Les Riley

The Personhood Movement: Regrouping After Defeat: Part 4

This is the fourth post in a RWW series on the reemergence of the fetal personhood movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

Part 1: The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means For The Future Of Choice
Part 2: The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public
Part 3: The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts

Last week, the Republican Party was forced into yet another uncomfortable public conversation about abortion and rape.

The House GOP, enjoying a strengthened majority after the 2014 elections, announced that on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it would hold a vote on a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a top priority of groups like National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL), which see it as a legislative key to toppling Roe v. Wade.

The night before the House was set to vote on the bill, GOP leaders pulled it from the floor, citing concerns by Republican women that a clause exempting rape survivors from the ban would require survivors to first report their assault to the police — a stipulation that they argued would prevent women from reporting rapes and would be politically unpopular.

Some anti-choice groups, however, had already stated that they would not support the bill — because they believed that the rape exception violated the principles of the anti-choice movement by exempting some women from abortion prohibitions.

In fact, less than two years earlier, the addition of the rape exemption to the bill had caused an acrimonious public split in the anti-choice movement, leading to the formation of the newest group advocating for a “personhood” strategy to end legal abortion.

The 2013 bill, proposed by Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, included only an exception for abortions that would save the life of pregnant women. But in a committee hearing on the bill, Franks caused an uproar when he defended his bill by claiming that rape rarely results in pregnancy anyway. House Republicans, facing another outrageous comment about rape from one of their own, quickly added a rape exception to the bill, put a female cosponsor, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, in charge of the floor debate, and pushed it through the House.

The day before the vote, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) sent members of Congress a letter calling the Franks bill, which was based on its own model legislation, “the most important single piece of pro-life legislation to come before the House since the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was enacted, a full decade ago.”

The group told members of Congress that it would go after them if they voted against the bill, even if they opposed it because they thought the legislation did not go far enough to ban abortion: “NRLC will regard a vote against this legislation, no matter what justification is offered, as a vote to allow unlimited abortion in the sixth month or later — and that is the way it will be reported in our scorecard of key right-to-life roll calls of the 113th Congress, and in subsequent communications from National Right to Life to grassroots pro-life citizens in every state.”

Major anti-choice groups including the Susan B. Anthony List and Americans United for Life also applauded the vote.

But Daniel Becker, head of National Right to Life’s Georgia affiliate, was not pleased. In the days after Republicans added a rape exception to the bill, Becker worked the phones, urging House Republicans from his state to oppose the “shameful” watered-down legislation. His efforts convinced two Georgia Republicans, Rep. Paul Broun and Rep. Rob Woodall, to buck their party and the major anti-choice groups and vote against the bill. Georgia Right to Life then endorsed Broun in his unsuccessful campaign to win the GOP nomination for an open U.S. Senate seat.

NRLC was livid and, true to its word, sent out a press release the next day singling out Broun and Woodall for their no votes.

Also furious was a prominent NRLC ally in Georgia, conservative pundit Erick Erickson. The day that the House approved the 20-week ban, Erickson wrote a scathing blog post calling Becker’s group “the Westboro Baptist Church of the pro-life movement.”

“Instead of saving souls, they’d rather stone those who are trying to save souls,” Erickson wrote. He called for the formation of a new anti-abortion group in Georgia to replace Becker’s as NRLC's state affiliate.

Several months later, in time for an upcoming meeting of NRLC’s board, Erickson founded his own group, Georgia Life Alliance. He then asked the national group to disaffiliate itself from Georgia Right to Life and take his group on as its official state chapter. NRLC's board happily complied, saying that Becker’s group had “ruptured its relationship” with them with its defiance on the Franks bill.

It didn’t take long for Becker to strike back. Fewer than three months later, Georgia Right to Life announced that it was forming the National Personhood Alliance, a new national organization of anti-abortion rights groups committed to a “no exceptions” strategy. In a press release announcing the group’s formation, he laid out the alliance’s philosophy, including a thinly veiled attack on NRLC. “Compromise is not possible,” he wrote. “This is not like roads or highways or agricultural subsidies; when we compromise — someone dies.”

The group later renamed itself the "Personhood Alliance."

