Neal Horsley, America's leading anti-abortion webmaster, is the profane voice of the extreme Christian right.
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 f------," 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, f------ 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.
Over the following years, Horsley and his wife reportedly opened a multi-store home furnishings business in Blooming Glen, Pa., before moving, in 1993, to their current home in Carrollton, Ga.
He got to know a number of the leaders of Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion group founded by Randall Terry that had long specialized in clinic blockades and other civil disobedience. He wrote extensively on his computer, crafting "books" on abortion that were never published.
And, at some point, he met Paul Hill.
Horsley described to Atlanta magazine a conversation he had with Hill, who already had publicly endorsed the idea of "justifiable homicide," just days before Hill took up the gun. Horsley claims he knew Hill could go violent and urged him instead to join up with his new project — building a secession movement in a bid to force the outlawing of abortion in America.
"No," Hill told him. "People are not going to be willing to do that until the rivers run red with blood."
"And that," Horsley says, "is the way that Paul Hill and I left it."
Days later, on July 29, 1994, Hill shot and killed Dr. John Britton and his escort, James Barrett, outside the same Pensacola, Fla., clinic where Dr. David Gunn became the first anti-abortion murder victim in 1993. Barrett's wife, June, was badly wounded.
Hill — who has graphically recounted his murder spree with a beatific grin spread across his face — was sentenced to die and sent to Florida's death row.
While Neal Horsley may not openly share Hill's taste for violence, both men do have a penchant for hard-line theocratic thinking — the idea that government and the legal system must be structured along explicitly religious lines.
Paul Hill was — and remains — a Christian Reconstructionist. This draconian theology holds that Old Testament laws ought to be the basis for "reconstructing" society under an explicitly theocratic government.
In the words of the late Rousas John Rushdoony, who wrote the defining Reconstructionist text in 1973, all non-Biblical law "represents an anti-Christian religion."
Although interpretations differ, most Reconstructionists propose the death penalty for abortion, homosexuality, the "propagation of false doctrines" and even "incorrigible" behavior by children.
Rushdoony's son-in-law, Gary North, wrote an important Reconstructionist book in 1998 that urged anti-abortion groups to go beyond civil disobedience and forge a theocratic movement that would culiminate in "a total confrontation with the civilization of secular humanism."
That same year, North personally tutored Operation Rescue's Randall Terry, according to the book Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War, by journalists James Risen and Judy Thomas.
The effect on Terry was obvious. By 1995, he was telling an Operation Rescue gathering that Christians need to "take up the sword" and "overthrow" the government.
It's not known if Horsley personally met Terry or North, but he was certainly familiar with them and the ideas they shared with Hill. What is clear is that by the mid-1990s, Horsley was expressing Reconstructionist ideas.
Among other things, he cited "the elimination of the idea of the Creator from the legal reasoning process leading to the formation of law" as "proving the desecration of God's authority" in America. He wrote about "evil laws and the evil regime that perpetuates those laws."
And he angrily called on fellow Christians to radically reform the "self-indulgent, pagan, idolatrous status quo that goes by the name of the United States."
Horsley sneered at mainstream Christians: "When the dominant form of Christianity in a particular culture is actually apostate [heretical] Christianity, then the only alternative for real Christians is an alternative Christianity."
Horsley would come to share something more with Gary North. By the late 1990s, North had become the nation's leading prophet of "Y2K" doom — the idea that social collapse would accompany the arrival of the new millennium.
(It didn't, of course, but for a time millennial fears lit up the entire U.S. radical right.)
On his own website, Horsley would chime in, warning that "it is no exaggeration to say Armageddon could well be on its way." He also warned of the possibility that "our political rulers are consciously allowing the Y2K meltdown because they want to see a New World Order established" that would yield all power to the United Nations.
Horsley's website provided links to North's voluminous Y2K site, as well as to a roundup of Y2K "facts" posted by one Michael Bray — the convicted architect of a series of 1984 abortion clinic bombings and a key Reconstructionist theorist.
In 1995, Neal Horsley logged on to the Internet.
His first website, www.christiangallery.com, carried his writings on a variety of subjects, from essays calling for the arrest of "f------" to interminable diatribes about abortion.
One section, called the "Desecration Digest," included extremely graphic pornographic photos ostensibly meant to illustrate America's moral degeneracy.
