comments_image Comments

Religious Right Has-Beens Try for a Resurrection

Will financial and sex scandals sink the hopes of middle-age culture warriors Ralph Reed and Randall Terry? Don't count them out just yet.

Continued from previous page


But these stunts weren't giving Terry the exposure he sought. The Tiller slaying put him back on page one, and Terry rode the wave.

By mid-July, he was in front of a Senate building splashing fake blood on baby dolls and ordering his followers to prance about with child-sized coffins. A Terry confederate dressed as the Grim Reaper lurked nearby.

To some observers, the street theater might have looked like a blast from the past -- because it is. As The Washington Post put it, "[Terry is] using many of the same tactics that made him famous two decades ago."

But while the antics are familiar, there's no denying that the times have changed. The United States is not the same nation it was in 1988, when the Reagan years drew to a close. There was no World Wide Web then, and the Soviet Union still existed.

The religious right was powerful, and TV preachers like the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson held so much influence that Robertson felt emboldened to seek the presidency.

America in the era of Obama is a much different place. The demographic portrait of the country has changed. Republicans no longer control the federal government. Social networking and the rise of the Internet have revolutionized how political organizing and grassroots advocacy are done.

There's a sense that the social and political movements of the day will be much different from what we've seen before.

They'll be younger, edgier and led by tech-savvy activists of the type that populated Obama's campaign and even the insurgent White House run of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

The question is, can two middle-age figures from the past -- Reed, 48, and Terry, 50 -- lead such movements?

In Reed's case, even some of his friends are skeptical.

"It's not likely the second match will produce as much power," Billy McCormack, a Louisiana minister and long-time Christian Coalition activist, told the Associated Press. "The likelihood of him being able to repeat that is difficult."

Reed and Terry face another formidable obstacle: Some conservative Christian activists want nothing to do with them.

Reed is still lugging around baggage from his 2006 race. Although he posed as a "family values" candidate and a happy cultural warrior, Reed's actions, it quickly became apparent, were more about lining his pockets than advancing conservative social policy.

The mess started in 2002, when Abramoff's firm hired Reed to rally religious-right leaders to oppose a new casino proposed by the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians in Louisiana. Among the leaders Reed reached out to was James Dobson of Focus on the Family.

Dobson's antipathy toward legalized gambling is well known, making him a natural target for Reed. But Reed failed to tell Dobson the whole story.

Reed's political consulting firm, Century Strategies, was actually working on behalf of another Indian tribe that already operated a casino. Those Indians, the Coushatta, didn't want another tribe cutting into their action.

Reed lobbied religious-right leaders, including the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association; Gary Bauer, former head of the Family Research Council, and long-time religious-right activist Phyllis Schlafly. Prodded by Reed, each agreed to send letters to the U.S. Department of the Interior, urging that the Jena Band's request be denied.

Winning over Dobson was a huge victory for Reed. Reed scored his biggest coup when Dobson agreed to use his far-reaching radio network to attack the Jena Band's plan. An ecstatic Abramoff employee wrote in an e-mail that Reed "may finally have scored for us! Dobson goes up on the radio this week!"