In a policy paper in June, Jay Rogers of Personhood Florida laid out the new alliance’s strategy. It would not oppose incremental measures like the 20-week ban, but it would oppose any measure that “identifies a class of human beings that we may kill with impunity.” That is, it would only support efforts to restrict abortion rights that contain no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant woman.

Becker announced that the group’s interim president would be another anti-choice activist who had broken ranks with National Right to Life over strategy — in this case, over LGBT rights. Molly Smith, the president of Cleveland Right to Life, had earned a rebuke from NRLC when she said her group would oppose the reelection of Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman after he came out in favor of marriage equality, citing his openly gay son. NRLC blasted Smith for opposing the staunchly anti-choice senator and taking on “an advocacy agenda that includes issues beyond the right to life.”

The new Personhood Alliance won early endorsements from prominent Religious Right activist Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, popular conservative talk show host Steve Deace, and the Irish anti-abortion organization Life Institute.

But it also displayed ties to more fringe activists, boasting of an endorsement from infamous abortion clinic agitator Rusty Lee Thomas of Operation Save America, who blames the September 11 attacks on legal abortion. Jay Rogers, who wrote Personhood Alliance’s manifesto, is a longtime ally of Operation Save America who once assisted the group by administering a website showing the locations of Florida abortion providers’ private homes.

Another founding member of Personhood Alliance was Les Riley, who spearheaded Mississippi’s failed personhood amendment in 2011. Riley is a one-time blogger for a group that advocates Christian secession from the U.S. and a current officer with the theocratic Mississippi Constitution Party. Georgia’s Constitution Party also sponsored a booth at the Personhood Alliance’s convention.

Becker himself has a history on the more radical, confrontational fringes of the anti-abortion movement. In 1992, while running for a House seat in Georgia, Becker gained national attention when he helped pioneer the strategy of using an election-law loophole to run graphic anti-abortion ads on primetime television.

Personhood Alliance hasn't only set itself up against the rest of the anti-choice movement; it's directly competing with the group that brought personhood back in to the national political conversation.

In 2007, 19-year-old Colorado activist Kristi Burton teamed up with attorney Mark Meuser to push for a ballot measure defining “person” in Colorado law as beginning “from the moment of fertilization.” Keith Mason, another young activist who as an anti-choice missionary for Operation Rescue had driven a truck covered with pictures of aborted fetuses, joined the effort. Soon after the Colorado ballot initiative failed in 2008, he joined with Cal Zastrow, another veteran of the radical anti-choice “rescue movement” to found Personhood USA.

Personhood USA has raised the profile of the personhood movement by backing state-level ballot initiatives and legislation modeled on Kristi Burton’s. None of the group's measures has become law, but the political battles they cause have drawn national attention to the personhood movement’s goals.

In 2010, Mason’s group led the effort to again place a personhood measure on the Colorado ballot, eventually garnering just 29 percent of the vote (a slight uptick from 27 percent in 2008).

Following that loss, the group announced a “50 state strategy” to launch a personhood ballot petition in every state. The group focused its organizing on Mississippi, where an amendment made it onto the 2011 ballot but was rejected by 55 percent of voters after a strong pro-choice campaign centered on exposing the risk the amendment posed to legal birth control. In 2012, the group tried again in Colorado, but failed to gather enough signatures to get a personhood amendment on the ballot. The same year, a personhood bill in Virginia was passed by the state House but defeated in the Senate. In 2014, it got measures on the ballot in Colorado and North Dakota, both of which failed by wide margins.

As it expanded its mission, Personhood USA’s fundraising boomed. According to tax returns, in 2009 the group brought in just $52,000. In 2010, it raised $264,000. In 2011, when it was fighting in Mississippi, it brought in $1.5 million. But after the Mississippi defeat, the group’s fundraising faltered, falling to $1.1 million in 2012. The funding of the group’s nonpolitical arm, Personhood Education, however, continues to expand, going from $94,000 in 2010 to $373,000 in 2011 and $438,000 in 2012. In the process, it built a database of a reported 7 million supporters.

