By Paul Nevin, special to Humanosphere
Nakuru, Kenya — Among the secondhand clothing stalls in this large, central Kenyan city, Jonathan O’Toole stands tall and proud behind a ten-foot poster of a bloody fetus.
“A great judgment is coming on this prostitute called the USA,” bellows O’Toole. “And every nation that follows will perish with them.”
O’Toole’s voice strains under the burden of his palpable anger. A small crowd of curious onlookers gathers under the midday sun to watch and listen to the street preacher. He asks for an “amen.” They stare silently at this angry, earnest American proselytizing amid the old shirts and shoes.
After twelve arrests in the U.S. for making threats (most recently to Elton John), O’Toole has found a new calling – in eastern Africa.
It might be too late to save the US, but O’Toole has dedicated his life to warning Africans about the evils of Western culture. He sees himself as something like the Bible’s King David, protecting Kenyans from the Goliath abominations of feminism, homosexuality, and abortion rights. He is on his own Christian jihad, ranting against the Great Satan, who in O’Toole’s opinion, looks a lot like Uncle Sam.
Many first learned of O’Toole 15 years ago as the unibrowed nineteen-year-old protégé of militant anti-abortionist, Neal Horsely, in an HBO documentary released in 2000, Soldiers in the Army of God.
The film follows members of an underground extremist anti-abortion group who view violence and murder as necessary tools in the fight against legal abortion. O’Toole’s struggle with the temptation to follow in the bloody footsteps of unrepentant murderers like Eric Rudolph, is as unsettling as it is conspicuous.
O’Toole wrote Horsely to tell him that he was ready “to pick up the sword” and be part of the revolution. He wanted to be part of the Army of God.
O’Toole’s call to arms came two years earlier at a dog kennel in rural Missouri. While he cleaned out a cage, an aggressive Akita clamped down on his forearm and wouldn’t let go. The dog tried to pull him out of the cage, but he fought back.
“The analogy just hit me like an arrow into my heart… it completely radicalized me,” says O’Toole. The dog’s jaws were forceps. He was the innocent unborn baby. God had answered his prayers and saved his life. It was now his responsibility to defend the unborn, “even up to shooting somebody.”
While watching injection of his friend and “hero,” Paul Jennings Hill, something occurred to O’Toole. Even though it was righteous for Hill to shoot and kill Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard in front of the Pensacola Ladies’ Center, he decided it wasn’t worth it for him to lay down his life. “The cost benefit ratio isn’t there,” O’Toole said.
Eleven years later, O’Toole’s main weapon is the website ProjectSEE, which stands for Stop Exporting Evil. Similar to his market day harangues, O’Toole uses the website to warn Kenyans about the satanic culture of the West.
O’Toole’s site ProjectSEE is a cornucopia of provocative images, diatribes, and YouTube videos.
In addition to copious images of fetuses, there are multimedia rants against homosexuality, contraception, President Obama, and the insufficiently homophobic televangelist, Joel Osteen. There is a haunting hymnal ode to the “martyr” Paul Hill, which O’Toole wrote and performed for an audio slideshow. Currently, the majority of the website’s homepage is dedicated to last April’s attack on Garissa University that left 147 dead. O’Toole juxtaposes images from the attack with photos of bloody fetuses as he explains that the West’s pro-gay and abortion agendas in Kenya are to blame for the brutality.
Never straying far from his roots, O’Toole models one section of the site after the Nuremberg Files website, which was established by his mentor, Neal Horsely.
The Nuremberg Files site provided a hit list and “unwanted posters” containing the pictures, names, and contact information of American abortion service providers and promptly crossed them out when they were killed. The website was found to be unlawful by the courts, which decided that it represented true threats of violence that were not protected under the First Amendment.
That hasn’t stopped O’Toole from replicating the practice from his new perch in Kenya, this time targeting LGBTQ and abortion rights activists across Africa. The names of Eric Lembembe, David Kato, and Noxolo Nogwaza have all been crossed out following their murders. Never mind that this practice would be illegal in his native country; O’Toole doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong.
“This is a war. None of us are noncombatants… they made themselves targets, not us.”
Dr. Walter Odhiambo, a senior lecturer in oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Nairobi, might disagree. Dr. Odhiambo’s picture and contact information were plastered onto a “not wanted” poster on ProjectSEE under the title of “Baby Killer” and made available for download and distribution.
How exactly did this oral surgeon, who spends his free time working on public health projects in Kenya, make himself a target? Well, he shares a name with someone who worked at the reproductive health and family planning organization, Marie Stopes International. When confronted about the mix up, O’Toole was contrite and removed the poster, but didn’t plan on altering his methods. “In any serious conflict involving life and death, you say, ‘I either surrender or there’s collateral…’ It could have been worse. If someone had hurt him, would I stop? No. But I would really really regret that.”
