(The following stories appeared
in Tampa Bay Life in 1989.)
Profile: David Caton
Not everyone who goes through a religious reawakening becomes
a crusader against the ills of society. Most, in fact, are content
to live out their lives of quiet desperation with just a little
more self-satisfaction and confidence than the rest of us.
David Caton developed that very inner strength and security,
but once saved, decided he was intended to achieve more.
"I've got a burden," says the 33-year-old Tampa
native of his years as an abuser of pornographic materials, alcohol
and drugs. "God took away my desire to make money and gave
me a desire to help other people."
Who he's helping depends upon your line of business and approach
to personal freedoms. To owners of convenience and video stores,
adult magazines and topless and bottomless dance clubs in Florida,
David Caton is a thoroughly dangerous man. He's a no-nonsense,
bottom-line accountant on a mission from God.
Since 1984, Caton has been waging economic warfare statewide
against businesses he determines to be purveyors of obscenity,
filth and pornography. As Florida director of the Tupelo, Mississippi-based
American Family Association (known until January 1988 as the
National Federation for Decency) he starts each campaign with
simple letters and phone calls asking executives to cease and
desist from selling Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler
or from renting movies that AFA deems offensive. If his targets
are uncooperative, Caton wages bitter war.
The general manager of a Tampa-based convenience store chain
says Caton called him a "Ted Bundy, Jr.," referring
to the executed rapist/murderer who claimed he was driven to
crime by pornography. While Caton denies the name-calling, he
has led picketers at another chain where several signs read "Ted
Bundy Loved Farm Stores."
Many businessmen refuse to discuss Caton on the record for
fear of new reprisals. "I don't want the guy getting all
over us again," says one.
Elected officials across Florida know Caton as a man who has
attempted to "educate" them - his word - on a variety
of subjects ranging from adult entertainment ordinances, school
prayer, sex education, gay rights and abortion.
Joe Redner, owner of four topless bars throughout Tampa Bay
and a frequent target of the AFA, has a few adjectives of his
own to describe David Caton. "Just off the top of my head:
self-righteous, sanctimonious, ill-informed ... " says Redner.
"He doesn't solve problems, he causes problems. He's
the type of person who would advocate picketing you, but if you
picket him, he'd protest. He's a hypocrite. But as long as it
keeps him in the press, he's not going to quit."
Newspaper editors know Caton as a prolific letter writer on
an ever-expanding number of issues. His public service announcements
appear on religious radio stations statewide. He's also a popular
right-wing subject on talk radio for hosts and callers.
Caton has personally been involved with picketing at least
40 times - 30 convenience stores and 10 abortion clinics. Twice
he's been arrested for trespassing at abortion clinics as part
of the militant pro-life group Operation Rescue, once in Polk
County and once in Hillsborough at the Tampa Women's Health Center.
"I've protested at abortion clinics before but I never
went on the property and to tried to block entrance before,"
he says. "It was a very strange feeling as the number of
bodies blocking the entrance are removed by the police, you realize
the number of girls waiting in the parking lot are going to go
in and kill their babies. It becomes extremely emotional."
Caton has a degree in accounting from the University of South
Florida and could pass for your typical yuppie/nerd any day of
the week. He's boyishly handsome, charming, outgoing and an effective
speaker in both group and one-on-one situations. And unlike the
hellfire and brimstone moralists of yore who may have blushed
at a Playboy centerfold, Caton - an ordained evangelist
- came to his calling after years of sin.
Those days are behind him now. Caton has had his fun. Now
he wants to make sure no one else ever has that kind of temptation
* * *
It's David Caton's world and welcome to it:
On nude dancing: "It's not just dancing. ... These women
are not making $70,000 a year just dancing."
On the recently defeated proposal to include homosexuals in
a Hillsborough County anti-discrimination ordinance: "I
think it's incredibly disturbing for a governmental body to say
a sexual practice is protected. It's giving a stamp of approval
to a sexual perversion that is destroying society. We're not
just fighting to prevent gays from reaching public acceptance.
