From a Jail in Georgia, Randall Terry Says God Is His Judge

People, Nov. 5, 1989
Assignment: Randall Terry, the controversial leader of Operation Rescue, was imprisoned after anti-abortion protests in Atlanta. Editors wanted a Q&A from jail; I was the only reporter to reach him.

Every morning at 6 a.m., the breakfast buzzer sounds in the prison dormitory Randall A. Terry, 30, the nation's most vocal opponent of abortion, shares with 107 other inmates at the Fulton County Correctional and Rehabilitation Center in Alpharetta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. Terry rises, dons his prison uniform -- a white shirt and white pants with blue stripes on the seams -- and heads to the cafeteria. At 8 a.m. comes "yard call." Terry gathers with the other members of his detail to await the caged bus that will take them to the day's work site. The Alpharetta institution -- headed by a warden who proudly wears a cap he says once belonged to Ronald Reagan -- is a public-works facility. Terry has been assigned to a bridge crew, but there aren't any bridges to build here.

So, under the watchful eyes of an armed guard and a civil engineer, Terry and colleagues have been digging ditches and laying sewer pipes in the backwoods of Georgia. They break for lunch at noon; Terry usually spends the time off by himself, reading a book. The inmates are bused back to the Alpharetta facility at 4 and eat dinner at about 4:30. The rest of the evening is free time. Terry spends it with his Walkman on, listening to Christian rock music and working on his book. Slated for publication this spring, it's tentatively titled "Accessory to Murder: An Expose of the Death Industry, Its Prophets, and the Failing Church." Two nights a week, the prison hosts a Bible study group, which Terry attends. Occasionally he washes clothes.

It's been a month since Terry was found guilty in an Atlanta court on two misdemeanor counts of criminal trespass stemming from his participation in anti-abortion demonstrations here last year. Terry was slapped with a $2000 fine and a 24-month sentence, which was to be suspended upon his paying the fine. He refused, and authorities imprisoned him -- the harshest treatment he's received yet from a local government under siege by Operation Rescue.

"When you're in here, you don't know how much you appreciate little things," says Terry. "Like that headset, that Walkman. I was dying to get a Walkman. The TV is blaring all the time, and I'm trying to concentrate on my book and 'Days of Our Lives' or some horror flick is on and it's like get out of here, I don't need this. So having a little plastic thing to keep your toothbrush and your soap in, just little things, mean a lot in here. Your perspective becomes totally, totally different.

"I can't imagine what I'll feel like when I get out. I mean, I could do a lot of time here, because I still have five charges against me. I've got another trial scheduled in January."

Terry chose to defend himself in court -- perhaps not the wisest move, but one he doesn't regret. "I believe that's one of the reasons you have a jury trial. It's to represent yourself so a jury of your peers can see you," he says. "In LA, they acquitted us. Here, we were railroaded."

The leader of the anti-abortion movement receives about 15 letters a day from supporters across the nation; his keepers receive regular phone calls from supporters irritated at his imprisonment. A handful of them gather on Sundays for prayer vigils outside the prison holding Terry.

"I think that one of the reasons I was shifted here so quickly from Fulton County Jail is that they didn't want to have to deal with it," he says. "You know, I'm sure that it's a little bit difficult for everyone to have to deal with the phone calls that come in. It's difficult for everybody." Not that Operation Rescue hasn't encouraged the harassment: a voice-mail recording at the local office, updated regularly, provides the names and phone numbers of local authorities deemed offensive -- judges, prosecutors, Mayor Andrew Young, Gov. Joe Frank Harris -- and urges supporters to call them to express their displeasure. At one point, the recording advised anti-abortionists to tell Young that they planned to write the Olympic Organizing Committee to encourage them to take the summer 1996 games elsewhere. Atlanta has been lobbying hard for the event for two years now.

