Her Kinsey Obsession
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Bill Condon's new movie, "Kinsey" may have reawakened America's interest in the largely forgotten but influential post-War era sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey, but for Judith Reisman, he has been a singular obsession for decades. Reisman has cast herself as the anti-Kinsey, a self-styled moral monger in an existential – and admittedly personal – battle with the forces of cultural decay and sexual permissiveness. In her writings and lectures, Reisman conjures a dark world in which Playboy magazine insidiously pushes kiddie-porn, where homosexuals crusade for the hearts and behinds of America's youth and "erotoxins" as powerful as crack cocaine fill the somatasensory cortexes of porn watchers. From Reisman's writings and lectures, one could get the impression that this world is entirely the creation of Kinsey, the Master of Perverts.
While Reisman's ideas have naturally endeared her to a Who's Who of ornery theocrats and survivalist militia types, in recent years she has found herself kibitzing with the likes of GOP senators and Bush administration officials. Though the "Dr." that precedes her name on her book and her web site is practically cosmetic, earned with a degree in communications, this November she provided expert testimony on Capitol Hill for Republican Sen. Sam Brownback on the scientific perils of pornography. There, she also lobbied for the reintroduction of a bill that would mandate an investigation into her claim that Kinsey sexually abused children during his research. Through friends in the Justice Department, Reisman has helped push for an increased focus on prosecuting porn. And she is a favorite speaker at conferences of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, a federally funded non-profit which provides technical assistance to controversial abstinence-only programs in public schools. As Reisman gathers influence in Republican-dominated Washington, her work is bearing an increasingly apparent mark on the Christian right's political agenda and by extension, on the White House's social policy.
"As president and founder of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, Judith Reisman has affected my life personally through the enormous amount of scientific research she's done – and without Judith's impact on my life, I don't believe the abstinence community would have been impacted," Abstinence Clearinghouse founder, Leslee Unruh, told me. The Abstinence Clearinghouse, advised by members of conservative Christian groups like Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and Coral Ridge Ministries, is funded in part by the Department of Health and Human Services. As the spearhead of the abstinence-only movement, its primary task is to design and disseminate curricula to public schools which administer abstinence-only courses.
Unruh is a retired businesswoman and anti-abortion activist who says she "has a common sense background" in the sexual health field. Thanks to her friend Reisman, she says, she has come to understand that "Kinsey is very responsible for the destruction of my parents' generation." Through Abstinence Clearinghouse, Unruh sells Reisman's book, "Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences," which accuses Kinsey of everything from pedophilia to Nazism, and publishes a pamphlet, "Casualties of Kinsey," supporting the theory that Kinsey molested child research volunteers. Reisman is also a featured speaker at Clearinghouse conferences.
"I think Judith Reisman is starting to have an impact with people in the abstinence community because I've pushed to have her at our conferences, and they just love her," said Unruh.
So how did a little old Jewish lady like Reisman earn rock-star status on the right? How did a red diaper baby active in the Labor Youth League in the 1940's come to blame Kinsey for all of America's social ills? And how did the daughter of Yiddish-speaking immigrants begin equating Kinsey with the Nazis who liquidated much of her extended family in Europe? The answer, or at least, hints of it, lies in her personal history, a story with no shortage of startling twists, turns and tragedies. Though she refused to tell her tale to me, rejecting e-mail and phone requests for an interview, Reisman has recorded it in a self-published 1998 essay, " A Personal Odyssey to the Truth."
Her story begins in pre-World War II Newark, N.J., a haven for Jewish immigrants that also serves as the setting for Phillip Roth's best selling novel about a covert Nazi conspiracy to seize control of the United States, "The Plot Against America." Like Roth, Reisman portrays Newark as a garden of innocence, a redoubt from the storm of cultural tumult gathering around her. Her mother was a Yiddish theatre actress and her father, a folk singer; both passed their musical talents on to her. "I lived at a wonderful time," Reisman recalled. "I felt safe with neighbors, uncles or cousins as was the custom of that time." It was morning in America.
Even when the 1960s arrived, Reisman claimed she was still a naif. "I married, and the hedge of protection about my life was not breached until 1966 when my 10-year-old daughter was molested by a 13-year-old adored and trusted family friend," she wrote. "He knew she would like it, he said, he knew from his father's magazines." According to Reisman, the boy slipped out of the country with his family while her daughter slipped into a deep depression which Reisman suggested may have contributed to her death from a brain aneurysm 15 years later.
After the incident, Reisman sought solace in a college friend living in the liberal mecca, Berkeley. She claims her friend told her that "children are sexual from birth." "I did not know it then," Reisman recounted, "but as a young mother, I had entered the world according to Kinsey." But before Reisman set her sights on Kinsey, her career as a songwriter would have to collapse under the weight of the liberal media.
In 1973, after earning a name as a pioneering music video producer for various local children's shows, her talents were recognized by the producer of "Captain Kangaroo." Soon after he hired her, however, she says he informed her that she would need to adapt her songwriting style to the changing tastes of American kids, who were tuning into cartoons at increasing rates. "I would have to speed up my tempo to compete with the fast-action and the increasing violence of the cartoons on other stations ... I found myself unwilling or unable to write for children that way," Reisman recalled.
