Features

Throwing the book at 'em

National | As local prosecutors refuse to tackle "mainstream" kiddie porn, citizens across the country protest the retail peddlers

Issue: "Ashcroft 2000?," Oct. 11, 1997

They circled at the front of the Barnes & Noble Booksellers, six or so of them standing before the cashiers and a manager, and as quietly and orderly as you can do such a thing, they tore the pages out of a brand-new photography book that none of them had paid for.

"People call it different things," says Todd Abell, one of the book rippers at the St. Louis protest. "I've said we ripped up a book. I prefer to say we removed pages from a book. We were measured and deliberate. We didn't want to look like a bunch of wild-eyed book burners."

Whatever it's called-"book ripping" certainly lacks the alliterative, ominous ring of "book burning"-the on-site destruction of books full of pornographic photos of children by Jock Sturges and others is spreading like a match flame put to the page of the book.

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What started as an impulsive and unplanned book ripping by a frustrated mother in Lincoln, Neb., has spread to 35 cities in 16 states and has rid the market of at least 56 of the expensive picture books, which retail for $29.95. From "Radical Rippin' Richie," a Christian musician in Nashville, to Joy Carney, pastor's wife and mother of six in Irvine, Calif., the bold protest has become a national movement.

Officials at Barnes & Noble, which has staunchly defended their right to sell these books, have been hesitant to press charges. So far district attorneys around the country have been reluctant to go after the book rippers or after the bookstore for its sale of possibly illegal material. But the protest also raises important ethical issues: Is destroying an unpurchased book theft, a violation of civil law and the Eighth Commandment? Or in this case is it a defense of the Seventh Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery?"

The fanner of the flame is the ever-incendiary Randall Terry, formerly of Operation Rescue. Mr. Terry, host of a daily radio program and a candidate for Congress from upstate New York, has been encouraging the book destruction since he learned of Donna Bockoven's actions in Lincoln (see WORLD, Aug. 9/16). Loyal Opposition, Mr. Terry's organization, plans to buy full-page ads in The Washington Times the week of Oct. 5. In the ad, the group calls on Barnes & Noble to stop selling books by the photographers Mr. Sturges, David Hamilton, and Sally Mann, whose work is child pornography posing as art, Mr. Terry says.

Mr. Terry is calling for protests at Barnes & Noble stores on Oct. 24 and 25, and if the retailer doesn't agree to stop selling the books and to destroy its inventory, Mr. Terry will urge a boycott of Barnes & Noble during the all-important Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Meanwhile, those willing to risk arrest or fines should continue to find the books in stores and tear them up on the premises, preferably in view of a manager. "Something that's this heinous a crime cannot be reduced to a pleasant debate," Mr. Terry says. "I believe we have a moral obligation to destroy these books because they are the tools of child molesters."

Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor who in the '80s was executive director of Attorney General Edwin Meese's Commission on Pornography, believes the books push the limits of obscenity laws and certainly are morally destructive. Mr. Sears, in fact, was the person who brought Mr. Sturges's books to the attention of Focus on the Family, which then produced several segments about the books through its Family News in Focus broadcasts, which is where Donna Bockoven learned of Mr. Sturges's work.

"My first impression of the book was outrage," he said from his office at the Alliance Defense Fund in Phoenix. "Every time I see attempts to mainstream child nudity-whether or not the material met the specific criteria to be considered legally child pornography or not, it certainly is not positive for children to have these kind of photographs marketed. The first level of alarm bell that went off for me was how this book will be used in the real world to destroy the lives of real children. This isn't some theoretical thing."

After outrage at the Sturges book, Mr. Sears pondered what ought to be done. "The second reaction was does it, in fact, violate the law? The questions that I thought needed to be answered were who are the kids in the pictures, and how were these photographs obtained? Were the kids modeling for him? What led them to model for him in these poses?"

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