On May 14, on the eve of the Senate debate on President Bush’s far-right judicial nominees, the Washington Post published an opinion piece by Tony Perkins in which he laid out his vision of the coming apocalyptic battle between Bush’s nominees, people of faith and Democrats who are determined to wage a “campaign against orthodox religious views.” Only if the Senate votes for Bush’s appointments, Perkins argued, will the judiciary eventually come to respect the law. “In their zeal to preserve an imperial judiciary,” he wrote, “liberals have taken abuse of the confirmation process to a new low.”
Time and again, Perkins, the president of the Christian right lobbying powerhouse the Family Research Council, hits the theme that it is Democrats, liberals and judges who are out of step with the law. Meanwhile, Perkins plays up his former career as a cop to buttress his authority: “A former police officer,” his Family Research Council biography states, “Mr. Perkins brings a unique perspective to the public policy process.” But an incident from Perkins’s past sheds light on his real record when it comes to the law–an episode that Perkins has conspicuously omitted from his biography.
More than a decade ago, Tony Perkins pledged to uphold an oath as a reserve officer in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police force. He violated this oath in 1992 when, according to a witness, he failed to report an illegal conspiracy by antiabortion activists to his superiors, then publicly criticized police tactics designed to stop the activists from restricting access to a local abortion clinic. As a result of these actions, he was suspended from duty and subsequently quit.
The long, hot summer of 1992 marked the climax of antiabortion protests in Baton Rouge. Declaring a “Summer of Purpose,” organizers from Operation Rescue came to town with the intent of shutting down the city’s Delta Women’s Clinic–a longtime target of antiabortion militants, who firebombed it in 1985. Operation Rescue shepherded hundreds of shock troops from local fundamentalist churches onto clinic property, where they staged daily protest vigils, confronted patients and occasionally engaged in violent acts.
At the time, Tony Perkins was dividing his time between his duties as a volunteer for the Baton Rouge police and his job as a reporter for “Woody Vision,” a local right-wing television station owned by his mentor, Republican State Representative Woody Jenkins. During the “Summer of Purpose,” Perkins and his camera crew were a frequent presence outside the clinic.
According to Victor Sachse, a classical record shop owner in Baton Rouge who volunteered as a patient escort for Delta Women’s Clinic during the protests, Perkins’s reporting was so consistently slanted and inflammatory that the clinic demanded his removal from its grounds.
“Perkins never dealt with the fact that people were illegally trying to bar access to the clinic,” Sachse told me. “He never talked about the fact that the protesters who were there, even when they weren’t breaking the law by going onto the property, would yell at women entering the clinic. They would walk right in front of them to intimidate them and do things like imitating the baby screaming out to the mom, ‘Please don’t murder me.’ Perkins wasn’t even trying to be objective, and we didn’t see any reason to let him stay on clinic property.”
The protest might have caused far worse damage to the clinic and the city’s reputation were it not for the actions of Baton Rouge’s newly appointed police chief, Sgt. Greg Phares. On the advice of an officer he had dispatched to observe Operation Rescue protests in Buffalo, New York, Phares ordered the erection of a chain-link fence to separate antiabortion forces from prochoice counterprotesters who had also gathered outside the clinic. Phares called in sheriff’s deputies and prison guards to shore up his ranks. Though antiabortion activists bitterly attacked him in the media, some privately respected his level-headed handling of the situation. “Greg has done a yeoman’s job with what he’s had to work with,” Richmond Odom, a lawyer for the antiabortion protesters, told the Baton Rouge Advocate on April 10, 1994.