Despite its electoral setbacks, the group continues to have national ambitions: in 2012 it hosted a presidential candidates’ forum in Iowa attended by four Republican candidates. In what can be seen as another sign of the group’s success in raising the profile of the issue, in 2012 the Republican Party added to its platform support for a federal constitutional amendment banning abortion and endorsing “legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

Personhood USA has also quietly become involved in international efforts to restrict abortion rights. In its 2012 tax return, the group’s political arm reported a $400,000 grant to an unnamed recipient in Europe, representing more than one third of its total spending for the year. When Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder asked Mason who and what the grant went toward, Mason declined to comment. In 2014, Personhood USA’s Josh Craddock was granted consultative status at the United Nations, where he participated in the December, 2014, “Transatlantic Summit” of anti-choice, anti-LGBT advocates from around the world. The same year, Mason was scheduled to participate in an international social conservative forum at the Kremlin in Moscow. In January 2015, a Personhood USA representative reported having delivered a presentation at the U.K. parliament.

Personhood USA initially supported the Personhood Alliance and backed Becker — a former Personhood USA employee — in his battle against NRLC. But in September 2014, Personhood USA announced that it was cutting ties with Becker, accusing him of “trying to replace Personhood USA by using our structures and intellectual property” including the word “personhood.”

But it isn't just the right to the word "personhood" that divides the two groups; they also differ sharply and publicly on strategy.

When Becker launched his group, he took with him Gualberto Garcia Jones, a top Personhood USA official and key thinker in the personhood movement, who says he drafted the failed Colorado personhood initiatives in 2010 and 2014. A few weeks later, after statewide personhood ballot initiatives promoted by Personhood USA in North Dakota and Colorado went down in flames, Garcia Jones wrote an op-ed for LifeSiteNews explaining that while he had hoped to see those measures succeed, he believed that “the statewide personhood ballot measure is dead for now.” This was a direct repudiation of the strategy of Personhood USA’s strategy of introducing these measures or legislative alternatives in all 50 states.

Garcia Jones wrote that the struggling movement needed to engage in “asymmetrical tactics” by pushing through municipal personhood measures in rural areas where the movement can “control the battlefield”:

These initial years of the personhood movement have taught us a lot. I believe that we now know how to fight to win against Planned Parenthood. And the key is being able to control the battleground.

When you look at electoral maps of the country, it is readily evident that majorities in almost every metropolitan area of the country are opposed to our worldview. These metropolitan areas are also the major media centers and accumulate large percentages of the voting population in every state.

Right now, fighting the abortion industry at the state level is akin to having lined up a battalion of colonists against the well-trained and well armed redcoats. We need to start engaging in more asymmetrical tactics, and this means engaging the enemy in municipalities and counties that we know we control.

This can be done at the legislative and political level, as Georgia Right to Life and other groups have done by the endorsement of state officials, or it can be done by engaging in municipal ballot measures.

Jones noted that such municipal ordinances could affect the “many [local] powers that touch upon the personhood of the preborn, from local health and building codes to local law enforcement such as child abuse prevention.” And he hopes that, in the long run, municipal-level victories could lead to greater things. Becker has told blogger Jill Stanek that he hopes municipal measures will provoke legal battles that will accellerate a reconsideration of abortion rights in the courts.

Personhood USA, meanwhile, took credit for the municipal resolutions strategy and said it supported it, but noted that its state-level activism had been successful in mobilizing the grassroots and as an "educational tool that simultaneously provides a pro-life standard for lobbying and candidate endorsements."

Will the personhood movement’s strategy work?

Polling shows that the level of support for abortion rights in the U.S. depends on how you ask the question. And Gallup has found that Americans are pretty much evenly split between those who call themselves “pro-life” and those who choose the label “pro-choice.” But behind the labels is an entirely different picture. A large majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal under all or some circumstances; only 21 percent want the procedure to be completely banned. Similarly, Pew found in 2013 that only three-in-ten respondents favored overturning Roe v. Wade.

These numbers don’t bode well for the personhood movement. Voters in states as conservative as Mississippi and North Dakota have been turned off by personhood’s clear goal of banning abortion in all circumstances as well as the threat it poses to contraception and fertility treatments.

At the same time, the more successful anti-choice groups have managed to work within current public opinion to push through scores of state-level measures restricting access to abortion in an effort to slowly undermine Roe. These measures, many based on model legislation from Americans United for Life, restrict abortion access by such means as imposing waiting periods for women seeking care, requiring hospital “admitting privileges” for abortion providers and then banning public hospitals from providing such agreements; or even regulating the width of the hallways in clinics.