Another, entitled "Secession Via Nuclear Weapons" and illustrated by a large photograph of a mushroom cloud, called for Georgians to threaten to violently secede in a bid to force other states to outlaw abortion.
On another of Horsley's sites — he would ultimately put up a whole series of linked pages — he demanded that churches be exempted from Internal Revenue Service regulations.
Under the aegis of "the free church movement," Horlsey attacked the legal requirements that churches refrain from political activity to win tax-exempt status and withhold taxes from employees — a typical Reconstructionist theme.
By 1997, Horsley was a candidate for Georgia governor on the ticket of the so-called Creator's Rights Party — a political organization that, to all appearances, had a membership of one.
Horsley, who during this period was earning his living as a computer consultant at the Centers for Disease Control and elsewhere, simultaneously was making a name for himself in the world of hard-line anti-abortion activists.
In January 1997, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to sing the praises of the Internet at the White Rose Banquet — an annual gathering of some of the most violence-prone anti-abortion activists in America, hosted by clinic bomber Michael Bray.
The List-Making Begins
At the Washington banquet, according to later court testimony, Horsley met Paul deParrie, an official of a radical anti-abortion group, the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA), which had compiled a large number of dossiers on abortion providers. Containing many personal details, these dossiers already had been used to create anti-abortion posters of providers.
At the time Horsley and deParrie hooked up, ACLA, a similar group called Advocates for Life Ministries and 14 individuals were being sued by Planned Parenthood and a group of providers. The plaintiffs charged that the posters were nothing less than an assassination list.
DeParrie gave Horsley a box filled with ACLA dossiers, and within weeks Horsley had organized the infamous "Nuremberg Files" — a new section of his website that ultimately would carry the names of and other details about hundreds of doctors, other health care providers and even politicians and judges who supported abortion rights. The idea, Horsley says, was to create files for future prosecutions for "child-killing."
Horsley would later testify that he had no intention of creating a hit list, only of presenting information for use at future trials. But Horsley surely knew that such data had been used for murder before.
An "unwanted" poster featuring Dr. John Britton, including his photo, home address and details about his vehicle, was used by Horsley acquaintance Paul Hill to carry out Britton's assassination.
The details of how Britton was identified were written up as a case study in a magazine called Life Advocate — edited by deParrie and published by ACLA leader Andrew Burnett.
Assassination and Celebrity
On the evening of Oct. 23, 1998, a sniper shot and killed Dr. Barnett Slepian as he stood with his wife and son in the kitchen of his home in East Amherst, N.Y. The death of Dr. Slepian would soon make a celebrity of Neal Horsley.
Horsley claims now that the morning after Slepian's murder, he found a list on the Internet of abortion providers who had been wounded or murdered.
After adding the names to his Nuremberg Files site, he grayed out the names of those who had been wounded. And then he put a line through the names of the dead.
"I got to Barnett Slepian's name," he told Atlanta. "And all of a sudden I ... realized: When I draw a line through his name, under these circumstances, they are going to freak f------ out. ... And I said, let's do it. Let 'er rip!"
The next day, Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt held a press conference to denounce the Nuremberg Files, which she characterized as a "list of abortion doctors marked for death." Two days later, Horsley claims, the site received 400,000 hits — almost twice as many as the monthly total up to that point.
At around the same time — sometime in 1998 — a story entitled "Rescue Platoon" was serialized on a website sponsored by David Leach, whose Iowa-based newsletter has supported the extremist anti-abortion network.
"Rescue Platoon" was a novelistic account of a future, final war against abortion that begins with the execution — or "martyrdom" — of assassin Paul Hill.
By the end, Utah and the former Confederate states have outlawed abortion, only to have the federal government threaten to send in troops to reopen the clinics. This causes Texas to secede, joined by "disgruntled Patriots" and others on the side of "righteousness."
The author of "Rescue Platoon" is not identified. But it is difficult to escape the obvious similarities between this fictionalized account of a winning war against abortion and Horsley's much-promoted strategy of Southern secession.
Attacking 'Homicidal Mothers'
By the time the Planned Parenthood lawsuit went to a federal jury in 1999, Horsley's Nuremberg Files site had become a central focus of the case.
Although Horsley was never added as a defendant — the suit was originally aimed at those who had gathered information for the "unwanted" posters — he was named an unindicted co-conspirator and deposed.
The plaintiffs argued that Horsley's site and the posters amounted to a "true threat," even though neither specifically called for violence. In the end, the jury agreed (see Hit List or Free Speech?), awarding $107 million in damages.
