Roy and His Rock

Roy Moore, the "Ten Commandments Judge," has embarked on an odyssey that is taking him and his controversial monument far beyond his home state of Alabama. He wants the Republican Party to bow down

The reminder of this public slight seemed to ignite his passion. He went into an attack on his ideological opponents, his voice rising in anger. "Separation of church and state does not mean separation of God and government!" he said, and was stopped by applause. As Moore continued, his face became stern and then angry, and his voice was a roar. "'Be ye horribly afraid,'" he thundered, quoting from the second chapter of Jeremiah, "'for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.' Our schools, our political institutions, are not holding water today, because we've tried to construct them without God! We've been deceived by a government that tells us we cannot worship God—contradictory to history, contradictory to law, and contradictory to logic. And we bow down. Shall we bow down?" Cries of "No!" cascaded from the rafters.

Then Moore downshifted, his voice growing solemn once more, and he demonstrated another rhetorical flourish common to the Founding Fathers: he shared his poetry.

"We're fighting wars all over this globe, it sometimes seems," he said. "We're fighting one in Iraq today." A beatific smile came over his face.

"And we face another war
Fought not upon some distant shore,
Nor against a foe that you can see,
But one as ruthless as can be.
It will take your life and your children too,
And say there's nothing you can do.
It will make you think that wrong is right,
Is but a sign to stand and fight.
And though we face the wrath of Hell,
Against those gates we shall prevail.
In homes in schools across our land,
It's time for Christians to take a stand,
And when our work on this earth is done,
And the battle is over and the victory is won,
When through all the earth His praise will ring,
And all the heavenly angels sing,
It will be enough just to see His son,
And hear him say 'My child, well done.
'You've kept my faith so strong and true,
'I knew that I could count on you.'"

As he finished, the crowd rose to its feet and broke into a chorus of "God Bless America."

W hen the Rock attends a convention, it is the first thing to arrive and the last thing to leave. The process of moving it is orchestrated by Chris Scoggins, the stocky, bespectacled, and deeply sunburned driver of the International flatbed, who, with his assistant Mike Hill, works for Clark Memorials Incorporated, which carved the monument and now sees to its safe passage.

Several days before Moore's speech the pair pulled up to the Nashville convention center in the crane truck. Everyone nearby stopped what he was doing and wandered over to peer at it. The respectful silence lasted until the arrival of a 6,000-pound forklift specially brought to move the monument (standard models can't hoist it). And then someone shouted to Steven McDonald, the lift's operator, "Hey, Moses, put 'er over there!"

Initially the plan had been to place the Rock onstage, alongside Moore. But this was overruled. The monument tends to draw the nervous attention of structural engineers wherever it travels. Those responsible for the convention feared that the stage couldn't withstand the weight. So rather than risk having the Rock crash through the floor mid-speech, "Moses" deposited it in the very center of the convention hall.

For five days the Rock stood cordoned off in velvet, as always, and looking slightly too elegant for the occasion. Booths for graffiti-proof church signs, modular fiberglass steeples, and Bible-navigation software combined to create the glitzy atmosphere of a trade show. But the Rock maintained its singular effect, quieting the thousands who filed past to gaze at it, the hush broken only by the occasional snap of a cell-phone camera.

Then, on the final evening of the conference, after the last blue-light special was announced (Ollie North's latest novel, $2.97), time was called, and out came the power drills, packing crates, wooden pallets, and swarms of lesser forklifts. Just before midnight, when most of the traveling circus had packed up and shipped off, the Rock was all that remained, still cordoned off and lit from above, alone in a storm of debris at the center of the 300,000-square-foot arena.

When Scoggins and Hill arrived to retrieve the monument the next morning, I intercepted them with what must have seemed an unusual proposition: let me join the Rock on tour, and I'll buy your meals and gas. They quickly agreed. The heavy-duty forklift rolled up with the Rock atop a pallet. As we strapped it to the truck with nylon and secured it with a winch, Scoggins gave me a quick course in being a roadie. Then he slid my suitcase behind a tombstone (they'd laid fifteen the day before), and we climbed aboard. The remaining workers stopped and stood at attention as we backed out. Before long we were open-throttle down the highway heading toward Birmingham.

