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Take A Bow, Flip

Radical Christian protest group is theater to these eyes

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We should thank fundamentalist zealot Flip Benham. We should thank him for the hours of selfless and indefatigable public service he provides to art lovers everywhere. For helping infuse a little excitement and diversion into a city that can be a little lackluster in the entertainment department. As Charlotte theater continues to be the target of haters, Flip's unique brand of guerrilla performance art is needed now more than ever. Best of all, his shows are free! Last week, Flip and his merry pranksters performed at the side of Old Pineville Road. I arrived at the Thursday night gig at 7pm sharp, per the invitation. The crowd was sparse at first, just old Flip and a few of his fellow thespians from Operation Save America. Based in Concord, OSA and its fearless leader Flip have garnered attention over the years for besieging abortion clinics and vociferously protesting at gay rights functions. Flip represents a rich heritage of right-wing religious wackos around Charlotte. They caused quite a stir recently when they showed up at the Charlotte Pride festival, haranguing passersby and blaring Christian folk music from the sidewalk.

Last week their target was Rick's Cabaret, better known by the Flippers as "the gates of Hell."

Rick's is a new adult entertainment business that features male and female strippers. Before OSA's main performance, there was much gesticulating and head shaking as Flip tried to save the soul of the club's CEO, Eric Langan. As Flip and Langan commenced a heated but cordial debate, a few other protestors slowly trickled in, including a couple dressed in nearly matching outfits of Khaki pants and blue polo shirts. They looked like a pair of Office Max employees suited up for some kind of voodoo jungle battle. One had a sad, pinched-looking face and lugged a weird-looking spiral animal horn strapped to his back.

As Flip and Eric continued their spirited debate, the club's gel-haired bouncers, with shiny suits and carefully manicured facial hair, looked on, chuckling together and chatting on their cell phones. Soon, the erotic dancers arrived, some in Hummers and monster trucks, others dropped off by boyfriends and one who drove a beat-to-hell Honda with a taped-up rear passenger window. "Oh my god, oh my god" a dancer named Ashley repeated when she saw the protestors. "I can't believe this. This is my first day. Oh my god."

Flip, unsuccessful at saving Langan's soul, decided it was time to get his main show underway. By now his cast of actors was about 10 strong, and had set up a performance area near the street. The set included giant life-size tablets of the 10 Commandments and a sound system that blasted Christian music.

Before he got things underway, Flip asked who I worked for. When I told him, he grunted. "Yech. Stunning, homosexual stuff," he sputtered, and then went into his fire and brimstone spiel.

"This place is the gates of Hell," he said. "It's stealing the hearts and souls of mothers, fathers and daughters."

"How'd the conversation go with Eric," I asked him.

"Eric's a fine guy," Flip responded. "But he's going to Hell and he knows that."

With glasses perched atop his head and a new pair of Nike Air Jordans, Flip radiated an unsettling mix of crazed intensity and manic obsession. He stands a little too close and stares a little too hard during a one-on-one conversation. If he's moved by the Holy Spirit, then I think I'd rather take my chances with ol' Scratch.

Langan, meanwhile, seemed nonplussed by the circus. He had more of a sleazy Ken Doll look: neat blond hair, fancy suit and, oddly enough, plastic braces. He told me he's been in the strip-joint business for 18 years and is used to this kind of thing. "I've had real preachers protest me that were no joke," he says. "This guy just makes me laugh."

By then, Flip and his acting troupe were assembled at the edge of the road. With a bullhorn, Flip began calling Eric a heathen and a thief: "He wants your sons' and daughters' hearts."

"No I don't, I just want their money," said Eric.

As Flip continued to rant, dancers and bouncers oozed outside the club, giggling and taking pictures with their cell phones.

Suddenly, the guy lugging the weird-looking animal horn brought it to his mouth and blew into it, producing a piercing, trumpeting howl.

"What's the significance of that," I asked Flip between one of his spittle-spewing rants.

"It's a Shofar," he said. "It's an ancient instrument that was sounded whenever you went into battle in your own land. And that's what this — a battle!"

The berating, chastising and Shofar trumpeting continued into the night, but alas, I couldn't stay for the entire show. It was great, though — a visually compelling production with well-defined characters and touches of humor, drama and music.

Bravo, Flipper. Take a bow.

If you have an idea for the Urban Explorer column, contact Sam Boykin at: [email protected] or 704-944-3623


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