The Guttmacher Institute has calculated that between 2011 and 2014, states enacted 231 abortion restrictions, meaning that half of all reproductive-age U.S. women now live in a state that the Institute categorizes as “hostile” or “extremely hostile” to abortion rights — all without passing outright bans on abortion or establishing fetal “personhood.” The anti-choice group Operation Rescue, which keeps detailed records on abortion providers in its effort to shut them down, reports that the number of surgical abortion clinics in the country has dropped by 75 percent since 1991, with 47 such clinics closing permanently in 2014. This can be partly attributed to the increased frequency of medication abortion, a practice that anti-choice groups are targeting with new restrictions. In 2005, even before the closures of the last few years, 87 percent of U.S. counties had no abortion provider.

Even as voters reject moves to ban abortion outright, anti-choice groups have found less resistance to this strategy of chipping away at abortion rights with the same goal. This contrast played out in the 2014 election, when voters in Colorado and North Dakota rejected personhood measures when they were clearly told could end legal abortion, while voters in Tennessee approved a measure giving the state government sweeping new powers to curtail abortion rights without outright ending abortion rights.

In fact, by loudly proclaiming its end goal, the personhood movement may be inadvertently helping the incrementalists who are using a different strategy to achieve the same ends. By proudly embracing the no-compromise extremes of the anti-choice agenda, the personhood movement has allowed the incrementalists to portray themselves as the political center, giving them cover for a successful campaign to undermine the right to choose. In 2014, Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest told Time, “Most people want to see abortion restricted in some way, even if they don’t call themselves pro-life … We’re the ones occupying the middle ground.” She might not be able to make that statement if the personhood movement was not loudly and proudly occupying the absolutist, no-compromise stance that her group believes to be too politically risky.

Even as the personhood movement provides political cover to groups like AUL, it also serves as an ever-present reminder of the goals of the anti-choice movement as a whole. While the more visible anti-choice groups may find a total, immediate ban on legal abortion politically unfeasible, the personhood movement is a constant reminder that this is what they want to achieve — one way or another.

Kevin Swanson: 'Muslims Come in and Kill our People so we Elect a Muslim as President of the United States'

Pastor Kevin Swanson of the Colorado-based Generations Radio took a break from ranting against gays and the Muppets yesterday when speaking to Les Riley, the secessionist who led the unsuccessful Personhood Mississippi campaign. Riley and Swanson said that Americans did not do a very good job repenting following the Aurora shooting massacre or the September 11 attacks. “We see the Muslims killing our people and so we elect a Muslim,” Swanson lamented. “Seems to me like we’re not turning back to the true and living God here, are we?”

Riley: I was in Aurora a few weeks ago helping collect signatures for the personhood amendment out there and help with some of the pro-life work out there and we stayed not far from the theater with a family and I drove by that memorial and it was just a real sobering picture of how ridiculously people would respond to a crisis when they don’t repent, when they don’t turn to God, when they don’t acknowledge their Creator. You see this shooting and rather than crying out to God there’s this big memorial with teddy bears and it’s great that people want to be part of something bigger than themselves but rather than turning to their Creator they again turn to their folly.

Swanson: On Sunday I was preaching from Isaiah Chapter 9 and 10 when people are warned not to embrace those nations that are striking them and I got to thinking about 9/11, remember 9/11, which is probably the most devastating thing which has happened since the War of 1812 at least in terms of an invasion upon our land. God has preserved us for many hundreds of years; we’ve had relative security and peace in this nation for a long time, so 9/11 shows up. These Muslims come in and kill our people so we elect a Muslim as President of the United States. Maybe not a pure Muslim but at least a man who has been very well indoctrinated, rooted, grounded and founded in Muslim theology and he is certainly more sympathetic to the Muslim religion than any other President we’ve ever had in the history of the nation. Five years after the Muslims came in and killed our people! There’s something odd about this, what’s going on here? We see the Muslims killing our people and so we elect a Muslim. Seems to me like we’re not turning back to the true and living God here, are we?

Riley: No, we’re not.

Personhood USA Regroups in Mississippi, Aims for Florida Vote

The unexpectedly staggering defeat of the personhood amendment in Mississippi last month has not slowed down Personhood USA’s campaign to put stringent anti-choice laws on the ballot in states across the country. In fact, the group wants to put personhood laws back on the ballot in Colorado, where it was defeated twice, and even make a second attempt in Mississippi.

