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.
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?"
Mr. Sears has said he believes the Sturges books violate federal child pornography laws. Shyla Welch, speaking for the anti-porn group Enough Is Enough, has seen the books and says it ought to be an open-and-shut case: "We need to ... say yes, this is child porn." She, like Mr. Sears, suggests further investigation into Mr. Sturges's work to find out "what's on the cutting-room floor."
More than that, Mr. Sears believes, this type of child pornography is a weapon in the hands of child molesters, who rely on it to seduce their prey. "Pedophiles lower the inhibitions of children with materials like that [Sturges] book," he says. "They show these pictures to the children, and try to normalize what a child otherwise would know better than to do. It's a progressive thing as they work with the child. They get the child to go to underwear, then to nudity, then to various sexual activity captured on camera. At some point it often goes from coaxing to coercion to blackmail."
Pedophiles are clever in their use of pornography, Mr. Sears says. He cites an Indianapolis case, which he learned about while working with the federal pornography commission, in which a man in an upper-middle-class neighborhood took a young neighbor girl to the convenience store, a familiar place where she shopped with her parents. He showed her a magazine whose cover had a picture of a favorite rock star, and inside, the singer was nude. He bought the magazine and used that to convince her she could do the same thing with him. Several months of severe sexual abuse ensued; the man eventually was arrested and convicted. The child's parents divorced, however, and she underwent years of therapy.
"Let's think about the same thing with Barnes & Noble. This is where the little girl goes to the mall to buy ... her Bible, maybe she bought her Sunday school book here. This guy can do the same thing," capitalizing on familiar settings to lure her into abuse.
But is it right for citizens to take the law into their own hands? Danny Akin, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville, says it is the difference between lying down in front of an abortion clinic to be arrested and destroying the clinic with a bomb.
"Are these [books] evil? Absolutely. Should we seek all legal recourse to thwart it? Absolutely. I affirm and agree with their concern," says Mr. Akin, who has testified in a Dallas trial that pornography violates community standards. "But I think the means by which they are protesting violates Scripture. I can't think of any way to justify it. You are destroying property that is not your own."
A more potent protest, he says, would be to pay for the book and then to tear it up in the store to say: "This is what I think this is worth. That would probably make a more forceful moral statement."
Daniel didn't destroy the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, the worship of which violated his conscience but wasn't his property. Instead, Mr. Akin says, Daniel protested passively by praying and quietly suffering the consequence. "Should Southern Baptists be down in Orlando tearing up Mickey Mouse comic books or tearing Mouse ears off people's heads and stomping them?"
Mr. Terry's planned protests and boycott are good ideas, he says. "That should have been the first step."
Mr. Terry insists his protest is right: "We cannot sit idly by and let child pornography become mainstreamed. That's what this is all about. Barnes & Noble is seeking to mainstream child pornography. They're exploiting children, they're equipping child molesters, and we have a moral obligation to be as bold and as courageous and as intolerant as we possibly can be."
While the president of Barnes & Noble declined a WORLD request for an interview, deferring to a spokeswoman who issued the company's boilerplate statement that the books have not been declared illegal, he did take the time to write a letter to Dean Arnold, a Chattanooga, Tenn., man who took Barnes & Noble to task in his on-line magazine, The Chattanooga Fax. In the Aug. 27 edition, one headline read: "Incest, Nude Child Books Sold at Local Barnes & Noble."
Company president Tom Tolworthy wrote: "We object to the use of our store as a podium to advance your agenda. We do not believe we have the right as a retailer to censor the reading interests of our customers. We follow all community standards as expressed through federal, state, and local legislation...."
Richard Williams, the Nashville musician (his band, Obadiah, puts "hell-fire preaching ... to music"), heard about the book rippings on Mr. Terry's radio program. Mr. Williams, 27, and his wife, Jan, parents of two children, went with a friend to a Nashville Barnes & Noble, where they ripped up a Sturges book. Barnes & Noble managers summoned police but didn't press charges or ask them to pay for the book.
The next week, members of the Christian motorcycle club Heaven's Saints in Dixon rode to Nashville and protested, actually turning some patrons away. "They try to pass this stuff off as art and it ain't," says James Carpenter, 57, one member of the club who isn't tattooed. Some, however, look like bikers, and that was an intimidating sight greeting customers at the front door of Barnes & Noble. "We just told them they were selling child pornography," he says. "Some turned and left and said they wouldn't frequent the place. Some turned their heads and went on in."
In St. Louis, Mr. Abell, father of four children ranging in age from 1 to nearly 7, is organizing events leading up to the Oct. 24-25 protest. "This really isn't about Barnes & Noble," he says. "This is about the material."
Mr. Sears, whose observations set this protest in motion several months ago, finds it appalling that book merchants sell the books, regardless of their legal status. "I know they can take the stand that the First Amendment says we can sell a lot of things," he says. "Well, I assume the First Amendment would protect them if they wanted to sell Nazi rape and torture films from Dachau, but do we want to sell those? Is that in the best interest of the community?"
Booksellers who market pornography, he says, "wrap the flag around themselves, and hold up the First Amendment so they can continue to make profits off of the lives and bodies of others."