While in prison, Terry receives a $600 check weekly from Operation Rescue, but that doesn't mean the Binghamton, NY-based organization is flush. These are hard times for anti-abortionists: in September, the pro-choice lobby turned a special session of the Florida legislature into a textbook example of power politics, effectively nipping Gov. Bob Martinez' efforts to pass more restrictive abortion legislation. And although President Bush recently vetoed federal funding for abortions in cases of rape and incest, Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia, New York, and New Jersey have been forced to back away from strong anti-abortion platforms.

In conjunction with rising pro-choice sentiment, Terry's imprisonment has taken an enormous toll on Operation Rescue, even as it tries to counter a huge pro-choice demonstration to take place on Nov. 12 in 100 major U.S cities, from Kennebunkport to San Francisco. "The past couple of months have been real difficult financially," Terry admits. "Our financial troubles do not spring from my incarceration. We were behind the eight-ball before I came here. And we'll come out of it, I trust."

Terry's problems are personal as well as organizational, and his imprisonment may cost him more than time. Because of his conviction in Georgia, the New York Department of Social Services is threatening to revoke Terry's custody of three foster children. "We will fight," he says angrily. "We are fighting. We will not sit by. The bottom line with that whole situation is they're not taking the kids out for the kids' welfare. Our kids, when they came to us, the older two were socially dysfunctional. They came from a horrible background, and now they're in a stable home. They're doing well, their grades are doing well, we have them in a private school, they have friends, they love Cindy and I -- they've called us Mom and Dad for years. I'm the only Dad they have in their lives right now, and even though I'm down here I still get to communicate with them and they're proud of me."

Terry sees few outsiders. He can't afford to fly his wife and kids down for Sunday visitation, so he uses the one 10-minute phone call he is permitted every week to talk to them. "It's been hard on my wife, but she's held up really well. I'm really proud of her," he says.

Prison rules permit Terry to see only immediate family, religious counselors, and legal representatives. He also has been visited by Archbishop Eugene Marino; William B. Allan, formerly on the federal Civil Rights Commission; and Dr. Bill Bright, head of Campus Crusade for Christ. Marino and Bright were apparently deemed religious figures, Allan a legal representative.

Except for the following interview, Terry has not spoken with the media since his imprisonment. We met at a picnic table outside the Alpharetta facility last Sunday. Terry, in white and blue prison garb with white Avia sneakers, carried an envelope of mail, a journal, a yellow legal pad, and a book called "Transformers." Bleary eyed and yawning, he was often distracted by a little girl who'd come to visit her father, also an inmate. "I want to see my baby so bad," he kept saying. At one point, Terry passed around pictures of his family.

"The big price for this is to be separated from my wife and children," he says. "I mean, I'm a family man. I like being at home. I don't like traveling, I don't like being away. I mean, you know, even just watching this little girl here, I just want to hold my daughter, man. I just want to be able to see my kids and see my wife."

Operation Rescue lawyers are working on it. This week they proposed that the city accept nolo contendere pleas for the rest of the arrested anti-abortion demonstrators, reduce Terry's sentence for all charges to time served, and drop all banishment sentences. "This is America, not Russia, and banishing someone from a city because we sat in front of a door trying to save a baby is ridiculous," says Terry.

Terry's style is a sort of Christian Hip, straight out of the Amy Grant school. He greets a paralegal who arrives with coffee, a towel, and a sweatshirt with cries of: "Oooo, righteous!" In Terryspeak, pro-choice advocates are "pro-aborts," a word he spits out venomously. Anti-abortion demonstrators are "rescuers"; they go to a city like Atlanta to "do a rescue effort." Abortion clinics are run by "the death industry," and those working within are "child-killers" and "murderers." Terry's philosophy, in fact, is founded on one very simple (but contested) premise: killing a group of meiotic cells or a fetus is the same as killing a child.

Assailed on all sides, incarcerated and faced with the largest pro-choice rallies in history, Terry is hardly toning down his rhetoric. From a prison in Georgia, he prophesies apocalypse, condemns leaders of the women's movement, and calls on supporters to take to the streets.

Tell me about the trial. Were you fairly convicted?

