Russ Barger, candidate for legislature, is proud when he deceives those who are trying to access abortion. He is a director of Lincoln Right to Life, an organization which runs a crisis pregnancy center – a fake abortion clinic. Such fake clinics far outnumber real abortion clinics in the US. To operate the fake clinic, Barger and the other board members selected Women’s Care Center, an Indiana-based group that operates crisis pregnancy centers on a franchise-like basis across the US. In a video interview last year, Barger explains he intentionally leased a building for the fake abortion clinic across the street from Planned Parenthood, a real abortion clinic.
Barger expressed particular pride that searching the internet for an abortion provider can lead you to his building, which does not provide abortion or any kind of licensed medical services. In the interview, Barger boasts that the fake clinic operator his board selected has “a good enough digital marketing team” promoting the decoy abortion clinic “that they would always end up on the first page of a google search for abortion.”
As a former volunteer patient escort at Lincoln’s Planned Parenthood clinic, I saw firsthand the deceptions that his crisis pregnancy center employs. People at the fake clinic wave cars clearly trying to drive to Planned Parenthood into their own driveway instead. They wear scrubs and use medical jargon to create the false impression that they offer medical services. Above all, the fake clinic building serves as a headquarters for protestors who yell at and hassle patients as they try to enter Planned Parenthood, creating as much confusion and shame as possible. When I learned that Russ Barger was running for the Nebraska State Legislature in District 26, I knew I had to write this article about the harm he causes. Judging by his videos, he relishes his role designing the tricks the counterfeit clinic plays on women.
Once these misrepresentations bring someone in the fake abortion clinic’s door, they will find the staff inside are also opposed to birth control. Indeed, in a video interview with Catholic Bishop James Conely, Russ Barger explains that women should give up control of their bodies completely. “If you’re not willing to give entirely of yourself to your spouse, why are you withholding that? Divorce, the hook-up culture – there are so many evils that have sprung out of what was originally seen as something that would give people freedom.”
These sexual freedoms, especially contraception, leave women barren and can even “open the door” to homosexuality, Barger and Bishop Conely warn (without evidence) in the interview. The bizarre claim that birth control causes you to become gay may be alarmingly ignorant, yet Barger is running for office with a particular focus on education policy. He hopes to eliminate these sexual sins, “teaching the females” their proper roles as “gifts from God, crucibles of the Grace. It’s a man’s responsibility to protect some of that,” according to Barger in a 2020 interview.
Like homophobic activist Cyndi Lamm, Russ Barger has been generating fear about LGBTQ Nebraskans for decades. Sadly, the slur “groomer” has become a standard way for online trolls to slander queer people in recent years, but Barger has been using the strategy of comparing LGBTQ people to pedophiles for much longer. In this letter he wrote to the Lincoln Journal-Star in 2000, he also claims that sex education will teach kids pedophilia and incest.
In reality, sex education makes children less likely to be the victims of crimes like pedophilia and incest. But Barger has a history of pretending something is the opposite of what it really is, and then complaining he is a victim of bias or discrimination when he gets called out on the lie. As we’ve seen, he runs a fundamentalist protest headquarters and pretends it is an abortion clinic. When his attempts to control others’ sex lives fail, he presents himself as a victim of religious discrimination. Oddly, he once even claimed to be the victim of “institutional bias against farmers” when the USDA accused him of taking agricultural subsidies without actually farming. In Barger’s version of Nebraska, heterosexual male Christian farmers are an oppressed minority who must resort to trickery and lies.
On November 8th Barger hopes to take back his “religious freedom” from the LGBTQ people and women who, by their very existence, victimize him. I have seen the pride on his face when he describes tricking women into a phony medical clinic. I imagine he will feel the same pleasure when he uses our state’s educational system to push queer Nebraskans back into the closet, and as he corrects women who “withhold” sex and babies from men.