Craigslist is the internet’s classifieds section, but it’s also one of its more shadowy corners, where the ads are anonymous and ephemeral. So we found ourselves wondering – what would we find if we replied to a couple? This week, we track down the people behind two intriguing ads.
And in the second half of the show – Neal Horsley was an anti-abortion activist who created a website called “The Nuremberg Files,” a website that listed the names and addresses of abortion providers around the country. He died last month, but the legacy of his website lives on. We talked to Jennifer Boulanger, a woman who works at a number of abortion clinics, and whose name ended up on Horsley’s website in the 90’s.
We had extra help on this week’s episode from David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon also Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism.
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ALEX GOLDMAN: Craigslist Austin. Wanted Section. Post title: I need legal help.
PHILIP BOWDEN: He’ll make noise every now and then to make sure we notice him.
ALEX: Oh that’s fine. So um, I’m wondering if you can read the legal help ad.
PHILIP: Kind of small text but I can do it. “I need legal help or financial help to get a lawyer. I’m disabled and a man four inches taller than me punched my wife in the head in my home. Naturally, I went batshit crazy on his ass even though he’s dedicated more than seven years of the past fifteen years to studying karate. I have a witness who punched him as well before leaving. He was on his lunch break and had to go back to work at the time. The police came. They arrested us both: a misdemeanor for the guy who punched my wife in the head and a felony for me for allegedly choking the bastard. Even though he had no injuries and I now have a broken finger. I am disabled man and can’t even cross the street anymore without assistance. I live on social security. My health is such that I can’t afford to go to jail for this and I don’t want a felony on my record. I need a good lawyer. Any decent lawyer should do because I’ve got a strong case but I need lawyer or I need money for one and I’m not so sure about court appointed attorneys or if I could even get one at this point. Please help me.”
ALEX: When did you post that ad?
PHILIP: Several weeks ago.
ALEX: And um, what were the circumstances surrounding it?
PHILIP: Yes there had actually been a house guest sitting exactly where you are sitting right now who’d come over for his lunch hour. He’s working the graveyard shift at the Home Depot NOC, Network Operations Center, and his lunch hour comes in the middle of the night, we’re generally night people. My friend Alan, he has a prosthetic leg, but his room is closer to the door so he got in the door and let my friend Mel in and greeted Mel and was talking to Mel about his hours and his work and when they’re going to change his shift and then he just suddenly called Mel a name and stormed off to his room and slammed his door really hard and Cathy was in her room and said, “If you break that you’re going to have to pay for that,” and I came and sat down at the table and he came back in here, Alan that is, and pushed Mel on the side with both hands so hard that the chair tipped up on two legs and started berating Mel for not respecting him properly in his own home, which it wasn’t his own home, he was renting a room here and Cathy came and got between them and said don’t start fights with house guests and Alan pushed her and she pushed him back and he punched her. And he was preparing to punch her again and I saw red. I just stopped thinking. I can’t imagine any man that would sit there and watch some other man punch his wife and keep a clear head. I love her and that’s the reason I guess I went batshit crazy on Alan when he punched her.
ALEX: Now Cathy, are you okay?
CATHY: Yes, I’m okay.
ALEX: Well I’m glad to hear that.
CATHY: I had a couple bruises but I’m okay now.
ALEX: That’s so rough. So you got out of jail and you have this felony now hanging over your head having to do anger management classes. And the cost of defending yourself against a felony is very expensive. Are you currently working?
PHILIP: I lost my job at Apple due to long term HIV infection. I’m a HIV survivor. I was diagnosed in 1984.
ALEX: It seems like there’s just one sort of misfortune piling on top of another.
PHILIP: Yes, that describes it fairly well. But nobody’s shooting at me beating me up or running me over. It could be worse.
ALEX: Yeah, I suppose that’s true.
PHILIP: And even though life is inherently fucked up as it is right now. Alan is no longer here and life in the house is much better.
ALEX: So, um, what made you describe to post on Craigslist.
PHILIP: Desperation. I didn’t have money for a lawyer. I was looking for any way I could to try to get legal help.
ALEX: What kind of responses did you get to that ad?