Personhood Mississippi head and Christian separatist Les Riley and Personhood USA’s Jennifer Mason told the Washington Times that activists are committed to passing the amendment in Mississippi:

“I can tell you that we are going to press forward. … We’ve got plans to continue a massive grass-roots campaign,” as well as work with the legislature, said Les Riley, leader of Personhood Mississippi.

“We realize we are changing a culture, and we can’t expect to change the culture with one election. That’s why we are willing to do this as many times as it takes,” said Jennifer Mason, spokeswoman for Personhood USA, which supports coast-to-coast measures seeking to establish human rights at conception.



“We think that by including a little more information to prohibit our opposition from using these scare tactics will benefit us, while easing voters’ minds,” said Mrs. Mason, who is married to Personhood USA President Keith Mason.

Another state Personhood USA is targeting is Florida, where the state affiliate plans to gather signatures in support of a new Florida ProLife Personhood Amendment:

Have you heard the news? Personhood FL has launched a new prolife petition called the Florida ProLife Personhood Amendment. Personhood FL will collect petition signatures from registered Florida voters January 2012 – December 2013. We need your help to contact every church, every pastor in your county!

Because of a bill passed by the FL Legislature this year that changed the shelf life of the petition signatures from 4 years to 2 years, we are launching a new two year petitioning effort beginning January 2012. We have taken this opportunity to launch the new Florida ProLife Personhood Amendment based on language endorsed by Family Research Council and the American Family Association. The new petition language has been designed by a think tank of prolife personhood attorneys and satisfies 11 conditions needed to unite pro-life ministries. Adapting this language enables all states to come into unity anticipating and facilitating a federal prolife personhood amendment.

Personhood USA Decries 'Paternalistic Government,' Calls For Conversions To Christianity

The director of Personhood USA writes in USA Today this morning that Mississippi voters should back his group’s far-reaching “personhood” law in order to put the brakes on big government and decries the fact that “the American people are being treated paternalistically by a government, media and public sector elite that stands in direct opposition to our traditional American values.” That’s right, the personhood law which would criminalize abortion, common forms of birth control, stem-cell research, in-vitro fertilization and the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, says Gualberto Garcia Jones, is actually a way to curtail the size of government because it seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade:

Increasingly, the American people are being treated paternalistically by a government, media and public sector elite that stands in direct opposition to our traditional American values. Using the courts as its instrument, this American elite has emasculated a once independent America.

The Constitution, a document written to prevent tyranny, has, as Thomas Jefferson predicted, become "a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist, and shape into any form they please."

No greater example exists of this abuse of raw judicial power than Roe v. Wade, a decision by seven unelected men to impose abortion on all 50 states.



This simple amendment has become ground zero in the fight over abortion because it challenges not only the legal foundation of Roe v. Wade— that the child in the womb is a non-person — but also the source of the power that has allowed the liberal elite to reshape America in its own image.

Les Riley, the extremist head of Personhood Mississippi, told OneNewsNow today that he hoped Mississippi’s personhood referendum, Initiative 26, would help lead people to convert to Christianity. Riley was previously a blogger for the Christian secessionist group Christian Exodus and is the Chairman of the far-right Mississippi Constitution Party, which seeks to “restore” government to its “Biblical presuppositions.” In the interview with OneNewsNow, the media arm of the American Family Association which backs Initiative 26, Riley said supporters should “pray not only for victory in the election, but that many people who are outside of Christ would be brought to him by our efforts -- even those opposing the amendment”:

Proposition 26, otherwise known as a personhood amendment, declares that a person is a human at the moment of fertilization. And as the vote approaches, Les Riley, the director of Personhood Mississippi who launched the Yes on 26 drive, is encouraging supporters to utilize a major weapon: prayer. He asks believers to request that God would glorify himself and work in a way that is far beyond "what we've even got the sense to ask for."

"We would just ask that God would work in a way that would astonish the whole world and that it would be clear that he was the one working and not us," Riley says. "And maybe, perhaps specifically pray not only for victory in the election, but that many people who are outside of Christ would be brought to him by our efforts -- even those opposing the amendment."

The pro-lifer goes on to note the significance of the amendment.

