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Taking It Personally

Young anti-choice activists at a conservative conference last weekend believe they are on a divine mission of biblical proportions—even if they can’t exactly get the biblical timeline right.

Is this the future of the conservative movement? (Flickr/talkradionews)

At the Values Voters Summit, the annual conference for the religious right sponsored by the Family Research Council last weekend, conservative youth activist Jason Mattera evoked the battle of David against Goliath as a metaphor for conservative college students who are “persecuted” by the big bad liberals who control academia. “David has the righteous answer,” Mattera said, “because he is taking pride in his Christian beliefs.” No matter that Mattera didn’t accurately grasp David’s biography or the biblical timeline. In conserva-land, David, a character from the Old Testament, was a Christian even before Christ was born. “Anyone who came against his God,” Mattera said, “David would take it personally.”

Mattera, a spokesperson for Young America’s Foundation who has repeatedly blocked Campus Progress reporters from covering YAF’s annual conference, seemed to think that today’s young conservatives should learn this supposed lesson from the story of David. He exhorted a roomful of high school and college students at the “Turning the Tide in Your Generation” panel to take political disagreements personally and unapologetically and make life miserable for perceived enemies. “I take pride in my conservative and Christian beliefs,” he said. “When you come against those beliefs, it’s like you’re coming against me as a person.”

It was no accident that Mattera chose the David and Goliath metaphor. Conservatives now see themselves as the underdogs in an epic battle against their progressive enemies. All weekend, speaker after speaker tapped into the grievance litany of the religious right’s siege mentality: Texas Governor Rick Perry complained about the “assault on our shared values”; former presidential candidate Mitt Romney blamed “liberal big government” for America’s problems and lauded tea party “patriots”; Brian Fischer, director of issue analysis at the American Family Association, suggested that the idea of separation of church and state came from Hitler and denies Christians’ freedom; radio host Crane Dunham complained that activists’ “core set of beliefs are violated” because “you are taxed from moment you wake up till the time you go to bed at night”; Bishop Harry Jackson, crusader against gay marriage in the District of Columbia, complained that gay lawyers run K Street and don’t understand the plight of poor, black single mothers across town.

In that David versus Goliath scenario, the religious right thinks it sees an opening to reach the Millennials (generally classified as 18 to 29 year olds) who are becoming increasingly progressive, and turned out for Obama in the 2008 election. Instead of focusing on issues like the environment or the economy, youth organizing at the conservative conference urged Millennials to seize opportunities to be the heroic David by attacking liberal foes.

Esther Fleece, assistant to the president for Millennial relations for Focus on the Family, recognized the changing trends in a speech at the conference. She noted how Millennial Christians voted for Obama last fall. Yet she saw opportunity in the right’s position as the underdog. She maintained that Millennials “are passionate about life,” and that there is “tremendous opportunity to reach them.”

But targeting Millennials through pro-life appeals mixes sexuality with chastity. During the panel, Mattera took the David and Goliath metaphor another perverse step: If conservatives (David) smite liberals (Goliath), they will be rewarded with the hot conservative women, just like King Saul promised his daughter to the warrior who slew the evil giant. “You know his daughter must have been beautiful because there’s no guy whose gonna die for an ugly girl,” Mattera chortled. “Our women are hot. We have Michelle Malkin. Who does the left have, Rachel Maddow? Sorry, I prefer that my women not look like dudes.”

The hottest conservative activists, in fact, are anti-abortion crusaders like Lila Rose of Live Action and Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, who shared the panel with Mattera. Rose, who in a speech earlier that weekend suggested that abortions be performed “in the public square,” wore a voluptuous red dress with a neck to thigh zipper in the back, and playfully tossed her long dark hair as she spoke. Yet she presented herself as a pure and innocent Esther figure on a mission from God to prevent genocide.

Still, Rose seemed sheltered, single-minded, and unaware of myriad global conflicts and catastrophes that claim millions of lives. Abortion, she insisted, “is the greatest human rights abuse of our day.” To fight for her cause, Rose has been making undercover videos at Planned Parenthood clinics for years. Rose was a star of the conference, portraying herself as a Madonna saving women from the “violence that denies mothers their motherhood.”

Rose’s vigilante videos, which she’s been doing long before James O’Keefe made his ACORN video, are deceptive and driven by a fascination with illicit sex and were treated with the most reverence, moving the audience to tears. In one, she pretended to be a 13 year-old girl, impregnated by a 31 year-old. She chose an Indiana Planned Parenthood as her target because, she said, state law requires those who learn of statutory rape to report it to law enforcement.

In Rose’s undercover video, the Planned Parenthood employee, who clearly realizes that the thought of a 13-year-old going to the police about her sex life is terrifying, wants to protect the supposedly pregnant, supposedly 13 year-old Rose. The police report would be in the paper, the Planned Parenthood employee says, and asks Rose to tell her no more about the supposed father.

For Rose, and the religious right, her undercover “gotcha” videos are evidence of Planned Parenthood’s evil. Rose, in an attempt to combat this evil, entertained fantasies of 31-year-old men having sex with 13-year-old girls. Now that is hot.

Hawkins, humbler than Rose, nonetheless also invoked a biblical duty to “rise to fight” injustice. “There is no greater injustice than the taking of innocent human life,” she said. “The task for our generation is to make our pro-life friends and classmates [into] advocates for life.” Hawkins “saved my first life”—meaning she talked a woman out of an abortion—at a crisis pregnancy center when she was just 15 years old.

Rose said to a standing ovation, “This is the message we will send up all the way to President Obama’s pay grade. People who respect human life are now in the majority.” But pro-life activists aren’t the majority. Pro-life conservatives have highlighted a recent poll that shows a rise in opposition to legal abortion, but, as Nate Silver pointed out, historical context of this kind of polling indicates that the “rise” in pro-life identification is little more than a statistical outlier.

By keeping their focus on abortion rather than actual human rights issues, the conservative movement harnesses the energy and delusions of grandeur of these young pro-life activists for nothing more than Glenn Beck-esque attacks on political enemies. These vigilantes—hot and hot under the collar—see themselves as leaders in the next civil rights movement. They think they’re on a divine mission, and Rose’s hidden cameras will be their slingshot.

Sarah Posner is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and the author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters.

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