Abortion clinic protesters outside of North Dakota’s only abortion clinic are very unhappy this week, because they’re being counter-protested by a guy holding signs reading “Hail Satan” and sarcastically referring to them as “women’s rights experts.” The anti-abortion protesters say their counter-protester is making them feel “uneasy.” Oh?
Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo is the only clinic in the state that still provides abortion services. They’re routinely protested and use volunteer escorts to bring patients safely inside. As WDAY reports, though, they’ve lately been experiencing a bit of counter-protesting, courtesy of a guy named Nik Severson. Severson told WDAY he wants to make the protesters as uncomfortable as they make Red River’s patients. From WDAY:
“It’s a hard decision for these women to make this decision,” Severson told the station. “And they don’t need any more hateful messages. There’s pictures of dead baby fetuses out here and — it’s just a circus out here.”
Severson says the protesters have threatened him, but that he doesn’t plan to budge: “I do the same thing that they’re doing to these ladies.”
Red River, for their part, seems to think Severson is pretty funny. On their Facebook page, they linked to the WDAY story and wrote, “Guess what, friends? The beauty of the first amendment means that you get to stand in public and say what you want to say, as long as you don’t threaten anyone. Apparently, the protestors don’t like it when someone gives them a taste of their own medicine. They call the police. Who can’t do anything. Because, AMERICA.”
One of the anti-abortion protesters, a man named Bartholomew Schumacher, says Severson has them all wrong, and complains he refuses to listen to them.
“He just wouldn’t engage,” Schumacher told WDAY. “He just kept saying we’re oppressive white men who want to control women’s lives and stuff. I don’t want that. I just want protection of the innocent.”
That’s a very interesting thing for Schumacher to say, because according to the City of Fargo’s sex offender registry, he is a level two sex offender, convicted of raping a female family member in August 2011. He is required to remain on the sex offender registry until 2039.
According to media accounts from the time, Schumacher beat and raped the woman in 2010, then tied her to a toddler bed with electrical tape and menaced her with a knife, making gestures as though he intended to slit her throat. After about two hours, the woman was able to free herself and run for help. Court records show Schumacher was convicted of gross sexual imposition, felonius restraint, and two counts of terrorizing his victim. He served a little less than one year in jail and remained on probation for the next five.
Update, 12:30 p.m.:
Jezebel spoke via email with Tammi Kromenaker, the director of Red River Women’s Clinic. She’s quite clear that, if clinic staff had their way, there’d be no one outside at all.
“We wish we had NO protestors – regular or counter out there,” she writes. “We wish our patients could enter the clinic free of harassment and stigma – just as they would when entering any doctor’s office or clinic.”
Additionally, a clinic escort who’s been volunteering at Red River since 2014 and who wished to remain anonymous emailed us to say she is somewhat dubious of Severson’s motives:
I have escorted at RRWC since the summer of 2014, and have only felt uncomfortable a few times, and last week when Severson was at the clinic was one of those times. While I was there, he repeatedly approached escorts and asked their names (and what woman *doesn’t* love having a stranger repeatedly ask, “Hey, what’s your name? What’s your name?” as they are just trying to do what they’re doing?), and whenever people would stop to take pictures he would ask them to tweet at John Oliver so that he could get on John Oliver’s show. His actions made it pretty clear that he wasn’t there for the women but for himself.
I hope that Jezebel can set the record straight and stop praising a man who wasn’t making an already stressful situation worse.
Update, 9 p.m.:
Jezebel reached Nik Severson tonight via Facebook and asked about his motivations for counter-protesting and his interactions with Schumacher and other protesters. Severson, who refers to himself as the “Michael Jordan of trolls,” allows that he’s interested in getting media attention, but says it’s for the cause, not for personal gain. He suggested the clinic escort who was uncomfortable with him could be “another ‘Christian’ trying to stain my name.”
