TikTok lifts ban on Ruth Sent Us. Here's what we know about this anti-Catholic group
Pamela Smith dressed as characters of "The Handmaids Tale" walks with a noose around her neck as she joins pro-choice protesters gather in large numbers in front of the federal building to defend abortion rights in San Francisco on May 3, 2022. / Nick Otto/AFP via Getty Images
Denver Newsroom, May 18, 2022 / 15:30 pm (CNA).
TikTok's "permanent" ban on the anti-Catholic, pro-abortion group Ruth Sent Us didn't last very long.
The activist group in recent weeks has made headlines for coordinating protests outside the homes of U.S. Supreme Court justices, rallying demonstrators to disrupt Catholic Masses on Mother’s Day, and threatening to burn the Eucharist.
On May 14 the group’s main account was “permanently banned" from TikTok "due to multiple violations of terms of service,” according to a message on the social media platform.
But two days later, Ruth Sent Us announced that the ban was lifted.
“GREAT NEWS: our TikTok @ruthsent which was ‘permanently banned’ due to mass reporting is back up due to mass appeals! There’s more of us than them. Take that, haters!” the group tweeted. TikTok has yet to explain the ban, or its rapid reversal.
Unlike NARAL Pro-Choice America, Women’s March, and other better-known, well-funded abortion rights groups, Ruth Sent Us has no publicly known leaders, spokespersons, or financial backers. Its low-budget website, RuthSent.Us, is little more than a bare-bones homepage with a handful of links.
Yet the group’s inflammatory rhetoric and provocative, theatrical tactics have thrust it into the forefront of the media’s coverage of the furor surrounding a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion throughout the U.S.
And the Catholic Church is one of its prime targets.
On Feb. 27 — months before the May 2 leak of a draft opinion that suggested Supreme Court justices were poised to overturn Roe — Ruth Sent Us took responsibility for disrupting Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco. Demonstrators wore hooded red gowns inspired by the television series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Our bold protest at St. Mary’s has gone viral on TikTok. Over 100,000 views, numerous activists inspired, and Catholics upset about our “disrespect” at interrupting mass. GOOD. Join us on March 8, International Women’s Day. @riseup4abortion @StrikeForChoice #IWD2022 #Aborto pic.twitter.com/MKpSyKOWM8
— Ruth Sent Us 🪧 (@RuthSentUs) March 7, 2022
Similarly dressed demonstrators disrupted Mass on Mother's Day, May 8, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, but Ruth Sent Us has not taken responsibility for that incident.
The group contends that the Supreme Court is “extremist” and should be held accountable “using a diversity of tactics.” It demands that pro-abortion rights Catholics, including President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, engage in further activism or legislation to preserve legal abortion. On its social media, the group frequently rails against Catholicism and “Christian Fascism.” Some of its coalition partners also embrace “anti-fascism” and protests outside of churches.
Here’s a closer look behind the group.
*Who is Ruth Sent Us?*
“Ruth Sent Us” has a social media presence on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram. The group promotes protests of political figures, judges and organizations, including churches, which oppose legal abortion or the Roe v. Wade decision.
The group is part of a coalition of like-minded pro-abortion rights groups that aims to rally protests in support of Roe and other pro-abortion rights precedents which mandate legal abortion nationwide.
Its webpage RuthSent.Us lists no identifying information about its leadership. While it lists an email address, the group has no mailing address. Instead, it refers visitors to a pro-abortion rights action called “Strike for Choice,” set for May 8-15. Ruth Sent Us is one of 12 groups backing this action.
There are no indications whether Ruth Sent Us is a registered business or a registered non-profit or whether it has an official fiscal sponsor.
*What else do we know?*
A WhoIs webpage registration shows that the Ruth Sent Us website was set up in November 2020 and has a Palo Alto, California-based post office box. The RuthSent.Us web domain name is registered to an individual named Sam Spiegel.
