Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is scheduled to address the Values Voter Summit, an annual Washington, D.C., event hosted by the Family Research Council, tomorrow. In doing so, he’ll be sharing the stage not only with extreme anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim activists, but also with activists who are rooted in the radical fringes of the anti-abortion movement.
Trump will address the summit soon after David and Jason Benham take the stage. The Benhams are twin brothers who became Religious Right megastars in 2014 after HGTV cancelled a show they were set to star in following Right Wing Watch’s revelations about their extreme anti-gay, anti-choice activism.
The Benhams’ status as martyrs within the Religious Right has too often obscured the true radicalism of their activism.
The brothers’ activism is rooted in the work of their father, Flip Benham, a North Carolina preacher who took over the anti-abortion protest group Operation Rescue after the infamous Summer of Mercy, in which anti-abortion activists spent weeks laying siege to Wichita, Kansas, in 1991. Benham later changed the name of his group to Operation Save America and expanded its work to include anti-gay and anti-Muslim activism. (The group is now led by Rusty Thomas, although Benham remains involved.)
David and Jason Benham worked closely with their father and Operation Save America but also became activists in their own right. Leading one protest outside a Charlotte abortion clinic in 2013, David Benham told protesters they were standing against the “gates of hell” and the “altars of Moloch.” He has also called abortion “child sacrifice.” David and his wife lead and fund a Charlotte-based group called Cities4Life that leads sidewalk protests outside of abortion clinics and distributes “abortion pill reversal kits.” On its website, the group compares legal abortion to the Holocaust and explains why it uses graphic signs in its protests:
Women are rarely told the truth about abortion. Without the truth, Satan is free to rob, kill, and destroy. It is urgent for these women to know the truth about this hidden evil, done in secret. We must lay bare the demonic lie that an unborn baby is not a human life. When we shine the light of truth about this “legal” procedure, it wakes up the sleeper and moves them to action.
The Benhams continue to associate with the fringes of the anti-abortion movement that their father represents. This spring, for instance, it was announced that they would appear in a movie directed by Patrick Johnston, an Ohio “personhood” activist. In 2008, the Colorado Independent revealed that Johnston had ties to militia groups and once wrote a troubling essay on the website of the violent anti-abortion network Army of God attacking a pastor for criticizing Paul Hill’s murder of abortion clinic doctor John Britton and his bodyguard.
Also speaking at the Values Voter Summit will be David Daleiden, the young activist who’s undercover “sting” videos of Planned Parenthood took the anti-choice movement by storm last year.
Like the Benhams, Daleiden’s work is rooted in the fringe world of the anti-abortion “rescue” movement. Troy Newman, who runs the group now called Operation Rescue—which has been in a years-long feud with Flip Benham’s Operation Save America over its name—helped Daleiden to get his project off the ground. Newman, who moved his group to Wichita in 2002 in order to go after Dr. George Tiller, who was later assassinated, has written that the U.S. government has “abrogated its responsibility” to execute abortion providers and argued that a man who murdered an abortion provider should have been allowed to argue that the homicide was justifiable. Newman’s second-in-command at Operation Rescue is Cheryl Sullenger, who has spent time in jail for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic.
The Benhams and Daleiden have both been embraced by the “mainstream” Religious Right despite their roots in the radical fringes of the anti-choice movement. And now all three are speaking alongside the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.