Part of the judge's final order required Horsley to take down the Nuremberg Files.
A day after the February verdict, an Internet service provider shut Horsley's site down. Over the next years, he would be forced to switch providers some 40 times as one after another decided they didn't want to host his website.
Also in 1999, Horsley began to plan for a project that would eventually become his www.abortioncams.com website.
Angrily attacking other opponents of abortion for treating mothers sympathetically rather than as murderers, Horsley soon would begin to solicit and put up photos of patients outside abortion facilities.
"There are words for what a mother does when she kills her unborn child for any reason other than clear and present self-defense ... words like infanticide and homicide, and evil, and sin, and punishable by law and God," Horsley writes on the site. "[These] homicidal mothers must be held up for the world to see."
By 2001, the site was up, complete with scores of photos.
A Fugitive Comes Calling
On March 28, 2001, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Planned Parenthood verdict, ruling that both the "unwanted" posters and the material on Horsley's site were protected speech — and within days, Horsley had put the Nuremberg Files back up.
(The plaintiffs petitioned for an en banc hearing, and in December were allowed to reargue their case to the full 9th Circuit appeals court. A decision is pending.)
"Defendants can only be held liable if they authorized, ratified or directly threatened violence," Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in the March decision. "But if their statements merely encouraged unrelated terrorists, then their words are protected by the First Amendment."
Horsley was overjoyed — and even more famous. It wasn't long before the neo-Confederate Southern Party, which includes a number of modern secessionists, invited Horsley to deliver the keynote speech at its August national convention in Vicksburg, Miss.
Although the text of Horsley's speech is not available, his ideas on secession and the role of religion doubtless played to sympathetic ears.
If Horsley had fears about securing his place on the extremist fringe of the anti-abortion movement, they most likely disappeared on Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving.
That morning, Horsley says, Clayton Waagner — a man on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List — showed up at Horsley's Georgia home carrying a pistol and full of talk.
Waagner had been a fugitive since February 2001, when he escaped an Illinois jail while awaiting sentencing on federal firearms and auto theft convictions.
While on the lam, Waagner allegedly robbed banks in two states and carried out a carjacking in another. Waagner also sent out repeated e-messages claiming he was stalking 42 abortion providers and planned to kill some of them.
Horsley says that Waagner showed him evidence proving that Waagner was behind the mailing of fake anthrax threats to almost 300 abortion clinics last fall. Waagner also asked Horsley to put up an "escape clause" on his site to allow the 42 workers he was supposedly stalking to avoid death by quitting their jobs.
Not long after, the editor of the Southern Party's newsletter printed Horsley's tale, saying "if I didn't trust the source for this one, it wouldn't be in here." He went on to describe Horsley as "a Georgian and a fine Southern gentleman."
On Dec. 5, Clayton Waagner, who once testified that God told him to kill abortion doctors, was arrested at a Kinko's store near Cincinnati, supposedly as he was logged on to one of Horsley's sites. Attorney General John Ashcroft has called him a "domestic terrorist" and the primary suspect in the fake anthrax threats.
All the World's a Stage
Today, Neal Horsley is a key player in the world of anti-abortion extremism. Although his vulgarity — not to mention his past as a dope-dealing womanizer — has hurt him in many extremist quarters, his remarkable ability to generate publicity has shunted many other abortion hard-liners into the shade.
His ribald humor and back-slapping persona, so unusual on the often sanctimonious anti-abortion scene, have made him attractive to a fresh crop of young hard-liners.
And like so many people in other sectors of the American radical right, Horsley has managed to back violent individuals even as he nominally decries violence as a means to his ends.
"He certainly has brought some attention to the anti-abortion movement that it would not have received otherwise," says Dallas Blanchard, a long-time expert on anti-abortion extremism and professor emeritus at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.
"That publicity has been a help to the movement, but it has also been damaging because of the extreme cast of characters. Horsley makes no pretense of upright morality. He seems to be kind of a loose cannon. And most of these folks would not like to be publicly associated with Horsley's persona."
Above all, one thing is certain. Neal Horsley loves the attention.
"When it came," Horsley said of what he sees as God's message to him that he was to save the babies, "it opened the door and put me right up there on stage. A big stage with lots of lights. Rather than shrinking back, I saw it as my opportunity. ... To be perfectly honest, I'm having a great time. I love it!"