I imagine that traveling through the South with the Rock is a little like riding in the Rolling Stones' tour bus. You're recognized, excitedly, almost everywhere you go—gas stations, restaurants, the 7-Eleven. "I don't know if I've run across anyone who didn't know what it is," Scoggins mused once when we stopped for lunch. "It's a household name around here." As if on cue, a white-haired man in boots and jeans, who'd been scrutinizing the International out front, ambled up to our table. "Y'all with Clark?" he asked appraisingly. We nodded. "Is that the Rock?" We assured him it was.

Scoggins told me that when he arrives back late from the road, he sometimes parks the truck in front of his home in Saginaw, which is across the street from the Amazing Grace Worship Center. Children stream in from the neighborhood to marvel at the Rock. The first time he brought it home was a Saturday night. When he awoke the next morning, church had just let out and the Amazing Grace congregation had surrounded his truck.

To an outsider the Rock's celebrity often feels surreal, until you come to understand how thoroughly it has permeated life in Alabama. My hotel gift shop in Montgomery sold Styrofoam Ten Commandments tablets. As we pulled into the tiny town of Hayden, the road was lined with political placards that read simply, "Judge Rochester. Like a Rock." It is shorthand for an entire culture.

Out on the highway one day something happened that Scoggins says is not uncommon. As we traveled down Interstate 59, a silver minivan carrying a large African-American family started to pass us on the left. Then someone recognized the Rock, strapped to the flatbed in plain sight. The van slowed down, and its occupants crowded the windows the way airplane passengers sometimes do when flying over an important landmark. When they finally sped off, the next car pulled alongside us to see what all the fuss was about, and the next one after that. When I looked back a little while later, the rolling retinue stretched out for a quarter mile behind us.

Earlier this year Moore published an autobiography, So Help Me God, that put a twist on the anodyne books standard in most high-profile campaigns. It isn't just the typical pol's tale of triumphing over adversity. Rather, Moore presents his life as resembling a series of biblical parables, wherein the controversy over the Ten Commandments is merely the culminating episode in a lifetime of arduous—but always morally clear—struggles during which he, through Calvinist perseverance and a belief in God, is always rewarded. A better way to understand Moore is to think of the Ten Commandments controversy as the bright line dividing his life: there is before and there is after, and they are two very different stories.

Roy Stewart Moore was born on February 11, 1947, in Gadsden, Alabama, the first of five children. His father, Roy Baxter Moore, was a construction worker who met and married Evelyn Stewart shortly after leaving the military following World War II. Moore remembers his father as a pious man and a strict disciplinarian, though one more likely to deliver hour-long lectures than punishment with a hickory switch.

Moore attended West Point on scholarship, the only way he could go to college, enrolling in 1965. He found the adjustment difficult. "I soon learned that one of the academy's tools for leadership training was intimidation," he writes in So Help Me God. He struggled socially and academically, graduating 640th in a class of 800. As a southerner he came in for frequent hazing, and he turned to boxing as an outlet for his frustration. Like his father, he became a rigid disciplinarian. "As a cadet he exacted a lot from everybody," says John Bentley, an Alabama judge who attended West Point with Moore. "I was a lowerclassman, and if you came by his room, you better have your shoes shined and your brass on right."

After graduation Moore was sent first to Germany and then to Vietnam, where he commanded a military-police company supervising a stockade in Da Nang. When he arrived, he says, drug use and insubordination were rampant, and he immediately began issuing "Article Fifteens"—disciplinary actions against his men. This earned him the nickname "Captain America." By his own account Moore was so much disliked that he feared being killed by his own troops, and slept on a bed of sandbags so that he couldn't be fragged by a grenade rolled under his bed. Moore did not believe it proper for an officer to consort with his men, but his code of manly conduct couldn't countenance the perceived disrespect. So he constructed a boxing ring in which, he writes, "I met all challenges from soldiers in the battalion." He was never attacked.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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