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Leaders at conservative conference call for tougher talk against abortion, gays

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 25, 2009 - U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann -- a favorite among conservatives -- brought hundreds here to their feet Saturday as she asserted that Americans are now witnessing a "gangster government'' controlling Washington and running the country.

But Bachmann, R-Minn., contended that the Tea Parties and other conservative rallies are galvanizing public support to "defund the left'' and put conservative Republicans back in power.

Once the GOP is back in control, she promised that conservatives in Congress will "pass repealer bill after repealer bill'' to get rid of Democratic proposals that recently have been put in place.

"The American people automatically recoil at the sight of liberalism in practice," said Bachmann, who headlined Saturday's luncheon for the two-day "How to Take Back America Conference" running through Saturday at ;the Hilton Frontenac Hotel in St. Louis County.

The conference was organized by Eagle Forum, a conservative public policy organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly, a St. Louis area native who now lives in Ladue.

Bachmann called for "scrapping the tax code, that's No. 1,'' citing its "thousands of pages of contradictory laws. ... Then we'll just scrap law after law that hampers American constitutional rights and restricts our ability to produce goods and services here in the United States."

Congress already has taken a first step in "defunding the left," Bachmann said, when it quickly acted to strip federal funding for ACORN, the low-income advocacy group. The action came in the wake of public furor ignited by undercover conservative activists who, portraying themselves as a prostitute and a pimp, visited ACORN offices and recorded some staffers on hidden cameras giving illegal advice on how to run their fake prostitution ring.

ACORN has been a popular target of conservatives for years because many of its activities are seen as helping Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, such as the poor.

Later, at Saturday night's banquet, another conservative favorite -- former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- ignited cheers when he called for slashing the United States' payments to the United Nations, which he dubbed "the international equivalent of ACORN'' because it "props up complete fools'' who govern some other countries.

Huckabee, who won a straw poll at the recent Values Voter Summit held in Washington, said he was appalled by the televised behavior he saw displayed by some Middle Eastern leaders who addressed the UN last week. He called them an "outrageous parade of raving lunatics."

"It's time to get a jack hammer, simply chip away that part of New York City,'' Huckabee declared amid applause.

Another option, he continued, would be to follow up some nations' suggestions that the UN be moved to another country. His point, he continued, was that it's "time to say enough is enough'' when it comes to American taxpayers footing about a quarter of the UN's annual expenses.

"I say, 'Give it to the Saudis,' " Huckabee said.

Such tough talk by Bachmann and Huckabee exemplified the chief message at the conference:

When it comes to the conservative battle over various matters -- from health care and taxes to  social issues like gay rights and abortion -- it's time for activists to get less genteel and more graphic.

"We've circled the wagons defending the word 'marriage,' " said Matt Barber, a leader in Virginia's conservative "Liberty Council."

"We need to highlight the fact that homosexual behavior will always be destructive, wrong and dangerous. It's time for fighting back against homosexual behavior."

To do that, Barber said, conservatives need to be more specific about what homosexuality entails.

Barber was the co-leader of one of the two dozen workshops to be conducted during the two-day conference.

Barber called for conservatives to be more confrontational if they want to succeed against the "radical homosexual activist movement," that he said has the ear and support of President Barack Obama.

At Saturday's luncheon, convention co-chair Janet Folger Porter -- founder of Faith2Action, a conservative family resource group -- contended that the proposed federal hate-crimes legislation should really be called "the pedophile protection act."

Porter and other conference leaders offer a similar approach when it comes to the conservative quest to outlaw abortion. During a workshop, attendees are to be encouraged to watch "MAAFA 21," a new movie that asserts that abortion providers are targeting African Americans.

"At the core of the abortion agenda is to actually exterminate an ethnic people," Porter said.

She contended that up to 16 million African Americans have been aborted since the Supreme Court legalized most abortions in 1973. That means, she said, that "25 percent of the African American population has been exterminated since Roe vs. Wade."

Porter told of the sympathetic and emotional reaction that "MAAFA 21" generated when it was shown to aides for a number of African-American members of Congress. If the movie is circulated widely enough, she said, it could provide the "crack in the wall" needed to get Roe vs. Wade overturned.

Such how-to specifics and grassroots training, said Schlafly in an interview, are what make this conference different from many of the Eagle Forum's earlier events.

The hands-on approach, she added, may be a key reason why 600 people -- twice as many as usual -- have registered to attend.

"Every single speaker, every single workshop" revolves around "this is what to do, this is how to take back America," Schlafly said.

Friday night's banquet speakers included U.S. Reps. Tom Price, R-Ga., and Steve King, R-Iowa, who both decried the approach of the Democrats running Congress and occupying the White House.

But both avoided the combative approach preached during the workshops and skirted the touchier social issues. Both did, however, focus on Congress.

Price, a physician and surgeon, asserted that the chief debate now underway is "not about health care. It's about power. It's about freedom."

A stronger government role, Price said, will threaten Americans' freedom to choose.

Freedom, said King, was a gift of God, not government. And he said the United States holds a special place in history for a biblical reason. "This 'American exceptionalism' is not an accident,'' King said, but the result of "divine guidance."

The audience's biggest cheers, though, were saved for a non-politician: Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as "Joe the Plumber,'' because of his fiscally conservative questions posed to Obama during the presidential campaign.

Friday night, Wurzelbacher ;blamed ;"the mainstream media and politicians who keep us at each other's throats." Washington, he said, "stains the soul...These people are manipulative."

The evening speakers generally avoided direct jabs at the man who was a favorite target during the daytime workshops and the noon news conference: Obama.

Schlafly was blunt: "I see what he's doing as absolute socialism." 

Or, in the eyes of some, worse.

Kitty Werthmann, head of Eagle Forum's South Dakota chapter, said at Friday's opening-day news conference that she viewed Obama's actions as mirroring those of Nazi Germany.

Werthmann, 83, grew up in Austria and recounted how the Nazis -- who were fascists -- took over that country. "First they nationalized the banks. Then they nationalized education," she said. "As time went along, they nationalized health care."

Werthmann recalled that the Nazis also exhorted the public that "we should only listen to Hitler. He is our future."

"Last, was gun registration and confiscation," Werthmann said.

Werthmann is leading a workshop Saturday entitled, "How to Recognize Living Under Nazis and Communists."

After Friday's news conference, she said her aim was to "wake up the people" that, in her view, the same danger signs are underway now under Obama.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.