PHILIP: Somebody whose son works with some group who provides insurance for a legal society that provides assistance in civil matters contacted me.
ALEX: That sounds kind of useless for your particular need.
PHILIP: I recognized right of that it was useless but I still checked it out. Basically chased every possible lead that I could get.
ALEX: And was that the only response you got?
PHILIP: Except for yours.
ALEX: So, you said on the phone earlier you had experience with Craigslist before. Like you’d had positive experiences with it. What kind of experiences had you had?
PHILIP: Well I took the time to type up a couple of Craigslist ads I’ve had incredible experiences with and for one thing the monster Alan, he got his prosthetic leg replaced and I got somebody to trade an android tablet for it.
ALEX: Do you want to read me the ad?
PHILIP: Sure if you want.
ALEX: That would be great.
PHILIP: “I’d like to trade an old thoroughly-used, prosthetic leg with a flex foot attached for a functional Android tablet or Kindle fire or Kindle Fire HD. You could turn it into a piece of art if you liked or whatever other strange purposes you might have for a prosthetic leg. I won’t judge. I just want the thing gone and I recently had it pointed out to me that you can draw with those little tablets and I wouldn’t need to drag a bag full of pencils around with me when I got to the doctor and stuff if I had one. Being of limited means about all I’ve got is an old leg. I can’t afford to buy one, not even a used one. So: a leg for an Android. Maybe you want to start building an Android.”
ALEX: That’s pretty brilliant. And it’s so specific. You wouldn’t think that someone would say, “Oh yeah I have an Android tablet that I’ll happily trade for a prosthetic leg but…”
PHILIP: It got him an Android tablet. They gave him a hundred dollar bill and a tablet. It was people from the Android forum. They were totally intrigued by it.
ALEX: That’s amazing.
PHILIP: That piano you see over there. I got that for free off Craigslist by placing an ad, writing an ad saying I need a piano.
ALEX: Uh, I don’t know if you’re up for it. But I was wondering if I could hear you play.
ALEX: That was beautiful. Did you write that?
CATHY: [INAUDIBLE] Not bad for a guy with a broken finger
ALEX: Definitely not bad for someone who has a broken finger.
ALEX BACK ANNOUNCE: Philip Bowden lives in Austin. You can find out more about him including two gofundme campaigns he’s set up on our website.
PJ VOGT: Oh right so. We should have done this before probably but from Gimlet, this is Reply All. It’s Memorial Day Week. We are a show about the Internet. And this week we are premiering a brand new segment. It’s called Ten Minutes on Craigslist. It’s already on the Peabody awards shortlist. It’s basically us trawling Craigslist for ads we find interesting and then talking to the people who made them.
[10 MINUTES ON CRAIGSLIST THEME]
PJ: So that’s the new segment. Also, later in the show, we’re going to look at the legacy of a guy who, in many ways, wrote the playbook for Internet death threats and we’re going to talk to somebody that he targeted. But before that, we have one more Craigslist story that we loved. It’s from reporter Bianca Giaever. Alex let me just read you the ad that she found.
ALEX: Please do.
PJ: Alright so the title is “Get Married This Weekend. A Hundred Dollars. When other ministers and officiants say no this NYC registered and ordained minister replies yes. If you have a marriage license, I will marry you at your location and with the service you desire. Book now for special rates and best dates or visit www.bookaminister.com
ALEX: Book a minister?
PJ: Yup. Book a minister. Well, Bianca went to go meet him where he does most of his weddings, in Central Park.
NIKOLAS: So am I ruining your holiday weekend here?
BIANCA: I have the whole weekend totally free. So do you want to start by introducing yourself, saying your name and what you do?
NIKOLAS: Sure, I’m reverend Nikolas L. Kaiser. I perform weddings throughout the Northeast.
BIANCA: How long have you been doing this? Fast weddings?
NIKOLAS: I’ve been doing weddings for thirty years. Thirty years ago I was a monastic priest. You would know that as a monk.
BIANCA: So you were doing traditional weddings for twenty five years and the past five years you’ve started doing faster weddings?
NIKOLAS: Yes that’s right.
BIANCA: And how long do your weddings last?