The trial was a farce. The judge basically hid behind the law as it suited him....Both he and the prosecutor saw my offer of proof for the justification-defense, which consisted of three videos....They saw with their own eyes these babies being murdered, and yet they still hardened their hearts in the name of the law and turned their back on the children. And to make matters worse, the prosecutor in his closing argument quoted from the Scriptures, basically saying that he was a Christian, and yet then turned around and said that a woman has the right to kill her child. He betrayed the faith, he betrayed the children, and the blood of these babies is now also on his hands.

Why are you here? Why not pay the fine and leave?

Number one, I am not guilty of a crime. It is not a crime to save a child from murder. Two, if at all possible I do not want to give money to a system that is protecting murderers and jailing people trying to save babies. The court system has become the stronghold of the death industry. This bloodshed began in the courts, and now it's the courts that are struggling to keep the blood flowing, as it were.

Has God put you in prison? Do you believe there's some divine purpose here?

I think God will use this. I think the Lord will use this to give courage to other people, to raise the level of commitment and sacrifice in much of the rescue movement. A lot of people don't understand why I'm here, if you want to know the truth....So why don't I just clear up why I'm here. Number one, I'm here because they are murdering children. They are brutally ripping babies apart limb from limb. It's nothing more than cold-blooded murder. And they're exploiting women for financial gain. I mean, these doctors are getting filthy rich off of their blood money, and they're leaving in their wake literally millions and millions of broken, wounded, scarred women.

In fact, I just got a letter -- I don't have it with me -- I got a letter from a woman who didn't sign it, nothing but a return address, but she just told me about the abortion she had 18 years ago. She says 'I've never enjoyed a Mother's Day since' -- she has three kids now, [but it's] just the anguish that she's gone through because she paid someone to kill her baby. She said basically keep up the good work.

The second reason that I'm here is because I'm going to give an account to God for my life, and when I stand before him, I don't want my life to go up in smoke because I was preoccupied with temporary, selfish things. Now it's hard to walk in that, you know. I'm not saying that I never make a mistake. I want my life to count for something for God. I've got to give an account to him, and I want to hear him say well done, good and faithful servant. In my darkest hours, that's what keeps me. I'm here for God, I'm here out of my obedience to what I believe he wants me to do.

The third reason I'm here -- and if you want to understand me and you want your people to understand me, this has to be printed -- I'm here for my children and for my grandchildren. If I don't take a stand now when it's not that costly, God only knows they might to stand for truth and justice at the cost of their blood a few years from now.

I mean, if someone had stood up in 1959 and said in 30 years we will have killed 25 million children, prayer and Bible will be illegal in public schools, homosexuals will be parading in the streets, mayors will be having gay pride week, people will actually be discussing homosexuals getting married, we'll be practicing infanticide and euthanasia, we'll have a cocaine crisis, we'll have huge government scandals involving millions and millions of dollars, religious scandals, [that we'll have] the education officials in New York state suggesting we teach third-graders how to use condoms and have anal sex, this plague of AIDS -- I mean, no one would have believed that we could have come this far. [We have] pornography being sold over the counter, with women being so much hunks of meat. [And] child pornography, this undoubted underground in human flesh where these people are kidnapping children and sacrificing them in these satanic-worship cults. I mean, no one would have believed we could have come this far in 30 years.

So my question is, where are we going to be 30 years from now, given the current path that we're plummeting down?....We as nation are going to pay for this bloodshed from the hand of Almighty God. The blood of these children is crying out from the ground for vengeance, and God is going to avenge their blood. He's done it with other nations, He'll do it with this nation. Whether it be drought, an economic collapse, famine, turmoil in the streets, looting, more natural disasters, whether it be some type of nuclear exchange with Russia, whether it be the collapse of our own government, whether it be terrorism on American soil, anarchy in our major cities -- I mean, God alone knows what he will do to chasten this country, but we will pay for this bloodshed.

We have spit in the face of Almighty God by legalizing child-killing, and God is not mocked. We will pay for this bloodshed. But what I'm hoping is that we will give God a reason to show mercy in the midst of his judgment, and that's what the rescue movement may provide.