"You know this will be the first time in history that a state has recognized the humanity of the unborn and their God-given right to life," he points out. "It would make abortion illegal within our borders and would also challenge notions about abortion."

Since such a challenge would apply both nationally and internationally, he concludes that tomorrow vote is "hugely important."

Mississippi Personhood Campaign Draws More Scrutiny, Questions

With few Mississippi politicians speaking out against a proposed “personhood” amendment on the state’s ballot next week, Personhood USA is hoping that the Magnolia State will be the first to adopt its radical anti-choice legislation, which has been resoundingly defeated multiple times in Colorado. Personhood USA’s Keith Mason said on Friday that Mississippi’s Initiative 26, “looks like it’ll be the first one to pass in this country.”

Mississippi already has some of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the United States. But opponents of the personhood initiative have started succeeding in educating voters over the far-reaching consequences of the proposed law, which would not only criminalize abortions without exceptions for rape, incest or health of the mother, but also potentially ban certain forms of birth control, the treatment of ectopic and problem pregnancies and in-vitro fertilization. One opponent of Initiative 26 said that polling shows that the more voters learn about the full impact of Initiative 26, the less likely they are to support it: “It’s the largest movement on numbers I’ve seen, in terms of the undecideds. It reverses the position…They’ve given us all the ammunition we need to defeat it.”

On Friday, Rachel Maddow discussed the grassroots campaign to defeat the personhood amendment and investigated the amendment’s radical roots – specifically, the role of Personhood Mississippi’s leader, Les Riley. As Maddow noted, Right Wing Watch first uncovered that Riley previously blogged for a secessionist group that wanted to create an independent theocratic state in South Carolina. In addition, Riley heads Mississippi’s far-right Constitution Party and is a past member of the neo-Confederate League of the South.

Maddow had as her guest Cristen Hemmins, who shared her story as a rape survivor who twenty years ago was kidnapped and raped by two men who shot her when she tried to flee. Hemmins told the Huffington Post that one of the bullets pierced her uterus, but if she had gotten pregnant and ifthe personhood law had been in effect at the time, she would have been prohibited by law from terminating the pregnancy.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Huckabee To Keynote Fundraiser For Personhood Mississippi

Mike Huckabee is scheduled to be the featured speaker at a fundraiser for Personhood Mississippi, the group running the campaign to pass Amendment 26, which would criminalize abortion with no exceptions by giving rights to zygotes. In addition to banning abortion, the personhood amendment would also make certain forms of birth control, in-vitro fertilization and the treatment of problem pregnancies a crime. The American Family Association, which is based in Mississippi, committed $100,000 to fund the effort to pass Amendment 26 in November.

By supporting Amendment 26, Huckabee places himself even to the right of the National Right to Life Committee, which refused to back Colorado’s failed personhood amendment because they thought it was counter-productive and likely to be struck down as unconstitutional.

Moreover, the founder and director of Personhood Mississippi is far-right extremist Les Riley. Riley used to be a featured blogger for the Christian separatist group Christian Exodus, until his posts were conspicuously removed from the group’s site. But luckily, he left a paper trail:

According to Christian Exodus’s mission statement, “The initial goal was to move thousands of Christian constitutionalists to South Carolina to accelerate the return to self-government based upon Christian principles at the local and State level. This project continues to this day, with the ultimate goal of forming an independent Christian nation that will survive after the decline and fall of the financially and morally bankrupt American empire.”

The group, which is closely tied to the neo-confederate League of the South, attempted to set up an independent, theocratic state in South Carolina by 2016 but has since moved on to creating theocratic settlements in Panama and Idaho.

Riley is also chairman of the Constitution Party of Mississippi and stated that its goal is to “restore American government to its Constiutional [sic] limits and American jurisprudence to its Biblical presuppositions.” According to their platform, “The U.S. Constitution established a Republic rooted in Biblical law.”

But for Huckabee, it seems no activist is too radical to work with.

Personhood Movement Announces 50-State Strategy

The anti-choice movement to use state ballot initiatives to give fetuses and embryos legal rights has announced a nationwide petition drive to bring their radical measure to all fifty states. Opponents of reproductive rights hope to use “personhood amendments” to criminalize abortion, stem-cell research, and common forms of birth control by giving zygotes constitutional protections. While the amendment failed miserably at the polls in Colorado, Personhood USA hopes to bring personhood amendments to states such as Florida, Mississippi, Montana, and Wisconsin, among others.