NIKOLAS: Well the joke is is that I could leave my car double parked and running, come into your place, marry you and leave, and I don’t have to worry about having locked the car or turned it off.
BIANCA: What’s the fastest wedding you’ve done?
NIKOLAS: The fastest wedding that I’ve done was about four months ago, it was in a town called Corinth. The couple were not speaking that day, he –
BIANCA: They were getting married but they weren’t speaking?
NIKOLAS: Yeah. They had gotten their marriage license, the period of time before it would expire was running out and she did not want to go and pay another thirty five dollars to get a marriage license. He sat in the kitchen and screamed, “I do.” She signed the papers. His signature was already on the paperwork. I signed it and I left. I wasn’t in the house three minutes.
BIANCA: What the weirdest place you’ve done a wedding?
NIKOLAS: It was actually a fast food restaurant. The couple worked there. And they liked their jobs which really frightened me. And it was her third marriage and his first.
BIANCA: What was the fast food restaurant?
NIKOLAS: It was a Burger King.
BIANCA: And where did you do it, in front of the cashiers? Or over by where you eat?
NIKOLAS: In the dining room. And they had Burger King commercials running when this was going on and the two of them seemed to be gleefully employed by this chain of restaurants if you call it a restaurant and I don’t know if they were looking to get promotions out of this or wanted Burger King to pay for the food that day. I have no idea. I don’t know.
BIANCA: Do you ever get to the wedding and you’re like, “Oh god I do not think they should be getting married?”
NIKOLAS: I’ve been contacted a couple of times, well both times this just happened to be women who wanted to do a graveside service, they wanted to get married at someone’s grave who didn’t want them to get married.
BIANCA: Oh my god.
NIKOLAS: The reason she wanted to get married quickly was because the woman had just been buried. The dirt was still loose. The flowers were on the grave and she wanted to take the flowers when she left. Those would be her wedding flowers.
BIANCA: Like a weird spite thing?
NIKOLAS: I told her miss, there’s just no way. I don’t want to be any part of this. I said, a year passed, you want to get married and you feel differently, I want to sit down and talk to both of you and then I’ll consider marrying you. And you know I think in this case it was his mother. I want to see what he thinks of this. This could turn into something horrible either very soon or perhaps years later. But I mean how could he not know what is going on if he’s standing over his mother’s grave helping her collect the roses I mean that’s… I think the worst thing is when people show up and have objected at weddings. I do not know who the person is, I know that there’s a person that used to advertise on Craigslist that they get paid to show up and object.
BIANCA: By other people?
BIANCA: Oh my god. Like, that’s a service they put out?
NIKOLAS: I don’t know what he charged. I don’t know who he is. I don’t see his ads there any longer but…
BIANCA: But you were seeing his ads there on Craigslist for a period of time?
NIKOLAS: Yeah. Months.
BIANCA: And what do you like about being with people on their wedding day?
NIKOLAS: Oh, watching them start crying when I pronounce them husband and wife.
BIANCA: You like that?
NIKOLAS: Particularly when it’s the men. Yes, I have to admit that. And it happens a lot.
BIANCA: Is there just something nice about seeing that strength of emotion?
NIKOLAS: It’s nice seeing someone feel safe enough that they don’t have to hold it back. And it’s nice to see that they are willing to share that, someone else allows them to be that happy. And it’s nice to see that someone can let their guard down.
BIANCA: Do you think that happens more at the weddings you do because no one’s there usually?
NIKOLAS: I never thought about it but sure, that’s very possibly part of it.
BIANCA: Are you married?
BIANCA: Is it your first marriage?
NIKOLAS: It’s my only marriage. I’m married to another man and I was not married here. It was not legal when we got married. And we’ve been together 38 years next weekend.
BIANCA: Wow. Congrats.
NIKOLAS: Well, thank you.
BIANCA: Where did you get married?
NIKOLAS: In Canada. Niagara Falls.