Were you surprised to be convicted and imprisoned in the South? This is, after all, a conservative region.

Very surprised, since [Mayor] Andrew Young got on his interviews and said this is the heartland of civil disobedience and we have a high tolerance here for demonstrations -- I mean, don't make me laugh....

Atlanta definitely stands by itself in terms of being tyrannical. In every other major city that we've done these rescues, we've been able to work something out where either the charges are dropped or they're suspended or people get to spend two days in jail -- something that is agreeable to everybody. The officials of Atlanta have bowed their knee to the powers that be in the abortion industry here, and are trying to crush this movement here.

I mean, let me put it to you like this. Rob Lowe, you know about that? I mean, the guy was in for felony, he was up for felony charges of making pornography with a minor, and what did he get? He got 20 hours community service. You had those anti-nuke protestors during the Democratic National Convention, and what did they get? They got three days in jail, they got a $25 fine that was suspended, and they all left. When they had the Ku Klux Klan march here also during the Democratic Convention, people were throwing bricks at the cops. What did those people get? A $100 fine or something, that was it. So there's something terribly unjust going on here, even in just a strictly judicial sense.

I mean, I was in Fulton County Jail with a guy who's got a two-year bid, but he's only going to serve five months, for selling cocaine. I mean, you tell me, what's going on here?

Is Operation Rescue advancing or retreating lately?

We're in a regrouping stage right now. We've had over 50,000 people risk arrest and over 35,000 arrests in a year and a half. I believe that's unparalleled in American history. For example, the Wall Street Journal reported that in 10 years of the civil rights movement, there were 9,000 arrests -- in 10 years. We've had 35,000 arrested in a year and a half. There have been more clergy in our jails over this than at any point since the birth of our nation. It's unprecedented.

Can Operation Rescue function with you in prison?

See, that's one thing that we have strived from the beginning to do is to raise up other leadership. I don't want to make the mistake that some others may have made, and that is build an organization around me. That's disastrous.

Why the controversy over abortion now? Why not 20 years ago?

The providence of God? I honestly don't know.

Do you believe you've been imprisoned because the government opposes what you do or because, more fundamentally, the public opposes what you do?

It's Atlanta officialdom, absolutely. There are some people here who are strong pro-aborts -- Margie Pitts Hanes [the attorney who litigated the original Roe v. Wade case]. I mean, she waltzes into different elected officials' offices regularly, or makes phone calls and puts incredible pressure on them. And unfortunately a lot of them have kowtowed to the death industry here. In fact, this whole thing last year in Atlanta erupted because of Margie Pitts Hanes. The original rescue, we were gonna do three days, and we were this close to cutting a deal with the city prosecutors and with the judge that they would release us -- time served, get out of town, see ya' later -- but Margie Pitts Hanes found out about it, went to the mayor's office, went to the prosecutor's office, and said absolutely no, whoa, whoa, whoa.

You've said you can't communicate with supporters. What would you tell them?

It took a group of men who said we're here with a firm reliance on divine providence -- we hereby mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. It took that kind of commitment to give birth to this nation, and it's going to take that type of commitment to reform it. We've got to lay down everything if we hope to rescue this nation from the path of destruction it's on. If we refuse to make the sacrifices now, we're going to lose it all anyway. And then our children and our grandchildren are going to bear the brunt of our cowardice and our selfishness. So my encouragement to them is, get your house in order, count the cost, and fight. Take a stand....

We can all pay our fines, we can all post appeal bonds. But sooner or later we're all going to have to pay our dues. Sooner or later, we're going to have to suffer if we're going to bring an end to this holocaust. More importantly, we've got to face down those systems that are bent on keeping child-killing going and bent on crushing this movement.

This city has thrown the glove in the ring. We didn't, they did. And so if I back down here, then it'll be like a domino effect, it'll just start happening all over. They'll say, well, here's their price -- the Christians are not willing to pay this price in order to stop child-killing. Therefore, if we do this to them, they'll back down and we'll rid ourselves of this.

