What a relief! I spent some time with Flip and a few of his associates four years ago and left wondering whether I should call the F.B.I. Never had I met a Christian fundamentalist leader who seemed to be so clearly flirting with the idea of terrorism. At one point, when I asked Flip about the Army of God -- the underground movement dedicated to killing abortion providers -- he winked. Of course, I didn't call the F.B.I. -- that's not the journalist's job, and Flip hadn't said or done anything genuinely incriminating. Here's what he did say, as I recorded it in my book The Family*:
There was the Reverend Flip Benham, head of Operation Save America, also known as Operation Rescue. He was the man who baptized Norma McCorvey—Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade—into fundamentalism. For the rally, he was wearing vintage white-and-brown wingtips, symbols, he explained, of his commitment to pre-1947 America—1947 being the year when the Supreme Court ruled according to Jefferson’s “wall of separation” for the first time, in a case concerning government funds for parochial schools....
While we were talking, Reverend Flip had begun to preach. He told the crowd about a recent victory he’d scored near Charlotte, North Carolina, where he’d led seven hundred prayer warriors to a school board meeting to protest the formation of a Gay- Straight Alliance club in a local high school. “The preachers preached, the singers sang, the pray-ers prayed, and the theology of the church became biography in the streets!” Flip said. The school board shut down the club—a deliberate bid, it had declared, to bring the issue before the courts and get gay- straight clubs outlawed everywhere. Flip said this was what Jesus wanted. He even did an impression: “Cry to me,” he said in his best bass God voice; the prayers of the righteous will be answered....
Across the table sat Pastor Rusty and Reverend Flip. Flip threw his tie over his shoulder and leaned back in his chair. The waitress, a handsome middle-aged woman named Anna, looked crushed when she learned that the whole group, out of respect for the nondrinkers among them, would be sticking to iced tea. Several of the men asked her where her accent was from. She said she was Polish-Russian, but when she came around to Flip, he said, “Hola, Señorita,” and asked her where she was from. Anna rolled her eyes. We ordered, most of us the buffet. Anna came back to refill our iced tea. She tried to tally the orders, which the pastors kept changing.
“You ordered the buffet?” she asked Flip.
Flip took a toothpick from his mouth, fixed her with a stare. He
owned the room. “I think I already had a buffet,” he said, pronounc-
ing the word as Buffy. “Now I’d like to try an Anna.”
Nobody missed a beat. The party went on.
*Flip is not a part of the fundamentalist organization called the Family.