given power, I have no doubt they’d expand like the Taliban did into stomping out music, kite-flying, anything that could give human beings a moment of joy. In this case, an older man who is a leader’s motivations are easy enough to understand:

“I was a sexual sinner before I got saved. I got saved seven years ago. Prior to that–yeah, I’ve been to strip joints and porn shops. I’ve done all kinds of things,” he says. “We understand the destructive power of sin firsthand. We’ve lived it. We’ve walked in those shoes.”

For whatever reason, he’s decided to give up those things that were probably his only real sources of sexual pleasure. It’s sad, of course, that this happens to men, and I can see why a man who realizes his sexuality is narrowly defined by porn starts to feel sad and dissatisfied. And religion is there to sell him a lie that sexual “sin” is the problem, instead of the rampant sexism and misogyny that keeps him from having deeper sexual experiences that would require seeing his female partners as human beings. So he gives up porn and strippers, and now the source of his guilt is gone, but his sex life is joyless and boring. But since he doesn’t have the tools to think creatively about this problem, he instead lashes out at people who are having fun without apology. Repent Amarillo targets a lot of different kinds of people they see as sinners, but this article focuses mainly on their jihad against swingers.

They use tactics out of the anti-choice handbook against swingers. First of all, they protest the swinger’s club when it’s having parties, and sometimes just for the hell of it. They call the cops with phony complaints. They file complaints about the building codes—something legislators encourage against abortion clinics by writing brand new codes all the time for them—and so far, this one club targeted in Amarillo has dumped $20,000 into the building to pay for mostly bullshit stuff to stay in code. (Like having separate sex bathrooms, something that strikes me as only relevant if paying customers give a shit.) And they single out individuals. Like anti-choice groups do to staff members in Midwest, they get people’s private information off their license plates and out them in their personal lives. Anti-choice groups will picket staff members’ homes and harass their children, and that’s what Repent Amarillo is doing to swingers. The Texas Observer reports that at least one of the swingers club customers has been fired because a Repent member outed him to his boss. A swinging party at a private residence was also picketed; the swingers understandably went outside to confront the trespassers and harassers, and now there’s a bunch of assault charges filed.

It’s Anti-Choice Protesting 101. And the swingers are finding out that due to decades of anti-choicers going to court and getting legislators on their sides, the right wing sex police have a lot of leeway when it comes to harassing you, and you have no real rights to fight back. They can’t get them out of the parking lot or away from their homes. The police are doing what they can, according to the Observer, but of course, since all this is taken from the anti-choice handbook, Repent Amarillo is demanding the same right that society extends anti-choicers, to pretend that they aren’t a terrorist organization, even though what they do is terrorize people for breaking rules that they wrote for them.

Repent Amarillo is basically testing the waters to see how far anti-choice tactics can go, and how many targets they can hit before society pushes back. I’m guessing a lot, I’m afraid. Repent has learned very well from anti-choicers that as long as your targets are stigmatized, then you can get pretty far. Abortion patients and workers don’t get much social protection, but they are far from the only people that society refuses to defend. And Repent knows it:

They’ve posted a “Warfare Map” on the group’s Web site. The map includes establishments like gay bars, strip clubs and porn shops, but also the Wildcat Bluff Nature Center. Repent believes the 600-acre prairie park’s Walmart-funded “Earth Circle,” used for lectures, is a Mecca for witches and pagans. Also on the list are The 806 coffeehouse (a hangout for artists and counterculture types), the Islamic Center of Amarillo (“Allah is a false god”), and “compromised churches” like Polk Street Methodist (gay-friendly).

The way overused poem “First they came…..” comes to mind, but it’s entirely appropriate here. The social stigma of abortion makes it easy to target clinics for this, and now they’re trying on swingers and finding that few people are willing to defend swingers for fear of being tainted with that stigma. Next come gays, “pagans”, Muslims, and anyone who seems to enjoy reading a tad too much. And eventually, kite-flying.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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