Their agenda goes far beyond not wanting to be discriminated
against. This is their first step to having the sodomy prohibition
repealed." (Sodomy is a misdemeanor in Florida.)
On pop singer Madonna: "Just look at her name."
On local radio: "I've heard reports of Y95 (WYNF) asking
people to call in and describe their best sexual situations.
They describe everything from lesbians to orgies. As time permits,
we're going to get into monitoring this."
On movies: "Every Sunday we get the newspaper and I look
through every movie shown in the Bay area. I look for the amount
of sex and violence content that will be shown."
* * *
David Caton say he was five years old the first time he saw
a dirty magazine.
A 13-year-old boy down the street kept a locked box of men's
magazines in a wooded area. The teen shared his treasures with
an adolescent Caton and another young boy was hooked on the pleasures
of exposed female flesh. "As time went on," recalls
Caton, "that interest in me started to grow and I looked
for magazines like that when I went into stores, in other people's
homes. I found them everywhere."
Caton subscribed to Playboy and Penthouse. He'd
pick up Genesis and Hustler at the newsstand. He
bought and rented hardcore sex videos and occasionally dropped
in on topless dance clubs and XXX-rated theaters for a thrill.
He liked to drink and got hooked on tranquilizers.
The walk on the wild side came to a halt when Caton was 28.
A two-year relationship fell apart due to his workaholic tendencies.
Overworking, in turn, led him to a serious stapf infection that
dragged on for six months and cost him 35 pounds. During this
period, in October 1984, one of Caton's three brothers got married.
Both the brother and bride were born-again Christians.
"I saw the joy that was in their lives and I said, what
is it these people have that I don't?," he recalls. "I
said, I want that. That week, God just totally delivered me.
I stopped smoking, stopped drinking. I had to get into God's
Word to get me through the sexual side of it because that's a
little different. You have an inborn desire for sex. You don't
have an inborn desire to do drugs."
The wedding was on a Saturday; Caton, who was raised Methodist
but hadn't been to church since he was four, went back the next
day and turned his life around.
* * *
Caton was born at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. His father,
an air flight trainer, left the military shortly after the birth
of David, his fourth son. Caton attended Hillsborough High and
zipped through USF in three years, moving into a series of accounting
After he found personal salvation in 1984, Caton met his wife
Rachael. They have a two-year-old son and celebrated their fourth
wedding anniversary in November.
Much he tries to keep his family out of the glare of the public
spotlight (he insisted his wife and parents not be interviewed
for this story), sometimes it backfires. There was, for instance,
an alleged series of verbal attacks by former WFLA radio talk
show host Bob Lassiter.
Lassiter often told listeners that he had become a target
of the AFA's ire, with members complaining to WFLA about his
language, behavior and biblical references. Lassiter fancies
himself as quite well versed on The Bible and frequently used
scripture to refute religious callers he felt were off the mark.
According to Caton, Lassiter gave out the national AFA's toll-free
800 phone number, urging listeners to turn the tables on the
group and register their own protest. To hear Allen Wildmon,
brother of AFA founder Donald Wildmon, the tactic worked. But
he thinks Lassiter went to far in encouraging his listeners to
tie up the phone line. "People should have a right to express
their opinions," says Wildmon, "but in instances they've
gone too far in exercising this right."
Things got even more personal when Caton alleges Lassiter
gave out his work phone number over the air, flooding his then-employer's
switchboard for three hours in an effort to get Caton fired.
"Then," says Caton of the final straw, "Bob
Lassiter made the critical mistake of talking about my wife's
anatomy over the air. You just don't do that. My wife had nothing
to do with it."
According to a suit filed by Rachael Caton in the civil division
of the Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Lassiter spoke "untrue
and slanderous words about her on October 19, 1987" and
"did maliciously respond over the air to a caller's question
about the size of Plaintiff's breasts, that Plaintiff probably
didn't have any breasts."
"Bob Lassiter can say anything he wants to about David
Caton and get away with it because I'm a public figure by virtue
of the fact I thrust myself on the public," says Caton.