Reisman spent her royalties from "Kangaroo" to put herself through graduate school at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, where she says she studied mass media's effects on the minds of children. She emerged from her studies convinced that images of Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse and other cuddly characters that appeared "in Playboy/Penthouse would cause sexual acting out on children." After she delivered a lecture on the Playboy/kiddie porn conspiracy at a conference on "Love and Attraction" at Swansea University in Wales in 1977, Reisman claims she was taken aside by a "Canadian professor" who informed her there was only one man responsible for the "global child sex abuse epidemic": Alfred Kinsey.
"Now I finally knew there was a source authority for children increasingly being viewed sexually," Reisman wrote. "... [M]y friend Carole had ... gotten the idea that 'children were sexual from birth' from Kinsey." Suddenly, the boy who molested Reisman's daughter became a mere extension of Kinsey. And while the boy had dissapeared, Reisman saw Kinsey living on in the mounting women's liberation and gay rights movements.
Interestingly, in her "Personal Odyssey," Reisman cites nearly everyone who influenced her ideological formation, from her father to her enemies in the "international academic pedophile movement" – everyone, that is, except her husband. In a 1996 profile of Reisman by Miss Poppy Dixon (on her web site, AdultChristianity.com), wrote that Reisman was, "Intimidated by her husband, a university professor ..." One wonders why Reisman omitted him from her tale.
The onset of the Reagan Revolution presented Reisman with a wealth of opportunities. In 1984, Justice Department official Alfred Regnery, now a prominent conservative publisher, granted Reisman $734,371 to analyze the content of Playboy magazines between 1954 and 1984. When she turned in her findings at American University, where she was based, the university refused to publish them. Even Regnery confessed the grant was a mistake. "This is not science, it's vigilantism: paranoid, pseudoscientific hyperbole with a thinly veiled, hidden agenda. This kind of thing doesn't help children at all," Dr. Loretta Haroian, a leading expert on childhood sexuality, said of Reisman's report.
Ostracized by mainstream academia, within 10 years, Reisman had found a more receptive audience for her ideas. At a May, 1994 conference of Christian right leadership in Colorado Springs described by the Washington Times as "top secret," Reisman introduced her theory of a proselytizing homosexual movement. "I would suggest to you," she told the conference, "that while the homosexual population may right now be one to two percent, hold your breath, people, because the recruitment is loud; it is clear; it is everywhere. You'll be seeing, I would say, 20 percent or more, probably 30 percent, or even more than that, of the young population will be moving into homosexual activity." The notion of a surreptitious homosexual recruitment campaign is now casually advanced by conservative Christian leaders as they rally for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
While winning friends among the Christian right, Reisman was also seeking to influence people on Capitol Hill in her push for an investigation into whether Kinsey had sexually abused children during his research. She presented this accusation in her essay, Kinsey and The Homosexual Revolution." As Poppy Dixon wrote of the essay, "The bulk of [Reisman's] tirade is comprised of 31 complex and leading questions designed to prejudice the reader." Indeed, Reisman does not offer any conclusive answer to her question, "What if [Kinsey's work] reflects unethical scientists committing unprosecuted criminal acts?" or anything else she asks. She simply posits Kinsey's alleged criminality as a "possibility," one which none of Kinsey's four biographers have found any evidence to entertain.
Nevertheless, Reisman's work caught the attention of Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman, a former drifter with well-established ties to right-wing, anti-government militias. In 1995, Stockman introduced HR 2749, "The Child Protection and Ethics in Education Act," a bill Reisman helped author which proposed "to determine if Alfred Kinsey's [books] 'Sexual Behavior in the Human Male' and/or 'Sexual Behavior in the Human Female' are the result of any fraud or criminal wrongdoing." Even in the House's predominately conservative atmosphere, the bill went nowhere. A year later, Stockman lost his re-election campaign and Reisman once again lost her terra firma on Capitol Hill.
Yet the Bush administration's entry into the White House in 2000 was a rising tide that promised to lift the boats of Reisman and her fellow culture warriors. Reisman's anti-porn crusade gained steam with the February, 2003 appointment of her longtime friend Bruce Taylor to senior counsel to the assistant attorney general. Taylor has prosecuted over 700 obscenity cases in his career, including the famed 1981 Ohio vs. Larry Flynt trial. With a $5 million budget earmarked for 2005, Taylor is in charge of a beefed-up FBI task force dedicated to cracking down on porn. And like Unruh, his work is inspired by Reisman. "We should probably call her Detective Reisman for finding the hidden clue to Kinsey's crimes against children and families," Taylor said in a quote Reisman published on her personal web site. "'Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences' is a blueprint for justice for victims of sexual exploitation and abuse."