Personhood activists have their hopes set on Mississippi, where the amendment will be voted on in November. Personhood Mississippi is led by Les Riley, a member of an extreme separatist organization called Christian Exodus, and Riley’s campaign has received the support of notable Republicans like Congressman Alan Nunnelee and Lt. Governor and gubernatorial candidate Phil Bryant, and groups such as the American Family Association and Liberty Counsel.

Now, Personhood USA has launched petition drives in every single state. According to the group, they already have gathered over 900,000 signatures:

"Now in every state in America, prolife volunteers are engaging their communities with the truth of personhood, and are working to change the laws as citizens or lobbying the lawmakers in their state to do their job and protect every person by love and by law, " stated Keith Mason, cofounder of Personhood USA. "We are thrilled to have met our goal to be in all 50 states in just two years, and we are so thankful to be closing in on 1 million signatures defending the personhood of the preborn child."



"Personhood USA functions as a support system, giving as little or as much help as needed, and we have truly been blessed by Jesus Christ as He is accomplishing so much through us in just the past two years. We can't wait to see what He does, in all 50 states, in 2011," added Cal Zastrow, cofounder of Personhood USA. "We will keep working hard for the rights of preborn children, knowing that this is the best chance we've ever had to end abortion in America."

Watch Les Riley explain to the AFA’s Director of Issue Analysis Bryan Fischer back in October about the Personhood movement’s plan to overturn abortion rights:

Leading Republicans Embrace Personhood Amendment and “Christian Exodus,” Separatist Advocate

Last week Right Wing Watch reported on the success of anti-choice activists to place a “Personhood Amendment” on Mississippi’s 2011 ballot to coincide with the gubernatorial election. The radical group Personhood USA hopes to use the so-called “Personhood Amendments” to criminalize abortion, common forms of birth control, stem cell research, and even in-vitro fertilization, by giving legal rights to fetuses and embryos.

Major anti-choice organizations including the National Right to Life Committee have generally shied away from “Personhood Amendments” due to the extreme nature of the measure and the fringe Personhood USA. Colorado voters rejected three different Amendments from Personhood Colorado by wide margins, with the 2010 measure failing with less than 30% of the vote.

Activists in Mississippi, however, have made great headway in receiving support from the Religious Right and the GOP. Leading Religious Right groups and Republican politicians, including the American Family Association (AFA), Liberty Counsel, and Congressman-Elect Alan Nunnelee, have backed Personhood Mississippi’s efforts. Mississippi’s Republican Lt. Governor and gubernatorial candidate Phil Bryant has embraced the Personhood Initiative as well. Bryant, when announcing his bid for governor on the AFA’s radio program, claimed that “one of my goals in public life is to end abortion in Mississippi, so we’re going to work really hard on that.” A vocal and ardent supporter of the “Personhood Amendment,” Bryant called the initiative “another way of trying to stop abortion in Mississippi and simply allow once and for all the opportunity for the people to say we want to do that and we feel so strongly about it that we want to add it to our Constitution.”

Today, Personhood Mississippi (the state affiliate of Personhood USA) will be hosting a rally in Jackson to celebrate the measure’s inclusion on the 2011 ballot, and Bryant is scheduled to speak at the event.

But who is behind Personhood Mississippi and the Personhood Amendment’s sponsor?

The head of Personhood Mississippi is right wing activist Les Riley, a featured blogger of the group Christian Exodus, which has “goal of forming an independent Christian nation that will survive after the decline and fall of the financially and morally bankrupt American empire.”

Christian Exodus had attempted to move thousands of supporters to South Carolina in order to “form a biblically inspired government and secede from the United States,” and also has close ties to the separatist and Neo-Confederate League of the South. Christian Exodus also is encouraging adherents to move to Panama and Idaho in order to build theocratic settlements.

Lt. Governor Bryant said he wanted to “personally thank Les Riley” for his work, and Les Riley told AFA Radio that Mississippi’s Personhood Amendment is “the biggest news in the pro-life movement in twenty years” because it will not only eradicate reproductive rights in Mississippi but also set up a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

As the “Personhood Amendment” movement finds more allies and greater support in the Religious Right and Republican Party, its extremist leaders and radical beliefs have not changed.