NIKOLAS: And we just went out and got a couple of suits and some rings and it’s a very accomodating world if you have a few dollars in your pocket and we went into a registry office, eleven o’clock in the morning and got our license at eleven-thirty and we got married. And I came across the border and we were returning and a young guard very marine looking kind of an ex-military customs officer and, “Your reason for going to Canada?” And the man that I’m now married to said, “We went to a wedding.” And he goes, “Whose?” And I said, “Ours. Have you got a problem with it?” And we just drove right through. He said, “Congratulations honey.” On we went.
PJ: Bianca Giaever is a radio producer in New York. After the break, the legacy of a guy who helped revolutionize the way people threaten each other’s lives online.
PJ: This past month marked the death of Neal Horsley. Horsley was an extreme anti-abortion activist with a pretty fascinating backstory. He would say that in his early life he was a hedonist. He once told a radio show host that yes, the rumors were true, as a kid growing up on a farm he had had sex with a mule. Chalked it up to hedonism. But Horsley was later arrested for selling weed and sent to jail and his life changed in prison. He became a born-again evangelical and when got out, he began his crusade against abortion. In 1997 he created the website which made him famous: The Nuremberg Files.
It was essentially a list of all the personal info that Horsley could find on abortion providers in the US. This is Horsley explaining his website to a reporter:
NEAL HORSLEY: The list has about four hundred names. You can click on it and it gives you their name, their home address, their office address, all of this kind of information. The black, ones in black, they’re the people that are working. The grayed out names are people who’ve been wounded, and the strikethroughs, the ones like Dr. Slepian, are the people who’ve been killed.
PJ: Horsley claimed he wasn’t telling anybody to kill these people, just noting whether they were still alive or not.
ALEX: So he’s basically saying, I’m not telling people to kill these guys. I’m just giving an assessment of their, whether they’ve been shot or not.
ALEX: And does the site live on without him?
PJ: Like most things, it’s like there’s remnants of it even though it’s officially not supposed to exist on the internet but also slicker versions of it, of like similar things exist now. So like his website was super web 1.0, like I’ll show you it. So, you can see it, it’s like 1995 hate internet.
ALEX: Yeah. There’s like a crude illustration of a courtroom of which there’s an accused man being pointed at very condemnatingly.
PJ: So because Horsley died, I wanted to talk to somebody whose name had been on the site. SO I found this woman, Jennifer Boulanger, she showed up on Horsley’s website around 2000.
PJ: On there it says your name it says PA in parentheses and it’s in a red font. What does that mean?
JENNIFER BOULANGER: Oh it’s in a red font?
JENNIFER: You know I haven’t been on that site in a very, very long time. I think it just means that I’m an active, alive, provider.
PJ: She still works at several abortion clinics.
PJ: Does it mean anything to you that Horsley has died?
JENNIFER: Um. I can’t say that I’m affected by it in a negative way. But you know, I, the damage is done. You know, he’s already had his influence.
PJ: Right, like he’s created a playbook and other people are just going to follow it.
JENNIFER: Right, absolutely.
PJ: What did it mean at that point to have your name on a website targeting you?
JENNIFER: I remember that particular website because what was so jarring about it was the blood dripping on the site and it just kind of, when you see that, it just makes your heart race. You know, to think that someone has put your name on a site of dripping blood where they believe in the use of force to stop abortion and they’re encouraging others to target you or other providers or judges or police officers or whoever. It’s a very jarring feeling.
PJ: The situation Jennifer found herself in is one that a lot of women today find themselves in. Receiving death threats on the internet from strangers and then having to weigh just how much those strangers really mean it. And in Jennifer’s case she took the threats very seriously because she had colleagues, fellow abortion providers who had been murdered. Jennifer said that some of Horsley’s contemporaries were even worse. Like this guy named John Dunkle, who had his own site.
JENNIFER: He openly admits the supports the use of force to stop abortion. And the blog is a newsletter that he distributes to those who are in prison for murdering doctors, kidnapping doctors, arson against abortion providers, I mean the top criminals against abortion provision. So, there was at one point where he had a post on how to kill a doctor, like instructions. Like, shoot her between the eyes, make sure you drive a car, like a rented car, or take off the license plate, make sure there are no cameras around. Like really detailed instructions. And they actually had the name of a doctor, her address, her picture, and he was openly encouraging anyone, you know, reading his site to go kill this doctor.
