Ezola Foster seems ill-suited for the role of rabble-rouser. At 49, she speaks softly, dresses conservatively and has the prim, proper demeanor of someone who has spent the better part of her adult life as a schoolteacher.
But last month, while serving as a delegate to the state Republican Party convention in Anaheim, Foster suddenly found herself being treated like some sort of a political hellion as she was hustled from the convention floor and charged with trespassing, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest.
"They dragged me off and detained me for almost three hours," she said. "I really felt like a political prisoner. . . . It was a nightmare."
Foster was detained after leading demonstrators who distributed a pamphlet charging that such GOP stalwarts as state Republican party Chairman Robert Naylor, GOP Assembly Leader Pat Nolan and Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana had shunned family values in favor of protecting pornographers and homosexuals.
Pummeled in Print
The pamphlet came from the American Assn. of Women, a Santa Monica-based organization that has gained a reputation for espousing arch-conservative ideals and for pummeling its political opponents in print.
Leslie Dutton, the group's 46-year-old founder and president, said there are no sacred cows in its battle to protect traditional family values.
"When it comes to issues such as pornography, public officials have sold us out," said Dutton, a feisty, steely eyed woman who used to be active in GOP politics. "The decline of morality and ethics in government is a major rallying point for people. Something is going to have to happen."
Dutton and her followers see themselves as foot soldiers in the battle against immorality. Their base of operations is a small and somewhat shabby office near the corner of Santa Monica and Lincoln boulevards. Their primary weapon is a newsletter that tackles issues such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome, immigration and sex education.
With the support of like-minded groups such as Foster's Black Americans for Family Values and Californians for Community Morals, which is headed by former Reagan Administration appointee Violet Schmitt, they have waged a long-running war against deviant life styles and other perceived evils.
Getting public blood supplies labeled by gender is one of their major projects. Dutton contends that people have a right to know if a blood donor is male or female since studies show that males are more likely to carry the AIDS virus.
They have also called for tougher immigration laws, arguing that illegal aliens take jobs away from other low-income workers. And they contend that sex education classes encourage students to become sexually active.
The newsletter for the American Assn. of Women, which has carried headlines such as "Special-Interest Greed Grips Nation," goes out to about 24,000 people nationwide and the group receives about $25,000 a year in donations.
Foster is uncomfortable with ideological labels such as conservative or right-wing. She said that the group is not aligned with either political party and does not support any officeholders, but focuses most of its attention on Republicans because they believe that the Democrats are beyond saving.
"The Democrats have already shown they support the homosexual agenda," Foster said. "If the GOP does the same, it leaves the families with no representation. We are asking the party that's supposed to stand up for families to do so. And we feel that we are not alone in this."
The group's actual impact on politics is hard to gauge. Many Republican leaders privately consider the organization a right-wing fringe faction.
"They're off the wall," said one GOP elected official who asked not to be identified. "I don't think they have any credibility within the party. The only way they get people to agree with them is by playing on their fears."
Others say that the group actually carried some weight at the state convention, where they successfully campaigned for resolutions opposing so-called "dial-a-porn" telephone businesses and called for the prosecution of people who distribute AIDS pamphlets that are deemed to be obscene. Dutton said that the passage of the two resolutions proved that it is the Republican leadership and not her group that is out of step with the party.
A third resolution that called on the GOP to revoke the charters of all homosexual Republican clubs did not make it to the floor. Dutton, however, has not given up the fight. She said that gay clubs should be ejected from the GOP because the AIDS programs they support pose a threat to public health.
"We feel that gays should not be developing public policy because they have a conflict of interest," said Dutton, a two-time candidate for the Santa Monica City Council and one-time Reagan loyalist. "Their whole idea is to protect the gay community at the expense of the rest of us."