This November, Reisman spent a week on the Hill at the invitation of Sen. Brownback, the Catholic Kansas Republican, to testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space on "The Science Behind Pornography Addiction." In her testimony, Reisman presented her discredited Playboy/kiddie-porn report to reinforce her contention that, "Pornography triggers myriad kinds of internal, natural drugs that mimic the 'high' from a street drug. Addiction to pornography is addiction to what I dub 'erotoxins' – mind-altering drugs produced by the viewer's own brain." She added, "A basic science research team employing a cautiously protective methodology should study 'erotoxins' and the brain/body." Her call for a research team was both a tacit admission that her presentation was bereft of any scientific evidence, and yet another plea for federal grant money for her studies.
Though Reisman has cultivated a wealth of connections within government, her deepest wellspring of influence remains the Christian right, which is certain to enjoy unprecendented access to the White House in a second Bush term. Reisman is a longtime consultant to Washington-based lobbying powerhouses like Concerned Women for America and the American Family Association. And she has enlisted her friend Eunice Ray, founder of Restoring Social Virtue and Purity to America (RSVP America) to campaign full time for the reintroduction of HR 2749.
Ray is the founder and director of Camp American, a Christian summer camp where kids can play volleyball, go canoeing and participate in political workshops led by the likes of Gary DeMar, an avowed theocrat who advocates the death penalty for gays, abortion doctors and adulterers, and Larry Pratt, the Gun Owners of America president who has argued that militias should assume law enforcement responsibilities. According to Abstinence Clearinghouse president Unruh, her longtime friend Ray first introduced her to Reisman.
Reisman's research on Kinsey isn't the only thing that makes her an asset to the Christian right. She also plays a critical PR role as its House Hebrew. In 1995, when leaders of the right-wing Catholic anti-abortion group, Human Life International (HLI), came under fire for fingering Jews as the primary promoters of abortion, Reisman stepped in as the group's spokesperson to declare, "Everyone knows Jews do lead the abortion industry, and I'll thank B'nai B'rith from the bottom of my heart if they can prove otherwise." Similarly, when Concerned Women's Family and Culture Institute director Robert Knight was lambasted for comparing Kinsey to the sinister Nazi doctor, Joseph Mengele, he defended himself by penning an op-ed quoting Reisman – "the Jewish woman who first exposed Kinsey's vile 'reseach'" – making the same comparison.
In fact, equating homosexuals, abortion doctors and secular humanists with the Nazis who massacred so much of her family in Europe is a staple of Reisman's rhetoric. "Idealistic 'gay youth' groups are being formed and staffed in classrooms nationwide by recruiters too similar to those who formed the original 'Hitler youth,'" Reisman was quoted as saying in the New Yorker last month. And her book, "Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences," is replete with comparisons of Kinsey to Nazi scientists, including insinuations that his involvement in the Boy Scouts as a teenager was on par with membership in the Hitler Youth.
Last June, Reisman was a guest at the Abstinence Clearinghouse's annual leadership conference in Nashville, Tenn. There, she rubbed shoulders with White House public liaison Tim Goeglein before taking the stage alongside Eunice Ray to declare, "pornography is training all your sex educators." According to Unruh, Reisman received several standing ovations and "everyone just loved her."
Later in the evening, conference attendees were addressed on a video link-up by Bush, who pledged to double federal funding for abstinence-only programs – $168 million is allocated for 2005 – and stated, "Through your educational programs, you reach out to countless young people to give them the support they need to make that responsible choice." Finally, Reisman was honored with an "Abstie Lifetime Achievement Award."
Given the impact of Reisman's agenda-driven research on the abstinence-only movement, it's perhaps no surprise that the credibility of abstinence-only curricula has been widely questioned. A recent report by California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman revealed that Abstinence Clearinghouse-reviewed programs teach teens that, for instance, genital touching can cause pregnancy and that HIV can be transmitted through tears and sweat. Another Clearinghouse-reviewed textbook informs them, "Women gauge their happiness and judge their success on their relationships. Men's happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments." According to Waxman's report, 80 percent of data about reproductive health in abstinence-only programs is false, misleading or distorted.
In a retort to Waxman, Unruh borrowed Reisman's signature strawman tactic, comparing the pointy-headed Waxman not to a Nazi, but to the oversexed basketball legend, Wilt "the Stilt" Chamberlain. "It can all be summed up with Wilt Chamberlain," Unruh said. "He wrote a book and said he had thousands of sex partners, and he said, 'I never had one true intimate relationship.' What a tragedy. And that can sum up Waxman and every other person that's out there teaching the mechanics of sex."
Unruh added that, if there were any errors in the material her Abstinence Clearinghouse devised and reviewed, they were purely "typographical."
Like Unruh, Reisman has declared war on the liberal order that rebuked her. She is an invaluable asset to the Christian right both as an expert to end all experts and as an enlightened Jew fluent in the populist language of backlash politics. So whether or not she is able to reap another federal grant or resucitate her anti-Kinsey legislation, in Republican-dominated Washington, Reisman is certain to enjoy an unprecendented degree of influence through surrogates like Taylor, Brownback and Unruh. As Unruh said, "Planned Parenthood has been getting federal dollars for years to build an empire. But this [Bush] adminstration is very supportive of 'abstinence until marriage' education and you will see over the next five years, our empire will definitely be growing."