I caught up with Missionaries to the Preborn as they paraded south down Prospect Ave. Sixty protesters in all, nearly half of them children, followed a festive, yellow banner that proclaimed Paul Hill Days. Those at the front of the line marched, beat drums, played hymns on a ragtag assortment of wind instruments, and called out a military-sounding cadence in honor of their hero, an assassin who gunned down a doctor and his escort 13 years ago.
Half clown troupe, half street ministry, the procession was largely ignored by passers by. A young man from the local technical college followed with a small videocam. At one point, a man getting into a parked car shouted "Children shouldn't have to see those pictures." He was holding two young boys as they stared up at a poster of an aborted fetus. "Maybe we need to see more of these pictures," a protester yelled back.
The troupe reached the large, orange Sunrise sculpture at the point where Wisconsin Ave. meets the lakefront. They marched around the sculpture, then stopped, forming a ragtag semi-circle. Their apparent leader, a bearded, mountain-man type named Drew Heiss, led the group in song and prayer. "There is power in the blood of the lamb," they sang. Then Drew officially concluded "The First Annual Paul Hill Days", and reminded everyone to walk to a nearby park for the Subway sandwiches they had ordered earlier.
During the walk, I met Andy Wilson, the son of George Wilson who organized Paul Hill Days. Wilson, Sr., a former Presbyterian Minister, died of a heart attack earlier that week at age 55. I expressed my condolences, then asked Andy if his group was discouraged by President Bush's inability to promote Wilson's religious agenda. "Bush's heart is in the right place, but there's not much he can do," he answered.
At the park, some of the children discovered a crabapple tree on top of the bluff that overlooks Lake Michigan. The boys shimmied up the trunk, and shook the branches until the fruit fell on the ground. "Yuck, they're sour," said a young girl. "They're crabapples," said a boy. A plump, blonde-haired woman walked over and scolded the children. "He told us to," said one of the boys, pointing at me. "I guess that makes me the serpent," I said. Mom did not seem amused, but remained pleasant.
Colin, a thin man with large glasses that gave him a lost expression said Paul Hill Days was about "making people see what was happening." I asked if he thought the protest was persuading people, and he said he didn't know. "Most people are apathetic, but you have to start somewhere. You have to show them what is happening."
The man said he traveled frequently with the Missionaries, disrupting clinics and "showing what is happening" by way of the group's lurid posters. I asked what he did for a living. "Oh, I do odd jobs here and there. Mostly I travel with the Missionaries to the Preborn." He pulled a small plastic fetus out of his pocket. "I take this with me everywhere I go," he said. I asked if promoting murder was a persuasive way to draw people to their cause. "Sometimes I wonder if there is a more effective way," he said, looking even more lost as he thought about the question.
The group said grace over their sub sandwiches, including a shout out to their hero, Paul Hill, a "Godly man" whom the state of Florida executed in 2003 for shooting down two men he didn't even know.
I later asked Drew Heiss if he was concerned about teaching children that it was acceptable to murder people you disagree with. He didn't appear that he had spent much time thinking about the question. "Well, we try to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong, and Biblical principles," he said, before entering more familiar territory - the "real meaning" of the sixth commandment, which he identified as "Thou Shalt Not Murder".
"If I fail to stop a murderer from murdering, then I am also guilty of murdering?" he seemed to wonder aloud. He said he invited some of his friends to march in Paul Hill days, but he's not sure how they feel about it. "Will they stop being my friends if they know what I am for?"
He was dead serious.
h/t Illusory Tenant