PJ: John Dunkle would picket at Jennifer’s home.
JENNIFER: He would park in front of my home and have signs all around his truck of bloody almost full-term fetuses, dismembered.
PJ: And what would you do?
JENNIFER: Like, when I first found out that he found out where I lived, I mean it was, I was hysterical. I tore the number off my house. I called the police. But without them trespassing, there really are no laws.
PJ: ANd how did he have your address?
JENNIFER: I believe he followed me home. i mean, I don’t know for sure but at the time I was using my maiden name at work and my married name at home and as far as I knew they didn’t have my married name. ANd I’m sure there was one night driving home late at night, that I just wasn’t paying enough attention and I just didn’t, I took a normal route, I didn’t you know, alter my way home which is what most providers do from time to time. You know, to avoid being followed. And I believe they followed me. I don’t think there’s any other way they got my information.
PJ: i think I didn’t understand before how much it’s just, you’re always being hunted.
JENNIFER: Yeah, that’s a good analogy of how it felt at the time. I mean, I used to walk by protesters who used to just say personal things about me, and I would just not know how they knew.
PJ: personal things like what?
JENNIFER: It was a lot of times names of people close to me. things like, Oh so does and they’d say the name of the doctor and the name of my husband, so do they get along? And it was disturbing.
PJ: the fact that these websites existed, were they themselves making it significantly worse, like did the internet make these people’s ability to terrorize you more powerful?
JENNIFER: I think what made it more powerful was that even though someone like John Dunkle openly admitted he would never do it himself, it was like he was trying to find someone who would and by using the internet you have that power to really draw someone out who’s unstable and unhinged and really just crazy enough to carry it out.
PJ: Right, and you’re in this position where, never mind having to evaluate if this person who’s willing to do a bunch of things that seem crazy is willing to do an even more crazy thing, it doesn’t even matter because they have this powerful antenna and they’re just furiously sending out a signal to anyone who would want to harm you. Like there’s nothing you can do except feel scared all the time.
JENNIFER: RIght. I mean, looking back on it now, when I talk about it, you know the feelings just come flooding back. You know, and what it was like to live like that and you know but for a while you just live with it.
PJ: It’s so crazy because the way people were behaving towards you in public, in real life, is like the way the worst internet commenters engage with and like all the things you’re supposed to do when that happens which is like ignore them and don’t feed the trolls, don’t criticize them, but when the roll is standing next to you and screaming in your face and they know your husband’s name, that’s a very, much more difficult thing to do.
JENNIFER: It is. It’s definitely challenging and you know, I’m a klutz and there was one time where I just tripped like right in front of them, right before I walked in the door and they go, “That’s god’s way of telling you not to go in there!” It was mortifying! It was horrible. So I;ve had those moments and I just think, If I can get through that, I can get through anything.
PJ: That was Jennifer Boulanger. So one of the problems that she’s had to deal with is that people say thing to her online or in real life that seem in her eyes like very clear threats and typically the people who were threatening her would say, no on on. We didn’t mean that at all, that was actually a tactic that Neal Horsley used for a bunch of years, interestingly, the Supreme Court has a case right now that kind of looks at this stuff, there’s a guy who said a bunch of stuff about his ex-wife on Facebook to her, the stuff he said sounded a lot like death threats. he said he was just an aspiring rapper who was venting through rap lyrics and so they are going to have to decide basically how do you decide if something is threatening or not. How much should context matter? How much does authorial intent matter? They heard the case in December. They haven’t issued a verdict yet. We’ll see what happens. And that’s this week’s show.
PJ: Reply All was hosted by me, PJ Vogt with Alex Goldman. We were produced by Tim Howard, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and Phia Bennin. We were mixed by the Reverend John DeLore. Our intern is Sylvie Douglis. Matt Lieber is a T-shirt you don’t watch because you’re afraid it will shrink. Our theme song is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings. Our language advisory song is by Matt Farley. We did the DVD extras for these stories on Digg.com this week, make sure you check it out. Special thanks this week to David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon, they are the authors of Living in the Crosshairs, the Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.