Surrounding the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, activists have unleashed a wave of attacks against more than 100 pro-life pregnancy centers, churches, and nonprofit groups nationwide.
Now, as Kansas voters head to the polls on Aug. 2 to vote on a pro-life amendment to their state constitution, that bitterness and disruption have reached even usually peaceful parts of the country.
Over the past month, Joel Richardson, who lives in Overland Park near Kansas City with his wife and five children, has said he’s had nine “Vote Yes” signs vandalized or stolen from his front yard.
“This is the first time I’ve ever put up any political yard sign since living in Kansas for the past five years,” he said in a phone interview. “With an issue this important, there’s power in publicly making a stand. It shows your neighbors who have a similar mindset that they’re not alone.”
Recent news reports and social posts confirm that at least dozens of “Vote Yes” signs have been destroyed, spray-painted, or stolen. “We have always respected the First Amendment and peaceful protests,” said Mackenzie Haddix, spokeswoman for Value Them Both Coalition, in a statement. “Unfortunately, our supporters have experienced aggressive actions from opponents of the amendment who are clearly misinformed about what this will mean for Kansas.”
Vandals Steal Signs from Richardson’s Yard
In the suburbs of Johnson County, part of the growing Kansas City metro area, Richardson tweeted on June 26 as he put up a “Vote Yes” sign. Vandals soon struck.
But he had two sources to get more signs as needed: local adoption agency Zoe’s House and Trinity House, a nearby Catholic bookstore. “I’m a son of the Reformation,” said Richardson, an itinerant minister and author. “But I absolutely celebrate the Roman Catholic Church and their faithful members’ strong stance in defense of justice for the innocent.”
When the first sign was stolen, the second and third were reinforced with rebar rods and packing tape. And by signs four and five, Richardson and his family were keeping closer watch.
“I covered a few signs with lithium grease to make them super slippery,” he said. “They had to work hard to get them off. but they still removed those. Most often, they would just stomp on it to destroy it.”
Nextdoor ‘Neighbors’ Endorse the Vandalism
Richardson’s frustration grew at this pattern of crime. “I could easily affix razor blades to a yard sign. But then if they came into my yard, tried to steal my sign, and got hurt, they could sue me. So the homeowner is really in many ways at a loss.”
Last week, he caught the latest act of vandalism on video.
On July 17, he posted that video on neighborhood-based social platform Nextdoor. “I was very polite about it,” he said of his post. It stated in part: “If the girls look familiar, maybe at least talk to them. The good news is the elections will be over soon.”
The post generated a few dozen comments, most from apparent adults who endorsed the property damage. One Nextdoor neighbor wrote: “Good on them. They’re standing up for their rights. Human rights should always be more important than property rights.”
However, within 72 hours, Richardson said, a moderator emailed him about taking down the video. “Nextdoor staff removed your content because we determined that it was a violation of our Community Guidelines,” an email provided by Richardson read. “Nextdoor is not a place to publicly shame your neighbors.” However, he noticed comments in support of the vandalism remained.
Neighbor Caught Red-Handed
Despite pushback, Richardson said he saw the humor in the drama and wasn’t trying to hurt or be cruel to anyone. “As intense and emotional as this issue is, I still am a big believer in having fun with it. Let’s all lighten up a little bit.” By this time, his 11-year-old was in on the escapade.
In addition to the tags, now Richardson needed to coat the sign with something stronger than grease. He hit on glue traps used to catch spiders. “I went on Amazon and found you can get big rolls of this rat trap glue for cheap.”
In the dead of night, a neighbor took the bait.
Richardson’s iPhone tracking the tags led him to a house less than a mile away. He parked and his iPhone began to beep as he approached a car in the driveaway. The trunk was ajar, with metal rods sticking out. Soon he could tell he wasn’t the only victim of theft.
Richardson, exasperated after weeks of vandalism, called the cops. When local police officers knocked at the alleged vandal’s door, Richardson said, the 22-year-old young man, clearly upset, knelt down and placed his hands on his head. Richardson asked the officer about working out a “neighborly arrangement” rather than pressing charges.
Richardson approached the young man and his grandfather. “Listen, I don’t care if you disagree with my political stance,” he said. “Millions of people have died for our right to the freedom of speech, our freedom of opinion, and our right to vote. You don’t come into someone’s yard and try to take that. That’s not right.”
The alleged vandal was apologetic, according to Richardson, and the two had a short dialogue about the issues. Richardson also wanted to know if the rat trap glue he used really worked. “I put that stuff all over the signs,” he said. “The young man that stole the two signs, he said it was very effective and actually ruined his clothes.”
Signs of the Times
As the vote on Aug. 2 nears, further disruptions are expected. Haddix said Value Them Both will continue to represent the pro-life cause “through peaceful and persistent calls to Kansans to value both women and babies.”
For Richardson, his “Value Them Both” yard sign stands again. Some would question why he didn’t insist the rule of law be enforced. Was that apology real—with officers standing nearby?
“Sure, it’s frustrating to have multiple people steal my property,” said Richardson. “But I didn’t want to contribute to a cascading snowball of polarization and hatred in our country. Instead, we had a face-to-face conversation where he heard my heart, and I learned a little bit of his story.”
The minister added: “The Bible says, ‘Mercy triumphs over judgment.’ And I hope that little human interaction will impact him more than if I just pressed charges.”
With five abortion-related state ballot initiatives to be decided this year, the “summer of rage” could extend into fall in several states. Richardson views the pro-life cause as rooted in ethics.
“In the hierarchy of ethical issues, nothing takes greater precedence than wholesale slaughter of the most innocent little lambs the universe has to offer.”