No doubt a few of you are worried about how the news of Galen Baughman's arrest may affect the fight to reform registry laws. My personal thoughts on this guy wasn't positive to begin with. Quite frankly, I felt he was arrogant and more concerned with self-promotion than on promoting the cause in general. At the same time, I don't revel in his arrest, or the arrest of any reformist, because obviously it has the potential to negatively impact our movement as a whole, even though the rest of us aren't getting arrested for allegedly reoffending. Also, he is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. If he's guilty then that is his own fault.
The SLATE website has a lengthy article on this development, and once again the comment section is filled with the same tired "kill them all" rhetoric that we are used to hearing. One clown even went so far as to try to make that tired NAMBLA connection:
|We've heard these outlandish connections before.|
Folks, most of you haven't been in this movement a long time. I have. There are a few of us who was aaround when RSOL was little more than an online petition and SOSEN was a Yahoo! Group. Back then, the main organization was "SOHopeful International." If you even remember that name, then congratulations, you're a true veteran of the anti-registry movement.
If you remember SO Hopeful, then you know we've been here before.
Back in late 2007, a major rift occurred in our movement as the result of a rally held in Columbus Ohio (The 'Silent No More" Rally), which protested the first state to adopt the Adam Walsh Act. The brass at SO Hopeful did not support our rally, and as a result, a mass exodus of registrants and their loved ones left SO Hopeful and migrated to SOSEN and RSOL, and both groups benefited from it (as evidenced by the current status of the group today). SO Hopeful remained in business, but only a few loyal members remained. The remaining BOD elected James ("Jim") Freeman, who went by the screen names "Mystik Warrior," "Mystikal," and "Orolan," as the interim leader of the group.
In March 2008, there was a much hyped arrest of an so-called "international pedophile ring" (translation, a handful of losers trading illegal images). You have to love how the media hypes up such stories. But one of the arrests were of James Freeman. People without our movement panicked. Lots of rumors swirled around, and folks were fearful we'd be targeted by more than just the vigilante groups poking fun at our misfortune.
But we are still around today. RSOL and SOSEN are still around. Our movement weathered that storm, and we'll weather this storm as well. I'm still here as well.
There are a few lessons from the Freemen incident that we should remember as we watch this latest development:
- We should not remain silent about it: One group made the mistake of trying to hide the arrest from the public forums but the online vigilante groups were aware of the news and used the news as ammunition against us. We should not shy away from discussing the current issue because other folks are already discussing it anyways. The disclaimers sitting on our websites today are the result of my lobbying the various groups to post such a disclaimer on their websites that we are not affiliated with websites that wish to legalize sexual activity with children.
- The media will move on to other things, and so should we: In time, all news stories fade. The current controversy pales in comparison to "Int'l CP ring' headlines but who among you even heard about Freeman up till now? The media shitstorm will blow back to Trump or the Trans bathroom flap or whatever stupid stuff Kanye West-Kardashian will say tomorrow. We can discuss this issue, then we can move on to the other pressing concerns of our activist front.
- Don't deviate from the game plan: To cite the Slate article again, "But regardless of what Baughman may have done, it’s still the case that the majority of sex offenders who are released from prison don’t reoffend, and it’s still the case that life-ruining sex offender registry laws have not made children safer. Those ideas shouldn’t lose their credibility just because Baughman has lost his."
We will endure, of course. To invoke the Slate article once more, "Given how few people are willing to step forward and become a face of this particular movement, Baughman’s interest in going public made him a consequential figure in the fight to reform America’s sex offender laws. That fight will survive Baughman’s alleged probation violation, but his arrest will inevitably distract from the ideas he was trying to spread."
It is only a distraction if we allow it to be one.
I love the words of Roger Lancaster: "Roger Lancaster, the George Mason anthropologist, believes reform movements would be better off if they leaned less heavily on 'perfect victims.' As he sees it, the tactic of using individual stories to build support for reforms originated with tough-on-crime politicians and victims’ rights advocates in the 1980s and 1990s."
If there is one real, glaring problem with our anti-registry efforts, it is that so few of us are willing to speak out and we support even fewer among those who do. I didn't have the resources and support that Galen got, despite being far more dedicated to our cause than he was. (He told me in an email he was far more focused on gay issues and rarely, if ever, discussed registered citizens and did not support public activism.) This attitude of waiting for a messiah to lead us into the promised land hinders us more than helps us. When we rely on a few people to be the faces of our cause, then we suffer more when one of the few fails us.
I am encouraged when I see a concerted effort by a large group of folks and not just a few, as when large turnouts of activists arrive at statehouses in California and in Ohio to stop bad legislation. It does not matter who you are, or how great you speak. (I'll be the first to admit I'm not that great a speaker and I get nervous as hell when I have to do it.) What matters is that you speak. One of the best speakers of the day could barely speak without crying. To me, that raw emotion had the most impact, more than any fact or figure. What matters is they did not wait for a perfect spokesperson, they got up and spoke. No one asked if the speakers were only "R&Js."
The best way to deal with this latest controversy is to, to use a cliche slogan, "Keep calm and carry on." We've been here before and we will endure.