Candidate endorsed by controversial organization

A candidate for state representative is endorsed by an organization with a history of provocative protests and violence, and accused of making radical social media posts condemning homosexuality and certain religions.

John Jacob is a newcomer to politics, running as a Republican to represent the far northside of Johnson County and the southside of Indianapolis in District 93, which has seen its fair share of controversies this election. If he wins, he will author and vote on bills that come before the General Assembly, and approve the state’s bi-annual budget

Before his narrow primary win in June, he was endorsed by Operation Save America, a fundamentalist Christian organization with an anti-abortion agenda. Rev. Rusty Thomas, the organization’s director, recently donated $950 to Jacob’s campaign, according to a campaign finance report filed with the state.

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Jacob has made it known to his constituents ending abortion is his top priority. Throughout his campaign, he has vowed to draft and pass any legislation that aims to end the practice in Indiana. When he first announced his run for office in February, Operation Save America posted a video on its Facebook page, featuring Jacob with Thomas, who Jacob said is a friend. In the video, Thomas gave Jacob the group’s endorsement, calling Jacob a “brother who is deeply convicted about the plight of the pre-born.”

Organization involvement

Operation Save America, formerly known as Operation Rescue, has a controversial history that includes violence in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986, individuals linked to Operation Rescue were found to be responsible for the bombing of an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas, according to the Los Angeles Times. And in its first decade, several legal cases were filed against those involved with the organization for harassing and threatening clinic employees and women, and in some cases, killing OB/GYNs, according to a special report by The Washington Post.

At the time, then-director of Operation Rescue, Rev. Flip Benham, was quoted in The Washington Post saying the organization did not condone the violence.

Court documents from a 1993 Supreme Court civil case involving Operation Rescue, “Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic” say, “Operation Rescue’s ‘rescue’ tactics involved massing its members around family planning and abortion clinics to disrupt activities by trespassing on clinic grounds and physically blockading the clinics, defacing signs and destroying property. Clinics have also been firebombed and sprayed with noxious chemicals, and doctors have been subject to threats, a kidnapping, and now a murder.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Operation Rescue rebranded, renaming itself Operation Save America.

Operation Save America and Thomas did not return requests for comment.

Jacob is involved with the national organization, based in North Carolina and Texas, in several ways, he said. He has participated in Operation Save America’s peaceful protests outside Indianapolis abortion clinics, where he and others offer help, prayer and advice to women entering the clinic.

“Peacefully going there and appealing to women to not abort their baby and also offer help, we see many children saved that way. That’s not — and I want to be very clear — in no way violent, in no way threatening,” Jacob said.

“We offer prayer, we offer to pray with them, we offer adoption, we offer help with the pregnancy … financial help.”

Jacob was a speaker at Operation Save America’s virtual national conference this summer, where he talked about his campaign and his top priority of ending abortion if elected to the Indiana Statehouse. Although he is heavily involved with the organization now, he does not condone or identify with its violent past, he said.

“The movement has had some blights and issues, roots that I would not identify with, that I would explicitly not identify with,” Jacob said. “I absolutely detest and have distanced myself from anything related to that.”

He wants voters to understand that Operation Save America is not the same group it was in the 1980s. People who participate in events hosted by the organization now have to sign a “nonviolence” agreement, he said.

“They are going there to love people,” Jacob said. “I understand to a portion of our culture, that’s not something that they like. But again, when we’re talking about that babies are being murdered … we are just making a plea.”

Operation Save America has seen controversy in recent years too, adding platforms condemning homosexuality and Islam to its agenda. A 2018 newsletter by the organization features bold lettering on the front reading, “Abortion is Murder!! Homosexuality is a sin!! Islam is a lie!!”

Thomas, the organization’s director, was also quoted at a news conference on Sept. 11, 2010 in New York City as saying the 9/11 terrorist attacks and America’s problems were linked to the sins of Americans, specifically abortion and homosexuality.

“We are going to New York City at this hallowed time not to politicize Sept. 11, but to present a prophetic message, that if heeded, may prevent future attacks and restore God’s hand of blessing upon our beleaguered nation. Our sins of child-killing and homosexuality have reached heaven,” Thomas said during the news conference.