Here are his responses, with minor edits for length and clarity:
On how he started counter-protesting at the clinic:
I don’t see myself as a protester let alone, a “counter-protester.” I’ve been called a troll, but I prefer the term “keyboard cowboy.” I troll people online using Facebook, usually for my own political motives and have attacked many people, from North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer to locals of the Red River Valley, and I’ve become pretty good at it. It was one weekend, when I was eating at Vinyl Taco in Fargo, that I saw these “Christians” praying in unison outside of the Red River Women’s clinic. They sounded like a scary movie intro and immediately, I was appalled. I confronted them and demanded to know why they had brought little girls with them to shame women? A man approached me and wanted me to leave and when I refused, he assaulted me. After that incident I decided to start the counter-protesting.
On accusations that he’s at the clinic for attention or viral fame:
Of course the goal is to gather attention. I don’t like “Christians” using God to shame women. I want their faces plastered all over the internet. I also need the attention to gather others to my cause. So far, I think I have been successful.
If he asked female clinic escorts their names:
I had asked a lot of people what their names were. I’m very proud of the Women’s Clinic escorts and I think they are doing great things. They are stronger than I am. As for this escort who doubts my intentions and is slandering my name, they could be just another “Christian” trying to stain my name because they are upset that what I am doing is working and that there is nothing that they can do to stop me. There was also a group of kids from high school there and I asked them why they were there and why they weren’t in school, because I was impressed with them. One of the individuals was suffering from a lot of teen angst, let’s call her Daria. Daria did not appreciate how I conducted myself at the clinic. I told her that her opinion didn’t matter to me and that I don’t follow rules.
And on his interactions with Bartholomew Schumacher, the protester convicted of rape in 2011:
I have seen Schumacher out at the clinic many times. He never misses a moment to try and speak to me, and I usually just interrupt him as soon as he speaks so that I wouldn’t have to hear his fourth grade insults. Last night I found out he was a convicted rapist. I went to the Clinic immediately, and told a group of ten “Christians” who he was and what he had done to a woman. They called me liar, they screamed at me to leave. I showed a few of them the article and still they denied it. They called the cops on me and the police officer confirmed that the man was who I said he was. The “Christians” shook his hand and hugged him. It was the most disgusting thing I had ever seen in my life.
Earlier that night, I called the police to file a complaint against a different man and his son who had been threatening me before I had stepped outside of my vehicle. The father has already threatened to kill me multiple times but this time he started filming my license plate and he also asked where I worked. I immediately left and called the police. I waited for an hour and a half and police never showed up, because they said “it was a busy night.” It was funny, when I was waiting for the police was when I found out about Schumacher being a rapist. Later, it only took ten minutes for the police to show up when the “Christians” called me in for harassment. I have sacrificed the safety of my life to harass these people back. The police don’t care, and all I’m asking for is that other people come to join me and protest to make it the worst experience of their “Christian” lives.
We also spoke tonight with Tina Currin, who co-created Saturday Chores with her husband, the original group trolling abortion clinic protestors in North Carolina with funny signs. (Although Severson says he has not heard of the group.)
Currin seemed concerned with the idea of staging an abortion clinic protest with the intent to make it go viral.
“I think it’s great when people draw inspiration from Saturday Chores, and folks have staged similar counter-protests all over the world,” she wrote in an email. “It’s been really amazing to see. But I am NOT into it if it’s done with the intention of “making it big” or “going viral” or whatever.”
She added, “We have always worked in concert with the director of the clinic in North Carolina to make sure that nobody is uncomfortable. Thats the number one goal.” She noted that she and her husband raised enough money to build a “privacy fence” for the Raleigh abortion clinic, to shield patients from having to see or hear anyone as they walk inside.
Donations can be made to North Dakota WIN (Women in Need) Abortion Access Fund, which helps women & families who cannot afford their services at Red River Women’s Clinic. The WIN Fund is a 501c3 tax deductible.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Screengrab via WDAY