March 17, 2014

Toby Harmon is the co-founder of Abolish Human Abortion (AHA), and the subject of a mini-documentary aired on Joy Ann Reid's show this morning. From the blog:

Meet Toby Harmon, a onetime drug dealer who found Jesus in jail, and his wife and three homeschooled kids who regularly join him outside Oklahoma abortion clinics in protest. Harmon is the co-founder of Abolish Human Abortion, a new, uncompromising anti-abortion group that is growing in presence around the country.

Harmon and his associates call themselves “abolitionists,” with all slavery comparisons explicitly intended. They protest outside churches – yes, churches – accusing them of not doing enough to end abortion, and talk scornfully of “pro-lifers” who make peace with rape exceptions to abortion bans. AHA activists wear t-shirts emblazoned with “End Child Sacrifice” and proudly display photos of bloodied, fully developed fetuses. Last month, they started showing up outside of high schools for what they call “Project Frontlines.” That’s where recently joined them – and then came home with the Harmons.

AHA is definitely controversial, eschewing membership in traditional churches for their own interpretation of scripture, mostly to justify their protest activities. I loved the part in the documentary where Harmon prays, thanking God that he's not like those evil abortion doctors. It immediately reminded me of Jesus' admonition not to be like the Pharisees praying at the city gates so everyone would know how righteous they are. Indeed, even allies are critical of their theology and their approach.

Mr. Harmon seems to have made the transition from drug dealer to forced-birth advocate with little economic loss. He and his wife are home-schooling three kids while he spends the rest of his time standing in front of high schools and churches. Who pays for that?

T. Russell Hunter is also reported to be one of the founders of Oklahoma's AHA group. Hunter, in connection with an accountant by the name of Daniel Skerbitz and Oklahoma state representative Mike Reynolds, tried to get a personhood initiative on the 2012 ballot, a common tactic used to get out the evangelical vote in conservative states. (Added bonus: Watch Rep. Reynolds go ballistic when his Personhood Act is shelved in 2012 in the Oklahoma legislature)

When the initiative was rejected, Falwell group Liberty Counsel stepped in to handle the legal appeals, which were taken all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Liberty Counsel is well-funded by wealthy conservative donors, and according to their 990s (along with their 501c4), they spend six figures on "grassroots action." I'm guessing, though I cannot confirm, that some of that "grassroots action" money lands in Mr. Harmon's bank account on a monthly basis as a "management fee."

What makes this group different from others? They're clearly well-funded, strategic, and combine grassroots controversial action with social media intended to garner attention. Although the spotlight is on the Oklahoma group, there are also AHA chapters in key swing states like Ohio and Michigan, too. While I don't doubt that the actual activists are sincere in their beliefs, I'm more cynical about their funders. Keying in on swing states to energize the evangelical vote ahead of midterms is an election gambit, not an ideological one.

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