Jacob did not say he explicitly agreed with Thomas, but said he agreed Americans “turning away from God” is a root cause for the country’s problems, he said.

“Abortion is a large root of the problems in America. I would agree that homosexuality is also a part of that,” Jacob said. “However, this is a strong however, to add to his commentary, I would say that the Godlessness of our nation is the bigger issue.”

Jacob said he is not “anti-anybody,” because the word “anti” implies “hate,” and he does not hate people. He disagrees with homosexuality and Islam, but said he has friends he respects who are part of both communities.

“Do I have friends that are gay and friends that are Muslim? Absolutely,” Jacob said. “My wife and I, we practice street ministry, and we’ve done much of that with the Islamic community.”

Recent controversies

Screenshots of various controversial Facebook posts allegedly made by Jacob a few years ago circulated on social media in the last week. In the posts, which are no longer available publicly, Jacob talks about passing out pamphlets with Operation Save America that identified local doctors who performed abortions in the Indianapolis area, comparing it to placing sex offenders on a registry.

Additionally, Jacob appears to have made several comments in the posts about the Muslim community, saying Muslims are “not peace loving,” and the Koran preaches violence. Several other posts referred to the Roman Catholic Church as a “cult.”

Jacob did not return multiple requests for comment about the alleged Facebook posts, and talked to the Daily Journal about his Operation Save America involvement prior to the posts circulating.

This is not the first time the District 93 race has come under a microscope this election. Last week, his Democrat opponent Angela Elliott filed a police report about harassment, including threats, she received after a Hoosier Gun Rights mailer went out.

A letter that made similar claims was also sent to voters in the district by Jacob, who is supported by Hoosier Gun Rights. The letter was distributed by Jacob’s campaign and signed by him.

Jacob, whose second-highest priority if elected is drafting and passing constitutional carry laws, claims in his letter sent to District 93 voters that Elliott is an “anti-gun radical” who wants to “restrict the rights of honest Americans.” Elliott said the accusations were not true.

Jacob’s campaign had no input on the mailer and did not coordinate with the group, Jacob said. He condemned making threats against Elliott.

“I am 100% pro-life. I would denounce in the strongest terms the threats against Angela,” Jacob said.

The report, filed with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, mentions Jacob’s letter and the organization’s mailer.

Elliott, a White River Township resident, was harassed and threatened by phone and on social media, with one person stating “she’s going to meet my barrel,” referring to the barrel of his firearm, Elliott said.

As a result, Sheriff Duane Burgess authorized extra patrols around Elliott’s home.

Unanticipated win

During Jacob’s speech at the Operation Save America National Conference this summer, he criticized the Indiana Statehouse Republican supermajorities for allowing abortion to “flourish,” and said the Republican establishment does not want someone like him in office.

“They did not anticipate I was going to win,” Jacob said. “They know the damage we can do by Protection at Conception now.”

He beat incumbent Rep. Dollyne Sherman, R-Indianapolis, in the primary by fewer than 100 votes, after Sherman beat out six other Republican candidates in a caucus a year earlier.

Jacob has frequently joined protests inside the statehouse rotunda, outside both the House and Senate chambers during legislative sessions, encouraging lawmakers to consider legislation to end abortion. He would regularly meet one-on-one with legislators too, he said.

A photo sent to the Daily Journal shows Jacob clothed in bloody hospital scrubs and holding a sign with a graphic image while standing inside the Statehouse outside one of the chambers. When asked about the protests, Jacob said he does not like the word “protest,” and prefers to call it “advocating.” He said he has always been peaceful, and he has never been asked to leave the statehouse for being disruptive or harassing others.

“All I’ve been doing is I’ve been trying to get legislators — talk with them, plead with them — to do the right thing, and that is to defend the pre-born,” Jacob said.

Beth Boyce, Johnson County GOP chairperson, said the party fully supports all Republicans on local ballots, including Jacob, and has not heard otherwise. She declined to comment on his Operation Save America involvement because she is not familiar with it, she said.