The wingnuts are coming! The
wingnuts are coming! Oh, wait. They’re already here. While we were busy scrubbing the vomit out of our polyester suits (a somewhat unavoidable catharsis resulting from our annual Best of Orlando shenanigans), an entirely different flavor of vomit – that of the traveling circus of peanut-fetus pictures and hyper-religious wrongheadedness – was rising in our throats as Operation Save America readied for its July 16-23 assault on Orlando. The gaggle of extremists that make up the crazier end of the Operation Rescue spectrum issued a decree on the organization’s website that “We are not waiting for an election cycle to bring an end to child killing. There is no time for that. We are going to unsheathe the Sword of the Spirit and bring justice to victory.” So, naturally, they brought that sword and that juiced-up spirit to a Days Inn on Orange Blossom Trail where they could enjoy a free continental breakfast with their woman-hating bile. Also, it’s worth noting that on its website the group makes some false Caylee Anthony equivalency (e.g., worthless babies), but that’s about enough of that.
What’s truly disturbing about Operation Save America and its seemingly harmless tendency to end every statement with a scripture verseisn’t that the group will probably just end up walking up and down Tampa Avenue harassing the staff and clients of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando. No, this group is a little nuttier than that. In addition to your standard cringe-fiction literature and vocalized hyperbole-in-lockstep, Operation Save America – and one of its leaders, Flip Benham – has been known to cross the polite free speech lines in favor of, well, terrorism. And it’s not just against abortion providers, although that does seem to be the main focus; OSA hates the Muslims and the gays, too, because why not? (Billy 4:20).Benham, in fact, was convicted in North Carolina last November of basically stalking abortion providers by way of sepia-toned “Wanted” (dead or alive, implied) posters that included their home addresses. He was sentenced to 24 months probation, which should, incidentally, make him feel right at home on the Trail.
Locally, liberals and even religious groups that skew left are not taking the “conference” lightly. A sort of coalition, including Equality Florida, Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women and other activist groups, has formed to quietly combat the unwanted tourism of crazy basement dwellers (counter protests are discouraged, but you can sign a petition at eqfl.org/choice). Those groups are working in concert with two local churches, the Orlando Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff and, hello, “Intelligence” officials to make sure things don’t get out of hand. According to Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando head Sue Idtensohn, early indications were that approximately 75 holy rollers would be holy rolling into town – which may not seem like much until you consider, as Idtensohn has, “You never know who might be carrying a gun.”
“We’ve really tried to build a whole opinion here that, hey, these people are terrorizing Americans, they’re terrifying Central Floridians,” she adds. “We’re not going to stand for that.”
Something else that nobody seems to want to stand for anymore is the quiet denial of what exactly is going on here. It’s not news that these quasi-religious hate groups get away with their invective by wrapping their guns in bibles: What is news is that some religious leaders are finally willing to call them on it. Rev. Bryan Fulwider of the First Congregational Church of Winter Park, a man who is the chair of the local interfaith council and openly pro-gay and pro-choice, wants his religion back.
“A man who’s been convicted of stalking doctors, whose group has been involved in those who take shots at doctors, that goes beyond anything Christian,” he says. “That’s a purely terroristic policy by people who probably have mental issues … Nobody wants to go on the record saying it, but I consider these people terrorists who are Christians. I think these are Christian terrorists and therefore not Christian.”
Speaking of terrifying, we made our way up to the 18th-floor offices of NeJame Law in the Plaza building downtown on July 14 for an orchestrated press event meant to unveil a new Post-Casey bit of legislation intended to quiet the TMZ impulses of jurors with entrepreneurial eyeballs. By now you’ve surely heard of the legislative gravy train feeding lawmakers and those who love them with ideas to make laws happen in the wake of a media circus; you’ve probably also heard of the millions of dollars being thrown at the unfortunate Anthony jury and their Big Decision to let the tattooed tot mom go. The Thursday afternoon event was a joint press conference featuring State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, and miniature legal firebrand Mark NeJame and his collection of statues.
Randolph is planning to introduce a bill next year forbidding jurors from selling their stories – not telling, just selling – for, wait for it, the nine months following the verdict. Nine months! It’s Babymania! Also, Randolph expects a juror protection bill to follow, just NOT YET. After an unfortunate crumbling of media microphones from all your usual suspects (plus national outlets HLN and In Session), the pair got into the details: Basically, this isn’t a free-speech issue but a justice one; it’s already happened in California after the O.J. Simpson explosion; the Son of Samcase has some twisted True Crime precedence. Whatevs. In between our own efforts to get a question in edgewise about whether this will even matter next year – it will, apparently – WFTV Channel 9’s own pearl necklace of judicial/parental concern, Kathi Belich, turned around, looked us in the eyes, and said the following: “Sometimes I hate the living.” We will never be the same.
We generally stay away from the trailer-trash beat – we live close enough to Bithlo as it is – but after the July 14 conviction of a 21-year-old Sumter County woman and her 34-year-old boyfriend on charges of third degree murder, manslaughter and child neglect for allowing a giant Burmese pet pythonto strangle their 2-year-old girl in 2009, we have to pipe up. Back in February, we spent a solid three hours in an awfully depressing warehouse at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, surrounded by reptiles and their reptilian owners (see “Growing Pains,” Feb. 3) selling exotic, rare snakes to anyone that could show them the money. Serpents, we say! We came to the obvious conclusion that this easy access to a trove of exotic and insanely powerful reptiles would be the industry’s boon and bane; that is, a boon when responsible, caring and fur-hating individuals discovered reptiles and trained them only to strangle burglars, but a bane when jocks, rednecks and Guidos discovered the snakes and used them as lassos, necklaces, in games of tug-of-war, etc.
Unfortunately, like all the cars that don’t blow up in Baghdad, you don’t hear about the responsible snake owners in the news, unless you subscribe to Herp Nation magazine. So, upon the news of the convictions, we called the president of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, Andrew Wyatt, to get his thoughts on what he thought of the couple awful enough to allow its python to get free and kill a child. “You can’t regulate or fix stupid,”Wyatt said. “It sounds like they got what they deserved … I’m sure there’s a special place in hell reserved for them in the afterlife as well.”
Part of his anger, naturally, pertained not only to the crushed 2-year-old but to the condition of the snake – “hungry and emaciated,” according to Wyatt, who managed to keep his composure when he uttered the words. But most of his anger stems from the still-pending motion filed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the boa constrictor – of which Wyatt says there are a million in the U.S. held as pets – as “injurious species,” which would ban their importation as well as their shipment over state lines. Listen, feds: This guy has a lawyer and a Washington lobbyist. Don’t fuck with snakes, and he won’t fuck with you.