"He had a thing about me. But he made a mistake talking
about my wife, who is not a public figure."
Lassiter, who left WFLA for WLS in Chicago last summer, declines
comment on Caton or the suit until it is settled.
One more side effect of the negative publicity Caton has attracted
have been occasional threats on his life, family and property.
He was first interviewed for this story at a Village Inn restaurant
because he is very selective about who is invited to his office.
"One day I got eight death threats," according to
Caton. "A guy started saying what he was going to do to
my children, then said he was going to blow me up. We now have
a tracer tap on our phone line. I've learned a lot about looking
over my shoulder. I don't live in fear, but I look around before
leaving the house, I look in the car's rear-view mirror a lot."
"David is fearless, in the sense that he's not easily
intimidated," says Rev. Frederick J. Buckley, co-chairman
of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg's Decency Commission.
" A lot of people try to picture the AFA as some kind of
fanatical fringe group. I think it's a matter of conviction."
* * *
About the American Family Association:
Several years ago, a United Methodist minister in Tupelo,
Mississippi sat down to watch television with his children. No
matter what channel he turned to there was something being broadcast
that offended his Christian sensibilities.
Over the years, Donald Wildmon has gone from one voice in
the wilderness to leader of the National Federation for Decency
- the name was changed in 1988 to the less-noxious American Family
Association. AFA has 550 community chapters coast-to-coast and
has singled out advertisers who have sponsored what it describes
as obscene, adulterous, immoral and profane TV shows. Organization
members receive wallet cards that list the name of offending
advertisers and their products. They urge them to boycott products
and write letters of complaint to offending manufacturers. Current
targets include Mennen and Clorox.
The old National Federation of Decency made its greatest leap
into the public conscience when its letter-writing, picketing
and boycotts of 7-Eleven stores nationwide a few years ago caused
the nation's leading convenience store chain to discontinue sales
of Playboy, Penthouse and other adult magazines
in all corporately owned stores.
One way to sum up the group's modus operandi is to say they
believe free speech is a matter of consumer funding.
"We've always said they have a right to publish, stores
have a right to sell, individuals have a right to read, and we
have the right to spend our dollars with stores we choose,"
says Allen Wildmon, national public relations director of AFA.
Not that the magazines have not gone quietly into the night,
railing loudly in editorials against the tactics of the AFA.
"They claim inflated numbers and inflated results of their
tactics," says Robyn Radomski, vice president of corporate
communications and public affairs for Playboy Enterprises in
Chicago. "It's usually a matter of a retailer bending to
pressure then realizing this small minority cannot control a
large group of people. Some stores drop us then we get them back
a month or two later when the pressure cools off."
Told Caton is a former Playboy subscriber, Radomski laughs.
"And it turned him into a mass-murderer, right?"
Sarcasm aside, success with 7-Eleven infused AFA with cockiness
and has emboldened it to chastise smaller chains distributing
the magazines. Little Champ, Farm Stores, Handy Food Stores,
Tom Thumb and Circle K have all been targets of the AFA in Florida.
"It's a free country, let them do what they want,"
says Steve Johnson, president of the 90 Tom Thumb Food Stores
in Florida. "(David Caton) has his beliefs; I have mine.
I do what I feel is best for this company. The magazines are
a service that we offer to our customers. The people that picket
the stores are not your usual customers."
"We try to be customer-responsive as opposed to being
special interest-responsive," says Rick McAllister, senior
vice president and chief operating officer of Sunshine-JR. Stores,
which has 170 stores in Florida. "If enough of our customers
said we don't like Ajax, we'd stop selling it. We do sell adult
magazines. They are behind the counter, covered. We aren't doing
anything illegal or against the law; and there is a certain demand
for the product. My personal feeling is that convenience stores
do not cause deviant behavior."
