Monday, January 15, 2007
The Maggot Punks are a bawdy band of atheists and agnostics based out of Wichita who have been baiting anti-abortion activists (whom the Punks refer to as just "antis") since 2002. They've taken their crusade from the frontlines of the Kansas' two abortion clinics (one is in Wichita, the other in Overland Park) to the virtual theater of unholy war at maggotpunks.com. The site serves as a collection of unflattering photos, videos, personal information, and juvenile jokes at the expense of so-called Fanatical Fundy Freaks. Maggot Punk organizer Steve Pottorff (online handle "Mr. Zero") and spokesperson Doug Ittner (a.k.a. "Dig Doug Deeper," a.k.a. "D-Cubed") talked with us about their agit-prop, pro-choice pranksterism.
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Text-based version for the audio impaired:
lawrence.com: What are the Maggot Punks and what's your manifesto?
Steve Pottorff: The history is kind of interesting. We all started out as patient escorts at Women's Healthcare Services in Wichita:eventually we decided to sort of form up a little group, and one day (a protester) said to us, "You're all a bunch of little maggot punks." That became our name. Essentially, what we're doing is wearing the insults of the fundamentalists who attempt to stop people from getting medical services as a badge of honor.
Doug Ittner: Steve basically started everything. We got there and he was the one with the camera, and he had all these photos online, and he's kind of the one who just organized the format on the website. (Anti-abortion website) ChristianGallery.com has all these things like the "Dr. Wanted" posters and all their personal information online. What we did wasn't terribly original; we just took what the antis were already doing and turned it around on them. Naturally, they didn't really care much for that:
How did living in Wichita shape your political and religious beliefs?
Pottorff: First of all, I give myself a label of "ultra liberal militant atheist," which definitely puts me in the minority in Wichita, Kansas. The reason I started escorting was to meet people of like mind, and also I was really sick and tired of the fundamentalists who like to push people around. Everyone seems to be scared of them. I'm not particularly scared of them:what are they going to do to me? Shoot me? If that's the case, then I guess I become a martyr.
I started escorting and I found out that I really irritated them-a lot. I sort of liked that. They're these religious zealot-bots and they'll go around and they'll harass people and they'll ruin people's lives just because it happens to suit whatever ideological path they're being led down. So irritating them was something that I found appealing.
Now, if I lived someplace like Anchorage, Alaska-probably, no, I wouldn't be as politically active:
What are your experiences with Don McKinney, the lawyer and anti-abortion protester who former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate George Tiller?
Pottorff: He's threatened to sue us a countless number of times:
Ittner: He called me a thief and a mass murderer. There were some police down the street, so I asked him if he'd like to report me, but he never did. He was making $185/hr at the tax payer's expense.
He has his own cult:he calls it his "On Fire House Church," and he's like the spiritual leader of it.
What are some of the weirdest things you've encountered at the clinic?
Ittner: There was one guy who insisted that we talk to his talking plastic fetus. It didn't talk, but he thought it did.
Pottorff: Then there's the one lady who came out to Central Women's Clinic and she would bring dolls with her all the time. I asked her why she was setting up all these dolls, and she said, "So women won't have abortions."
It's a meeting of very extreme individuals.
How do you define a "Fanatical Fundy Freak"?
Pottorff: I grew up in a Southern Baptist household. My parents are Christian and I don't have any problem with it. They go to church, they have their beliefs, I have my lack of beliefs. They've never gone out to this abortion clinic and tried to screw up people's lives and tried to harass a woman when she's seeking medical treatment.
So I think how I define a "Fanatical Fundy Freak" is someone who just absolutely insists they are right to the exclusion of all other possibilities, and they have been granted this right-by God, I guess-to go out and alter how other people lead their lives.
Do you think that using tactics like mocking them in public and posting their personal information online might be a bit hypocritical?
Ittner: No, not at all, because these people are making themselves public figures. So, therefore, they're drawing attention to themselves. They basically want the publicity, so we're giving it to them.
We're just doing our war on terror:smokin' em out of their caves.
Pottorff: We're patriotic.