Syndicate content

Les Riley Posts Archive

Miranda Blue, Wednesday 01/28/2015, 2:20pm
This is the fourth post in a RWW series on the reemergence of the fetal personhood movement and what it means for the future of abortion rights in the U.S. Part 1: The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means For The Future Of Choice Part 2: The Personhood Movement: Internal Battles Go Public Part 3: The Personhood Movement: Undermining Roe In The Courts Last week, the Republican Party was forced into yet another uncomfortable public conversation about abortion and rape. The House GOP, enjoying a strengthened majority after the 2014 elections, announced that on the... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Friday 08/31/2012, 5:05pm
Pastor Kevin Swanson of the Colorado-based Generations Radio took a break from ranting against gays and the Muppets yesterday when speaking to Les Riley, the secessionist who led the unsuccessful Personhood Mississippi campaign. Riley and Swanson said that Americans did not do a very good job repenting following the Aurora shooting massacre or the September 11 attacks. “We see the Muslims killing our people and so we elect a Muslim,” Swanson lamented. “Seems to me like we’re not turning back to the true and living God here, are we?” Riley: I was in Aurora a few... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Tuesday 12/06/2011, 1:40pm
The unexpectedly staggering defeat of the personhood amendment in Mississippi last month has not slowed down Personhood USA’s campaign to put stringent anti-choice laws on the ballot in states across the country. In fact, the group wants to put personhood laws back on the ballot in Colorado, where it was defeated twice, and even make a second attempt in Mississippi. Personhood Mississippi head and Christian separatist Les Riley and Personhood USA’s Jennifer Mason told the Washington Times that activists are committed to passing the amendment in Mississippi: “I can tell you... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Monday 11/07/2011, 11:25am
The director of Personhood USA writes in USA Today this morning that Mississippi voters should back his group’s far-reaching “personhood” law in order to put the brakes on big government and decries the fact that “the American people are being treated paternalistically by a government, media and public sector elite that stands in direct opposition to our traditional American values.” That’s right, the personhood law which would criminalize abortion, common forms of birth control, stem-cell research, in-vitro fertilization and the treatment of ectopic... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Monday 10/31/2011, 11:05am
With few Mississippi politicians speaking out against a proposed “personhood” amendment on the state’s ballot next week, Personhood USA is hoping that the Magnolia State will be the first to adopt its radical anti-choice legislation, which has been resoundingly defeated multiple times in Colorado. Personhood USA’s Keith Mason said on Friday that Mississippi’s Initiative 26, “looks like it’ll be the first one to pass in this country.” Mississippi already has some of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the United States. But opponents of the... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Wednesday 08/31/2011, 12:40pm
Mike Huckabee is scheduled to be the featured speaker at a fundraiser for Personhood Mississippi, the group running the campaign to pass Amendment 26, which would criminalize abortion with no exceptions by giving rights to zygotes. In addition to banning abortion, the personhood amendment would also make certain forms of birth control, in-vitro fertilization and the treatment of problem pregnancies a crime. The American Family Association, which is based in Mississippi, committed $100,000 to fund the effort to pass Amendment 26 in November. By supporting Amendment 26, Huckabee places himself... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Monday 01/10/2011, 3:13pm
The anti-choice movement to use state ballot initiatives to give fetuses and embryos legal rights has announced a nationwide petition drive to bring their radical measure to all fifty states. Opponents of reproductive rights hope to use “personhood amendments” to criminalize abortion, stem-cell research, and common forms of birth control by giving zygotes constitutional protections. While the amendment failed miserably at the polls in Colorado, Personhood USA hopes to bring personhood amendments to states such as Florida, Mississippi, Montana, and Wisconsin, among others.... MORE >
Brian Tashman, Tuesday 01/04/2011, 4:42pm
Last week Right Wing Watch reported on the success of anti-choice activists to place a “Personhood Amendment” on Mississippi’s 2011 ballot to coincide with the gubernatorial election. The radical group Personhood USA hopes to use the so-called “Personhood Amendments” to criminalize abortion, common forms of birth control, stem cell research, and even in-vitro fertilization, by giving legal rights to fetuses and embryos. Major anti-choice organizations including the National Right to Life Committee have generally shied away from “Personhood Amendments... MORE >