Spiegel’s Twitter profile mentions direct democracy mass mobilization strategy “to jam media with vigil and protest stories.” His Twitter page links to Vigil for Democracy, a self-described “mass mobilizing” group whose Twitter account shares Ruth Sent Us tweets to its 5,000 or so followers.
People protest in reaction to the leak of the US Supreme Court draft abortion ruling on May 3, 2022 in New York. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
The Vigil for Democracy is presently an LLC with a Phoenix, Arizona mailing address, but business records show it once had the same California post office box as Ruth Sent Us.
The web registration for the Ruth Sent Us protest group uses the same email as Vigil for Democracy.
The costumed protesters’ web page embedded a Google map of “extremist justices” created by the Vigil for Democracy group to list the streets on which several Supreme Court justices lived. The map was later removed by Google for possible terms of service violations.
*What do we know about the Vigil for Democracy group?*
Snowden Bishop, radio show host and editor-in-chief at a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based cannabis business magazine, identifies herself as the principal for the Vigil for Democracy and another group, Just Resisting, on her public LinkedIn page. In these roles, she said, “she promotes pro-democracy initiatives and continues to pursue projects aligned with her personal mission to create a better world, one word at a time.” She claims expertise in journalism, marketing, content creation, and political strategy/activism.
In a May 10 phone-call, Bishop told CNA that the Vigil for Democracy group supports “activism of all kinds” but it is not directly in charge of the Ruth Sent Us group.
Bishop did not respond to a follow-up email by deadline. CNA sought comment from Ruth Sent Us and from the email listed on the RuthSent.Us web domain registration but did not receive a response by deadline.
*Why “Ruth Sent Us”? Why costumed protesters?*
“Ruth Sent Us” was a slogan used in the wake of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a strong backer of abortion rights. A periodical search indicates that the phrase was first reported in a September 2020 protest outside then-Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home, when the Senate was proceeding with the confirmation of Justice Amy Comey Barrett.
Pro-abortion rights women’s marches used the phrase in October of that year. One year later, the Women’s March of South Florida used “Ruth Sent Us” as the theme for its October 2021 protests.
While costumed protests have taken place for years, the Ruth Sent Us group did not appear in mainstream news media reports until early May 2022. It made the news for two reasons: It posted a map of the streets where U.S. Supreme Court justices lived, and it linked its previous church disruption to other activists’ calls for pro-abortion rights protests on Mother’s Day.
The protesters’ costumes take inspiration from a television series based on Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The pro-feminist dystopian novel portrays life under a bizarre and tyrannical variant of Christianity that forces young women to bear children for older couples. In the novel, the sect also proscribes Catholicism and executes Catholic priests.
*What is this Strike for Choice? Why Mother’s Day protests?*
The Ruth Sent Us group backs a May 8-15 protest called Strike for Choice. Its social media call for Mother’s Day protests at churches was not originally part of this action, since the relevant TikTok video was posted on April 27.
In a May 3 tweet, the group posted the video and sought to link their efforts to a call for a Mother’s Day Strike. That separate call to action was other pro-abortion rights activists’ response to the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that appears set to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The Strike for Choice website calls for protests of Whole Foods and AT&T. This protest aims to pressure the Texas-based Whole Foods to speak out against the recent Texas abortion law and to pressure AT&T over its campaign contributions to legislators who passed the law.
A sign-up form for the strikes seeks participants in various ways of protest, including as both unpaid and paid protesters.
*What do we know about Ruth Sent Us allies?*
The Strike for Choice website lists 12 groups in its coalition. The best known of these is Code Pink, a women’s activist anti-war group that dates back to 2002. It had been founded to protest the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The Vigil for Democracy group is the fiscal host of a fundraiser for the Strike for Choice at the Open Collective fundraising site. As of May 10, the group had raised under $1,400. Some 15 individuals had contributed at least $58 each to support a “striker.” It is unclear whether the money for Strike for Choice participants includes Ruth Sent Us demonstrators.