* * *
American Family Association of Florida, Inc. is a non-profit
corporation with one employee, David Caton. It operates out of
a small office in Tampa's La Place Shopping Center, a few doors
over from The Loft Theatre and less than a mile from the XXX-rated
Todd Theater. The room is sparsely decorated with two copies
of the same painting of Jesus Christ; a poster with the legend
"Pornography Destroys" pictures a pretty but sad little
girl in a Sunday dress holding a single red rose.
There are 34 AFA chapters in the state and many more thousands
of Florida AFA members without local affiliation; 5,000 in all
from the Tampa Bay area on Caton's 20,000-person mailing list.
Anyone can get on the list; there are no annual dues. Some AFA
members making offerings, however, averaging about $20. Others
contribute time on the telephone or writing letters.
* * *
Wherever he goes, David Caton carries with him a briefcase
full of photocopied pornography to literally illustrate his points.
"You don't mind looking at cartoons, do you?" he
asks, pulling out a summary of Dr. Judith Reisman's controversial,
federally-sponsored report to former Attorney General Ed Meese,
"Images of Children, Crime and Violence in Playboy, Penthouse
and Hustler Magazines." It is a neatly organized yet dubious
graphic assemblage of photographs and cartoons culled from Playboy,
Penthouse and Hustler. Caton tends to fixate in
references to a Hustler magazine character named Chester
Most people, it is noted, are not Chester the Molester and
might be offended to be described as child molesters for reading
Playboy or even Hustler.
"You're looking at it from the perspective of a user,"
retorts Caton. "Would not a cocaine user want to have his
cocaine legalized? A person that is involved or captive to the
interests of the materials he is consuming can't very well make
an objective decision about whether it's harmful to him or not."
* * *
The economic methodology employed by the American Family Association
to pressure businesses is ruthlessly effective.
AFA chooses it targets based on number of outlets, visibility
and offensiveness. One store selling Hustler is more likely to
be picketed than three selling Playboy. Farm Stores sells Hustler;
Circle K does not, so AFA aims its resources at Farm Stores for
Letters go out to AFA members and churches, asking them to
stop doing business with particular stores and to begin writing
letters of complaint to company executives. In the meantime,
Caton writes a letter asking the magazines by removed, citing
their affect on children and society. He encloses a copy of the
Reisman report for reference and asks the company to discontinue
adult magazine sales.
"If they are willing to talk about it, if they want more
materials, it'll just be me and them," says Caton, and he'll
call off the dogs. After that, however, "if they take a
very cold, hard-nosed, close-the-door attitude, I'll follow up
with a second letter and say we're calling for a boycott and
we're informing people to boycott your stores. We'll give all
the officers of the company a certified letter that we're going
to picket on 'X' date. We picket from approximately 6:45 to 9
in the morning. We even give them copies of the press releases
and everything we do so they know right up front. I wouldn't
have it any other way. I don't believe in surprises."
Responses to an American Family Association campaign of economic
intimidation and harassment can vary. Executives at 7-Eleven
knuckled under. So did Rite Aid Stores and Suwannee Swifty Stores.
And 30 Florida Holiday Inns have discontinued in-room adult movie
Others are less enthusiastic.
"Julian Jackson (of Li'l Champ) cussed me out over the
phone and hung up," admits Caton. "He said, 'You're
not going to tell me what to do.'"
According to Caton, the confrontation has become more of an
issue of ego and money than First Amendment rights. "If
you have a store chain as large as Circle K, that's big money.
If you have 100 magazines sold every month per store, Circle
K - with 5,000 stores - is making $500,000 a month net off of
"I met with the general manager for (a) chain. I showed
him the cartoons with Chester the Molester. He looked over at
the pictures of his children on his credenza next to his desk.
His face was awed. He goes - 'I've got children!' Then it suddenly
clicked back into his mind. 'Well,' he says, 'we have a right
to sell these. We keep 'em behind the counter.' Immediately switched
gears when he went from family to businessman. He went from the
moral issue of its corrupting to society to we need this to make
a profit. This is the third time they have put the magazines
back in the stores. They've put them in, took them out, put in,
took out, put in."
Caton is now planning to begin a video store sting in Florida.