O’Toole first came to Africa in 2006, when he visited Esther, a Kenyan girl with whom he had been flirting on a Christian pen pals site. He immediately proposed and helped get her a visa so they could marry in the United States. Only a few months into the marriage, O’Toole began to suspect he had been green card scammed. The marriage ended a few years later, after neither had remained faithful.
To expose his ex-wife and save others from her “scams”, he created a website named for her. The site features emails and nude photos documenting her behavior. O’Toole admits that it’s vengeful, but he wouldn’t have done it if there weren’t biblical precedence. “I will refer you to Ezekiel and Nahum.” Besides, “if anyone doubts the veracity of these claims or evidence, he can ask… my parents,” he says on the site. He is now married to his ex-wife’s aunt.
Despite the fact that homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to fourteen years in prison, Kenya has been seen by many as a safe haven for the persecuted LGBTQ community escaping neighboring Uganda. This doesn’t sit well with O’Toole, who supports deaths sentences for those found guilty of being intimate with someone of the same sex.
“I don’t hate gays,” he says, “I love those people.” It all depends on the subjective definition of love, according to O’Toole, who believes that many of those in the Middle Ages who were burning people at the stake to save them from hell, were doing it out of love. Besides, he explains, only “one or two or very few people might be executed under those circumstances and the situation would be completely back into the closet.”
Although O’Toole’s main focus is on saving Kenya, his efforts are not limited to Africa. Last August, he joined noted Canadian anti-gay crusader and former “gay prostitute,” Bill Watcott, as they “infiltrated” Vancouver’s Pride Parade. They dressed up in costume and danced in the parade while handing out anti-gay leaflets disguised as condoms.
O’Toole also believes that abortions should be “driven back into the filthy back alleys.” In Kenya, abortion is illegal unless the mother’s life is at risk and it is frequently carried out in clandestine, unsanitary conditions by untrained individuals. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, at least 2,600 Kenyan mothers lose their lives each year from a procedure that could be safely conducted in health facilities. Unsafe abortion is responsible for up to 40 percent of maternal deaths in Kenya. The global average is 13 percent. Yet O’Toole declares, “I think that the prospect of maternal death due to abortion is a good thing.”
An African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) study found that 70 percent of the 120,000 Kenyan mothers receiving care after suffering complications from unsafe abortions in 2012 weren’t using contraception. In a country where 43 percent of births are unwanted or untimed, a large number of abortions could be prevented with increased access to birth control. However, empowering women to make their own family planning choices is not a priority for someone who considers feminism and women’s right to vote the demise of society. “What I believe is so insidious about it [women’s suffrage] is that it effectively created an awareness among the women and the daughters of themselves as being potential antagonists to their own husbands, fathers, and sons.”
O’Toole recognizes that clipart and fetus posters can only go so far. He is currently planning a conference hosting Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders to work together to resist the influence of the West. He is ready to enlist an International Army of God. And though they may not pray together, they will bond over their collective admonition of homosexuality, abortion, and feminism. This is the type of partnership that O’Toole believes can bring cultures together and mitigate religious conflicts, which are part of the “divide and conquer strategy from human secularism.”
It wouldn’t be the first time for Kenyan religious leaders to come together in solidarity against a perceived threat. In 2010, a false rumor about a gay wedding quickly spread throughout the coastal town of Mtwapa. Muslim and Christian community leaders held press conferences publicly encouraging their congregations to expose homosexuals and “flush out gays.”
Over the next two days, an armed mob of 200 to 300 people raided an HIV/AIDS clinic, attacked several health workers, and went house-to-house in search of individuals suspected of being homosexual. One victim was beaten and doused with kerosene, only to be saved from immolation by his own well-timed police arrest.
Meanwhile, O’Toole defines success as talking to as many young people as possible. And if the videos on ProjectSEE of him preaching in front of hundreds of Kenyan school children are any indication, he’s achieving his goals.
People aren’t always as receptive back in the U.S. After a recent trip to help out a fellow anti-abortionist driving around a van covered in pictures of fetuses, O’Toole laments that “they were just really, really, really wanting us to go away in North Dakota… I’ve been pushed just about as far to the margins of society as you can be without losing your ability to still bring in a reasonable income.”
Existing on the periphery back home, O’Toole has found his audience here in Kenya. Here, they listen. Here, he is comfortable, peering from behind his poster, asking for an amen.
Paul Nevin is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the University of Washington. Nevin has done research on schistosomiasis in Ghana and done project management for various civic / non-governmental organizations in Ethiopia and throughout Latin America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nevin reported from Kenya on an eight-week fellowship from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Here is a story he did on maternal health for the Seattle Times from the same reporting trip.