Anti-Abortion Leader Neal Horsley Spews Propaganda
At first glance, Neal Horsley appears to be the merry old uncle of his neighborhood on a cul-de-sac in a middle-class Atlanta suburb.
Irreverent, amusing and animated, Horsley seems for all the world a warm and faithful husband, a friend to children, an iconoclastic conversationalist and wry commentator on the state of the world.
A second look reveals an entirely different Horsley — the implacable enemy of homosexuals who promises regularly to "arrest faggots," a man who proposes to use nuclear weapons in a bid for Southern secession, the Scripture-quoting theocrat who wants to force his version of Bible law on American society.
This is the Horsley that rails on about "desecration," "pagans," "lust" and "perverted tolerance."
And then there is the Neal Horsley who boasts to a young acolyte about having sex with men and with mules, the aging Vietnam War protester who says that "smoking dope, fucking and boozing, that's who I am naturally."
The Horsley who served 2 1/2 years in federal prison for dealing hashish oil. The Horsley who put up photographs on his Web site of naked men engaging in homosexual acts and a nude woman engaging in bestiality amid shots of grotesquely maimed fetuses.
Who is the real Otis O'Neal Horsley?
As strange as it may seem, Horsley is all of these things. And he is a great deal more.
The 57-year-old Georgian, who warns that "domestic terrorism heralds the shape of things to come," also has become the most public face of anti-abortion extremism in America.
It was Horsley who Clayton Waagner, a self-described anti-abortion "terrorist" on the Ten Most Wanted List, chose to drop in on shortly before being arrested last November. It was Horsley who propelled his notorious website — featuring home addresses and other detailed information about hundreds of abortion providers — into the national limelight after a physician was murdered by a sniper in 1998.
It was Horsley who managed to make himself a central focus of a Home Box Office documentary on the extremist fringe of the anti-abortion movement. Horsley has become so well known that the Southern Party — a neo-Confederate group with strong secessionist elements — had him give a keynote speech last August.
Neal Horsley, the Bob Dylan enthusiast who once begged a girlfriend to get an abortion, may be the most important rising figure on the hard Christian right.
With his improbable personality and his love of the limelight, Horsley has shunted aside men with far longer histories in the extreme anti-abortion movement. He is despised and admired, hated and adored. And he loves every minute of it.
'Cowboy Neal' Takes Up the Leaf
Reared in the small town of Bowdon, Ga., near the Alabama border, Neal Horsley never knew his father, a farmer who died from an infection some four months before his son was born.
According to a revealing profile in Esquire magazine, Horsley's delirious father spoke to his unborn son from his deathbed — a harbinger, perhaps, of Horsley's later fascination with the unborn.
By his own account, Horsley did not have an easy childhood. "I was sort of in a state of perpetual confusion as a kid," he told one reporter. "I started drinking when I was 15. And I was rowdy. A Georgia redneck."
That was the first of several rebellions. After serving four years in the Vietnam-era Air Force (although apparently not in Vietnam), Horsley left the armed forces as an angry opponent of the war.
Moving to San Francisco just in time for the 1967 "Summer of Love," he plunged into the hippie and antiwar scenes — but he was enthusiastic about nothing so much as marijuana, elixir of the counterculture.
By the time he moved back to Georgia two years later, he saw pot as a revolutionary drug ("I decided I'd go to jail if necessary to change the [drug] law," he would write years later) and himself as a "counterculture outlaw." He wore his hair down to his waist and spent his time chasing women — Horsley says that he asked two whom he had impregnated to get abortions — and selling dope.
"Basically, at that point there was no marijuana market in the Southeast," Horsley told Atlanta magazine recently. "I taught people how to do it and believe me, we did it! I was a player. A main player. Everybody knew me as 'Cowboy Neal.' I sold tons of marijuana."
Horsley says he quit dealing some time after he met his future wife, Carol, then a 16-year-old runaway living on the streets of Atlanta. They married in 1969. (His best man, Horsley wrote recently, is serving a lengthy prison sentence for "trying to smuggle six tons of Colombian marijuana into the USA.") The couple moved to Athens, Ga., where Horsley enrolled in the journalism department of the University of Georgia.
But in 1973, two years after taking up his studies, Horsley was charged and convicted for possession of three gallons of hashish oil with intent to distribute. Horsley now claims he was merely doing a friend a favor.
Horsley's long, rightward drift was about to begin.
'Surrendering to Jesus'
Not long after beginning a 30-month federal prison sentence, Neal Horsley "surrendered to Jesus." He wrote later that he was among the first prisoners to be "furloughed to the new ministry started by [born-again Watergate felon] Chuck Colson called Prison Fellowship."
Meeting Colson and other prominent Christian evangelicals, Horsley was enthralled. In 1979, after doing some work for Prison Fellowship, he became Colson's first southeastern regional director and served for several years before getting a Fellowship scholarship to attend seminary.
Moving to Philadelphia, Horsley found Westminster Theological Seminary a place where he could study under "some of the most Godly and learned people in the world."
Founded by fundamentalist J. Gresham Machen, who was expelled from mainstream Presbyterianism in 1936, Westminster has been a bastion of theological conservatism. Studying there, Horsley underwent his abortion epiphany.
He told Atlanta last year:
I was in Hebrew class one day and we were translating the 106th Psalm. It's basically a history of Israel, and we got to the part where they sacrificed their sons and daughters unto idols, and therefore God let their enemies come and rule over them. I'm sitting there and all of a sudden I had this thing come over me. ... It was as powerful a thing as I've ever experienced.
Although he didn't realize it immediately, Horsley now says the guilt he experienced was linked to his "unconfessed sin" — his pushing the women he had impregnated to have abortions (they didn't, he says).
His wife, Carol, had also had an abortion shortly before meeting him, and was having difficulty getting pregnant. Horsley insisted that she repent and beg forgiveness, and not long after she did get pregnant.
Ultimately, the Horsleys would have two sons (now grown adults) and a daughter, Kathy, who today assists her father in his anti-abortion activities.
Years later, Horsley would write an odd account of his religious experience in the form of a fictional conversation between himself and "an invented Church elder."
In it, he describes his anguish at realizing "the full horror of [his own] sin" and mocks as utterly inadequate the nonviolent opposition of many mainstream churches to abortion.
"I've been to seminary," Horsley sneers in his novelistic account. "What'd I learn? To play the angles, that's what."
Horsley graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1985 — but not before shocking fellow students by suggesting the day would come "when Christians [are] going to be looking down the barrel of a gun shooting abortionists."
Neal Horsley, anti-abortion extremist, had arrived.