Refuse Fascism and its project Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights are two more backers of the Strike for Choice.
On its Twitter page, Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights said it protested outside St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City on Mother’s Day because “it’s a symbol for the enslavement of women.” It said “Christian fascist lunatics” on the Supreme Court aim to overturn Roe v. Wade, adding “only the people can stop this.”
The protest, which did not disrupt church services but did block a pro-life walk to an area abortion clinic, drew dozens of people to the historic Catholic church.
*What does Ruth Sent Us think of Catholicism?*
A TikTok video of the group’s Feb. 27 disruption at San Francisco’s Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption gives us an idea.
“For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been an institution for the enslavement of women,” one costumed disruptor shouted at the front of the cathedral. This first disruption video, titled “take it to the oppressors,” drew about 234,000 views on TikTok.
On its social media Ruth Sent Us has polemicized against Catholicism and even threatened to burn the Eucharist.
It also objects to a Catholic majority on the Supreme Court.
“Seven of nine Justices on our Supreme Court are Catholic. That’s 78% of Justices, compared to 23% in the population. WHY?!” the group said in its Feb. 27 TikTok post.
Neil Gorsuch reportedly was raised Catholic. Sonia Sotomayor is expected to be a safe vote to preserve Roe v. Wade.
*What does Ruth Sent Us say about itself?*
On Twitter May 15, the group invoked anti-segregation sit-in protests of the civil rights movement, saying “Extremist Catholic and Evangelical Churches and Judges are 'lunch counters' of today,” using a hashtag to ask “What would Martin Luther King do”?
It contends that protests backed by Planned Parenthood and NARAL are “massive rallies” that are “easy with social media” but ineffective. Ruth Sent Us contended that “direct action” and intentional crossing of “societal red lines” is a more effective path. Its comments sometimes praise peaceful action but also declare the need to make its foes uncomfortable.
“To fight the theocracy, we believe we must take it to extremist judges and churches,” the group said.
*Pro-life groups see double standard*
Some pro-life advocates see a double standard in how a group like Ruth Sent Us is treated by TikTok and other social media platforms.
“The social media platform pro-abortion bias cannot be denied,” Caroline Wharton, a staff writer with the pro-life group Students for Life of America, told CNA. “It's very conspicuous that pro-abortion groups are allowed to exercise their freedom of speech, even up to and including violating the law, while pro-life groups like Students for Life of America get arrested for merely chalking public sidewalk.”
In August 2020, police arrested both an employee and a student member of Students for Life for writing the pro-life message “Pre-born Black Lives Matter” on the sidewalk outside a Washington, D.C., Planned Parenthood clinic.
“There are double standards on these apps, and every effort is taken to drown out the voices for the vulnerable preborn,” Wharton said.
In late January 2020, the pro-life group LiveAction was banned from TikTok for allegedly violating “multiple community guidelines” and then reinstated quickly. TikTok said the ban was a result of human error by a moderator.
LiveAction was permanently banned from Pinterst in 2019 for alleged misinformation regarding vaccines and “medically inaccurate information and conspiracies that turn individuals and facilities into targets for harassment and violence.”
The group rejected the allegations.
Before LiveAction was banned, former Pinterest employee Eric Cochran, a reputed whistleblower, said that the social media company had classified as a conspiracy theory the reports from investigative journalist and activist David Daleiden, who has explored connections between abortion providers and possible illegal sales of fetal tissue from abortions.
TikTok’s terms of service bar any material which is “defamatory,” “hateful” or “inflammatory.” Its terms bar material that is discriminatory on the basis of religion, among other characteristics. The terms of service bar “any material that would constitute, encourage or provide instructions for a criminal offense,” as well as “any material that is deliberately designed to provoke or antagonise people, especially trolling and bullying, or is intended to harass, harm, hurt, scare, distress, embarrass or upset people.”
CNA contacted TikTok for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
CNA staff writer Katie Yoder contributed to this story.