Armed with a three-page list of film titles judged obscene by
state judges, he and his minions will be visiting stores anonymously,
looking for offending titles.
"They won't even know I've been in their store until
afterwards," says Caton. "We're checking to make sure
they're in compliance with Florida obscenity statutes. We're
looking for adult videos displayed within the reach and sight
of minors; titles of videos we know have been ruled obscene and
are therefore illegal; video stores that fail to properly rate
or provide no rating on videos."
Ray Schneider owns the Blockbuster Video franchises in the
Tampa Bay area. Although his stores do not carry adult videos
as a rule and refused to offer Last Temptation of Christ, he
is uncomfortable about self-appointed moralists telling him or
his competitors what products they can or cannot offer.
"If they're there to implement what's legally obscene,
that's great. If they're there to create new standards, I have
a problem with that," says Schneider.
* * *
As a non-profit corporation, AFA of Florida has strict limitations
on its political lobbying activity, hence David Caton's emphasis
on the educational aspects of what he does.
"We're educating county commissions across the state
on what ordinances are available to control and restrict (adult
entertainment)," he explains. "I say, 'This is what's
happening in the adult industry, this ordinance can be used.
If you vote for it, that's up to you.' By law, we're educational.
We try to stick within that parameter. We are allowed such a
minute percentage of lobbying time that we have to be very careful
of what we do."
Chris Hoyer is the chief assistant state attorney in Tampa.
He and other attorneys in his office are quite familiar with
"He's a very good advocate for his organization,"
credits Hoyer. "He's very sincere, very article. He calls
and writes a lot. I've met with him, heard their concerns. He
points out approaches other communities have taken. To the extent
we could advance some of his concerns, we have. In some cases
we've disagreed. I respect his opinion."
Hoyer says Caton has been involved in pressing prosecutions
against houses of ill-fame and topless dance club owner Joe Redner.
"(Caton) is pretty up-to-date on the law," according
to Hoyer. "Obviously, he puts his own coloring on the law,
but that's natural."
At Hillsborough County Commission meetings, Commissioner Jan
Platt says Caton appears articulate and well-documented. She
says he has made a habit of sending letters, literature, copies
of out-of-town adult ordinances and at least one book to members
of the commission.
"He's a very serious-minded young man," she says.
"You may agree and you may disagree but that doesn't detract
from the fact he's very articulate. I respect that he's done
his homework. We need more people in the community who do that."
* * *
What concerns many business people and individuals about David
Caton and the American Family Association is not that there is
a group opposed to certain movies, television shows or magazines.
No, what worries them is that if a minority of the population
can succeed in dictating right and wrong on these issues, what's
Will Mothers Against Drunk Driving take a cue from the American
Family Association and put similar economic pressures on convenience
stores and supermarkets to restrict or eliminate liquor sales?
Surely there are at least as many people to be whipped into a
frenzy about drunk driving as pornography.
Will everyone who has ever lost a loved one to lung cancer
rise up against the merchants of cigarettes? That could cause
a tidal wave of bad publicity capable of eclipsing the tobacco
But rising up against drunk driving or cigarette smoking may
never reach the epic proportions or the anti-pornography torrents
because those factions don't have something as simple and elegantly
indefensible as child molestation and child pornography. You
can argue about smoker's rights and social drinking from here
till tomorrow, but who can find redeeming value in attacks against
children? And that's what a David Caton gears all his arguments
to: look what this is doing to the children. From that emotional,
gut-wrenching point of view he can render all other comment harsh
Steve Johnson, president of Tom Thumb Food Stores, is one
of many businessmen resisting such simplicity. He is not convinced
that the communities where his stores are believe that the men
who buy Penthouse are anymore likely to commit heinous
acts than the kids buying comic books or women buying Cosmopolitan.
"It goes back to this being a free country," says
Johnson. "Everyone has a choice. If they don't want to buy
the magazines, they don't have to. If they start taking those
rights away, where do we go from there?"
All rights reserved. No portion may be reproduced without the
express written permission of the author.