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The 'Batman' Who Took On Rap : Obscenity: Lawyer Jack Thompson put his practice on hold to concentrate on driving 2 Live Crew out of business. In Southern Florida, he is loved and loathed.

June 18, 1990|CHUCK PHILIPS

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — He wears a Batman watch. He drinks from a Batman mug. A large poster of the Caped Crusader is taped to his refrigerator door.

"Batman is just a metaphor I use to explain why what I've done has been received so well by some people," says Jack Thompson, the real-life crusading attorney who instigated the campaign that resulted in rap group 2 Live Crew's "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" album being declared obscene by a federal judge. (See related article, Page 4.)

"For me," says Thompson, standing in the kitchen of his modest suburban home here, "the appeal of the Batman lies in the fact that he was supposed to be a private citizen who was able to provide assistance to his government, a lone activist who helped authorities do a job that they seemed unable to accomplish on their own.

"To me, Luther Campbell isn't Luke Skyywalker (a stage name he adopted but has been enjoined from using by Lucasfilm), he's the Joker," Thompson says. "He's peddling obscenity to children and that is why I have to play Batman here--to assist, to cajole and to sometimes embarrass government into doing its job."

Campbell, leader of 2 Live Crew, alleges that Thompson's crusade against him is a result of Thompson's bitter feelings growing out of the Coral Gables Republican's 1988 attempt to unseat Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno, the Democrat incumbent.

"A lot of people don't realize it, but all of this started a couple of years ago because one of my groups put out a record in favor of Janet Reno," Campbell maintained in an interview at a sandwich shop around the corner from his new record company headquarters in Miami. "He lost the election and has been after me ever since."

Thompson's 1988 campaign tactics were called into question by the Miami Herald. At one rally, the Herald reported, Thompson handed Reno a letter with a prepared statement, asking her to check the appropriate box: "I, Janet Reno, am a * homosexual, * bisexual, * heterosexual." The letter continued: "If you do not respond . . . by that date then you will be deemed to have checked one of the first two boxes." (Reno declined to comment.)

Unlike Batman alter-ego Bruce Wayne, Thompson is no millionaire philanthropist. He is a "born-again" Christian and self-proclaimed "radical conservative Republican" who put his legal practice on hold 6 months ago to concentrate on driving Miami rap entrepreneur Campbell and his 2 Live Crew out of business.

Following a June 6 federal district court ruling declaring the group's sexually explicit album obscene, the 38-year-old anti-pornography crusader has been vaulted into the public limelight. He's already appeared on "Crossfire," "Nightline," "Donahue" and "CBS This Morning," among others.

His successful efforts to get the album declared obscene in the Southern Florida counties of Broward, Dade and Palm Beach have triggered a national debate on First Amendment rights and the future of artistic expression in pop music. Some have hailed him as a guardian of public morality; others have condemned him as a "cultural Nazi."

Thompson is loved and loathed throughout Southern Florida, depending on who you talk to.

Members of the Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church, where Thompson teaches Sunday school and attends services regularly, speak highly of him, applaud his efforts and clearly seem to cherish his company.

But those in the cross-fire of his crusading activities criticize his tactics, distrust his motives and, on occasion, have even publicly questioned his mental competence.

Luther Campbell isn't the first person to get in Thompson's anti-smut sights.

Upset by the explicit content of programming by Neil Rogers, a popular shock jock on radio station WIOD-AM in Miami, Thompson complained in 1987 to the Federal Communications Commission, which subsequently leveled a $10,000 fine against the station.

Michael Disney, the station's vice president and general manager, filed a complaint against Thompson the following year with the Florida Bar Assn. Thompson was accused of harassing WIOD-AM advertisers and Rogers. Under a settlement reached in November, 1989, Thompson was barred from talking about or coming within 500 yards of the deejay.

Thompson's feud with Rogers--which was well publicized in Southern Florida--may cost him his right to practice law, at least temporarily. On Tuesday, the Florida bar will hold a hearing to investigate Thompson's mental stability, which was challenged by WIOD attorneys.

"I still have a few major personality flaws to work out, but I am not crazy," Thompson says. "I have to work on tolerance a lot, anger and impatience with God and others. Sometimes these things get me into trouble."

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