Who are "they"? Who exactly are these people you keep calling "child-killers"?

The stronghold of child-killing is the judicial system. The medical community is split over this, there's no question.

In your view, are doctors who perform abortions just misguided or somehow evil?

They are cold-blooded murderers. They know what they're doing. They want the money. Maybe some of them will spout of philosophical commitment to women, but let's be real. They know the damage, they know the women who have died, they know the women who have had hysterectomies. They are in it for the money, and they've betrayed their profession. The medical profession is to be one of healing, not killing.

What do you think of the media?

Let's start from the top down. I think most of the executive producers of shows and the editors of major journals are ardently in favor of child-killing. They have lied to the American public, they have kept the truth from the American public, and therefore they are the ministers of propaganda. And some of them will scoff at this, but my response to this is just show the American public some of the murdered children. Stop hiding from them the truth. I mean, why don't we see a picture like this in People magazine? [HOLDS UP PICTURE OF A DISMEMBERED FETUS.] I mean, that's a safe, legal abortion.

[GESTURES TO A PHOTOGRAPHER.] Now I'll bet you ten-to-one odds your editors won't print that, or if they do it's because the pictures far enough away that there's no details.

Is it necessary to shock people?

Some media say it's distasteful. To them, I say give me a break. When that young couple was shot just the other night in Massachusetts, CBS News -- there was the camera right there. The woman with blood on her head and everything, I mean they had the camera right there, and this woman's sitting there with a shot in her head, the guy's sitting there with a shot. They showed that on TV, so don't say [the media reticence is] because its too graphic. It's because the pictures of the dead babies fly in the face of all their lying rhetoric, and while they say it's just a blob of cells, show that to any intelligent 8-year-old and ask him what it is.

Even the media's coverage of this rescue movement has been scandalous. 35,000 arrests, more pastors, more clergy in jail than at any other time in American history, and it's gotten very minimal coverage. Even my incarceration -- think about how little coverage that got. I mean, I don't care about it, but if it had been Molly Yard, what do you think? Or if it had been some leader in the anti-apartheid [movement]? Think of the type of coverage there would have been. That's what I'm talking about.

You mentioned Molly Yard. Who do you believe are your enemies?

I have enemies, people who hate me and hate what we do. Obviously, the leaders in the death industry hate me -- that is, Molly Yard, Kate Mitchelman, Faye Wattleton, Gloria Allred, people of this nature. Some of these groups have actually used Operation Rescue to raise funds.

And then there are enemies in the courts. There are judges out there who are tyrants, who do not belong on the bench. And one day, if not in this world then in the next, they will give an account to God. They will pay for their part in the murder of these children....

There are three groups of people out there. There's one group that's absolutely committed to killing children, and there's not a scientific piece of evidence you could ever give them that would change their minds. They are committed to the death ethic.

Then there's a much broader group that really don't know -- or they don't know enough, I should say. But if you reach them with literature like this, or with movies that show children being killed, they become pro-life....

Lastly, there's the group of pro-lifers. Now, my mission is not to convert the hard-core pro-aborts. Really, it's not even to educate the mushy middle, although we want to do that. My purpose is to get the pro-life sympathizers to be pro-life activists. I mean, there are 80 million professing Catholics and evangelicals in this country. Where are these people? Most of them would agree that child-killing is wrong and should be stopped, but most of them don't lift their finger to do a thing. So that's why the core of our message is repent....

Our call to the church and the pro-life community is repent -- repent of your selfishness, repent of your apathy, repent of your laziness that has allowed the child-killing industry to flourish. Child-killing would not be here if it were not because we were accomplices. We have stood idly by -- like the priest and the Levite who passed by the man who was dying in the ditch, we have passed by the ditch of America's abortion mills while children have been being killed in there, telling ourselves we're too busy or we're called to preach the gospel or we're not called to social activism or any number of lies that we tell ourselves.

But our call to the Christian community is repent. The blood is on our hands because we have stood by while they have been killing children.

Randall Terry