Randall Terry, the Twiggy of the Far Right

Last year, we tried to untangle the complicated legacy of the militant anti-abortion protest group Operation Rescue, famous for its massive clinic blockades in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nothing so abstract as its role in shaping the debate over reproductive choice—no, it was hard enough trying to figure out which small, bickering group using the OR name was which.

Now Randall Terry, who founded Operation Rescue back in 1988, is adding another level of confusion: He’s claiming trademark infringement by Wichita-based Operation Rescue (also known as Operation Rescue West), headed by Rev. Troy Newman.

Bo Jackson, Twiggy, Marc Chagall, Jimmy "Margaritaville" Buffett and Randall Terry find themselves in the same company: a pretender tried to steal their identity. …

Mr. Terry seeks to regain control of the name Operation Rescue, which is his moniker.

Mr. Troy Newman lied under oath to the Trademark Office when he filed his registration of the name, Operation Rescue. Moreover, Mr. Newman has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars by falsely claiming a connection with Operation Rescue. …

Randall Terry states: "Mr. Newman mistook my patience for a lack of resolve. His identity theft of a name, a heritage, and a history over which he has no right is as offensive as it is ludicrous."

Terry dropped out of the anti-abortion protest scene after declaring bankruptcy during drawn-out litigation against the National Organization of Women, but he resurfaced to help create the media circus around the death of Terri Schiavo in 2005. More recently, he returned to protesting—albeit with a more modest-sized crowd—to oppose Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign.

As we explained, Rev. Flip Benham took over OR after Terry left, eventually changing the name to Operation Save America/Operation Rescue—apparently to try to elude further lawsuits. Meanwhile, Newman moved Operation Rescue West—which moved in the same small circle of hard-core activists—to Wichita, Kansas, the place of OR’s infamous 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protest. Newman then dropped the “West” from his group’s name—much to the objection of Benham, who claimed to have never given up the OR appellation. “Troy owning the name Operation Rescue is no more legal than abortion is,” complained Benham. The two groups apparently also disagree on strategy and tactics: They released contradictory statements about James Dobson and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban.

It’s not clear where Terry fits in to all this, other than as a sui generis publicity hound. While Benham’s group is apparently the same one Terry founded, Terry makes no mention of it in his press release. Indeed, Benham has no love for Terry: He published an article on his web site entitled “Please Remove Randall’s Feeding Tube.” “Giving more money to Randall Terry is like giving booze to an alcoholic,” Benham is quoted is saying.